Authors: Cheryl Peck
In the movies this moment is always the climax of the plot— that Golden Moment when the Kid Who Always Wanted to Play has
her chance to play with the big girls. In the movies she has her cleats on her feet, her glove in her hand, a spare ball in
her hip pocket, and she jumps up and down and cries, “Oh, man, Coach—just give me a CHANCE!!!!” I said, “Yeah, right,” and
rooted for someone in the distance.
They were all still looking at me. There were not enough of them. If I refused to play they would have to forfeit the game.
I looked left. I looked right. I offered to try to bribe a player from the other team to defect. I looked down at my own self
to determine if something movie-like and magical had happened when I wasn’t looking.
I am forty-six years old. I am five feet seven inches tall, I weigh three hundred pounds (plus change). I do not run. I do
not catch. I do not throw. I gave up playing with balls when I was ten. I have never actually stood on a softball field before.
I said, “Get real.”
They said, “If you don’t play, we can’t play either.”
I said, “I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I can’t hit, and I can’t run. Other than that, I’m damned good.”
They said, “You can play right field.”
I believed, in the confusion of the discussion, that I was agreeing to play until my replacement arrived, which—I believed—
meant I would walk out onto the field, my replacement would drive up, I would be shooed off the field and thanked profusely
for my space-taking abilities.
So I was given a glove, someone suggested I try putting it on my LEFT hand, someone threw a ball at me twice (which I assume
someone fielded) and I was herded out to right field. It seemed safe enough. I waited for my replacement to arrive.
My replacement arrived.
They put her in center field.
They continued to play.
I was still on the field.
My cubiclemate—who plays catcher—began calling my name and insinuating something about left-handed batters, everyone on the
team became immensely interested in my personal space-taking skills, and the batter, who was standing backwards on the plate,
connected with the ball and arched the specious little orb
over the first basewoman’s head
and right at me.
The first basewoman called, “Cheryl, you got it?”
And I answered, “Hell, Noooooo …” And I raised my big, clumsy mitt in the air, and I ran toward that vicious, nasty little
ball as it snubbed my mitt altogether and smote me in the middle of my outstretched arm—nearly breaking it, I might add— and
then bounced … off into the boondocks, somewhere …
My one claim to fame as an outfielder, and I have a big purple stain on my arm that says, “Next time: BIG barn, b-r-o-a-d
I thought I was safe the other half of the inning. I thought,
they know I can’t hit, so they’ll run a sub for me.
Obviously I didn’t think this through: if they’d HAD a sub for me, they would have put her in right field. So I found myself
at home plate with a bat in my hand and a woman not far enough away throwing balls at me. I was thinking one thought as I
held my bat. I was thinking,
If you hit this, you have to run.
I haven’t run since 1962.
I thought a comforting thought: I thought
, What are the chances … ?
I swung my bat.
The stand went wild. My team went wild. Everyone in south central Michigan was yelling, “Cheryl, R-U-N …”
So I gathered every fiber of my being—and there are many, many fibers in my being—and I pointed them all toward first base,
and I leaned in that direction, hoping to add speed at a later date, and—although in my heart and soul, I was running— I …
drifted … with the grace and delicacy of perhaps a hippopotamus … toward first base.
For reasons unclear to me, I was safe.
They had several years to throw that ball across that plate, but apparently they threw it somewhere else.
I was given instructions: if the ball went into the air I could wait, but if the batter hit it at the ground I had to run
immediately. The batter hit it at the ground and once again I gathered, motivated and lumbered on down the road. I reached
severe oxygen deficit at second base. I was breathing like a freight train. The field, which had looked small from the stands,
had grown several miles in its overall proportions. It was 94 degrees and humid. It occurred to me that I could get to third
faster in an ambulance than on foot.
The next batter hit the ball. Once again I ran. The stands were going wild. I sensed my entire team running each step with
me, as if willing me on. I was waiting to be tagged or crippled or tripped … but I arrived on third (AGAIN) safe.
I knew this time I was the one they would kill. I knew they’d be lucky to kill me before I ran completely out of air and just
expired six feet short of the plate. The batter swung, the batter hit, I lumbered slowly and loudly over home plate … to discover
the opposing team had tagged their third out on someone else on another base and my run didn’t count.
Furthermore, I had to go back to right field and wait for more ball attacks.
I did make it up to bat again, and I actually hit the ball— sadly, right at the pitcher, who scooped it up and sent it to
wait for me at first. As I was shambling back to my team, someone on the opposing team remarked, “Well, you made it across
home plate last time. …” I wasn’t sure how to take that, so I smiled and shambled on.
In retrospect, I’ve decided to take it as a compliment. My team, inspired by my spirit and mastery of the game, may have set
a new league record with our score of 25–2 before the mercy rule kicked into effect and they let us go home and—while it had
nothing to do with anything I did—I was one of the few runners on my team to come anywhere near home plate.
But I think I’ll hang up my glove. Or whoever’s glove it was. There has never been a single moment in my life when I found
myself thinking, “Gee, I wish I were playing softball right now,” and I expect even fewer in the future.
And—just for the record—that ball isn’t soft.
WAS VERY SMALL
, my dad was the coolest person on earth. He may still be—when I was a child, he lived right there in my house and all I had
to do to be near greatness was go outside and listen for the sound of work being done.
My father was always working. About ten years ago he retired, which has given him more time to concentrate on the home repairs,
yard work and carpentry of his extended family. He carries a small notebook where he stores the exact dimensions of my Uncle
Don’s cottage bathroom, how many board-feet of lumber he needs to finish his friend Toby’s back steps and the exact style
of ceiling tiles we need to redo my kitchen. This work ethic courses through my family and it coursed right past me.
When I first became an adult, I used to invite my dad over to my house. We would sit around, struggling to make small talk.
Sooner or later I would ask him how to fix something and seconds later we would be gathered around that thing, eyeing it,
measuring it, evaluating it, taking notes about dimensions and required tools and materials in his notebook. Over the years
I have eliminated a few steps. Now I call him up and say, “Dad, my toilet doesn’t flush right—what time would you like dinner?”
I have no real gift for work, myself. I am tool-impaired. I have yet to hit the same nail twice with a hammer. I can drill
holes in the wall with a screwdriver and I once peeled the skin off my knuckles with an electric drill. I like tools—particularly
power tools—but I rarely have the opportunity to actually own any. I mentioned once to my dad that I was enchanted by a small
chain-saw and the next day I heard a familiar roar and found him in my front yard, buzzing every tree I owned into kindling.
I am not allowed to own a circular saw, either; something about cutting off my own leg. “Those things will kill you,” my father
decrees and locks his shed in case I might wander in in my sleep.
I am better than I used to be.
As a child I was my dad’s designated fetcher. I would be innocently basking in the glow of his greatness when he would say,
“Run out to the barn and get that 3/8ths wrench on the middle bench next to the drill press.” It broke my heart. I wanted
to be with him and I spent most of the time I was with him being sent away. These missions I was sent away on rarely enhanced
my standing in my father’s eyes.
Shamefully I must admit how easily the worm can turn: I just woke up one day in the middle of performing some task for which
I did not have the right tool—although I knew exactly where the right tool was—and I looked up and there, lingering aimlessly
right near me, was a small, mobile being, and it just seemed so natural to me to say, “Hey kid—run down in the basement on
the bench by the dryer and get my vise grips and the blowtorch. …”
I was a lazy child, but my greatest objection to being the designated fetcher was that I could never find what I had been
sent to fetch. I could find the shed. I could find the middle bench. The middle bench—like the right bench and the left bench—
was home for many of my father’s tools. There were grinders and polishers and twisters and benders. There were screwdrivers
with flat noses and screwdrivers with star-shaped noses and nutdrivers that only looked like screwdrivers. There were hammers
and mallets and sledges. There was the thing he used to beat his tires with and the thing he used to make the tires get off
the wheels with and the thing he used to tighten the spokes on my bike. There were jars of bolts and washers and screws and
nails and nuts and brads and staples, and there were drawers of hinges and fasteners and drawer pulls and latches and locks.
There were machines with blades and machines with drill bits in them and machines with sandpaper and one of these machines—and
only one—was called a “drill press.”
I had never pressed a drill.
I had no idea why anyone would need that done, much less what the machine that did it would look like.
The problem, of course, was that if I couldn’t find the drill press, I couldn’t find the 3/8ths wrench next to it.
I would eventually admit defeat, but I rarely went immediately back to my dad for further instructions because it always seemed
to make him mad. So I would linger in his shed, studying his girlie posters, or perusing his tool chests, just taking notes
in case I might later be sent to find something in one of them (he had four). Eventually I would wander back to my dad and
I would say, “(
) I can’t find it.”
“Did you look on the bench?”
“Did you look next to the drill press?”
Could be. Maybe. How would I know? “Unhunh.”
“And it wasn’t there?”
And maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I couldn’t find it because it wasn’t there to find. I could wriggle right off the hook, here. “Nope.”
He would think. He would frown. “Are you sure?”
I would be, by then, very very sure the wrench was nowhere near that drill press. He had lost his wrench and was sending me
on a wild goose chase, and he could not possibly blame me for that. “I’m sure,” I would say.
He would use bad words. He would stand up and stalk out to the shed as I tagged along like a kite tail, and he would walk
into the shed, up to the middle bench, next to the machine with the drill bit hanging out of it, and he would pick up his
3/8ths wrench and show it to me. He would say, “It’s right here.”
“It wasn’t there when I looked for it.”
“So why would it be there now?”
I would have no idea how that could happen, but personally I always blamed it on the red squirrels. My father hated red squirrels,
“So what were you doing out here all that time?”
I was not a stupid child. I knew, even at a tender age, that the answer to that question is not
I thought you would yell at me so I hung out for a while
. I’ve never been entirely sure why that is a wrong answer, but it is.
So I would answer, “I was looking.”
“But it was right there,” he would say, and walk off, shaking his head.
Over time he came not to believe me the first time I came back empty-handed. He would repeat his instructions and send me
back. My dad has a very soft voice and very little patience with repeating himself, so I learned, as a child, to memorize
vocal patterns and just repeat them, over and over again in my head, until I could translate them into standard English. I
don’t hear any better than anyone else, but I am of invaluable aid to people watching home movies with mushy soundtracks.
Still, there was one other small problem with going out to the shed to the middle bench right near the drill press for the
3/8ths wrench. I could never tell his wrenches apart.
He had numbered them all through some vague system that eluded me. He had a 3/8ths wrench, a quarter-inch wrench and a half-inch
wrench, all of which I spent my childhood looking for. I learned to distinguish one from another because the 3/8ths wrench
had a nick in the handle part, and the quarter-inch wrench had a chunk of white paint on it, and the half-inch wrench was
bigger than the other two. But all three were whole wrenches, not 3/8ths of a wrench, or half a wrench, and all three were
several inches long. I was an adult before one day I noticed they had little fractions embossed on the handles that appeared
to be about the width of the mouth of each wrench.
What a handy little piece of information that could have been.
Still, I never ran out of things to talk about with my dad.
What are you doing, Daddy?
What does it look like?
Where did you say it was again?
IS MOMMY IS PLAYING
with the light machine again. She is not down in the kitchen, stirring Babycakes’ food. She is not sleeping on the couch
where a tired young man could curl up and take a nap. She is sitting in her chair, staring intently at the light. From time
to time she wiggles her fingers around the board, making funny little clicking noises, and other times she just stares. Babycakes
has no idea what she finds so fascinating about the light. Sometimes when he stares at it little things move around inside
and he slaps them. This makes Mommy laugh. Mommy never slaps the light machine. Hardly ever. Sometimes the light machine talks
to her just like a Big One and says things like “You have mail” or “did you PAY for a Gateway?” Sometimes Mommy talks back
to the light machine, and says things like “Give me my file,” or “Out of memory THIS, you pile of junk,” but she never chases
the moving thing, which leads Babycakes to think he will never, never understand Big Ones.