The Last Game of Numbers
By ice rivers
Towards the end of sandlot days, we had trouble getting eighteen guys on the field for pick up baseball games. We invented a truncated baseball game called Numbers. We played Numbers with four guys on a team. A team would take the field with two infielders and two outfielders. The batting team supplied its own pitcher.
A swing and a miss counted as an out as did two foul balls. A ground ball, pop up or line drive gloved by an infielder counted as an out. Anytime an outfielder caught a ball in the air, that too was an out. Nobody ran the bases, too hot and dusty for that crap. We assigned numbers to all non-outs. A fielding error or single was one point, a double was two points, a triple three and a home run four. The numbers were judgment calls as nobody was running bases. In the field we had a way of erasing Numbers from the score. If somone made a "nice" play in the field, it subtracted a point. If someone made a "great " play it erased two points. If someone made a "sensational" play,known as a "sensay", it would erase three points and automatically bring the fielding team to the plate.
I can still see Rick Cicatta charging in from the outfield claiming "sensay,sensay" after a making a sliding dving grab in shallow left field.
Of course, Frog, on the hitting team would claim "no sensay" and the game would slow down for awhile until a consensus was reached.
We kept track of the numbers. Higher number after seven innings wins.
The only 5 point number was a ball hit against or over the fence into the cornfield. The fence was three hundred feet from home plate and about ten feet tall. Some of us, were able to reach the fence but no one had gone over it. If a batter hit a home run, not only did he get four points but he immediately got another at bat.
Late August heat was upon us. We had been playing baseball, not only all that summer but also what seemed like our entire boyhoods. We were tired of being boys. Baseball was beginning to slow down and wear out. Cars were appearing. We were starting to get around.
On that day, we had only one playable ball left. We had either lost or beat the life out of all the rest.
The Numbers game proceeded as usual. One side up, one side down with only the occasional arguments about a number. Precedents had been set and were referred to. "That's not a 'great' play, Feeb made a much better play than that last week and it was only 'nice' etc." As the summer grew more heated, the arguments grew less heated. We had other things on our mind and we were just trying to play the game and get off the field. We were finding new places where the kids were hip.
Efficiency was the beauty of Numbers. A seven inning game took only about an hour and a half at the most.
On that day, it was the bottom of the fourth inning when Jake Genovese came to the plate. Over the course of the summer, Jake had made the the most dramatic progress with his swing.
Jake had three nicknames besides Jake, which itself was a nickname for Jeff. Jake was called Crocodile or Crock because his nose came to a pointed snout. He was also called Cement Mixer or Mix for his mix of muscle and determination along with his complete absence of behavioraland/or linguistic subtlety. He was also called Chim..short for Chimney because he smoked like one.
Jake signalled to Big Joe, where he wanted the pitch. Joe threw it right there and Jake went yard. Easily clearing the fence.
Everybody on both teams appreciated the shot. Jake asked for priase and he got it.
The blast broke up the momentum of the game. We had to climb the fence and search for the ball. Everbody on Jake's team lit up while my team trudged to the fence, climbed over it and searched for the ball. This took about fifteen minutes.
Dogs finally found the ball.
The game resumed.
Jake was still at bat.
He signalled. Big Joe delivered.
Jake blasted another one outta here.
Everybody oohed and aahed. We climbed the fence again. The hunt for the ball in the cornfield recommenced. More sun. More cigarettes on the bench. Another fifteen minute search
Somebody found the ball.
The game resumed.
Jake still at bat.
At this point appreciation turned into irritation and irritation was approaching awareness. Everybdoy started yelling at Jake. Instead of praise, Jake started getting blame and venom. "You big muscle bound asshole. You're ruining the game with this shit. C'mon Mix, let's get this shit over with."
Jake was in unchartered territory and he had taken all of us with him. The suspicion started to grow that the field was too small for Jake and he could go yard at will. We were starting to get too old and too strong for Numbers.
The search for the ball took even longer this time. The game had been decided. What was the point of the search? What was the point of continuing? What was the point of hanging around every day at a baseball field?
Sun so relentless.
Jake still at bat.
The whole afternoon was starting to feel like Hell.
Finally the ball was retrieved.
As Jake dug in at the plate, everybody on both teams was swearing at him. He was a muscle bound, lame brained, crocodile faced, cement headed, goofy, queer, cock sucking walkin cancer factory etc. He had ruined our afternoon. He was in the process of destroying the game of Numbers which was our last link to sandlot baseball, in many ways our last link to boyhood.
Jake didn' care. Guys like Jake love pressure as much as they love pissing people off.
I'll never forget watching Jake at that moment. He didn't care about anything that anybody was saying. He didn't even care about the end of boyhood or for that matter, the ash dangling from his Marlboro as he dug in at the dish.
Those kind of distractions were for sinlgles hitters like me.
Power don't go there.
Big Joe was tired of lobbig the ball where Jake wanted it. This time he reared back and put all of his mustard on a fastball, inside corner. Joe had plenty of mustard. He was 16, six foot two, two hundred thirty pounds.
Jake got around on it.
I never had and never will see a ball hit that far on that field. That last shot went fify feet further back into the bushes surrounding the cornfield, into zone unknown, out of boy's town into manland. Jake's blast lost the last ball on the last pitch of the summer........
Everbody stopped mocking Jake. We were all pals again. We gave Jake the praise he deserved but we realized the game was over.
That night a new gane started.
We went home
We had changed
No one bthered to find the ball
Or even look for it.
We never played Numbers again.
Two weeks later
Dogs was driving
Soon, my buddies and me would be real well known.