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~~Author: Stephen Waldman~~

Betty Lo was the smartest girl in the fourth grade. Maybe even in the whole school. But she was my friend anyway.

We would meet every Saturday afternoon at the baseball field. I'd bring the pop; she'd bring the licorice. We'd find our regular seats in the bleachers behind home plate. Betty liked to sit up close so she could watch her father umpire the games.

Mr. Lo had to be the kindest man I knew. He was friendly, fair, and kept his temper even when parents, coaches, players and fans ganged up on him. That was until one hot afternoon in mid July. It began as any other Saturday. Betty and I met at the park, took our seats, and began devouring our delicacies. Behind us sat her older brother Rusty. Rusty was at least ten years older than us. He was short and broad with narrow eyes, small ears, a round face and a tongue too big for his mouth. He was different from the other kids. Guys his own age would exclude him from their games, so he hung around us younger kids. We would play tag, hide-and-seek and hopscotch. People would laugh and say he was mongoloid. I didn't care what religion he was. To me he was just a little boy in a big boy's body. I liked Rusty.

Rusty made up for his lack of skill with a big heart and an even bigger mouth. He had a deep booming voice and he wasn't afraid to use it. When someone he knew was up to bat, Rusty would hoot and holler; his message of support could be heard blocks away.

The dry heat of the afternoon played havoc with the diamond. Dust swirled around our faces, blowing off the baseball cap which my mother made me wear. Betty's fits of laughter were quickly silenced by my sarcastic comments about the stains of sweat under her pits. The sounds of summer were everywhere. Children were laughing, music was playing, and mini-bikes raced around the parking lot. As loud as they were, these sounds were drowned out when Rusty began his chants.

Rusty's favorite player was Peter Nichols, the resident park jock. Peter was batting third, and Rusty was wild with anticipation. As we settled back to watch the first pitch, a loud drone came rumbling from down the road. I strained to see what was making this thunderous noise, when to my surprise a cherry red hot rod pulled up beside the field. The bleachers shook as the car gave one last roar, drowning out Rusty's shouts of displeasure. The sun was blinding as it reflected off the shiny chrome grill, but I was still able to catch a glimpse of the occupants. They were real hoods; the kind your mother told you not to go near. The kind you saw on the news, in handcuffs, in police cars.

The hot rod's door swung open, and out they came; four of the scariest teenagers I ever saw. From their pointed boots to their Brillcream hair do's, they were the focus of everyone in the park. Chains hung from their pockets, cigarette boxes tucked under their sleeves, I just knew that somewhere under their socks lurked a switchblade. One of the hoods reached into the car and pulled out six beers. Of course beer wasn't allowed in the park, but exceptions could (must) be made. They stood beside their car surveying the crowd. I thought 'please God don't let them sit near us'. They walked right by us, flashing a sneer as they passed, and proceeded up to the top of the bleachers behind us. We gave a sigh of relief as did every other fan spared from the pleasure of their company.

The game got underway with the home side up to bat first. The first two batters were retired in order and Rusty's hero Peter was up next. Rusty shouted calls of encouragement, his shapeless body shaking in rythym to his claps. Rusty couldn't sit still, rocking the benches as he jumped up and down with delight. To our horror, Rusty's enthusiasm attracted the attention of the four hoods behind us. 'Sit down fat boy' one of the hoods yelled. 'Yeah sit down' hollered another. I felt my veins turn to ice. I wanted to tell Rusty to quiet down and not attract attention. I wanted to protect him and shield him from these unfamiliar insults. I wanted to grab the bottles out of their hands and crack them over their empty heads. I did nothing.

Betty was shaking, so I suggested that the three of us just leave. As we were getting up, a beer bottle came hurling down at Rusty's head grazing his skull. Rusty fell to the ground. I looked at Mr. Lo. The ever present compassion in his eyes turned to rage. Rusty starting crying. Mr. Lo grabbed a bat and started swinging. The game was on.

Betty and I sat in disbelief as Mr. Lo headed for the hood's hot rod, swinging his bat furiously. He first made contact with the windshield spraying glass everywhere. Next up was the grill. Mr. Lo choked up on the bat delivering a crushing blow after blow after blow, until the grill was unrecognizable. He went after the rest of the car with the intensity of a pit-bull. The hoods stood frozen, paralyzed from shock. Reality quickly took over. They ran towards Mr. Lo as he began batting practice on their dashboard. As if blessed with a sixth sense, Mr. Lo turned just as hood number one grabbed him. Mr. Lo came around with a connecting hit cracking the hood's ribs.

Screams came from everywhere. Screams of horror from the fans, screams of encouragement from the players. But most of the screams were screams of agony coming from the hood. Mr. Lo was still up to bat. He ran after hood number two, swinging the bat inches from his head. Hood number two tripped, Mr. Lo fell over him and landed on his back. The hood was first to get up and reach inside his sock. I wasn't the only one who knew the old switchblade up your sock routine. With uncanny speed and accuracy, Mr. Lo, while still on his back, swung for the grand slam. In one motion he tagged hood number two on the back of his hand shattering both his hand and his ankle. The hood went down, Mr. Lo got up, the two remaining hoods got lost.

Mr. Lo went over to Rusty and checked his son's head, they were both shaken but not hurt. But the game wasn't over yet. Two police cars sped into the parking lot. The police jumped out and ran over to hood number one who was writhing in pain. 'Who did this?' enquired the officer. 'That creep with the bat' sobbed the hood. Mr. Lo stood in stunned silence, the bloodied bat dangling from his hand. When Mr. Lo saw the handcuffs come out he began pleading his case. He explained how the hoods humiliated his mentally retarded son; describing how they called him demeaning names and then threw a beer bottle at his head. Mr. Lo was cuffed. Seeing his father led away in handcuffs was too much for Rusty to bear. He began sobbing softly, elevating his cries to shrieks of hysteria.

We were going into extra innings and the hoods were beginning to tire. 'Shut up you retard!' screamed hood number one.

Game over.

The policeman uncuffed Mr. Lo, apologized, and dragged the two hoods kicking and screaming to their car.

Rusty calmed down.

The crowd dispersed.

Betty and I went home.

Mr. Lo got the game ball.

(Dedicated to My Chava)

*This story was based on an actual event

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