Gather round, kids, and I’ll tell you a real baseball story. 1962 was the hottest summer on record, but that didn’t stop me and my pals, the Everidge Boys, from meeting every day out on the Parker’s spare lot for a game of ball.
There was Tip Neely, our star shortstop, Jason “The Arsonist” Kirby, catching anything in left field, and who could forget Old Cornbeans behind the plate! Oh we were all good, don’t you doubt that, but one of us was the best. His name was Sammy LaRock and he was more than a player…he was a legend.
Sammy could hit anything thrown his way. When outfielders heard him crack a heater, man, they wouldn’t even run for the ball. Sure as day, it was 20 feet past the fence before they could even see it. Fastest son-of-a-bitch you’ve ever seen, our Sammy. Sometimes he’d bunt it just so he could race the ball to first. Never saw him lose that race but maybe once. All this despite the fact that he was a traffic cone. That’s right, Sammy was a traffic cone - two feet tall, made of bright orange plastic. Everyone knew he had a future in the majors.
I can’t tell you the number of times he’d round third base, all of us cheering our heads off about how he was the greatest, most talented traffic cone this side of the capitol. After each homer, he’d come back to the dug-out, bigger than life, saying something like:
“Jesus, gang, for the hundredth time, I’m not a traffic cone. Look at me! I have arms, I have legs, I’m playing baseball - I can’t be a traffic cone!”
But he was a traffic cone and all the Everidge Boys knew it. That didn’t matter to us none - Sammy was as good a player as they come, regardless of whether he was used by local construction workers to redirect cars. We certainly needed him when the Slingshot Gang challenged us to a game for all the marbles!
The Slingshot Gang - now they were a piece of work! Their leader was a class-A jerk named Perry Simons. He struts up to us one day and challenges us to a game of ball. Winner gets Parker’s spare lot, loser has to find somewhere else to play. Sammy would never turn down a challenge like that. Standing at his full height (which reached almost up to our waist), he wobbled himself back and forth in that way that almost seemed like walking forward.
“You’re on, Simons. A week from today. We’ll lick you good.” he said.
“Yeah, that’s right, Simons, you’re gonna get your butt kicked by a traffic cone!” I exclaimed.
Perry Simons looked confused:
“What the heck are you talking about?”
“You heard us!” Old Cornbeans shouted, “Your team’s gonna look so stupid when they get the stuff knocked out of them by a traffic cone!”
Perry turned to Sammy challengingly, but Sammy just stared back with the blank, expressionless, orange, faceless look we all knew so well. With a huff, Perry turned and walked away.
Once he was gone, we cheered! We were the Everidge Boys! Sammy turned to the crew:
“Guys, I get the joke, but cut it out. It’s not funny.”
“What do you mean, Sammy?” we asked, kneeling down so we could address him straight on.
“I’m not a traffic cone. Stop telling people I’m a traffic cone. I’m just not. It’s weird.”
We had to shield our eyes from the sunlight reflecting off his glossy plastic exterior.
“Whatever,” he said, “Let’s get to work!”
With another cheer, we started practicing hard! The Slingshot Gang was good at ball, and it was no secret they wanted the lot all to themselves.
Everything was going great until a few days later when Mr. Parker comes out onto his front porch and starts shouting at us. Mr. Parker was principal during the school year and everyone knew he was a real strict son-of-a-bitch. We figured he had finally had enough and was going to tell us to get off his lawn.
We go meet him by his porch and he leans over to talk to us like it’s a secret.
“Hey, yinz kids. I’ve got something to say about your friend Sammy.”
Sammy wasn’t with us today. Skipping practice wasn’t a big deal for him - he was already the best anyways. Besides, he had no brain or musculature, so there was no point to “staying in shape.”
“I was walking home last night and I saw him by the field, looking real sad. Said yinz kept sayin’ he was a traffic cone or some nonsense. Listen - if you keep calling him a traffic cone, I’m not gonna let you play in my lot anymore.”
We erupted in shouts! This bozo was gonna kick us off the field just because one our players was a traffic cone! IT WASN’T FAIR!
“Mr. Parker, stop! It’s ok!” said Sammy’s familiar voice.
It turns out Sammy had been standing on the street with us the whole time! We had thought he was just a regular traffic cone sitting next to Mr. Parker’s house, but it was actually our friend - boy, we felt silly!
“We have to play, Mr. Parker. I’ll be fine.”
Throwing his hands in the air with an exasperated sigh, Mr. Parker went back inside. We all gave a cheer - our hero, Sammy, had defeated the grown-ups and gotten us our field back! Everidge Boys forever! We all went back to the field. Sammy was quiet for the rest of the day, probably because he didn’t have a mouth or independent thoughts since he was a traffic cone.
The day of the big game was quickly upon us. As expected, it was very close and the whole neighborhood turned out to watch. At the bottom of the 9th, we were down by a run with Sammy next up to bat. As he chose his favorite bat from where it leaned against the fence, passing cars gave him a wide berth or else risked a ticket from local law enforcement.
“Sammy, wait!” we stopped him before he stepped out of our dugout, “We noticed you’ve been a little down lately, so we wanted to do something for you.”
Sammy immediately perked up,
“Wow, guys, what?”
“We know you’re going to do an amazing job, so we went and made sure your parents were here to see it. There they are!”
“Where?” he asked.
“Right there!” We pointed to his parents, who were sitting on the bench behind home plate.
“Guys…” Sammy sighed wearily, “those are two traffic cones.”
“Well, yeah,” The Arsonist said, “they’re your parents.”
“No, those are my parents.”
Sammy tipped his bright orange body over so it was pointing at two random people.
“Sammy, that’s Mr. and Mrs. LaRock,” I said.
“Yes!” shouted Sammy, “I’m Sammy LaRock! Those are my parents!”
“Sammy,” we chuckled knowingly, “Just because you have the same last name doesn’t mean you’re their child. Humans have human babies. You’re a traffic cone.”
“To hell in a hand-basket, SHUT UP! Give me that bat.” Sammy snarled. We quickly backed off and he wobbled out to the plate.
With the bat sticking straight up out of the hole in his “head,” Sammy squared up with the Slingshot Gang’s pitcher. A hush fell over the crowd - everyone knew the whole game would ride on this swing. As was always the case, Sammy levitated into the air and tilted over so the bat was now in swinging position. You could hear a pin drop.
The pitch - a knuckle ball! Sammy “saw” it coming a mile away (we always assumed that Sammy, not having eyes, used some sort of traffic-cone-related sense of proximity to judge where the ball was).
The ball flew! Up…UP…..AAAAAAAND it was LONG GONE! A HOME RUN! THE EVERIDGE BOYS WIN THE GAME! THE EVERIDGE BOYS WIN THE GAME!!THE CROWD WENT WILD!
We stormed the field and lifted Sammy onto our shoulders - it was incredibly easy. Any one of us could have easily held multiple traffic cones, so sharing the weight of one between ten of us was really no problem. We began chanting:
“TRAFFIC CONE! TRAFFIC CONE!”
Sammy was strangely silent and motionless, though that was probably just in his nature as an inanimate object. In the stands, his parents sat watching, assumably overjoyed (though it was hard to tell). Mr. and Mrs. LaRock were also ecstatic - crying and shouting for us to "Put him down!” so they could get a chance to carry him!
That was the most magical summer I ever had. The Everidge Boys got to play in Mr. Parker’s lot until August rolled around, though, strangely, Sammy never played with us again. We always wondered what happened to him, but mostly assumed that, having achieved his life’s purpose of winning the big game, he had returned to his natural state of being an unthinking, unmoving traffic cone who just sat in the street and didn’t worry about baseball.
We asked around to make sure, but all the parents seemed hesitant to talk about Sammy. That is, except for Mr. and Mrs. LaRock, who were strangely angry as they told us he was going to another school district next year. I don’t know how they would have found that out, or if they were telling the truth. Perhaps they were just trying to deal with the existential crisis of befriending a traffic cone who gained the ability to think, speak, and play baseball only to lose it again.
All I know is, nearly 20 years later, me and some of the Everidge Boys met up for a reunion of sorts at a local bar. We’re laughing, having a good time when who should appear on the television but old Sammy! He was playing for the Chicago Cubs! Imagine that! Our Sammy - the first traffic cone in the Major Leagues. We eagerly told the bartender:
“Hey, we know that guy! That guy playing in the Cubs game, that’s our friend Sammy!”
The bartender looked at us with jealousy and said:
“Umm that’s the front window. They’re doing construction outside. Do you want me to turn on the Cubs game? The TV’s over here.”
Some summers you never forget.