“He’s got soccer at 2:00; I hope this ends in time,” the first woman shook her head.
“Yeah, Jaden swims this afternoon; we’ve got to get to Whole Foods before then. He’s
got a play date with Cade Evans later; you know, the boy out there behind Olivia over by second
base,” the second woman pointed toward the baseball diamond.
“Oh, isn’t she the cutest thing,” the first cooed.
“I know, isn’t she?” The second smiled. “But I’m not so sure about her mother,” her voice lowered as she nodded her head toward a woman three rows down from them in the aluminum bleachers. “Look at her.”
“I know what you mean. I don’t think she’s been inside a gym in years.”
“I don’t think she ever has been.”
“Hee hee, ha, ha.”
The sky was clear turquoise above the wide green athletic fields behind the middle school. At the southwest corner, where a baseball field was tucked up against a small patch of woods, thirty six and seven year-olds meandered through the first tee ball game of the season, fifteen in pastel blue shirts and caps, the ‘Pale Whales,’ and another fifteen in hunter green, the‘Green Machine.’
A father set the ball on the black ‘tee’ and leaned over to little Jacob Post who was waving to his mother in the bleachers behind third base. She waved back excitedly, “Come on now, honey! Get a good hit!”
Jacob’s blue hat was too big, and he was wondering where he had thrown his baseball glove, that and what treat awaited the players in Mrs. Gerardi’s canvas bag.
The man took a stance with the bat.
“Like this, Jacob; hold your hands back and keep your eye on the ball.”
The boy stepped up to the plate, held the bat as he had always done, and swung ferociously as he had always swung.
The aluminum bat smashed into the plastic ‘tee’ (a three-foot tube set upright on a stand) six inches below the ball which then plopped meekly to the ground and rolled five feet forward.
“Run Jacob, run!” the mother, now standing, called out.
The man stretched forward in retrieval, “Foul ball! Foul ball!” he waved his arms.
The boy, confused, took a long step toward first base, looking over his shoulder at his mother, then back at his coach. The man grabbed his shoulder.
“Hold up, Jacob,” the man said. “It’s a foul.”
The boy stepped back beside the tee, swiveling his glance from Mr. Henry to his mother.
“Now, you don’t have to swing quite so hard,” the young father offered. “Just take a deep breath and pull the bat to your shoulder.” He set the ball back on the tee. “Okay, let’s get a good hit.”
The six year-old squinted, clenched his teeth, and swung as though he were striking an attacking bear. This time he made contact with the top of the ball. It leapt off the tee and rolled out between the pitcher’s mound and third base.
On the mound, Lucas Nelson watched, unmoved, while Tyler Henry, wearing wristbands on both arms and two shiny swipes of eyeblack, jumped forward, diving for the ball, pushing aside Zoe Clement who was just about to pick it up.
She fell backward as Tyler dove in. He grabbed the ball and flung it madly toward first base where his teammate Bryce Lewis was standing with his glove outstretched in a gesture of futile optimism. The ball sailed five feet over his head and rolled right up to the fence in front of the small set of bleachers on the first base side.
“Run Jacob, run!” screamed the batter’s mother who was now jumping up and clapping her hands. “Good hit, Jacob! Oh, what a good hit!”
From his position in what could only be called ‘short right field,’ Billy Smith watched as Bryce lumbered toward the ball. He had taken two token steps in that general direction but ceased the charge when he realized that it was essentially a vain gesture.
As he turned back toward his post, Billy noticed a dark object gliding out above the school. Small at first, it curved and drifted lazily in the turquoise June sky, growing larger with every sweep, tracing a long, disorganized spiral in the direction of the field.
All at once, a shrill ‘screech’ announced the red-tailed hawk’s arrival. Everyone looked
“Whoah, that’s a big one,” Mr. Henry, Tyler’s dad, proclaimed from the fence at his
People shaded their eyes, still looking up.
The bird soared so high it nearly vanished, then down again, still carving graceful circles.
As clapping hands and “Okay kids, let’s go,” drew most of the gazes back down to the field, Billy kept his watch, turning half circles in his position as if the red-tail above him was his kite.
There was a sudden burst of noise, and Billy looked down to see the other team’s last batter chugging around first as the ball rolled out toward right field. Aiden Crenshaw, who was stationed in center field, was yelling as he drew closer.
“Get it, Billy! Get it!”
Billy turned toward Aiden just as his teammate arrived, pushing him aside and diving after the ball. He grabbed the now-stopped object and hurled it in the general direction of second base, causing a scramble of six and seven year-olds either stretching for or leaping away from the incoming ball.
Dazed and on the grass, Billy shook his head and immediately looked up for the hawk. It was gone.
While the tangle of young players settled the matter of possession of the baseball, the hitter rounded third and headed for home. Tyler Henry, as usual, emerged from the scrum with the horsehide and flung it toward home. However, since there was no catcher and none of the infield players had determined to cover the plate, the throw, though plainly his best of the day, bounced innocently against the backstop. The base runner jumped with both feet on the plate.
“Way to go, Noah!!” a man and woman erupted from the stands behind the Pale Whale bench as the boy trotted triumphantly toward the back-thumping and huzzahs of his mates.
Still scanning the sky for the hawk, Billy Smith shuffled toward his bench.
“Let’s pay attention out there, William,” Mr. Henry said as the boy arrived. “Don’t daydream. Keep your head in the game.”
Billy nodded, looking up at his coach. As he did, he noticed movement in one of the tall maples in the small woods behind the field.
Mr. Tyler tapped him on the head then went off toward home where Caleb Olsen, the Green Machine’s first hitter, was already standing, taking practice swings beside the tee.
The big red-tailed hawk had taken a perch near the top of one of the trees. Its weight caused the branch to bob like a slow-motion diving board. Billy’s gaze was fixed on the brown and white image, regally positioned above the field, scanning its domain.
There was the distinctive ping of the metal bat as Caleb hit a ball out toward third attended by the sudden swirl of pale blue activity set to the staccato music of parental affirmation. The players on the bench yelped. Billy Smith watched the hawk.
Olivia Phillips took her stance at the tee. She was the smallest child on the field with iridescent blonde hair falling from her green cap, hazel eyes that could cut into a heart like headlights into fog, and a spray of freckles across a tiny, perfect nose.
Billy watched the hawk.
Olivia hit a ball out to second base, and once again the sound and color responded.
Just as Olivia touched first base, the hawk sprung from its perch.
Billy stood, still watching.
The Pale Whales couldn’t manage to corral the ball, so Olivia continued on to second.
The bird swept down in a blur of brown, white, and red, talons outstretched. It hit a chipmunk like a rocket strikes a target.
Olivia stood on second base, beaming, waving to her parents who stood cheering in the stands.
There was a puff of dust and brown fir from the ground beneath the tree. The hawk ripped into the chipmunk with a flesh-filled, bloody beak.
“Great hit, honey!” Brian Phillips waved from the stands.
The hawk ripped and picked at the small rodent in sharp, precise, efficient strikes.
Billy stood, transfixed, eyes wide, mouth open.
Ethan Johnson stepped up to the tee.
The first woman looked at her watch. She shook her head. “It’s going to be close.” She stood up. “Get a hit honey!” She sat back down. “Hope traffic on the bridge isn’t tied up.”
“It’ll be fine, dear,” the second woman said.
There was more dust from the ground beneath the tree, and the hawk sprung up, triumphant, with the chipmunk in its grasp. Billy watched it rise into the turquoise sky, turning toward the school, away from the field. Billy watched in wonder as it swept off into the distance.
“Billy! Hey, Billy Smith, you’re up next. Grab a bat. Let’s go!”
The boy looked at his coach, then back to the sky above the red brick school building where the red-tailed hawk was now just a small dot disappearing into the distance.
“Uh, yeah, okay,” he managed, looking down the fence to pick up the red-handled aluminum bat that he preferred. He grabbed it and walked slowly toward the plate.
He hit a line drive to left and made it to second base, but it was as if he was not there, like he was somewhere else watching it happen.
Ten minutes later, the last batter made his way around the bases. The teams lined up to shake hands. The coaches gathered their troops together to tell them how well they did, when the next practice would be, and to distribute the post-game snacks. The Green Machine had granola bars and juice boxes.
The first woman trotted out to the field to gather up her son. “Come on, Ethan; we’ve got to get you to the pool.”
Olivia’s mother gave her daughter a hug, took her hand, and walked off to the parking lot.
Billy Smith’s father approached just as the team was dispersing.
“Nice job today, Billy. Did you have fun?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess so.”
“You seemed a little distracted out there today. Remember, you need to pay attention. That’s how you learn, and right now, this is all about learning. Did you learn anything today?”
The boy thought for a moment, looked up to the turquoise sky above the field and
“Yeah, dad,” he said softly, “I guess I did.”
John P. Kristofco's stories, poetry and essays have appeared in many different publications, including The Cape Rock, Folio, Blueline, The Rockford Review, The Cimarron Review, The Rockhurst Review, The Chaffin Journal, Oyez, The Owen Wister Review, The Storyteller and Offcourse.