Okay, so first of all, you guys are amazing--yesterday was just an awful day and you all made it just that little bit better.
Good News: I actually looked up my scores for the hellof it, and while my scores were certainly nothing special, they are apparently on the right side of average.
Bad News: It's a week before my brother's wedding and I've caught a cold. From the way I feel, I can kind of tell that this is going to be a bad one.
Anyway, the stuff you all want, (c) Rebecca Glass, all international copyright laws apply.
The Season, Part Five
#40 Bran Stromer, center fielder, third year
Once again, Bran Stromer grabs his batting helmet, his bat from the rack, takes a couple of swings in the on deck circle and makes his way to home plate.
It’s the first game with any sort of game tone to it, the first of the many supposedly meaningless preseason contests, and Bran is up first. The Spartans are at the training complex of the New England Tribe near Miami, and while the game will have no bearing on October, it does not mean it’s insignificant. Spring Training is always one large try-out, and these games determine who plays on the roster on the first of April. Bran knows this, and he makes sure he doesn’t forget it.
It’s a windy day. Bran piles his dreadlocks under his batting helmet, so that they do not blow into his face. He was laughed at, the first few times he did it last year, but he knew his stats. With the hair up, .332, 14, 78. With the hair down, .288, 4, 12. When the hair is down, even if it doesn’t get into his face, he can feel it, and it becomes a distraction. So Bran piles his dreads under his helmet, which is a size larger than he would need otherwise, and doesn’t really care about what anyone else says.
There’s not much of a crowd present; it’s mostly scouts and local fans. It rained in the morning and there is still a dampness in the air, making it about ten degrees colder than normal for south Florida this time of year. Bran feels the chill—he’s not wearing sleeves, and when he goes to adjust his batting gloves, he sees the goosebumps on his arm.
He doesn’t know much about the guy pitching for the Tribe, except that he’s a rookie, so when Bran steps into the batter’s box, he doesn’t know what to expect. Like him, the pitcher (____? Dante) is built large and muscular. Unlike Bran, however, the pitcher keeps his hair short, and shields his eyes with sunglasses, despite the cloud overhead.
All Bran has to do is get on base. That is the beauty of leading-off: there’s no onus to get a runner in, because there are no runners on base. It doesn’t matter if Bran hits a single, double or triple, doesn’t matter if he walks or reaches on an error, he just has to get on base. It’s simple enough.
There is a bit of tensions as the pitcher sets, the feeling that now there is no turning back, but there’s no ceremony. It is March, not April. The pitch—and Bran takes all the way, like any good lead off hitter does on the first pitch—is low, in the dirt and gets away from the catcher. The New England fans probably hail it as a bad omen; the papers in Boston will probably say something about it, but it has no bearing on Bran. Instead, he stays locked in as the second pitch catches the low outside corner of the plate for a strike. Both pitches, Bran notices, have been thrown hard, as if it’s the ninth inning of a game in late August.
The third pitch comes, just as hard, low for a strike but in the middle of the plate. Bran has a split second to decide that he’s going to swing. He steps forward, extends his arms and reaches for the ball. He makes contact, solid contact, but it’s not much good, the ball is fouled straight back. With two strikes on him now, Bran doesn’t have a choice. Unless the pitch is way out of the strike zone, he’s got to swing. The fourth pitch is too close to take, so Bran steps, extends and reaches for the ball.
He makes contact. The ball rises into the air, sailing towards right field, but not high enough. The right fielder on the Tribe, Adam Scott, is playing a bit deep, and the ball won’t stay in the air long enough for him to reach it. If this was a game in May or June, Scott would lay out for it, but in March, it’s about staying healthy, so he lets the ball fall in front of him.
Bran reaches first base with ease. He’s done his job.
#28 Cory Daniels, closer, sixth year
“No way that was fair,” Ben says, laughing.
“What? You mean I’m supposed to let them hit it?” Cory Daniels laughs alongside Ben, high-fiving him. They’ve just finished the game against the Tribe, winning by the modest score of 5-3. The last pitch from Cory was a fastball over 100 MPH that—somehow—dropped just like a curve. It was one of those pitches where the batter swung three times after it had landed in Ben’s mitt.
“Who called it?”
“You did!” Cory laughs, as their handshake-ritual is completed, and they move on to the rest of their teammates.
Cory knows that if he can pitch like he pitched today the rest of the season, it’s unlikely he’ll give up more than one or two runs. He also knows that it’s not likely to happen; it’s a long season. Still, he revels in the moment. He pitched well and his team won. The game’s not going to show up in any standings, but Cory’s got to win. If Cory’s on the mound and the Spartans lose, it’s because Cory blew it. He’s got no other option. He has to win.
Cory’s average height, with light brown hair and a go-tee. He’s got jovial blue eyes that makes it hard for anyone to take his game face seriously, and he’s the best closer that the Spartans have ever had.
It’s gotten to the point now that even if just one man for the other team gets on base, it’s not a good outing. Cory has to remind the press and the fans that he’s human, that sometimes someone will hit the pitch he throws, but he never admits that sometimes he’ll lose. He can’t let himself do that, because any time he comes into a game, it’s all or nothing. No one ever said being a closer was easy.
Cory makes his way through the team, and meets up with Ben again on the short walk back to the dugout.
“Seriously, Cory,” Ben laughs, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pitch that good.”
“It did the job.”
“No kidding. I called for a fastball and I got a fastball curve thing I’ve never seen before!”
“You called for a fastball and I wasn’t paying attention to high or low, so I decided to go with both.” Cory laughs, glad he can joke about the pitch.
“Right. The Great Cory Daniels misses a sign. Next you’ll be telling me Monty Allison actually won a start.” This strikes a nerve. Monty’s antics had not gone over well for anyone, but the worst of it was in the bullpen. Cory, especially, feels that Monty has betrayed the bullpen, not so much for wanting to start (who doesn’t?), but by saying that the bullpen wasn’t good enough. Cory’s made his living coming out of the bullpen, and it’s certainly good enough for him.
“He shouldn’t throw another pitch.”
“You can’t still think that…”
“He betrayed us,” Cory says as they make their way down into the dug out and the locker room. “He betrayed not just me but Eduardo and Jeff as well.”
“He’s going to pitch sooner or later, you know. Starter or reliever, he’s too good not to…”
“I know. I don’t like it, but what can you do?”
“At least you don’t have to catch him,” Ben mutters, under his breath, as they pass close to the locker Monty has taken. “Just remember, if you’re on the mound pitching, he can’t lose us the game.”
It’s true, Cory thinks. For this small mercy he is thankful. In the end, it’s the wins that matter.
#5 Steven King, pitching coach, 3rd year
Steven King gets to go home—or rather, to the hotel—happy tonight. It’s not that the Spartans won the game, that doesn’t matter much right now, but because all of the pitchers looked so damn good. Graeme Johnson and Willy Tully each pitched three, and then Eduardo Gomez, Jeff Martin and Cory Daniels, all were excellent. Sure, Graeme walked a couple and gave up the home run to Samuels, but he still struck out the side. Twice.
No one, however, looked better than Cory, Steven thinks. The last pitch of the game was the definition of a perfect pitch, located in an impossible-to-hit part of the strike zone and so fast you couldn’t see it; you just heard it hitting Ben’s mitt. Cory’s been great since he was a rookie, but Steven’s beginning to feel that this year could be something special. Cory’s already an All-Star, but this year…so far, he looks like the MVP. It’s not just that he’s pitching so well, but because Steven can’t think of anyone else on the team that wants to win more.
Steven’s entering the hotel through the front door tonight; a good day like today means he’s perfectly willing to deal with hotel staff fawning over him, willing to attend to his every need. He’s dressed in a navy sports jacket and khakis, looking as if he’s just come from lunch at the prestigious Oakwood Country Club nearby. Steven takes pride in being considered the best-dressed coach in the league, though there aren’t many others that seem to care. He fits right in with most of the other men in the hotel, especially when given his fast-graying hair and body that looks like it hasn’t been to the gym in quite a while.
Steven steps into the elevator in the lobby, sharing it with a teen-age girl who looks like she’s just gotten out of the pool. The girl doesn’t notice him at all, though Steven suspects anyone with that much spray-tan on his or her body doesn’t go to many baseball games. He steps out of the elevator on the fourth floor, turning left to make his way towards his room.
There’s a boy in the hall, throwing a bouncy ball against the far wall. He’s probably not much older than eleven; he’s dressed in swim shorts and there’s a beach towel lying on the floor next to the door of room 427. Steven’s room is across the narrow hall, 428, so Steven walks slowly, watching the boy. The boy can’t seem to decide whether or not to pitch the ball, which is a little smaller than a baseball, if he wants to just throw it. Steven’s amused by the sight, as when the boy tries to pitch, his form’s not half-bad.
“Don’t throw across your body, you’ll hurt your arm,” Steven says, his voice soft as always. The boy looks at Steven, and then inches closer to the door of his room, frightened. “It’s all right, I’m a baseball coach.”
“I…I don’t play baseball.” It’s a lie, Steven senses, but he feels bad for scaring the kid, so he plays along with it.
“That’s all right. When you’re throwing across your body, you can hurt your shoulder. Tell me, is your shoulder sore?”
“You’re rubbing it quite a bit.” It’s a bit of a stretch; the boy hadn’t touched his shoulder until Steven mentioned it, but now he’s massaging it enough to attract Steven’s notice. “Here, give me the ball for a second, let me show you.”
“It’s all right, I can show you without it.” Steven walks to the center of the hall where the boy had been standing before, and stands as if he’s on a pitcher’s mound. Pretending he has a baseball in tow, he sets, and exaggerates with his arm, so the boy catches it. He brings his elbow down, then back, shifts his weight, and plants his foot down just as he makes a release motion, all the while keeping his arm straight. “Do you see?”
“I think so.” The boy seems impressed enough with Steven’s miming that his fear seems to disappear, while also confirming Steven’s guess that the boy plays baseball.
“I’ll show you again.” Steven repeats the motion—elbow down, then back, shift the weight, and release. “If you bring your elbow back far enough and you focus on shifting the weight in your legs, it will almost force you to throw the ball straight, and not across the body.”
“I think I understand.”
“Good, then try it.” Steven smiles, getting out of the way. “You lied when you said you didn’t play baseball, didn’t you?”
“You didn’t want to talk to strangers. I understand. Go on, then.”
The boy takes his ball, and tries to do just as Steven showed him. It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement over what he had been doing before, and the boy senses it, as the ball’s not only thrown harder, but bounces straight off of the center of the wall. Steven has to react quickly to catch it and keep it from bouncing all the way down to the other end of the hallway.
“It’s better, isn’t it?” Steven smiles.
“Yeah! It is!” The excitement in the boy’s voice is undeniable. “Wow! That was incredible!”
“It was pretty neat, wasn’t it? It’s not sixty feet from here to the wall, but that’s all right. Do you play in the little leagues then?”
“No, I play on my school team, I play shortstop but I want to pitch. What about you? Do you coach in the little leagues?”
“Not quite,” Steven laughs. He takes a moment to think about whether or not to tell the boy the truth, and then decides he might as well. “I coach on the Spartans.”
“The Spartans? The Lakewood Middle School Spartans?” Steven has a hard time keeping even a semi-straight face.
“No, I’ve never been to Lakewood Middle School. I coach for the Hope City Spartans.”
“No!” The boy looks almost as though he is going to hyperventilate. “No way!”
“Well, it’s not quite the Florida ‘Canes—“
“I’m a Spartans fan! We’re from Rochester!”
“All right then! One more for us!” Steven laughs some more, as he starts to think that this might even be more enjoyable than watching Cory pitch. It’s a tough call.
“Wait…so…you’re not Pete Towers, though…”
“Nope, not even close. I’m Steven—“
“King! The pitching coach!”
“That would be correct.”
“Whoa! I have to…” the boy takes a room key out from under the towel and opens the door to his room. Steven can easily hear the shouts of DAD! GUESS WHO’S HERE?, and he times the boy’s father’s entrance into the hallway perfectly.
“Hello.” Steven smiles, extending his hand to the boy’s father. “Your son’s got an arm on him, if he learns how to use it.”
“Thank you!” The boy’s father speaks with almost as much excitement as the boy himself. “So, can I ask you a question?”
“Who looks best so far?”
“Well, it’s still early, but Cory Daniels was the best I’ve ever seen him yesterday.”
“He’s not starting, is he?”
“No, of course not.” Steven smiles. “You didn’t ask me for a starter.”
“Oh. Well, would you—“
“Mind? Not at all! Now, you’d have to promise me you’re really a Spartans fan, and that you don’t talk to reporters and all of that…”
“Are you kidding? Brett, tell him!” The boy’s father looks at the boy, as excited as a six year old on Christmas morning who’s just seen the milk and cookies have been consumed.
“Dad’s got season tickets! He’s got his whole office at home covered with Spartans’ stuff!” This time, Steven’s pretty sure Brett is telling the truth.
“Well, in that case, I’ll let you in on a little secret. We’ve got a rookie just coming out of State this year…he’s younger than Graeme Johnson when he first came up, and he’s got better stuff.”
“Really? Better than Graeme Johnson?”
“Well, it’s too soon to tell for sure, but he’s got the potential. When’s his birthday?” Steven asks it, looking at Brett.
“Right, well, if you’re going to get him a jersey or shirt, it’s number eighteen, Paul Green.”
“Paul Green,” the father says, committing the name to memory. “Brett, remember. Paul Green.”
“All right then,” Steven smiles, “I’ve got to go, but it was very nice to meet you.”
“Aww…” Steven can tell Brett didn’t mean to let it escape his lips, so he smiles knowingly, signaling that he will keep it secret. He takes his key out, opening the door to his room, and eyes Brett and his father heading towards the elevator, and then the pool.
It’s been a good day.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Okay, so first of all, you guys are amazing--yesterday was just an awful day and you all made it just that little bit better.