The TSA agent at Newark International Airport stopped me after I cleared the body scanner. He had my backpack on a table. He opened it, peered inside, and gave me a perplexed look.
“For the kids,” I said.
Evidently, traveling with a backpack filled with three dozen baseball wasn’t a common thing. But, then, I was going to the Dominican Republic.
My friend Rob and I traveled to Barahona, a province in the southwestern part of the country, years away from the resorts of Punta Cana on the east coast. It was untouched land, an all-natural place lacking widespread electricity and plumbing. Rob had come here to help build a school, and he spoke Spanish.
Dominican boys live for the game of baseball, though most of them don’t own an actual baseball. They improvise, using anything that works — including heads from their sisters’ dolls. So I, having loved the game since my first season of T-ball 30 years ago, had brought that backpack full of brand new balls.
One morning, Rob went for an early run as I slept. I awoke to a thump on the corrugated metal roof of the two-room cement-block house we were staying in. Soon, I heard some kids clamoring outside. When I went out, I saw a group of 10-year-olds looking up, searching for the ball one had hit onto the roof.
The roof was too unstable to climb on to. “Un momento,” I told the boys in my limited Spanish and went over to the car and fetched a few of the baseballs from my bag. I handed each boy one shiny white pearl, and they ran back up the street, disappearing around the corner.
I walked over to the patio to sit with a teenager named Javier who knew Rob and had stopped by the house while all this was going on. Within a couple of minutes, a swarm of boys came running and buzzing around that corner.
This was the time to give away the 30 baseballs still my backpack.
I walked back to the car and, as the boys engulfed me, unzipped the pack and handed out the balls as fast I could, their hands waving, their bodies jostling me and each other.
After the bag was empty, they still crowded around me, reaching for more baseballs. “No mas!” I yelled. “No mas!”
I looked to Javier.
“Javier, say something!”
He just sat there laughing so hard that he was holding his stomach.
But he was busy laughing.
I climbed my way through the crowd and back to the patio.
“No mas! No mas!”
Two words that, where I grew up, we never had to hear when it came to baseballs.
Miles Ryan Fisher grew up playing Horsham Little League baseball and now lives in Washington, where — 25 years later — he still plays (and also coaches 10-year-olds).
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