"PEA-nuts! You must BUY my PEA-nuts!" and the bag whizzed past the carrot-top head of a girl whose shorts and shirt showed ducks with bats and ballcaps dancing gaily about and she turned to hand a smile to the cranky old wiseguy two rows back who kept growling through his foamy beard at the mascot: "Get away from me or I'll knock ya all the way to third base..." his eyes flashing mirth and mischief, the three-year-old on his lap pumping bon-bon-sized fists toward the big bad wolf to back his Grandpa then THWACK! The assembled looking homeward to see the ball rifling straight up and back, a few necks popping to map the trajectory, everyone pausing for the sound-effect of someone's windshield exploding in a burst of disastrous diamond: CRASH! The catcher bending slowly to retrieve his mask and glancing up into the crowd (...where is she?...) then taking his place behind the plate and running down the signs (...is she here?...) the sound of the crowd now dropping off a ledge and all is quiet as the pitcher looks in. "See that? He's tipping his curveball," whispers the saintly Irish Red Sox fan in section 202 as the pitcher stands daydreaming, the flossy clouds skittering out toward the right field corner where a hell of a commotion is revving up with several bleacher-bound youngsters scattering handfuls of soggy popcorn into the sky while gulls descend and shriek in horror, they know not why. The count is 1-and-2 and the shortstop begins crab-legging left and dipping lower and lower, his knees hydraulic. The ball is moving and a woman whose lipstick is not quite right takes out a Lucky Strike then checks herself, looks up to see the ball moving, the man beside her squinting contentedly under the sunshade of his hand. The auburn glow of the bat seeks Mach 1 as a sheaf of cloud slips around the sun, a quick shadow being pulled across the infield like a cool quilt while the woman rolls a crumb of tobacco between her fingers, and something is about to happen. The three-year-old goes red in the face watching the carrot-top pull a thick tail of hair through a blue-knit loop that snaps to hold it, the ball and bat moving, something about to happen. A current sizzles its way through the dugout as all the eyes in there see the curveball sloooow and begin to haaang, blood pulsing in dozens of fingers clenching the edge of the bench. The saintly Irish Red Sox fan says "Oh" quite distinctly, he thinks, but his teenaged daughter turns to him, irritated: "'No' what?" and misses it: misses the auburn of the bat spilling like ink into the infield, the ball grey and featureless hanging there in the quilted shadows, thousands of mildly distracted people no longer mildly distracted and aware all at once that they are standing and roaring as one as the unmistakable music of the crack of the bat displaces every intention the pitcher ever dreamt of the pitcher spinning and slamming his glove to the ground the umpire's hand whirligigging above him signalling Home Run! Home Run! as the din of the crowd calls the sunshafts back blazing, and my God it's just begun...

And sitting somewhere in the shadows is a young man, who wished as hard as he could wish that it might never end.

©1998 Rick Lopez (text) & Art Becker (images)