Baseball

Whenever I hear talk of bullying these days, it brings back a few bad memories of my own youthful tormentor. His name was Ned and he lived down the street from me. At the time, I was an elementary school student while he was in junior high.

There were lots of kids in my neighborhood, and I can honestly say that most of the older boys were congenial and patient around us younger kids. It was a different world back then.

I especially remember one boy named Johnny.

One day, while all of us kids were playing a few blocks from my house, my dog ran out in the road to chase a go-kart. He got caught up under it and both of his back legs were cut deeply. I can still see the blood in my mind’s eye.

Johnny gently picked the dog up and carried him all the way to my house with me sobbing along behind him. (The vet took care of things and my dog lived to chase more go-karts, albeit with a bit more caution.)

But that was Johnny, a nice kid.

And Dair, he was a nice kid, too. His mother and mine were bridge-playing buddies. Dair was older than me so we didn’t hang out or anything, but he owned a mini-bike and every time he rode past my house, he’d wave.

But Ned. Nope. Not a nice kid.

He would honest-to-goodness sneer at me, and I’d brace myself for whatever hateful remark was coming. Once he was locked and loaded, the verbal abuse was certain to follow.

When I turned 12, I started junior high and was forced to cross paths with Ned more frequently. Not too often, because, being older, his classes were in another wing, but I did have to endure him in the common areas.

One time that stands out in my memory was during lunch in the cafeteria. My class had to sit in alphabetical order (don’t ask me why) and there I was, seated between two of the prettiest girls in the group. With my kinky, curly hair and Coke-bottle glasses, I was definitely the odd one out.

Ned happened by, carrying his lunch tray, and slowed down as he passed our table. “Look at all the pretty girls,” he said, strutting up to us and acting like he was all that.

Then he stopped cold and stared at me. “Not you, Ugly!” he snarled.

Ouch. Did he really have to clarify? And did he have to do it so loudly?

Suddenly all eyes were on me and I wanted to disappear under the table. I wanted to disappear a lot when Ned was around. I can thank my lucky stars there was no social media back then. I feel sorry for kids today who have to deal with that kind of stuff 24/7.

But not all of my memories of Ned are bad.

One afternoon, when I was about 10 years old, I came upon a softball game in Dair’s front yard. The older neighborhood boys had teamed up against each other. I stopped in the street to watch, and Dair shouted hello to me. I asked if I could play, too, and Ned was the first to respond. “No, you cannot play, get out of here!” he screamed.

But Johnny (again) came to my rescue. “She can play,” he said. “She can be on our team.” He grabbed an extra glove, walked me to a center field position and said, “Stand right here. If a ball comes your way, catch it.”

I don’t think a minute passed when a ball did, indeed, come my way. I looked up and saw it heading straight for me. I didn’t step up or back or to the side. I stood frozen and lifted my hands in the air.

PLOP! The ball went straight into my glove as if it were magnetized.

Seconds later I was surrounded by my teammates, who were whooping and yelling, slapping me on the back and telling me, “Great play!”

That was followed by the lone voice of dissent from the other team.

Ned.

“That doesn’t count!” he screamed. “She’s not really playing!”

The others only laughed as they assured him it most certainly counted.

For the life of me, I can’t remember who was at bat that day — the wonderful day I caught the flyball, but you can guess whom I wish it were. In fact, let’s just go ahead and say it was Ned.

I like that ending much better.

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at donnabarton@cableone.net.

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