The greatest baseball game ever played might have been between the Milwaukee Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 26, 1959. Harvey
"The Kitten" Haddix threw almost thirteen perfect innings and even had the home-town Milwaukee fans cheering for him before the end of the game. And they say lightening never strikes twice...
Saturday was my day. I guess everyone eventually has one. It was the first day of the rest of my life. It was the day that I, Taylor Jackson, nearly pitched my first perfect game for the GeorgeAnn Varsity Pirates, and the same day I learned I was adopted. Now those two things are separate and different in all kinds of ways, but to me, they’re the same. I guess that’s because they got all blended together on that one day.
My mom made pancakes for breakfast and then, after we were finished eating, right there at the kitchen table, they sprang it on me. Like a wet cat. Oh, by the way son, our only child, we’ve been meaning to tell you…you’re adopted!
No warnings, no hints, just bam, right out of the blue, like a high ball lost in the sun one minute and in your glove the next. Bam, like that, there it is. You’re adopted!
I was light headed. But, I was already light headed. Coach Mitchell had called the night before to say that Sherman Forehand, our ace pitcher, had broken his arm and I would be starting the game the next day. I was the starting pitcher on the GeorgeAnn Junior Varsity baseball team and I had been called up. I was going to the show. The varsity. And now, I was also adopted. An adopted pitcher, about to pitch his first game on the varsity team. Seniors would be sitting in the dugout wondering; ‘Who does this kid think he is?’ I didn’t even know who I was.
The kitchen lights blinded me. Ribbons of heat and light throbbed so I couldn’t even see my parent’s faces. Their words floated in the air like hand-grenades. I remembered an old spy movie where an enemy soldier was captured and questioned for hours underneath the glare of a swinging, overhead light. Sweat collected in the wrinkles of his worn out face and ran down in rivers. His captors wore crisp, white shirts and smoked cigarettes and blew smoke in his face. ‘There are things you are not telling us,’ they said.
“We adopted you before your birth-mother even went to the hospital,” my dad said. “We’ve always been your parents, nothing has changed.” Birth-mother, a new word, out of two words that until that moment, I didn’t even know could go together. They stopped talking and just sat there at the breakfast table staring at me, waiting for my response.
I felt the heat from the lights overhead and thought I could feel the sweat start along my hairline and begin to trickle down my face. I didn’t have a response and didn’t even want to think about it. I wanted to think about my slider. I wanted to think about that back corner of home plate and how, in just a few hours, my pitches would glide over and down and fall into my catcher’s glove, beyond the swish of a bat through empty air.
I excused myself to my bedroom, practically ran up the stairs and fell onto my bed. Adopted! Wow! I had to tell somebody. I grabbed my game bag and headed back downstairs. My parents were still in the kitchen, whispering low until I stepped into view.
“I’m going to Smiley’s.” It was a statement more than a question. Smiley was one of my best friends. A life-long, kind of best friend. I had to get his opinion on all this and see what he had to say.
My mom grabbed me in an awkward hug. “We’ll see you at the game,” she said. “Keep that arm rested!”
My dad grabbed me as soon as my mom released me and just held me for a second without speaking. I slung the strap of my bag high over my shoulder and headed for the front door. They were both sniffing back tears as if someone had died. I had the same feeling but still didn’t want to think too much about it. I thought I’d just let it sit there for awhile at the back of my mind. I pushed it out of the way with pictures of my fastball across the inside of the plate and the sound of an umpire’s exaggerated voice…’steeeee-rike!’
With baseball cleats on my feet I sounded like a horse making its way down the road. Each step echoed back to me off the small houses that made up our street and the next one after that and the next one after that. GeorgeAnn was typical small town west-Texas…love it or hate it, it is what it is, a small town of mostly hard-working, God-fearing people. And here I was, about to make my varsity pitching debut, an adopted child. I felt practically homeless. I stayed eastward down 19th Street until I hit Temple Avenue and headed north towards Smiley’s farm.
Smiley Odell and Jackie Cooper and I had spent the last summer together in Africa. We’d been invited by my Uncle Keeno, who was studying anthropology along Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. We spent six weeks at the Amboseli Wildlife Preserve and became involved in all sorts of adventures that seemed to almost get us killed on a regular basis, but also ended up being a whole lot of fun. We had studied the local elephant population along with some of the elephant researchers there and had become really close to one of the elephant families led by an old matriarch we called Sweety Pie. All that seemed like a lifetime away now, except for the fact that Smiley and Jackie and I were closer than ever. I couldn’t wait to tell Smiley and Jackie my news and get their reactions. Adopted!
Smiley played third base on our JV team, and even though he wasn’t called up to the varsity with me, I knew he’d be right there with me every pitch of the game. He said even though he loved playing the hot corner, this would be his last year to play baseball because he really wanted to concentrate on football. He said football suited his personality better, which was true, proven by the fact that he had been tossed more than once for blocking the baseline a little too aggressively. He was the kind of fellow who would take a bullet for you and then thank you for the opportunity.
As I walked along the left shoulder of the road, careful and out of the way of the sparse Saturday morning traffic, a horn sounded behind me and an old, red pickup truck pulled over just across the road. It was Smiley’s granddad. He didn’t offer a word, he just sat there and waited while I made my way across the road and threw my bag into the bed and climbed into the cab. About a mile down the road he finally spoke.
“Heard you were pitching today?”
“Yes-sir,” I said. “My first time on the varsity.”
“You’ll do fine,” he said. “The ball doesn’t know one hitter from another.”
“Thanks,” I said. And I guessed he was right. The ball didn’t know who I was pitching to. All I had to do was control the ball. No different than every day at practice when I threw my stuff past practically every player on our team, JV and varsity both.
I climbed out of the truck and found Smiley in his bedroom on the computer. He was literally on his computer. He had pushed his CPU into the middle of the floor and was standing on it to change a light bulb.
“Not the best use of technology,” I said, as I dropped my bag to the hardwood floor.
Smiley finished with the new bulb, stepped off the computer and offered me his hand in the air.
“What’s up with my ace pitcher?” he asked. I smacked his hand in a high-five and he grabbed my hand in his and didn’t let go. “Don’t you ever do that again,” he said. “You have to protect these hands.” He noticed I wasn’t laughing and let my hand drop.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m adopted!” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I’ve known it for years.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“You’re different than everyone else around here,” he continued. “You’re probably even from a different country. I’ve always known it…I have a sense about these things.”
I sat down on the edge of his bed. “It’s not funny,” I said. “It’s serious!”
“Tell me what you know,” he said. “I’ll decide how serious it is.”
I shared my whole story, from the pancakes to the final announcement. Smiley didn’t respond right away and I could tell he just didn’t know what to say either. The same as me when I got the news. Then, he grabbed my arm and squeezed it just a little.
“What kind of pancakes did you say they were?” he asked.
Even I had to smile at that, and as I did, I felt a little bit of tension ease off my shoulders.
“You’re the same person you always were,” he said. “You’re just from a different country. You’re probably from China. I saw a thing on the news where lots of kids are adopted from China. And all those guys are good baseball players!”
“Humor doesn’t change anything,” I said. I didn’t think I was going to make Smiley understand my dilemma, mostly because I didn’t even understand it myself.
He slid off the computer that he’d been sitting on and pushed it back underneath his desk. “Let’s get to the park early,” he said.
“We can get a couple of hotdogs and watch the girls play softball. It’ll get your mind off things.”
Smiley was always thinking about food…and girls…and mostly in that order. We hitched a ride to the park with his mother and set out to find Jackie.
By Douglas J. Channell
Copyright Protected.... Chapter Two....