Thu, Oct 15, 2009
By Miranda Lin in Red Hook:
“Ball four! Take your base,” the umpire barked in a husky voice. The Latina batter in an oversized NYPD Commissioner’s Baseball Tournament t-shirt sauntered over to first as her teammates cheered and whistled from the sidelines. “Great eye, Tina, way to be patient!” She had not swung once.
The bases were now loaded and the man they call Big Daddy was up at bat. His team’s popsicle-pink t-shirt was stretched tight across his chest and biceps. A pitbull tattoo that shared a remarkably similar expression to his own was visible on his forearm. As he took a few practice swings, the diamond fell silent, leaving only the whooshing sound of his bat. At last, Big Daddy stepped into the batter’s box and twisted his extra-large cleats into the dirt.
“What was wrong with that one?” shouted an outfielder, his mitt raised in outrage.
“It was to the left,” said the umpire, unmoved by the protests.
More complaints, this time from Big Daddy’s dugout. “That was flat!” called one player. “Grow some eyes!” hissed another. The umpire didn’t respond.
Now the count was full and the runners hovered restlessly around the bases. Big Daddy had not stopped scowling since he came to the plate. He tightened his grip as though he were wringing the bat dry – or strangling it to death. The pitcher and catcher debated the next pitch through silent signals before nodding in agreement.
The sky was threatening when Big Daddy finally swung.
There was a whoosh. Then a crack. And a ground ball to first. Big Daddy’s out brought the inning to a close as the rain began to fall.
If you go out the back door of the warehouse, around the corner and up two flights of stairs, you’ll see him sitting by himself on the landing in an unvarnished wooden chair. He is a gatekeeper of sorts, charged with greeting guests and handing out home-made stickers for the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists’ Coalition’s latest art show. The exhibition is called “Words of Color,” but the weather today is uniformly gray and he seems to match it perfectly. From the few limp strands of hair left on his pallid scalp to his frayed tweed suit and shriveled hands streaked with blue-green veins, he is barely distinguishable from the cobblestone wall behind him.
He sits patiently in his rickety chair waiting for visitors to arrive. Five, ten, even fifteen minutes pass without a hint of movement. He stares out from behind a thick pair of black plastic-framed glasses, the kind hip Williamsburg kids wear these days to be ironic. Finally, mercifully, someone appears at the bottom of the stairwell. His chapped lips immediately curl up into an eager smile and his crow’s feet melt into laugh lines as he calls out a friendly hello. As the young art-goer climbs to the top of the stairs, he offers her one of his stickers: “Support living artists.”