The neighborhood gang stood around in the dirt, choosing sides while the summer sun eased our pores open and sweat rivered down our necks. Passing clouds were lazy as the wind was slow, and the insects were so present and loud.

A few ball bats lay on the ground, while the one baseball was in hand by Mike. Ball gloves were warmed by the sun and the owner that held them preciously, some well-oiled, others well worn. Most are hand-me-downs from an older brother, father, or uncle.

The thermals of the day caused a dirt devil to race across the field, like a small tornado, lifting that cooked dry dust into a funnel, third to second base, becoming invisible by center field, no one noticed but me, cause I knew I would not get chosen again.

I was staring across the field, where some grass fought the heat, and more turned brown in defeat. I turned my eyes away from the others, feeling my blood in my face, feeling the rejection, once again. Not my first or last time. I had to borrow a glove when they let me, or barehand catches were my best future.

“Too tall,” some said. “Too big,” one said.

I just wanted to play, not to win nor to lose, to be one of the gang.

While I felt like an outcast, I waited for Larry to stand up for me. He usually did. He was good to the weird-looking kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

I remember that he was good to all but more than kind to me. Strong for his age. Wise for his age.

A good boy that would become a good man.

Why do we protect the weaker ones?

Nature dictates the survival of the fittest.

How can the weak ones fly while the strong ones fade?

In time, I learned to deal with rejection, with not being chosen, by taking the lesser portion, the heel of the loaf, the leftovers,

the lessor job, and was proud of any morsel thrown my way.

I have become more robust, but I still try to protect the weak when I can.

Nature can be survival of the heart, not the meanest.