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  • "Ok Sophia, you know you have to have both feet in the ... thank you," I relay to the young lady with an orange bow pinned to the explosion of brown curls on her head.

    Vocabulary Baseball as I call it, is more commonly referred to as "v-ball" amongst my abbreviation wielding eighth grade students. On the storied, cracked and tiled floor of room 102 every month, there are three desks set up in the triangular pattern of America's pastime. And while my room is no Fenway in terms of MLB particulars, the noise on those days could easily match that of a host of screaming Red Sox fans.

    "I'll take a double, Mr. Stephens," she murmurs, eyes towards the floor, her team immediately responding with shouts of dismay.

    "No! NO! We have two outs! Hit a single! You are terrible at synonyms!” the short, stout Zach Rosenberg screams, his hands outstretched, arching over his head in a blur while two of his peers blurt their agreement. She stands in the white plastic "batter's box," hands clasped in front of her, swaying ever slightly from side to side.

    "Do you want a double or a single, Sophia?"

    "Single is fine," she says. The now red-faced Rosenberg halts himself in mid scream and sets his heels back onto the ground. “Good choice, you got it, good choice,” his attitude immediately becomes something near the complete opposite of what it just was. His eyes are still wide and focused on the teacher’s edition cover of the book in my hand. It’s easy for me to wait. I hold all of the suspense in the room, and I can control it. “Mr. Stephens, she said single. She wants a single,” he reassures himself.

    “I know Rosey, I’m looking for one,” I reply.

    “We have only like four minutes left,” as if the ship we’re on is about to sink.

    I sit in a chair that several other educators have probably occupied before me. It is not of the nice variety per se, and its once two-inch foam seat is now depressed in two mirrored ovals, but it is my favorite chair. It leans to the left as I shift my weight and set the book down on my legs. I can’t help but prolong the little man’s freckled anger: “Do you want me to take off points? You’re being obnoxious. Do you want to run out of time so the other team wins?”

    His heels come back off of the floor, and two half-balled fists shove into his pockets. I pick my feet up and rest them on top of the once beige corner of my laminate desk, scooting some papers aside. I spend a second pretending to analyze a mark on one of my shoes. Something like a growl and a cough sounds from the Rosenberg corner of the room. Incidentally, I pick the book back up and put my eyes back on the terrified Sophia.

    “Alright, with the bases loaded, all you need is one point here Sophia, to win the game. Are you ready?”

    “Mr. Stephens!” Rosenberg explodes. He has reached the tipping point, and apparently I can’t squeeze any more fun out of him unless I want to deal with tears. I stow my diabolic sense of humor, my retribution, and say, “Define garble.”

    A chorus of exasperated and excited cries erupts from Sophia’s bench. All of her team members half-stand in their desks, some with their hands in their hair, some inadvertently erecting their arms into the air. There is whimpering. An urgent, “MMM, MMM, MMM,” hums into a few of their throats.

    Sofia puts the top row of her teeth over her bottom lip.

    She stares at me as though I’m responsible for her mental blockade and not the television the night before. She turns her head towards her team and tries to hide her nervous smile. She fails. “Not a word, Rosey, or you lose,” I fire the words across the room stopping what in seconds would have been a mouthed definition.

    For a minute, a whole minute, I revel in the looming catastrophe. I am howling with laughter inside, but my face is a granite wall. There is so much being learned right now. So much.

    Sofia turns back to me and shrugs her shoulders: “Is it? Is it, the sound? The sound a chicken makes?”
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