Playing in the Municipal League, Delaware Park, Buffalo, New York, 1962, behind the plate. The throw from the cut-off man is there in one hop. I am planted a yard up the third-base line. I have time to clasp the ball with my right hand into the pocket of my catcher’s glove and turn to face the runner coming down the baseline toward me. Then darkness.
To this day I can see the trees behind him in the microsecond before lights out. I want to say they were elm trees, but most of the elm trees in Buffalo had been annihilated by then, Dutch Elm Disease. Diseases should be capitalized. The runner was called out. I had held onto the ball, or rather my mitt had. It was no longer on my hand. I was out myself for a while, I guess, because there was quite a crowd above me when reality wavered back in. Someone had loosened my belt and was pressing on my chest protector. I felt beyond pale. I felt invisible. Nothing hurt.
We did not have EMS back then, certainly not for a kid knocked dizzy in a ball game. Ambulances meant someone was leaving whom you would never see again. The bodies in coffins at wakes always looked fake. My beer-bellied manager helped me sit up and asked if I was alright. I was helped back to the bench where I had to surrender my shin guards and protector to my backup, Benny Passed-balls, who did not have his own gear. By the time I walked home after the game, with all my gear in my gear bag, I was beginning to ache. End of vivid memory.
The guy who ran me over was named Junior. Junior and I became baseball buddies. We never played on the same team—and we both played for several in different leagues—but we hung together when we met up at the parks where our teams played. Junior is why I remembered this story. Inter-racial tensions were high in Buffalo in the early ‘60s. Demographics were shifting, and the native racialist mindset was not much more nuanced than that of Alabama. As I was growing up, my own neighborhood had succumbed to white flight. Junior was black.
That in itself was no big deal; although, we both admitted that we had no other friends of the alternate race. After the game of our collision, Junior followed me as I walked across the park until we were well away from everybody else. Then he caught up with me. He took my gear bag from my shoulder, and as we walked along said how sorry he was if his hit had hurt me. He carried my gear all the way to my house, and by the time we got there we were laughing.
This is not Aesop, just a memory, a lesson Junior taught me. Thanks, bro.