His name, like mine, is John. I know that because I heard his coach scream, “Oh, my God, John!” as he ran out to right field to attend to the silently crying child and his probably broken, profusely gushing nose.
You could see the trouble brewing while the ball was still in the air. Danny had hit a high, medium-deep fly to right field. The pitcher was really throwing hard–some of these sixth-graders are small men–and it’s a minor miracle that he made contact at all. But he’s really working on his timing, and he did make contact, late and under it a bit such that it floated up into the cold night sky, tracking loosely toward John.
Right field is still where they try to hide you. They tried to hide me there. I think that’s been the little league coach’s strategy since Doubleday’s clumsy kid first wandered onto the field, but it’s fundamentally wrong: the pitchers are stronger than the hitters at this age, and most people are right-handed. Of the kids who can hit at all, a majority of them are late, and so they hit to the opposite side. Right field, like Danny just did. John was out there, hidden. Hiding.
The ball finds you, even (maybe especially) as you stand there and wish it wouldn’t.
Glove held high, he wobbled and staggered toward it, ignoring the coaching he’d surely received. At this level and even the previous one, they coach you to run to the spot and then put your glove up. You can’t run fast or see straight with your hand in the air. John found his way to its approximate landing point, unsteadily, just in time for the ball to carom off the heel of his outstretched glove and directly into the bridge of his nose. In that moment, John was game: even while pretty badly hurt, or maybe in the split-second before that reality settled in, he found the ball and threw it in to his cutoff man. Danny rounded first and took a greedy look at second but stopped cold and headed back when the umpire called time. John was now down on one knee. I could see the blood from where I stood a couple hundred feet away. Of course this was the team with white jerseys. He’ll have a visual reminder every time he suits up the rest of the season, not that he’ll need one. They got him to the bench and iced it, and someone called his mom. (Who sends their kid to this brutal game and doesn’t stand vigil?) Some other kind mother took young John, right fielder, to the ER and his mom would handle it from there.
I think he is still only eleven, a fifth-grader. As the next batter stepped in to the box, game on, I wondered to myself if John would be back next year.