My first few months of school I learned chocolate milk cost the same as regular milk and how to tell the good kids from the bad ones. I was a good kid because I could do fifth grade math and Jamie was a bad kid because he pooped in the sandbox.
I also learned about girls.
Jean was the only girl that I knew and I didn’t hate her. I didn’t know I was supposed to hate her. I knew she was annoying, but I thought that was because she was younger, not because she was a girl. Kindergarten taught me better.
Of course, we had to associate with girls during class time. They were a little slower at math and spelling, but were better at art and cartwheels. As soon as the bell rang, we separated. At recess and lunch, the boys grabbed the rubber balls and played kickball; I was picked last for the first week or so of kickball until I proved my worth by diving for a ball on the asphalt. Then, Rupee was last and I was second to last. The girls hovered around the jungle gym, flipping around and around with one knee crooked over the metal bar.
I wanted to play on the jungle gym sometimes, but no boys were over there. And two of the prettiest girls, Stacy and Allison, were.
Jamie explained it to me one day. “You can’t play with the girls because then people will think you like girls.”
“Ah,” I said.
So, with envy, I stared at the girls’ play area during recess and lunch, paying no attention to the kickball game. My asphalt wounds healed and I was again picked last.
About that time, my dad came home with a glove and a tee and told me he had signed me up for a baseball league. We played catch that night and I practiced hitting the ball on the tee about fifteen times. My dad showed me how to put the tee so the ball was at chest level. I put the words of the ball facing me and brought the bat to the ball slowly. I measured the distance by placing the bat next to the ball. I measured it once, measured it twice, and swung. I hit the tee three times and missed the ball the other twelve. At least when I hit the tee, the ball rolled off it.
I cried when my mom took me to my first practice because I didn’t want to meet any new kids. We were late, so the kids were on the field already. The coach ran over and said, “Hi Jimmy, I’m Coach Jim, go stand out in the outfield and throw the ball in when it comes to you.” I looked around, trying to figure out where the outfield was. And there she was. Allison. My face turned red. My stomach fluttered. I walked out and stood next to her. I didn’t say a word. I turned around and got in the ready position my dad showed me the night before: face forward, hands on my knees, ready for the ball.
“Jimmy,” Coach Jim said, “that’s pitcher, outfield is out there.” He pointed to a spot where a kid was building a dirt pile. I looked at Allison out of the corner of my eye, dropped my head, and ran toward the other kid.
I got out there and got in the ready position. I counted. There were fourteen kids on my team. The coach hit two or three balls to each kid. They picked up the ball and threw it to Allison. Then I just watched Allison. She was good. And pretty. I waited for my turn. The ball just didn’t come to me. I started playing with an all white butterfly. I chased it around. I ran into the other kid’s dirt pile.
Coach Jim yelled, “Jimmy!” I turned around, hands on knees. The ball stopped in front of me. I picked it up, and threw it to Allison. I smiled at her after I threw. She didn’t notice. The ball didn’t go near her.
The kids took turns batting. I was too far away for any of them to hit to me. I didn’t want a turn. All the other kids could hit the ball. As each kid went up, I hoped that he wouldn’t be able to hit the ball, so I wouldn’t be the only one. I knew it was getting closer and closer to my turn. One after the other, the kids were called in to hit and each one was able to hit the ball. After thirteen kids hit, I knew it had to be my turn. Then Coach Jim said, “Ok everybody, bring it in.”
We all ran in. The coach said, “Ok team, our next practice is Thursday. We’re going to be the Angels! We’ll have uniforms for you…”
“Wait,” Allison said, “Jimmy didn’t get to hit.”
I turned numb all over. She knew my name.
“Oh, that’s right,” said Coach Jim, “everybody back out to the field.”
I was all nerves. Every other kid on the team could hit the ball. I grabbed a helmet and a bat. Coach Jim placed the ball on the tee. I measured it twice and swung. And missed.
I tried again. Measure. Measure. Swing.
I looked at Allison. She was the closest to me; in the ready position.
I measured lower. Swung. And hit the tee. The ball dribbled off. I looked at Allison and waited for her to run and get the ball, but she didn’t move.
Coach Jim walked over and picked up the ball. “Look at the ball, Jimmy.” He set it on the tee again.
I swung and missed again. Coach Jim raised the tee because I had been swinging over the ball. I swung and hit the tee. I could tell that Allison wasn’t impressed.
Coach Jim put the ball back on the tee. “Two more tries, Jimmy.”
The pressure was on. I had two shots at impressing Allison. I decided to measure the ball three times. I swung again and missed.
“Ok, Jimmy, whether you hit the ball or not this time, I want you to run to first base.”
This was my last shot. I looked at the bat. I looked at the ball. I looked at Allison. I swung. And I nicked the ball. It rolled about half way to Allison. She ran, picked up the ball, and tagged me with the ball and glove.
“Jimmy, you would be out if this was a game because you didn’t run. When you hit the ball, you have to run to first base.”
I nodded at the coach, but didn’t really hear.
She had touched me.
And so started my love affair.