Matthew Levine and
Robert Haydon Jones

“Worth Something Someday”
Matthew Levine
Response

The Robinson Ball
By Robert Haydon Jones
Inspiration piece

Robinson struck the baseball so savagely that it felt more like an execution swipe than a 2-run, first inning, home run. Jimmy was standing there in Standing Room in the left field grandstand in the Polo Grounds when Robinson connected. It was definitely not Jimmy’s first rodeo. He was an accomplished baseball player. A star lefty pitcher and also an All State outfielder for his high school team.

But he was zapped by a bolt of fear. The line drive off Jackie Robinson’s bat was headed straight for Jimmy’s face. If he didn’t catch it, it would hit him in the nose. He had no glove. What was he supposed to do?

Milliseconds later, he realized he had misjudged the ball. It had started for his face, but now it had climbed fast. The ball zoomed forty feet over him and clanged in the steel girders way up in the roof above.

Jimmy spotted the ball right away. It veered off a beam to his left and headed right. Then it blipped another beam and reversed course. Jackie Robinson had just reached second base. The crowd was noisy. It had been a shock, this home run.

Jimmy watched as the ball dropped straight down in a sudden free fall. It was going to land on the stone stairway right in front of him. Jimmy leaped out and somehow trapped the ball in his right hand just as it hit and held it as he tumbled over and rolled.

A muscular black youth in his early twenties dove on Jimmy and grabbed his arm. Jimmy tore his arm away and stood tall. Jimmy whipped the ball into his pants pocket without inspecting it and confronted the black guy.

“Better luck, next time,” he said.

“You got it?”

“Damn straight. It’s right in here. (Indicating pants pocket.) Better luck, next time.”

As it turned out, that was the game. Clem Labine, a rookie pitcher for the Dodgers, threw a 6-hit shutout. The Brooklyn win tied the playoff series at 1. The next day, Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” a walk-off home run for the Giants, which won them the National League pennant and a trip to the 1951 World Series.

It was an amazing comeback. The Giants trailed by 13½ games in late August. Red Smith led his column about the game for the New York Herald Tribune: “Now it is done.Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressively fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

Of course, Jimmy was a day behind. The game he was at turned out to be a bore. The Dodgers won it easily, 10-0. The Giants were hitless over the last four innings. Jimmy had a lot of fun on the train back to Connecticut. One of the men in the 4-seater he was sharing had seen him grab Robinson’s home run. He asked to see the ball and when he inspected it, the floodgates opened.

Jimmy estimated that at least twenty people came up and asked to see the ball. Everyone had a comment. A pretty woman was surprised the ball wasn’t bruised. A businessman offered Jimmy $50 for the ball. A burly young man in his 20’s said there was no way that was Robinson’s home run ball.

Quite a few of the people thanked Jimmy for letting them handle the ball. It made Jimmy feel good. He was happy to do it.

The next day, Jimmy watched Thomson’s homer win the pennant for the Giants. That was yet another happy ending. Like most people in Connecticut, he would root for the Yankees in the World Series.

On Saturday, Jimmy caught a last second touchdown pass that enabled his high school to tie their archrival. On Sunday afternoon, he was still in bed, trying to shake off the hits from the game.

Then two of his younger brothers burst in his room begging him for a hard ball. They had lost the ball they’d been using in a game in the fallow hay field out back. They had searched and searched for nearly an hour.

The Robinson Ball was right there on his desk. “Okay,” Jimmy said. “You can use the Robinson Ball, but you’ve got to promise me you’ll be extra careful. We’ll get you a new ball tomorrow.”

His brothers solemnly promised to take extra care. It took them just 20 minutes to lose the Robinson Ball forever.

Jimmy was pissed at first but he soon got over it. The next day, his parents bought the brothers two new balls. The Yanks won the 1951 World Series 4 games to 2.

_____________________________________________________

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6 Comments

  1. Jack orth
    Posted June 5, 2020 at 5:45 am | #

    Robert–You bring me back to the good old days! But when The Red Sox had Jackie Robinson come to Fenway Park to see what he could do was one sad day for many Bostonians–they had no intention of taking on Jackie–he was black and that was that! They played the game of letting him come to the park–but knew he’d never play for The Sox. It has always been a huge scar on the Sox–and they missed the chance to have one of the greatest players ever make The Green Monster look like it was at The little ball field at the playground! And here we are now, years later, turning down black people like they do today. Get with it, America–get with it!–Great story, Robert!–Semper Fi–Jack

  2. Posted June 6, 2020 at 1:52 pm | #

    Sic transit gloria mundi, but not for R.H. Jones. It beggars belief that jimmy let hi brothers play with the sacred ball, but it meets expectations that they lost it. In a few paragraphs, we have something to rival “A Day in the Bleachers.”

  3. John Haydon Tucker
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 11:33 am | #

    Good to see Jimmy O back on the page. Love that guy!

  4. Posted June 15, 2020 at 9:18 am | #

    It’s again a subtle gift Jimmy has to capture inner conversations of modern blokes. You reach a crescendo in your soul imagining holding that Hallowed ancient orb in your very hand today in our bedraggled modernity… that which Jackie’s ash kissed into eternity in a Black & white world now buried at Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. But in the end it is just a thing like all the stuff of our lives. It would really be somewhat lurid to see it now mummified in a glass shroud like the Yellowed tibia of one of Pyrhhus’s “victors” found on an Aegean beach and lacquered into a showcase. Like always, the memory is more tasty in the end — like the dank earthen sweetness glowing off a carton of strawberries, all dewy and bursting red, added to the sack (on second thought) from the old Rippe’s Farm stand (now a 7-11 by some upscale condos. The inevitably lost ball of legend seems like justice, the better luck next time for the black kid whose 70 year later musings On that moment and the minutes and miles and laughters and tears afterward have been oh so different.

  5. Dave Monroe
    Posted June 20, 2020 at 11:01 am | #

    Nicely done! The excitement of catching the home run ball. Very visceral. But then he lets his brothers use and loose the ball. Maybe the catch wasn’t actually the ball: the “catch” was the moment the ball was scooped up and triumphantly put in his pocket — something that can never be lost in a fallow hay field

  6. Chris E.
    Posted June 26, 2020 at 10:45 am | #

    Nicely done. Great visuals!!! Think we knew this kid – maybe really well!

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