By Gary Lloyd
It’s been 20 years since I was robbed of a home run to left field here, since I covered second base to tag out a would-be base-stealer.
How is it that I can visualize the ball carrying deeper and deeper toward the chain-link, that I can feel the slip of my cleats on that red dirt? I can’t remember what was on my dinner plate last Tuesday, but I can recall those moments on the diamond.
I went back to that baseball field not long ago, to walk the surrounding hills with my dog and to put a shine on those memories. I guess I do this often. For me, it’s a reset, a needed break, a creative spark plug. These trips always reveal writing ideas to me.
The chain-link fence down the first base line was bent from the inside out, no doubt the result of hundreds of first basemen and right fielders crashing into it chasing foul balls, but more likely from thousands of dads leaned against it at evening practices, reliving glory days. The wooden benches in the dugouts were eroding to mold and time. Weeds, some as tall as a toddler, crept into the dugouts from the outside.
A Dr. Pepper can, so old that it had faded to the color of an Ocean Spray pink cranberry can, was discarded just outside the first base dugout. Maybe, after all that time, the wind simply took it from the top of a full garbage can. Glass from a shattered press box window was stuck in the mud, glimmering, behind the red padded backstop. The vinyl siding of the press box was dotted with several baseball-shaped holes. The bleachers on both sides of home plate were smudged black, as if a motorcycle had peeled out on each row. A waterlogged baseball rested against some rocks near the press box.
It all just seemed so suddenly deserted, as if the apocalypse happened in the top of the fourth inning. But one thing seemed like new. The dugouts’ iron supports were painted a penetrating red, giving them a still-wet appearance. They stood out on this gray, windy morning, an almost lifeless day, except for me and my dog. Almost.
Circling overhead, gracefully and quietly, was a red-tailed hawk. We had noticed him on a fencepost in the parking lot, and now he was doing aerial laps above us, like the Goodyear Blimp at a sporting event. I had seen a number of red-tailed hawks over the last couple years, all in the deep woods behind our last house in Trussville. When we moved last year, I figured I’d have to go hiking at Ruffner Mountain, or drive to Gatlinburg, to see another. But here he was, hoping for a doubleheader.
I’m not really sure why, but I Googled “Significance of seeing a red-tailed hawk.” I found many stories about hawk encounters, symbolism, omens and folklore. One line from a story struck me: “Encountering a hawk means you should let your creative spirit flow.”
I don’t need a muse to write. Writing is a job, like anything else. But a muse doesn’t hurt. Red dugouts and red-tailed hawks. Who knew?
Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.