Tristan can hear the distant cheering. Under the blistering South Texas sun, just a couple blocks from his house, stands the American Little League Ballpark. Faded white paint peels from the plywood boards of the field house. Only the Coca-Cola sign looks new.
“Hey batter batter, hey batter batter, swing batter!”
Before he reaches its rusty gates, he can hear the droning chatter of the outfielders. They hunker into position, decked out in crisp polyester uniforms, their eyes drilling holes into the batter while hoping that their racket will prevent him from drilling one into the outfield; or worse, over the fence.
Tristan doesn’t actually play baseball. His arm in a sling, he hangs around the four-foot baseline fences waiting for something to happen. The crack of the bat might send that shiny white orb spinning into foul territory, out of play.
“Foul ball! Return that ball to the concession stand for a free snow cone!”
The tin can PA announcement is his cue. In that mad rush for the wayward ball, Tristan knows the golden rule of foul balls: slide, don’t dive. Divers taste the salty clay, feel it stinging their eyes, smell the sun-baked mud off of someone else’s cleats. Savvy sliders are rewarded with the syrupy sweetness of snow cones, their lips turning red from the strawberry, or blue from the fruity coconut.
Tristan always slides. This time he is the first one there. His patience has paid off as he cups the ball between his cast and his side. He sees the sweaty faces of the other boys, soured in midstride. He makes up his mind: today it will be coconut.
Upon turning that stray ball in, he is reminded of the real reason they all hang out at the ballpark: the snack stand. Housed in back of the rickety grandstand, below the press box, is the finest collection of teeth-rotting tasties a boy could want. Pony-tailed girls in team shirts hold Lik-A-Maid packets in their dark olive hands while whining grimy little brothers clamor for a taste of grape, cherry, or sour lime sugar. Cotton candy scents waft in the slight breeze. Briny-faced boys munch on dollar dill pickles. Their slurping almost makes Tristan pucker. But then the spicy smells of Frito pies catch his attention. A team mom is loaded down with six of those crunchy concoctions of corn chips and queso , steaming chili sauce lathered on top. Nearby, two brothers grapple over a greasy box of buttery popcorn, each balancing his bubbling cup of Coke.
And sooner or later, something lands on the ground. A white wrapper; an unused dipping stick; crumbled fritos. Half of a bubbling Coke.
Then another noisy chattering begins, piercing and squawking. The wily white seagulls that have made the trip from the J.C. Elliot landfill have been waiting for wandering morsels. Vultures of the sea, they are ravenous. Feathers fly and beaks flicker and bicker over the litter on the grass. Tristan knows better than to feed them anything. When all the people go home, they will go home.
When the clanking of the bat ceases, when the chattering dies down, Tristan trudges home, his tummy full. Maybe he’ll cut through the alley and outrun Bear, the bushy beast-hound who guards his favorite shortcut to the ballpark. Maybe he’ll just take the longer route under the setting sun, taking in the cooling breeze under the purpling sky. Yes, the long way today. Anyway, he still has half a bag of Laffy Taffy to finish.
© 2009 Daniel Alegria