Friends in High Places

This week cavalcadeofstars takes great pride in introducing Mike Handley.

Friends in High Places
By Mike Handley

I sucked at baseball, which might explain why I’ve no interest in the boys of summer. I once had a card signed in blue ink by Willy Mays, but I don’t know what became of it.

The only reason I donned the uniform and rode solemnly to the scraggly ball diamond in Dolomite, Ala., every week was so I could devour gray-wienered hot dogs and gigantic Chick-O-Sticks before and after the games my team usually lost.

It was 1969, the summer of love, but not where I lived, unless you count the swooning of my 8-year-old heart over the little blonde women on cans of Miss Breck hairspray. The cars were long, hair was short, and I lived in fear of being drafted 10 years before I was even eligible.

The little baseball field a world away from Vietnam was built for our community–and then mostly forgotten–by Woodward Iron Company, operators of a blast furnace down the road that helped stoke Birmingham’s steel industry. It was the home of the local Little League and to the men’s softball team from the nearby Baptist church.

Bleachers lined both sides of the diamond (green-painted pine planks across cinderblocks), and in between, perhaps 50 yards behind home plate, was the squat concession stand. I used to marvel over the engineering that allowed someone on the inside to pull a rope that lifted the hinged plywood that covered the counter, signaling as much as an umpire’s yell that it was time to play ball.

The hot dogs were boiled colorless in a huge pot atop a double-eyed hot plate; the sauerkraut-laden sauce cooked in its twin. Candy was kept in huge jars that resembled those used by science teachers to display two-headed turtles. And the glass bottles of Coke, Sprite and Tab bobbed in long, almost coffin-shaped, metal bins full of ice water.

In the 40 years since, I haven’t enjoyed a colder drink.

One of the dads grilled hamburgers outside the building, the heavenly smoke basting the skeletal limbs of a very-much-alive catalpa tree that had given up its leaves to caterpillars, most of which became fish bait rather than butterflies.

I was a much better fisherman than a baseball player. I was a better everything, to be honest. I always closed my eyes just before the ball hit (and invariably bounced out of) my glove. My aim was like that of a drunk wavering over a urinal: plenty of heart and conviction, but piss poor–or poor piss–execution.

But there was this one time I earned my stripes, although the coach–he who anointed every player an “all star” because he didn’t have the balls to tell their mothers they weren’t good enough–pretended not to notice.
It was my time at bat, and the game rested on my not being struck out (again) by the opposing team’s pipsqueak pitcher, who my mother said was “stunted,” because he smoked cigarettes. The boy’s father, Dink, apparently had the same problem.

The little shit could throw a baseball, though.

The coach came up to the whatever you call the warm-up area and told me to bat right-handed, knowing I was more comfortable swinging as a lefty, especially after I’d been beaned by a hard-thrown baseball the other way. Pavlov’s dogs had nothin’ on me.

He might as well have said, “Go on out there, boy, and let that baseball hit you in the face. Take one for the team, how ‘bout it?”

I’ve no doubt that my first and last triple, which netted us the game-winning run, would never have happened if not for the behind-the-plate umpire, my Pawpaw, who stopped the game, pulled off his mask and yelled at the coach to “Let the southpaw bat the way he wants!”

Bio

Mike Handley is a career journalist, artist and member of the zipper club who mourns sausage made from non-flying things. He’s married with dog, left of center, a smoker, drinker, snorer and devout Internet bridge player. His paintings can be seen at http://www.mikehandleyart.com, and his musings are posted at handlets.blogspot.com.

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About vision791

Pushcart nominee Jeanette Cheezum has been published on several online writing sites and in fifteen Anthology books and four poetry books. Three of these books have made the New York Times Best Sellers list. Awarded The Helium Networks Premium Writer’s Badge, Bronze Creative Writing Award and a Marketplace Writers award. Recently she has published thirteen ebooks at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. You may find a list of some of her work at www.hamptonroadswriters.org
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12 Responses to Friends in High Places

  1. Gita says:

    I don’t know what’s funnier: Gray wieners, Chick-O-Stiks or a daddy named Dink. And to think this is non-fiction. Good piece, you.

  2. Love it, especially the detail given to the gray hot dogs. I’ve eaten a thousand. And I also suck at playing baseball. In these and many ways, you’re a man after my own heart. You’re terrific, when you have the room to stretch out the narrative, although you don’t stint when it comes to those six-sentence pieces either.

  3. boltoncarley says:

    mike – i love when you write stories of your childhood! i can’t get enough of them. i love the gray hot dogs, the cokes out of a metal tub, the stunted baseball player and every other detail you so eloquently describe with the conviction of a young boy and the words of a well-seasoned writer.

  4. harrybsanderford says:

    Mike, you really capture the moment in time. Carefree as the days were with caterpillars, hotdogs, the iciest cokes and chick-o-sticks out of two headed turtle jars, Viet Nam and strike outs loomed. Always enjoy your walks down memory lane. Don’t you wish you could share the memory of where you put that Willy Mays card?

  5. Diana E. Backhouse says:

    Being a Brit and unfamiliar with the game of baseball, your account struck me as being the truth behind an episode of Peanuts.

  6. Mike Handley says:

    You folks are the best. My heart sings when I see your avatars. I’ve been inundated with writing and editing projects this spring, so I’ve not had much time to read for pleasure or answer e-mails. I look forward to catching up on everyone’s gems very soon (fingers crossed). All my best … Charlie Brown

  7. Lydia says:

    Great,I enjoyed in this story about hot dogs and everything!

  8. vision791 says:

    Michael, it has been my pleasure to go down memory lane with you. Thank you.

  9. Cath Barton says:

    Here’s to lefties! Great picture Mike

  10. Jaredallas says:

    Brilliant! You took me straight to the ballpark. I don’t know chick-o-sticks, but I’m with you all along. Can’t tell you all the ways I loved this.

    I suppose it’s the mark of a veteran writer to incorporate little tidbits like the Willie Mays card that aren’t superfluous and just sort of peek into the story and then pop back out without being a digression. I should watch that more closely, as it’s one of my skills lacking refinement. Really enjoyed this piece. Excellent work.

  11. Dear Chas Brown,

    I am writing to thank*you for the Willy Mays card you traded me for all the bottles of Breck I could pilfer from Mom’s closet. You sure better use ’em in that school project you went on and on about. Say hey kid – Your Willy came in handy gettin’ a bigger and better trade for two pieces of Bazooka and a Willy Stargell card. Woo Hoo!

    Oh, I am writing as well to tell you that your writing still has the summer thrill you always give me — and you’re sure as heck right about the chill of those bottles of pop in the long red icy bin. What the hell is a chick-o-stick though and the hotdogs in Ohio in my raucous youth were pink or red — why’d they let you eat the grey? Looks like your triple did save the day, as do your reminisces and how adept you are at workin’ both piss poor and little shit,/i> into the same narrative.

    Your pal,
    the little red haired girl,
    or …
    Absolutely*Kate thinkin’ when you let it out Bucko, you can outta da park it

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