Humor Non-Fiction posted January 18, 2015

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Who did you play baseball with when you were kids?

Relief Pitcher

by Sis Cat

As a kid I wore to Cantara Street Elementary an Angels little league baseball uniform purchased from the discount rack at Goodwill, even though I never played little league. I wanted to belong to a team and I hoped the magic of that uniform transforms the least athletic boy in school to the most athletic. You see, I was the boy team captains left on the bench when they picked teams.

The real most athletic boy in school was Bret. He towered as the tallest, whitest boy. I shadowed as the shortest, blackest. I excelled at dodge ball because kids had a hard time hitting a small, fast-moving target.

But Bret reigned as king of baseball. He captained a team in every game. I recall Bret reaching the end of "eenie meenie miney mo," and then arguing with the other team captain over who would adopt me.

When a captain picked me out of pity, I cringed in right field. I prayed no boy would hit a ball in my direction. The opposing team captain, usually Bret, knew I was the weakest link. He coached the batter, "Hit the ball at Andre." That batter grinned and . . . Pop! My reflex kicked in and I dodged that ball which whizzed past me to hit the chain link fence a hundred feet behind me as four boys ran the bases. More often than not, captains left me on the bench to ensure victory.

During one recess, I sat on the bench as boys gathered to pick teams for another game of baseball. My teacher, Miss Ableman, approached and asked, "Don't you boys think it would be fair to let Andre be team captain for a change? You are always leaving him on the bench."

Some boys stared. Others shrugged. Bret conceded, "Okay."

As team captain I picked first. I picked Bret because I knew I would lose without him. The other team captain frowned and picked the next best player. We picked players until we cleared the bench for the first time in a long time.

As team captain I also pitched. I ascended the pitcher's mound and threw out my first pitch. The ball soared over the head of the batter who swatted it like a fly. My next pitch rolled across the ground as kids catcalled, "Hey, Andre, this is baseball, not bowling!" And another pitch . . . "Ow!" . . . "Sorry, take a base." Boys I struck with balls or walked filled the bases.

I felt pretty good. This was my first time out as pitcher and already I pitched a no hitter. No boy could hit any ball I threw at him. The magic of my Angels little league uniform worked!

Dissension arose in the dugout and the field. "Hey, Andre, you can't pitch!"

"Yeah, we should get Bret back as pitcher."

"We are going to forfeit if Andre stays pitcher."

The game stopped. Both teams refused to play as long as I remained pitcher. I looked for Miss Ableman for help but she was nowhere to be found. I wondered how to exit gracefully. I surrendered. "Okay."

The boys voted. "All those in favor of Bret, say 'Aye.'"



No one opposed, not even me.

I remained on that ballfield to witness my replacement, Bret, win the game. He pitched, hit, caught, threw, ran. He rallied the boys to fight for him. That boy did not need a secondhand little league uniform to play. That boy could play naked and still win. After the game, the boys piled atop him. "Yeah, Bret!"

My halo tarnished and recess over, I retreated to class.

I recall the day Bret challenged himself, "I am going to run around this entire playground."

The playground of Cantara Street Elementary stretched a city block. Hesperia Avenue, Lorne Street, and Zelzah Avenue bordered it. No kid had ever run around the playground's circumference before. No kid ever dreamt this big. A small crowd of spectators watched as Bret darted towards the chain link fence along Hesperia Avenue. His hand struck it.


He ran along the fence past the gymnastic rings. He zoomed towards the corner of Hesperia Avenue and Lorne Street where our ballfield sat. His hand struck the fence again.


Bret ran the bases of the biggest baseball diamond in the world.

As Bret progressed around the playground, word spread, "Look, Bret is running around the playground." Kids stopped their play and watched the white blur. Even the playground monitors watched.

Bret's pace slacked as his gangly body loped along Lorne Street past the tetherball courts. He pushed himself harder than a boy should push. Kids looked up at Miss Ableman. They wondered if she would stop this madness before Bret killed himself. She froze. She wondered herself if he could race around the playground. In any event, how do you stop a boy running that fast?


Bret's hand struck the chain link fence at the corner of Lorne Street and Zelzah Avenue which rang like the bell in a boxing ring.

Bret ran along Zelzah Avenue past the jungle gym where the first graders stopped their play and gawked from the monkey bars. The small crowd of spectators had grown to the entire student body and faculty of Cantara Street Elementary. They cheered, "Go, Bret, go! Go, Bret, go!"


Bret turned a final corner and headed towards the crowd. Pupils and teachers parted as he staggered across the finish line he had set himself. Red and sweaty, drenched clothes stuck to his body, Bret panted out of breath. I will always remember that image of this mini marathoner as he crossed his finish line. I wondered what this all meant and why, but the answers escaped me. I just knew I had witnessed something extraordinary.

I outgrew my Angels little league baseball uniform and consigned it to the Goodwill clothing donation bin from whence it came.

In '76, Bret and I graduated from Cantara Street Elementary and I never saw Bret again until . . .

"The Most Valuable Player of the 1985 World Series, Bret Saberhagen! This ace pitcher of the Kansas City Royals powered his team to their first World Series title with a shutout in Game 7 against the St. Louis Cardinals."

I stared at the TV. "That's . . . that's Bret Saberhagen. I used to play baseball with him!"

Fireworks exploded over Royals Stadium (boom!) as Bret's teammates rushed the field and piled atop him. They resembled the boys who had piled atop him after baseball games on a playground a decade earlier.

I would like to have said I knew Bret would come to this, but I did not. None of us did. But I finally understood what I had witnessed on the playground of Cantara Street Elementary. I witnessed greatness. As for me, I am almost famous. I may have been the first person Bret Saberhagen relieved as pitcher.

Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry


As I look back on my half century on this planet, my boyhood encounter with the subject of my story "Relief Pitcher" stands as my most significant childhood event which had far-reaching consequences.

I transformed my childhood recollections into a story I performed from memory before audiences at public storytelling events throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The story you read is my script I memorize.

I perform this story during two periods each year--the start of the American baseball season in spring and the World Series in fall. San Francisco is a baseball town which won several recent World Series. My story performs well here. Here is the video of my best known performance of this story:


Baseball card collage from Google images.
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