We use what things there are to make a game, stones, trees, secluded space. Each dawn’s escape from the lakeside cabin my parents rented that summer was the same: listen for the sounds of anyone awake, open the door gently, gently, tiptoe past the gravel drive, tap the taillight once for luck and then goosebumps, bounding down the dewed green slope to the hidden place just beyond the beach where water, sand, woods, and sky fused into that one magical theatre where dreams could be made real. Far from the clean white chalk lines and dusty bases of the ball field back home, this was the place I played the year I turned eight and Baseball beckoned like a sweet first love, the mound merely a place in the stones where I became a pitcher, Sandy Koufax iron-jawed and grim, Warren Spahn with his two-handed double-pump windup, every stone a baseball, so many that even the entire summer could not consume them. Forty feet distant, a single pine at the edge of the woods was both home plate and impartial umpire. Hit the tree—a strike. Play Ball!
And play I would, hurling each pitchstone the way I knew the Major Leaguers must. Fastball, curve, sinker, screwball: each had its own best stone, chosen by shape, weight, angularity, flatness, those of known lucky color saved for when the big pitch was needed most, and the secret weapon, the spitter, slyly swept with saliva and delivered when cheating was firmly in the bones. Every pitch was held just so, a configuration of fingers and wrist and arm designed for velocity, control, power, as if these stones in these repeated motions could somehow mimic the feel and flow of a real hardball so heavy in an eight-year-old’s hand. I was my own wild-throat announcer as the strikes rang out against the early morning stillness. Nobody on, nobody out, top of the seventh, the count is two and two. The young left-hander leans in, eyes of steel hidden beneath the brim of his cap, wrist cocked behind his back, the ball turning in his palm as he finds the seams, nods once, now the wind-up, the high leg-kick, the pitch: strike three swinging! He’s outta there!
My brother trespassed a single time, silent as a spy, edging closer until I peered in for the game-winning sign and found him standing there staring, eyes wide, not knowing what to do. The game ended in anger, fists, exposure, my heart beating wildly as if I had been caught stealing baseball cards again at the drugstore down the road. But the punishment did not matter, nor even the intrusion. Nothing mattered but what was to come, Little League for the first time, the gradual strengthening of those thin weak arms, the courage to throw a curve when the count was three and two, all the strikeouts of that glorious summer a memory forever, still as secret as the stone-studded mound.
—The author reads an earlier version of this story (as a lineated poem) at CAI,
NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands: Poetry Sunday: Stan Werlin (15 March 2020)
short stories and poetry have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Review, Sheepshead Review, Prime Number, Glassworks, Futures Trading, Soundings East, Five on the Fifth, Saranac Review, Bacopa Literary Review, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Reunion, and Roanoke Review. His humorous children’s poetry has been published in numerous children’s magazines and anthologies. He holds a BA degree from Harvard College and an MBA from The Wharton School.