Saturday, June 23, 2012

The boy and his baseball

My son was draped over the fence on the first-base line, his arms hanging down and his baseball mitt secured to his left hand. Not even twenty yards from him, the pitchers in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats' bullpen sat on an aluminum bench next to a bucket chock full of the things my son wanted most in this world: baseballs.

For a 7 year-old boy, still half a decade away from discovering curves, the desire to procure a baseball in a half-filled AA ballpark was more than a whim; it was a desire, a passion, a visceral yearning. However, by the seventh inning, he had resigned himself to nihilism (something he gets from his mother).

"I'm not getting a ball," he said, which might as well been translated to: Life just doesn't work out.

"Keep trying, Owen," his mother encouraged. "I have a good feeling about this."

Still draped over the fence on the first base line, Owen waited.

Then, as life's vicissitudes took charge, Owen was tossed a ball between innings from a player warming up the right fielder. That player was Koby Clemens, the son of the newly-acquitted and regionally reviled Roger Clemens.

Growing up, I had a poster of Koby's dad in my bedroom. In 1986, when Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners (still a dubious distinction given that it was Seattle) in a game, won a Cy Young and an MVP and took the Sox to the World Series, he might as well been curing lepers, turning water into wine, resurrecting from the dead. Like millions of New England boys at the time, I worshiped Roger Clemens with the dogged naivete of an 11 year-old boy, who was still a couple of years away from discovering curves.

Of course, Clemens' legacy in Boston---and as an athlete in general---would be poisoned by his arrogance, hubris and general douche-baggedness. Would I possess the same level of rancor toward the man had he never donned a pinstripe? Probably not. But when I was a boy, The Rocket was beyond reproach, a hero. And here, over twenty years later, his son, with a simple flip of a three dollar baseball, did the same for mine.

For the past two nights, Owen has slept with the baseball that Koby Clemens gave him. Of course, someday the baseball will be lost or discarded, like my Roger Clemens poster, but for right now, my son is exhilarated. And sometimes, Owen, life does work out.

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