The ancient signatures on the yellow horsehide were hard to read. But when I first held that old baseball in my hands in the early 1950s, I had barely learned to spell my own name, let alone decipher the signatures of old Pittsburgh Pirates players. My grandmother Mimmie never commented on the relic, which she kept, oddly, in the upper right corner of her sewing machine table. As soon as we arrived from Ohio at Mimmie’s house in the tiny coal mining town of Yatesboro, Pa., my older brother Mike and I would bound up the stairs to Mimmie’s bedroom, pull open the sewing machine drawer and make sure the ball was still there — we always feared that one of our Yatesboro cousins might borrow the ball for a pick-up game and lose it in the woods. Magically, that never happened. The mystique of the old ball was powerful enough to protect it from casual use. The ball was an object of worship, not amusement. All of us knew that.

Apart from the ratty stack of Don Winslow of the Coast Guard comic books held over from World War II in my grandmother’s cedar trunk and the pink plastic back scratcher in the shape of a human hand hanging on a chain from a bare electric bulb over my grandmother’s bed, there was nothing to divert me during those tedious afternoons. I reverently rolled the autographed ball in my hands and pondered its inscriptions, while downstairs my grandmother set the table for dinner and recited to my mother and father the names of Yatesboro’s recently deceased citizens. Like many Pennsylvania coal towns during the early part of the century, Yatesboro boasted an ambitious baseball diamond with a huge, roofed grandstand and a big scoreboard. The field was half a mile down the hill from Mimmie’s house, in the flat part of town. When my brother and I raced around the bases of that field in the mid-1950s, the grandstand structure appeared rickety, but our cousins said that major league teams still occasionally held tryouts there. Decrepit as it looked to us, the Yatesboro ball field had once upon a time been glorious.

So, too, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Season after season in the 1950s, the inept Peach Fuzz Kids Pirates skidded down to the National League cellar early in May and stayed there right through October. We used to laugh at the painful cliché: two victories in a row were a serious winning streak for the Pirates. But Pittsburgh had once ruled the majors, winning the World Series several times, most recently in 1925. The baseball in Mimmie’s sewing machine drawer certainly looked old enough to be of that vintage. Could it be a ball from the 1925 Pirates? Perhaps from the World Series? When I asked, people said that was likely. Mimmie died in the early 1970s — about the time the Yatesboro grandstand was demolished to make way for a four-lane highway. After her funeral, the family house was sold and Mimmie’s belongings divided up. It would have been indelicate, perhaps obnoxious, to ask any of our relatives if they knew who finally got the baseball. For many years, therefore, as contacts with my cousins diminished, I never knew what had become of the old Pirates baseball I had worshiped as a child.

Fifteen years ago, when I shook hands with my Uncle Jack at a family reunion in Yatesboro on the Fourth of July, I asked him if he knew what had happened to the ball. Uncle Jack, then in his 80s, had long before moved with his family to northern Michigan. He said sheepishly, “One hot July day, the grandkids desperately needed a ball, and before I could stop them, they got to it. I saw one of them swing and wallop it way out into the waves of Lake Michigan.” Though I didn’t tell him, I was appalled at Uncle Jack’s revelation. For the last decade and a half I have pondered that cherished baseball’s deterioration, imagined the names inked on that horsehide surface gradually dissolving into the waters of Lake Michigan, the stitches rotting and the inner yarn disintegrating and sinking to the silt floor of our heartland’s waterways. The dispersed molecules of what might have been a celebrated sports museum specimen had finally gone over Niagara Falls and eventually passed out through the St. Lawrence Seaway to blend with the great ocean waters themselves.

Behold the 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates, World Series champions — their identities jotted for posterity at the pinnacle of their pride, now ineluctably rendered by the natural elements into the anonymous ether. As many have said, baseball lasts through the growing seasons, sharing its early hopes and final realizations according to the natural calendar, so this journey of the relic into the universe seemed proper and somehow consoling to me. Two months ago, when I learned from my brother Mike that Uncle Jack himself had just died up in Michigan, I repeated Jack’s story of the wallop of the ball into the lake and revealed to my brother the vision of the funereal passage of human pride of achievement, represented by an old, mystically imbued baseball, into the sea of nothingness.

Mike said that the ball was not from the 1925 World Championship Pittsburgh Pirates, and where did I ever get that idea? That baseball had been signed by a group of boys down at the Yatesboro grandstand, none of whom had ever gone on to play professional ball. Okay. So I never got the facts straight. I blame that on my age when that baseball first came into my hands and on my imagination. The pageantry of baseball breeds exaggerated lore, so I am only vaguely embarrassed that I sustained the illusion that it was a 1925 World Series relic for so long. When those boys on the Yatesboro ball field jotted their names on that ball, perhaps as a joke, little did they know a gullible dreamer would cherish it for many decades and that finally it would be launched into the cosmos by one of their own kind — a boy hitting a baseball with all his might on a July day, just for the thrill of it.

Gerry Yukevich lives in Vineyard Haven.