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The Distraction of Diamonds

“Short’s the best position they is,” Matt said, repeating a line from a short story he had read—he couldn’t remember exactly when—that had become his mantra on the baseball diamond. He hunched over and swayed slowly from side to side, prepared to field any balls hit his way, ready to pounce on them like a cat corralling mice. He reached down with his right hand and swept it slowly back and forth, his palm barely grazing the tips of the grass.

“Shut your mouth, fool. Second’s the best position they is,” said the team’s second baseman.

“Short’s the best position they is.”

Moving to the East Coast was the best thing that could have happened to Matt because he was able to play the position he’d always wanted to play: shortstop. Playing for a high school varsity baseball team at a top ranking school in California hadn’t allowed him to play his dream position. The depth of talent the school attracted was too great so he'd had to settle for playing third base despite having attended baseball camps every summer since the first grade. He basically lived on diamonds in the summer. Then, when Matt was in his junior year at high school, his father lost his job as an executive producer at Columbia Pictures. His parents got divorced and Matt relocated to New Jersey, where his dad was able to get a job at an independent production company.

The move had allowed Matt to temporarily escape the torment he’d been experiencing when his old teammates had found out that he was gay.While they didn’t bother him about it, he could sense their change in attitude toward him, especially in the shower. He would’ve preferred if they’d given him a hard time. At least that way he would know what they were thinking, but the glances, discomfort, and forced politeness were unbearable. At his new school, he was still just one of the guys. He was a star and he got to play shortstop. But the fear that he would be found out again was always gnawing at him. He’d even thought about coming out just so that he’d be at peace, but knew that he wouldn’t be able to. The only thing Matt knew for sure was that on the baseball field his anxiety and fear dissipated.

Despite Matt’s inner turmoil, he had excelled at his new school and in his new position. He was even invited to several all-star games, where he was noticed by scouts. In his senior year, Matt was invited by several professional teams to attend their tryout days and afterwards he was offered contracts from two teams: the Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers. Matt was eventually admitted to a number of colleges, and was offered full athletic scholarships from several of them.

“We need to celebrate. I am so proud of you. You’ll love it at Stanford. I remember cheering for the Stanford Cardinals at Klein Field on Sunken Diamond when I was a student there. God, what a beautiful field. A full-ride at that. I guess all those practices, camps, and clinics paid off,” Matt’s father said. They were sitting in the living room, going through the letters that universities had sent to Matt.

Matt’s father was a man used to having his commands followed completely.ver since he was a child, Matt had been afraid of his father, afraid of his father’s volatile temper and violence. He was a man who instilled fear and elicited obedience. Matt hadn’t been surprised when his mother left his father.

He imagined his father’s joy quickly turning to anger when Matt told him that he had no intention of attending Stanford. Matt intended to accept the Baltimore Orioles’ offer. When Matt had told his father about the professional teams’ interest, his father had said that it would be better to get an education first in case baseball did not turn out, that he didn’t want his son to be an uneducated professional athlete. University first, and then baseball if he still wanted it after. Plus, what would he do when he would be forced to retire before the age of forty? Sell cars?

“There’s something pathetic about grown men playing children’s games, wouldn’t you agree?” he said.

Matt had said nothing, like he was saying nothing now, just imagining his father exploding. Matt found the thought of how his father would react if he told him he was gay almost funny. Would he be even angrier than if he told him he wouldn’t be attending Stanford? Somehow imagining his father’s contorted face when he finally came out made Matt laugh out loud.

“What’s so funny?”

“Just imagining you as a young college student, that’s all,” Matt said.

“It was awesome. Being a college student in the ‘70s with all that free love and expand your mind bullshit. It was a blast. Anyway, this calls for a celebration. Where do you want to go?”

“Dad, I want to go to Baltimore.”“What?”

“I’m going to Baltimore. I got invited to their training camp, and I’m pretty certain I can get a decent contract.”

“We talked about this son. First your college degree, then baseball.”

“No, dad. We didn’t talk about it. You just told me how my future would unfold.”

“Son, I’m your father. I just want what’s best for you and that is attending Stanford. Trust me, you’ll regret it if you give up the opportunity to go to Stanford. You can always try out after college.”

“Yeah, but that’s not what I want. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to Baltimore”

Matt’s father threw his glass of scotch against the fireplace and it shattered into a million pieces.

“You will go to college. This is not a discussion,” he yelled.

Matt got up out of his chair and started for the stairs.

“We’re not finished here. Sit down.”

Matt continued up the stairs to his room. His father got up and hurried after him. Matt scurried into his room and slammed the door and locked it.

“Open this door this instant, or I’ll smash it down.”

“Go to hell.”

With one enraged kick, the door splintered open and Matt’s father was on him, hitting him with a flurry of punches. Matt wound up and punched him on the jaw. His father dropped to the ground out cold.

Matt was scared, but Matt was also exhilarated. His chest was heaving like he’d just sprinted to second base. This was the first time that he had fought back.

He looked at his fist. He looked at his father, who was slumped on the floor against the wall like a sleeping wino.Suddenly, Matt felt a bit sorry for him. He was debating what to do when his father groaned.

Now, Matt was angry. He was angry at his father’s provocation and he was angry at himself for being so easily provoked. He was also, he had to admit,surprised at his own violent reaction. Matt had always found violence distasteful, and he had taken a bit of pride in his stoicism, his imperviousness to taunts. At his previous school, when he was jostled and called a “faggot” he would always ignore his tormentors.

He hadn’t wanted to hit his father. He’d wanted to tell him that, out on the baseball diamond, he’d finally found a place where he felt he completely belonged, that the baseball field was governed by rules that he understood. Matt hadn’t wanted to hurt his father. Matt had wanted to tell him that on the field he was at peace, with himself and the world, and that on the field, reality retreated into oblivion. Not once in the ballpark did Matt’s sexuality matter, for this part of his identity became irrelevant. Or was it that this part of his identity was wholly integrated into his being on the field? Matt didn’t know, but he was grateful for this little distraction at the moment.

Ever since their move to the East Coast, Matt had wanted to tell his parents that he was gay, but the right moment never seemed to appear. Now he knew he would never tell his father. Cowardice? Perhaps. All Matt knew at that moment was that he needed to excise this toxic relationship from his life.

Matt was in Baltimore in Oriole Park.

“Matthew Robinson. Shortstop,” the coach said.

Matt got off the bench and jogged to his position. He couldn’t stop grinning. He got in place, reached down with his right hand and slowly grazed the tips of the grass with his palm.There was nothing like a freshly mown diamond in the spring. It represented a fresh start, a clean slate on which to pin one’s hopes for the upcoming season. It almost rivalled the drunken giddiness of the postseason, when the final prize is within grasp, when one team’s shortcomings lead to disappointment while the other team’s resolve leads to triumph.

But postseason wasn’t on Matt’s mind at the moment. Nothing was on his mind except playing shortstop. He didn’t wonder how his parents were doing, if his mother even knew that he was in Baltimore. He hadn’t spoken to either of them since leaving Jersey. He didn't wonder where his friends ended up after high school. He didn;t even wonder what his new teammates would think about him being gay despite this thought being a constant preoccupation since boarding the bus to Baltimore. The smell of the grass, the crack of the bats, the chatter of the players, the universe was reduced to this moment, to this field, and that was all that mattered to Matt.

“Short’s the best position they is.”


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