Saturday, April 18, 2009

Home Plate

Summer 1982, Nevada, Iowa

In our little town of 5,000 it was possible for even mediocre athletes like me to play first string on all the teams. I was a pulling guard in football, smashing into big corn fed farm boys at high speeds. I ran track, played basketball and was a catcher most of the time on the baseball team. We had pretty good teams and once we made it all the way to the regional junior varsity championship, one step away from competing in the state tournament.

As usual I was catching, but this game all of our good pitchers were being saved for the Varsity championships. The coach was putting guys on the mound who had never pitched before, and I spent a lot of time chasing balls to the back of the fence. In the fifth inning out of seven, a runner scored from third base while I was digging a wild pitch out of the grass along the fence line. After about four pitchers, we were somehow still ahead 5 to 4, partly because of two runs batted in by me when I hit a double in the second inning.

Now in the fifth inning, the new novice pitcher walked two batters and the bases were loaded with two outs. We couldn´t afford to walk another batter, so the coach switched pitchers, but I wouldn’t see the result of this strategy. On the second or third pitch, the batter swung and nicked the ball slightly. My right hand, which should have been safely hidden behind the catcher’s mitt, was absentmindedly peeking out, and the foul tip caught me like a bee sting on the tip of my right ring finger, ripping my fingernail out at the root.

I started screaming all the swear words my 16 year old mouth could conjure up, and the families behind the fence and dugout looked on in disbelief because I also had let a runner score, tying the game. The coach ran out to silence my epithets, but I held up my hand in his face and he nearly passed out from all the blood covering my hand and pouring down my arm. He walked me over to the cold water faucet and called Dr. Hall so I could go get some emergency stitches.

When I got back to Rev. Billy Sunday Field, the score was Nevada 5, Ballard 8, and I saw my dejected purple and gold teammates shaking hands in a single file line with the new regional champions in red.

When I went back a couple weeks later to have the stitches removed, Dr. Hall was not in, so instead one of the nurses soaked my finger in hot soapy water to soften the scab which had grown over the stitches. She didn’t know how to apply local anesthetic, and her silver tweezers dug into my nerve endings, trying to find the small knots Dr. Hall had made. I didn’t wince from the pain, but the young nurse had to leave the room a couple times to collect herself, and she kept looking at me as she picked away, asking if it hurt or not.

I felt bad for her. They say dentists have a high rate of suicide, and I figured young nurses couldn’t be far behind.

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