“Hey, that’s home!” a fat kid yelled from the other end of the room. “Can you sit somewhere else?” He looked like he was almost Bar Mitzvah, and I wondered how he got away with skipping Mincha. His white shirt was half tucked in and his shoelaces were untied.
“Uh, sure,” I said, and closed my sefer. I thought I’d be able to watch safely from a distance, but apparently I was in their way.
A short and skinny redhead shouted that he didn’t want Yudi on his team. A tall boy, who until then had seemed focused on his own game of kugelach, got up quietly and walked out. Above us, I could hear the floor boards creaking in unison with “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh,” and I thought of shaleshudes. Mayonnaisey tuna salad floated by inside my mind and somehow got stuck there. I wasn’t a regular here, only dropped in becuase my editor called me into his office and said he wanted a piece on bottlecap baseball.
“Bottlecap baseball?” I asked.
“Shtiebel baseball, whatever,” he said. “You know the game — you flick the soda caps?”
I knew the game.
“Find out how the new Pepsi bottlecap design is affecting game play,” he said.
I figured shaleshudes would be the best time to catch a live game, so I’d stopped into this dinky shul at the corner – “Eisenman’s,” everyone called it, although it probably had a real name you could make out a check to — and settled into a chair in the downstairs social hall.
There was a small kitchen area off to the side, with a few half-eaten plastic plates of chulent — leftovers from the morning kiddush, I presumed — piled high in the trashcan. The rest of the space was wide open, aside from three metal beams down the center.
I got up and walked over to the fat kid at the other end of the hall.
“Hey, listen, can I talk to you for a minute? What’s your name?”
“You guys playing baseball here?”
“Yeah. Uh, I need to go. They’re choosing teams.”
“Well, I hear there’s a new bottlecap on the market now. How’s it affecting your playing strategy?”
“Are you a pedophile?”
“No. No. Ha ha. Actually, I work for a newspaper, and we’re doing a piece on this.”
“Ha! On bottlecap baseball?” His face brightened. “Cool.”
The place got a little quieter and Dovid turned around. “What team am I on?”
“Hitting,” came the response.
Dovid went to speak to another kid, who then walked over with him to where I was sitting.
“This is Yossi.”
“Hi, Yossi. I’m Mr. Dicker. I report for–”
“I told him already. Yossi’s the best player here. You could talk to both of us when we’re not up.”
Yossi smiled. “What’s going on?”
He was a little shorter than Dovid, but looked more athletic. I asked him about the new Pepsi cap.
“Well, you know, it’s harder and smaller, which some guys think will make a difference. Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Hitting, definitely not. I mean, you just smack it with your hand, you know? Pitching, though, it’s a tiny bit faster on the fastball. Goes in real hard. You could really break something with it though, so you have to be careful at home. I tried to dent the metal door upstairs in the back of the shul, but I couldn’t.”
Dovid piped in here. “There are a few dents in it. Shloime Becher, see him–” he nodded at a skinny kid playing first base. “His brother Yankie, who’s in high school, said there was a kid here when he was our age who put those dents in it.”
“Yankie’s a liar,” Yossi cut in. “I tried for a half hour after kiddush last week and I couldn’t do anything.”
“I’m just saying-”
“Anyhow, the main thing is the curve, and the change-up.”
“You can throw a change-up?” I asked.
Dovid cut in. “I can too. It’s shmicks.”
“Wow. Not bad, I want to see that,” I said.
“I’ll do one, ok?” Yossi said. “I’ll look at you before I throw it.”
“Anyhow, the curve is worse with the new cap. Let me show you.” He walked over to the fridge and pulled off a Pepsi cap leaving the bottle open. He showed it to me together with a regular white one.
“You get much less drag with it because it’s heavier and thinner. There’s not enough to get a good throw in.”
“You want to hear about Shmuel Duvid?” Dovid asked me.
“Don’t tell him,” Yossi said. “It’s not nice. It’s loshenhora.”
Dovid was too excited. “Shmuel Duvid was a Chassidishe kid who used to daven here, and he taught us all how to throw the curve ball. He was, like, a big vilde chaya.”
“What? His father called him that in front of all of us! And Mr. Greenspan called him a maniac!”
“So Shmuel Duvid once grabbed the cake plate at kiddush and it fell on the floor. And his father yelled at him and pulled him away from the table, and made him sit at the door of the shul. But when he was leaving, he took a cap off the table, and he shot it all the way from the chair and curved it around the Rav’s head and it hit his father in the face. And his father went crazy and they never came back here.”
I must have had the wrong expression on my face, because Dovid tried to clear it up.
“No, like, cause his father couldn’t see him, so he kept on saying it wasn’t him. But everyone knew.”
I laughed. “That’s a pretty crazy story.”
“What’s the matter with you?” Yossi said to Dovid, “Can’t you keep your mouth shut ever? I’m going to play baseball.”
I watched them play for a little. Yossi did throw an awesome change-up, but he didn’t look at me first. I left after a few minutes to wash before it got totally dark. As I was leaving, Yossi ran over to me and asked me not to print the story about Shmuel Duvid, just “the baseball stuff.”
“Nu, nu,” I said, motioning with my hands and nodding. What a sweet kid. Too bad loyalty to 12-year-olds doesn’t give you business desk promotions.
Cross-posted on Unpious.com