Somewhere in heaven, between third base and home, Babe Ruth smiled because I gave a baseball to a little boy.
The boy and his grandma were not going to make it through the second inning of a day game at the ballpark. Stifling midday heat and no shade sent grandma and grandson past me at the gate, headed to the pool.
But The Babe would have none of that.
“Hey, you got two balls in your bag. The kid deserves one of them,” The Babe directed.
I did not ask, but it might have been the kid’s first game at a real ballpark, where men are paid to play a kid’s game.
It had been a home run ball, hit in the prior day’s game. No signature, just a smudged logo identifying it as a Major League baseball, smudged by, hopefully, a hometown hero.
The boy looked at the ball with disbelief. I know that look, having been on the giving and receiving end of similar transactions.
The first actual game I attended was an AAU summer league game at the local baseball stadium. A neighbor, on one of the teams, let me sit in the dugout. I was 10. One of his teammates gave me a ball to keep, for myself.
That point in time is when I began to love the game of baseball, and not just playing it. Being around the game and so-named baseball people – who talk about it with authority and a kind of awe – also has made me love the sport.
It is where I met The Black Night. To borrow a phrase, it is a place where fly balls go to sleep.
My last stint of playing baseball occurred many years ago, in one of those leagues for players who cannot give up the game, even when their hair is just as white as the ball they try to hit and catch.
The Black Night is a mitt, a black one. Its accomplishments are legends in my mind.
The ball that fat guy hit over my head in the championship game that one year, well, it went to sleep after I ran it down, turning away at the last second before obliterating a simple, split-rail outfield fence that bordered the home of the field’s groundskeeper.
Then there was the guy I dared to “hit it to me, big boy,” and he hit a beeline drive about seven feet off the ground that was about to start rising when it finally reached me, running in from right field.
I dropped that one, because of a massive pain in my glove hand, caused by catching the ball in the palm, and not the web of the glove.
I did not sleep that black night.
But I will tonight, because a little boy, somewhere, also will fall asleep, gripping a baseball.
His mind will drift back to how stinking hot it was, and how the guy at the gate of the ballpark gave him a ball. And he said thank you.
He also may remember the huge cannonball he did into the pool that day.
Then, his fingers will grip the ball as he drifts off to sleep.
And The Babe will smile.
“Good night, kid.”
Jef Benedetti is a regular contributor to the Spotlight.