You were, in the end, two or maybe three inches off from going pro as the wunderkind lefty pitcher, arms not long enough to build up the centrifugal force for the fastest fastball, plus your shoulder wrecked from too much pitching in middle school, high school, college, so that when I rest my head in the soft place where your arm and chest meet, I always have to be on your right side and if I’m not, after a minute or two, you push me away—my arm, sorry. The seams and sun branded you, and your body can’t lose how they felt with the whirling twist of your torso and the contraction of your triceps and the extension of your elbow, all happening in perfect sequence.
You spot and reach for and pick up the ball that’s on my parents’ mantle, signed by somenobody somewhen, like you can’t see a ball and not feel its weight, and your breath is short and your eyes are bright, and you’re explaining how your grip shifts between the fastball and changeup and knuckleball, and how the air slips across the seams and the catcher would throw the ball back to you before the batter could step into his swing.
“Think I’ll make it?” It’s after work, and the setting sun streams through our apartment window in the long Atlanta evening. You pop the top off a beer, and you look at me from the far side of the kitchen, a wicked grin splitting your face.
You raise your leg, balanced, waiting, and I don’t even see it but I hear the clang of metal on glass as the cap rockets fifteen feet into the recycle bin.
Because fifteen feet and a quarter-sized hunk of aluminum is nothing against the smell of oiled leather, dust flying, cap itching sweat into your forehead, reading the catcher’s code in the last inning of the state championship, ten years earlier, keeping your heart slow for the windup as Jack’s hot older sister yells, “Yeah, Mark!” and wondering if this is actually going to be a no-hitter or just one hell of a game.