It’s after midnight, but I can’t sleep. I leave my house and head up Peirce Street to Church Street, and then up to Rector. That’s my usual route when I walk or run. Habit tells me to turn right at Rector and proceed to Division Street… But tonight, home plate trumps habit.
The night is fair, the neighborhood quiet. Mist floats through a streetlight’s glow. I see the silhouette of the bleachers at Academy Field. And then I am drawn to the baseball diamond.
Is it the memory of games past that tugs at me? A yearning for simpler times? Academy Field lies dormant on this cool, late-autumn night, but as I walk its base paths, ghosts come alive…
> I’m a catcher in Little League and there’s a bang-bang play at the plate, the ball and the runner hitting me at the same time. The ump yells “Yer out!” and he’s right: my head bounces off the rock-hard dirt behind the plate and the game floats away… Next thing I know, my manager’s splayed hand is in front of my face, and he asks me how many fingers I see. “Five,” I say. “Wrong,” he replies. “There are only four – this one’s a thumb.” Play ball!
> I’m in left field at George J. West Junior High in Providence and – CRACK! – a monster drive soars over my head. There’s no fence at West – it’s free-range baseball. The ball hops twice before disappearing into a thatch of tall grass, a rabbit’s tail gone. &%@#$! What if I can’t find it? I sprint to the thicket and thrust my hand in – got it! I throw to the cutoff man, grass blades and all. Whew!
> I’m in the dugout at Davis Park, my CYO team at bat, when our manager calls out, “Father Murray is here!” We all know what that means: it’s the signal to bunt. Well, everyone knows except Steve Ferri, who happens to be at the plate. The pitch comes in and Ferri swings for the fences. Strike one! Our manager stares at Ferri: “Father Murray is HERE!” A mom behind our bench says, “Have you seen Father Murray? That’s nice he comes to the games.” The pitcher winds up and throws: again, Ferri swings away. Strike two! Our manager is incredulous. “FERRI!” he screams. “FATHER MURRAY IS HERE!” Now everyone is looking for Father Murray – moms, the umpires, even Ferri. Our manager calls time, waves Ferri over, and asks, “Do you know what ‘Father Murray is here’ means?” Ferri doesn’t have a clue, but now the other team does. Next inning, our manager changes the bunt signal.
I stand in the infield at Academy Field. It’s 46 feet from the mound to home plate, 60 feet base to base – same as it ever was. My memories are equally fixed. On this still night, I recall with affection days when five fingers became four, when a baseball vanished and reappeared, and when everyone at Davis Park wondered, where the hell is Father Murray?