I was running the other evening down the left side of Albany Road; it must have been around seven o’clock. As I passed by the wondrously green baseball diamond, a tennis ball—one of such a bright, unsullied yellow that it had to have been just recently popped out of its can—rolled onto the right side of the pavement.
After watching it slow to a stop and seeing no one else heading for it, I crossed the road, picked it up, and threw it in the general direction I believed it to have come from, somewhere in the vicinity of the swarm of upperclassmen boys milling about on the field.
As I turned back to the road and began running again, Steve Kelley’s gruff, unmistakable voice lingered behind me, “She’s got an arm; put her in.” But actually.
Every evening in spring that isn’t slushy and damp or too chilly for shorts and a T, a whole throng of guys gathers at the baseball field to play a few games of stickball. I’ve never seen a girl step up and take a swing at that fresh, yellow tennis ball; the only girls I ever see involved are the ones who sit on the wall by the Koch Center and find amusement in cheering.
I shouldn’t judge other people for what they find exciting, but in my experience, the best part of stickball is the actually playing of it. I’ve played stickball games where I’ve been hit by a pitch, or worse, been pitching and hit by the batter’s merciless ball. At most, the game degenerates into screaming, pushing, and excessive brandishing of whatever implement is being used as a bat—broom, branch, hatchet handle.
That said, I would never–ardent stickball enthusiast that I am–walk onto that field on a spring evening. It’d be kind of like a guy asking a group of girls if he could go shopping with them. It just wouldn’t happen, even if he really liked shopping. He would jeopardize the fun and success of the trip.
Maybe stickball is one of those Deerfield traditions that is so deeply carved into the school’s woodwork that it simply can’t be changed. I wouldn’t be surprised if a girl never caught a fly ball or sprinted barefoot around the makeshift bases on the outer edge of that baseball field.
Even so, I know there must be other girls out there who really want to get a solid whack on that tennis ball to send it sailing all the way to the edge of Albany Road, where maybe, just maybe, somebody else can pick it up.