By Stephen McDonald
Some people had already left the stadium. Some people were in their cars going to catfish joints to talk about the season and what went wrong in the final series. Some people were holding their kids hands and telling them that even if the home team loses, everything is okay, because it’s just baseball. But most people were still in their seats, focused on the game, praying that if they stayed until the last pitch a miracle would happen.
Not wanting to leave, and miss her sons last at bat ever she stayed. Holding her husband’s hand as the other team scored run after run and the outcome became decided long before the ninth inning. She remembered all the tournaments, all the games, everything. From the time he was in fifth grade; almost every weekend was spent on baseball.
She always told her son that baseball could only come third in his life after Jesus and grades. But one look in his room, and aside from a crucifix above his bed, it was hard to tell if there was anything else he cared about.
The game ended on a strike out, as the other team poured onto the field. The remaining fans stood and applauded them for a deserved win. But it was still the wrong team celebrating. It was the wrong color jerseys being waved above heads, it was the wrong coach being drenched in Gatorade, and it was the wrong sons being congratulated by the wrong mothers.
She bit it her lip and promised not to cry, but when he came out of the dugout, and she saw his face, she broke her promise. Holding his catcher’s mask and his equipment he made his way out toward the stands. She grabbed him and hugged him over the railing; she buried her face in the corner of his neck and breathed deeply. She knew that smell, the mixture of sweat, pine tar, leather, and chewing tobacco. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, but it was real, and it always reminded her of summer, and baseball. But mostly, that smell reminded her of her son.
So she stood there and they held each other for a long time, because she knew this would be the last time she smelt that smell and hugged her son after a ball game. In that instant, while holding him, she remembered it all. She remembered the mountains of
letters he started getting in high school. She remembered the way he and his dad would sit in the back yard and talk about every detail of every game.
Some families do charity, some families do music, but her family had always done baseball. And now it was over, there were no more road trips to games, no more equipment to buy, no more chatting with the other baseball moms in the stands above the dugout. So as she stood there holding him across the railing, she didn’t want to let go. She didn’t want to open her eyes on an empty stadium, with the final score still reminding everyone of the tragedy of the evening.
A team from Long Island, with no history, and no fans had shocked the Bayou Bengals, in Baton Rouge. Losing the series hurt, but losing baseball hurt more. Being the mother of the catcher for LSU was a piece of pride that she could show to anyone who asked, in line at the super-market, or at the neighborhood BBQ with the other housewives.
She could see that he had been crying, when he walked into the dugout. He told her that he wanted to be with his team tonight and that he would meet them for breakfast in the morning. She and her husband finally turned around and left the stadium. They got in their car and were headed to meet some of the other parents at a gumbo place, as they drove away they saw the lights over Alex Box Stadium go dark.
The drive between Austin and Baton Rouge is a long one, and somewhere around Lake Charles she realized that she would be happy about this memory one day, that one day in the future she would remember all the baseball and all the games her son played and she would smile. But it isn’t today, and it won’t be tomorrow.