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Look for the sign and move swiftly

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Bobby Cox stood at the edge of the dugout the other night, his reddened face in a stoic steel stare toward home plate. He was thinking, I supposed, or daydreaming about what he would eat for dinner that night after the baseball game. Whatever it was, it didn't last long.

Out of nowhere, it started - his thumb flew up and flicked the side of his nose. He touched his jersey and did a little fancy thing with his hand. Then he laid his hand on his chest.

To some, Bobby's erratic behavior might be blown off as an itch or a sudden bout of indigestion. To everyone else, especially the baseball player at the plate, it's just how he talks. It's a sign.

Some odd 30 years ago I remember asking my daddy about baseball signs. Why do particular ones keep scratching their noses and rubbing their legs, I asked, and he explained that it's how they talk to their teams.

"Signs have to be simple and complicated," he told me, and I remember questioning the weirdness of such a thing because how could something be really easy and really hard at the same time? Oh, but for the innocence of youth. I hadn't yet been faced with marriage or raising children or the last ice cream sandwich staring at me from the freezer door. Sure, it was easy to eat, but wouldn't it be hard to admit to my 12-year-old daughter where it went when she came downstairs and said she'd been dreaming all day about eating her last ice cream sandwich?

I told her her brother ate it.

Baseball signs, my father explained, had to be simple for the team to learn, but hard for the other team to figure out. Touching the peaks of their caps, grazing different letters of their jerseys, tugging at their belts, rubbing their hands together. Sometimes, they even look like they're dancing - left hand to their hat, right hand to their hat, tug their right hand with their left hand, right hand on the thigh, spit.

It's a complicated language. It has to be stressful, too, knowing you can't even check your nose, swat a gnat, pull up your britches or scratch an itch without threatening a pennant.

Signs aren't just good for baseball.

"Okay, if one of us gets trapped talking to you-know-who and can't escape, we rub the back of our head and the other one knows to come to the rescue," my husband reminded me as we left the house. Smart thinking. Everybody knows somebody who is perfectly nice to talk to in small doses, but can make your ears bleed if you're caught up in their web for too long. Best to graciously excuse yourself than risk being rude unintentionally by running away screaming, I say.

An hour or so later, I look up from my infatuation with a friend's new purse - it was really cute and she got it on sale and, wow, what a great price and I can't believe how much it holds - and gazed over across the way to see my husband standing there with you-know-who, a polite smile on his face, his hand rubbing his forehead.

Wait. His forehead? That wasn't our sign. I went over anyway.

Moments later, safely rescued and untangled from the web, I asked what happened to the back of the head signal.

He scowled. Obviously, I hadn't been paying attention at all. He said after he'd rubbed the back of his head raw he moved to his forehead because his brain was about to explode. I missed the sign - my one and only sign - all because I was sidetracked by a cute bag.

In my defense, it was really, really cute and she got a fabulous deal and...

It's probably good I don't play baseball.

Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at flyn1862@bellsouth.net.