The Baseball Tree
The sky was clear and empty and vast, so that a kid looking up at it too long might feel they might trip and make the long fall into the sun. There was a warm, slow breeze from the south that played at the daffodils and the long green grass, and the dirt on the worn diamond was packed from a hundred stolen bases. Jayl and Mars brought their catcher’s mitts, and Gossel brought his bat, a black-painted aluminum slugger that had tape around the handle because otherwise it got too hot during the final innings. The others from the neighborhood gaggled three or four at a time, and Boss and Meyle set to picking teams. Ttom climbed the tree to pick a baseball.
Empty white shells littered the ground around the tree, cast-off fruit picked clean by birds and squirrels. The low-hanging balls didn’t get as much sun, and weren’t ripe yet—spheres as big as softballs, a little flattened at the end, the skin not quite thick enough to take a hit. Sometimes they’d play with unripe balls, just to see them splatter and unspool when someone hit them too hard, but for a fun game you needed a ripe one—something that would last the whole nine innings. So Ttom scaled the thick papery trunk, which you could peel off if you wanted to, though Ttom’s mother said it was bad for the tree, and clambered through the waxy oval leaves, grasping at the hanging fruit, checking the seams to see if they were ripe enough. Finally, he found a good one—small and tight enough to fit in one hand, solid enough that it didn’t give much when he squeezed it hard. With a twist, Ttom broke it off the green wood of the stem, and scurried back down the tree to where the teams were waiting.
Going into the fourth, the runners were hot and sweaty and Meyle’s Marauders were picking at the tiny clover flowers while waiting their turn at bat. Emmen was up, the tallest boy and usually the first or second pick, and when he picked up the black slugger all eyes turned to the action. Boss herself was on the pitch, thin as a bag of sticks and second tallest after Emmen himself; she wound up licky-split and through her whole body into it, so the last most saw of the ball was when it left her fingertips—and then heard the echoing CRACK! and Emmen’s quiet grunt, saw the leathery white skin flutter down, and watch the tiny brown sphere fly off over the fence while Jayl sat in the outfield, one tiny fist buried in his giant leather mitt. The runners took their bases, the score was 4-2, and Ttom scurried up the tree to fetch another baseball.
The grand slam landed a couple yards past the fence, and rolled another yard or two more, into a patch of bare earth near what might have been a natural creek, but now was a rain-gullied trough fed by the runoff of a dozen parking lots and dry most of the summer months, save for a few stagnant pools. A rain would come the next night, and the ground would be soft and wet. In time the springy brown inner shell would uncoil and send forth a pale white taproot, and a quivering thin green stem with a couple waxy green leaves. In a dozen summers, maybe, children would clamber up the baseball tree, to harvest a ripe fruit for their game.
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