A perfect summer day. Bright sun. No clouds. The sweet smell of nachos, stale popcorn, sweat and infield dirt. Baseball. McKaylan is at first base. His mom is right behind him yelling final instructions from the dugout. A.J. is at third. Bubba is behind the dish. That’s what baseball players call home plate.

I hope that Bubba stays there the whole game because I’m back-up catcher and I think that I forgot to wear my cup. Yep, I did. Dad is on the mound. And oh yeah, “Shorty” is at short. That’s what my sister Lauren nicknamed me. It’s better than “Rhino” so I’ll take it any day. Especially today.., because today I’m just one of the Astros.

This is right where I want to be. This is where I belong. On the diamond, in the hole, right between second and third. I feel alive. It’s as perfect as the chicken quesadillas I had last night at Chuys.

Today we play the Mets. They are big and fast and pounded us 9-6 last time we played. I’ve heard they can hit a ball on the fly over the scoreboard. I’m not scared. Dad and Coach Ruiz have been practicing us hard and I think that we are ready. Maybe this time will be different. Just maybe…

Their first baseman looks like Albert Pujols. He’s on deck. Now he’s settling into the batter’s box. He brushes dirt with his left foot over the front of the chalk in the batter’s box like a bull ready to charge. The umpire cleans the plate. Dad tells me to back up a little to the edge of the outfield grass and motions for the centerfielder to play deep. I pray that the ball doesn’t come my way. A crack of the bat. I hear a whistle like a roman candle on the 4th of July.

It’s a screaming line drive. And it’s headed right at me! I turn my head and reach out in self defense and…Wow, I think the ball is in my glove. Yes, it is!

The crowd goes crazy. They’re cheering for me. Boy, I hope that Marisa got it on video. It could be a Web Gem on Sportscenter. We toss the ball around the horn. I try to act cool like I had it all along. I pound my hand into the leather of my glove and put two fingers up to show that there are now two outs, I think.

It’s the top of the third. An easy pop fly. Piece of cake. I settle under it. Bright sun. No clouds. Oops…

What happened? Am I in the Matrix? Am I in heaven? If so, where are Bo and Sammy or even Barnaby for that matter? I’m confused. Why are all these people standing over me? And where is all the blood coming from? My face really hurts. Out of the corner of my eye I can see that my glove is on the ground next to me. I don’t see the ball. It must have hit me in the face.

They carry me off the field and throw me in the back seat of Mom’s SUV. I try not to cry much. My uniform is dirty and stained and red. My Dad’s friend Randy was somehow pushed into the car in the all the chaos. He has a towel and ice and tells me to lean my head back.

Mom is hysterical and on the cell phone. She keeps yelling that my nose is broken. Am I going to look like Pinocchio? Or even worse, maybe like Nomar Garciaparra?

The towel seems to soak up blood like Dracula. The ice is cold and wet and a mess. My face feels swollen and when I glance in the mirror my eyes are black and blue. My head is pounding. The ride to Texas Children’s seems to take forever.

Randy carries me into the hospital like a sack of potatoes. They weigh me. They put me on some kind of operating table. I think that my glove and hat and cleats are in a bag. I’m dead if I lose my glove. The guys in blue scrubs hook me up for tests. I’ve been here before and the room looks familiar. Some of the faces look familiar. They ask a million questions about some kind of blood count. I really wish that someone would just fix my nose. It still hurts.

I guess that there won’t be a hot dog or snow cone today. The game ball from Dad will have to do. Lying on the table I still think about McKaylan, A.J. and Bubba. I still dream about the sweet smell of nachos, stale popcorn, sweat and infield dirt. Baseball. It’s where I belong.

I’ll take a bloody nose any day.