- Opening Ceremonies
An astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, stood on the pitcher's mound. He gave a speech—I don't remember the details—but I imagine there was talk of Saturn V rockets, and lunar orbiters, and landing modules, and one small step for man. Moon rocks, moon dust, craters, scant gravity. Or maybe he wasn't Buzz Aldrin at all. Maybe he was the astronaut who snuck a golf ball and driver into space and hit a half-mile tee shot, or could be farther.
I was standing with my Youth League team near the first base dugout, all of us weary from the ten-block parade, dressed in our green jerseys, clean white pants, green stirrups, new black cleats. I was dreaming of equipment—black catcher's mask, orange shin guards, black chest protector—all the tools of ignorance, the tools of my chosen trade, catcher, mythic strongman crouched behind a swinging bat, waiting to catch a speeding projectile, to stop it with my body if need be, like my father had taught me. I was well trained in the art of falling, of diving, of throwing to second, of blocking home plate with my body, hoping, even, for a base path collision with an oncoming runner, the ball landing in my glove just in time to make the out before the fading of consciousness, and when I came to, I would pull the ball from my glove with my free hand and hold it high in the air, having never dropped it, not even after taking the knockout blow, taking it for the team, taking it like a man.
Space had lost its glory. When my father was a child the race was on, Soviets versus Americans, good against evil. The president said we'd go to the moon, and Mars couldn't be that far off, either. Neighborhood children climbed onto rooftops and watched the procession of the planets in the night sky, and for a few years, a decade or so, they did not seem so far away. Everything was attainable, the thick mist forests of Venus, the retrograde [End Page 125] spin of Neptune around its axis, the distant icy ball of Pluto, the epochs star to star. Now space was serviced by shuttles. Space had become routine, a trip to the convenience store for milk and bread, and would stay that way until a few months later, when my fourth-grade teacher would pull me aside at the science fair, away from my terrariums full of frogs, and tell me that the shuttle Challenger, its payload bearing a schoolteacher, had exploded upon liftoff. For several days charred remnants would fall from the sky along the Florida coast where we lived.
But for now the men of my father's generation stood at attention, rapt with wonder in the presence of this middle-aged man in a sport coat, and we held back our own worship until two minor league ballplayers, recent spring training castoffs from the Montreal Expos organization, settled onto mound and catcher's box and threw the new season's ceremonial first pitch. We cheered, we cheered, and then one of my teammates, son of a county judge and so by nurture given to seeing through things, leaned across us, got our attention, and said, "Who the hell are those guys?"
None of us knew. We knelt and dug up handfuls of the orange red clay with our hands and rubbed it onto our pants so we looked like we had been diving for line drives or sliding into third. Pockets of yellow and purple and black—jerseys of every color—drifted past us and into the backs of station wagons, buses, the beds of pickup trucks. My teammates, soon they left, too.
I walked with my father toward the parking lot, to his big white air-conditioning repair van. The passenger seat was piled high with blueprints, and he moved them to make room for me.
"I saw those men land on the moon," he said. "On television. That night I went outside and stared up at the moon for a long...