Little bow-legged Tommy slides into third. He was really pushing it, but it wasn’t a close play. Everyone else on the team gets it right. They don’t try to stretch a single into a double. They hold up when they were supposed to.
Everyone but Smalls.
Smalls’ right leg bounces off second and into the air with his momentum. His leg bumps directly into the glove of the second baseman. The FNG blew it again. He didn’t even know who “The Babe” was. Of course he couldn’t slide properly.
Smalls meekly limps back to the dugout like he’s jogging a ball from the outfield to the pitcher. He rubs his right leg from the tag, never taught by a father to, “shake it off.” Ham slaps him with his mitt. “No more s’mores. We can play ball with eight.” Squints caps this off with, “FOR-EH-VER.”
This ends the Sandlot kids’ rally. The close play swings momentum back to the upper-middle-class kids in their letterman’s jackets. The bourgeoisie team in their clean white uniforms, who just moments before were stuck in a seemingly never-ending inning, would never have to see Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez hit a towering homer to cap it all off.
Kenny is shaken. How can he maintain his steely reserve when his teammates aren’t thinking through their base running? He starts leaving pitches up in the zone. He loses some heat on his fastball.
Benny takes his hat back from Smalls. He let him keep the glove. It was old; he was amazed he ever managed to catch anything in there. He had to do all the work for Smalls when drilling through pop flies. Smalls starts wearing his trout hat again.
Bertram has no win to celebrate, no reason to steal “Big Chief.” Most importantly, there’s no need to disinfect the Tilt-a-Whirl. It just spins. Other people have a good time. Bertram finds other reasons to spiral into a life of degeneracy.
Yeah Yeah’s nervous tick worsens to the point where he can’t even start sentences.
Benny never meets the apparition of Babe Ruth. He never opens the new PF Flyers. Instead, he returns them and uses the money on baseball cards as an investment in his future. We all know how that turned out for us.
Squints doesn’t woo Wendy. He tries his drowning stunt again, this time wearing a wig to get in past the other lifeguards. Out of breath, he bobs up and looks at the lifeguard stand. She isn’t even fazed. From her perch, she saw his teeth a block-and-a-half away when he was trying to convince himself that the stunt was a good idea.
Small’s “new dad” never loses his prized autographed Babe Ruth ball. They don’t bond. He gets shipped back to the mid-west. He moves in with his grandmother on his “real” dad’s side. She can’t restrain herself from telling him stories of what an excellent athlete his father was.
Smalls makes an Erector Set effigy of Benny. Sometimes he swears it whispers, “Pickle.” What could’ve been. Really, the biggest one ever. His grandmother catches him arguing with Erector-Benny, and then he’s off to boarding school. He works for NASA, moves to Florida. The giant bill of his trout hat prevents him from seeing properly and he gets a reputation for pressing the wrong buttons. Years later, we find out it was Smalls who crashed the Mars Climate Orbiter over by using meters instead of feet. All because he never hit his first homerun.
Mr. Myrtle’s fence never falls, alerting neighbors to his hoarding. He continues to build his collection of dolls with arrows through their eyes. The Beast passes from boredom, letting the gophers and moles get out of control. They start burrowing under houses, killing everybody’s bushes and well as their property values.
Benny “The Jet” never dons the number three. That goes to Steve Sax (1982-1988) and then Jeff Hamilton (1988-1991). He doesn’t steal home, and his friend doesn’t announce his games. There are no games. Instead, he gets kicked out of his girlfriend’s two-bedroom ranch style rental for playing hours of RBI baseball and punching the TV until the center of the screen turns a magnetic purple.
It’s a bleak future to be sure, and one that was thankfully avoided.
All because Blue kicked the call at second on that fateful summer day.