The Bottom of the 5th

Miracles surround a little boy on opening day of the Little League baseball season.

Have you seen the movie THE SANDLOT?

Well, that was pretty much my childhood. As a ten year old, it seemed the mysteries of life came alive through baseball. This is a story straight out of those glory days of playing baseball on the diamonds of Southern California, of the smell of cut grass in the outfield, of hitting impossible homers on and off the field. And of ghosts. This story is very much about the ghosts of childhood.

Of all the stories I have ever written, this is perhaps my favorite.

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About the Book

Have you seen the movie THE SANDLOT?

Well, that was pretty much my childhood. As a ten year old, it seemed the mysteries of life came alive through baseball. This is a story straight out of those glory days of playing baseball on the diamonds of Southern California, of the smell of cut grass in the outfield, of hitting impossible homers on and off the field. And of ghosts. This story is very much about the ghosts of childhood.

Of all the stories I have ever written, this is perhaps my favorite.




I. Intro

I had me a son once.

His name was Cooper and he was a special child, all a parent could want. The boy had dark mulatto skin, lighter than mine, and dense black hair that curled naturally into tight little twists close to his scalp. A smart kid, mature for his age, but funny too. And well-liked, with a natural gift for getting on with others. Like our neighbor Sam for instance, a old blind man. Cooper used to take the Sunday paper over to ‘im. He and Robbins—that’s my wife, Robbins with an ‘s’—would get home from church around 11:30 I guess. Cooper would grab a quick sandwich, then head over to Sam’s place and read to him for a couple of hours. I asked him once if there wasn’t something else he’d rather be doing with his Sunday afternoons.

“Like what?” he asked, like the thought had never occurred to him.

“I don’t know. Like playing ball or going to a movie maybe.”

He gave me a quizzical look. “Why would I wanna do that? Sam’s got more stories than any old movie and I can play ball anytime.”

I remember that conversation because it was the only time I ever heard Cooper put anything before baseball. He loved the game, was born to it. Spent hours playing it too. The boy couldn’t wait to get home in the afternoons to throw the ball around, even if it was just against the side of the garage. He wore a hole in the stucco there. Twice.

He was a good kid, the best as he once said to me. Truth is, the boy really only had one vice, and even that wasn’t so bad. Not in hindsight anyway. He was a thumbsucker. Did it without even thinking about it I’m sure.

Yeah, he was a good kid.

And then he was gone.

If you’ll sit a spell on the bleacher here alongside me, I’ll tell you about it. Not ’cause he’s my son either, but because it’s worth hearing. First though, I have to tell you about opening day, about how he quit sucking his thumb.

And about the bottom of the fifth.


II. Opening Day

Cooper turned nine years old that Saturday, opening day. We arrived at the field a bit early, probably on account of him being so excited. Baseball did that to him. The day itself was perfect, like it was made for baseball. The sky was a cloudless deep blue—smog was still a thing of the future back then. Just a bare hint of breeze in the air, enough to carry the ball toward the fences I guess. What you’d call a hitter’s wind.

Roscoe Field the place was called. Built tight against one of those perpetually brown Southern California hillsides, so close the right field was thirty feet shorter than left. To fix that, they put a twenty foot high wall in right field where it dug into the mountain. There aren’t many ten year kids what can hit a ball both that far and that high for a homerun, but I saw it once—a feat I’ll describe for you shortly.

The outfield grass that spring day was the greenest I ever remember seeing it. The air was redolent of a just cut lawn, like honeydew and lilac it was. I can’t never smell that now that I don’t go back to that day. The snack bar, just a shack really, had its usual worn coat of paint. Fluorescent yellow, god knows why. The players sat on telephone poles laid in the dirt along first and third. Not fancy, but it worked. The backstop was a patched mess of rusty chicken wire and every time a ball hit it, those of us in the bleachers flinched at the possibility it wouldn’t hold. It always did though, except once. I’ll get to that too, presently.

There was the usual opening day carnival atmosphere, something I always liked but Cooper could have done without I suppose: balloons and firecrackers, a pony ride, the usual fire truck for the baby kids to climb on. Even a few carnival-style games and a kiddy slide. The teams joined up in the outfield and was introduced, followed by a few short but still too long speeches. A recorded version of the star spangled banner hissed over the loudspeakers and the Junior ROTC paraded the American flag across the infield.

When I saw him not long after the ceremony, it was obvious Cooper was bored, though he never woulda said so.

“When do the games start?” he asked.

“Cooper, you know how opening day is. Won’t be long now.”

“I just wanna get playing, to heck with all this other stuff. That’s for kids.”

Watching him standing there with his thumb in his mouth, I couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “And what do you suppose you are, champ?”

“A ball player, dad. I’m a ball player is all.” He said this with such conviction he must have thought it obvious to all.

“A ball player? Okay, sure. Tell me something though, Mr. ball player.” I hesitated a moment, perhaps afraid to burst his bubble. “You plan to suck your thumb out there?” I pointed through the chicken wire, out toward the pitcher’s mound.

“Naw, that’s not something ball players do,” he said, realizing he was doing it then. He took his thumb out and rubbed the slimy digit on his pants. As he did so, I saw it was wrinkled and pristinely clean compared to his other fingers. When he smiled up at me, his teeth bucked out expensively and I could imagine them costing me a fortune some day. He smiled and jogged off toward the carnival games despite himself.

When I caught up with him again a half hour later, his thumb was back in his mouth.


III. Charlie Granger

I remember that Saturday as if it was yesterday: the luxuriant green of the grass; the chirping of birds in the nearby trees; and the giggling of a couple of little girls sitting behind me in the stands. There was a pair of outside handball courts on the other side of the park, and I can even remember the sound of a rubber ball splotching against the cement walls there over and over again. In the quiet morning air, that sound seemed to echo forever. I also remember wishing Robbins could be there, but she had volunteered to help out at a pancake breakfast at our church that morning. Robbins was a nurse, and I later found out she saved a life that day, doing CPR when one of the older parishioners collapsed. Turned out she was the only one there what knew how to do it. She saved that man, I mean really saved him. Edelman was his name and he became the poster person for CPR across the Southwest after that. Saving his life probably saved countless others. Considering everything else that happened that day, that thought always comforts me.

Standing out on that field, playing third base as usual, I gotta say Cooper looked like a baseball player. That may sound like a father’s pride talking, but it really ain’t. Back in those days, every kid got a complete uniform: hat, shirt, pants, stirrup socks. He had his pants fixed just so, with the elastic band of the cuffs turned in just below his knees. He wore white socks with blue stirrups layered over them. There was even a batting glove sticking out one of his back pockets. He was very particular about his cap and had shaped and curved the bill of it the way ball players will do. He wore it well up on his forehead, never down over his eyes. His team sported light gray jerseys that buttoned up the front, the word ‘Dodgers’ embroidered diagonally in the classic script of the big league team. Cooper wore number three, same as Willie Davis, who played center field for LA. The shirt had blue piping that seemed somehow to complete the illusion of greatness each kid longed for.

I can remember that game as if it was played this morning, not twenty-six years ago. I’ve relived every moment of it a thousand times over the last quarter century. In my mind’s eye, I see them all so clearly: Billy Bishop, our starting pitcher; the coach, a country looking guy we used to call Gomer Pyle ‘cause he looked something like the TV character; Dilly Lansdale, the smallest kid on the team and our second baseman. Our left fielder, Wellington Skeets was his name but of course nobody called him that, used to make like he was chasing bees in the outfield. Skeeter was like that, tended to spend more time with his head in the clouds than his mind in the game. It’s the age I think. A lot of boys are like that at that age. Hell, they haven’t found girls yet, they got to run that energy off somehow I suppose.

By the top of the fourth the score was tied at six apiece. Up to that point, it was a good game but there was nothing special about it. Cooper came up to bat with two outs and a runner on third. It was common knowledge Cooper had been the best hitter in his age group for two years running. As he stepped up to the plate though, a weird thing happened—the whole place got real quiet. Took me a moment to realize it was only a relative quiet, that the constant sound of that handball splotching against the cement wall had stopped. It was surreal though, and it seemed to throw off the rhythm of the day. Nothing seemed quite right after that.

Cooper struck out, actually took a called third strike. In two years of Little League prior to that day, Cooper had only struck out once—and he’d been coming down with the chicken pox then. Something else I need to mention here as well. It only makes sense in retrospect, in the context of the rest of that strange afternoon, but I’ll mention it here anyway. Before Cooper struck out, he fouled off a pitch, a crazy zinger what busted through that rusted chicken wire backstop. It hit a little boy name of Charlie Granger in the side of his head, knocked him cold; for a moment it didn’t look too good, like he wasn’t breathing. He was though, and thank god for that. He had a bump on his head and tears in his eyes, but he looked good enough otherwise. Charlie was four that day, he’s a man now, and a hell of a good ball player—maybe the best ever produced around these parts. Plays in the majors you know.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but there’s something else I should mention about Charlie Granger. The boy had seizures, epilepsy I guess. And not a mild case either. His mother—Edna was her name and she died just not too long ago—once told me they had pretty much figured his future didn’t promise much. He had a seizure a day, sometimes two Edna said. I witnessed one of them once. Charlie’s older brother played ball, wasn’t bad but he was no Charlie as it turned out, and the year before Charlie got hit with that foul ball I saw the boy have one of his fits behind that fluorescent snack bar during one of his brother’s games. A frightening sight. Scared the hell of me. One moment he was standing there licking an ice cream cone, the next he was on the ground writhing back and forth, making weird guttural noises. The ice cream had somehow landed on his chest and his right arm kept jerking back and forth through it, smearing it across his body. I got up close, Edna was there as well and she looked completely used to it. I watched Charlie’s trousers turn dark between his legs. I thought then about how he might swallow his tongue, but Edna seemed to know what she was doing and she didn’t go nowhere near his mouth. She held him close and whispered something in his ear. I don’t know what it was, but the boy stopped shaking a moment later. The whole thing lasted maybe sixty seconds, a minute straight out of the pages of hell you ask me. I couldn’t imagine watching my kid go through that kind of agony every day.

The thing is though, they didn’t have to. By the time Cooper’s foul ball struck him, Charlie had had a fit a day for about two years running. I guess that’s over seven hundred seizures, more than twelve hours of spells if each lasted just a minute. After he was struck that day, Charlie never seized again. Not once.

Edna called that ball a miracle.

Maybe, but considering what happened later, I don’t think the ball had much to do with it.

Series: Tales of the Bloody Scalpel, Book 1
Genres: Fiction, Inspirational
Tags: Audiobook Available, from the mind of Edison McDaniels, Supernatural Medical Thrillers, Written & Read by EPM
Format: eBook
Length: novella
eBook Price: 0.99
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The Bottom of the 5th
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About the Author
Edison McDaniels

A brain surgeon with 20+ years and over 8,000 cases under his belt, Edison McDaniels spends as much time as possible writing fiction these days. He is the author of the acclaimed TALES OF THE BLOODY SCALPEL series of medical thrillers, as well as the THE GETTYSBURG TRILOGY, a series of intense novels depicting the battlefield surgeons at Gettysburg.
He lives in the upper midwest, does not have a dog, but can often be found at Minnesota Twins baseball games. He is not squeamish.