Grandpa and Grandma bought the old house for nothing in the 1930s and raised their four kids in its two bedrooms. I spent a lot of time there, a lot of time with grandma while mom and dad divorced and worked all day.
By nine-years-old, I loved baseball—Baseball cards, baseball gloves, and baseball chewing gum. I loved the Mariners and Ken Griffey Jr. Grandma loved history books far more than kid’s books so made sure her history books had pictures. I loved those books too.
When she’d exhausted her books and stories of traveling around the world for the day I’d run outside with images of Istanbul, Kashmir, and Egypt turning round and round in my head. In my hands were a mitt and tennis ball.
The game was simple. I’d stand on the footpath facing her house, 30-feet of concrete walkway separating me from the front door stairs, and pitch. The fourth step up was the middle of the strike zone, the protruding edge of the third stair a hit in the air, the toe-kick of the 5th step, a line drive or one-hopper depending on how hard I threw it. The width of the zone was demarcated by the width of the small window on the front door. I knew if I ever broke it the game would be over for good.
In the early stages of the game, I had little control. The game was more about fielding balls without knowing which direction they’d bounce off the stairs. There were no kids in the neighborhood my age so I used the stairs to play catch with.
It was obvious I’d have to get better if I wanted to make the game more fun. I started imagining batters, keeping score, and pitching complete games for both teams. I used the toe-kick of the seventh stair, the top one, as a baseman. For example, if the ball came back as a grounder I’d collect it, call the bag, and quickly throw the ball again. If it hit my intended target, out. Otherwise, safe. Double plays I’d have to hit the edge of the seventh stair and catch the return in the air to complete the play. Otherwise, single out, or no out if I missed it completely.
By July of that summer, I’d moved the rubber back and could hit any stair on any part, including the edge of a step to summon whatever type of hit I wanted to field. I’d created a fun game that could have rules added or subtracted to increase its difficulty and complexity. What I didn’t realize though was that I’d trained myself to be a dangerous Little League pitcher.
Being left-handed I’d always played outfield and was told I could throw very far for my age, but I’d never been given the chance to pitch because I was honestly a sensitive kid with a fair amount of behavioral issues. However, when I was eleven our pitcher had a meltdown in the first inning and my coach—Joe Black was his name—asked me if I wanted to pitch. Neither my father or I can remember the exact stats, but I threw no-hit ball through four scoreless innings before I pulled myself because of stomach cramps, probably to do with the fact that I was so nervous.
I continued to pitch, be warned about throwing curveballs; and tried my best to not be my worst enemy on the mound, but I didn’t have enough self-confidence back then to shake things off. By high school I had to choose between baseball or soccer and a wild pitch earlier in the year to the shoulder and face made that an easy decision. In some ways, I regret that because I loved to pitch.
Grandma’s been dead for a while now and the house was sold. The house used to be white and the stairs grey, but now the house is grey and the stairs are white. I live a mile away and whenever I walk by it, images of Istanbul, Kashmir, and Egypt surface, as do my memories of grandma. Every time I pass the house, I wish I had a tennis ball.