Paul Blair

What I remember most is a sound. It’s a familiar sound now, but I was probably 7 or 8 then. The batter hit the ball deep into the outfield and my eyes followed the ball. That’s the natural move, to follow the ball, and when you do even the most routine outfield fly ball looks at first like a home run. Everyone in Cleveland Municipal Stadium all jumped to their feet, all at once, and made that great sound, the one that at first sounds like “WHAHHHHH!” but soon fades into this wonderful rushing sound, like a high wind.

That’s not the sound I remember, though.

No, then I looked down and there was a blur of a man racing after the ball. By the time I had thought to look down, he was already at full speed. In memory, the man was wearing orange. In memory, he ran for a long time, only occasionally looking up to find the ball. He was impossibly graceful, though I’m sure I didn’t know the word yet. He ran hard without looking like he was running hard.

It did not seem, to my meager sense of geometry, like the man had any chance to outrun the ball. But then, just as he got to the warning track, he reached up and caught it over his right shoulder, perfectly in stride, as if the ball was intended for him. He gently bumped into the wall, turned, and easily threw the ball back to the infield. Another town. Another out.

And those great cheers just disappeared as if turned off like a water faucet.

That’s the sound I remember: The sound of the cheers turning off.

“Well,” my father said. “That’s Paul Blair.”