Once A Boy: The Fifth Inning

When I was a boy, I lived and breathed baseball.  I watched it, collected and traded cards and chewed the rock hard gum included in the card packages and cherished it because it was ‘baseball gum’, played pick up games in friends’ backyards, and participated in pee wee league all through my elementary years. 
And here my friends, is where our story is set, so grab some grape flavored Big League Chew and find a splintered bleacher seat.
I was ten years old that warm July evening and it was late in the game as I took my position in left field. I wasn’t the best ball player in town and it was obvious that my place on the team was merely a result of a random grouping of area boys into teams.   As our team was handed the third out of the fourth inning, my coach, out of guilt and what little heart he possessed, would say under his breath, “Alright Crawford…grab your mitt.”—Which could be translated as,We’re losing anyway, what harm can you do in the last two innings?  (In little league, the games are only six innings.)

 I stood up and put my enormous hat on my head, grabbed my glove from under the seat, and proceeded to the green grass and huge advertising signs of left field.  I felt a knot in my stomach which I attributed to nerves because if a ball was hit my way there was little to no chance of me catching it.  

My red and blue uniform was perfectly stiff and clean, save for the light dusting of tan dirt on the my front of my pants from my fellow two-inning players taking turns tossing baseball gloves and Gatorade bottles at one another’s crotches.  We were ten year olds after all; a coach can’t expect his players to behave like adults when required to wear a jockstrap and awkwardly sized cup in their itchy polyester uniform pants.  We spent our downtime in the dugout testing the strange new equipment’s effectiveness.  It just made sense.

First batter: infield fly.  “Alright guys!” I yelled, “One down!”  I knew they probably didn’t hear me but my hope was they saw my puny finger signaling a one and thus would gain confidence in my abilities as a team player and fielder.

So here’s when my stomach began to gurgle.  

Not a hungry kind of gurgle, but a you need to get to a bathroom FAST kind of gurgle.  I didn’t know if it was the half pound of bologna I had eaten for lunch or the ‘suicide’ (all of the concession stand’s soda flavors combined in one cup) I had consumed in the third inning, but whatever it was needed to leave my body as soon as possible.

Not one to shirk my responsibilities as a trustworthy left fielder, I crouched down to my ready position as our pitcher doled out fast balls to the kid at the plate, who in turn was hitting one foul ball after another.  

The sweat began to drip down my forehead—for the first time in the entire game—and season.  

This can’t be happening I thought to myself, just hold on until we get three outs.    

In this type of situation, control of bodily functions is somewhat manageable, as long there is minimal movement, especially of the fast running variety.  But in the midst of my prayer, “Dear God let my clenching hold,” a foul ball was hit my way.  I broke loose from my stance—in more ways than one—and held out my trembling glove in the general area where the ball was falling.  

It fell right in. 

I opened my eyes, took the ball out of my glove and threw it to the third baseman.  I was beaming proudly as I shouted, “Two down!” As I walked back to my spot however, I realized that by running for the foul ball, I had relinquished all control of other important muscles, thus releasing the disaster I was holding back.

I *** my pants.

In the middle of a baseball game.

The third out came quickly and I headed back to the dugout with my fellow teammates to each await our turn to bat.  I slowly sat down, so as not to further disturb the monster that was quickly saturating my uniform pants.  

I thought to myself, The game’s almost done, if I can just make it through without anyone noticing, it will be okay and I’ll still get to bat.

 That thought was interrupted by a teammate (a six inning player) sniffing the air and saying, “Man! It smells like cat **** in here!” 

I got up, motioned for my brother and grandpa, and asked if they could take me home.  I told the coach I wasn’t feeling well and needed to leave.  He looked down at me with disappointment or relief, I’m not sure which, and muttered, “Okay, see ya.”

I walked out of the dugout and past the bleachers holding my glove behind me without making eye contact with anyone, vowing to return for my next 5th inning.

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