Baseball in March

Years ago, March 2009, we flew to California. The whole family, little ones two and three years old; chubby little Latinas with round cheeks and wispy black ponytail sprouts. Stevy was not yet in high school, I was making my way through my junior year. We flew, family of six with just about that many suitcases, and we spent two weeks in the crisp, sunny air of Northern California in spring.

Not 24 hours after bumping to the ground, taxiing down the runway lined with palm trees and grass that would only be green until the summer sun had its withering way, we descended onto the baseball field. We arrived with the grandparents, piling out of the new minivan, rough towels lining tan seat cushions under the child carseats that belonged to me, years before. We arrive, and, moments later, done with work for the evening, an aunt arrives, too. She pulls into the parking lot behind us, ever-present turtle decal on her darkly tinted windshield. Then we’re there in the parking lot, exchanging greetings and hugs, her subtle French manicure clicking against her sunglasses as she slides them atop her head.

The cousins are already at the field. Three cousins, another aunt, the uncle. Two of the cousins run to the edge of the grass, wait to greet us. Mia is 10, Teo almost eight, and there’s a flurry of hugs again. We laugh, aww, as the little ones hug Teo; at five years older, he is the only cousin they have whose age is remotely close to theirs, and it’s sweet to see them together.

Moving across the grass, towards where aunt and uncle have arranged a blanket on the grass, Mia points across the field, the vibrant green grass waving in the evening wind under her fingers. We’ve come to watch her older brother, Marc, play baseball, and we lean around her, standing there in the grass, and we sift through fifteen pre-teens in matching uniforms until we find a familiar face. Then he’s seen us, and we’re waving to our cousin from across the field while he practices catching ground balls and pop flies.

The baseball diamond is small, but the field around it stretches far, and the girls, the cousins, run, spin, chase, crawl, laugh, while Marc’s team takes turns at bat, in the field, at bat once more. The grandparents alternately sit in the folding chairs we’ve brought along and stand on the grass, watching. They watch the cousins play, their amusement at piggy back rides gone wrong and the resulting harmless tumble mixing with faint sadness that this only happens once a year. The three sisters, the aunts and my mother, stand around the blanket, catching up. I’m the oldest cousin, the first to grow, and I’ve begun to walk the line between playing with the cousins and conversing with the adults, working to pull myself up to their level. But Mia, Teo, play with the girls, and Stevy wanders, snapping pictures of the game, the players, the chain-link that separates spectators from players. So I lie there on the blanket and watch.

Now, it’s March 2014. I’m a junior again, this time in college, working hard to finish even as I watch the days of my college career slip past me at breakneck speed. Once again, March found me in California. The same sleek van (minus the toweled seats) rolling through the airport pick-up line. The same eye-catching green grass, remarkable for its color, but also for it’s very existence. It’s been a cold, icy, white winter in Chicago. The same grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. The same baseball league; Saturday evening games sending pop flies and the occasional foul ball soaring into the setting orange sun.

The same, but different. This March, there are no little sisters running around the field, no Stevy photographing blades of grass from artistic angles. No mother chatting with her sisters. These weeks are my trip alone, and what I vaguely imagined when I was younger has become my reality: I am the sole representative of my Little Family here, right now, and I’m richly heavy with connections with the adults- the aunts, uncle, grandparents- and those younger than me, my cousins. The baseball games are Teo’s now, and sitting in the stands, I’m between uncle and Mia, aunt and grandparents sitting in front me, perched on the lower levels of the cold metal bleachers.

But just as I grew up, so too did everyone else. Marc is a junior in high school now himself. He plays water polo and shows me pictures of the college tours he went on earlier in the year. He has plans and dreams and goals and earlier in the day, his father at home grilling, he drove Mia and me to Safeway in his jeep, where we hurried through the aisles, throwing ketchup, potato salad into a basket. Mia and Teo, are grown, too, and we’re friends and cousins, and sitting there on the bleachers, we pass sunflower seeds back and forth from aunt, Marc, Mia, myself, to uncle and back again. And we pass the conversation, the jokes, the laughter, too, while the floodlights above us take over for the setting sun and the umpire calls strikes as the bat whiffs through the air.

~Natalia

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