Observe the Little League right fielder.
See him stare at the trees and gaze at the birds flying overhead.
Watch him scratch himself, dig at his nose and kick the grass.
Watch him bite and smell his glove and play with its strings.
He’s usually overweight or underweight, brittle and frail and rarely tanned, with his cap turned crooked to the right or left. His uniform looks odd on him, as if it were a costume.
He almost never places his hands on his knees like a good outfielder should and is seldom heard yelling “Batter, batter, batter” like the shortstop, who blows the pitcher off the mound with it.
A ball hit out there has “home run” written all over it, and one wonders why the coaches continue to place them out there, when most of the balls hit into the outfield are banged to right field.
He doesn’t catch the ball; he catches up with it, and when he does, he never throws it to second base, even though the coaches, the spectators, his father and his teammates are yelling “Second!” over and over again. He throws it instead to the first body he sees, typically that of the first baseman.
Coaches notice him every once in awhile and admonish him, “Watch the game, Samuel,” or “Let’s hear something out there, Samuel.” Coaches always call right fielders by their proper name, never by their shortened name or nickname.
Right fielders are never called Billy, Rusty or Scooter. They are more likely Albert, Elmer or Jude.
Look into the eyes of a right fielder, and you can see a story, one that begins with, “I’m out here in this field, and I don’t know why, but I will try to please without uttering a sigh.”
He bats last, always. That’s if he’s in the game long enough, because most teams are blessed with more than one right fielder.
The right fielder does not like to keep his elbow out when batting; it’s not natural for him. He sees the ball as a spinning projectile aimed at his body. It will hurt him, which he thinks about above all.
We love the right fielder because he is a natural, a special breed, a nonconformist, a rose among a field of daisies, one who would rather build castles in the sand than slide in it.
When the shortstop catches the ball, it’s routine; when the right fielder catches the ball, heaven smiles.
Let that right fielder sit in the corner of the dugout, thinking about sno cones, his iPad, Christmas and toy soldiers. Ask him what the score is, and he will reply, “They cheated,” and stomp off as if he knew.
If Einstein, Lincoln or Bach were Little Leaguers, they would want to be right fielders, for out there one can spend time dreaming.
Watch the right fielder on the bases, if he gets there, and he will steal your heart, not the bases, for his joy there brightens the paths. His desire to get home is slow of foot, swift of soul. Some right fielders have been known to giggle while lumbering around the bases, for there they feel awkward, running around the corners.
Applaud, praise and be kind to the right fielder, for how many of us would want to play a game made for others and hear the accolades showered on those others, all the while keeping our chins up in the air — even if it is to watch for sparrows.
Don Palmerine of Mt. Lebanon, a freelance writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The PG Portfolio welcomes “Baseball Lore” submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.