Nick Ripatrazone
Pitcher | Yankees

He stands at the base of the mound, right hand tucked in glove. He's just been called-in: top of the 8th. Only the wrist of his right hand can be seen, but the palm and fingers are dusted with sand--from watching his father shoot pool he's learned the necessity of good handle, of the control gained when all is dry and calm. His eyes, though shadowed under his low-tucked hat, focus forward, on the catcher--one of his best friends, whose later Leukemia he would never understand. They work well together--the catcher knows the routine (fastball, fastball, curve), and if he ever needs to make the walk to the mound, it's to crack a joke, to pause this game a moment.

Year: 1999
HT: 6’1”     WT: 155
Throws: Right     Bats: Right
Born: 3-4-1981, Whippany, NJ     Home: Whippany, NJ

Nick made a return to pitching after a 3-year, self-imposed exile to left field (he faked a fever to skip throwing the county championship game in middle school--he hated the coach, and the smell of Jim Beam that wafted heavy from thin lips). Those years in the outfield were lonely, quiet, but not without the occasional distraction (goose shit fanned and stamped from cleats, bubble-gum cartoons faded from rain). He missed the control of the game. The ability to pace, to pause the action (to piss off the lanky runner at first, to cut a curve just past the reach of an overanxious batter). Although his fastballs clocked at a tepid rate on the Cooperstown radar gun the following summer, they were enough to send away tens of Little Leaguers. Now in high school, he's since settled into relief.  Enjoys the view from the bench until that penultimate inning. He knows his role, and he's ready, arm fresh, legs primed. Relief feels like a good half-mile race: there's no room for mistakes. A truncated version of a game. All he needs is 6 outs, and he can take them one at a time. One pitch at a time. One step, one inch, one second.

Grant Hier
Rightfield/Rover | Angels

As he grabbed his glove off the chain-link backstop and took the field for the bottom of the ninth in the tied Championship Game of the Andy Anaheim Little League, he was unaware that during his at-bat his older sister was stuffing fistful after fistful of grass, deep into four long fingers of leather.  Before the start of the 8th inning he and the center fielder had had time to shout muffled chop-chop-lemon-drop insults at each other as they wore their gloves like masks and squinted through the webbing, but in the 9th . . .  a first-pitch towering pop-up, scary high but coming down right at him as he fumbled to get his glove on but no place to put his fingers and the Rawlings tumbled down his chest like an injured bird and the thud of the ball on un-plucked grass meant the easy out became the winning run.

HT: 5” shorter than his teammates     WT: 10 pounds too light

Throws: Right     Bats: Right     Writes: Left because that same sister who was left- handed told him to hold the pencil that way, and so he learned to control that which did not come easily and write with the very hand that did not fit the glove, and while the packed grass eventually turned brown and tumbled out over time, through the seasons the sister’s life lessons taught via the left hand eventually led to an ambidextrous career as a writer and teacher.

Born: 07-23-56,  Glendale, CA     Home: Anaheim, CA

The rounded-headed boy in the crew cut was the furthest thing physically from his hero, the Mick (the reason he always wore #7), so it wasn’t home runs cranked a country mile or hitting a target painted on the side of a barn that made him special—in fact, such a target would have been too easy. Young Grant could hit the slender stalk of a Mojave Desert Yucca with a rock from twenty paces a consistent 5-out-of-10 throws.  His father (a 6’ 3” pitcher recruited by several pro clubs) taught him the focus, the form, the follow-through to make the rock sizzle in flight, and how to bark out “Bang!” with every hit target.  But the playground scouts had little knowledge of Grant's throwing accuracy, instead picking him last due to his slow-to-develop body.  And even though he was a card-carrying Junior Angel Fan Club member from their very first season, even though his dad had driven him across the bumpy parking lot off Katella Avenue where bulldozers had just broken ground for the Big-A, even though this very team had fellow runt and left-handed outfielder Little Albie Pearson batting leadoff, Cowboy Autry was to never discover the golden arm from Mattie Lou Maxwell Park.

Trivia: As a 6’2” adult, Grant would not come in for supper until he hit the 4x4 post of his backyard arbor with a tennis ball 7 pitches in a row, his faithful dog Emily sometimes panting warm clouds of breath against the darkening Anaheim sky as she retrieved each throw, wary of yet another extra-inning evening.

Jimmy Walker
Centerfield | Cardinals

His imagination is not quite strong enough to erase his eyeglasses from the picture. Some real baseball players —like Darrell Porter — do wear glasses. But who wants to be Darrell Porter? He’s Robin Yount. Or Omar Moreno. He’s out there talking to the only girl on the team. His white socks rung in orange clay dust around the ankles. His Regent mitt soft with saddle soap. She’s the left fielder. She’s almost a foot taller. The coach tells him Hey get in position. He’s out there in the middle planning his own baseball museum, drawing the lines of the walls, listing its contents. He’s out there in the middle thinking of a world without coaches’ shouts and their kids always being the shortstop while his dad is at home making cement statues all Saturday afternoon.

Year: 1980
Throws: Right     Bats: Right
Age: 10 Born: Kokomo, Ind.     Home: Greenville, S.C.

At his neighborhood field with his neighborhood friends he’s a star. Under the buzz-hum of the power lines in the long grassy stretch behind the power plant between the two neighborhoods and the strip mall with the pizza shop and the quick stop where they sell Topps cards down baselines worn to dust or mud a leaning metal backstop a board for a catcher when you need it with some boys from each neighborhood on the two teams maybe not even an even number all-time pitcher throwing so they can hit it wood bat cracks and he runs out in rolled up blue jeans and makes the big snowcone catch falling back into the high weeds beyond the mowing.

Sarah Anne Cecelia Layden
Wannabe Catcher | Driveway League

The older kids got shirts with their names on the back. They got to eat concession stand junk after games – flaccid hot dogs and rubbery popcorn, nacho cheese the color of cheese as colored by a kindergartner. They got first pick in the neighborhood driveway league, because they were on actual teams with actual rules. “Stand behind me,” said the older sister, wielding a bat. “Watch how it’s done.” Oh, Little Sis Layden watched all right, as the backswing made contact with her right eye. WHAM! A real shiner that swelled shut, that’s how it’s done. She still went to her big sister’s games, sucking on a popsicle and cheering the base runners, fingers sneaking up to cheekbone, to eyelid, no longer swollen but now turned the color of her plaid maroon school uniform. The other parents glanced sidelong from her face, to her parents, then back to the game. In the years that followed, she would play kickball, volleyball, basketball, foursquare, flag football, soccer. High jump and hurdles, poorly. But not baseball. Never baseball.

Year: 1983
HT: Tall as the mailbox     WT: None of your beeswax
Throws: Like a…don’t even say it     Bats: Scare her.
Age: 8     Born: Milwaukee, WI     Home: Bourbonnais, IL

Did she want to at least try to play baseball sometime? Did she want to get over the fear of being brained with a bat? Yeah, kind of. Tomboys like to be well-rounded in their sporting endeavors, their roughhouse, their wanting to be among and equal to the boys. Baseball was the kind of sport a sunny day was made for. But what’s wrong with being on the sidelines every once in awhile? What’s wrong with taking a break, sipping a cherry ICEE and watching the other kids play from the safe distance of the bleachers? Maybe that is just the place for a dreamer, one who might seem to be tracking a fly ball into the blue sky, but really is eavesdropping on the neighbors’ lowered conversations. Maybe this is just the place for a girl who is learning how to observe, imagining the parts she can’t fully hear or understand (The Smiths think the local babysitter is a baby? Is having a baby?), a girl who still flinches, just a little, at each crack of the bat.

Infamy Insert

Waiting on the Curve
Coach Carver pulls you close. “Just wait for it.” He smells like Old Spice and socks. “This guy is meat, champ. Hang back. Wait for the bender.” He looks for a nod. You look to the plate, thirty inches of aluminum thrumming in your hands. Angus Scott has an 0-2 count. Nobody on the team knows how to wait for the curve. No fifth grader throws junk. Until now. You nod, but don’t believe it. Angus lurches at a pitch as electricity shimmies in your chest. Then he stumbles past you, head down, and it’s your turn. Five in a row retired on curves. You plant your right foot at the back of the box, wag the Easton. Carver’s words echo in your head: “Just . . . wait.” Does he mean wait for the curve? A strike one fastball down the middle. You step back, look at Coach spread in the third base box. “Hum, babe,” he claps. You step in and wonder when to swing. Jem winds up, releases a pitch loose and wide. You wait. The ball dances into a trap door, reappears at center stage just as your shoulders soften. A curveball. Strike two. You waited too long, a silent tongue in a strange land. Glowing and muted, your shins itch under the uniform-issue stirrups. Your ass crack moistens. You grow heavy and weightless, hovering sideways, ancient mathematics ringing in your left ear. By the time Jem’s next pitch falls off the table, you have sailed out of your cleats, halfway to the hill, like a bird flitting from a tree, dropping meal seed.

Curveball Mathematics
When you learn that x = y as a kid, you assume the axis is stable. Equations have finite resolutions. Blue is blue.  Your father will fart and blame it on frogs. Bianca Peterson sports the sweetest ass curves at Fanning Elementary. This is how you become an architect of static logic. There are no lessons on the Magnus effect, the lateral deviation of a spinning ball. Ms. Nolte flashes two fingers, but gives no homework on Bernoulli’s Principle. The higher-ups keep classified the flirtation of force and wake. So you move forward in a straight line, unmoved by high pressure zones, mystified when Julie DeClark swerves away to make out with David Morrill, baffled that the love your parents share do not prevent them from splitting into two, and clueless that a ball spinning toward you, a pitch from forty-six feet that you used to smash, can in fact shift midway and turn inside out both a crumbling axiom and your tumbling gut.

Nick Ripatrazone is the author of two books of poetry, Oblations and This Is Not About Birds (Gold Wake Press 2012), and a forthcoming book of literary criticism, The Fine Delight: Postconciliar Catholic Literature (Cascade Books 2013). His fiction has appeared in Esquire and The Kenyon Review and has received honors from ESPN: The Magazine.

Grant Hier is Professor of English and Chair of Liberal Arts at Laguna College of Art and Design. A few years ago Vin Scully invited Grant up to his announcer’s booth after reading mention of himself in Grant’s poem, “Untended Garden”—that was a good day.

Jim Walker is managing director of
Second Story, a project for young writers based in Indianapolis. He teaches writing at Butler University, and his poetry has appeared in many local and national publications.

Sarah Layden’s recent fiction appears or is forthcoming in
Stone Canoe, Pank, Booth, Vestal Review, Artful Dodge, and the anthology Sudden Flash Youth. She teaches writing at IUPUI and Marian University and can be found online at

Robert Stapleton is from Southern California and currently teaches at Butler University in Indianapolis. His work has appeared in Everyday Genius, and Word Riot, among others.