The Absurdity of Root Beer Barrels

I was about 8 years old and felt very jittery about our first little league opponent: Weiler’s Garage. They wore green jerseys with yellow pinstripes on their baseball pants, and green was the color of many gigantic things, such as The Incredible Hulk and Jolly the Green Giant.

Most of the players on that team also lived up in the mountain, and we all heard rumors about what went on there. People shot each other. Criminals hid at the shadowy ends of sinister looking driveways. Some of the mountain inhabitants even smoked unfiltered cigarettes and drank Budweiser.

We pulled into the small park surrounded by woods. Our team emerged from various vehicles and walked toward the ball field – our orange jerseys and hats made us look like miniature flames darting through the grass, threatening to engulf the entire mountain.

But our team sponsor, emblazoned on our shirts, instilled less fear: Lengacher’s Cheese. We were the quaint little cheese shop battling the giant, green monster that was Weiler’s Garage: what else could we expect but carnage?

I imagined the little eight and nine year olds of Weiler’s Garage showing up having just changed the oil in their tractors, grease and tobacco juice soiling their faces, hands calloused from turning wrenches. Meanwhile, my family lived on a farm that we didn’t even work, and the only thing I did was read book – my hands didn’t know what a callous felt like, at least not from the inside.

With astonishment I watched the formidable players of Weiler’s Garage arrive at their home field – they were kids, dressed just like us. Their shirts wouldn’t tuck in right and the wide brims of their hats made you wonder if perhaps their skulls had been removed, and they needed extra large ball caps to fit over all the gauze.

* * * * *

I pitched that game with three pitches: fastball, change-up (actually no different from the fastball) and a curve that spun and spun but never curved.

Only three batters in, I found myself in a predicament: a girl came up to bat, the very girl I had a crush on at the time. She had short black hair, and I’m pretty sure I had written her name, Ashley, in pen on the inside sole of my high-tops.

My problem was this: if she hit the ball, I would be humiliated. If I struck her out, she wouldn’t like me anymore. Confused, I reached back, pulled out my signature non-curving curve ball, and threw it as hard as I could. This is when I should mention two things: I was left-handed and she was a right-handed batter. Oh, and this: for the first time ever, the pitch curved.

At her.

In fact, I hit her with the pitch, right in the knuckles. She dropped her bat and looked at her hands as if she held an exotic butterfly of pain never seen before in the wild. Then a Weiler’s Garage dad (also surprisingly normal looking) walked her to one of the cars, glaring at me over his shoulder. Then she was gone, and I was left on the mound, my fiery orange shirt wrapping me in flames.

* * * * *

Ashley showed up to school the next day with two of her fingers in a splint. Apparently I had broken them, something which brought me not a little fame for a few short hours that day at Salisbury Elementary School. The girls glared at me. The boys stared in awe.

“He threw the ball so hard it broke her bones,” they murmured.

We started “going steady” shortly after that – apparently my curve ball had that affect on the ladies. I bought her a small toy and a jar of root beer barrels at my aunt’s candy stand for Christmas. We broke up when January’s snow still covered the cornfields.

Root beer barrels. Those things are gross. Why would I buy them for a girl for Christmas?

What’s the lamest Christmas gift you ever gave or received in your younger years?

10 Replies to “The Absurdity of Root Beer Barrels”

  1. I remember that!….. life is interesting north of Rt 340 and a little south of RT 322 on the “mountain”

  2. One Christmas, I filled a stocking with all these little things my “boyfriend” might like: Carmex lip balm, a car magazine, some chocolate, etc. I thought it was a nice, not too serious or expensive, gift! Only problem was, he filled a stocking for me with all kinds of gold jewelry!

  3. This was a great post. Enjoyed it. I remember when I was about 8 yrs old receiving underwear for Christmas from a grandma type friend of the family. I was mortified when I opened the package up in front of everyone.

  4. If we didn’t have grease and tobacco juice on our faces that day, it’s only because we didn’t want to look out-classed by you preppy cheese kids. And just for the record, people did get shot up on that mountain from time to time, but nobody I knew drank Bud, probably because it didn’t come in 16 oz cans.

  5. I remember that as well. That event probably started our mutual counceling sessions on girls and “romance”. There is a good possibility that I suggested the root beer barrels and if so, sorry dude. Baseball was so fun back then. It is so different now. I coach my son and everything is so competitive. The players put so much pressure on themselves that I spend most of my time trying to remind them that this is little league and you are 9 years old. I don’t remember little league being so stressful. Then again, I never threw at a girl.

  6. Jeremy – touche regarding the 16 oz can assertion. But I sense a little bitterness in there somewhere – perhaps it’s the “preppy chees kids” comment…

    JP – You were always there for me, man, even when the world around me was crumbling.

    1. Not bitterness. Just a deeply rooted inferiority complex. Do you remember the semi-abandoned house with the hundred dogs in the woods out past left field? How the dogs would put stick their heads out of the upstairs windows and watch us play? We came from a whole different world than you guys and we knew it.

  7. I love how you’re trying to describe “the mountain people.” Surprisingly, your description seems to imply a lot of hipsters lived in the Narvon area!

    Your line “He threw the ball so hard it broke her bones,” made me bust up laughing. So did the fact that you two started going steady after that.

    As for the lamest Christmas present? I remember in first grade when my mom gave me money to get Christmas presents at a special holiday version of the school store. I was so upset when I found out that the presents I got were supposed to be for other people.

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