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The PS 9 Nine


Harry Buschman

The family somehow got through a long hard winter. A winter of both physical and mental discontent. With the first breath of spring, last year's newspapers dating back to October were unstuffed from the window cracks and the gentle air of April filtered in. In a week or so the dark brown smell of onions and cabbage were neutralized and the old apartment smelled a little sweeter.

The coming of spring affected people in different ways. The danger of ice was gone and Mrs. Savino on the ground floor washed and swept the front stoop every morning. My father spoke with barely concealed enthusiasm about a used car he saw in his brother-in-law's shop in Grave's End Bay. "It wouldn't take much," he told my mother, " .... to put it in shape." He could have it back on the road in no time. Ernie and me, with less lofty goals, decided to try out for the baseball team at PS 9.

There were more girls than boys in the eighth grade class at PS 9. All of them had more intelligence and better physical coordination than the boys did, but as everyone knows baseball is a boy's game -- however badly they play it.

Coach Hanrahan was faced with fifteen nondescript rookies, some too short, some  too fat, some wearing glasses and even some who had never seen a baseball game. With barely enough boys to make up a team, Ernie and me managed to make the cut by default.

Coach Hanrahan didn't ask for much and he didn't get much in return. With his  expectations at a low ebb he was grateful for the little talent he got. I found myself at 1st base, which for those of you not acquainted with the game, requires someone with long arms and the ability to talk the pitcher into a false sense of his ability when he flounders. "C'mon baby, no hitter in there -- stick it in his ear." Without such encouragement even the high priced pitchers of today will suddenly lose their self-confidence and falter.

Ernie was stationed at third base, a position requiring someone of short stature and lightning fast responses to anything hit in his direction. Ernie fulfilled the first part of the requirement but not the second. Bobby Dumphy, who wore thick glasses, was stationed in right field. It was a lonesome position, for as you know, only left handed hitters hit to right field and all the left-handers at PS 9 were in the art and music classes. Furthermore, Bobby had to remove his eyeglasses before he was allowed to bat and without them he couldn't hit a barn door.

Coach Hanrahan pinned what little hopes he held for a respectable season on Eddie Fox. Eddie, though still in grammar school, was the age of today's average sophomore high school student. He was nearly as tall as the coach and could, with ease, have wrestled him to the ground. Eddie was a hostile athlete as well. He would have been better suited to a contact sport like football, where physical violence is encouraged. Eddie was our designated pitcher -- our only pitcher, by the way. He could throw a ball harder than anyone in school and with a fair degree of accuracy. Better than that, he was willing to bean a batter if the coach felt it was necessary.

"Punchy" Edelman got to play left field where he would be out of the way most of the time, and "Goofy" Margolis was our catcher. Squatting was a position "Goofy" assumed naturally, even when he wasn't playing baseball. He would rather squat than stand. Furthermore, he was the only one who could catch Eddie's fast ball without breaking his hand.

PS 9 was a city school on city streets. It had no baseball field. Our practice sessions were limited to the little we could accomplish in the concrete school yard. Eddie would rifle his fast ball into a peach basket nailed to the shingled wall of the vegetable store, I would practice catching the erratic throws from members of the infield and our outfield would try and catch fly balls thrown at them from the fourth floor window of the music room. Our uniforms were passed down to us from last year's losing team. Incomplete as they were, we wore them proudly, but only after our mothers had boiled out the stains from last year's disastrous season.

Our scheduled games were played on Saturday afternoons in the barren dirt fields back of the Brooklyn Museum. There were no buses and it was up to us to get there and back home again as best we could. We lost our first game, nearly won the second and got trounced the next three in a row, but Coach Hanrahan never lost his faith in us, and he continued to have high hopes that we would emerge victorious in our final game with PS 42.

But we were very aware of our limitations -- they were glaring, boundless, and irreconcilable. Other than pitching we had little to look forward to. Our performance on the field was disgraceful, anything hit to the infield invariably found its way to the outfield, and anything hit out there was as good as gone. None of us could hit worth a damn, and if by chance we managed to run one out, we were almost sure to get caught off base shortly afterwards. Eddie's pitching kept us in most of the games due to his intimidation of the opposing batters. He kept most of them back so far from the plate that they couldn't reach the ball. As things stood that year, we found it difficult to share Coach Hanrahan's optimism for a final victory.

But! Coach Hanrahan had an secret up his sleeve. She was Ralph Mandeville's sister Emma, the female equivalent of Eddie Fox. A bona fide black tigress. She had single-handedly crippled opposing soccer teams and, although I was never privileged to witness it, some of her friends insisted she could do 50 push-ups with one arm behind her back.

There was nothing in school regulations that prohibited girls from playing baseball, even on an all boys team. Baseball has never been considered a contact sport, but it was just one of those things nice girls didn't do. Coach Hanrahan, desperate for one victory in three steady seasons of defeat, decided to give Emma a go. He gave us strict instructions not to fool around and to watch our "language," as he put it. It was O.K. to say 'hell' and 'damn,' and even, in the heat of battle, a few pejoratives relating to the legitimacy of an opponent's birth.

"But, I don't wanna hear nobody say YOU KNOW WHAT in frunna Emma, unnerstand?"

Shades of Abner Doubleday, Emma was a natural born wonder! If anything she was more competitive on the field than Eddie Fox and she could hit any ball he threw at her in practice -- even those he aimed at her head. In the outfield she could run like a deer and had that rare combination of soft hands and a rifle arm. The ball would come straight at you on a line -- no trajectory at all, and when it hit your glove it sounded, (and felt) like a firecracker had gone off in your hand.

Our last game of the season found Emma in center field. It was the coach's strategy to have her play up close to second base knowing she could catch up to  anything hit over her head yet also cover the grounders fumbled by his butterfingered infield. In essence then, Emma covered the entire field from deep  center to second base. She was a chatterer too, she kept up a constant stream of  encouraging words to her teammates and showered a withering flow of ridicule on the opposing players.

Eddie walked the first two batters and hit the third. With the bases now loaded, it looked bad for PS 9 almost before the game had begun. Their clean-up batter, who seemed to be older than he should be for an eighth grader (in fact he had a mustache) hit a line drive right at the second baseman -- who froze. The ball whistled past his ear and Emma got it on the fly in short center. She ran in, stepped on second base and threw home all in one gloriously fluid movement. "Goofy," our catcher, oblivious to what was going on, stood mesmerized on home plate and didn't expect it. Emma's throw hit him like a cannon ball. It hit him so hard it embedded itself in his torn chest protector. He collapsed in a heap on home plate effectively blocking it from the runner coming down from third. After the umpire had figured out what had happened, and went through an instant replay in his head he declared that an unassisted triple play had been accomplished.

Coach Hanrahan looked much like Moses must have looked when he beheld the parting of the waters. His team had accomplished a triple play! Never in his wildest dreams! Never! In fact he'd never seen one accomplished at the Dodger's games in Ebbett's Field -- and now, by his bumbling Public School baseball team! It had to be a miracle! We, of course, had no idea the inning was over. We stood at our assigned positions until Emma waved us in and told us the inning was over. To her the event had been routine and not worthy of the growing crescendo of adulation now mounting from the sandlot spectators.

The play completely demoralized PS 42. It also spurred us on to heights we had never accomplished without Emma. I got a hit and Ernie got three. Emma got five hits and three walks. In the field we were magnificent. We made plays that brought tears to the eyes of Coach Hanrahan. He sat on the bench in disbelief crying, "You guys!" -- "You guys!" -- "You too Emma!" In short, our final game was our only win of the season. It was one that the school cherished and commemorated with a double page spread in its 1930 yearbook. The fact that we  had a girl on our team was completely ignored in the euphoria that spread over  the school. Emma was one of us, and our team picture shows her well muscled form standing front center with Eddie Fox and the somewhat shorter coach Hanrahan between them.

It was the closest any of us would ever get to Camelot.

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