Niagara Gazette

February 2, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: No shadows in this Groundhog Day story

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Shadowers — At first light today, a wriggling rodent saw the Capitol’s shadow and forecast six more weeks of partisan bickering.

That was pretty much it for Groundhog Day until a movie fantasized that it can be rewound. So each year we look back and calculate which day bears repeating.

This year’s winner, June 9, 2012.

On enhanced grandparent duty while our son-in-law served overseas, we’d pilgrimaged to the village of Groton for grandson Clark’s final baseball game.

Rain drummed on our daughter’s tin awnings but Grotonaires are a hardy lot. The field was soft, the drizzle light. It was Clark’s turn to pitch. Last start he’d been replaced for walking too many batters, but this time he finished his two-inning stint with five strikeouts and a 7-3 lead.

Doug’s head was partly 50 miles away, where Grand Island was playing a state semi-final. But he snapped to attention when Clark, playing third, slapped the tag on an unwary base-runner, a move so deft that the umpire missed it, but the base coach, soul of fairness, said “Nah, out by a mile.” Game over.

As we slogged to the car, Doug’s sweatpants vibrated. It was Jonah Bronstein, Gazette sports editor. Grand Island had won and would play in the finals in one hour. “If you want to go …” said Jonah. “Hey, Clark, wanna’ go to a state final?” Doug asked. “Awesome,” said Clark. We scraped off a layer of mud, grabbed Groton Youth Baseball’s last two hot dogs and hurried down Route 38, Clark navigating by road map, reaching our seats as the game’s second batter stepped in.

Grand Island didn’t quite win. After two innings, Clark assigned himself shagger of foul balls. As the game ended, Doug said, “wait here while I interview folks,” but on the field, he sensed Clark right beside him and couldn’t bear to send him away. Viking Coach Dean Santorio gave him a game-scuffed ball. Doug politely introduced Clark to a young Buffalo News reporter, who asked, “Do you play?” Clark, 9, recited his morning exploits. The reporter retrieved his notebook and jotted them down.

There remained matters of eating and reporting to the Gazette. Doug had neither laptop nor skills to use one. Clark asked to eat at a McDonald’s he’d spotted en route. Doug ordered enough to get three bags, dissected them, and wrote the game, in pencil, inside them.

He then called Jonah and dictated it, drawing an admiring throng, who wondered if he was phoning in race results. (The Belmont had just finished; Polly had two of the top three.) “That,” he told Clark, “is how Grand-dad worked 64 years ago.”

Heading home, they paused at a miniature golf course Clark had spotted inbound. Clark won, 40 to 41, but his hand turned blue when he retrieved a ball from a water hazard, next to a sign warning, “Do not retrieve ball from hazard, your hand will turn blue.”

More than 13 hours had elapsed since they’d left the house, certain of a rainout. “How’d it go?” his Mom asked.

“Awesome,” said Clark. “We played miniature golf.”

Come visit. The blue has faded. We kept the McDonald’s bags.

Polly and DougE-mail