Today's prompt was a Japanese gymnast does a back flip off the Green Monster catching a ball.
I have to admit that watching "The Natural" as background noise when writing about baseball was interesting. I had read the original Malamud short story "To Chicago" years ago. It is the story where a young, innocent Roy Hobbs is discovered and on his way to Chicago with a scout to try out for the Cubs. Roy's naiive as, in the original story, he is a Hassidic Jews that has been sheltered in a religious community similar to the Amish that he choses to leave because of his love for baseball and his thoughts as he lies there feeling his life drain from him are questioning whether this is a Divine punishment.
To me, baseball and literature are something that go hand in hand. Whether it's the sad, tragic beauty of Malamud's perspective on the world or the lyrical beauty of self-discovery and transcendence in WP Kinsella's work, there's something about baseball and literature that seems to pair together like fine dining and a good wine.
this particular story doesn't hold a dying candle stub to Malamud's tragic inner journey of questioning whether or not we should forgo the use of Divine gifts, I realized I wanted to build a sweetness into a kid that might cause many of us shudder a bit if we only looked at the external. Tobikuma will have his own hero's journey with Rebecca at his side, so let me introduce him to you today.
Tobikuma had always been a bit of an oddity.
The son of a Japanese mother and American father, he always considered himself American, but his mother raised him as if he would one day go back to Japan to live. He was fluent in Japanese and English but preferred English. He loved baseball, noodles and anime, which were about the only cross-cultural things that appealed to him.
He did appreciate that his parents were all about letting him just be who he was. What he didn’t appreciate was his principal, Mr. Jenkins, acting like he was more than a principal. He acted like a safety cop or something.
He was the only fifth grader at his school that wore Tripp pants with thick chains on them until the principal called a meeting with his parents. While his parents didn’t mind, Mr. Jenkins made an argument about safety. His mother, as expected, deferred to the principal. His father had appealed to him with the so long as Tobi did his work and toed the line, they were good with whatever he wore within reason. Mr. Jenkins made it clear that chains of any kind were not within his definition of reason.
After that, Tobi started wearing skinny black jeans exclusively and decided it was time to dye his hair a new color every month. This month it was magenta and he smiled to himself every time he saw Mr. Jenkins wince on seeing him.
He enjoyed watching women hold their pocketbooks a little tighter or look at him with an edge of fear in their eyes because of how he looked. Particularly in their community that was the center of PC liberal openness and welcoming. If he were prancing around in heels and a dress, people would go out of their way to say, "Hi" or otherwise make it clear they were supportive. But blue hair, chains and black clothing coupled with indifferent silence scared them.
That gave him an edge that made him smile.
Arriving at school on his skateboard with his headphones around his neck so he could still listen to music and still be aware of traffic around him. He wore a helmet when he skated or Mr. Jenkins would confiscate your scooter, skateboard, bike or any other set of wheels you arrived on until you had the proper safety equipment. He could see Mr. Jenkins on the playground “greeting” kids as they arrived.
“Tobi, are you ready for today’s field trip to Fenway?”
Forcing a smile, “Of course. Who wouldn’t?” he said as he kicked up the end of his skateboard to carry it into school.
“Glad to hear it.”
Most of the kids were either incredibly stoked or bored to tears with the idea of a trip to Fenway as part of their Massachusetts history unit. Tobi would have been happier to go on his own terms, but a day out of school was a good day. A day out of school at Fenway was a better day. Since Mr. Shapiro had prepared a lecture for the bus talking about the Royal Rooters and the effect of the Braves and Red Sox on Boston history and it’s local economy, he figured he was good for an easy day since it was probably based on some of the work his father did for the sports program at Boston College.
At the park, they went on the tour with Mr. S interjecting pieces of history within the guide’s patter about things as they worked their way through the park. One thing they were going to get to do this day was go out on the field to touch the left field wall. A photographer was there with a mini tramp set up. The photographer’s assistant would toss a ball at that wall and someone could jump on the mini tramp to look like they were jumping up to make a catch in front of the Green Monster.
Each kid took their turn to put on the white shirt and make the jump. Tobi kept falling back as each kid eagerly pushed ahead. Finally, he was the last one left in his group.
“C’mon kid,” the photographer yelled, “here’s a shirt for you.”
“It’s part of the package.”
“No thanks,” he said again.
“Suit yourself,” the photographer said as he went to position the mini tramp.
“I don’t need that.”
“Seriously. Just throw the ball, I’ll get it.”
“Your photo,” the balding man shrugged.
The assistant nodded at Tobi, who took off towards the wall. As the assistant tossed the ball up, Tobi leapt, planting one foot and one hand on the wall where he landed about halfway up. Easily snagging the ball, he did a back flip as he came down to wild applause from his class mates.
“Wow kid!” the photographer looked shock, “think you could do that again?”
The assistant gave Tobi the signal and he took off as he tossed the ball. Doing a back flip off the wall, he caught the ball and came down on the warning track again.
“Some moves kid. Maybe one day you’ll be playing left field here.”
As the group began to move away, Tobi started his own piece of the tour.
“This part of the field used to have a ten foot incline until 1933 until Tom Yawkey demolished it to how we know it now with park renovations.”
He was surprised that the kids were hanging on his every word.
“Duffy Lewis was so good at being able to play the incline, that it was called ‘Duffy’s Cliff,’ and he made guys like Manny Ramirez look like an amateur out here.”
“Dude, how’d you back flip off the wall back there?”
“I just did,” he said matter of factly.
One of the girls in the group fell into step with him. She was petite and nothing but muscle.
“Tobi,” she shyly said his name.
“Did you ever take gymnastics or anything?”
“Nah. I skate and stuff so you need to learn to do stuff if you want to do certain tricks and things.”
“Are you thinking about being a ball player one day?”
“I never thought about it. I mean, beyond the usual when I play little league. This year I have a chance to make the travel team but, you know, I guess I always figured I’d figure out what I want to do when it comes time to pick a college.”
“I really want to compete in the Olympics some day.”
“That’s right, you just made a state team or something didn’t you.”
“Yeah. It’s a lot of time but it’s really worth it.”
“Other than the Olympics, what are you thinking for the future?”
“I don’t know. I guess if I make the Olympics then I’ll coach or something.”
“What if you don’t make it to the Olympics?”
“I guess I’ll coach or something.”
They both laughed as they walked along a little.
“Seriously, you need to think about what you’d want to do, other than coaching, if the Olympics don’t work out for you.”
As they approached the spot where they started, some of the kids gathered around the machine that had a slide show of the photos taken on the field. The ones of Tobi climbing the wall were incredibly impressive looking.
“You should get one,” Becca said.
“I have the card, my folks can look it up and see if they want one or something.”
“It might be nice if you brought one to your mom. You know, as a surprise.”
He looked again. He really did look like Spiderman climbing the wall.
“I guess,” he said after a minute. “She would think it’s pretty cool.”
“Hey Tobi,” one kid called out, “maybe they should call the wall ‘Tobi’s cliff with the way you climbed it.”
A bunch of kids laughed, but Tobi just shrugged again. He walked up to the photo person and ordered a copy of the photo so he could give it to his mother. He liked that in fifth grade they didn’t have a no gift shop rule like when they were younger.
He also got a bracelet made from the white leather and red stitching of a baseball with the Red Sox logo on it. As they made their way back to the bus, he sat in the seat next to Becca and quietly slipped her the bracelet.
She smiled at him and blushed a little.
“I always wondered, what does Tobikuma mean?”
“It means flying cloud.”
“I like that, it fits you much better than Tobi.”
“Thanks. I like the name Rebecca better than Becca.”
She blushed a little more.
“Maybe I could come by your next baseball game and watch you play left field.”
“I probably won’t try climbing the fence. It is only waist high after all.”
They both laughed.
“So they won’t be renaming the field any time soon?”
“I don’t think they will either.”
They sat in silence for a little bit. When the bus hit a bump in the road, they got thrown together. Tobi took Becca’s hand in his and they both blushed a little.
“I think it’s cool you know so much about Fenway,” she whispered.
“I think it’s cool you want to be in the Olympics. Maybe, if you come to my game, I can come see your gymnastics match or something.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
Back at school, Tobi took care to make sure to strap on his helmet properly before he headed home, he had a new reason to make sure he didn’t damage himself if he fell, especially if Becca was going to be at his game later.