Nearly every weekend when I was younger, my dad and I used to ride our bikes to the park just down from our house. The sound of my training wheels grinding against the asphalt was like TV static echoing off of the houses. My dad would ride circles around me, large swooping circles executed with such grace, then he would ride up alongside me, zig-zagging to maintain balance while he explained his plan for the rest of the afternoon. Most proposals concluded with; "do you think you'll have the legs to ride down and grab some ice cream after we're done?" to which I would nod vigorously, then pedal with equal vigor to keep up as he zoomed off and to return to his roadway gymnastics; the gray bag on his back swaying to and fro; baseball bats protruding from the top like baguettes; water bottles swinging from the sides like the rods on a wind chime.
After I turned six, my dad signed me up for tee-ball. We were the Panthers, and we donned sleek, black shirts with any number of our choosing on our back; any two-digit number that is. I chose number 61. I'm not sure why. Coincidentally, our team would practice at the same park that my dad and I had always played at, so I was now riding with my dad to the park in my very official uniform, which I wore with the utmost of pride. After all, I was in the big-leagues now, and it was only a matter of time now before I was drafted into the MLB. Of course I would lead my team to the championships, and I'd probably hit the game-winning home run. Surely.
Occasionally, we would get to travel to other parks in nearby neighborhoods to play against other teams—stepping-stones on my path to stardom. There were the Land Sharks in navy blue, the Crocodiles in green, and the Brown Bears in... brown. These other parks were far enough away that we had to take my dad's car, so it was my responsibility to keep track of the gray bag, which I clutched anxiously from the back seat. He would always give me some kind of pep-talk in the car right as we pulled in.
"Hey bud, you know how everybody calls those little white lights in the sky "stars"? Well, truth is, and not many people know this, but they're actually baseballs. Yep, they're baseballs that other players hit so hard that they shot right into space, and now they're all just floating around up there. Floating trophies. And you know all of the dark spots on the moon? You know, all the craters? Well, those are all there because the very best players in the world smacked the ball so stinking hard that the ball crashed right into the moon. That's going to be you some day, bud. Swing for the sky, Alex. Smash that ball into space. Knock the moon right out of the sky."
"Did you ever hit the moon, daddy?" I'd once asked.
He shook his head. "Your grandpa put a big ol' hole in the moon when he was younger, but your dad never quite got there. But I can see it in you, you're going to put an even bigger hole in the moon than grandpa, I just know it."
On my eighth birthday, my dad gave me the baseball bat that his dad had gifted him after he graduated from high school. He told me about how he would to go to the batting cages when he was in college, and how he'd bring this bat with him and spend hours smacking a near endless stream of balls into the netting, and with each satisfying thwack!, his stress would gradually trickle away. His face lit up as he reminisced, his eyes seemed watery. Even though the bat was much too big for me–too heavy, too long–I loved it more than anything, and I practiced with it anyway.
My dad passed away about a month later. Cancer.
I often sat in my bed at night just holding the bat. He lived on through the bat. I could hear his voice, see his face, taste the ice cream. I imagined his younger self at the batting cages, launching ball after ball into the netting. That was his medicine, and now this was my medicine. I displayed the bat prominently everywhere I lived: beside my bed in my bedroom, on the wall above my bed in my dorm, and now on the table next to my recliner in my apartment. I couldn't bring myself to use it. I didn't want to damage it, tarnish what I had left of him. But now... panting on all fours, darkness looming... Dad, I need your strength.
"Swing for the sky, Alex."