We are a junior college baseball team gathered on the crushed brick of the warning track in the right-field corner, waiting for our first baseman, who seeks something in the dark beyond the fence. We chant his name.
He combs the Bermuda grass with his fingers. We knew him in high school. We all knew each other. Our first baseman played for Carol City, and he liked to pummel you with the tag on the pickoff, no matter how close the play. Call it bush league because it is, but he is ours now, here, where sometimes you need a little grit. The rest, we came from Columbus High, South Miami, Coral Gables. Only one, our shortstop, grew up in Liberty City. And while we chant, wondering what our first baseman will find, our shortstop’s mind goes elsewhere—downtown, his family and his neighbors march in protest.
We chant. The air draws taut. A siren blips. Through the column of floodlight insects rise and tumble. Lumbering palmettos, juking moths, some of our first baseman’s favorites. The starting lineups tone from the loudspeaker, ping against the empty bleachers. He appears in the corner gate. Tall, slightly walleyed. Hands cupped together.
We chant and encircle him.
Eighteen games ago, he found an earthworm while we stretched. Some of us recoiled, so he slurped it and chewed. Eighteen straight wins, and we have seen mashed grasshoppers on his tongue and moth wings pasted to his upper lip.
We cease to chant on the same beat. He pops his hands to his mouth, and the lower half of a lizard hangs from his lips, tail flailing. This is something new.
A sharp crack, now another, from downtown.
He lifts his fists, growls, and chomps. A meager jet, oblong and dark, beads and vanishes into the warning track. We howl. We sound savage. We know it, we like it. In a spot of blood the severed tail clings to his chin and spasms, snapping like a green nerve.
Our shortstop drops in a heap. We roll him onto his back. His skin has paled to gray. Flecks of crushed brick stick to his cheek. His eyelids tremble and he mumbles.
Our first baseman kneels, wishing to help. The tail jerks and threshes. Our shortstop drums a finger on his own chin, wishing to communicate.
The sirens bleat. We hear them now, and huddle around our shortstop from Liberty City.
In the coming days the riots explode. Our shortstop sees his brother’s scalp split by a hurled bottle. He sees a car, overturned and burning. Others see much worse. We never understood how bad things could get. All the possible and violent reflexes. Rituals often require blood. We finish our season with the city around us raw and wounded. We await the Major League draft or we transfer, and some of us leave, but most never do.