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Holding onto summer, as the sun set and mothers called their boys home

Columnist Dan Conradt says on the day before school began, my friends and I played a game we hoped would never end

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The sun had dipped behind the evergreen trees on the third base line 20 minutes earlier. Fading daylight would last for another 45 minutes, but it was already getting harder to see the ball.

We all knew it was the bottom of the ninth, even though we never counted the innings.

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I’d spent most of supper pleading my case to Mom while Dad concentrated on his pork chop. We’d probably played 30 pick-up baseball games since summer vacation began, but a game tonight felt almost urgent.

“Tomorrow’s the first day of school,” Mom reminded me needlessly. “You’ve got to take a bath and get a good night’s sleep.”

I imagine my buddies were all hearing the same things from their moms, and were promising to wake up clean and well-rested.

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I even said, “Please.”

Fifteen minutes after sitting down to supper … and that included Mom’s mandatory “let your food settle” time … I was riding my bike across town for the game.

The pasture behind a friend’s horse barn had become our favorite baseball field; the horses kept the grass nice and short, which meant less time searching for lost baseballs. It also meant you had to be careful where you stepped, since areas to avoid changed from game to game.

We separated into teams with none of the usual pregame tales of the heroics of Mays, Mantle and Killebrew; for a game that isn’t defined by a time clock, the clock was ticking.

It didn’t take long before I was wearing an impressive grass stain on my left knee from an awkward slide into third. I didn’t really NEED to slide into third … I just liked to slide; after enough slides, the stains became a permanent part of a pair of my Dickies.

The horses spent most of the game along the barbed wire fence in deep left, almost like they knew that … on this night … the field belonged to us.

One of the guys hit a sharp ground ball (the sound of a wooden bat making solid contact with a baseball is still one of the sweetest sounds ever) that could have gone for extra bases until it caromed off second base and rolled weakly back to the pitcher’s mound. It’s one of the downsides to using a big rock for second base.

A full moon was inching into the sky in right-center, and the air was so still you could hear truck tires whining on the highway. It was only a matter of time …

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We wasted 15 minutes looking for a foul ball that landed in the evergreens.

And then … somewhere in the distance … a mom shouted for one of the guys to come home. It had grown too dark to see the ball, but it was still disappointing; a shout for one of the guys was a shout for all of us.

Tomorrow I’d be calculating batting averages in my head and struggling to understand fractions.

I’d be wearing the new school pants Mom had bought me last week at J.C. Penney. They didn’t even have grass stains on the knees. Yet.

The guys could still get together for games on Saturday afternoons and on those nights when homework didn’t intrude. But we wouldn’t.

For the Boys Of Summer, the season was over.

But it’s nice to know that opening day is just nine months away.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.

Related Topics: PEOPLEDAN CONRADTAUSTIN
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