Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sliding Home

The first stomach cramp hit me as I knelt in the on-deck circle. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t good

“Oh man … not now!” I thought to myself as I took a deep breath, hoping it would pass.

It was our first Little League game of the season, school was finally out, the sun was shining down, and all was right with the world. And why wouldn’t it be? I was 11-years old and I had life by the short hairs. I didn’t care a lick about girls (yet) and I didn’t have to worry about stupid shit like work, bills, the gas crisis, or trouble in the Middle East.

My life was very simple in the summer, wake up, eat a bowl of Super Sugar Crisp, and then head down the street to my cousin John’s house to play baseball for the rest of the day.  Sure, we’d take breaks for lunch, and maybe dinner, and occasionally a trip to the dime store to buy a few packs of baseball cards (a quarter a pack with that nasty-ass stick of stale gum that was always stuck to the last card). If it rained, we’d begrudgingly head inside and act like a couple of heroin addicts going through withdrawal until the sun came out again. Our lives were set.

We both had summer birthdays, the best kind really, mine in the middle of July, his, the first week of August, because it meant we were never in school, and we always got super-cool stuff, like ball gloves, or bats, or maybe a swim mask and snorkel. The summer of 1976, my mother decided to give me an early birthday present once school let out, and it was, by far, the best present I’d ever received up to that point in my life - a genuine, red, white, and blue, Reggie Jackson-signature Rawlings baseball glove.

Since it was the Bicentennial year, damn near everything from Maine to California was draped in some combination of red, white, and blue, that summer, almost to point of ad nauseam, but I’d never seen a baseball glove in any color other than brown, nor had anyone else, so my glove soon became the envy of every kid on my Little League team. It truly was a beauty. One of the first fastback models I’d ever seen. It looked more like my dad’s 1967 Ford Mustang, than a baseball glove, all sleek and cool. 

The outside of the glove was deep blue with white lacing, the inside - bright red, and the web was a checkerboard pattern of all three colors. It also had a hole to put your index finger on the outside, which, every kid knew, was extremely important if you wanted to look like a real major leaguer.

For two solid weeks I slept like crap every night with my new  glove under my mattress, trying to break it in before the season started. Now my glove was plenty broken in, but instead of snaring hot smashes down the third base line with my new Reggie Jackson signature model, I was groaning in pain just outside the dugout, afraid to take even one practice swing because I’d finally put my finger on just what those stomach cramps meant … impending doom!

Yep, there was no mistaking it, the dreaded diarrhea, and probably a pretty bad case of it, was on my doorstep, or in this case, the on-deck circle.

Sweat began beading up on my skin and pouring down my face, but it had nothing to do with the sun, or the fact that it was really warm. In fact, I was actually feeling rather cold as I prayed for the second cramp to pass before I strolled up to the plate and potentially soiled myself in front of all those kids and their adoring parents. 

If I were lucky, maybe Timmy Miller would strike out to end the inning and I wouldn’t have to bat at all. Then I could ask the coach to pull me from the game so I could go to the bathroom.

But the next pitch pummeled poor Timmy Miller in the middle of the back, and I knew my luck had run out. Now, I not only had to worry about having a misfortunate accident in the batter’s box, but  also being killed by a wild pitch!

Slowly, I trudged my way to the plate, making sure to keep my butt cheeks clenched as tightly as possible to try and avoid any unnecessary spillage. The pitcher, a 12-year-old behemoth named Glenn Fields, looked like he might need to start shaving at any moment. I'm not sure what his birth certificate said, but it looked like someone had added wrong, because he sure as hell didn't look 12. 

Glenn stared in at me and sneered. He easily was the biggest kid in town - so big he couldn’t even button up his jersey, let alone tuck it in. He even ripped out the sleeves so he could fit his massive pipes through the armholes! He obviously wasn’t very happy about drilling poor Timmy with two outs on an 0-2 count. I could tell he quickly wanted to make mince meat out of me and get out of the inning. 

Glenn didn’t like me all that much, probably dating back to the previous season when my coach instructed me to intentionally walk him with the bases loaded. Extremely frustrated after the third intentional ball, Glenn stepped over the plate on my fourth pitch and launched a missile off Genie Daniels' roof, a good 20-yards past the right field fence. He flipped his bat aside like a used cigarette, and then stood there admiring his titanic blast. Hell, we all turned to watch the flight of the ball. None of us had ever seen a ball hit so far before. I began to wonder if it would ever land, or just burn up on re-entry. That’s why we all were completely shocked when we heard the ump yell, “Yer out!” Apparently, stepping out of the box to hit the ball wasn’t allowed, so rather than hitting a grand slam, Glenn had made the last out of the inning, and he wasn’t very happy.

So, here it was, a year later, and Glenn’s nullified homer still hung heavy on his mind as he pumped in what must have been about an 82 mph fastball just under my chin. That's when cramp number three hit me.

“Ball one.” Cried the ump.

The catcher tossed the ball back to Glenn, but the throw was wild, allowing Timmy to scurry down to second base. Glenn seethed as he picked the ball up out of the dirt. He muttered something under his breath, but I couldn’t tell what, nor did I care, because I knew my time was running out.

In my somewhat short history of bouts with diarrhea, I knew one thing was certain; I had a very predictable series of events before I was in true danger mode. Not unlike a women about to give birth experiencing contractions, my first cramp was always a mere warning shot fired across the bow, sort of a “you might want to start thinking about locating the nearest toilet” type of thing. Cramp number two, was more of the same, but a little more nerve-wracking, as in, “you better have found that toilet!” Cramp number three, however, was a full-out five-alarm fire, as in “you’ve got about 60-seconds max to survive this thing!”

That’s the state I was in as Glenn dug in and got ready to fire the next pitch. I knew I couldn’t last the entire at bat, so I hoped and prayed that Glenn would give me something I could put in play for an easy out so I could leave the field with my dignity still intact.

The ball exploded out of Glenn’s meaty hand and bore right down the middle of the plate. My lower intestines gurgled like a witch’s cauldron as I weakly swung the bat off my shoulder in the general direction of the ball. Somehow, I connected, but the force of the pitch was so great, it knocked the bat clean out of my hands. The result: a weak dribbler down the first base line. I gritted my teeth and began awkwardly trotting toward first base, hoping my intestinal tract wouldn't turn inside out. Somewhere along the way, I passed the ball, which was clinging to the first base line. Glenn charged off the mound to field my swinging bunt, but he tripped over the pitching rubber and fell flat on his face as the ball came to rest just inside the foul line about 30-feet from home plate. Somehow I had managed to hit an infield single.

This was not at all what I wanted, and yet, while running to first base, I must have expelled a great deal of gas along the way, because my cramp had passed and my stomach was feeling a little better. That was a hard sell for the kids in the first base dugout, who were none too pleased by the cloud of sulfur I had left behind.

“Hmm.” I thought to myself. “Maybe that’s it. Maybe I just needed to fart.”

Turns out, that wasn’t it at all. An unprecedented fourth cramp began to bubble up. This one was so close to the exit chute, that I knew I was in unchartered territory. Once again, the sweat began pouring out of me as the skin on my arms turned into a minefield of goose pimples.

Now I was really stuck. To make matters worse, my coach, John’s older brother Brad, started flashing me the steal sign from the third base coach's box. Much to his surprise, I shook my head “NO!” Again, he gave me the sign to steal, and again, I shook him off. Glenn was talking to his catcher while all this was going on, so he hadn’t even thrown a pitch to the next batter yet. After shaking Brad off for the third time, he asked the umpire for time out and waved me over. Again, I shook him off. Now he was mad, so I gestured for him to come over to first base instead.

Halfway to first, his anger turned to concern. He could tell something was wrong with his little cousin. Glenn’s infielders had gathered around him on the mound during the time out, so when Brad got to first, we had the area all to ourselves.

“What’s going on buddy? Why won’t you steal?"  He asked. "Are you afraid of Glenn?"

“Well, yeah ... but, ... no ... Brad, I can’t steal because if I slide into second, I’m afraid I’m going to shit in my pants!” I said.


“I’m going to have really bad diarrhea Brad ... you gotta put in a pinch runner for me … PLEASE!!!” I pleaded.

One look at my sweaty face and my goose-pimpled arms was all it took. He knew I wasn’t joking.

“Ump, I’m pulling my four hitter for a pinch runner.” He shouted.

This created a head-scratching moment for the umpire, and my teammates, given the fact it was only the first inning and I was one of the faster runners on my team, but I wasn’t waiting around to explain anything to anyone. Before Brad had picked my replacement, I was in a full-out sprint, heading for the bathroom at the playground behind the first base dugout.

I’m not sure if any feeling in the human experience can compare to the feeling of relief upon finding a toilet when you’re on the dastardly doorstep of a potential diarrhea dilemma. I already was having  that feeling of relief before I even got to the bathroom - a smile may have even crossed my face when ... HORROR! ... and I mean horror in the absolute sense. The bathroom door was inexplicably locked. Not only locked, but padlocked - the women’s restroom too! I had already relaxed my bowels in anticipation of a fruitful ending, and now I was doomed. A half-mile from home, no bathroom in sight and already past the point of no return, my life was about to become a living hell. That's when I caught sight of my bike parked against the back of the dugout.

Ah, the bicycle – every kid’s mode of pre-pubescent transportation back in the day, even Glenn’s, and my bike was a true beauty. Purple from stem to stern, right down to the handle bar grips, with an awesome foam-rubber metallic banana seat, a racing stripe, and tires that were always pumped up well past their recommended p.s.i., which, as any kid could tell you, makes it go way faster, and leaves a much longer skid mark on the sidewalk when you stomp on the coaster brakes.  At this point, I didn’t care about how cool my bike was, I just knew that it was my ticket to freedom from embarrassment, because even if I didn’t make it home before I shit myself, at the very least, I would be safely away from everyone at the field, if, and when it happened.

I can’t be sure if anyone was even paying attention to me the entire time I was sprinting to the bathroom and hopelessly yanking on the locked doors, and I don't know if anyone saw me jumping on my bike and riding like hellfire down the street. I didn’t really care. I was just happy to have the wind in my face and a downhill ride to my house, because if it had been uphill, I never would have made it.

If anyone had ever thought of charting the land-speed record for the half-mile by an 11-year-old boy on a bicycle, I’m pretty sure I would have set it that day. I was going so fast, I nearly wiped out in the driveway as I slammed on the brakes and threw a hailstorm of stones into the garage door. From there, I dashed into the house and ran upstairs to our bathroom ready to begin my whole new, better life.

I was so intent on reaching my final destination, I hadn’t even noticed my mom was in the kitchen when I sprinted past her.

“What are you doing? She shouted up the stairs. “I thought you had a ballgame?”

I had no time to answer (or shut the bathroom door). I just needed to get my pants down, and fast! That was a problem, since both my legs were all sweaty, and I was wearing a belt. Rather than mess with the belt, I untucked my jersey and yanked my pants down as hard as I could until they were below my waist. This, of course, scraped up my hips and caused my wet underwear to roll up thick as a rope.

“Are you alright?” My mom asked as she began making her way up the stairwell.

I didn’t answer; instead, I looked down at my scraped-up hips and rolled-up underwear and noticed I'd left some collateral damage behind. Finally, I got my bare ass onto the toilet seat - pretty much the only thing I’d been thinking of since I’d entered the on-deck circle nearly 20 minutes earlier - and totally let loose.

The ensuing explosion can only be described as slightly frightening, and yet, somehow euphoric. My mother, of course, didn’t feel quite the same way, knowing full well she would be left to clean up any residual fallout. At this point, she didn’t need me to answer; she didn’t need me to say anything really. My initial eruption, and the several after shocks that followed, pretty much said it all. She simply retreated back to the kitchen to fetch some cleaning supplies muttering,  "Holy Christ, what the hell did he eat?” or something along those lines.

As for me, well, as each wave of liquid hell poured out of me, the sweat slowly evaporated from my skin, and my goose pimples began melting away.

“Man, what the hell did I eat?” I wondered to myself.

It didn’t really matter. I was feeling much better. So much so, I flushed away my troubles, tossed my soiled underwear into the clothes hamper, put on a fresh, dry pair, slipped my pants back on, said goodbye to my mother as we crossed paths in the stairwell, then jumped on my bike and headed back to the ball diamond.

I arrived at the field without much fanfare. No one even seemed to notice I was gone. In fact, the inning wasn’t even over yet. My pinch runner was still on third base because Glenn had walked the two batters after me. When Brad saw me ride up on my bike, he asked the ump for another timeout and came over to the dugout to see if I was okay. I told him I was good to go, so he re-entered me back in the game. As luck would have it, Glenn threw the very next pitch over the catcher’s head to the backstop.

Feeling much better, and lighter on my feet, I broke for home. The catcher hustled back to get the ball as Glenn and I both sprinted toward the plate. I didn’t care if I beat the throw or not, I was just relieved I could slide into home without incident.

The catcher grabbed the ball and reeled around to snap a throw to Glenn as we reached the plate at the same time. With one last burst of speed, I slid foot-first toward the back corner of the plate, throwing up a cloud of dust, but thankfully nothing else. The throw was on time, but I slid under Glenn’s tag.

“SAFE!” The home plate ump barked.

"What?" Glenn complained. Then Glenn's coach ran out of the their dugout and he, Glenn and the ump got into a shouting match.

“Yup … I'm safe, alright.” I laughed to myself as I walked back to our dugout. “But just barely!”

I don’t really remember much else from that day. It was 38-years ago, after all. I’m not sure if I made any great snatches at the hot corner with my new Reggie Jackson Rawlings glove, or not. I don’t know if I got any more hits off Glenn that day, I don’t even know if we won or lost. In fact, that glove, my bike, and even my mother, all are long gone now. I miss all of them dearly, but I’ll never forget the first inning of that first game in the summer of 1976. That, I know for sure!

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