If you missed Part One, or want to re-read, click here.
Please note that this week's update contains drug reference and brief language.
The Season, Part Two
#36 Ben Abraham, Catcher, fifth year
Ben Abraham is surprised to see Graeme Johnson on the practice field early. He’s been catching Graeme for five years now, and if anything, Graeme’s never early. Maybe it’s something about being a veteran, but no one ever cares if Graeme’s late. If Ben was late, however, it’d be another story. It’d be Pete and Dennis Howard, the bench coach, yelling at him, asking him if he really did want his starting job behind the plate. Not so with Ben.
So, of course, Ben is early on the first day, as he has been the past four years, but it’s probably the first time he’s not the first one on the field. He’s got his eye not on Graeme, who is pretending to be a catcher, but on the other one, the one throwing, who, whoever he is, might be the only person shorter than Ben. As he gets closer, though, he sees it’s not true; it was just the angle that he was standing on the mound. Still, the guy pitching looks so young it makes Ben feel about ten years older than his twenty-eight.
“Ben!” Graeme manages to notice him and hold onto a breaking ball in the dirt.
“Trying out for catcher?”
“Yeah, Ben, we all know I want your job…” the joke stings Ben a little bit. The pitchers always get all of the glory.
“Funny. What are you doing, anyway?”
“Ben, meet rookie, rookie meet Ben.” Graeme points to the pitcher, who waves his glove hand.
“You got a name, rookie?” Ben asks, amused at the rookie’s awkwardness.
“Fitting name for a rookie. What are you doing?”
“Are you any good?” Ben looks at Graeme as he asks it. Graeme nods, and then adds,
“Yea, baby rookie’s got a helluva fastball.”
“He looks like a baby!”
“He does, doesn’t he? How hard are you throwing, rookie?”
“Hard.” Ben looks at the rookie, who shrugs his shoulders.
“Hard? Let’s see then.” Ben motions to Graeme to give him the catcher’s mitt, and Graeme is happy to oblige. Ben doesn’t expect much from the rookie, so when the pitch comes, a fastball straight down the middle, Ben thinks for a moment that he might have just broken his hand. “Christ, rookie!”
“Sorry,” Paul says, apologetic. “Didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“What are you sorry about? That had to hit ninety-five. Where did Haus find you?”
“I was drafted,” Paul says, like it’s a bad thing, “from State. I’ve never met Charlie Haus.”
“You will, rookie, if you keep throwing like that.” Ben likes the rookie, he decides. He’s deferential, knows his place on the team, but he seems to be having fun with it. Anyway, Graeme seems to like him, and that’s a good sign. Graeme, in the short time Ben has known him, always seems to know who’s worth hanging around, and who’s not.
Ben takes a few more pitches from Paul, this time prepared for them, before he catches Pete walking onto the field. Pete looks as if he’s aged considerably in the past few months, but Ben can’t blame him. After everything that happened last year, the year the Spartans were picked to win it all, and they lost in the first round…it wouldn’t be easy on any manager, let alone one in the last year of his contract.
“Morning, Ben,” Pete says, catching sight of him, “good to see you.”
“Same. Good winter?”
“No.” For all of the faults Pete has, Ben thinks, it’s good to know Pete seems incapable of lying. “I still read the papers.”
“You shouldn’t,” Ben admonishes, stepping over his bounds. It only draws a look from Pete, who seems too tired to rebuff.
“Who’s out there with Graeme?”
“Rookie. Paul Green.”
“That’s Paul Green?” There is only a hint of amazement in Pete’s voice, and Ben knows it’s as amazed as Pete will ever sound.
“Killer fastball. First day of Spring Training and I need ice.”
“Guess I should go meet him, then.” Pete leaves Ben where he is, and walks up to Paul, trying hard not to scare the rookie pitcher.
The pitchers get all the glory.
#4 Damien Riley, shortstop, fourth year
Damien Riley hates the February cold. He only stays in New York over the winter because everyone else he cares about is here, but it doesn’t change the fact that going outside in upstate New York is like walking straight into a freezer. February is the worst. Raw and windy, with lake effect snow blowing in non-stop, it makes one wonder how it’s ever possible to play baseball here in the spring. Only one more week, and Damien can board a plane for lovely, warm Florida. Still, one week is a long time.
It only took one week for everything to come unraveled his sophomore year. He finished third in rookie-of-the-year voting his first year. His second year everyone, all of the papers especially, were saying that he should be the league MVP, and then someone found out about the coke. Someone found out about the coke and went to not him, or even the police, but straight to Pete Towers, and then when Pete was asked why he was sitting Damien in the team’s most important series of the year, Pete couldn’t lie.
Charlie Haus, the very next day, gave Damien a choice: enter a substance-abuse program, or be cut from the team. Just like that. It didn’t matter that Damien had only done it on an off day, that he was always prepared to play, that he could name others on the team he’d seen using marijuana. Coke was somehow so much worse than marijuana, and everyone was on him. The coaches, his teammates, the papers, the sports analysts. Everyone talking about how he’d wasted a golden opportunity, how he didn’t deserve to be given another chance.
Of course, Damien proved them wrong. He breezed through the program, came back from a league suspension (because when the league found out about it they had to take action), and then last year, made the all-star team. Feel good story of the year, all of the papers had said. None of them mentioned the hell the entire thing put Damien through, though, or the hell the entire thing put his family through. His mother nearly had had a heart attack, and his father did. Damien’s paycheck was withheld from him while he was suspended, so he had no money to pay his father’s hospital bill. His mother had to sell his childhood house, but it didn’t do much good. His father died anyway, and his mother still hasn’t quite forgiven him.
Not that Damien hasn’t tried to make amends. When he finally did get paid, he bought his mother and his two younger sisters a nice house in the Hope City suburb of Hope Falls. From what Damien hears, it’s not too far from where Pete Towers grew up…not a mansion, but a bigger house than his mother or sisters have ever seen. He even volunteered at the hospital, Bellevue Memorial, in the children’s ward, spending time with sick kids. None of the doctors wanted him there, though, and they didn’t bother hiding it. One even went so far as to wear a Knights cap, though there was one sportswriter that called him out on it.
Still, it doesn’t make today any easier. He had promised his mother that he’d go and visit his father’s grave, on what would have been his fifty-fourth birthday. He had promised to stand at the headstone, and apologize for causing his father’s death. He had promised his mother that if he ever wanted to talk to her or his sisters again, that he would go and do it. What’s more, he had to do it during the day, for all to see. He had to take the bus, through downtown, and back. He had to acknowledge that he was nothing.
Standing at the bus stop, clad in a heavy coat, ski hat and sunglasses, it’s hard to recognize him. He’s not big like a lot of ballplayers, and there is nothing remarkable about his complexion. As a child he was told he had a faint resemblance to Jackie Robinson, which got him to try baseball, but those remarks ceased as he got older. He elicits no stares from anyone else waiting at the bus stop, which is a good sign. As soon as one person starts to stare, others will as well, but for now, they’re leaving him alone.
Damien’s glad when the bus comes, glad to get a momentary respite from the cold. He goes to take a seat in the back row, when a teenage girl in clothes that are about three sizes too small, stares him down.
“What the fuck yah think you’re doing? That’s my seat.”
“You’re not sitting in it.”
“So? It’s still my seat.” Damien makes to move back towards the front of the bus, and grab one of the poles. “Hey, do I know yah?”
“Yah, I do. I do. I seen yah before.” The bus begins to move, Damien’s got five stops to go. He’ll be lucky if he makes it one, he thinks.
“Maybe, but you don’t know me.”
“Take the shades off.”
“No.” The girl keeps staring at Damien, though she doesn’t say anything else. She doesn’t look like she’d be at all interested in baseball, but Damien knows how deceptive appearances can be.
The girl gets off at the next stop, in one of the seediest areas of Hope City. Damien doesn’t know what the girl’s going to do there, but he can guess and it makes him throw up a little inside. The girl was probably about the same age as his youngest sister.
The rest of the bus ride passes without incident. No one comes anywhere close to Damien; the pseudo-gangsta look seems to hold them off. Maybe they think he’s a pimp or small-time drug dealer, either way he doesn’t look like someone anyone would want their children around. A nobody, a nothing.
Damien gets off at the bus stop near the park, of which the cemetery is a small part. He’s got to walk across most of the park to get there. A pleasant green in the summer, the park in February is a nauseating mix of white snow, brown mud and grey slush. It’s not a nice place. There’s no one here, either, though Damien doesn’t expect anyone else. It’s cold enough that it seems to cut into Damien’s legs, making them burn, go numb, and burn again. He’s got great athletic ability, of course, but the cold is such that he’s nearly out of breath by the time he reaches the front of the cemetery and his father’s grave is towards the back.
Jackson Riley hadn’t wanted a fancy funeral, and he had bought, for himself and his wife, the cheapest plot available. He was more concerned about the digs his soul would get when his heart stopped beating, which Damien thinks a bit foolish. There was no law saying Jackson had to take the most expensive plot imaginable, but the cheapest? It doesn’t help that Damien’s not much a believer in the afterlife and the rapture and all of that.
He finds his father’s grave, and does as his mother asks.
“Sorry Dad,” he says, “I let you down.” Damien turns to walk back, but thinking about it for a moment, turns back towards the grave. “I’m not nothing, Dad.”
It feels good to get the words out, this small act of defiance, but the feeling doesn’t last long and as he gets on the bus to go back home, he knows his mother’s right. He’s nothing. He’s nobody.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
If you missed Part One, or want to re-read, click here.