The sound of a bone breaking is horrific. The snap sends a recoiling through the witnesses that nearly takes the breath away. In the initial moments of a break we are not only startled by the sound, but also drawn to the aftermath. The gruesome, macabre nature of our beings is not satisfied by the sound of a breaking bone. We must see the disfigurement and the anguish on the victim’s face. Somehow that brings a calm to us. We can get over the horror by gawking at the grotesqueness.
The Rhinebeck All-Stars were making their annual summer southern baseball sojourn from New York. Each year the team with the Houston Astros striped jerseys made the trip to Williamsburg to play our all-stars, take in Busch Gardens, and then head south for more games. They were something of a travel team before the travel leagues really got started. Each year they pulled into the parking lot looking really old for fifteen year olds. Some sported full fledged mustaches that were major league compared to the faint strands of hair poking through our lips.
Most years the games would be close and this year was no different. We fielded a team with live arms and decent bats. Our work in the field could be suspect, but everyone on that team was a gamer. We were a cool mix of kids from Lafayette and Bruton and this was about the only time of year we were able to tolerate each other. Thunderstorms were in the area which made the late July humidity worse than normal. Because of the gravy like air both were hoping for a quick game. There was no wind at Kiwanis Park and a haze hung over the field. The buzz of the lights drew every possible bug into the air. The night was miserable.
I was playing third and John was playing shortstop. The score was tied at three, but Rhinebeck was threatening to score. They had runners on second and third with two outs and a stud hitter at the plate. Our pitcher, Rob, was good, but on this night he struggled to mix in good curve balls, so the Rhinebeck hitters were pretty much waiting for Rob’s fastball. He wound up fully intending to blow a heater past the hitter, but it was not to be. As soon as he let the pitch go the hitter was already locked in. He hit the second hardest ball I would ever see while playing. The good thing was that the ball was heading to the ground and in the direction of John at shortstop.
Because I knew John, I did not buy into the myth. He was a quiet dude, but super competitive. He was build like something out of the Marvel franchise with muscles that looked tough, not all puffy like a body builder. His quiet way and chiseled physique made him something of a mystery to most, one the kids from Lafayette tried to avoid.
Kiwanis Park, where we were playing, was tired and rundown. There was a lip on the edge of the infield that tonight was part water slide due to the humidity and part Evel Knievel launch pad. John had been playing in, so when he charged the ball he found himself caught with an in-between hop. The ball hit the damp grass just on the edge of the infield and skidded into flight. The speed of the ball coupled with the weird hop left John in a bad position to field the ball. He missed it with his glove, but fielded it with his athletic protector, the cup.
The sound of the ball hitting John was equivalent to the sound of a bone breaking. I watched the ball bounce away and John scamper to grab it and make perfect throw to first base for the third out. Right about then, there was lightning, and rain that fell straight down. We got back to the dugout and hoping the rain would not stop.
“Man, how’d you handle that shot?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but check this out,” said John. He reached into his pants and pulled out his cup, both pieces. The ball hit him so hard, it broke his cup in half. Say what you will about kids from Bruton, but John was tougher than anybody I knew.