"Good Hands, Billy"

The directions to the school were bad. The only place to park was a tow zone. The first three doors we tried were locked.

It's like that sometimes when you're driving kids to a basketball practice in a school you don't a town where the roads conspire to run one way the wrong way and somebody's been harvesting the street signs.

Anyway, my daughter, her friend and I had just turned away from the third locked, metal door and started across the paved playground to try another when one of the kids at the far end of the macadam whacked a tennis ball in our direction. Hard.

"Hey," the kid shouted. Maybe it was a warning. Maybe he just wanted us to stop the ball.

I bent at the waist, more easily than I had any right to do it, and scooped up the ball, which had come sizzling along the pavement. If I'd thought about it, I'd have flinched, and the ball would have rolled between my legs or kicked off my hands. But I didn't have time to think about it. I picked it cleanly off the pocked playground and tossed it back toward the game as if I'd always been a shortstop.

There was a gratifying moment of surprised silence, and then two of the kids at once shouted, "nice catch."

"I used to have it," I said.

It isn't true. But on some, few days I have had it, and flawlessly picking that groundball and managing to toss it back into play without tearing my rotator cuff reminded me of another day nearly 20 years ago at Fenway Park. I'd been talking to Johnny Pesky in the Boston dugout. Eventually, he excused himself to hit groundballs to the Red Sox infielders. I stood watching, and, by and by, one of the throws on the way back to the veteran fungo hitter took a weird hop and bounced toward me. I flipped the microphone from my right hand to my left, caught the ball on a short hop, and tossed it back to Pesky.

Before he turned back to his work, Johnny Pesky smiled and said, "good hands, Billy."

And now, thanks to nothing but happy accident, it had happened again. Again, I'd had good hands.

To paraphrase the words William Shakespeare provided several centuries ago to an aging magician, "that's the stuff that dreams are made on."

This program aired on May 5, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.


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