If it did have a name then, we didn’t know it – Knute Nelson ballpark. It was the only real baseball field we had. Groomed. Green and reddish brown, just like on tv.
Central Junior High was only a few short blocks away. Summer was sneaking in before it’s scheduled arrival, and it was hot in the classrooms. The afternoon sun shone directly into Mrs. Lehman’s English class. We were restless and noisy. Stirring in our seats. Eager. Boys poking. Girls teasing. Kevin Bielke raised his hands and told us all to “Maintain.” (If we did know what he meant, we didn’t act like it.)
I had always had a healthy respect for Mrs. Lehman, mixed with a tiny bit of fear. I loved English class. I loved to read. So I suppose I wanted her to see it – and maybe see me. It all felt so important. She seemed more serious than our other teachers. Good posture – physically and mentally – always “dressed” for class. And when she spoke, it was never casual — and I suppose, when it came to books, neither was I.
So it came as quite a surprise when she was the first teacher to “break” in the summer heat. She said we were all going for a walk. A walk? Outside? It was unprecedented. Between laughter and shoves, we made our way down the street. Where were we going. She stopped us in front of the ball field. Play? We were all going to play? The boys with the girls? Baseball? In English class? Had she planned the whole thing? There were bats and balls and gloves to pick from. It was all so disorienting, I don’t remember how we picked teams. But I was up. I had played softball, of course, but never baseball. The balls were hard. The boys threw hard. I stood my ground at the plate. I swung with all my might. I hit it hard. Really hard. Line drive. Straight into the third baseman’s glove. And it was the first time I think she had ever spoken to me — “You hit that really hard,” Mrs. Lehman said. I smiled.
I got an A in her class. I only remember it because I got straight A’s back then. It was only an hour this day. Only one hour out of our 7th grade year, but it stayed with me. This unexpected gift. I don’t mean a moment off of schoolwork, which was nice of course, but the gift was for these 60 minutes she showed us her humanity – she wasn’t our teacher, but maybe, just maybe, our friend. From that day on, I was a little less afraid.
I write the stories, not just because I was given all the tools. Grammar. Composition. But maybe because for one sunny hour, amid all the rules, there was a ballpark.