A true story, remembered by many.

Ah, baseball. Our beloved national pastime, ranked with such icons as Flag, Mom, and Apple Pie. I confess that I never took much interest in baseball as a spectator sport, and to this day I can’t relate to the obsessive enthusiasm of sports fans. But back in the dark ages, when I was a kid, I played the game, or some approximation of it.

School games, properly organized and played by the rules, were a nightmare. I was a scrawny and uncoordinated child, the sort who gets picked last for any team. The best I could hope for was to be put far out in the field. If I was lucky, the ball wouldn’t come near me, so I would have no opportunity to disgrace myself.

Home games were something else. We hadn’t yet been over-organized into Little League teams; we played for fun, and adapted the rules to whims or circumstances. I might occasionally hit the ball, if the pitcher threw it gently enough. I could run for the sheer joy of running, not caring too much if I was put out or not. Sometimes I actually caught the ball and managed a wobbly throw to another player. I don’t remember if we even bothered to keep score – we were just having fun.

Our house was set well back from the street, on a double corner lot, so we had the largest front yard in the neighborhood. A goodly portion of it was covered by a lawn of sorts – not a level, manicured, Good Housekeeping sort of lawn, but a bumpy patch of tough, scratchy St. Augustine grass that usually needed mowing. Various trees and bushes complicated the layout of our playing field, but we didn’t care. We would toss down something or other to mark the bases – roofing shingles, or whatever was handy – and play happily on our obstacle-ridden field. Home plate was just in front of the water faucet, by the big lilac bush.

One Saturday a group of us were playing, using my brother John’s undersized and slightly warped bat, and an old tennis ball we had found outside the Jamieson’s tennis court. My friend Judy was at bat, and I was the catcher. Because of the faucet and lilac bush, I was standing to one side of the “plate” and – as it turned out – a little too close.

John tossed the ball, and Judy smacked it. The ball took off in a high arc: across the yard, across the intersecting streets, and over the house on the opposite corner. It would have been a guaranteed home run. The bat, only fractionally slowed down by its impact with the ball, continued around to connect with my forehead. Whether the “thump” was audible to the other players I don’t know, but it sure sounded loud to me. I would never again question the cliché “My knees turned to water.” That’s exactly how it felt. I dropped to the ground, toppling to one side.

By some miracle, my glasses had been partially knocked off but were undamaged. As I slid them into place, I could feel a huge goose egg forming rapidly on my forehead. I wasn’t feeling any pain yet, but I figured that would come soon.

My parents were out shopping. The kids all panicked – I think I was the only calm one. Taking charge, I had them help me up and into the house. By the time my parents got home, I was lying down with a cold cloth on my forehead. I must have looked pretty bad. My eyes were already starting to swell shut. My mother took one look and whisked me off to the family doctor.

The doctor assured my mother that I was going to be all right; there was no sign of concussion. The swelling went down sufficiently in a few days for me to go to school, although the discoloration lasted for more than a month. It was embarrassing for me, but worse for poor Judy. Despite my many protests and explanations, she was repeatedly accused of “beating me up.”

We never did find the ball.