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BASEBALL FICTION

Comiskey Ritual
By Pamala K. Gasway

Edie hadn't worn the new Sox cap her Uncle Dan had bought her when he came to visit two weeks ago. Instead, she wore the one that was hers—the one with the grass stains. The one she wore when she went down to the corner lot and played pick-up games with the other kids in the neighborhood. She wore it whenever she came to Comiskey Park with her father—like today. As she slid through the turnstile, she thought that maybe this would be the time that she would catch a foul ball. But she tried not to appear too eager.

Her father had warned her, "Do you know how many years I've been goin' t'games and ain't got one yet?"

She knew her father told her this because he was trying to prevent disappointment and pouting; her father had little patience with such behavior. But Edie was hopeful. She secretly fantasized about sneaking into the outfield seats and catching one of Kittle's home runs. The crowd would cheer, and the players would tip their caps. She would wave with the ball safely resting in her glove, and a scout, or even Torborg the manager, would run to meet this new prospect.

In the picnic area beneath the left field stands, her father stood in line for an Old Style. Edie stood close by, so close she could be his shadow, except that she was way too small. The aroma of roasting dogs and the smell of stale beer mingled with the fresh fragrance of the grass wafting from the field. Her nose wrinkled. Two old men in line stared suspiciously down at her. She would have felt uncomfortable if the surroundings weren't so familiar. She eyed the churro cart and started toward it when her father suddenly noticed, or felt, her absence.

"Want a dog or sumthin' doncha?" he asked as he gestured toward the stand where he stood.

"Uh, I don't know," pondered Edie, thinking about the churros while gazing up at the woman behind the counter who was impatiently eyeing her.

"Ya' better git it now while we're here and befor' the game starts."

Edie reached down and scratched her left knee. "Yeah, okay." She figured she should take what was offered but quickly added, "Can I have a Coke too?"

Her father turned, "Add a dog and a small Coke to that." Edie noticed the woman was missing a front tooth.

In one motion, Edie squeezed her glove under her right arm, freeing her left hand so she could reach up to slide her drink safely into both hands. Her father easily balanced his beer along with her hot dog while carrying a folded Sun-Times. She followed him as he looked for a place to sit among the picnic tables separated from left field only by a chain-link screen.

This was the ritual when they came to Comiskey. They always began by sitting in the family picnic section and watching Chisox batting practice. They made their way toward their paid seats when the visiting team came out.

Today, however, Edie and her dad were later than usual. The construction on the Dan Ryan Expressway had slowed northbound traffic considerably, so the Sox were just finishing their turn when Edie and her father seated themselves by the wire fencing. She noticed on her father's watch it was just after noon.

Edie found she was hungrier than she had thought. As her father spread out the sports section on the table, Edie hopped off her seat and went to splotch mustard and onions on her hot dog, eating it as she skipped back to their table. When she returned, her father spoke without looking up. "Says here Perez is pitching for us, and Johnson is going for the Mariners."

"Yeah? That's good, ain't it?" Edie asked between bites as mustard oozed out of the corner of her mouth.

"Well, could be. Depends. Could be bad." Then her father went on to study the box scores.

As Edie sat watching the Mariners begin batting practice, she hoped the bright sun wouldn't hinder Calderon, Sosa, or Johnson from catching fly balls. Once when she had dropped a fly ball from Lonnie Washington, she had blamed the sun. The other kids on her team had said, "Edith, you just can't catch a fly," as they shook their heads. But then she remembered these big league players were different from her. She figured the sun didn't matter so much to them.

Edie's father folded his paper. "You gotta go befor' we head to our seats?"

"Nope."

"Sure?"

Edie shook her head.

"I'm goin'. Just wait here. Wipe your mouth." He handed her a wad of paper napkins from a pocket before turning away.

Edie swiped her mouth with the back of her hand but was surprised by so much yellow. She then took the napkins and wiped her hand and dabbed at her face. She knelt on the bench of the picnic table, clutching the fence, and peering out onto the sunlit field. Edie was mesmerized by a long flyball and didn't notice a player casually strolling toward the bullpen. As he followed the warning track, watching the same ball and lightly running his fingers over the wire fencing, the player's fingertips absentmindedly tripped over Edie's. Startled by the contact, Edie looked up in awe to find Carlton Fisk smiling directly at her. The glove she had been loosely holding fell to the ground.

Her father was returning to collect Edie when he noticed the girl gaping at the veteran catcher. In an instant, the stadium filled with the ghosts of Fox, Minoso, Aparicio, Rivera, Landis, and Pierce. Although Fisk felt Edie's fingers, it was her father's memory they had touched. Edie's father stopped as Fisk continued on. He noticed Edie's wide eyes following the number seventy-two on Fisk's back as she slowly removed her fingers from the fencing. Suddenly, Edie felt her father's presence. She turned just as his hand rested on her shoulder.

"Dad! Did—"

"Hey, kiddo. That was Carlton Fisk!" her father said as he lifted Edie's cap and ruffled her hair. He sat down and placed Edie onto his lap. "That's sumthin'. Yes indeed. Sumthin'. One of the great ones." Her father stooped while balancing Edie on his knee and scooped up the glove from the damp concrete floor. "Here, ya' dropped this." Edie looked at her father and noticed he was smiling. "Hey, ya' can't go losing that. You'll need it to catch those foul balls with." And the two laughed out loud.

"Dad, can I have a churro?" Edie asked, not really taking advantage of her dad's good mood but because she really wanted one. "Please?"

"Hmm . . . sure." As her father set her back on the ground, folded a bill in her palm, and slowly stood up, Edie noticed a sudden change in his expression as he looked out toward the field. His face was contorted in a subtle frown. "Here, you git it, and I'll wait."

When she returned with the churro, he was still peering out across the field. Edie strained to follow his gaze. All she could see was that her father was looking over the first base side of the park. High up. From where they stood, the new stadium they were building loomed above the grandstand. Edie remembered riding down Thirty-fifth Street toward the parking lot between the old and new stadiums. On her right the familiarity of Comiskey was surrounded by the colorful vendor stands and milling neighborhood kids, but on her left the formidable new stadium blocked the sunlight and cast a dark shadow across the street. Walking across the parking lot, she had almost tripped over machine cables because she was looking up at the cranes and workers. Others had also stared up at the imposing structure. Some had even taken pictures, but her father had walked right by as if it weren't even there. Edie wondered why he was looking up at it now; she was confused.

Her father suddenly turned, clapped the newspaper against his thigh, and directed, "Hey kiddo, we better git a score card and git to our seats."

As the two headed down the runway, her father lifted Edie's cap again and stroked her hair ponderously, saying, "Kiddo, didcha know this is a palace? It's a baseball palace . . . the Baseball Palace of the World."

"Sure dad," Edie confirmed. "The White Sox play here."

Her father smiled again and took Edie's hand. "Got your glove ready for those fouls?"

—EFQ

 

PAMALA K. GASWAY lives in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she teaches English at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. She has previously published a poem in Spitball. She welcomes every opportunity to go to Wrigley Field to cheer for the Cubs.

© 2001 Pamala K. Gasway

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