Rounding the Bases: A Short Story

Here’s another previously published short story. I decided I would try to post one each Sunday for a number of weeks. Last week, it was Slices. This week, the story is entitled “Rounding the Bases,” and it was published in 2010 by Midwest Literary Magazine.


“Rounding the Bases”

August 1978

With autumn chasing hard, summer slipped away like the Red Sox’s lead over the Yankees in the American League East. Something else faded that summer—my mother and father’s marriage. She was fed up with his drinking and he couldn’t deal with her coldness anymore. Most nights she’d drift off to sleep with the sun still burning, while Dad would slouch in the E-Z chair, crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and stare at our fuzzy TV set. It was actually kind of peaceful; last night was the exception.

My mother’s shrieks seized the night and awakened me. “Tomorrow the papers come, and I want you out of this house,” she yelled. My father responded, “This is my house. It’s in my name and if anyone’s leaving, it’s you.”

I pulled back the sheets and snuck into my little sister Angela’s room, located closest to mine in the hallway. She was already sitting up in bed and motioned for me to come closer to her. “Please get on the bed, Scott,” she whispered. I walked across the hardwood floor, trying not to make any of the boards creak. I sat on the edge of Angela’s bed and whispered, “It’s OK, we’re used to this by now.”

Down the hall in the master bedroom, I heard Dad say, “Marie, we promised the kids we’d go to Cooperstown for the day. This summer’s been hard enough on them already.”

“Take them yourself,” Mom said. “I’m not riding anywhere with you.”

By six o’clock the next morning, Dad had the gray Impala loaded and ready for the road. Still groggy from having her sleep cycle disrupted, Angela bowed her head and rubbed her eyes as she strode toward the car. I, on the hand, could not contain my excitement. I hopped into the car and immediately began smacking my fist into my oiled Wilson infielder’s mitt. My father, who was now sitting behind the wheel, said, “Take it easy on that glove, Scooter. You’re giving me a headache.”

I couldn’t believe we were actually making the pilgrimage to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I envisioned the hallowed halls, the souvenir shops with mint-conditioned cards and the specialty batting cages that fired curve balls, knuckle balls and sliders—along with a batting practice fastball. My father and I had planned the trip during a snowstorm one February night, I guess just to give us something to look forward to in the spring. Now something—or rather the absence of someone—threatened to sour my enthusiasm; the front passenger seat, usually reserved for my mother, was vacant as sheets of rain pelted the car. Dad clutched the steering wheel and stared out the windshield.

National Baseball Hall of Fame logo.

“Are we going, Dad?” I asked.

“Hold on,” he said, gritting his teeth. “Your friggin’ mother makes everything difficult.”

Dad pulled the keys out of the ignition, stepped out of the car, and held his arms in front of his face, trying to block the rain as he hurried across the driveway, up the front steps and on the porch. He then went inside. “Here we go again,” I said. I looked over at my sister, waiting for her reaction. But she was sound asleep with her head propped against the backseat window.

From inside the car, I couldn’t see my parents arguing, but I could hear their muffled voices rising. It sounded like they were in their upstairs bedroom. A few minutes later, my father stormed outside and walked to our car, this time ignoring the rain. Once inside the vehicle, he whisked away the moisture sopping his gray-speckled hair and started the car. “It’s just gonna be us three,” he said.

“That’s fine with me,” I said. But a short time later, just as Dad checked his rearview mirror and started to put the Impala in reverse, I saw my mother emerge on the front porch. I yelled, “Wait, Dad.”

Dad looked up, noticed my mother, and put the car back in park. Mom was carrying an umbrella in her right hand and a brown paper sack in her left hand; the bag contained our Polaroid camera, which Dad had left behind on the kitchen table. She opened the umbrella while still on the porch and headed to the car with deliberate steps, letting us know she would not rush on our behalf.

“Well Scooter, I guess we won’t be alone after all,” my dad said. My mom finally reached the car, opened the door, and slid into the seat without uttering a word to anyone. She then sat there and just stared ahead, apparently keeping her eyes focused on the intermittent movement of the windshield wipers.

Dad tried his best to alleviate the tension. “Everybody ready?” he asked. No one said anything, and so I chimed in, “Let’s go, Dad.”

“All right then,” he said, and pulled out of the driveway, drove along Stanwix Street, and made a right turn onto Black River Boulevard.

And so our mini day vacation was underway. By about 7:30 a.m. we exited the New York State Thruway and drove southbound on Route 28.

“Hey, Scooter,” Dad said to me as he navigated the winding, hilly road, “that orchard on your right is where we’ll pick apples in October.”

Angela, who was now awake, piped up and asked, “Can I come too?”

“Sure honey, you can taste them to make sure they’re not rotten,” Dad said. Angela held her little belly as she laughed. My mother turned her head slightly and snuck a peek at Angela but refused to add anything to the conversation.

By 10:30 the rain had stopped, and a patchwork of surrounding farmland welcomed us to the outskirts of Cooperstown. About five minutes later we turned onto Main Street and entered the village founded by the father of The Last of the Mohicans’ author James Fenimore Cooper. We parked about two blocks away from the Hall of Fame, and as we got out of the car, Dad said, “Let’s eat breakfast before we visit Ted, Mickey, and Willie.

“Who?” Angela asked.

“Geez Angela,” I said. “Don’t you know anything? He meant Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays.”

“Easy,” my dad said as we walked along the sidewalk. “She doesn’t know.” He put his arm around Angela and said, “They’re just famous ballplayers honey.”

“Oh, OK,” Angela said, smiling at us. My mother trailed a few feet behind us, and we waited for her to catch up before we all went inside the Short Stop, one of Cooperstown’s most famous eateries. We snagged a booth, and I gazed around the restaurant. Framed black-and-white pictures of old ballplayers adorned the greasy, yellowed walls. Dad and I ordered the Triple Play—two eggs, two pancakes and ham (or bacon). Angela ordered a chocolate malt and a cinnamon donut, while Mom sipped a cup of black coffee and
puffed on a Salem. “You sure you don’t want anything, Marie?” Dad asked when our food arrived. “If I wanted something, I’d order it,” Mom said.

And then practically everyone in the restaurant—with the exception of my mother and perhaps some Red Sox fans—let out cheers when one of the Short Stop’s waitresses, a college-aged woman named Rose, stood on a stool behind the counter and announced, “Good news everyone, in case you haven’t heard, the Yankees beat the California Angels four-to-three last night.”

“What do you think, Scooter,” Dad said, “are they gonna catch the Sox?”

“I don’t know, Dad, but at least they’re making it a race.”

We finished eating and Dad paid the bill. Then, on our way to the museum, we made a quick detour to one of the souvenir shops. With the money I had saved from helping Dad around the house that summer, I was planning to buy an official Yankees home pinstripe jersey, preferably with the number 44 on the back (Reggie Jackson’s number); however, I ended up with a 1977 Yankees World Series champion pennant, a Pete Rose Cincinnati Reds warm-up jersey, and a paperback book about Yogi Berra. Dad bought Angela a Yankee hat that was about two sizes too big. It looked adorable on her and Dad and I both chuckled when she yanked it down over her ears.

“Oh well,” Dad said, “don’t worry honey, you’ll grow into it.” As we left the souvenir shop loaded with our packages, I realized that my mother had been sitting outside the entire time. Dad said he’d run the bags to the car so we wouldn’t have to carry them with us inside the Hall. Angela and I started walking with him, but he turned around and said, “No, wait here.”

So we sat on a bench next to our mother, who pretended not to acknowledge us. Because it was a weekday, there were hardly any people on the sidewalk. I turned my head away from my mother and looked across the street at the small shops on the opposite side of the street. And then I heard Angela ask, “Mom, why aren’t you talking to anyone?” I whipped my head around and covered Angela’s mouth with my hand. “Forget it,” I whispered to her. My mother responded, “That’s right forget it. What difference does it make now?”

Just then Dad came back and said, “All right guys. Let’s go to the Hall of Fame.” The purpose of our expedition was then made complete when we paid the admission fees and entered the gates of the Hall. And maybe it was just the air conditioning revving at full blast, but a chill prickled my skin. It’s as if I could feel the ghosts of America’s pastime had been roused from their repose for our benefit alone and now their spirits oozed out of their neatly constructed memory vaults.

Our eyes shifted rapidly from one icon to another on the first floor of the museum. First the lifelike wooden statue of Babe Ruth caught our attention; then we were captivated by a Norman Rockwell painting—“Game Called Because of Rain” (also known as “The Three Umpires”). My eyes and brain felt overwhelmed by the thrilling visual stimuli. And even my mother was taken aback while roaming through the exhibition and gallery spaces on the second floor. “Scooter, look,” she said to me, “those are the spikes of Ty Cobb.” I don’t know what surprised me more, seeing the lethal spikes of the “Georgia Peach,” or hearing my mother actually complete a sentence without anger in her voice.

And with each satisfying image—Ted Williams’ bat, Joe DiMaggio’s number 5 pinstripe uniform, Jackie Robinson’s cap and glove—the game’s glory sank deeper into my soul.

On our way out, we spotted a glass-encased statue of the late Pirates star Robert Clemente. We glanced at it briefly as we shuffled past it, but Mom stopped us because she wanted to get a closer look. To my mother, Clemente’s humanitarian work made him practically a saint, but I must admit I had never heard of him. That’s because my dad said he died in a plane crash in 1972, when I was only three years old.

My mother pulled out the Polaroid camera and asked one of the museum staff to take a snapshot of the four of us in front of the Clemente statue. In the photo, she let my father hold her hand, but neither of them offered smiles; however, anyone looking at the image would have thought we were a relatively happy family. I knew better and in fact, it would be the last picture my parents ever took together.


Before piling into our car for the return trip to Oneida County, we strolled over to Doubleday Field. By now, the sun felt warm on my shoulders and a slight breeze swept across the dusty brown infield dirt. The dugouts of Doubleday Field seemed just like the kind the Big Leaguers had—since you had to go down a few steps to reach the bench; there was also a real water fountain at one end, ready to quench your thirst. I took a seat on the bench inside the home dugout and stared out at the field. Angela and Dad were right next to me, while Mom remained standing along the chain-link fence on the other side of the gate.

“Wow Dad,” I said, “this is amazing.”

“I know, Scooter,” Dad replied. He shook his head and added, “This is the real deal son.” He also told me some local American Legion teams played games in the ballpark during the summer months, and it definitely looked like it was used frequently. A lineup card was still taped to one of the side walls and sunflower seed shells and Gatorade cups littered the dugout floor. A sticky concoction of tobacco juice and bubble gum also gripped the rubber soles of my white high top Chuck Taylor sneakers.

A few minutes later, Dad, Angela, and I ran out on the field. Dad more or less humored us by taking part in an imaginary baseball game, while Mom climbed a few steps leading to a row of green bleacher seats just above the home dugout on the first base side. She sat down, lit a cigarette, and watched us make fools of ourselves.

Angela straddled third base and hollered, “Mom, you’re coach, flash me a sign.” For a couple of seconds, my mother remained motionless, like a wax statue, then took a puff of her Salem and tucked a few unruly strands of her long black hair behind her right ear. And while it wasn’t a “steal” sign, it was good enough for us.

My father stood behind the plate in the catcher’s position and tossed me an imaginary pop fly to center field, where I was roaming. As I “faked catching” it, Angela took off from third to tag up, with her fat little legs motoring and the oversized hat flopping down over her ears once again. I threw the “air ball” to Dad, who swept the tag on Angela just as she slid into home.

From my outfield spot, it had seemed like a close play, and I wasn’t sure if Angela’s foot had touched home plate before Dad applied the tag. Silence befell Doubleday Field as neither my dad nor I wanted to make the call. We looked to Mom in the stands, and Angela yelled, “Mom, Mom, am I out or safe?”

My mom flashed a less-than-enthusiastic safe sign, but a safe sign nonetheless. Angela leapt to her feet and raised her arms in the air. “Ha, I knew I was safe,” she screamed. Dad doubled over in laughter and scooped up Angela in his arms. And as I hustled into the infield, I noticed even Mom was laughing, although not as exuberantly as Dad.

My father looked up at my mother in the stands, nodded his head, and smiled. It seemed like he wanted to hold on to the moment and to the fleeting image of this woman he loved—a woman who, at this point in time, remained his wife.

Of course, that would change. My parents separated a week later and made the break official when they signed the divorce papers in early October.

But I still can’t help but believe baseball’s immortal heroes—Ruth, Clemente, Satchel Page, and Lou Gehrig—looked down us that late summer day in 1978. They gave us a memory I would cherish forever, an experience shared by a family unit that, although unraveling, was still a family of four.


Night at the Ballpark

Here I am, back to the blog. It’s been so long. I apologize for the absence, but I’ve been preoccupied with work, family, and side creative endeavors (which I will keep private to prevent jinxing the results). And now summer has ended, and a new semester is unfolding on the campus of Syracuse University.

NBT Bank Stadium. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

I have one note worth sharing. My family and I attended a Syracuse Mets game for the first time this August. My father used to take me to Syracuse Chiefs games at the old MacArthur Stadium, and I was impressed with the confines of NBT Bank Stadium, the ease of parking, the friendliness of the stadium workers, and the blue and orange color scheme in keeping with the New York Mets affiliation.

Mr. Met image on a stairwell at NBT Bank Stadium. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

My wife Pam and I debated taking our autistic son Colin to the ballpark, but in the end, we decided exposing him to the experience of a live baseball game on a perfect summer night was worth the risk of potential outbursts. We feel it’s worth trying new things with him, even though we endure stress, frustration, and humiliation when he acts out. Our hope is he grows more comfortable in public settings.

Colin sitting in the stands on the first-base line. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

And on this night, he fared well. He ate French fries, popcorn, and mini brownie muffins (brought from home). He paid no attention to the action on the field, and when the crowd roared, he unleashed high-pitch screams, drawing the attention of other fans. We left in about the fourth inning with the Buffalo Bisons leading the Mets by several runs. But we considered the evening a minor victory and felt encouraged to attend another game in the future.

Pam and Colin outside NBT Bank Stadium. Photo by Francis DiClemente.


Farewell Summer: A Poem

Here’s a short poem I wrote about the shift of seasons, as we transition from late summer to fall.

Wiki photo by Acidburn24m.

Farewell Summer (Apologies to Bradbury)

The death of summer—
sadness reigns
as the season wanes.
No more soft-serve
ice cream cones,
lakeside walks,
baseball games and
backyard cookouts.
Late August
blues ensue,
giving way to the
birth of autumn.
And you know
what comes next.
Mother Nature
pulls Old Man Winter
down from the attic,
sharpens his dentures
and deprives him of food—
until she’s ready
to set him loose
on the world again.

©2018 Francis DiClemente



Spring Anyone?

The anticipation of spring is overwhelming here in upstate New York. March ushers in a sense of hope as winter relents and spring creeps toward us. We’re not there yet. We still have more cold gray days ahead, with temperatures barely climbing out of the thirties. More snow will fall and the wind will continue to chafe exposed earlobes, noses and cheeks.

But you can sense spring is almost here. We’ll be setting our clocks ahead this weekend as Daylight Saving Time resumes.

March brings with it Friday fish fry specials that are welcomed by Lenten observers, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the apogee of the college basketball season. After the conference tournaments wind down, fans will be dissecting the NCAA tourney pairings and filling out their brackets. The NHL season is moving along and the playoffs will be upon us soon.

This is my favorite time of year, because it’s a season of possibility, where the full glory of spring and summer lies ahead, just waiting to be plucked like a ripe peach. Now we can allow ourselves to imagine barbecues, pool parties, softball games, weekend getaways, outdoor concerts and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Trees in full glory. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Trees in full glory. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

I am reminded of The Twilight Zone episode Walking Distance (1959) where a business executive returns to his hometown and finds it unchanged. He is overcome by a feeling of nostalgia when he encounters his boyhood self during a summer marked by merry-go-rounds, cotton candy and band concerts, and he tries to instruct his younger self to savor his childhood while he still has the chance.

The man, Martin Sloan, says to the boy: “I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time for you.”

So in this northern corner of the world, as Mother Nature gets ready to release a measure of heat, we can prepare to store our boots, coats, gloves, hats, sweaters and scarves for another year. We can get to ready to strike the terms black ice, lake effect, wind chill and Nor’easter from our vocabulary, at least for another nine months. It’s about time to step outside, stretch our limbs and live again.

Baseball’s Opening Day and the Big Feast at Vinci’s House

Meanwhile, spring training continues in Florida and Arizona—another sign that winter will be ending soon—and the first pitch of Major League Baseball’s regular season is less than a month away.

Bill Vinci, my best friend from my hometown of Rome, N.Y., holds an annual party on the first full day of the MLB season. Regardless of the weather, regardless of where he happens to be employed at the time—and he’s rotated through several jobs over the past decade—he invites friends over to his house to watch the opening day games.

The party host, Bill Vinci. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

The party host, Bill Vinci. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

It’s an all-day party with a group of friends debating their fantasy teams. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to attend one of these parties because I’ve always had to work or I’ve lived elsewhere in the U.S.

But I find the concept appealing because of the allure of playing hooky from work to watch baseball; and it’s also entertaining to see the players shivering on the basepaths and in the dugouts and outfield grass during early April games in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and Boston.

Vinci tells me the party consists of watching baseball from the first at-bat to the “final pitch on the West Coast.” And his celebration has real roots in the Rome area, stretching back to Vinci’s high school days, starting around 1985.

“I would skip school and have my friends come over and watch baseball and eat in my parents’ basement,” he says. He adds, “As the years go by the attendees have decreased due to work, kids, etc., but that hasn’t stopped me from putting on the greatest opening day party in Rome.”

Bill Vinci swinging away. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

Bill Vinci swinging away. Photo courtesy of Bill Vinci.

And the action on the diamond is enhanced by the menu for the occasion; the spread of food includes “dogs, burgers, sausage, hot and sweet peppers and sausage bread, along with chips and dip.”

So that’s what I’ve been missing all these years.

But Vinci, who serves as director of marketing for the Utica Brewers baseball club of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL), says the “reason I host opening day is the love and passion of the game of baseball. It’s in my blood and to have friends and family enjoy it with me makes it all worth it.”

He adds, “as long as I’m on this earth, you can always count on one thing—opening day of baseball at Vinci’s house.”

To that I say batter up.

Getting reading for the season. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Getting ready for the season. Photo by Francis DiClemente.



Blissful Upstate Summer

I spent last week in Rome, New York, as I recovered from Gamma Knife radiation treatment intended to eradicate leftover pituitary tumor cells. And I was once again overcome by the spectacular beauty of summer in my hometown.

Now that we have skipped past the Fourth of July, summer is ripe, bursting open in color, sounds and scents, but soon it will wane. Soon autumn will overtake it.

But now near perfection reigns in central New York with warm days, flowers in full bloom, vegetable gardens producing their bounty and children riding bikes and playing outside. We need rain here so it’s not quite perfect.

As I went for an evening walk heading toward Vogel Park in Rome, sunlight filtered through the lush maple trees lining North George Street, casting a greenish-yellow glow. Along the way I dodged hissing sprinkler streams dancing over burnt lawns and spilling over on the sidewalk. I saw teenage boys playing Frisbee in a front yard. A basketball bounced on a driveway and screen doors smacked against doorjambs. The smells of freshly-cut lawns and grilling meat entered my nose.

I also heard the voices of summer as I walked past the houses.

“Let’s go Randall.”

“All right, I’m coming.”

“Come on Meg, time to eat.”

Summer is such an intense sensual experience words and images alone cannot do it justice. Ray Bradbury came as close as possible with his fictional Green Town.

I think these days of splendor in central New York are God’s way of making amends for all the lake-effect snow days of December, January, February and March when darkness comes at 4 p.m. and the cold air bites your face. But you can’t contain summer. You can’t bottle it up and preserve it like dandelion wine, store it in Mason jars and open it up on a February night when your bones ache and the snow melts inside your boots while you shovel the driveway.

Summer is also a nostalgic time, as we remember our youth spent at the playgrounds and baseball diamonds, doing cartwheels to show off for grandparents, running around the neighborhood with sparklers and chasing the ice cream truck down the street.

I also consider the math when looking at my life. How many more summers do I have left? And then I think only one, right now. That’s it.

While driving with my brother one afternoon last week I spotted a white banner stretching across Black River Boulevard. It announced the Drums Along the Mohawk drum and bugle corps competition would be coming on Aug. 2. “Oh no,” I said to my brother, “that means summer’s ending soon.”

The competition has always been one of the last big events of the summer in Rome, signaling cooler weather, moms checking off their school supply purchase lists and the Rome Free Academy football team practicing in two-a-day sessions. My stepfather also says Drums Along the Mohawk sometimes coincides with bats sneaking into the house and circling the kitchen or family room.

An ice cream truck is parked along Stanwix Street in Rome.

So before summer is gone again, make a point to leave the house, walk around the block and look at the stars, eat your share of ice cream cones, race to finish nine holes of golf in the gloaming, attend a minor league baseball game and go for a night drive in the country to hear the whoosh of the tires against the asphalt.

Summer is indeed fleeting, but we still have half a cup left to enjoy.