I Hope There’s Baseball in Heaven

If there’s no baseball in heaven, there really should be. (via Barta IV)

This piece is appearing as part of a fiction series here at The Hardball Times. We’re thrilled to highlight the baseball-related fiction of seven talented authors and think you’ll enjoy these works, curated by Jason Linden and Amy Ryan, as much as we did.

Life matters not when you’re twelve. What matters, or what mattered to me, I suppose, were the worn baseball cards sticking out from my back pocket, the yo-yo, baseball glove and Yankees hat (with the brim bent just so) in my knapsack, and particularly, the baseball in my hand.

I walked, one lace-loose sneaker in front of the other, chomping on a stick of Wrigley’s gum and tossing the ball up in the air with my bare palm.

On the very next step, I ran into an elderly woman who was lugging her metal shopping cart behind her while navigating the cracks in the sidewalk with a wooden cane. She squealed as I kicked the cane, causing my sneaker to break free from the sole of my foot and sail through the air. The baseball dropped to the ground, bounced off the shopping cart and rolled into an adjacent alley.

At twelve, you don’t stop to think about a feeble old woman with a cane when your most prized possession in the world has just disappeared down a dark alley. I didn’t apologize. Instead I ran full throttle, stumbling with one shoe on and the other in my hand. I spotted the ball trickling along the ground, propelled forward by a slight downward slant in the concrete.

I slipped on my sneaker and sprinted, gathering the ball up in my hands before it reached the sewer. Something foul stung my nose. I winced, walked backwards towards the street and studied the ball to make sure it was unharmed.

A bird flew by, stealing my eyes for less than a second. It was more than enough time for me to notice the body. I saw a pair of feet first, followed up the beanstalk legs to the tattered clothing, color-faded and ripped along the seams, then across the broad shoulders to the back of the balding head and to the arms spread wide like a pair of broken wings. Whoever lay there had been wearing a maroon cap, velvet red at some point before the weather had gotten to it.

It was then that I lost the spit in my mouth and swallowed my gum. I felt the urge to run, yet my legs were cemented to the very concrete beneath my feet. The baseball leapt gently from my hand, bounced off the ground and casually rolled along until it came to a decided stop against a heel at the foot of the body.

I inched ahead, aware of my breathing and the scraping of my sneakers against the pavement. The world around me seemed to come to a pause, and I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no wandering eyes were upon me. I stopped just short of the ball, bent down to pick it up without moving my eyes from the back of the hairless head in front of me. Biting my lip, I reached for it as far as I could without bending over then jumped back a few feet as if bitten by the air. I looked on with horror at the maggot-covered body. But when my eyes blinked, the maggots were gone. My imagination was having a go at me.

I stood there not knowing what to do next. The baseball no longer carried any importance. I longed to be back on the crowded streets, away from the body, the alley and the stench of the sewer. My stomach heaved, and I wretched, choking back the vinegary acid. I tilted my head towards the sky and let the clean air sail through my nostrils.

I imagined he died that same morning, that the 40 oz. beer bottle he had been holding, perhaps purchased only minutes prior from the liquor store around the corner, slipped from his hand the moment his heart stopped and smashed on impact as it hit the ground. Shards of glass burst in every direction like shrapnel. He tried to inhale but couldn’t. His eyes danced from side to side until a blurry haze of darkness flashed before him. He fell, first to his knees and then onto his stomach, arms extended out in front of him grasping for a helping hand. But there was none. The alley remained deserted, except for a few pieces of trash scattered about and a thick, snot-colored liquid collecting near a clogged sewer cage. A slight twitch shook his left leg momentarily.

Then nothing.

After a moment, I glared at the body. A seed of anger began to grow in the pit of my stomach. I wanted nothing more to do with it. This was the city—there were bodies of homeless people found lying on the ground all the time. If I left it there, someone else was sure to find it. My twelve-year-old conscience wept. I couldn’t leave. Instead, I sat down on the street.

My head hung low as the afternoon heat rose up from the black top. My armpits were caked with sweat. I sat and anxiously waited for someone else to arrive, to save me from the looming responsibility I felt creeping up my shoulders and weighing me down.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

An hour passed. Maybe two. I wasn’t wearing a watch, and I didn’t know how to read the sun. I had noticed the shadows cast over my head shifting, which meant time had indeed gone by. The body had not moved and neither had the baseball.

A sigh escaped my lips. Hunger pains begged me to call out, to scream for help. But fear warned me that I might be blamed or scolded or judged or arrested or worse.

“But I didn’t do anything,” I whispered.

A fly tickled my ear lobe, flew as if it were drunk from my shoulder to the bend in my elbow and then landed on the leg of the body. The longer I sat there, the less I wanted to tell someone of my discovery. They would ask me why I hadn’t alerted anyone sooner, and I wouldn’t have an answer for them. They would wonder if, had I acted accordingly, the decaying body of the individual who lay before me could have been saved.

I already had convinced myself otherwise, that this shell of a man had expired before I came along, and he had passed from one world to the next even before his bruised face connected with the asphalt.

But questions were unavoidable now. The neon light of the heat lamp in the interrogation room flickered in my imagination. If I left now, just walked away, I could pretend I hadn’t seen it. I could simply forget about the baseball and walk home. I could make up a story as to why I was late. A fight perhaps, after school with some pig-nosed bully. A chase, a hiding spot found in a deserted alley, a body…no. No body. But the chase, the bully, the fight. Those would work.

But what about the baseball?

The bully stole my baseball.

There. It was all set.

I made it home well after supper and was sent immediately to my room without have to lie about the bully.

With the light off and the shades pulled low, I fell into the softness of my pillows letting the mattress cradle me.

My eyes were red and itchy from waterless tears. They dampened though, when I finally shoved my face into the pillow letting out a soundless scream.

His name had been Graham Brooklyn. I know because I checked his wallet. He had a one-dollar bill, ripped along the upper left corner, crumpled and shoved into the fold. There was no plastic, no library card, no Social Security card, nothing to indicate Graham Brooklyn had actually existed except for a driver’s license.

It was long expired and revealed a happier time when the hair on his head was a thick mud brown and the creases of his smile were smooth. Deep-set eyes spoke of a known secret. Handsome some would say. Dapper even.

I wouldn’t know. At the time I met him, he looked to me like any other man before the hungry streets ate him up and spit him out into a deserted alley. And I had left him lying there face down on the cracked curb, melting with the asphalt.

At that moment, I hated Graham Brooklyn. I hated him for never amounting to anything. I hated him even more for reaffirming all of my father’s beliefs that no-good drunken gutter-dwellers with holes in their shoes end up lying face down in an empty alley, penniless and dead. Most of all, I hated him because he was everything I feared I’d eventually become.

Me, with my big baseball dreams and lofty aspirations. Hadn’t someone like Graham Brooklyn had those same dreams? What had become of them? Why hadn’t he achieved all that he set out to achieve? Or worse, had he reached the pinnacle of success and decided that was it?

I didn’t have the answers. My God, I was only twelve. I was just looking for my baseball. But in the end, my decision to walk away, to leave Graham Brooklyn’s body continued to haunt me for the rest of my life. He left a part of himself, whoever that was, with me. I know because I sometimes see his face in my dreams accompanied by sweaty disorientation and an inescapable fear of being trapped in that alley.

A day later, they found the body. And with it, a baseball. They buried the two together. Maybe they—the cops or another random straggler—thought the baseball had meaning. Maybe they thought the baseball was his sole possession, the one and only thing he cared about in this world.

If they only knew.

Years later someone replaced the headstone with a delicate piece of granite that continues to weather each winter with a sense of purpose. It remains etched with the name, Graham Brooklyn, and a single sentence scrawled in elongated letters directly below it: I hope there’s baseball in heaven.

Lyndsey D'Arcangelo is a contributing writer for The Athletic Buffalo. Previously, she's also written for Deadspin, espnW, Vice Sports, TheFootballGirl.com, The Ringer, and more. Visit www.lyndseydarcangelo.com for more info.
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If there’s no baseball in heaven then I’m not going.