***This is my entry in the contest being held by Nachos Grande. Thanks for reading. ***
It was the 3rd Saturday in July. I remember it so clearly because it was just two days after my 11th birthday. Just like every Saturday since the snow melted 5 months earlier, all the kids from the neighborhood showed up at the abandoned movie drive-in on the edge of town as soon as breakfast and chores were finished. We had one plan in mind and it was to play baseball until we ran out of sunlight or our moms tracked us down. We played with taped up gloves and bats and a couple of bare baseballs that had more spit and prayer than cowhide holding them together.
Something was different when I arrived at the drive-in. I notice a moving van next to the old house on the edge of the lot. Ol' Billy Johnson said he saw a kid carrying boxes into the house so we were all hoping we might have another kid to play ball. Maybe even someone with a strong enough arm to play outfield. Things were so bad now that our cutoff man needed a cutoff man to get the ball back to the infield. If we were really lucky, he might have a bat and ball that weren't played out too. About that time, Timmy Finklestein, always the thinker of the group, observed that we might not be able to use the no longer abandoned drive-in as our own personal Fenway Park. We called it Fenway on account of the big movie screen that stood in as the Green Monster in left field. Anyway, before we let Timmy's comment bring us down, we played odds or evens to see who got to be captains and picked teams.
It must have been the 3rd or 4th inning when it happened. Walter "Stick" Jennings did it. Everyone called him Stick because he could knock the cover off the baseball. Well, he did it again. Only this time, he hit the ball so hard, the taped cover came off and the ball sort of unraveled like a ball of yarn. He got a home run because Timmy spent the too much time trying to roll the ball back up. That left us with only one barely usable ball and a mood like a low hanging rain cloud descended over the guys. That's when our summer, and lives, changed in an instant.
The moving truck drove off and when it did, we all noticed a boy running in our direction. I say running, but he was carrying something that weighed his small frame down quite a bit. As he got closer, smiles broke out on our faces and a couple of guys started whooping and hollering.
"Hey guys, I'm Willie, can I play?". That's what our ears heard, but our eyes were focused on the bag Willie was carrying. It was stuffed with bats and gloves. He dumped it out and there must have been a dozen brand new baseballs rolling along the uneven rows where speaker poles used to stand. "Guys, can I play?", Willie asked again. I picked my jaw up off the ground long enough to tell him he could most definitely play. We all introduced ourselves and Willie, noticing our raggedy equipment and our obvious excitement, explained that his dad was a traveling sports equipment salesman. We had never heard of such a thing, but we were excited to hear it. Willie had access to sample equipment and had plenty of stuff to share. Needless to say, that was the first day of many when we shared the field with our new friend Willie.
Turns out, he had a pretty decent arm and didn't mind playing in the outfield either.