A School somewhere in rural upstate New York
by Steve Meyers
“Settle down, class. You are high school seniors and you need to carry your self with a little more civility and a little less horse play. You will be graduating next week, if you manage to pass your final exams, so it’s time to get serious about your life and your career. And, the upcoming final exam that commences next Thursday.”
The final bell rung, and the class abruptly left the room like a herd of cattle on a Colorado cattle drive. The young men in the class grabbed their hats and caps off the hooks, the few who owned a baseball glove snagged them, while the best player, Joseph Sumption, secured the bat and ball from his coat hook area.
Most of the students had exited the room by the time Joseph turned to his teacher and asked, “Say, Mr. Evans, sir, we’ve got a little ball game going out in the field in back until supper time. If you’d like, that is, if you are not too busy, you could come by and watch us. We’d be glad to show you how the game is played.”
“Well, thank you Joseph, that is mighty kind of you to offer. I have to grade the essay papers first, but, if I get done before the game ends, I’d be very interested in watching you boys play the game of baseball.”
“I’m pitching today, Mr. Evans, so those 11th graders better look out.” Joseph smiled at his teacher and headed out the door to catch up with the rest of the team.
Mr. Evans waved good-bye to his star pupil and called out, ‘have fun’, before his eyes dropped to the stack of 20 single paged essays sitting on the corner of his desk. He let out a deep sigh, adjusted his spectacles, and took the top one from the stack, and began reading. Half-way down the page he decided the room was stuffy. Stifling, in fact. How could he expect to concentrate on the essay’s when he was so overwhelmed by the heat? Not to mention the humidity.
He walked over to the window and turned the lever on the window so that he could push the glass open. Initially, it was stuck, but using the heel of his hand, he was able to force it open. The hot air gently rolled in the window. Before heading back to his desk, he heard one of the boys in the distance, ‘second base, throw it to second base.’
He lingered at the window trying to see the source of the voice in the distance. But, the trees outside the classroom obstructed the makeshift baseball field in back. Stifled in his attempt to see the game, Franklin Evans headed back to his desk and resumed his attempt at reading the first essay.
Reading the essays of the kids was something that Franklin always enjoyed. He loved the way that the kids would share their thoughts about anything from tending to wheat fields to training a horse, to why the Constitution is important.
It was different today. He couldn’t stay engaged. He decided to loosen his tie. Unbutton his collar. How could he expect to grade an essay being in such discomfort?
“He was out for by a mile.”
“What are you talking about it, he missed the tag. He still hasn’t tagged me.”
Again, Franklin went to the window. This time he stuck his head through the opening and peered around to the back. There it was. The right field corner of the playing field. He could see one kid standing out there. No glove. Squatted down a bit, with hands on his knees, he was ready in case a ball came his way.
It occurred to Franklin that he didn’t have to finish the essay’s right now. He could take them home and read them tonight. After he had dinner with his family. He could sit in the family room and grade the essays. It would be cooler. Less stuffy. And, he could get rid of this stiff shirt and jacket.
After he locked the classroom, Franklin headed to the rear of the building and towards the baseball game just past the dirt road out back.
When he reached the field, he saw Joseph standing in the pitcher’s position getting ready to throw the baseball. He looked in towards the catcher and threw the ball towards home plate. The batter swung and missed. ‘Strike three!”, someone called.
“Mr. Evans. You made it”, shouted Joseph as he made his way toward his side of the field near home plate. “Did you see that fastball?”
“Mighty nice pitch, Joseph. Mighty nice.”
Franklin watched Joseph’s team bat the while under the shade of the big oak tree next to third base. The first batter up for Joseph’s team was a young man named, Robert. He was a big kid, the same one that Franklin saw in right field. On the second pitch of the inning he took a vicious swing of the bat and screamed a ball towards third base. The ball took a wicked hop and bounced right into the chin of the third baseman. He dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Franklin rushed out to assist the injured player and saw the gash on the lip. Immediately, it was starting to swell. It was decided the young man would leave the game so that he could walk home and have his mother apply first aid treatment.
After some discussion about how to proceed without one less player it was Robert who came up with the idea that would allow the game to continue.
“Say, Mr. Evans, could you fill in at third base for their team? You can play the outfield if you want, but we really need another player to keep the competition fair. Please?”
“C’mon Mr. Evans, we’d really appreciate it.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know how to play”.
“That’s not fair, we need a real ball player to take Jake’s place.”
These are some of the comments that Franklin heard as he was pondering the decision to join the boys. Ultimately, he decided, ‘why not’.
He removed his jacket and headed over to third base politely refusing the offer to assume the easier position in right field.
When the game resumed, the batter hit a ground ball to the second baseman who couldn’t find the handle. Runners on first and second with no one out.
Franklin could see the next batter talking with the player that would bat after him. They were smiling as they looked towards their teacher while sharing their little secret. The two shared a smug look on their faces.
The batter squared around on the first pitch and bunted the ball. “Run” his teammates yelled.
Franklin broke towards the plate using small, but efficient steps, that carried his lean frame quickly to the ball as it was falling to the ground. The surprise to everyone was that it never made it to the ground. It was a mere one inch from the tall grass before the large hand of Franklin Evans slid between the ground and the sinking baseball as he squeezed it securely in his palm.
The force of his body propelled him forward so that after catching the ball he did a roll and landed on his feet holding the ball for all to witness. Without pause, he rifled the ball to second base where it was caught by the second baseman. Franklin kept running towards first base and as he passed the out of position first baseman, he yelled, ‘back to first, throw it back to first.”
The second baseman, ‘Johnny on the spot’, tossed the ball back to Franklin thus completing the rarest of putouts, the baseball triple play.
“But…how….where did you learn how to do that Mr. Evans?”, called out Joseph as he stood with thirteen other stunned young men.
They were gathered around their teacher now. The game all but forgotten. The focus on the amazing play of their…..teacher, of all people.
Franklin looked at the young men without any apparent emotion and thought about how he was to answer that question.
“Let me put it this way Joseph”, but he was looking at all his students now, “I wasn’t always a schoolteacher.”