Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Season, Part 3

If you've missed the previous updates, you can find #1 here and #2 here

I've gone to doing three character upddates/chapters/whatever you call them a Sunday--if I've timed it right and I think I have, I've set up to finish the week before or week of Opening Day 2008.

I love timing.

Please remember that all work is (c) Rebecca Glass, and all international copyright laws apply.

The Season, Continued

#21 Terry Jones, First Baseman, sixteenth year.

The best part of the baseball season to Terry Jones isn’t in September or October. It’s not even in April. No, the best part of the baseball season comes in February, when he boards a plane from Hope City to Florida. It’s right now, at the start of Spring Training, when the possibilities seem endless, that he’s at his happiest. Anything can happen, and that’s the way Terry Jones likes it.

It’s all fun for him, buying a coach ticket on the airplane, and then having all the young boys on their way to Disney World come up to him, ask him if he really is Terry Jones, and then get his autograph. He never refuses a boy (or girl) that says please and thank you, though adults are another matter. Sixteen years, now, he’s done this.

Sixteen years and this is his last.

The thought hits him, cold and hard, as he sits in the airport, waiting to board the plane. It wasn’t really a hard decision to make—his contract’s up at the end of the year, the team can’t afford to keep him and the young pitchers they want, and he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. Sixteen years is a long time to play in any league. He doesn’t have a ring yet, and it’s kind of odd that the left fielder his rookie year is now the team manager, but he’s been to the Championship, the All Star Game, and everything in between. He’s been married twelve years to the same woman, three kids…there’s no reason for him not to think he hasn’t spent the past sixteen years in Heaven.

He’ll miss it, for sure, Terry thinks. Since he made the announcement three months ago, he’s gotten offers to coach, even to manage for some of the weaker teams in the league, but Terry’s decided against it. He would rather be in the broadcast booth, a broadcaster that actually knows what he’s doing…(he even already made up his home run call!) They wouldn’t even have to pay him, Terry thinks, he’d do it just for fun.

The absurdity of that idea makes Terry’s smile grow even larger. It’s not the most attractive smile ever, but it ranks pretty high. His hair’s still mostly blond, though some white streaks have slipped in, and his eyes are as vibrant blue as ever. He does need glasses to read, though his wife, Linda, keeps on begging him to get the laser eye surgery. He’s the second tallest member of last year’s team, and he has enough muscle mass that it makes him seem shorter. He’s let the stubble on his face grow in a bit, he doesn’t bother trying to hide his age anymore.

The first person to come up to him isn’t a child; it’s a teenage boy, probably no more than fourteen. He’s wearing a Knights t-shirt, so Terry prepares for a slate of insult, but that isn’t what comes out of the youth’s mouth.

“This is really corny, but you’re the reason I play baseball.”

“You root for the Knights though…” Terry laughs as he says it. It’s not the first time anyone has ever said this to Terry, but it doesn’t make it any less special.

“I know, but our first baseman sucks.”

“Is that what you play?”

“Yea. I don’t hit well, though, but neither do you, and if you can still play, well, so can I.”

“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to hit.” Terry smiles. It’s good to know that this fan knows that he has weaknesses, that he’s not perfect.

“I do, I’m just not good enough. I don’t have any power.”

“Try lifting weights. It will help. It helped me…I never hit for a lot of power, but I did get my average up. I was maybe two-twenty my rookie year, but I’m usually around three hundred now. You get a hit, even a dinky single, three out of every ten times at bat, and you’re going to go far.” It sounds like a lot of advice, even though it’s only a little bit. Still, it’s probably more than the boy ever expected to hear.

“I know that’s what I should be doing, but my coach says I should try supplements as well.”

“Well, a protein shake now and then won’t hurt, but be careful. It’s not a long road from shakes to…stuff…you understand?”

“Yeah. You never touched stuff, right?”

“I…no.” Terry hesitates before answering. The truth is he never knowingly touched anything, but there were those few years, back in the nineties, when everyone and his brother was doing something. The trainer tried to get him to take what he called ‘protein pills’. He tried it once, and knew immediately something wasn’t right, so he made up a lie about a stomachache and never did it again. The guilt, however, has stayed with him. That was the year he had thirty-nine home runs, and he’s never come close to that in any other years. The papers that supported the Knights started all sorts of rumors, and for a little while, Terry was scared that his one mistake would be caught.

He lucked out then: the trainer was caught by someone else in September that year, and Terry was the first to sign up for the drug test to prove he wasn’t on anything. He passed with flying colors. Terry Jones, the face of the franchise, Spartan in the truest sense. It was one of his better moments, the papers said, though he didn’t feel that way. How many on the team that year were caught out? Pete Towers nearly lost his job, even Charlie Haus came under fire…it really wasn’t a good moment. Thinking about that year is enough to wipe the smile from Terry’s face, but when he brings himself out of it, he sees the boy still standing there.

“Kid, promise me you’ll just do weights? That you won’t do stuff?”

“Sure,” the boy says, a bit bewildered at Terry’s suddenly serious tone.

“I mean it.”

“Okay. I promise.”

“Good. Where are you sitting on the plane?” Terry turns jovial again, as if trying to make amends.

“Twenty-one E.”

“Well, I’m a lucky one!” Terry laughs, “I always pick row twenty-one, because of my number, and I’m in seat F. Guess I have someone to talk baseball with on the flight, instead of reading the Journal!”

The boy tries to discern if Terry’s serious, so Terry shows him his plane ticket, seat number marked. The boy is momentarily rendered speechless, and again Terry’s thoughts dwell on how much he loves this moment, how much he wishes, right now, that it wasn’t for the last time.

# 32 Richie Haus, right fielder, tenth year

Richie Haus used to love the beginning of spring. The beginning of spring means baseball, and how could anyone not love that?

Easy enough, Richie thinks, when every year it’s the same questions from the same people: are you really good enough to play? Should you really be playing for a team your father owns? Doesn’t that insinuate preferential treatment?

For the first few years, the stats spoke for themselves. Thirty home runs, eighty RBI, never more than ten errors in a year…but it’s not been the same since he hurt his arm, and he knows it. Since he dislocated his shoulder four years ago he hasn’t hit more than fifteen home runs, hasn’t had more than fifty RBI, hasn’t made the plays he needed to make. He’s still good at taking walks, and hitting above two-fifty, but even he knows other managers would have sat him long ago.

A stronger person than he would ask for a trade, Richie thinks, a trade to a team that would be able to play him or sit him without worrying about any repercussions. Still, it’s not like his father has forced Pete to play him. In fact, there were a few times last season when Charlie Haus told Pete to sit Richie…more than a few…but playing anywhere else just wouldn’t feel right.

So the beginning of spring has become a bit of torture. He’s still not perfected his answers to any of the questions; he hopes that somehow, magically, he’ll regain his form. He conditions like hell in the off-season, going every day to the best gym in the country. He takes batting practice at least five times a week, usually more. He is dedication, and he never has anything to show for it.

He’s in the batting cage at the Spartan’s complex in Florida. He’s trying to crush each ball that comes out of the machine, and he’s missing a fair few of them. His thoughts keep distracting him. He’s got to look silly, he thinks, his big, hulking mass swinging and missing pitches coming out of the cage. He looks like an All Star and he’s hitting like a rookie.

The only other person in the cage area is TJ Redd, the second baseman, who’s been here every day since the doctors gave him the go-ahead to swing. Even after missing the entire second half of last season, he’s still swinging better than Richie. TJ broke his wrist last season after diving after a ball, something that Richie’s legs won’t allow him to do anymore.

It’s seeing TJ do what he can’t that makes Richie wonder why he signed on for another year. Something keeps drawing him back to the game, but he’s never quite sure what it is. It’s not even winning a championship—it would be fun, but the pressure of the playoffs has always dropped his already meager stats. It’s not the fans, they like to boo him, call him all sorts of names he’d rather forget, blame his father and Pete for ceaseless nepotism. It’s not the joy of the game, either. There’s little joy left when each at bat is as disastrous as the one before it, and balls any respectable outfielder would catch are dropped.

It’s more that Richie hasn’t given up on proving himself. Somehow, despite it all, he always thinks that he’ll be able to show everyone that he deserves his spot on the team. He’s got to prove it to himself. He can’t let them win.

He hits the next ball so hard it dents the wall.

#9 Micah Garcia, pitcher, fifth year

“You’ve never had a problem with that before.”

“I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m throwing it like always.” It’s hard to make out Micah’s words at first, lost in his heavy Dominican accent. When he first came up, Micah could not speak English at all, so despite the accent, it’s a remarkable improvement. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his pitching. The pitching coach, Steven King, makes that all too clear with his expression: his blue eyes, which often speak louder than his words, hold no answer.

“Well, it’s only February. We’ve got time to work on it. Anyway, the change has never been your best pitch.” Steve is soft-spoken to the extent that it almost seems like a father telling his five year old son that the sun is not about to explode.

“No, it’s only Spring Training…just need to throw it more.”

“I agree; it’s the second week of Spring Training, not the second week of July. I wouldn’t get too worried, but we should fix what you’re doing wrong.” The words of Steven go a long way towards reassuring Micah, but still…

Micah’s tiny for a pitcher. He doesn’t have Paul Green’s baby face, but there’s nothing intimidating about him. He looks like exactly what he is—a dirt-poor Caribbean kid, seen by the right guy at the right time, suddenly thrown into the world of professional baseball. There are many that can’t handle the transition, but until now, Micah has absolutely thrived...which is why the sudden inability to throw a pitch is all the more troubling.

“What am I doing wrong?” Micah stands on the mound on the practice field, Ben behind the plate. The other pitchers are scattered around the outfield, pitching at targets or each other, waiting their turn with Steven. The rest of the team is in the cage; they’ll take the field in the afternoon. The sun is bright, a bit too strong for Steven but exactly what Micah likes.

“Go through your delivery slow, and I’ll see what I can pick up.”

Micah takes the baseball, grips it appropriately, set himself on the rubber, brings his leg up and throws the ball towards Ben. There is something stiff in his elbow, but that’s not on Micah’s mind. What’s on his mind is how the pitch misses Ben, going high past his outstretched hand and bounces against the backstop.

“Qué es?”

“Hmm…” Steve pauses, which signals to Micah that he doesn’t see anything immediately wrong. “Your leg work is fine, so whatever’s going on is going on with your arm. You aren’t throwing your arm across the body, so it’s not a shoulder issue. It’s either your grip or your elbow release. How are you gripping the ball?”

“Like this,” Micah says, taking the ball back from Ben, and holding it in the appropriate change up grip. Ben walks out to the mound to join the conversation.

“I think it’s an elbow thing,” Ben says, but his words seem to go unheeded by Steven, who repeats the same.

“It’s got to be an elbow issue.”

“Okay…” Micah looks at both Steven and Ben. Between the two of them, Steven understands pitching mechanics a bit better, but Ben’s quicker to spot an injury. That the two of them agree on something—that Micah’s problem is an elbow issue—is a promising start, but the trouble will be getting them to agree on something else beyond that. “Well, what do you think?”

“Did you stretch right?” Ben seems to say it just to get the words out first, to try to assert his importance over Steven. He’ll make a great coach or manager someday, Micah thinks, but now’s not really the time.

“Yes, I stretched like I always do.” The response seems to take a bit of life out of Ben, but transfer it instead to Steven.

“It’s probably as you said, just that you haven’t thrown in a while. Why not try throwing some fastballs, making sure you’ve got that working for you, and then we can come back to the change?” Steven is almost deferential, but it’s deceptive. He is optimistic to a fault. Micah knows this, so, like the rest of the pitchers for the Spartans, he is careful. He learns to read Steven, to understand when Steven’s really concerned, and when Steven’s not too fussed. Right now, Micah senses a mild concern; the fact that it’s still only the second week of Spring Training is weighing on his mind.

“Okay, I’ll try the fastball.”

“Good, let’s see how that goes.” Steven smiles, and Ben returns to his position behind the plate.

Micah takes the ball, grips it in the more comfortable fastball grip, and sets. The fastball is his best pitch; if he can’t get it past ninety-four, there’s reason for concern. He deals, Ben manages to catch this one, down and away, and Micah glances up at the scoreboard, for the automatic radar gun.

It reads ninety-two.


  1. I had to register to keep reading this. I've been anon before commenting on this story. This is really awesome. I can feel the buildup. The stage is set.

    The story IS done, right? We're not going to reach opening day and your final posting to read at the end "That's all I wrote folks! Now for the season!" because if you do that, that'd just be... WRONG. As wrong as a red sox win!

  2. Hah!

    Thank you very much!

    The story is, of course, not done, but I am far enough ahead that you don't have anything to worry about =)

    I'd never do that to anyone!

  3. All your characters are so vivid. You do a great job of getting the reader to feel what they feel. They're all flawed, which makes them intriguing. So far, Damien is my favorite.

    And I'm sure Terry Jones will be a better announcer than John Sterling if that happens.

    And the Knights are starting to rank with the Red Sox in my hated teams category! Go Spartans!