Under the Lights

by Jerry Vilhotti

Johnny never had a baseball glove. What he would do when he needed one was ask the kid playing the same position as he if he could borrow his glove. Johnny could play every position. It was as unspoken camaraderie among most players who were comfortable in their own skin. Most often his opponent would say yes.

Johnny joined his father on the stoop of their one family home; situated near the swamps where mosquitoes played like herds of antelope.

His father smiled masking the severe pain he was feeling in his lower back. He was injured when a Burywater driver rear-ended him. His father was of the mind that all drivers had to watch out for him.

"How's it going, Johnny?"

"Good Papa! the eleven year old boy said.

He tried not to notice his father's pipe dangling uncontrollably from his mouth as if all his pain were coming through it into his tear filled eyes.

Johnny would not let on that he had overheard the whispers between his parents about just being able to make ends meet for the last six months his father was out of work from the Haliburton chemical factory where explosions would occur every so often as there was no notion for worker's safety.

"You playing ball today?"

Johnny told him his team, being the captain, the Blue Jays was going to play a triple header in Town Plot. That's where the first settlers had come and wrested the land from the Mattatuck Indians who thought the highly religious white-eyes from the north also believed in the same God as they. The longest day of summer would allow for such an event to happen.

"How you doing, Papa?"

"Not bad."

"Want to come to the games?"

"No, I'll just rest so I can get back to work and then I'll feel as good as you do when you're playing ball."

"You know that baseball thing I go to on Monday mornings for nothing?"

"Something the semi-pro team The Timers puts on for the city kids?" his father said.

"Yeah - that's it!" Johnny said in his beginning attempts to ask for a pair of spikes.

"That's a very good thing for them to do. It keeps the kids busy in summer so they won't get into trouble. Right, Johnny?"

"Anyway, I was picked to play on one of the all-star teams. It's called The Home of the Brave and of the-"

"That's a good thing," the father said; trying to cover up his ignorance of the game called baseball. He had told Johnny more than once how as a sixteen year old he played for a semi-pro soccer team in the land of his birth and then his so-called father had taken them back across the ocean to the land of rocks and a world war just waiting to happen.

"We play in four days under the lights where the Eastern league teams play and the great Lou Gehrig of the Yankees once played in for the Hartford Connectandcut team and I'm going to play short-stop and bat clean up!"

The father nodded; pretending to understand all the terms.

"Papa - can I have a pair of spikes?"

Had his father heard? He would speak louder: "Papa, they grip the ground good and you don't ever slip and you can dig in good at the plate!"

"Johnny when I go back to work - I'll get you two pair! If your mother wasn't working, we would have ... lost our house. I promise Johnny-"

"That's OK. I don't need them anyway. I got my sneakers," he said; deciding to go for a walk in the woods. He tried very hard not to show the disappointment he was feeling. He threw himself a make believe pop up to catch it with his back to his father; making sure it took him to around the corner of the house so his father would not see his face.

"Wait Johnny. I have no money"

"That's OK Pa."

"Wait Johnny. We'll go see if they have any!"

After passing the baseball hats, gloves of different shapes and sizes, they came upon a huge presentation of baseball shoes.

"Anyway, we know they have them Pa," Johnny said beginning his meandering out of the sports shop.

"Eight dollars! I don't even pay that much for my work shoes," Johnny heard his father telling someone.

From the plate glass window, Johnny could see his father standing with bowed head talking to a man wearing a tie and then he saw a dollar being extended to the person.

Johnny felt ashamed. He regretted he had asked for the stupid spikes. He was embarrassed for his father's accent which most of his teachers haughtily called "broken-English".

"Johnny, pick out a pair that fits good, his father said in his best broken English while using the same arm gesture Lee J Cobb had used when playing the golden boy's father.

Blushing, Johnny attempted to get out of sight but stopped when he heard the man with the tie say he was trusting his father to pay the rest when he went back to work.

His father did too - giving the man an extra dollar for believing in him after his first week back to work.

Johnny stood under the lights in Municipal Stadium between third and second bases and that night he would flawlessly - assist in a dozen putouts. On one pop up he would turn his back to the plate to race out to shallow left field to make the catch. He would get a single and a double as their team won by four runs. His father and mother and their friends saw all the action from the cheap seats.

In the last inning with one out to go before the game was over, Johnny felt uncomfortable as he recalled the shame he had felt. He looked up at the lights making bright darkness. He smoothed the dirt around him; using one shoe and then the other just like he'd seen the pros do but no matter how much he tried to smooth the area of little mounds around his position, he could not help notice all the many spike marks covering the ground.