The Field of Love
Growing up in a county that's ninety-nine percent white, in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, while being a half Native American with long black hair and dark skin, hasn't been easy for Sammy. Ever since he started grade school, no matter what he did to be helpful to fellow classmates, there has been from the beginning one constant: Brent Sloan. On the very first day, during Sammy's first school recess, Brent was there, like a bad penny, showing up again and again to cause as many problems for Sammy as he could.
It wasn't living in what is known as hillbilly country that caused Sammy so much heartburn, for most of the people who lived there had the attitude of leave me alone and I leave you alone. They are the type of people that would give you the shirt off their back to help a person in need, but also the type that would take the law into their own hands if you wronged them. Even so, like on the hit TV show 'Justified', there are as well, the bad seeds, the criminal element, and the certifiably insane. What bothered Sammy so much was that his classmates, like most children in schools across the country, tended to follow the lead of others. Those others usually being the biggest, the loudest, and the most vicious. Most kids usually followed or ignored these bullies for self-preservation. Until Sammy decided to give baseball a try, at Coach Parker's encouragement a few weeks ago, his nemesis had most of Sammy's classmates either against him or ignoring him.
For most of Sammy's first ten years in the Letcher County School system, Sammy kept to himself without complaint, but it hurt. It hurt him deeply. In the beginning, he wondered why he was treated differently than others. When he was in the second grade, he came home one afternoon in tears. His father sat him down and explained people's prejudices. How they are preconceived opinions and are passed down from generation to generation. Sammy was also told bullies, like Brent Sloan, are usually cowards and have the need for public acceptance. In other words, they are insecure. His father asked him to ignore the taunts and names, but he should not take any physical abuse from anyone. The very next day he stood up in defiance to Brent's threat of a beating and was never physically threatened by anyone again, until today.
However, Sammy remained a kind hearted soul and refused to allow his treatment to change who he was; and in spite of his ostracization, he was academically near the top of his class. It wasn't because he was the smartest. He was the hardest worker. He poured everything he had into his school work, always gave one hundred and ten percent in all he attempted.
Because of his hard work and attention to details, he was well liked by his teachers. Most of them through the years knew of his treatment and respected the way he faced it. When Coach Parker first approached him about baseball, Sammy wasn't sure he wanted to participate. He played in the summer little league; but even then, he was still given the cold shoulder. Coach Parker and later that night, his father, convinced him he shouldn't allow other people to decide what he enjoyed and wanted to do; which lead to his first high school home run with the added bonus of a trip to the emergency room and an overnight stay in the hospital.
There was a knock on the door to the room Sammy had been transferred to from the ER. Before Sammy or Billy could answer, Coach Parker walked in. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything. I'm Dale Parker, Sammy's baseball coach."
Billy stood and shook Dale's hand. "Thanks for calling me at work and informing me about Sammy's injuries."
"Not a problem sir. I would have done the same for any of my players, but especially for the game hero." Dale said and smiled at Sammy.
"Well, you were correct in your assessment of his injuries. The doctor said he didn't think he had a concussion and he'll probably be released tomorrow." Billy said as he sat down and offered the other chair to the coach.
"That's good news indeed, but I'll stand if you don't mind. I can only stay for a minute as there's a few boys out in the waiting room wanting to see Sammy to make sure for themselves he's okay." Dale said, as he walked over to Sammy's bed.
"Sammy, you did real well today and I don't just mean that homer. You're a smart baseball player and understand the game a lot better than most men twice your age. Continue to improve and there's no limit to how good you could be."
Slightly embarrassed, Sammy made eye contact with Coach Parker. "Thanks coach. That means a lot coming from you. It feels good to know you notice and took the time to come by here to check on me."
Suppressing a laugh, the coach said. "I'm not the only one, Sammy. There's a few waiting to see you. So, if you will excuse me, I'll let a few come up and visit for a couple of minutes. If that's okay with you, Mr. Day?"
"Please call me Billy. And if Sammy's up for it, I'm fine with a few at a time visiting." Billy said as he stood and shook the coach's hand.
"I'm cool with it, Dad." Sammy said, feeling a little uneasy with the attention.
Sammy was surprised with the number of teammates who came to visit him. What really thrilled and elated him was when James Walker and Mike, the boy he woke up being held by, walked in.
Sammy's face beamed with a smile that couldn't be contained as he took in Mike's appearance. "Wow! Hi."
Both James and Mike smiled and answered at the same time. "Hi." Then Mike turned serious and quickly asked, "How're you doing? You had me, I mean us, worried back at school."
Sammy's blush deepened at Mike's concern. "Yeah, I'm good. I have to stay tonight, but I'll probably get to go home tomorrow sometime."
"I see you met my little brother." James said as he ruffled Mike's hair.
Sammy stole a glance at Mike before he turned back to James. "Yeah, kind of. We've never been introduced though." Sammy smiled and waited for James to do the honors.
"Well then," James started and bowed. "Allow me to introduce you to my younger sibling, Michael James Walker. Mike, this is my teammate and today's hero, the bloodied victim of a cowardly attack, Samuel Taima Day." James laughed and said, "Don't ask me what Taima means. I have no idea. You'll have to ask Sammy that question."
Sammy's face flushed even deeper. Sammy answered the unasked question, barely above a whisper. "Thunder. It means Thunder."
"Cool. What language is it?" Mike asked.
"Indian. I'm not certain which tribe, but I've been told my mother was a full blooded Native American. I pretty much feel like I'm one of all the tribes." Sammy shrugged.
"I for one, think that's amazing." Mike said smiling.
Sammy thought Mike was being honest and felt it showed with the twinkle in his eyes. He had only met Mike today, but something was there he couldn't explain. Having Mike around made him feel good and warm inside.
"Well, I hate to break up this awesome conversation, but we were told not to stay more than a couple of minutes." James said.
"Yeah, we should go and let you get some rest. Plus, it's getting late and I still have some homework to finish tonight. I'm glad you weren't hurt worse than you were. I just wish someone would have stopped it from happening at all." Mike said the last part with sadness showing in his voice.
"I don't think anyone could have stopped it, to be honest. It happened so fast I didn't even know what was happening." Sammy smiled. "Thank you for helping. Evan could have hurt me pretty badly since I was out of it, hitting my head and all."
"Not a problem." Mike said bumping fists with Sammy.
"Yeah, see you at practice man." James added, bumping fists with Sammy as well before he pulled Mike along with him towards the door. Mike looked over his shoulder at Sammy and gave a weak wave and smiled.
Billy Day stayed in the private room with Sammy overnight and they both awoke extremely hungry. "I don't know about you son, but I could eat the south end of a northbound cow this morning." Billy laughed at his own joke.
Sammy chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, me too, Dad."
After breakfast and an early lunch, the doctor examined Sammy and released him with general instructions to take it easy for a day or two, and to immediately report any nausea or extreme headaches. Since there was no evidence of a concussion, he was allowed to return to baseball activities; which made Sammy as happy as a tick on a fat and lazy Tennessee hound dog.
Sammy suffered through a semi-boring day at home with nothing on TV worth watching. He decided to read a little of his English assignment, 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. He wasn't a fan of living in the past, but felt if you didn't learn from the past you were doomed to repeat it.
Sammy's dad stopped at Little Caesar on the way home and they enjoyed pizza for dinner. After dinner, Billy and Sammy sat in the living room watching the University of Kentucky play basketball in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Win or lose in this tournament, Kentucky was assured to make the cut to be in the national tournament.
Kentucky was undefeated and had been ranked number one in every pre-season and seasonal polls. If they won out, including the National Tournament, they would end up with forty wins without a loss. The last time a team, Indiana, went undefeated was back in the seventies. Up by twenty-three over Arkansas with only two and a half minutes to go, clearly UK would be playing another game in the single elimination tournament.
Sammy stood. "Kentucky has this one won, I think I'll turn in. I have practice after school tomorrow, so I'll be late getting home." He leaned over and hugged his dad good-night. "Love you."
"Love you, too, son. Sweet dreams." Billy said as he watched his son walk away.
The next day at school was a Friday and went slowly for Sammy. He wanted to be on the field playing the game he loved so much, but that wasn't why it moved slower than a turtle on a lazy stroll. As much as he searched between classes and at lunch, he never saw Mike or James for that matter. Stranger still, Tony wasn't in any of the classes they had together either.
James was a senior and they ran in different circles and on opposite ends of the school building. As for Mike, he hadn't thought to ask Mike what grade he was in Wednesday night at the hospital. And Tony, well Sammy hoped he was okay, but he figured it had something to do with his brother, Evan.
So with a couple of mysteries and no answers, Sammy was biting at the bit for this afternoon's baseball practice. Both James and Tony should be there and some answers might be obtained.
It was a bright sunny day in early March which promised beautiful days to come, but the old saying was, in like a lamb, out like a lion. Only time would tell if that tale was true this year. Sammy had finished warm-ups and was leaning against the side fence down the third base side. He was staring up into the cloudless sky watching a couple of chicken hawks circling over what he figured was a dead animal up on the hill, in back of the left field fence.
He wasn't thinking of the hawks as much as he was thinking about Mike. James had shown up for practice, but he hadn't seen Mike with him. Also, Tony wasn't there either. That bothered Sammy and worried him more. Evan had a bad temper, Sammy knew well, having been on the wrong end of it just a couple of days ago. He still wasn't sure what he had done to piss Tony's brother off so much. Evan had looked mad at Tony too, but what for, he didn't know.
Yeah, Tony and he had been closer since baseball practice started a couple of weeks ago, but that was only at school and at baseball related activities. They didn't phone or text any. They didn't eat lunch at the same table. He had noticed Tony was a touchy-feely type person. Maybe Evan had the wrong idea about them. That would explain Evan calling him a faggot.
"Hey Taima." Mike said moving up behind Sammy on the other side of the fence.
Startled from his thoughts, Sammy jumped at the voice, turned and smiled. "Hi yourself. I'm surprised you remembered."
"What? That I remembered where the baseball field was?" Mike grinned.
"Na, my middle name." Sammy said, then lightly punched Mike on the shoulder.
Rubbing his shoulder like he had been hit hard, Mike shook his head. "Oh I don't think I'll ever forget a name like thunder. The thunder used to scare me when I was a little kid."
"Speaking of age, kind of, what grade you in now?" Sammy asked.
Speaking in a southern belle tone, Mike said, "Why sir, you shouldn't ask a guy's age." And then switching to an Irish accent. "Dontcha know?"
Sammy laughed at Mike's antics. "I just hadn't seen you today at school, in fact, I hadn't noticed you at all until the other day."
Mike smiled. "I'm a freshman. There are three years difference between James and me."
"Okay, that explains a lot. What class you have sixth period allows you to be out here?"
"I'm an office aid. Actually, I hate to run, but I have a note for Coach Parker. Maybe when school lets out I can catch you for a little bit before James and I head home after practice."
Sammy nodded his understanding. "Sure, I look forward to it." They bumped fists and Mike took off towards the coach.
The assistant coach split the team into outfielders and infielders. He hit grounders to the infielders, plus practiced situational plays, while Coach Parker hit fly balls to the outfielders. It was a little different with Tony not there, but Scott Williams did well at second base. When the coaches were satisfied with the defense, each boy took his turn at bat.
After everyone had had their turn, the coach called the team into the dugout. "Boys, you probably haven't heard yet, but you may have noticed Tony Thompson hasn't been in school the last couple of days. He was found last night in the woods behind his house and was taken to the hospital. If anyone knows anything about this, please see me after practice." He paused gauging the reaction of the team and what he saw was shock. "Our next game is Monday. The school will dismiss sixth period and allow the student body to watch us play Fleming-Neon. So, be sure to inform your parent of the early start time, in case they want to attend."
As soon as the team meeting broke up, Sammy asked the coach if he could speak with him. "Coach, I don't know anything that happened at Tony's. I was at home all day yesterday after I was released from the hospital, but I can't help but wonder with the way his brother was acting the other day, if it might be connected in some way."
"I do too, Sammy. I do too."