First Base

Published in The Avalon Literary Review and The Binnacle.

Baseball“You never slide into first base,” said Jim. My boss had been kind enough to drive me to the emergency room, missing the rest of our game so I could get my stitches.

“Isaac’s a big guy,” I muttered, staring at my mummified hand. The nurse had done a solid job wrapping the bandages, but I could still see the dark red of my blood slowly seeping through the gauze. I figured at the time that Isaac had me beat in the weight department by at least 100 pounds. Looking back now, it was probably more like ten or fifteen.

“That doesn’t matter,” reiterated Jim as he looked up from the three-month old Sports Illustrated that had been left in the waiting room. “You still never slide into first base.”

I nodded wearily, my mind already concerned with the stitches that they were going to put into my right hand. I knew that they would numb the area first so I didn’t actually feel anything, but something about the notion of anyone sewing my hand up with a needle and thread bothered me.

I bet they itch like hell, I thought to myself.

Who gets hurt playing wiffle ball, anyway? That was the more baffling notion.

When the weather was nice, we played wiffle ball before work. We’d do a couple of innings using shoes, trash cans, or whatever else we had on hand as bases, and then head into work. We did it officially to boost morale at the workplace. I think we really did it because Jim didn’t want to ever start the work night on time. I had a reputation as a pretty hard hitter; I would throw everything I had into attacking the hollow plastic ball to the point that I would sometimes toss the bat as far as the pitcher’s mound and leave dents in the ball. I also had a reputation of not knowing the fundamentals of any sport. Our first night playing I took left field. I got two long line drives that shot straight over my head, and I managed to jump up and grab them both while falling backward. Everyone thought I was pretty talented until the next hit, when I came charging into the infield and nearly collided with the second base man while chasing down a fly ball. I would dive for fly balls and bruise my ribs, collide with other players when I chased down a grounder, and at one point managed to trip over a runner when chasing down a foul ball.

People asked me why I played the way I did. Had I been to prison and learned the rules there? Did I actively try to hurt myself on every play?

I just shrugged my shoulders. How should I know why I did the things I did?

Isaac really should have known better in the first place. I hadn’t hit the ball as far as usual, but it went far enough down the third base line to guarantee an easy single. He wasn’t about to just give up, though. He stuck his big body just in front of first base, meaning I’d have to either run over him or around him to tag the ragged old sneakers that served as our plate. I should have just knocked him over and tagged up, teaching him a lesson about crowding the plate like that. But I had all sorts of those motivational posters running through my head. The type with pictures of dolphins and fly fishermen with little slogan underneath, like,

“Teamwork…something something something.”

or,

“Cooperation…blah blah blah.”

but most importantly,

“Don’t run over your coworker over a stupid game of wiffle ball.”

I hate those posters. The next time I see a dolphin, I’m going to punch it in the nose. Or at least show it the scar on my hand.

So instead of going over or around him, I went under him. I’ve seen baseball players slide like that on TV. It never occurred to me that they didn’t do it going into first base.

Of course, that wasn’t my problem.

No one had noticed the lead pipe that stuck about half an inch out of the grass right in front of first base until I came along. I slid right between Isaac’s legs and tagged the shoes, giving him a smug smile as I stood up. Then I noticed the ragged strip of skin that the jagged top of the pipe had taken off. The suddenly external flow of blood on my right hand was another hint that something had gone wrong.

Cue the ride to the emergency room with Jim. At least I got out of a bit of work, and I probably made Isaac feel guilty as hell.

“Martin!” The elderly nurse with the purple wig finally barked my name after an hour of waiting. “Martin!” Her second shout warned me that if I didn’t hurry up she’d move on to the next patient and leave my arm to rot off.

“On the bright side, this could be my big chance to sue my boss,” I whispered to Jim as I stood up and moved to follow the nurse.

Jim’s gaze let me know that I wasn’t funny. He didn’t seem overly concerned, however, and went right back to reading his magazine. He was probably pretty sure that no jury in the world would rule in favor of the guy who slid into first base.

***

The wound stayed bandaged up all through the winter. When the snow finally melted and my hand had healed up, I was the first person up to bat in the first game of the spring. I hit it high over center field and took off running. Isaac stepped in front of first base, a grin on his face as he realized that I wouldn’t be stupid enough to try the same thing twice. I was just about to knock him over and trample him when a fascist dolphin popped up in my head unbidden, barking at me to be a team player and synergize outside the box. I took a deep breath and went into a slide.

Jim had already grabbed his keys and was bringing the car around by the time I stood up and saw the blood dripping down my fingertips. I looked at Isaac and gave a smug smile as I stomped down on the base. Then I looked at my teammates and shrugged before jogging off the field.

 

Image: Baseball, by Ronald Carlson

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