“What do you mean go in there?”, the stalks were a foot above either of our heads. It would be impossible. Tim turned quickly and shot me his most intimidating look, “well, you hit the ball in there so you have to get it”. This, on fact, was true; however, he got even angrier as I laughed at the painfully sheepish look he had hoped would motivate-intimidate me.
I stepped back to see if I could even get a glimpse of the other side of the field, we were just too short, it was too far away. There was something very foreboding about those tall rows of corn stalks to seven-year olds. From a distance they looked so pretty this time of year, but once you got up close, they were like a thousand skinny kids just waiting to rip at your skin and clothes.
We stood and stared for a few minutes. Tim shifted his weight from one foot to another. The afternoon sunlight was fading quickly and he hadn’t had his chance to bat. Too bad, I thought to myself as I wondered what mysterious animals, insects and who knows what…waited in there for me.
Tim rocked forward and with a push to the shoulder said “go on…it’s just old dead corn stalks”. I grimaced…he could have left out the dead part. “Alright, but if I don’t come out quickly you have to get help”. We both let out a nervous giggle, I dropped my glove and moved to the front of the stalks.
You always think you know exactly where the balls goes at times like this. Doesn’t your dad always tell you…”don’t take your eye off of it”. I thought I sort of knew. With a sigh and a deep breath I stepped in between the middle rows and tried as hard as I could to focus on just where it had gone. With every step the afternoon sun seemed to grow a bit more faint. I could hear the crunch of the dried silk and husks beneath my shoes with every step I took.
How would I ever find it? There was no signs anywhere. It could have bounced from stalk to stalk, hit a rock and gone another fifty feet. I had to find it…we only had one. I stopped quickly as I heard something off to my right. Rustling in the corn row, not far from where I stood. At seven you don’t understand panic, but the knot in my stomach and the lump in my throat were big enough to choke a horse; or so I thought. I moved closer to the sound. I turned a corner just as a big grey squirrel lunged from underneath a pile of dried corn cob. It had been first grade since I’d had “an accident”…that was close.
I thought I had gone further but I could still hear Tim hollering from the end of the row. I screamed back…”no, the only thing I found was a squirrel…we can eat….but not play” I chuckled to myself and then my next step threw me onto my back so quickly I felt as though the ground had begun to swallow me up. The stalks and husks made a soft but scratchy landing pad. I shook my head for a minute trying to figure out what had happened. I sat up and looked towards my feet. There rolling gently to a stop was the ball. It had found me. I’d stepped on it and I guess it was showing us its opinion of getting thrown in there.
I stood up, bent over, picked up the ball and brushed the dried silk and dust from it. Hard to believe that something like a baseball could make you conquer so many fears, in such a short period of time. I shouted out to Tim…”I’ve got it”, true to form that day and so many years later his response was “it’s about time”.
I walked from the corn rows that day, a little taller, maybe a bit braver, and painfully more aware of the meaning of the phrase “watch your step”. We would hit the ball around the field for a few more years before we moved on to bigger greener fields, without so many cornstalks. But we always knew we had learned some important lessons in that field, there among those cornstalks we would play almost until the snow covered the ground and the last ones standing…were us.