July into August
As summer continued to click by, nights would fall sooner and fall cooler. The crisp July nights were a sharp contrast to the hot and humid air of the days spent lazily around the pool. Baseball season was winding up for the different leagues... Pee Wees would be done first, then Midgets, followed by Teeners and then the Legion Team would be playing after everybody else had wrapped up. Their games were the most interesting to watch; the older guys were like watching the pro's to us youngsters. When I was in 5th grade or so, going down to Tandberg Field was as good as a trip to Minneapolis to watch the Twins. Chris and his classmates fielded a pretty good team and I remember when they first donned the baby blue uniforms similar to only the Kansas City Royals at the time. Not many were ready for Garretson to be anything besides Royal Blue and White and these light blue pants and v-neck tops were pretty alien to all of us. They wore navy stirrup socks that matched the navy and white piping that ran up the sides of the pants and then around the collar and sleeves. "Garretson" in Brush Script across the chest and the American Legion patch was sewn on the sleeve. There were no names on the back... just a number... as the jerseys had to be used over and over and over again by many different people over the course of as many years that could support the stitches of the fabric... or until so many of them went missing that they'd be forced to buy a new set.
I would ride my bike up to the ball diamond on the nights of games after supper, or if the night was still hot, I'd go to the pool and swim for a little while until I saw them gathering on the diamond down the hill to to the west of the pool. I'd give myself enough time to get dried off and dressed and then scurry down to the bleachers on the top of the hill overlooking the cutout into the hill surrounding the diamond. It was a natural stadium that Garretson had. It was an fantastic setup for a ballpark. Unfortunately, though, our infield was gravel and though they would drag it on every gameday, the rocks just worked their way up and litter the enormous circle of orange. Seemingly small and insignificant, they would pose dangerous threats to the path of ground balls rocketing in the direction of the infielders locking themselves into a position to prepare themselves for the ball to do one thing when, in fact, the ball would go and do something else completely random. Often, to the chagrin of those infielders, that random direction would be upward at their face. Or at least it seemed like it would happen that way often. It probably only happened once, but sometimes that all it took to put the fear of God into that third baseman that valued the set of teeth that was still intact.
The orange rocky circle was flanked originally by two dugouts that were literally dug out into the ground, but over time the elements took their toll on their structure and every spring and every heavy summer rain, they'd fill with water and prove uninhabitable. At some point in the 1970's those dugouts were replaced by above ground cages like you'd see at any other softball complex today. For the longest time, those new dugouts did not have roofs which of course would have been nice for those players sitting there on those afternoon games baking under the sun..
I'd take my place on the bleacher and watch my brother and his teammates warm up... once in a while if I'd get there early enough and I had brought my glove, I'd get to go play catch with one of the guys if their numbers were odd. Again, it probably only happened once, but to me that meant that it happened often. I'd sit with my friends up in the bleachers and work on a a mouthful of sunflower seeds... perfecting the spitting of the shells out into a little pile. We'd size up the competition as they took to the field... we'd look for familiar players from these other towns that we'd maybe recognize from basketball games, wrestling matches, football games or track meets. We'd see these "enemies" from those other towns... the green ones from Salem, the orange and black from Dell Rapids or the blue and gold from Baltic.
The outfield didn't have a arched fence but utilized the same chainlink that encompassed the football field that made up right field and center field in the off-season. directly between right and center straight at the bus barn's east end behind that fence was the white scoreboard made up of two telephone poles, some slightly crumbling playwood painted white and nailed to a slightly crooked frame that was leaning forward ever so slightly. Black lines painted up a grid of 9 innings and a home and away row with some hooks. I don't know who was given the responsibility of throwing those number boards on those hooks, but that system was outdated soon after the dugouts were replaced which was probably just as good because the forward lean of the that scoreboard with the little ledge on it for that person to walk on was getting less and less safe. I would venture to guess that whomever was scoring those games was probably up to date on their tetanus booster shots, or at least they should have been.
It seems that about the time the dugouts were replaced was when they put in a score keepers "nest" behind the homeplate fence that looked down on the field and housed the scoring controls for the football field scoreboard way out in center field a the back northwest corner of the fencing rectangle. It was out there that a long hit ball was a sure-fire in the part homerun, but one that you'd have to work for should you hit it there.
It was also back into that corner that on those quickly cooling humid summer evenings would slowly change into a cooler night with a gentle breeze sliding over the town and into the face of the batter. The cooler air coming in from the lower part of town down by the river would drift in and a slim layer of fog would begin overtaking the center fielder first, then the other outfielders then it would make it to the orange oval of infield and the banks of lights shining down created a glowing dome around each tower of electric lumination.
It probably only happened once, but in my head, I feel like it was like that at every game I went to. I know in my heart that it wasn't... but if it happened once and it lives in my memory as clear as the smell of the popcorn drifting out of the concession stand up at the pool, then it lives forever and it DID happen all the time; It happens every time that I think about it. Like now when I'm out for a walk and the sun is setting and I can feel the cooling air from the northwest... and I can smell freshly popped popcorn in my head and taste sunflower seeds. These early August nights churning away on the last days of summer and autumn will be here soon. Uniforms packed away, an orange circle that doesn't get dragged every day anymore and the leaves will begin to change. Another year will be gone. One more summer behind me. One less in front of me. Time clicking away once inning at at time. One out, one hit, one ball, one strike. The fog will roll in and envelope us all eventually. The lights growing less intense with the thickness of the fog deeper into those late innings in the end games of our season.
I would ride my bike home after the game was done... peddling fast to get home, the lights of the ballfield still on behind me... their glow casting my shadow out in front of me as I peddled into the darkness. I would race to get home. To tell mom and dad the the score of the game if they hadn't been at the ballpark themselves. They usually were at the games too and I'd be trying to beat them home. I'd want to be there to see them pull the station wagon into our long driveway and watch them as they wondered how I got there before they did. But it seems that they would usually be there waiting for me. Mom would be in the kitchen or upstairs already and dad would be in his chair, with a freshly fixed drink and he'd be lighting his pipe. .. his initial smoke drifting off the bowl of the pipe and out his mouth and nose and filling the air around his head. It'd be drifting across the living room and carrying the aroma of a sweet tobacco... the smell of my dad. It'd hug my face as I walked through it and as I plopped down in the couch and we'd watch the news. I'd play with the drifting waves of smoke in the air and everything would be good. At least that's how I remembered it once.
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