When I was a young police officer, I was once touched to see one of my fellow police officers in the projects buying ice cream from the ice cream truck for any kid who wanted one. That officer was short, but built like a brick shit house. He was a former Marine and proudly sported a gold tooth on one of his incisors. He looked a lot like Mike Tyson in many respects, minus the face tattoo.
That officer was with me on my first Code 1 call and we became fast friends. The unfortunate end to the story is that his police career died after he wound up in a federal prison for a non-violent offense (I’m not trying to trivialize what he allegedly did, and honestly, I’m not 100% sure of the details, but it involved helping a family member).
Anyway, that he wound up in prison is neither here nor there. He was a good person at heart and even got in trouble because he was trying to help somebody in a way that he obviously shouldn’t have been.
Seeing him buying poor kids ice cream on a hot summer day surrounded by drug dealers, drunks and some of society’s other misfits was a real eye opener for me and an image I’m fond of recalling from time to time. I took it to heart and tried to do the same thing whenever I could. My beat had homeless people everywhere. After awhile, I got to know the good eggs as well as the rotten ones. There was a thrift store in the area where I patrolled that sold everything a person could want. I’ve bought my share of gloves, socks, sandwiches and yes, I’ve bought them beer and booze as well. You’d be amazed how much information a man will share for a tall can of cold beer. Is it right to buy beer for folks who are obviously alcoholics? That’s what the negative Nancies will harp on, but the fact is that they were going to drink something whether I bought them a fresh beer or not.
Anyway, another thing I enjoyed doing was watching kids play ball. I’d often pull my cruiser over and watch a soccer game in the park or a pickup basketball game on a playground. On rare occasions, I’d catch kids playing fuzzball in a parking lot.
I loved playing fuzzball as a kid, and one afternoon I noticed three kids playing the game with a tennis ball. One was pitching to another while a third was in the outfield. Balls not hit would bounce back to the pitcher off the brick building they were using as a backdrop.
I love watching kids play baseball related sports so I pulled my cruiser into the lot and watched the boys play for a little bit. After a few minutes, one of the boys came over and asked if they were ok to play there.
“Of course you kids can play on this lot, there’s nobody else around.” I said.
“Cool, officer, you wanna play?” asked the pitcher.
I laughed and assured the boys that I was content to sip my tea and wait for the dispatcher to send me on my next call. Well, the boys got to razzin’ me and insisting that the pitcher of the group could strike me out on three pitches. After awhile, it was too much for my manhood to resist.
I was in much better shape back then, but still, the bullet-proof vest would make swinging the bat awkward. I grabbed the long corkball bat from one of the lads and took my place in the batter’s box as the other boys took their positions.
I hadn’t played ball in some time, so I was preparing my pride to accept being struck out and then mocked by a trio of 12 year old boys. The scene was tense, it was young versus old (though I wasn’t that old), man versus boy, citizen versus police! I had to give this my all. I’m not sure who in this scenario was Jackie Mitchell and who was Babe Ruth, but this encounter surely rivaled that scene, minus the many onlookers, of course.
As I knew would be the case, the first pitch came right at me. It was a freebie for him to throw at a cop, so I knew it was coming and let the tennis ball hit me harmlessly in the side. It wouldn’t have hurt without the vest, so there was no malice intended. He was just being a ham.
“Now you can’t strike me out with three pitches, young man!” I told him.
He looked perplexed as though the math didn’t make any sense as he tried to figure it out in his head. Ah, the city’s public school system is amazing.
“Oh, I still can and will, officer!” He said anyway.
“Ok, kid, I’m ready for your best stuff!”
My new little friend fired pitch number two nowhere near the strike zone.
“That’s ball two, son. Are you scared?” I taunted him.
He laughed and got ready again. “I ain’t scared of you!”
He wound up like he was really gonna let this one fly and threw a pitch that was going to obviously be a strike. I squinted my eyes and gritted my teeth while preparing to softly swing at his offering just to be able to say, ha ha, you didn’t strike me out, but the competitor in me had some sort of flashback and I raised my front foot to time the pitch just right. Before I knew what I was doing, I had ripped a line drive that bounced right off of the boy’s forehead and 30 feet into the air.
Oh fuuuck, I thought as one of the other boys came sprinting in to try to catch the ball before it hit the ground. He dove through the air and onto the concrete parking lot and came nowhere near catching the ball. Despite his valiant effort, he missed the ball by several yards. He did manage to scrape the shit out of his elbows and knees, however.
One swing of the bat and I’d downed two preteens while the third stood in the outfield with his mouth agape. I wasn’t sure whether he was going to laugh or cry, but he soon busted out laughing and I felt like a heel.
The other two boys were writhing in pain, probably overly dramatically. I looked around and was relieved to not see another human being in sight. The boys were still on the ground with the third one now laughing hysterically while standing over his friends and taunting them as only boys can do.
I didn’t have kids of my own yet, so I wasn’t as confident as I would be today that they could just shake it off. While the scrapes on the one boy’s knees were nasty, they were his own fault. The other boy looked fine, though clearly embarrassed.
“That was a great pitch you threw; I was lucky to hit it,” I lied to him.
“Yeah, that wasn’t my best stuff either,” said the lad trying to maintain some dignity in front of his pals.
When it was obvious that everyone was going to live, I offered to meet them (they had bikes or I’d have given them a lift) at a Taco Bell down the street to buy them some food.
I didn’t get a chance to stay with them long, but I enjoyed their company for a few minutes. These were some of the “good” kids in an area with a lot of “bad” ones and I was glad to have met them. They were appreciative and respectful beyond that of most 12 year old boys you’d meet anywhere.
While I’m sorry that I beaned that boy in the head, it’s still one of my favorite workplace memories.