On the field and off, it’s been a good week. On Tuesday, two base hits and one run – one hit between second and third; the other, just inches over the second base man’s green cap. On Thursday, with even more confidence – three base hits, three for three, but no runs. Who cares?
My nine-year-old grandson may never play in the major leagues, but don’t be surprised to see him star in Kevin Costner’s next movie about a handsome, All-American boy, who plays catcher for the Red Sox, not in Boston, but in Morton, Illinois. He looks the part, the way you would expect: short, a little stocky, bright red cheeks, a butch hair cut, and brown hair. What really draws attention to him are those bright red socks, up to his knees, matching his cheeks. Cool or hot, though, Taylor’s forehead is covered with perspiration. Everybody sweats, but he sweats more than most folks, maybe because he just tries a little harder than most kids, maybe because he has juvenile diabetes. Baseball, for him, is serious business, requiring great concentration. He’s expressionless, whether he hits a triple or throws someone out at third. No sign of emotion; everything is inside.
When Taylor’s team takes the field at the bottom of the sixth inning, he buckles the guards for his shins, pulls the padding for his stomach over his head, and brings his mask over his face. Except for putting on his cap, he’s ready to catch the next pitch. Besides improving his hitting, he is also improving his throwing. When the season began, his throws from home to third, or from home to left field, were more like mortar shells – looping up high and coming down close to the target. Now the throws are more like bullets – straight from the catcher to the third base man or to the left fielder. The inning is over quickly: three up and three down.
After the game, after he ate a popsicle at the refreshment stand, we’re sitting in the living room: mom and dad on comfortable chairs, grandma and grandpa on the davenport, Haley on the floor and Taylor standing beside dad’s chair. Haley, the second- grader-to-be, is sitting on the floor, playing with dolls, talking to an imaginary audience – could be Pam, the day care provider, or could be Sophie or Kayla, friends from first grade. Mom asks: “Haley, are you in another world?” She responds, almost in a trance. “Yes.” She continues talking, scolding an imaginary playmate.
Taylor, still sweating, sucking, this time, on a yellow popsicle, stands near his dad. Someone asks “Tay” about his class that morning at Bradley University, a week-long summer course for kids centered on writing. Obviously excited to have a male teacher, the nine-year-old bubbles over with enthusiasm about what he is learning: “Today, we had to write a story about something funny, and we talked about different ways of telling it.” Taylor had obviously listened; he was beginning to understand that writing requires planning and structure. “You can’t just begin with once upon a time.”
He continued to describe things he was learning in class, but his father began, very unobtrusively, to direct the conversation from Taylor’s writing, to writing, and finally to my writing. The nine-year-old was just as eager to hear about my work as I was about his. It was if Taylor had already done a lot of thinking, had mentally written down a list of really good questions, curiously mature for a young man who had just finished third grade. “Why did you decide to write about Dean Jay?” “Did you write about him because he was from your hometown?” “How are you telling the story?” After my response, he offered another approach, “Did you ever consider starting with the scene in …?”
I looked at grandma. She looked at me. We were shocked. The word “precocious” came to mind.
You see, on the field and off, it’s been a good week.
Karl K. Taylor
June 21, 2009