Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Best Day Ever, by Paula Rose Michelson

When Skip woke up it was early; that is early for a little boy who’d only gotten a few hours sleep. He bounded out of bed with a smile as he remembered how easy it’d been for him to make his mom see his side of things. “After all,” he’d explained,” tomorrow’s the big day, the last day of the World Series, and Babe Ruth’s batting first! I’ve just got to be there with his bat all cleaned and spruced up! He’s counting on me to hand him his special bat!”
            As Skip rushed to get dressed, and gulp down some breakfast, he remembering how the big guy had come over to him when the Yankees arrived at Wriggly Stadium. He’d looked him over from head to toe and handed him his bat. “Sonny this here’s special!” He winked, and walked away to chat with his teammates’ gathered in the dugout. That was all The Babe had to say cause Skip knew what he meant. The bat was in his care. Babe had entrusted it to him! It was his job to take care of it, bring it to him when he was at batting practice, and hand it to him when he headed to the mound. So every night of the series, Skip took it home and cleaned it up. Last night he’d taken more time than ever before cause Babe just had to win one more time. If he didn’t win, Skip knew he was gonna feel awful cause he was rooting for Babe and against his own team. Pushing that thought aside, he reminded himself, Babe is counting on me, that’s what matters! And at nine Skip knew what mattered to Babe case without his favorite bat, The Sultan of Swat, as many of his fans called George Herman Ruth, Jr., the team would not— could not win—the penitent! Yep Skip told himself as he sat down for breakfast, and gazed longingly at Babe’s bat rubbed to a high gloss sheen, without me, and this bat, the Wizard of Wham may strike out!
            As his mom set a bowl of cereal in front of him, he looked at her, pulled out a Babe Ruth bar he’d been saving for the big day from his pocket, peeled back the wrapper, and took a big bite. His mom sighed and sat down across from him. He knew he was gonna to get a lecture; Skip did, for mom didn’t allow candy first thing in the morning. In fact, as Skip sat there munching away he could almost hear her litany of reasons why. However, to his surprise, his mom put the cereal in front of herself and began to eat. Wow, Skip thought, I haven’t left the house, or gotten to the ballpark, and this is already the best day every!    
            Mom smiled at him. “Big day today.”
            Now Skip knew he’d died and gone to baseball paradise cause his mom never mentioned anything about the game! And she never ever used words like big unless she was talking about a Bible Study, church, or Pastor Ethan Smithers who in mom’s eyes was taking much to long to ask his sister Betty Jean to marry him. But, Skip reckoned, as he looked at the bat one more time, that has nothing to do with me. He cautioned himself, Keep your mind on the game, Babe needs you!
            His candy bar done, Skip stood, tossed the wrapper in the trash, and put on his official baseball cap.
            “Have a good day.” His mom smiled as he picked up Babe’s Bat, nodded her way, and headed to Wriggley Field. Yessiree Skip thought as he walked the five blocks to the field, it sure doesn’t get any better than having the New York Yankees playing in Chicago!       
            As he walked along the other batboys joined him but none of them looked his way. They think I’m a traitor to the Cubs the boy sighed as he nodded at the guys who used to swat him on the back when they came up from behind, and with whom he secretly wagered on the games as he whispered, “Don’t tell my mom or I’ll get a lickin’.” When he glanced back, it seemed to Skip that the other guys were as focused, and determined as he was that their favorite player was gonna to pull it off. Yep! Each of the boys had a player that they rooted for, and until Babe handed him his bat, Skip’s had been Charles Henry Root. Hank, as Skip though of him when he fantasized about the friendship they’d have one day. He’d never missed a day when the guy born in Middletown, Ohio, was pitching, cause in Skip’s book he was the best there was! And Skip figured he should know since he’d been around the game all his life.
            When the batboys got there, the stadium was empty except for the people who made the event what it was, like the guys lining the field, and gramps who sold hotdogs. If anyone had asked Skip about the slow peaceful start to his day, he would’ve smiled. I like it this way, kind’a helps a fella get into the swing of things before the guys start swinging. Ya know what I mean? Of course, he’d never have spoken like that when his mom was around cause she insisted on good manners, the correct use of words, and perfect diction. However, having lost his father in an elevator crash some years backmore years back than Skip could rememberhe’d learned to be the man of the house and save his boy activities, attitudes, and the use of sang, for when he was far away from home, and the responsibilities of being the man.
            So as the stands filled up, and everyone settled down the game began. The pitchers pitched, and the players played. The boys did their job, and the crowed cheered. The vendors sold food, and the heat beat down upon the hushed throng as each one there rooted for their team, and their guy. In between at-bats, the boys traded jabs, and baseball cards, and while their personal favorite was at-bat, each boy said a prayer. When anyone one else got up to bat, they heckled them unmercifully.
            Yet, as idyllic as Skip’s life looked to others, it was with a longing born of an unspoken need, that the batboy handed Ruth his bat on that fateful day. The boy knew that Ruth, and the team had been unstoppable back in 1927 when the Yankees were known as Murder’s Row cause of the strength of its hitting lineup. Heck, Skip thought, as Ruth took his bat in hand, back then the team won a record 110 games! As Babe swung the bat a few times, the boy wondered, Can he still do it?
            He’d heard the rumors, read about arguments before the Series began, and as the game progressed, the fans heard the two teams throw verbal barbs at each other, which his mother would have spanked him soundly for as she insisted, “My boy does not speak that way, not in my house or anywhere else!”
            But, shrugged Skip with a smile, this ain’t home, its Wriggly Field! This is baseball!
            If he’d looked at the bleachers, Skip would’ve seen that fifty thousand cubs’ fans agreed with him. However, rooting for the other team, he kept his head down, and did his job. Except for earlier in the day when the teams were still warming up, when he’d looked up then, it was to watch Ruth, and Lou Gehrig put on an impressive batting display during practice. Ruth launched nine balls to the outfield stands while Gehrig hit seven, then as quickly as Skip looked up, he hunkered down again. That is until he handed The Bambino, his bat. The Babe must have sensed that Skip needed something from him, though the boy never asked The Colossus of Clout why,  he smiled at him, winked, and whispered, “This ones for you son,” as he called the shot, and pointed to the center field bleachers during his at-bat. Skip knew it was Babe’s declaration that he’d hit a home run out of the park. Skip nodded, smiled, and stepped away, and the man who was called, The Sultan of Swat, The King of Crash, The Colossus of Clout, The Babe hit what for want of a better word, was dubbed a “Ruthian!” As everyone stood to watch that beautiful, powerful, ball sail into deep center field, past the flagpole, and into the temporary seating in the streets, the crowd went wild!
            At that momentous moment, Skip witnessed a miracle! It wasn’t the miracle of the shot Babe called, and it certainly wasn’t the fact that he had won his bets even though his mom could certainly use the money, since school had started and he needed new shoes. No, the miracle Skip witnessed that day had nothing to do with the shot ‘the home run king’ called. It had everything to do with the fact that before the Titan of Swat headed out to slowly jog around the field savoring the joy of being able to shape the game one more time to his liking, George Herman Ruth, Jr. turned to Skip, handed him his special bat, and smiled. “Thanks son for helping me today. I wish I had a boy like you. Your dad’s a lucky guy!”
            Skip waited until the Babe left. Then he headed home. The other guys had left earlier. After all, he thought to himself when he headed back all alone, who’d want to hang around with a guy who rooted for the other team, the team that won. Nobody, that’s who. He tried to pretend it didn’t matter to him if they all walk back together or not. However, it mattered terribly. You see Skip had always thought life had given him a raw deal. Which is a hard way to feel when your still in elementary grade school, and don’t know how to get over losses so profound, but never spoken about as having no father. Yet this time as he ruminated on all the things he and his dad would never do, the face of Babe Ruth smiled at him, and he heard, “Thanks son for helping me today.”
            As he turned down his street, Skip was joined by the other batboys who’d felt sorry leaving without the little guy, and retraced their steps to meet him. “Okay, my guy won, so what of it,” he said nonchalantly as they walked along together. The others were surprised because they knew Skip liked to harp on every good thing that happened to him. The other guys tried not to mind cause they knew how tough Skip had it, and all of them realized what happened at Wriggly Field was the biggest, and best thing that’d ever happened to the kid. Yet when they asked Skip about the game all he did was smile. “This was the best day I ever had!”

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