The Jets won (!!!), I am thus in a good mood, so here it is!
If Mo goes official official, I have something later or tomorrow.
(c) Rebecca Glass, all international copyright laws apply.
The Season, Part Six
#27 TJ Redd, 2nd Baseman, third year
“Damien, man, you ready yet?” TJ Redd knocks on the door of Damien’s hotel room. There’s no reply. “C’mon, man, we’re gonna be late, and I promised Jenna we’d be on time!”
TJ’s promised his girlfriend, Jenna, that he and Damien would go to a malaria charity dinner, but the dinner starts in an hour and it will take at least thirty minutes to get there. Jenna’s only just returned from her February in Africa, Zambia, to be exact, and she’s not staying in Florida long. This might be their only chance to see each other before the season starts.
“Man, hurry up!” TJ knocks again, but again there’s no reply. Thinking that maybe Damien hasn’t heard him, TJ takes out his phone and dials Damien’s number. The phone rings a few times, but there is no answer. TJ knocks once more…and this time, Damien opens the door while trying to button his shirt.
“Sorry, I was—“
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s go.” TJ leads Damien to the elevator, and then down to the lobby. TJ’s dressed a little bit nicer than Damien, in a dress shirt and pants, whereas Damien looks like he’s about to hit the town.
TJ and Damien have been good friends since TJ joined the team; although their lives are similar, TJ’s had the better luck. Both grew up poor in the Industrial Park area of Hope City, but TJ grew up with both parents and his grandmother, who had emigrated from Jamaica. Damien had multiple run-ins with the law, TJ didn’t. Both attended the same high school, and played on the same team, but TJ got to be captain senior year. Damien came up first, but TJ was signed to the bigger contract. Damien had a problem with coke, and was ridiculed. TJ broke his wrist, and received so many get well soon cards that he had to buy a large storage bin just to have a place to put them.
Still, TJ’s always been there for Damien, and that’s only made their friendship stronger. When TJ was made captain of their high school team, TJ treated Damien like a co-captain. When Damien was in rehab, TJ was the only member of the Spartans to visit him every week. They were—and are—inseparable when the season starts; only in the winter, when Damien stays in Hope City and TJ goes (for the most part) wherever Jenna’s work takes her, do they spend time apart.
They take TJ’s car, a rented SUV, and the drive to the beachfront restaurant is uneventful. The weather’s some of the nicest they’ve had, cool and not too humid. The sunset is gorgeous, though neither TJ nor Damien takes notice. TJ’s thoughts, especially, are elsewhere.
They rest on Jenna. He’s been with her long enough now that his grandmother’s begun to press the subject of rings. I want to see my grandson with a good woman before I die, and that ain’t gonna be too long from now. Those had been her exact words. The problem isn’t that TJ’s shy or that he doesn’t want to do it; the problem is finding the right time for it. Between Jenna’s work, researching malaria, and her traveling to Africa and South America, and the baseball season, there isn’t a lot of time for them to have together.
All TJ wants is a week that Jenna can take off, the same time as a Spartans homestand, so he can ask the question one night, and then have the week with her, and not in a hotel room…
TJ’s attention is drawn back to the present as he pulls into the restaurant valet, lane. He hands the car keys over to the valet, and he and Damien make their way into the restaurant. Jenna is waiting just inside the entrance, in a green cocktail dress that does well to accentuate her sea-green eyes. Her hair is a mass of bronze curls that fall down to her shoulders, perfectly done. The curls get TJ every time, propelling him to embrace her even before she has a chance to say hello.
“I know it’s been a month, but I’ve been gone longer,” Jenna says, laughing, as she draws herself out of TJ’s grasp.
“I know, but, man, you look…amazing.”
“Thanks, but if you get all mushy now, Damien’s gonna feel left out.”
“It’s all right,” Damien smiles. “You can have the girl if I get the food.” Had TJ been younger, he would have answered that with a hearty Sounds good!, but Jenna has taught him better. He says nothing and waits for Jenna to take the lead.
“C’mon, they’re gonna start.” Jenna takes TJ’s hand and leads him and Damien into the dining room. There are about one hundred gathered; while there are a few Asian-Americans, TJ, Damien and Jenna all stand out as the only African-Americans. There are some who stare, but for the most part the three are able to find their seats without hindrance. There’s a small stage in the front of the room, where a microphone is set up for speakers. TJ doesn’t know who’s supposed to be speaking, and he doesn’t care too much, but when a woman in traditional African dress steps forward, he applauds with everyone else.
TJ doesn’t pay too much attention to what the woman says; he keeps his eyes on Jenna. He’s entranced. He doesn’t notice when there’s food placed in front of him, or when a Nobel prize winner (medicine? Peace?) steps up to the microphone and delivers a rousing speech. He keeps his eyes on Jenna, and then and there he makes a decision.
Diamond solitaire, on a silver band etched with gold. His grandmother would approve of that.
#50, Eliot Zephyr, utility outfielder, second year.
“Dude, check this out...they have us third in the East. THIRD!” The outrage in Eliot’s voice is only half-joking. He’s clutching the newest issue of Sports Weekly, the baseball preview issue, where the baseball writers make their predictions as to how all the teams in the league will finish. That the writers have picked New York to finish first in the East comes as no surprise; they predict the same every year. It’s that the writers have decided that New England will finish ahead of Hope City that’s getting to Eliot, and, as he looks at Kent, it seems he’s not the only one.
“Are you serious?” Kent grabs the magazine from Eliot, and sure enough, it reads East: 1. New York, 2. New England, 3. Hope City, 4. Florida, 5. Washington. “What are they saying?”
“Something about how we’ve got a lot of issues…here…” Eliot takes the magazine back from Kent, as the two of them sit in the clubhouse, waiting for the start of their last preseason game. “They’re saying that what Mont’s done is such a distraction we won’t be able to focus…and they think we’ve got no pitching.”
“What?” Kent looks at Eliot, and neither of them can resist a laugh. They’ve played fifteen preseason games, and they’ve won eleven of them. “Guess they haven’t seen the likes of Paul or William or Cory…”
“Dude, it gets better! They say Chicago is good enough this year to beat both St. Louis and Minnesota.” Eliot points to the passage, and it takes only a quick glance at Kent to confirm what he’s thinking: they’re reading one of the funniest things they’ve ever seen. It is as if the writers have been paid to make the most outrageous claims possible—Chicago hasn’t finished higher than third in the Central for six years now, and except for a new rookie center fielder by the name of Jordan Jackson, there hasn’t been much done to change the team.
Eliot tries not to laugh too loudly, but it’s hard. There’s much to be happy about today, and this is just the icing. The Spartans are about to play their last preseason game, against Minnesota, before flying back to Hope City later tonight. The eleven-and-four preseason record is the best of all the teams training in Florida, and still, it doesn’t show everything. The record doesn’t show how well Graeme and William Tully have pitched (or Paul Green, for that matter), or how well Damien and TJ have been hitting, or how Bran’s managed to get on base every game. Sure, Micah’s starts have been a little spotty, and neither Richie nor Leo Castiglione are hitting much, but the rest of the team’s been nearly the epitome of perfection. Anyway, it’s still March; it’s not like Micah and Leo won’t pick it up…though, Eliot admits, he can’t be too sure about Richie.
The best part about today, Eliot thinks, won’t actually be the baseball game. The best part about today will be when their plane lands in Hope City, Eve will be there waiting for Kent…and Kent doesn’t know it. It wasn’t too easy to arrange; trying to find time apart from Kent when Kent was not on the phone with Eve was damned near impossible. Still, Eliot’s pretty sure it will be worth it, just to see the look on Kent’s face. They won’t have too much time together, since the Spartans will only be in Hope City for a week before traveling to Washington for Opening Day, but some time is always better than none.
“Guess we’ll have to prove them wrong...” Kent laughs, giving the magazine back to Eliot who lets it fall to the bottom of his locker.
“We will, don’t worry.” Eliot grabs his glove, and the two of them make their way to the practice field, the last time they will do so together until next year, barring injury. It’s an odd sort of feeling; they really don’t spend much time in Florida, and yet it feels so much like a second home.
“I can’t believe we’re going back to HC tonight,” Kent says, abbreviating Hope City to its less-corny sounding initials. “It seems like we just got here.”
“Dude, I know. I can’t wait to go back, though.”
“Can’t wait to get back to the snow?” Hope City, like the rest of upstate New York, is notorious for the long, brutal, unending winters. Eliot, unlike the rest of the team, has never bothered to hide his love for the cold weather. If his contract would allow it, he’d go skiing every weekend, but the risk of injury makes it one of those things on the if-you-want-to-have-a-career absolute no-no list.
“Just…nothing.” Eliot can’t hide a smile.
“Bro, what’s going on?”
“You’ve got a girl you haven’t told me about?”
“Dude, I got nothing. I just want to see some snow before Washington!”
The two of them make their way into the dugout, taking their place amidst Daniel Lewis and Dylan Offers, the other utility men. Though Dylan has the talent to start every day and Daniel the drive, Kent and Eliot have made their momentary peace coming off the bench. It is, after all, only their second year playing at the top level, and all it takes is for a starter to start slumping for them to get their chance.
One chance is all that it takes. Eliot can wait.
#1 Dennis Howard, bench coach, tenth year
Hope City Spartans tradition dictates that the last preseason game of the year, the bench coach gets to manage the team. It is Dennis Howard’s favorite day of the year.
Short and pudgy, the type of man that looks like he can be squashed by an umpire the second he races onto the field to argue a call, Dennis has been stuck in bench-coach-purgatory now for ten years. The five-year contract extension that Mr. Haus offered him three years ago was better than the managing offers from Florida and Denver, and somehow it had made more sense to him to take more money and stay with Pete than to go and do what he really wanted.
The problem Dennis has, he knows, is that he’s nearly attached to the Spartans as much as Pete. He didn’t play as long as Pete or even have a remarkable playing career as a back-up infielder, but he’s always been a Spartan. It would feel too much like treachery to try anything else, he knows, even if it means giving up on the one thing he wants most.
So, for Dennis, the last game of the preseason is the highlight of his year. He gets to do as he pleases, with no real consequences of any sort. It doesn’t matter if the Spartans win or lose this game, so it’s not a huge deal if he decides replace Damien at short or Bran in center in the third, just to give Eliot some time in the field or Daniel a chance with the bat. Dennis doesn’t do that, though; he manages to win.
It surprises no one that the line-up card on the last day of Spring Training looks nearly exactly like it will on Opening Day, the only difference being that Paul Green is being given the start over Graeme Johnson. Bran leads off, followed by TJ, Damien, Adrian Martinez, Ben, Terry, Leo Castiglione, Richie and, today, Graeme. If Dennis had the guts, he would bat Graeme ahead of Richie Haus, but the last day of Spring Training is a bad time to make an enemy of the team’s owner.
There’s a modest crowd on hand today, as the Spartans’ Floridian fan base seems to have come out in full, getting their hands on the last cheap $8-a-seat tickets for the year. Though the Spartans can’t claim to do too many things better than New York, they can at least claim that their Spring Training games are affordable for their fans.
The weather’s humid again; it won’t surprise anyone if the tarp has to be brought out right in the top of the fifth, just before it’s long enough to be called an official game. There’s no wind; instead the air sits heavy, like a great weight crushing the world beneath it. Dennis has his sunglasses on, but it’s overcast and does not look like it will be clearing any time soon, at least, not before it rains.
Dennis does not take his normal seat on the bench next to Pete today, but instead, he stands at the second-to-last step, leaning on a loose bat and watching the field with intent. Paul looks as good as ever taking his warm-up tosses; in a few years, maybe less, he’ll be the one on the mound Opening Day. It’s just one of those baseball things; Dennis knows it. He can exude confidence in his pitcher as Minnesota’s lead off batter, Casey Jensen, steps into the batter’s box, for one last go-around.
The first out is a strike out, as Jensen flails at a pitch that was probably outside the strike zone. The second out follows soon after on a pop up, and the third is a line drive right at TJ. It’s a fast and easy start to the game, an inning where Dennis doesn’t have a whole lot of managing to do; he can just sit and enjoy it. The bottom of the inning is not too much different. Bran works a walk, steals a base, TJ bunts him over to third, and he scores easy on Damien’s fly ball to right field. Adrian is called out on a pitch that probably wasn’t a strike, but in a game that doesn’t matter no one is about to complain.
The game continues in much the same vein. Graeme gives up a hit here or there, but never more than two in the same inning, and more important, walks just one batter. It’s not a hard game to manage; anyone with a basic understanding of baseball would be able to manage the Spartans today. Dennis won’t admit it, but it makes him slightly bitter. How is he supposed to prove to everyone else that he has what it takes when all of the critical decisions have been made for him?
In the sixth, Minnesota’s pitcher gets to an 0-2 count on TJ Redd, and then hits him straight in the wrist, the same wrist that TJ broke last season. The hush that falls over the small crow says all that needs to be said, as Dennis makes his way onto the field along with the trainer Liam Laurens. TJ stands there in the batter’s box, a grimace on his face, but he looks more annoyed than hurt.
“Let me see.” Liam says, taking TJ’s wrist lightly in his hand. His eyes, dark and strong, say much. “Doesn’t feel broken.”
“I’m fine,” TJ mutters, as if it is anathema to say anything else.
“No sliding,” Dennis interjects, not content with just observing.
“No sliding. The game doesn’t count for anything, don’t risk it.”
“I agree,” Liam says, nodding his head. “We’ll take x-rays after the game, to make sure, but for now, no sliding, no diving after outs. It’s not worth it.”
“So I can stay in, but I gotta be youth league about it?”
“Yep.” If there’s one thing Dennis has learned well from Peter, it’s that honesty isn’t the best option; it’s the only option.
“If it was up to me,” Liam says, face straight as an arrow, “I’d take you out of the game now.” That seems to work; TJ complains no further and heads to first as Liam and Dennis head back to the dugout.
“You wouldn’t be a very popular manager,” Dennis says. Liam has to look at him to make sure it’s a joke.
“Yes, well, at least they’d all be healthy.”
“You do a pretty good job of it anyway.”
There’s no response to that, and the two of them take their separate seats. Dennis likes Liam well enough; he’s good at what he does and he’s a nice fit with the rest of the coaches, but he’s got a habit of thinking he is a coach. He would make a great coach someday, maybe even a manager, but for now Liam is much better off sticking to mending to players broken in body.
In the eighth inning, Dennis lets Dylan Offers hit for Damien, Kent hit for TJ, Eliot hit for Richie and Daniel hit for Leo Castiglione. The bench does a nice job; the pitcher from Minnesota isn’t quite ready for this level, and he pays for it. Five runs on three walks and three hits, and if not for Jeff Martin, the current pitcher, grounding into a double play, there would have been more. It is almost a mercy when Jeff closes out the ninth, but for Dennis there is a bit of regret.
It will be another long wait before Dennis gets to do this again.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The Jets won (!!!), I am thus in a good mood, so here it is!