Sunlight beamed through his window and he woke up. He lay in bed for a moment, becoming acclimated to the brightness and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, and then remembered what day it was. He jumped out of bed, got dressed in a pair of athletic shorts, a T-shirt, and his favorite Chicago Cubs cap. He snuck downstairs, ate a large bowl of Frosted Flakes, grabbed his mitt, and hopped on his bike to ride to his friend’s house.
His friend lived two blocks away from the ballpark. The park was nothing special—an old, run-down baseball field where the edges never quite seemed straight and the uneven infield dirt made the ball hop in every direction except the one you thought it was going to go. But it was home of the Owls, Milton’s semi-pro baseball team.
He turned onto 6th Avenue, peddled for a block, and got to his friend’s house. Sam sat on his porch with a bottle of Gatorade and his baseball glove.
“Ready to go?”
“Absolutely. I’ve been up for a few hours now,” Sam said. “I woke up at six and couldn’t fall back asleep.”
That day was opening day. The Milton Owls would play the first of their twenty-six home games, and the boys would be at every single one. It was nine o’clock and the game didn’t start until four that afternoon, but the boys rode the two blocks down to the park to play around on the field and watch the extra batting and fielding practice the players took to prepare for the game.
No one was at the ballpark. The boys leaned their bikes against the fence and opened the unlocked gate. They stepped onto the spongy left field grass and began to play catch.
They talked about baseball, how their favorite Major League teams played the night before and how they thought the Owls’ season would go—pretending to warm up for the game later that night.
“I’m going to start playing with the Owls when I’m sixteen. I’m going to be the youngest opening day starter.”
“And I’ll be your catcher,” Sam said. “They won’t get a hit off us, and then I’ll hit a walk-off homer.”
A car pulled into the field’s parking lot—the first Owl had arrived. The boys pretended they didn’t see the player walking into the dugout and continued to throw their best pitches and make their best catches.
The player smiled when he saw them in the field and started a slow walk to where they stood. The boys continued playing catch and one throw sailed over Sam’s head. He chased after it, peeking over his shoulder at the Owl player, and threw it back as hard as he could. The player smiled again and made his way to left field.
He stood beside Sam and watched a few more throws.
“You’ve got a pretty good arm,” he said.
“Thanks!” Sam said, trying to hide his excitement.
“What position do you play?”
“Catcher,” he replied. “But I sometimes play in the outfield too.”
“And what about you?” he called to the other boy.
“I pitch!” he shouted.
“You throw pretty hard. You boys going to be Owls someday?”
“That’s the plan,” Sam said. “We can’t wait.”
“You—” the man stopped and Sam turned to him. He started again, then stopped, and Sam’s brow furrowed. He wanted to tell the boys that they can wait—that they should wait—that he wanted nothing more than to go back to those days when his only worries were dropping the ball or overthrowing his friend.
Sam threw the ball back to his friend who made a diving catch. He smiled and yelled, “Nice one!”
The man smiled and said, “You two just keep working hard, and make sure you enjoy the game as much as you can for as long as you can.”
Sam caught the ball with a grin stretched across his face.
“Can you do that for me?” he asked.
Both boys nodded and told him they would, and the man walked toward the dugout as another ball sailed over one of their heads and into left field.
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