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A wet dishrag of a thing to care about, really. Staved time, spun from April’s leadoff hope to October’s last licks. Midnight’s pinstripes are a dead dove streaked with coffee, while airplanes dream up better weather. Doubles to left and triples to right. Punchy with an inside-out swing, or a Butcher Boy with two on and two out. And we care about the strangest things. The creased folds and worn grooves of a pine-tar stained mitt. The faint sappy stink of a wet rosin bag. The leathery scraps of ruined batting gloves. Grandstand shadows creeping over the mound at twilight. A preen of the mustache with a tobacco lump in the lip. The light’s half-ass and clumpy here and nobody robs it. Billy sighs from the dugout steps, “Sip the water from tulips and take a moment to cry.” We’ve all got hocked confidence and a million on the wrong team. Unie’s torn with feathers and the sienna rubble of infield dirt. Going south for the summer while the north cries hallelujah and stalks along on groomed grass. A truck driver’s son, a Rookie Of The Year and an MVP with a heart of flint, a backstop captain gone. I can’t wake up anymore. And dad’s just a shadow in some desert shack. It’s all just one long sleepy streak of Mondays. Swoop, lumber, prowl away from the herd. It was propellers and the engine’s drone, and a sky bluer than any damn bell I’d ever seen. The maples are all on fire. The taste of leather ties on the tongue. Hell. So much is lost in so little. Falling asleep in the midst of a headfirst slide into the mumbled staticky boom of a sellout crowd while Ohio calls my name, and missing doesn’t do much good, still, or maybe just at last. No more bags to pack. No more squats behind the dish. No more putting down the signs with painted nails. No more weepy skies of another off season’s spit balls. No more pop ups, scrambling after bunts, foul tips in the mask, trips to the bump, or collisions at the plate. No more rainouts in the belly of my determined soul. There’s just an empty space on the lineup card where my name used to go. I’ve got a bag of sunflower seeds in my back pocket, spikes hung over a shoulder, a blue-and-white-checkered shirt on, and some black slopped under my eyes. Tell my wife, “Ich liebe dich.” There is no here, forever stalled in a touch-and-go over a rain-slick runway. Trust me. There is no longer a thing to be afraid of. I’m moving on to that great ballpark in the sky. Steinbrenner can go to hell. And maybe in some somewhere that’s never a there or a here to get to, well beyond the hills of Canton and the char marks of who I was, there’ll be a day-night doubleheader, Bach blasting over the PA, some pepper with Pinella and Murcer, a lazy game of catch that never ends, and a standing ovation just for me.

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