I played third base on the Oak Park T-ball All Star team.
The All Star Game was on July 4, 1980, on Ridgeland Commons field, just across the street from OPRF High School. It was the first time I played baseball on a manicured, grass and dirt diamond. I hit the first RBI, a triple that led my division to an 8-2 win.
I was nine-years-old.
Twenty-six years later, the trophy rests downstairs on my living room bookshelf.
It was my last sporting victory.
I joined the Pony League — fast pitch — the following spring. In the third inning of our first exibition, I stole home. When the dust cleared, I was safe. But my wrist hurt really badly.
The only adult in attendence was Tommy’s dad, Mr. Meyers, from down the block.
“Is your mom home?” he asked.
“Um, yeah,” I said, wincing. “But she doesn’t live with my dad anymore.”
My wrist was broken. I missed the remainder of the season. In August, my mother moved my brother and me to suburban Philadelphia.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, was light years from Oak Park, Illinois. The kids were wealthy, and in a hurry to grow up. They listened to The Who, and smoked pot. In sixth grade.
Me, I was recovering from The Lost Year. The chaos of my parent’s divorce was distracting. I hadn’t learned a thing in fifth, except that things fall apart.
I tested into a fourth grade math class, and a fifth grade English. The other kids teased me. I got tutored. The other kids teased me. I shared jeans and sneakers with my mom. The other kids teased me. I sat around during recess listening to my Walkman. The other kids… you get the idea.
In the spring, when I went out for little league, I could scarcely hit the ball. I was walked a lot. The coach put me in right field. It was my last season on the diamond.
In “A Farewell to Arms,” Hemmingway writes that “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”
I have been broken more than once. The Wrist. The Jaw. The Divorce.
Every fall, it seems, my mortality is back on display when, at the end of another busy year, I slide into winter with another energy-sapping illness. I have been walking up and down the spiral staircase between my bedroom and living room for three weeks.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places,” Hemingway writes. “But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, though there will be no special hurry.”
I want to believe that which does not kill me makes me stronger. But I have a fragile radius, and a glass jaw.
And I want to believe that my heart is tougher for the tearing. But I think, in fact, that the scar tissue is weak. And on days like today — weeks like this week, months like this month — I am certain that it is killing me too, though in no special hurry.
Maybe it’s futile. But maybe we have no choice but to stand up, and take another swing.