Under the bleachers Think you know JUCO? Uh, OMG. No!

Michaela McGrady, 14, waves as her friends Jade Poepple, left and Marcus Fuest, 14, hang out under the stands



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Michaela McGrady, 14, waves as her friends Jade Poepple, left and Marcus Fuest, 14, hang out under the stands

Shane Cowder, from left, Jacob Fitzpatrick, 15, and Jake Holloway, 16, all of fruita show some respect during the National Anthem.



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Shane Cowder, from left, Jacob Fitzpatrick, 15, and Jake Holloway, 16, all of fruita show some respect during the National Anthem.

There are people everywhere, but there’s nobody here.

“There’s nobody here,” she tells her friends, and they nod in bored agreement. Ugh. Various postures of slouch indicate total indifference. So over it.

“Like, nobody.”

The hair: straightened. The shorts: 1-inch inseam. The cell phones: ever at the ready. And for what?

Oh, hey! Alert! Baseball players? Maybe. They have the look of baseball players, a sort of Midwestern cuteness that, given they’re (hopefully!) not from around here, vaults them into exotic swooniness. And they have the walk of baseball players, a cocky sort of rolling gait that propels them from the balls of their feet.

As they walk by, they own the world.

The girls notice. The dance begins.

Staring would be too obvious. Noticing would be too obvious. Instead, the girls’ conversation is suddenly hilarious. And animated! Ha ha ha! Would you look at these sparkling eyes! Postures subtly shift from “blegh” to “OMG, you guys! Seriously.”

The possible baseball players glance over and keep walking. Bros, you know. Got business.

Ugh. There’s nobody here.

New plan: “Let’s just go sit in the bleachers.”

“Where?” a just-finished-freshman-year, almost-15 skeptic asks.

“Over there,” group activity leader proposes, waving a casual hand in an “over there” direction. “Up on the end.”

“Why?”

(It should be noted that a baseball game currently is being played before a full Suplizio Field crowd.)

Group activity leader rolls her eyes. “Let’s just go see if there’s anyone we like and if there isn’t, we can come back.”

Skeptic shrugs. OK. The group of six, just two days into their post-freshman-year summer, move in amoeba-like cohesion toward a vague promise of awesomeness.

“There are more people down here when it gets darker,” someone observes, and she’s right. And it’s the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. And the baseball’s OK — the hundreds of fans that just erupted in cheers seem to think so.

But let’s say you’re 15 (or almost 15, or 14, or a trying-it-on-for-size 12). And let’s say your skin sometimes feels like someone shrank it in the dryer, or left it out in the rain. And let’s say what’s inside that skin is a treeful of monkeys, spazzy and unpredictable and confusing. And sometimes you want to hit stuff, and sometimes you want to bawl, and sometimes you spend hours — hours — thinking about you-know-who. OMG, you know who? Please don’t tell anyone.

So, you’re just starting to realize that the world is fragmented into infinite realities. The philosophy’s a little deep, but you’re aware of it. You know, then, that the JUCO on the bleachers is not — not even a little —  the JUCO under the bleachers.

On the bleachers, it’s portable, plastic seat cushions and freebie Alpine Bank fans. It’s “Glory Days” over the loudspeakers and the omnipresent threat of spilled nachos. It’s sunburns, pleated khaki shorts with loafers (no socks), Little League dreams for the future and God-bless-America contentment as the sun sets. It’s loud and uncomfortable in a sore back, numb butt kind of way. It’s the crack of the bat, as cheesy as that sounds. It’s baseball, pure and simple.

Under the bleachers, though.

Under the bleachers is the reason to come to JUCO, if you’re so inclined. And honestly, you’ve been so inclined. Maybe not this year, maybe 20 years ago, but all it takes is a sweet-fried whiff of funnel cake to bring it all back. Or to move it forward.

This is a place, under these bleachers, to see and be seen. It could be London’s Hyde Park circa 1830 for all the promenading going on. The kids move in clots. Yes, clots. Between certain ages — let us say 9 and 16 — to walk somewhere solo is an acute form of torture. Obviously, everyone’s looking. Under the bleachers? Unthinkable. There is no solo walking.

And oh, no, it’s not just girls. Lest we get all chauvinistic up in here, boys do it, too. Here comes a clot now, sophomores from the look of them. One of the clot jumps to slap at a free-hanging sign (dudes and the jump-and-slap: discuss; specifically, why?) and gets a shove upon landing.

Be cool, dude.

You be cool.

So. Dudes. You’re here to meet girls?

This earns some jostling and shoving and a whole lot of heh-heh-heh braggadocio: “The honeys be up on us.”

The honeys be up on you. You do realize you’re in Grand Junction, Colorado?

“There’s nobody here this year,” another dude offers. It’s sometime during the 7:30 p.m. game, prime time under the bleachers. Navigating the clots requires a running back’s deftness of foot. But… OK. There’s nobody here.

What are your names, dudes?

“Seymour,” one offers, earning a chorus of heh-heh-heh.

*Sigh* Really? You’re going there? That’s the beauty of under the bleachers: There’s no gray area. Either that joke is hilarious and fresh, or it isn’t and you’re a thousand years old.

Under the bleachers is no place for people with mortgages or student loan debt, for people who know full well that they shouldn’t be eating those curly fries, for people who can no longer cry their way out of a speeding ticket. Under the bleachers is Pop Rocks. The vegetables-and-fiber brigade can just keep walking.

Under the bleachers is a Kabuki theater of oversize emotions: HI!!!!!! HUGS!!!!!!! POUT!!!!!! OMG!!!!!! Unless, of course, you’ve somehow been made prematurely aware of Beat writers or hip-hop chic, and the imperative is to chill the heck out. Or unless there’s nobody here, in which case it’s a study of ennui in shades of beige and gray.

Bored. NO! Yes. BASEBALL PLAYERS!

That’s the ultimate here. So cute! So athletic! During JUCO week, they are kings. Hopefully, they have the good sense not to cruise the underage, but the underage live in eternal hope. Is that one? He looks like one. Hot! Maybe?

You feel for the local boys, suffering the stigma of chopped liver when the baseball players are in town. Especially the boys in clots, the 15-year-olds who don’t have a driver’s license. Is there a more difficult time in life? Probably not. So, they move with studied nonchalance among the other clots.

Clots occasionally meld, and that’s when the stars align. Hi. So. Yeah. Give me your number, I’ll text you. Eh! Did I say you could eat one of my fries! Hits! Tease fighting! Here’s a Sharpie. Let’s write on each other.

It’s dark now, so the lights glow and buzz yellow under the bleachers. It’s late, but there’s still an appetite for Dippin’ Dots and nachos here. Among certain segments of the population, there are furtive, wistful discussions of how to get out to Horizon Drive, to the hotels where the baseball players are staying. Over there, in deep, deep luv, a couple conspicuously kisses. Little brothers and sisters dart like kangaroo rats among the clots. Go away! So embarrassing.

There is boredom here, of course there is. Let’s not romanticize it. But there is possibility. This is not the soul-deadening gatherings of adulthood, the “hi, co-worker, let’s stand here and make awkward conversation for exactly 10 minutes” variety. Nor is it any kind of Hieronymus Bosch debauch that results in felony convictions. It’s just ... under the bleachers. Anything could happen, but probably won’t.

But there will be eye contact. There will be the thrill of talking to someone cute, of insta-envisioning a summer spent together, the long hours of texting, the “in a relationship” Facebook status. There will be a classic rock soundtrack, a scent of fries, a few blissful hours of pretending the ‘rents aren’t 50 feet away, on the bleachers and in a whole different world.

“Guys!” she says. “Let’s go over there.” And under these bleachers, they head toward the glow of whatever they’re seeing.



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