Sorry I haven't done any updating the last couple days, but, to be honest, the last couple of days have not been the most exciting ever in the world of baseball.
As always, (c) Rebecca Glass, all international copyright laws apply. Please protect intellectual property rights.
Please be warned that today's update contains some material that may not be suitable for all readers.
#18, Paul Green, pitcher
“You wanted to see me?” Paul’s in Pete Towers’ office, sweating worse than a hog, just after he’s pitched his first win, against Chicago. It wasn’t the best pitching performance of his life, but it was good enough: four runs in seven innings, on seven hits (including a two-run double that should have probably been caught by Richie Haus). The Spartans were able to grind out two runs in the bottom of the seventh to win the game 6-4, but Paul knows he’ll have to pitch better against better teams. The air in the locker room is a bit stale, like rusty metal, and he is slightly irritated by the music coming through the speakers; he can’t stand reggae.
“Good effort today.” Pete doesn’t budge from his chair. He’s sipping on what looks like a cup full of cola—his own after-a-win treat. “You need to work with Steven on your change, though.”
“I know. Graeme’s been really helpful so far.” Another thing Graeme’s told Paul: if Pete says something needs work, it needs work. Argue with him, and you’ll miss more than just your next start.
“Graeme’s an excellent mentor, you’re getting advice from one of the best, but it’s your mechanics that need work and Steven’s the one to go to for that.”
“He’s been…” Paul hesitates, unsure if he should proceed, but a glance from Pete tells him he doesn’t have a choice, he has to finish what he’s started. “He’s been really occupied with Micah. It’s almost like…it feels like…he doesn’t realize I exist.”
“You’re a rookie. You get no breaks. Steven will talk to Graeme because Graeme’s the team ace and has to pitch like it, he’ll go to Willy because he’s the ace if Graeme gets hurt, and Graeme usually misses a few starts in August with a tired arm. He’s talking to Micah now because Micah’s not throwing well and we need to get Micah sorted because we have him signed for six and it’s his third year. You’re not one of his priorities right now. You want his attention, you got to get it yourself.” There’s no sympathy in Pete’s voice as he says it; instead it comes across as a man spouting the facts of life. The earth is round. Baseball is played in the summer. Paul is a rookie.
“Micah’s arm right now is more important. Your change isn’t horrible, and you can win games on your fastball alone, but your change does need a lot of work if you’re going to reach your ceiling—“
“My ceiling?” Paul doesn’t want to admit that he’s not really paid attention to the press about him; it weirds him out, and thus, he has only a limited idea as to how high he projects—he’s good enough to be in the starting rotation. He doesn’t know where, though.
“You project higher than Micah. If you get your change working right, higher than Willy as well.”
“But not a number one.” Paul is not the best one in the world at taking hints. He admits it, but only when he realizes that hints are being given, which, in this case, he doesn’t.
“You miss my point. Right now, you project higher than Micah. Micah’s a three, so that puts you at number two. You get that change working for you, you project higher than Willy. Willy is a number two. That puts you at the number one category. Enough experience behind you, and not just four games, and you’ll learn the stuff for an ace. Especially if you keep hanging around Graeme.”
“Graeme’s the ace though.” Paul laughs. He thinks Graeme would not take too kindly to the notion that a rookie could threaten his stature as an ace.
“Graeme’s also in his eleventh year and he’s forty. You’re in your first and twenty-three. Graeme might be around another year, maybe two, three if he does something I don’t want to know, but you’re going to be around a helluva lot longer then that. When the Haus brothers drafted you, they were drafting the guy that they think can fill the void when Graeme retires.”
“I thought that was why they drafted William,” Paul says, utterly bewildered. Until ten minutes ago, he thought his job description started and ended with ‘win games for Hope City’, but now it’s a bit more than that. He’s supposed to be good enough for the cover of Sports Weekly, as Graeme has graced it no less than five different occasions.
“Willy’s a stopgap. He can fill it at one if Graeme’s hurting or running a bad stretch and you’re not quite ready yet, but, good as he is, you’ve got a better fastball and, if the scouts are right, you pitch better in a jam.”
“I…” Paul can’t find the words. William Tully a stopgap? He’s read enough online and in Sports Weekly to know that there are plenty of other teams, like Florida, Detroit, Memphis and Texas that would be willing to trade their best players for William to be their number one.
“You need to find Steven and work on your change.” Pete raises his eyebrows, and Paul takes this as his cue to wander back into the locker room proper.
Paul can’t help but walk back to his locker with a gait a little more pronounced, a little more confident than when he walked into Pete’s office. It’s not pronounced enough for anyone to notice, but that doesn’t matter. His sweaty uniform doesn’t itch any more, the fresh air in the locker room feels like a summer breeze, and Bran’s beloved reggae has a danceable beat. Paul can feel it. Graeme was his childhood hero, and now he’s supposed to be able to pitch that well, if he can figure out how to control his changeup.
It hits him like a freight train when he realizes that what Pete knows is no secret from Graeme. Graeme isn’t just trying to be a friend to Paul, he’s not just trying to be a veteran mentor, he is trying to prepare Paul for a future as a team ace, which means that if Graeme’s not planning on retiring at the end of this year, his childhood idol will certainly be retiring by the end of next.
#36, Ben Abraham, Catcher
It should become a tradition, Ben thinks; going to Ha’Shemesh, the only kosher deli in all of Hope City, after a home win with Graeme and Paul has a nice tone to it. For a long time, Ben was not just the only Jewish baseball player on the Spartans, he was the only Jewish player in the entire league. It was like getting a high dose of adrenaline injected directly into his heart when Paul divulged that he was Jewish as well.
It happened back in April, at the end of Passover, when, in the locker room, Ben made a remark to Paul about how the tuna sandwich he was eating was really good. Paul asked if it was because of the bread, Ben replied in the affirmative, and then Paul, shy as ever, asked Ben if he was also Jewish. The two had been friendly before, but the revelation turned them into something like brothers. Sure, Paul was only half Jewish, and far less religious than Ben, but that very night, Ben took Paul to Ha’Shemesh just to celebrate their shared heritage.
The next win, Paul talked about going again—nothing like a corned beef sandwich on warm rye bread toast—and when Ben said that he’d had plans with Graeme, it was Paul’s idea to invite Graeme along as well. Graeme accepted the offer, and despite his gentile-ism, enjoyed the evening just as much as Paul and Ben. They went again the win after that, and now, today, it feels like it has the makings of a tradition.
At first the deli staff wasn’t too keen on the Spartan invasion, but Ben, Paul and Graeme have proved good customers: a sizeable order, moderate alcohol consumption, large tips for the staff and they never make a fuss with the fans. Ben knows how much Graeme hates being pestered for an autograph when eating, so, to him, it’s that much more remarkable when Graeme takes out a pen and signs a napkin or piece of clothing (for lack of other suitable autograph object).
The deli itself is a pleasant, well-lit and clean storefront, with tables set against the windows on the front and side. It’s a bit small for a restaurant; there is almost always a line for lunch, though seldom for dinner. A strong odor of chicken soup and matzo balls permeates, even though they are far from the most popular items on the menu. It reminds Ben of childhood Rosh HaShannah or Passover dinners, where the smell was always enough to guarantee a good evening.
“So,” Ben says, when they’ve all finished eating, and are trying to let the food digest, “how about making it official?”
“Make what official?” Playing with his straw, Paul takes one of the ice cubes in his drink and lets it set in his mouth. Ben would find it odd if he didn’t do the same thing himself.
“Ha’Shemesh after a win.”
“You mean the three of us? Just the three of us?”
“Sure. Unless, y’know, Leo’s secretly a Jew or something.” Ben smiles, and takes a toothpick to try to get some leftovers out of his teeth.
“Leo the Jew,” Graeme laughs. “Josef Stalin the hippie.” It’s a joke between the three that they only ever see Leo eating pork or shellfish, as non-kosher as non-kosher can get.
“Sorry, it’s just…well, I’ve just made it a habit of eating dinner with Graeme Johnson and Ben Abraham.” Paul looks like he’s trying so hard not to blush that his entire face turns beet red. He might as well have just said that he’s made a habit of eating dinner with the Pope and the Dalai Lama.
“It’s not a bad habit to have,” Ben laughs. “I guess I can say I’ve just made a habit of eating dinner with Graeme Johnson and Paul Green. I’d brag about that.”
“Who would you rather be eating dinner with—Ben and myself, us fine folk—or Monty and Pete?”
“You mean you could actually get Monty and Pete to eat dinner at the same table?” Ben fakes his amazement, which causes Graeme to erupt in a laugh a little too loud for such a small establishment. The heads of the other patrons all turn accordingly, stare for a moment, and then go back to what it was that they were doing.
“I could see it if Pete was trying to tell Monty he’d been traded to Washington or Kansas City. Tell Monty to come to dinner, because Pete’s got something to tell him, and Monty gets dressed up all nice, expecting that he’s going to hear he’s made the rotation, and then Pete says ‘so we’ve signed this kid from China, and it turns out, we don’t need you any more, so we’re giving you up for a bag of balls’.” It’s not quite mean enough to provoke any pity from Ben for Monty, but it does stir Ben’s thoughts in another direction.
“The kid from China…what’s his name again? Ming?”
“Li Ming,” Paul says, in a low voice as if he doesn’t want to admit that he will soon no longer be the only rookie on the team.
“Li Ming. Steven talked to either of you about him yet?”
“Nope,” Graeme replies. Paul doesn’t say anything, but there’s no reason to: if Steven hasn’t talked to Graeme about something not directly related to pitching mechanics, there’s no chance he’s talked to Paul about it. “Did he talk to you?”
“A little. Said the kid’s going to have a bit of an issue adjusting to our hitting, and he’s going to have to learn to keep his pitches down more.”
“Sounds like a job for a catcher,” Graeme laughs. “You up for it?”
“They don’t call them the tools of ignorance for nothing, y’know…I’m up for it no matter what.” Ben chuckles, but doesn’t laugh outright.
“Well, you’re good at it,” Paul says, a rookie comment that’s a bit misplaced. He knows it. “When’s he get here anyway?”
“I think the sixth,” Ben says, “but I’m not sure. He’s supposed to start against Denver or Kansas City, I think…anyway, that’s what the paper said, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pete has him starting at Detroit, with the way…” Ben trails off, not anxious to finish the thought. Graeme does it for him.
“With the way Micah’s been throwing?”
“Pete won’t take a start from Micah unless Steven tells him there’s a problem, and so far Steven hasn’t done that.”
“It’s not like Steven to bring something to Pete’s attention, though…at least, half the time we’ve both been here, if someone’s hurt, it’s me telling Liam to get his ass on the field, not Steven.” It’s true, perhaps even more than half of the time. Ben’s called on Liam’s assistance on the field for an injury at least twice as often as Steven; Ben’s never pursued it but suspects it’s a case of Steven simply not recognizing the signs of an injury you can’t see. Any other pitching coach would have been canned, but Steven comes cheap, which is a benefit to Charlie Haus, and he’s one of the best there is at mechanics.
“Even so, Pete’s not going to take a start from Micah unless he has no other choice, and he’d be in no rush to do that. If this Ming kid takes Micah’s start, it still means we need a fifth and, well, we all know the only one that wants Monty to start is Monty Allison.”
So far, Ben knows, the Spartans have gotten by on just four starters. They’ve got a winning record, which might be one of the reasons it’s not mentioned much in the papers, but the Spartans are still in third place, not first. The Spartans need a fifth starter to push them over the edge from also-ran to playoff-bound; offense wins games, but defense wins championships and pitching creates dynasties. It’s one of the first things he ever learned about baseball.
“Hope he can pitch,” Paul says, sighing. Ben understands it: Paul wants him to pitch well enough to help the team win the games they’re not winning, but not well enough to supercede Paul as the rookie phenom. Ben doesn’t envy Paul’s position.
“I think we all do. I just hope he speaks enough English so I can actually talk to him on the mound. The only Chinese I know is Beijing and Mao.” Graeme and Paul laugh, but Ben doesn’t follow suit. It was hard enough Micah’s first year to converse with him, and Ben knows a fair amount of Spanish.
Still, something tells Ben that whether or not he and Li Ming can converse on the mound is going to be the least of his worries.
#4, Damien Riley, shortstop
On the field Damien finds his release. Even in a place as unforgiving to him as Detroit, when he steps onto the field, his worries vanish. He doesn’t think about it when he steps into the batter’s box in the seventh inning, Spartans down 4-2 on a two-run home run from the Moose centerfielder, LB Omar, runner on first and third with one out.
“Damien,” Alia says, “what are you doing here?”
“Thinking.” He had gone back to the grave. Without the February chill, without the snow, he could visit the grave and think about something other than the cold.
“About it again? You need to stop that. You can’t change what happened.”
“It keeps me from going back.”
“If you really cared about not going back you would have left this town a long time ago.” She gets impatient, starts tapping her foot. It bothers Damien.
“How do you know that?”
“You’re the only one that’s ever had the chance to leave, and you didn’t.” The reference is obvious and Damien hates it. It’s not his fault that Alia smoked her way through high school, sniffed her way through community college, and only now started to make amends by snagging a thankless job as a night shift employee at The Big Box Store.
“I nearly threw it away.”
“It wasn’t you. They didn’t know you needed help.”
Damien doesn’t respond straight away. He doesn’t like to admit it, but the truth is he knows Charlie Haus knew he needed help. After all, it was Charlie Haus that paid for rehab, and Charlie welcomed him back to the team after his suspension. Most other owners wouldn’t have given him the opportunity to come back. Most other owners don’t know Hope City.
“Well standing around here isn’t going to do anything. Come on, I’ve got something to show you.” Alia starts to walk away from the grave, towards the park entrance. Damien follows her.
Damien can hear the taunts of the crowd. They’re chanting coke-head, but Damien doesn’t process it. It exists as part of the background, part of the white noise that is so prevalent that its absence would be more notable.
He digs in, planting his feet on the right side of home plate, in the left-handed hitter’s batter’s box. He doesn’t have much of a psych-out ritual; he winds his arm around, bat in hand as though it’s being cranked by an invisible hand, and then comes to a stop when the bat comes almost full circle. He keeps his eye on the pitcher, but instead of looking at the pitcher’s body or arm motion, he looks straight at the pitcher’s face. If there’s a tell, Damien will find it in the pitcher’s eyes. He guesses fastball.
Damien guesses right, the pitch is a fastball, but it’s so far outside that the catcher has to jump up to block it, to prevent Bran from stealing home. TJ, though, on first, takes second base with ease. Damien resets himself, and waits for the next pitch.
Alia leads Damien to a storefront on one of the backroads a few blocks from the main Hope City thoroughfares. Her full figure makes her look like she’s about ten years older than she is; Damien knows of at least one child she’s had and forced to give up to the state and he suspects there have been others.
The store fronts itself as a hardware store; when Damien voices his dismay, Alia remarks that it’s her friend Shia’s store, and again says she’s got something to show him.
“What is this?”
“Come on, this way.” Alia leads him inside a cramped and uncomfortable store, and then through a poorly lit hallway to a back room. There’s not much there aside from boxes of extra inventory, a high window and a small table.
“What is this?
“Here.” Alia takes one of the boxes, sets it on the table, takes out a pocketknife from her cargo pants and opens the tape. She lifts the lid of the box open, and Damien sees so much gold, silver and shine at once that it nearly blinds him.
“Alia, what the fuck?”
“Shia and me...we need to get out of HC. They’ve taken two kids from me, I don’t want them taking a third.” There’s a hint of panic in Alia’s voice as she says the last bit.
“So you’re selling stolen jewelry?” It’s all Damien can manage. That box alone is probably worth a few thousand; all of the boxes together…it’s a number Damien can’t fathom.
“It’s not stolen. Shia bought it off a guy he knows.” Alia shrugs. “It took a lot of powder, but at least this we can sell online.”
“You’re knocked up and you’re using?” There is palpable disgust in Damien’s voice.
“I ain’t. Shia gets his stuff cheap.”
“Why are you showing me this?” Damien could end it here. He could walk back out of the front of the store, back to the main road and grab a bus or a taxi back to his place or TJ’s place and spend the night there. The plane for Detroit doesn’t leave until midday tomorrow. Damien thinks about it, and then decides he can’t leave Alia like that. He’s known her since grade school.
“I…we…I need your help.”
“You’re not asking me to…”
“Please? There have got to be some guys on the team that need a piece for their girls…”
“Sure there are, but they’d go to actual stores, not buy it off a couple people that got it for snow.”
“Damien…I don’t want them taking another kid from me.” There is a certain helplessness in Alia’s eyes.
“Shia’s the father? How long have you been together, two months?” Damien drops his voice low so that even if Shia had noticed the two coming into the store, he would have thought that Damien had left
“He hasn’t asked to marry you yet? How do you know he’ll stay?”
“He says he wants the kid. He’s been paying for me to see a doctor. It’s kept me clean so far.”
“He uses, Alia.” Damien is reproachful. He’s known Alia so long, and he knows that really, she’s a good girl, but if there’s anyone that’s been hurt more by the drugs in the past then Damien, it’s her. He wants to help her, but he wants to help her right. “I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”
Damien steadies himself and waits for the next pitch of the at bat. With one out he doesn’t have to hit it particularly hard or far; it just has to go to the right side, slow enough that the first baseman doesn’t have time to stop Bran from taking home. Bran’s already taken a giant lead; he’s probably closer to home than the third base bag. Bran’s never afraid to get his uniform dirty, Damien thinks, as there’s baseball dirt covering so much of the front of his jersey that the HOPE CITY is almost undecipherable.
The expression in the pitcher’s face has changed from the last pitch, but it’s so slight that if Damien hadn’t been looking for it, he wouldn’t have caught it. There’s less confidence in it, which either means that the next pitch is a fastball that will look like the size of a watermelon, or an off-speed pitch that the pitcher is not comfortable throwing. Damien guesses off-speed, and he guess wrong. By the time the pitch actually looks like a watermelon, it’s too late for Damien to start his swing and make contact, so he doesn’t attempt it. Best that could happen if he swings is that he just catches the edge of it and maybe a weak single. Worst that could happen is catching the edge of it, and fouling out to the catcher. Getting runners in with one out is like driving in auto on an interstate. Getting runners in with two outs is like driving in manual, uphill, in an ice storm. So Damien doesn’t swing.
One ball, one strike. He resets.
Damien is about to walk out of the store, out of the front, when he hears it. Again. That sound. The wailing that’s better suited for a banshee than human ears. He knows without knowing where the wailing is headed: here.
“Shit,” Alia says, when she comes to the same realization. It’s happened to both of them so often that they don’t even have to run on instinct. They can remain calm and think above it. “Get me that tape.”
Damien follows her nod to a roll of packing tape lying on top of a different box, and hesitates. If he gives her the tape, the box is closed, the police can’t open it without a warrant, and Alia lives to see another day just like this one. If he keeps the tape from her, they come in, they find the box, the jewelry which may or may not be counterfeit, and Alia and Shia get to think their choices over long and hard in the city jail for a few days...Shia is done for when he fails the drug test, but Damien doesn’t even know Shia, let alone care about him. If Alia is really clean, then it would just be a scare. Problem is, if he chooses this course, he’ll go down to the city jail with them. Not exactly something that would sit well (or at all) with Pete or Charlie Haus.
Alia’s life or his career. He’s got about five seconds to choose. Alia’s words echo in his mind—he’s the only one that’s ever had a chance.
He grabs the tape and tosses it to Alia.
“They’re after Shia, for the powder.” There is worry in Alia’s voice and in that worry Damien hears that she really thinks Shia cares about her.
“Get yourself straightened out.” Damien sees the back door, tests it, and finds it unlocked. He exits.
There are cars in the parking lot behind the store, but they don’t seem to
notice Damien. He’s not their target, not today, so he doesn’t entice them. If they recognize him, and Damien expects they do, they wouldn’t be so keen on nabbing him for something he’s not obviously doing, so Damien is able to walk back to the road without an issue.
Instead of heading back to his place, or TJ’s, he heads back to the grave. The desire to leave Hope City swells up inside him, makes him feel like he might just explode.
Then he remembers that the team’s going to Detroit, and he breathes a bit easier.
Again, Damien steadies himself. Bran and TJ both look antsy, but glancing at TJ has another benefit: TJ’s caught the signs from the catcher, and he relays them back to Damien. Leading off second with his hand hanging between his legs, the pitch is a fastball. His leading foot pointed towards third base and not home plate, the pitch is going to be down. Something Damien can hit on the ground. Damien looks at the pitcher’s face, at the pitcher’s expression, and finds the confirmation he needs. He adjusts his helmet, a signal to Bran to go for home on contact.
The pitch comes, and it’s exactly what Damien is looking for, so he steps and swings. He makes solid contact, the ball fast on the ground, stopped from the outfield only by Detroit’s diving first baseman. His only play is at first base; Damien runs through the bag anyway, just as he’s been taught. Bran scores easily, TJ goes to third, and now Adrian has a chance to do what he gets paid to do.
He high-fives Bran on the way back to the dugout, and smiles at Ben and Terry, but he says nothing.
He’s thinking about Alia.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Sorry I haven't done any updating the last couple days, but, to be honest, the last couple of days have not been the most exciting ever in the world of baseball.