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The town’s baseball uniforms were flannel, and old and baggy. Generations of kids had worn them and generations of coaches’ wives had patched them at the sleeves and knees before packing them in mothballs and putting them up in the garage rafters for the winter.
Coach passed them out a few days before the Memorial Day opener. You still smelled like mothballs at the Fourth of July double header.
One size misfit all. Buttons strained on heavyset catchers. Shirttails flapped on gangly growth-spurting pitchers and fielders. Stirrup socks as old and patched as the uniforms themselves sagged. Somewhere on your anatomy, some piece of your uniform was perpetually in need of adjustment.
That’s how I remember a lightning-fast pitcher we called “Horsey”. Tall, and skinny, cinching his belt a notch tighter, then stepping onto the pitching rubber and, malevolent smile on his face, looking in for the sign.
You only needed one sign when you caught Horsey. You stuck your right index finger straight down. One. A fastball.
And Horsey’s malevolent smile would freshen. And he would nod and wind up and uncork a heater that came in so fast you heard it hissing toward you before you actually saw it.
With other pitchers you had time to see the ball and react. With Horsey, you lunged your glove toward the hiss and hoped to intercept the ball.
Sometimes you did. Sometimes you didn’t. If you missed, the ball would glance off your glove—or worse yet some part of you—and go all the way to the backstop.
Baseball rules say if the catcher drops the third strike, the hitter can try to run to first base. You have to tag him or throw him out as if he’d actually hit the ball. One night, Horsey averaged five strikeouts an inning because I kept missing strike three.
He was almost seventeen the last time I caught him. Our paths forked that fall. I haven’t seen him since.
I like to think, though, that somewhere in the rafters of some garage in my hometown, our old uniforms lay, washed and patched in mothballs… waiting. And that somehow, someday, in some future life, probably, we’ll get to put them on once more and I’ll get to catch my buddy Horsey again.