My first foul ball: Jerry Lumpe and Justin Paulsen

I hopped down the steps toward the Missouri State dugout in the fourth inning.

Earlier that night I’d waited in line with sorority girls and golf players so we could offer two dollars and a glimpse of our photo ID in exchange for a paper ticket.

But many of the students had left, discouraged by plunging temperatures and soaring hits – by Arkansas, anyway.

I balanced my notebook on the dugout, picking it up when women danced on the dugout and shook their poms, casting shadows on my notes.

A man in overalls and a straw cowboy hat shouted for each Bear batter, and instructed each Missouri State pitcher to “Finish him!”

He sang along to “Sweet Caroline” as Neil Diamond crooned from the stadium PA system, and he thanked fans for attending even as they trudged up the concrete steps in the 6th, 7th, 8th.

I rarely clapped. I wanted to work. I stuck my hands in my pockets to keep them warm so I could shoot a photo or write a thought. Arkansas players warmed up before playing defense, tossing the ball from first to second; first to third. The shortstop took a ground ball. The first baseman crouched to trace initials in the dirt as the pitcher finished his warmup tosses.

I watched batters from both teams smack balls off the seats in foul territory, reminding myself I must not lunge for a ball if it came my way. I had a camera to protect. An investment in my future.

As a child, almost every weekend, my cousins, brothers, and I played ball at our grandparents’ farm. They’d built a field with a real backstop and foul poles, and my uncle placed bases and spray painted a batter’s box every Fourth of July. We named it Lumpe Field after our cousin Jerry. He played fungo with us sometimes, calling our name before he hit the ball. It always soared through the sky and fell straight into our gloves.

Jerry died of cancer in 2014, and I lived in a mountainous village so remote I couldn’t get home in time for the service. I wrote this as a tribute, and it was published months later. My grandfather had just died when I first saw the piece in the paper. It was Easter of 2015. That was the first holiday without him. Now this upcoming Sunday will be the first holiday without my grandmother – my last grandparent – who died two months ago.

Lumpe Field was upended by an ice storm years ago, though I’ve heard it will be rebuilt. I still throw the ball around with whoever will play with me. But when I watched children fielding foul balls at games this spring, I smiled at their fortune and enthusiasm, and decided I could live without.

This evening, in the ninth of a 12-4 game in front of perhaps 100 people, Justin Paulsen walked to the plate. He swung, launching the ball into the sky.

I saw a white circle falling toward me.

The ball smacked the concrete just ten feet to my left. I jumped up and picked it up, tracing my index finger over the stitching.

And the fan, the one in the overalls, asked me for the ball.

“You want it?” I asked. I cocked my head and smiled, spreading my hands.

He nodded.

I tossed him the ball.

I had done the one thing I never believed I could: give a foul ball away. I was a grownup now.

As the game neared its end, he walked toward me once more.

“Young lady, I’ve got dozens of these. Take it.”

I thanked him, and I smiled. I wrote the hitter’s name so I’d remember.

I remembered.

And I wept.

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