As Sammy Day stepped up to the plate, he reviewed the baseball game situation in his mind. The score was 3-1 in favor of the Bulldogs of Hazard, the reigning District Champions. Hazard had another good team this year with just about every player returning. Sammy’s teammates, Robby Nelson was on third, and Steve Goodman was on first. There were two outs and it was the top of the last inning.
Robby, the Cougars’ right fielder and ninth batter in the line-up, had led off the inning and reached second base on a two-base error by the Bulldogs’ right fielder. Robby moved to third when Taylor Eagleton, the leadoff hitter, grounded out to second. Nate Bell popped-up to the catcher before Steve reached first on a bunt. Robby’s fake at coming home on the bunt distracted the Bulldogs’ first baseman enough to allow Steve to reach first.
Before Sammy stepped into the batter’s box, he looked down at third and received a nod with two thumbs up from Robby. When he glanced over at first, Steve just smiled and gave him a knowing wink. He took a couple of practice swings and then slowly, but confidently placed his back foot into the batters' box, eyed the six foot three-inch tall all-state pitcher, Tommy Sutton, and settled himself in for the first pitch.
The roar of the home crowd in Hazard dialed up a couple of notches as they were looking for a strike-out by their all-state pitcher. Sammy focused in on the pitcher, drowning out the crowd. For whatever reason only known to himself, the big right-handed pitcher decided to pitch from the windup, foregoing the stretch which allowed Steve to take off and steal second base on the pitch.
Sammy took the pitch, a slow curve looking high and inside, but broke enough for the umpire to call it strike one. The catcher faked a throw to second by only throwing it back to the pitcher, but Robby wasn’t taking any chances on third with the Cougars down by two; his run alone meant nothing.
The next pitch was a fastball, a little off the plate, low and outside, the count now one and one. The next pitch was a fastball high and tight, for ball two. Sammy stepped out of the batter box to give himself a chance to think things over. The count was two balls and one strike. Most baseball experts say this is a hitter’s count. Usually meaning the pitcher was more than likely to throw a fastball. Now depending on the pitcher, most fastballs are easier to hit than a curve, but with first base open, Sammy figured they wanted to end this game with him and not chance facing the Cougars’ clean-up hitter Brent Sloan with bases loaded.
That meant this pitcher would throw his best pitch and Tommy Sutton had one of the best curves Sammy had ever seen and with the last two pitches being fastballs out of the strike zone, Sammy was sitting on the all-state pitcher’s curveball. The Bulldogs’ star rocked into his wind-up and threw a pitch that appeared to be heading right at Sammy’s head, but the Cougar’s heart and soul was ready for it. He stayed back and waited for the break he knew was coming.
About ten feet before the plate, the pitch started its break. Sammy shifted his weight to his back foot and started his forward stride into the pitch. Right when the ball reached the plate, Sammy’s text-book swing connected. The sound of the bat meeting the ball told all who knew that sound everything they needed to know. The left fielder didn’t even move. He just stared up as the ball sailed over his head, knowing he didn’t have a chance. It must have traveled three hundred and fifty feet over the left field fence for a three-run homer, before it landed in the middle of the parking lot by the field.
Sammy was met at home plate after he rounded the bases by his whole team. Well, all except for Brent Sloan. Brent stood in the on-deck circle and stared at Sammy. Nevertheless, Sammy felt like his life was coming together and was finally being accepted by his teammates. Growing up as a half Indian in a small town such as Pine Hills had been hard on him. Names like half-breed and little squaw were heard more than he liked and they hurt every time, because Sammy was proud of his heritage.
His mother, a full-blooded Lakota Princess, unfortunately, died while giving birth to him. He had always felt somewhat responsible for her death, not that anyone ever gave him reason to feel so, because his father loved him dearly and was very proud of him. Yet, the young boy felt something was missing in his life: like he wasn’t whole or a part of him was missing.
As Sammy headed towards the dugout, Tony Thompson, grinning from ear to ear, threw his arm around his shoulder. “Way to crush the ball, Sammy.”
Sammy smiled a shy smile, not use to compliments from anyone other than his father. “Thanks, Tony, it was like I knew what pitch was coming.” Sammy and Tony had been getting closer since baseball season started and he had begun developing feelings for Tony that left him a little confused. Both were sophomores, Tony was both physically bigger and lighter skinned than Sammy, with naturally darker skin and five-foot-eight-inch frame.
After the homer, Hazard’s Coach called a timeout and took a trip to the pitcher’s mound in an attempt to settle down his top pitcher. Brent stepped into the batter box, took a couple of practice swings, and stared out to the pitcher’s mound at the wounded pitcher. Brent was determined not to allow the half-breed to show him up.
The first pitch started on the outside corner and broke out of the strike zone, but Brent was committed as he swung as hard as he could and missed badly. Looking for the next pitch to be outside as well, he froze as the pitch was a fastball on the inside corner at the knees. With the count no balls and two strikes, Brent was mad at himself, the pitcher and that little no good Indian. He swung with everything he had at the next pitch which was right down the middle of the plate. What Brent wasn’t ready for was the change of speed. The Bulldog’s pitcher had Brent’s timing off so much with a changeup that Brent was way out in front of it, missing it by a country mile. Brent was so mad he threw his bat at the dugout fence before he walked back into the dugout for his glove to use in the bottom half of the inning.
As long as Sammy could remember, he loved this time of year. It was as if the mountains and the valleys stretched and shook off a long, deep winter's sleep. The days became warmer and longer, the blossoms sprung forth on the recently bare tree limbs, the flowers bloomed spectacularly enticing the honey bees' return to sample their essence, the aroma of cut grass filled the air, quickly followed by the call of 'play ball'; the spring rite heard across America calls out to all those young of heart. Even those who can't physically perform on the field can still take part in other ways: coaching, scoring, and umpiring.
Millions take part every year in the sports of baseball and softball. Fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, even mothers and daughters. There's also those that volunteer who have no connection to anyone on the field. Just their love of the sport continues to draw them each year in one capacity or another. Kids in t-ball, as young as four years old, begin to learn the game. Millions of young men and older men who are done with organized baseball, from the ages of eighteen through their forties and fifties, still play softball in leagues established all across the country. Baseball is truly the American past time.
It's the one constant down through American history, from at least 1791, when baseball is first mentioned in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, an ordinance banning the playing of the game within 80 yards of the town meeting house. The rules of the sport have changed little in over two hundred years. Yes, the American League of the Majors has the designated hitter rule, which Sammy hates with a passion, but players are paid a lot better than in the early 1900s since the arrival of free-agency, and the height of the pitcher's mound has varied, but a hit is still a hit and a strike-out is still a strike-out. Records are kept and passed down from as far back as the late 1800s. Men today in the majors can compare their stats with men from the 1920s when 'Babe' Ruth played.
Sammy loved the game of baseball. It wasn’t just the game within the game that baseball offered or the statistics, nor was it the smell of freshly cut grass or the warm sun and gentle breeze on his face that made Sammy feel alive. It was the individual trials one faced and the ability to improve Sammy loved. You needed to hone your reflexes to handle a hard grounder which took an unexpected bounce at the last second. You also needed to work as a team to produce an inning-ending double play. When you were at bat, it was just you and the pitcher, but you also had to work as a teammate to try and move a runner into scoring position or to look for an outside pitch to drive the ball into right field for a textbook hit and run play. Yes, Sammy loved this game and everything connected to it.
He took his place at shortstop and made a couple of practice throws to first base before the umpire called for a batter. Sammy glanced around and noticed the crowd was large for a high school game, several dozens at least. He noticed Tony over at second base all smiles and excitedly slap his glove and encouraged Eric Peterson, a senior, who was now the pitcher for the Cougars. Coach Parker had pulled Brent for the bat throw and relieved him with Eric.
Eric was a tall, thin, redhead who looked a lot like a stickman in cartoons. He was only six foot one, but had extremely long arms and could whip the ball to home plate with deceptive speed. His one fault was he didn’t have a lot of endurance and could only pitch an inning or two a game. Because of his lack of endurance Coach Parker had chosen Eric to be his relief pitcher for the Cougars.
Eric wasn’t fancy or a junk ball pitcher. He threw as hard as he could every pitch, and he threw strikes. The first batter grounded weakly to Eric and was thrown out at first. The second batter stood like a house by the road and watched three straight strikes pass him by, which had the Bulldog’s coach hopping mad and talking to himself.
With two out the Bulldogs were back to the top of their lineup, their leadoff hitter and star pitcher, Tommy Sutton, who gave up the three-run homer to Sammy and wanted payback. Tommy fouled back the first pitch into the crowd behind home plate. He just missed hitting the ball squarely. Again, he nearly hit the second pitch perfectly as well, but caught more of the top of the ball and hit a hard grounder between the third baseman and Sammy at shortstop.
Sammy reacted to the hit quickly and raced back into the hole for the ball. He backhanded the ball, jumped off his right foot, and threw back towards first base as hard as he could. The ball bounced once five feet in front of the first baseman who stretched out as far as he could and caught the ball, just before Tommy stepped on first.
With the final out recorded, Sammy’s home run was enough to win the season’s opening game for the Pine Hills Cougars, as the Bulldogs went down one-two-three in the bottom half of the inning. The thirty-mile bus ride back to Pine Hills was loud and playful, but the coaches didn’t mind.
Sammy was one of the last to exit the bus. He quickly noticed Tony and his older brother Evan, a little ways off from everyone else arguing about something. When Evan saw Sammy, he pushed Tony and started towards Sammy.
“I never want to see you speaking to my little brother again. You hear me, you half-breed Indian faggot?” Evan Thompson yelled.
The wide-eyed craziness in Evan’s eyes matched the venom in his voice and Sammy stood rooted, frozen with bewilderment, not knowing what was going to happen next. He didn’t even know what he had done wrong.
“But… but Ev…” Sammy started, but that was all he got out before Evan hit him so hard on the chin his head snapped back and he lost his balance from the dizziness that hit him all of a sudden; then fell backward. The last thing he remembered was hitting the back of his head on something hard and seeing stars before everything went black.
When he came to, several people were gathered around him. A boy he didn’t recognize was asking him if he was okay. The blond had a worried expression and was holding Sammy’s hand. Sammy looked into the grey eyes and he felt as if their two spirits had become as one. He tried to shake his head and found his head was laying in this new boy’s lap.
He smile at the boy. “I think so. What happened?”
“You fell and hit your head. It’s bleeding and your coach went after the medical kit.” The stranger said softly.
Sammy looked around and didn’t see either Tony or Evan. “Where’s Evan and Tony?”
“They uh,” The boy started, but was interrupted.
“Mike tackled Evan before Coach Parker broke everything up. Then the coach told Evan he would call the police. Evan took Tony by the arm and they took off like a bat out of hell. They seemed to be arguing on the way to Evan’s car.” Tad Sherman said excitedly.
Sammy glanced at Mike who was blushing and looking away from Sammy. “Thank you, for, well, everything,” Sammy said and blushed as well.
“Okay guys, break it up and let me look after Sammy.” Coach Parker said pushing his way through the gathered crowd of boys.
The coach had called 911 when he retrieved the medical kit and the paramedics were already on their way before he started working on Sammy. Coach Parker was able to slow the bleeding to the back of Sammy’s head, but not stop it.
After a brief examination by the paramedics, once they arrived, it was decided to transport Sammy to the hospital for a possible concussion. Most of Sammy’s teammates hung around until he was driven off in the ambulance. Noticeably absent was the Thompson brothers and Brent Sloan.
Coach Parker phoned Sammy’s father at work. He told him about the incident and Sammy’s trip to the local hospital’s emergency room. William Day, known to everyone as Billy, told his assistant manager he needed to meet his son at the hospital.
“Okay boss, but Sammy’s never been sick a day in his life. What happened?” Terry asked.
“Now you mention it, no he hasn’t. As to what happened, I’m not too clear on that except there was a fight and apparently Sammy hit his head on a rock and was knocked out.” Billy said. “Anyway, I have to go. I’ll try and let you know if I’ll be in tomorrow.”
Billy loved his son very much and would do anything in his power for his son. He knew his son blamed himself for the death of his mother, but Billy didn’t and knew neither would his late wife. In fact, it was Mary’s choice to give her life for her son. She had insisted the doctor put her son’s life before her own. She knew the risks and willingly accepted them.
This was the first real crisis Billy ever experienced with Sammy and he was scared. The coach had assured him Sammy would be okay, but Billy didn’t take anyone at their word when it came to Sammy. He would have to see for himself that Sammy was alright.
When he arrived at the hospital he was surprised to see so many kids Sammy’s age in the waiting room. He went up to the reception desk and told the young lady who he was and wanted to know where Sammy was.
She handed Billy a clipboard. “Mr. Day, if you would start on the paperwork, I’ll find out where your son is and when you may go back and see him.”
Billy sat down and started filling out the insurance paperwork, but ignored the medical history as Sammy had none, except for the shots required by law. It was hard for him to concentrate with all the what-ifs running around his head. He wasn’t sure if he could keep on if anything bad happened to his only son, after losing the one true love of his life in Mary. What make it even harder to write down all the information the hospital needed was he couldn’t keep his legs from nervously bouncing up and down.
As he was about to give up, “Mr. Day, you may see your son now. Please follow me, sir.” A smiling nurse beckoned for him to follow her.
Fearful at what he might find, but determined to see his son, he handed her the clipboard and followed her back to the room.
Mr. Day was so happy to find his son sitting up in bed dressed in a hospital gown. Quickly stepping up to the side of the bed, “Sammy, are you okay? What happened? Who did this to you?” Rapidly firing questions at his son. Not waiting for answers he bent over and hugged his son close to him. He needed to hold Sammy like he had when the boy was a baby. He had been scared to death that something bad had happened to Sammy, no matter what the coach had told him on the phone.
Sammy hugged his father back and allowed the feeling of safety to surround him in his father’s arms. Sammy nodded his head to his father’s questions not trusting his voice at the moment.
“Mr. Day?” Billy begrudgingly released his son, wiped the tears from his face, and turned to the voice. “Sammy is fine.” Doctor Mien said. Billy knew of the doctor, but didn’t know him personally. “I’ve examined Sammy from head to toe and besides the bruised chin, the laceration to the back of his head, and a possible mild concussion, he is in picture perfect health.” The Doctor paused to allow the information to sink in and then continued, “We would like to keep Sammy overnight for observation to make sure complications don’t arise due to hit he took to the back of his head when he fell.”
Billy turned to Sammy and asked, “How do you feel, son?”
“I’m good, dad. Really I am.” Sammy said.
“He may experience headaches for the next few days, but they should lessen in severity and frequency. Any of the over-the-counter medication for the headaches should suffice. In my professional opinion, Sammy doesn’t have a concussion, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, plus it’s hospital protocol. That’s why we would like to keep him tonight and in all likelihood, release him tomorrow. However, since he wouldn’t be released until about midday, I suggest to keep him out of school tomorrow and allow him to return the following day.” Doctor Mien explained.
“That’s fine with me Doctor and thank you. My insurance will more than cover everything.” Billy said.
“If I’m not mistaken, the school’s insurance will cover it. So no worries. Sammy will be moved upstairs in a little bit, once a room is ready for him. I must be off, I have some paperwork to finish. We’ll give you more information tomorrow if Sammy is released then.” The doctor patted Sammy’s shoulder and shook Billy’s hand before leaving the room.
“Want to explain what happened?” Billy asked as he sat down next to his son. Billy was relieved Sammy wasn’t hurt worse than he was. It also appeared Coach Parker had assessed Sammy’s injuries accurately. That raised Billy’s trust level in the coach.
“I’m not really sure what happened, dad.” Sammy started, but paused to collect his thoughts. “We had a good game and had a ton of fun on the way back on the bus. But when I stepped off the bus, I noticed Tony Thompson and his brother Evan seemed to be arguing about something. When Evan saw me, he pushed Tony and ran over to me and started calling me names and told me to stay away from his brother.” Sammy fought back the tears threatening to escape, took a deep breath, and continued. “For some reason, he seemed to think Tony and I were more than just friends and teammates.”
“Why did he think that?” Billy asked.
“Well, besides calling me a half-breed, he also called me a faggot.” Sammy held his father’s eyes with his own watching for Billy’s reaction. “Dad, I don’t know if I’m gay or not. I’ve never thought about it much. Honestly, I don’t know.”
Billy reached out and took Sammy’s hand in his. “Son, your sexual orientation has no effect on my love for you. You will be what you were meant to be. Besides, you’re too young to know if you are or to be worried about it.”
Sammy smiled and nodded his head. Then he thought back to the blond hair boy named Mike. Sammy may not know if he was gay or not, but he did know Mike would definitely play a large role in his life. And he found comfort in the thought.