The ball was up and climbing higher. It got smaller as it came their way and they all rose. Hundreds of people, all of them wanting it, hoping to catch it. It kept climbing into the clear sky above Three Rivers Stadium. He was there for his last baseball game in the same place where his hero had played. Roberto Clemente had worked his magic there and he wanted to honor his memory by seeing a game before they tore it down.
As the ball left the bat his friend Victor bolted out of his seat and ran down the steps to the railing above left field.
“Dad thinks he’s getting’ the ball Uncle Chuck, but it’s comin’ here.”
“Yeah, it sure is buddy!”
He pounded his fist into his glove and saw his eight-year-old godson do the same out of the corner of his eye. His eyes and thousands more, tracked the ball as it climbed through its flight and began to tumble out of the sky.
“Christopher, it’s comin’ to you man, get ready!” he said, jealously wishing the ball into his own glove.
“Naw, Uncle Chuck, it’s over our heads, darn!”
He watched the ball and saw he needed to move to catch it. It was, like the boy said, over his head.
As he kept his eyes up and on the ball he heard another voice exclaim about another ball…
“Its way over his head, he’ll never get it!”
Then yet another voice…
“Cuyjet, you gotta get it man, you gotta do it!”
He could still hear Mouse now in the crescendo of voices; decades floated away and merged together in his head. Mouse, the Hart kid his new friend in a new place to live. Wanting him, willing him to catch the ball. Feet flying, running to stop what looked like a ground-rule home run, any ball that hit the sidewalk surrounding the outfield on the fly. Here he remembered it would have been a grand slam.
He could see the spin on the ball in the clear western Pennsylvania sky. He knew he had a good shot at it, but he had to move…
When he was eight, he had to move from his row house in North Philly into a public housing project in East Falls because his dad couldn't pay the rent. New place, new kids, new school; he had to find a way to prove himself, fit in. Time to go outside and face the music...
“Your dad works with my dad. Let me show you around, okay? You gotta glove?
Tommie Hart, “The Mouse” was holding a baseball bat in front of him as he came down-stairs that first morning.
“When do you start playing?”
“Soon’s a ball and a bat show up!”
“Hold on, I’ll be right back.”
He went upstairs and his dad asked him why he was back so soon. He was unpacking another box of kitchen stuff, plates, glasses, and flatware. He was taking his time, down on one knee and carefully unwrapping plates that were dear to him. This place was smaller and the three of them knew that some of their things were going to have to go. He watched his father carefully place some of the plates back into the box and then he looked up at him with what looked like a tear in his eye.
“Why are you back here, I thought you were going to go play with the new kids, make new friends?”
“I am daddy, I just came to get my baseball glove. I met Mr. Hart’s son, Tommie.”
“Oh, yeah, they call him Mouse, right?”
“Dunno daddy, he is small but he seems real nice.”
“Alright, you go have fun.”
He walked over to his closet and found his glove. He had to move his box of cards a little so they wouldn’t spill and he promised himself again that he’d do a better job of keeping them so they wouldn’t get bent or the corners and edges dulled. He wanted these boys to like him. He missed his gang over on Gratz Street, not that it was a real gang, they just called themselves that so the older kids would leave them alone. His heart began to race as he got on the elevator and went down to the ground floor.
The field was huge; he had seen it when his sister and he took a drive after his dad said they were moving. It had two diamonds on it and there were lots of kids playing when they drove by, two separate games. He remembered several kids waved at the car as they drove back past on their way out.
He had just a short walk to the end of his building then several flights of stairs to go down to a gentle slope that would take him to the field. Tommie was waiting for him right before the slope.
“Yer name’s Chuck, right?
“Yeah. You know cause of our dads, huh?
“Yeah, we have the same names as our dads, but people call me Tommie or The Mouse cause I’m so small. But I can play, man!”
“Okay, but can you say my last name right?
“Like the girl’s name ‘Sue’ and the bird ‘jay’. My dad told me. Your dad’s Jerry, not Charles, n’ you’re Chuck, not Charles.”
“Who picks teams?”
“Usually the older kids fight about that, but sometimes the ones with the ball or bat says who picks.”
“If you get to pick will you take me?”
“Oh yeah, don’t worry. You’ll be okay.”
He got on the same team with Mouse and after he got a hit and they saw how fast he could run they switched him from first base to center field. Their team had a nice lead on the others and then the other team started coming back. Several hits and several innings later his team was ahead by two. It was the bottom of the eighth and just one out. Some big kid he never really got to know hit the ball far to his right and way over his head. Potential grand slam.
He remembered just flying from where he stood quick strides covering ground vectoring off toward the part of the field that went down hill. He could tell by the spin on the ball that it was going to reach the sidewalk if he didn’t get to it.
This foul ball was going to some one else if he didn’t reach it either.
Two different balls, two different times, two different places, one thing to do: jump!
Stretching full out, reaching back over his head he couldn’t worry about where he was going to come down. He didn’t want to knock Christopher over; he didn’t want to come down on his seat back or the one in front of him.
Back in East Falls he remembered that he had grass to come down on. He remembered jumping up with the ball in the webbing of his glove for the second out of the inning and turning to throw the ball back into play. He fell down from the force of the throw and just heard cheering and trash talking. He got up and saw his catcher with the ball daring the runner to come down and try to score. His catcher, his ball, his throw had gotten there.
When he came down he wasn’t sure he had the ball. He felt something like the ball had just ticked off his glove and gone into the crowd. He missed the chairs and Christopher and brought the glove down in front of his face. There, caught in the webbing of his glove, was the ball that had fallen, star-like, out of the sky. That’s when he heard the noise of the cheers. Thousands of Pirates fans cheering louder as he raised his arms in triumph. As he turned around those roaring behind him they could see that he was wearing a Clemente T-shirt and the roar became even louder.
After all he had saved his team and helped them win the game and became known as a great ball player in the neighborhood.
As they went back up the slope later, he could hear the Hart kid say to another kid,
“That kid got some arm on him, don’t he?”
And the big kid had a ball to pound into his glove and a trophy declaring his catch at Three Rivers the “Catch of the Game” to show off to his son when he got back home to Virginia.