A few weeks ago I discovered a binder containing many of my college creative writing class assignments. One in particular caught my attention, bringing back fond memories from those days in the mid ‘70s. I recalled this particular project required writing a fiction story involving a pet that had not been, or was not now, one of your own. I’ve never been a big fan of fiction writing so I remembered this assignment quite well. With a little polish and condensing I present: A Homerun for 3-Dog, circa 1975.
After my first year of playing Little League baseball I was determined to become a faster runner. To build speed our coach would time us running around the bases. I had better than average speed; however, two kids on my team were faster. I set a goal of being the fastest kid on the team by the next season. So during my summer vacation, five or six evenings a week before dinner, I would walk the two blocks to the baseball field and time myself ten times circling the bases. One night, just after the 4th of July, I arrived at the field and noticed I wasn’t alone. By the first base dugout sat a scruffy, black and white dog panting and wagging his tail. I walked over patted his head then jogged toward home plate to begin my routine. As I began sprinting towards first base, the frisky mutt joined me circling the bases. Much to my delight he completed all 10 trips that first day and appeared ready for more. I stroked his head again and began my walk home. Glancing over my shoulder I noticed him panting and watching me. However, he did not follow.
Over the course of the next five weeks the wayward hound would be waiting for my arrival every day. After week two I began carrying a water bowl to fill for him after our sprints. I also named him 3-Dog after the nickname of my favorite Los Angeles Dodger player, Willie Davis. It was a name Davis had given to himself mainly due to the fact his uniform number was 3 and he was blazing fast. I wanted to be as fast as Willie someday. I never told my friends or parents about 3-dog for fear they might somehow interfere with our routine. I guess I wanted him all for myself. Although he did not wear a collar, I knew he wasn’t a stray. 3-Dog was well fed, groomed and healthy.
As the summer drew to a close, with the new school year just around the corner, I treasured my limited time with the feisty mutt even more. The week before school was scheduled to begin, I made my usual trek to the field looking forward to seeing 3-Dog patiently waiting for me with wagging tail and a few welcome high-pitched yips. I grew concerned as I approached home plate with no 3-Dog in sight. Unbelievably it proved the first time in almost two months he had missed our daily session. I called his name as I feverishly searched the area. While checking under the bleachers, I heard a faint yip coming from the first base dugout. I raced over to discover 3-dog under the bench curled up whimpering and unable to lift his head. He looked okay to me; however, he couldn’t move. I decided to pick him up and race home to my parents for help. As I began to lift him he looked up, licked my hand then closed his small brown eyes. My running mate and new best friend, 3-Dog, was dead.
I sat in the dugout crying as I tried to decide how to proceed. I didn’t want to carry my friend home, or just leave him there in the open, and I had no idea where he lived. So my adolescent mind chose to unceremoniously bury 3-Dog behind home plate. I placed some newspapers over my fallen comrade and raced home to sneak a shovel out of our garage. I returned in less than 10 minutes and fanatically began digging. I was petrified of getting caught. I gently lowered my little buddy in the makeshift grave, said a prayer and covered his tiny body with dirt. After smoothing out the area I sat in the dugout for over an hour sobbing and feeling somehow responsible for the petite pooch. Soon I headed home, resolved to tell no one of the ordeal. I intentionally didn’t return to the Little League field again, until months later, on opening day of the season.
My team, the Stars, was scheduled for the first game that day. I would be batting third in the lineup and I knew it would prove extremely difficult to contain my emotions. I decided to swing at the first three pitches and end my at-bat as quickly as possible. Approaching the plate I struggled to hold back the tears. If I cried nobody would know the reason and would believe I was a crybaby or a sissy. As the pitcher delivered the first pitch, I swung hard hoping to ground or fly out so I could return to the dugout. Instead I struck the ball with a crack that echoed throughout the field. I stood motionless at home plate watching the ball disappear over the centerfield fence; it was the first and last homerun of my Little League career. Upon reaching home, I knelt down and patted the dirt behind the plate with the palm of my hand and whispered, “Good bye 3-Dog, I will remember you always.” The crowd cheered as I wiped a tear from my eye.