Evil vs. the Angels of Stony Island
by Jim Heaney

THE NEXT DAY THE NEIGHBORHOOD GUYS had a pick-up baseball game. Our field by the railroad freight yard was nothing fancy, that’s for sure; we played on black dirt, crushed coal, and weeds. Sometimes a train would roll through, so close that the ground shook and we had to call a “train delay.” The dirty white bulk of the version Steel mill loomed over the outfield, smoke spinning from the stacks and machinery clanging in the work- yards. There were better diamonds in the area, but we were proud of ours and that pride had motivated us to get up early the previous Saturday to clean up the field and the tracks. We worked until dark—a labor of love.
Today was the moment of truth. The team captains, Billy and Tommy, would pick their teams for the summer. I was worried. There were more guys than positions, I was younger than some, and I was in a slump. I couldn’t seem to get on base and had dropped a few easy balls.
In my favor was the fact that Billy lived just a few houses away from me, and we were tight.
While he was making his picks, I kept trying to catch his eye. every now and again I succeeded. When it came down to the last two players, there were still four of us waiting to be picked.
“I’ll make plays, I promise,” my eyes pleaded.
“I’ll take Jimmy,” Billy said.
Right away I started to take practice swings with my bat. I was anxious to redeem myself, and all it would take was one good game, just a couple of hits. Then I’d earn back the respect of the rest of the team.
White butterflies fluttered among the yellow dandelions swaying softly in the summer breeze. Across from the right field base- line, on Dante Avenue, was a neat row of bungalows; when we played evening games, the neighbors would sit on their porches, drinking Schlitz and watching the action. even if we were kids, it was live baseball, and it was better than watching reruns on TV.

“QUIT DAY DREAMING ,” BILLY YELLED . “your home run ain’t going to happen.”
“Nobody’s ever hit one over the steel fence. It’s too far. By the way, you’re playing right field.”
“But nobody ever hits to right field!”
“That’s the point. I don’t have to worry about you dropping one.”
We took the field first. I trotted out to my spot. even though nobody ever hit to right field, I had to be ready.
The first batter on Tommy’s team was Angelo Tratoni, one of Tommy’s buddies from the other side of Stony Island Avenue. Tall and lanky, he was always picked first. He was fast, strong, and sure-handed. He took the first pitch, watched it go by, stepped out of the box, and patted the mud off his shoes, cool as a major leaguer. Then he surveyed the field and smiled at me.
“He’s going your way, Jimmy,” Billy yelled.
The second pitch came in. He swung late and the ball cracked off the bat. yikes! It was streaking down the first base line!
Billy screamed “Foul!” and relaxed.
Angelo screamed “Fair!” and ran toward first base.
I couldn’t tell which it was, it was that close. Angelo rounded first and Billy squared up to block him from going to second. Most of the fights started between first and second base. I moved toward Billy in case of trouble, but he waved me off as if to say,
“Go get the ball.”
The ball sliced, hit the street, and rolled up Dante Avenue. When a ball got this far, it usually rolled under a parked car or onto one of the lawns. I scanned the area, looking for the white big leaguer. When I didn’t see it on the grass, I started checking under the cars parked on the street. Nothing there the first time; it must have rolled against a tire and I’d have to crawl along the curb. I was crouched over, looking under the third car, when I heard a voice behind me.
“Jimmy, it rolled into Mrs. McGee’s bushes.”
I raised to my knees and looked around to see Larry, the man from the paper route, standing on the sidewalk. Behind me the guys were screaming, “C’mon, hurry up!” Larry turned slowly, walked toward the bushes, and retrieved the ball. “Here you go,” he said as he held it out to me.

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