Baseball gloveTitle: Davis Field
Author: Andrew Keating
Category: Fiction
He was a short, quick-gloved second baseman, like his father. No coach, or player, or parent would ever describe his movements as graceful, or smooth, or claim that he made anything he did on the field look easy.
Three-tenths of a second separated a winner from a loser in this game, and Danny Leopold could pick a freshly-fielded ball out of his glove and flip it, with a rough pop of the wrist, into the first baseman’s mitt with the finest precision. It was a dance of balance and counterbalance, of momentum, of guesswork and footwork. There were twenty-seven outs that needed to be made, and as a middle-infielder Danny could expect the responsibility of at least nine.
     Danny loved this field, knew it. He had all but examined the individual grains of sand in the infield dirt. He knew exactly how many steps back from the grass, or how many steps onto it, he needed to be for all situations. The smell of grass in spring stayed with Danny year-round, though the winters were long and cut into training season. Nothing kept him from the game, not even when the tarps were rolled out over the field and the coaches were busy with fall sports or their day jobs. Danny and his friend Jeff had dug out patches of dirt in corners of each of their back yards and would host each other in one-on-one home and away games when there wasn’t yet a team to practice with. But these fields, which were loosely defined by items such as a rusty pipe for home plate, or a tree at first, or the corner of a garage for third, and no apparent outfield, they were not Davis Field.
     And now there were talks that his field would be taken away.
     “They can’t cut baseball altogether,” Jeff said, pitching tennis balls into the net between home plate and his house. Danny sat on a picnic table that had been dragged to the edge of the driveway, spinning a baseball in his palm, occasionally closing his fingers over the seams as if to throw. “The game’s been around this town too long, you know.”
     “Yeah,” said Danny. “Yeah, I know.”
     “Has your dad said anything about it?”
     Danny looked into the kitchen window and saw his father sitting at the table with a newspaper in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other. “Nothing really. I’ve tried to talk to him about it a couple times, but all he says is ‘Oh, they’ll find somewhere for you to play.’” Jeff jogged over to the net and started tossing tennis balls back to the rubber in the middle of the yard. Danny watched him but didn’t offer to help. “Thing I don’t understand is why they would dig into Davis. We’ve been on that field forever.”
     “Your dad played on that field,” Jeff said. “My dad too. Hey, grab a bat, see how my sinker is dropping.”
     Danny laughed. “You know you can’t throw a sinker with tennis balls. No stitches.”
     “Still, it’s not like you can hit it.”
     Danny looked back inside and his father was still reading. They tried to play when nobody else was home. It was a lot easier than explaining why tennis balls kept banging against the neighbors’ houses and cars. Danny grabbed a wooden bat that was leaning against the garage. He preferred swinging the lumber instead of the lighter, faster aluminum. Wood meant weight in his hands, stability, and the thock sound that rose up every time he killed a tennis ball was like a good and slow drum beat. He especially liked hitting leather and cork, because when he struck, he could feel a jolt, like electricity, rise up through the bat and into his arms. He felt more powerful with a wooden bat. And, after all, it was what the pros used.
     He whiffed at the first few balls thrown his way. He was swinging at everything. Nobody was counting. He connected for a few grounders, a line drive back to Jeff, and one long fly ball into the next yard, before he heard the screen door close. Danny turned to see his father leaning on the rail of the back steps.
     “Don’t stop for me,” his father said.
     But Jeff didn’t throw. “Hey, Mr. Leopold,” he said. “Why don’t you step in?”
     Daniel Leopold, Sr., laughed. “That may be my bat, but I haven’t used it in a long time.” Danny held the bat out toward his father, gripping it by the barrel. The old man came down the last two steps and took it from him, lifted it to his shoulder, squared his feet where he stood and took a few slow swings. It looked natural, as if he woke up every morning and practiced this motion before putting on his suit.
     Danny had never seen his father play; not even so much as a company softball game. The name Leopold was well known in Armitage, and it was known for baseball. Of course, no Leopold ever made it pro, but Danny’s father, and his uncle Mel had once lit up Davis Field for what was arguably the best high school baseball team in Armitage history. They won county that year, and almost took state. Danny’s grandfather was the coach back then, and had once played ball for Armitage himself to some recognition. This was the family tradition, if there was one.
     Jeff told Danny to keep count. “I just want to make sure your old man doesn’t try to say I didn’t strike him out.” Danny laughed, but his father held the bat up, pointed at Jeff and tightened his jaw.
“Don’t call me ‘old man’ again,” he said. “Or else I’m gonna hit you square in your teeth with a line drive.” Danny’s father smiled and squared his feet, squared his shoulders, and his elbow. The bat was steady in his grip. His stance was picturesque, Danny thought, he was steady as a statue and despite his height, he appeared to tower over the makeshift home plate.
     His father hit balls like he was swatting flies. It didn’t matter how high, low, or out of the strike zone Jeff threw it. Jeff said he was just about done, but Danny’s father insisted on two more balls. He let the first one go by him and Jeff gave him lip about it; so Daniel, Sr., belted the last ball over his head in a sharp line drive that flew over the fence and smacked against their neighbor’s house. Danny’s father’s eyes widened and he ducked down as if hiding behind an invisible object. He suppressed a laugh behind his arm and hurried, bent down, alongside his son, around to the front yard, where he sat down on the front steps and laughed. Danny and Jeff stood over him, laughing as well.
     “Mr. Leopold,” Jeff said.
     “I’m sorry for calling you an old man.”
     After it got dark, Danny turned on the floodlight attached to the garage, and he and his father went out to pick up the stray tennis balls. After gathering everything from their own yard, they walked around the block to gain access to the neighbor’s yard.
     “I heard you and Jeff talking about the baseball team,” his father started while they walked. “You know they won’t end the program, right?”
     Danny said, “Yeah. It doesn’t make sense to shut down the team. Without baseball, there isn’t much else we’ve got.”
     “And you’re good.”
     “Do you think that matters?” Danny asked. “They’re talking about shutting down Davis Field. They’re going to build the new science center over it. I mean, I thought the school system didn’t have any money, but they get however much they need to plow into the baseball field.”
     “They won’t take away Davis,” his father said. “Too many banners hang in the gymnasium, too many plaques in the halls, too many former ballplayers whose kids play ball on that field.”
     “Maybe you should do something,” Danny said.
     “What would you have me do?”
     “I don’t know. Maybe you could speak to the school board or something. Tell them to build on the other side of the school.”
     They were at their neighbor’s house and the porch light was out. They jogged quietly to the driveway, walking along the side of the building. The only light he saw in front of him was his own garage’s floodlight over the fence, and the small beams of light that snuck through the spaces between pickets.
     “Shouldn’t you be yelling at me for doing this?” Danny asked his father in a whisper.
     “Well, maybe if you had actually hit them out here.”
     “What’s that supposed to mean?”
     “You drop your elbow before you swing,” his father said, “Lose all your power.” Danny knew his father was posing in a batting stance, trying to show him the proper way to swing a bat; but he couldn’t really see him through the dark.
     They threw the last of the tennis balls back into a bucket and walked back around the block. “Do you ever miss playing ball?” Danny asked.
     “Well I like watching you play.”
     He knew his father was eluding the question. “But you were good. I’ve seen the pictures; and people still talk about you sometimes at school. You know it’s been 25 years since your team won county and went to the state tournament? People don’t forget that kind of stuff around here.”
     “Yeah, we were pretty good, and I loved playing,” his father said. “But I had to put those days behind me. We all did. None of us went pro. Me, your uncle Mel, we got trophies and plaques, but there’s a lot more to life than just baseball.” He stopped. They were only a few yards from their house. He looked at his son and said, “Look Danny, you play this game now like it’s the most important thing in the world to you – because it is. It should be.  Love this game and don’t think about anything else if you don’t want to. At the end of this year, you’ll be going off to college and maybe you’ll play baseball there. But maybe you won’t, and that’s okay too. But after baseball, that’s life.” He put his hand on his son’s shoulder for a moment, then he handed Danny the bucket and went inside.

Talks of the school’s expansion intensified through winter, and soon spring was right around the corner. The principal had even placed a model outside her office of what the school would look like with the new science center expansion. Pictures of blueprints and computerized images of what it would look like after it was built, decorated and landscaped hung on the walls leading to the locker rooms. They reminded Danny of headstones; they marked the death of Davis Field and Armitage High baseball.
     Danny was a junior, a team captain, that year. The rumors weren’t helping him deal with the new responsibility. The other guys, like Danny, were all second or third generation players on the team. He knew that none of them wanted to be the end of a tradition. He wondered what other sports he could play, if any, or if there were decent enough American Legion squads, or leagues he could play in outside of school. But none of that would get him back on Davis Field.
     “I still can’t believe they are doing this,” Jeff said one day, as the two of them stood in front of a 3-D model of the new wing that was displayed outside the locker rooms. Jeff was a senior, and this time next year, he’d be training for college ball. But Danny knew that it wasn’t a matter of where Jeff would play next season. To Jeff, tearing down Davis Field was like tearing down his childhood home.
As they went through weightlifting circuit, Danny and Jeff put together a list of players whose parents had been on the team. How many guys had brothers hoping to start up the next season? How many families would be affected by the closing of the baseball program? Neither truly believed that would be the end result.
     That night, he went home with a plan. He invited Jeff over for dinner and brought up the closing of Davis Field right away. “Maybe you could get some of the alumni together,” he said to his father. “You and Uncle Mel could petition the school for the sake of tradition; say the science center could go somewhere else.”
     “Son, I’ve seen the plans for the new wing at the school,” his father said, “And I think it’s a good thing.”
     Jeff said, “But, Mr. Leopold…”
     “Hold on. Let me finish. That doesn’t mean I want them to dig up Davis. Your uncle and I lived on that field, much like the two of you do now. We didn’t have a backyard, so we’d go out to Davis almost every day to run drills.”
     “I think it’s a shame they can’t just find a way to make everyone happy,” Danny’s mother said.
     “Not everybody can be happy,” his father said. “Sometimes you have to give up, move on.” He went back to eating. Danny and Jeff finished dinner silently and Jeff went home immediately afterward.

The team started the season with a nine-game winning streak. The stands around Davis Field were filled for each game, and after they beat their local rivals, the fans began to bring their own chairs or blankets for extra seating. Every couple of games, Danny spotted his father standing behind the fence a few yards away from the bleachers where his mother sat. He stood with Uncle Mel and they watched the game together. Between innings, they’d toss a baseball back and forth, barehanded, and he wished he knew what they were talking about. Part of Danny believed that they talked like he and Jeff did, that even though they were much older and neither had played any baseball in over two decades, maybe they still dreamed of playing.
     When the team was 12-3, they received word that the field was going to be closed immediately after the season ended. Construction would begin during the summer break.
     They were in the locker room, coach standing in front of three assistance, all with their heads bowed as though they were at a wake. It was as if they were standing before an open casket and their closest friend since childhood lay inside. It was an hour before an afternoon game when they found out, a Saturday.
     Danny was a captain; Jeff was too. They looked to each other, both hoping the other had an idea of how to motivate the team to victory. The team walked through the tunnel from the locker room to the field-house door, then jogged slowly to the dugout, the pitcher and catcher to the bullpen to warm up. During the game, Danny could see that Jeff’s sinker wasn’t dropping, his fastball didn’t have its usual pop. Almost every batter made contact. When the ball came Danny’s way, it felt wet and slippery. He nearly overthrew the first basemen on multiple occasions, two errors on the day. At the plate was not much better. He couldn’t remember anything about the pitcher he was facing and swung at balls he would never otherwise care for. Danny left the field at the end of the ninth with a groundout, a fielder’s choice and two strikeouts.
     After the game, Jeff sat next to Danny in the home team dugout at Davis Field. The sun was just starting to set over the mountains that lined the horizon and the tarp covering the infield was a bright orange reflection of the sky, like a pool of still water in the middle of the dark grass. They weren’t going to run drills, they had already changed into jeans and sweatshirts. It wasn’t the last time either of them would sit in the dugout, but it felt that way. The pair of them sat on the pine, kicking dirt with their sneakers, and watching the darkness envelop the field, neither of them thinking about where they would play the next spring. Instead, they listened for the soft clanging of aluminum striking leather far off in the distance.
Andrew Keating, an avid baseball lover, was born and raised in New England. He now resides in Maryland, where he works in public relations. He attended Wagner College, holds an MBA from Johnson & Wales University, and is a 2012 graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. Andrew is the co-founding editor of Cobalt Review.