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Playing on the big field

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Column

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

 The boy hadn’t broken out the wristband in years. Not since a couple of summers after his grandpa had passed away.

On one side of the Nike swoosh, he had taken a Sharpie pen and scrawled his grandpa’s initials. On the other side of the swoosh was a 21, the number the elder gentleman had worn when he was a high school baseball coach.

The handmade memorial showed its age. After all, it had been almost seven years.

The grandpa loved baseball. He lived it, actually, the timeless game that, like no other, is passed down from one generation to the next. Even had a baseball term on his license plates: HUM BABY. He had recognized that same love in his grandson at an early age.

He had often said he couldn’t wait for the day when the boy would leg out a double for the varsity, dust himself off and look up into the stands to give his grandpa a thumbs-up from second base.

Likewise, the boy loved his grandpa. Countless wiffleball sessions in the backyard had fostered a deep affection for both the man and the game. That love hadn’t eroded in the years since the man’s passing, neither for the grandpa nor the game.

The boy had often said he couldn’t wait for the day when he got to play on the big field, the one named for his grandpa.

That day came.

It was a far cry from when the boy would meander his way in cowboy boots around a 6-year-old’s idea of backyard basepaths, holding a plastic bat in one hand and the back of his jeans in the other, trying to keep his pants up over his sparse backside as he trotted out one of a hundred home runs.

This game was special to the boy. Special enough to break out the wristband.

The boy now wore No. 21 on his back.

He was on the freshman team, which usually meant playing behind the junior high school on the field with no name, no fence and no grass on the infield, just lots of dust and lots of rocks. But this game was against a junior varsity team, the first game of a triple-header that included varsity and JV games to follow. They got to play on the big field.

The field on which his grandpa taught the game for a quarter-century.

The opponent couldn’t have spent much time checking out the scorebook from when the two teams met a week before. Just a glance would have shown that the boy was definitely a first-ball fastball hitter.

That’s what came at him, the first pitch in his first game on his grandpa’s field. A fastball.

A solid stroke. A fly ball to left. Go, ball. Go, ball.

The leftfielder, in full stride, tracked the ball as far as he could until he pulled up at the fence and watched it sail into the tiny creek beyond.

The kid trotted out the home run as if he had done it a hundred times before. Rounding third, he looked up and saw his grandpa’s name on the press box behind home plate.

A round trip of 360 feet, a journey of 360 degrees. Full circle.