It is a hot mid-summer day and we are all gathered in the big open field behind the school. My friends and I are hanging onto the chain-link fence watching another game of adults playing a round of baseball in the far corner of the field away from the school.
It is not much of a baseball field. The ground is a bare grey-coloured dusty clay that has dried up in the summer heat. This is a precious period in the summer when all the adults and teenagers take advantage of the seldom-used backfield of the school.
When it rains, the grey clay turns into a muddy, slippery and slimy mess which is difficult to walk on. When it is wet, the clay sticks to your shoes in heavy globs that weigh down your feet. The little bit of grass that grows in the infield shows as tufts of green and the outfield is filled with tall grass, fully grown green weeds and dandelions.
The school sits on the other side of the field and it is a benchmark for the strongest players who take up the bat. Everyone knows that whoever hits the walls of the brown-coloured slat-covered school scores a definite home run. Few seldom do achieve this feat and anyone that does is held in great esteem for their accomplishment.
The field is dotted with players taking up random positions to cover the infield and outfield. There is no ordered players’ list and the only positions that are certain are for the four bases and the pitcher. Of course the number of field players is determined by the number of available baseball gloves.
Equipment was always hard to come by and half the players brought their own gloves and after every inning, players exchanged them with the opposing team while others lined up to bat. Most of the time the bat was a battered, dented pock-marked piece of aluminum. The thing was that in Attawapiskat that bat would have served a 100 purposes as well as being used for baseball.
When my friends and I were not behind the chain-link fence, we did our best to find the best seats. Our first choice was always to climb the 20-foot high batters’ box that surrounded the home plate and we could watch the game from high above. If we worked up the nerve to climb the high fencing and ignored the warnings from adults we were able to lie on our stomachs and watch the game from an overhead view. This never lasted long as the grownups did not really appreciate their audience dangling above their heads. They were also worried that we would fall and hurt ourselves and that would interrupt their game.
Our second perch was the burned-out wreckage of an abandoned excavator. It sat just off of the right field and it provided a good vantage-point to watch the game. The rusted remains of the excavator was the remnants of a late-night fire that had burned down one of the town’s large heavy-equipment garages. The building burned and the fire also consumed the old John Deere excavator. The long heavy-lifting arm acted as our multileveled seating and the rusted and charred remains of wires, cables and hoses provided enough grasping points to help us climb every corner of the old piece of machinery.
It felt good to watch a gathering of people from the community in a game of baseball. Younger athletic teenagers tried their best to throw the fastest pitch. They competed for the hardest swings of the bat or the most dramatic catches. The older players brought with them a slow, steady and strong presence. Most of these men were the traditional types that were more comfortable living on the land but still found time for and had a passion for baseball. Batting order was set for the older more-experienced men to go first and then the younger boys got their turn. Even though the field players were disorganized there was a hierarchy that was followed with the older players taking the infield and the younger faster boys taking the outfield.
No one ever really kept tabs on who won or lost a game. Every game, players were mixed into new groups and no one followed which team was the best or worst. Players were judged on who was the strongest and fastest or who happened to have a good glove at the time. If you at least had a glove, no matter how bad a player you were, you were an important part of the team.
That wonderful field for baseball dreams is gone now. The right field was filled by the new Vezina Secondary School extension and the infield is now where the new Reg Louttit Sports Complex is located. The left field has disappeared with the addition of portable units that make up the new elementary school and the old brown homerun wall of the school now sits abandoned. That school, the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School, has acquired some fame nationally as it has been closed for several years due to oil contamination. The community is fighting to convince the federal government to live up to its promise and build a new school for the children.
I enjoy remembering that lumpy old field. All the sights and sounds come back in my dreams of those days. The game play never really mattered to us. It was more about spending time as a group on a hot summer day in the middle of the mushkeg with some focus and intent that took us all away to some baseball fantasy land. We may not have had much but at the very least we had our field of dreams.