When I was a kid, I used to keep track of my batting average during our extremely informal sandlot baseball season. I really didn’t know how to figure out a batting average, but I knew that one hit in two at bats was a .500 average, and I would go from there. One year, I hit something like .667, but I may have been off by 50 points or more.
To call it a “season” really doesn’t do justice to our daily habit of roaming around Bridgeport looking for a place to play ball. Moreover, if we couldn’t find other kids beyond our neighborhood to play against (which was often the case), then we would split our core group in two and just play against each other in a lot, a field, or a quiet side-street.
Our baseball season would go on without significant interruption until the dawn of another school year. At that point, as the summer sunlight began to slant away from us, retreating into an early dusk, fewer and fewer of us would regularly be available after school to play ball.
A terrible disease called onset Algebra now vexed us in the short hours between our after-school snack and bath-time. It was often accompanied by a sharp pain of anxiety in the gut as we realized those moments lost daydreaming in the classroom (when we should have been paying attention to the teacher) were probably a fatal mistake.
The darkness of the dreaded spelling homework doomed us, rendering pointless our pathetic protests to mom.
“Mom, can’t I go out and play now?”
“Not until after you finish your homework.”
“But Scott and Johnny are outside playing ball already.”
“I don’t care if Scott and Johnny are out there all night. Now go finish your homework, mister.”
There were still those infrequent moments where on a surprisingly warm September afternoon just after Labor Day, my friends and I would sweat out the school-day like alcoholics sobering up in the sunshine, and revel in the smell of leather gloves and the sound of the ball smacking into our mitts.
These, the last days of summer, passed over us, through us, around us, the aroma of dead August still scenting the air. We would fight a losing battle to hang onto September, knowing full well that October portended thicker jackets, shorter days and frostier mornings.
Funny thing about the last day of summer. By our unwritten definition, it was the final day we were all available to play baseball together. But we never knew in advance which day that would be, and we never marked its immediate passing with ceremony or scroll.
Yet for some odd reason, after several slippery decades and another Labor Day have passed me by, denoting another dying summer, I still half expect to look out my kitchen window and see Scott and Johnny tossing around a scuffed ball, waiting for me to come out and play.
Now my son, about the same age as the boys I remember playing with all those years ago, faces his own after-school homework demons, his lazy summer afternoons already just hazy memories.
But the bat and ball buried deep in the closet beckon, and my arm feels good today. The math problems will still be here when we get back, and I doubt Scott and Johnny will wait around out there forever.
In baseball, it turns out, there are no last days, merely irregularly scheduled off-seasons.