When you drive young boys to a baseball game, you don’t have to supply much conversation – they do all the work.
Back when the kids in our family were much smaller than they are today, I’d often pack a portable supper and round them up early. Tommy, Will, Gomo, Jack, Greg, Jesse, Justin. Cousins, batboys, summer friends, and neighborhood kids. “Yo, boys!” I'd call while driving slowly up my sister’s long gravel lane. As I honked my horn, out the door or across the yard they came, dropping their wiffle balls and yellow plastic bats.
Safely belted into the back seat of my Chevy, they'd fold down the center console and cupholders expectantly. “Let the dining begin!” my nephew once exclaimed, plastic fork in hand. I remember how they devoured a huge picnic while we traveled for forty minutes to McKeon Field in Hyannis: steak tip subs, sun chips, yogurt, brownies, and chocolate milk. Once they finished eating, they played some type of game with seedless grapes. Fruit flew out the open windows of my car, and I let it go.
We were usually in a hurry to get to the field. I’m almost always in a hurry to get to the field. It’s a baseball thing. On one particular afternoon (Chatham @ Yarmouth-Dennis, early 5pm start at a high school venue that has no lights), Princetonian Ross Ohlendorf, R-R, 6" 4" 220, was scheduled to face the Y-D Red Sox, and I was in a hurry to see the first pitch.
The boys delighted me with conversation all the way to Yarmouth, their anecdotes and stories far better than any I might dream up to entertain myself. The skies over the lower Cape grew very dark that afternoon, heavy rains threatening to postpone the game. One of the kids got to talking about a rain delay he’d recently experienced at Fenway Park when a huge and sudden storm sent downpours into the stands and drove most fans back into a steamy, sticky concourse.
The rainfall felt refreshing to the kids, who chose to linger outdoors in their seats above first base. They didn’t mind being drenched at a big league ballpark on a hot summer day. They gazed at a soggy outfield, puddles in the base paths, and then looked sideways toward the concrete stairway that rises parallel to Fenway’s equipment alley. Steady, driving rains had transformed the steps of an old ballpark into a powerful waterfall. “There was so much water, it came rushing down the stairs, and it was so disgusting, all these cups of beer and soda and straws and other bits of garbage were floating in a massive gush of water, and you could even see chunks of hot dog . . . .”
I envisioned the chaotic scene he brought to life, oblivious to a succession of bold yellow road signs that periodically reminded me to slow down as I shuttled the boys along Pleasant Bay Road toward Route 137.
Thickly settled. 30 mph. SLOW. Caution. Children.
We crossed Pine Orchard Road and Hall’s Path. My Chevy Tahoe accelerated down an incline toward Harding Lane, curved at Standish Woods, reverse-curved at Perry’s Way, then a pleasing straightaway past picket fences and pink shrub roses in full bloom on Elm Street. The neighborhood wasn't very thickly settled at all.
SLOW. School Bus Stop Ahead. 30 mph. Blind Drive.
My car was full of laughter as one boy’s colorful story transported us instantly to Boston; we were no longer on Cape Cod, and for all intents and purposes I was no longer driving on Pleasant Bay Road. No, I sat above first base during a weather delay, watching in fascination (through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy) a cascade of flooding July rain mixed with beer and straws and souvenir cups and wet napkins and soggy buns and chunks of Fenway franks. I heeded no signs along the way and never considered the useful circle of numbers on my dashboard: 30, 40, 50. I was too busy laughing about one ballpark, and so happy to be speeding toward another.
He was waiting for me at the bottom of the incline just before Olde Homestead Road, his Crown Vic parked in the quiet shade of scrubby pines. He waved me over, and the boys grew still.
He studied my license and registration, then considered the small passengers sitting behind me in a silent row. All three kids were dressed in Chatham A’s baseball shirts of white and royal blue. I explained to the man in uniform that we were on our way to the game, and his face appeared to soften.
He walked back to his cruiser for several minutes while I worried about money, and when he returned to my open window, he issued a verbal warning and told us to have fun at the game.
I travel Pleasant Bay Road nearly every day and in every season, but I drive it slowly now - usually in keeping with the 30-mph limit. When following that route, I hear children’s voices. I remember how three boys once kept me company on that road, and how we hurried to a field where the Y-D Red Sox hosted the Chatham A's.
Years later, one very happy summer returns in the slow motion of memory.
I deserved a full-blown ticket, I really did. I was driving a little too fast on a country road that warned me of children and blind drives. Had I been alone in my Chevy on that summer afternoon, Chatham’s finest surely would have issued a citation, and the game at Y-D might have cost me well over a hundred dollars. But a trio of baseball boys accompanied me – kids who wore their Cape League camp shirts almost every day and all day long, the same t-shirts I gladly laundered from June to August and hung out in the sunshine to dry.
The boys of summer saved me that afternoon and kept me laughing all the way to the game.