Toby had marked the day, had noted it on his calendar with one word: Game. Andy had called weeks ago. She had barely gotten past the words 'Huck's first start' before Toby had lunged across his desk for a pen. "I'll be there," Toby had said before he'd hung up, scrawling the note above Midterm grades.

Traffic on the Beltway and red lights on Connecticut had set him back, and Toby had arrived late. He'd missed the first half-inning, Huck's at-bat. But, by the time Huck took the mound, Toby had taken root in the rain-damp grass behind the chain-link fence, left field line, and had pulled a bag of sunflower seeds out of his jacket pocket.

A lead-off walk and a shot to left had put two runners in scoring position, no outs, but Huck had worked himself out of the jam. Two strike-outs and an infield fly. Huck had hustled off the field, waved to his mother, but bypassed her and the dugout to join Toby along the fence.

Now Huck leaned on the fence, elbows propped along the top bar. He adjusted his cap and pulled off his glove, hugging it to his chest. "So," he said, nearly a question, but not enough inflection.

"So."

"What did you think?"

Toby flicked a shell over the fence. "It was a rough first inning," he said. "Nothing you can't improve upon in the future."

"A rough first inning? Come on, Dad. What did you really think?" Huck reached into Toby's palm and pinched a couple seeds. He tossed them into his mouth, pushing them to the inside of his cheek like a foraging hamster, and peered at Toby from under the bill of his cap.

Toby snorted softly and split a seed between his teeth. "I think if you throw one more hanging curve ball to number twenty-seven, he's going to send it sailing over the left field fence. That's really something you want to"-Toby swept his hand through the air-"avoid."

"Should I go with a change?" Huck asked. "How about the knuckle ball?"

"You might want to get the ball over the plate before adding it to your repertoire. I know how you throw knuckle balls. Or what you call knuckle balls." Toby chucked the rest of his shells, chewing on a mouthful of seeds as he considered Huck's question-the question he meant to ask. What should I throw? What would you throw? Toby had a feeling that, too soon, Huck's inquiries would fade along with his trust; Huck was a year away from junior high school, a year away-maybe more, but it was inevitable-from realizing that sons shouldn't seek advice from their fathers. Huck would make the discovery on his own; Toby refused-couldn't bear-to hasten the process. He watched the opposing players fan out over the field to take their positions. "Split-finger fastball. He'll swing right through it."

Toby heard the clap of Huck's glove and turned his head to watch as Huck slapped the leather against the palm of his bare hand. Huck nodded as a slow, knowing grin stretched over his face.

"Right through it?" Huck asked, stepping backwards in the direction of the dugout.

"Right through it."

In the fourth, number twenty-seven went down swinging on three pitches. Huck spun on the mound to face Toby and touched the brim of his cap; Toby mirrored his son, sketching onto his brain an image of the pride, the joy on Huck's face, convinced that he wouldn't always have the chance to see it for himself.

Toby had marked the day, had noted it on his calendar with one word: Game. Andy had called weeks ago. She had barely gotten past the words 'Huck's first start' before Toby had lunged across his desk for a pen. "I'll be there," Toby had said before he'd hung up, scrawling the note above Midterm grades.

Traffic on the Beltway and red lights on Connecticut had set him back, and Toby had arrived late. He'd missed the first half-inning, Huck's at-bat. But, by the time Huck took the mound, Toby had taken root in the rain-damp grass behind the chain-link fence, left field line, and had pulled a bag of sunflower seeds out of his jacket pocket.

A lead-off walk and a gapper to left had put two runners in scoring position, no outs, but Huck had worked himself out of the jam. Two strike-outs and an infield fly. Huck had hustled off the field, waved to his mother, but bypassed her and the dugout to join Toby along the fence.

Now Huck leaned on the fence, elbows propped along the top bar. He adjusted his cap and pulled off his glove, hugging it to his chest. "So," he said, nearly a question, but not enough inflection.

"So."

"What did you think?"

Toby flicked a shell over the fence. "It was a rough first inning," he said. "Nothing you can't improve upon in the future."

"A rough first inning? Come on, Dad. What did you really think?" Huck reached into Toby's palm and pinched a couple seeds. He tossed them into his mouth, pushing them to the inside of his cheek like a foraging hamster, and peered at Toby from under the bill of his cap.

Toby snorted softly and split a seed between his teeth. "I think if you throw one more hanging curve ball to number twenty-seven, he's going to send it sailing over the left field fence. That's really something you want to"-Toby swept his hand through the air-"avoid."

"Should I go with a change?" Huck asked. "How about the knuckle ball?"

"You might want to get the ball over the plate before adding it to your repertoire. I know how you throw knuckle balls. Or what you call knuckle balls." Toby chucked the rest of his shells, chewing on a mouthful of seeds as he considered Huck's question-the question he meant to ask. What should I throw? What would you throw? Toby had a feeling that, too soon, Huck's inquiries would fade along with his trust; Huck was a year away from junior high school, a year away-maybe more, but it was inevitable-from realizing that sons shouldn't seek advice from their fathers. Huck would make the discovery on his own; Toby refused-couldn't bear-to hasten the process. He watched the opposing players fan out over the field to take their positions. "Split-finger fastball. He'll swing right through it."

Toby heard the clap of Huck's glove and turned his head to watch as Huck slapped the leather against the palm of his bare hand. Huck nodded as a slow, knowing grin stretched over his face.

"Right through it?" Huck asked, stepping backwards in the direction of the dugout.

"Right through it."

In the fourth, number twenty-seven went down swinging on three pitches. Huck spun on the mound to face Toby and touched the brim of his cap; Toby mirrored the motion, sketching onto his brain an image of the pride, the joy on his son's face, convinced that he wouldn't always have the chance to see it for himself.