Here’s a little something from my previous book The Tenth Inning (2015), a collection of baseball-themed stories and poems. But as any artist knows, when you write about a “thing” it’s the “thing” itself and the other “thing” behind it. The platform or backdrop, so to speak. Hope you enjoy the read, thanks. Doug
White steam rose from beyond the side of the road, curling and lifting in perfect contrast to the heavy gray clouds and threatening sky. Mountains stretched and yawned, lined with burnt trees and new growth. Every day was like a ballgame that you got in just before the rains came. I liked that. After awhile, anticipation gave way to presence, details sharpened, and the outlook became sunnier. Here comes the ground crew to take off the tarp and leave us with green, sunshine and possibility.
The wind kicked up a bit and I began to notice hats, thrown off and left behind, landing among bubbling fumaroles, steaming hot springs, and belching sulfur pits. I saw a lonely pink hat sitting astride a beautiful yellow ledge at canyon’s edge. There was a black hat with the word “Crew” stamped above the bill, sitting by itself on a bench by Old Faithful. We passed it twice during the day, crowds came and went, the geyser erupted on cue, and “Crew” sat unhindered. Finally, on our third pass, a man gestured and it was claimed.
After awhile, I decided to take pictures of the hats, centering them carefully in my shots, imagining the head and body below, tossed or blown away, trying to understand the men and women who lived in the unexplored places beneath the hats. Did they dance through life day by day, changing moods and styles on the turn of a dime? Or did they stand in the mirror with a worried look, a little bit cautious, a size too small, coming off the crown? Of course, I saw only baseball hats, shaped in the familiar fashion that traces back to the first teams, the Civil War, and the time when explorers clashed with natives and the land remained untamed. The hats were bereft of team and I even wondered if there was a connection between lost hats and those without allegiance to country place or ballclub. America likes to see itself as a place for team players, but really, it’s the land of the individual. No two hats were alike.
At the end of the day, I stopped in the souvenir shop to get some postcards. The cashier was from Poland, her name tag said, and after a brief conversation I learned it was her second summer in the park, and she absolutely loved it, she spent the weekends hiking and exploring and she could never see it all, no matter how many visits she made. She was on an adventure of the first sort.
“I like your hat,” she said, ironically, considering my day. I wore a vintage 1940s Hollywood Stars baseball cap, bright red with a star, instead of a Star, harkening back to the days when the Pacific Coast League ruled the California coast. Way before my time, but I liked imagining the romance of the day. I liked the way the hat fit. I liked how it looked.
“It’s an old team, minor league” is what I offered. “Have you had a chance to go to a baseball game?” I asked, suddenly realizing she was a long way from the closest park.
“No, but it doesn’t matter,” she said, as she rang me up “It is a cool design. Nice colors.”
She emphasized the word cool. I nodded, pulled it off my head and studied it, seeing my cap in a slightly different light. It was well taken care of, neither sweaty or worn, so on impulse, I offered it to her.
“Really?” She lit up and pulled her hands to her chest, in a v, like a sprite in a statue, only much more animated. “Oh, I couldn’t.”
“No, really, it’s a gift for your stay here. It’ll help when you go hiking and it rains, and who knows, someday you may get to a game.”
It didn’t take much for her to relent. “Okay then. Thank you.” She put the hat on her head and vogued, before placing it delicately on the shelf next to her register. “I can’t wear it at work, but I will use it for hiking.”
“Sure, I understand. Enjoy your time here,” I said, broadly.
I left the shop a bit lighter than the moment before. But, it wasn’t a big deal, really. I bought hats as much for style as content, which really is what life, baseball, and this story are all about.