As always, (c) Rebecca Glass, all international copyright laws apply. Please protect intellectual property rights.
The Season, Part 12
#21, Terry Jones, first baseman
More than a month into the season, it’s still an odd, chilling experience to hear the Hope City fans chanting his name every time they come to the Stadium, every time Terry has an at bat. They all know it’s his last season, they all know that he would have never, ever considered playing anywhere else, they all know he very nearly didn’t make it.
He had very nearly chosen to pursue a career in social work, like his cousin of the same age, but a call from Charlie Haus changed his life. It was a bit odd, how quickly it had happened: Terry had played first base for his high school team. He was far from the best on his team offensively, but on defense there was no comparison. Charlie and Brendan Haus had come to a game at the school of Terry’s team’s biggest rival, to watch Brendan’s own son, Matthew. In the seventh inning of the game, with the score tied, Matthew hit a line drive that should have gone for an easy double, but Terry leapt off his feet and dove to his left, as far as he could reach, and not only caught the ball before it hit the ground, but doubled off the runner at first as well. While Brendan hadn’t been paying too much attention, Charlie was transfixed, so he came to Terry’s next game as well, missing the Spartans’ game to do so.
The next game, Terry had one of the best games of his high school career—two home runs and a double, and the same defense he had the previous day. It was all Charlie had needed to see; that evening Terry got the phone call. Come to Florida over the All Star break and we’ll give you a try out with the Spartans. It took a face-to-face meeting for Terry to realize it wasn’t a scam, but even still, it wasn’t until Pete had yelled at him for taking too long in the shower his rookie year that Terry realized that he was living a dream.
Terry is leading off second. There is no one out in the bottom of the fifth, with the Spartans leading Seattle by a score of 2-0. It is, in Terry’s mind, a sloppy day. The game started after an hour-long rain delay, there is mud everywhere, and the sky is overcast. It’s chilly, even for mid-May, with temperatures barely hitting the mid-fifties. It’s not like Washington, where it was cold enough to snow, but this weather, Terry thinks, might be just more miserable. The fans certainly know it—the damp, wet, cold makes them shiver without necessarily being cold. Winter coats are too heavy, but spring jackets are too light. The seats of the Stadium are damp, and the empty peanut shells left on the ground turn into mulch. Games like these, Terry’s told more than once, are the ones that will let you know if you belong. If you’ve got enough grit to last all nine innings, you belong in a Spartans uniform. If not, you belong in the stands. There are men, boys becoming men, and then everyone else.
Richie is at bat, with William, today’s pitcher, to follow. Even with no one out and Leo on first, it’s not a comfortable position. Richie hasn’t hit well for a long while, and, well, a pitcher is a pitcher. Pitchers are, perhaps, not quite an automatic out…but William is pretty close to it. Terry’s dilemma is simple: if he steals third, which he’s pretty sure he can do against Seattle’s pitcher, Vic Gates, he’ll be breaking a cardinal unwritten rule of baseball. You don’t attempt to steal third base with none out or two out, because the potential loss if you are caught is not worth the steal. If Terry doesn’t steal, however, it’s a distinct possibility that Richie hits into a double play, and then with William up next, the inning is almost as good as done. Terry’s been playing too long and too well to be looking at the third base coach Lucas John for a steal sign; it’s his decision.
There is much for Terry to consider, and he has to do it fast. The muddy field will slow him, especially when sliding, so he would have to time it just right. Seattle’s catcher, Steve Allen, does not have a tremendous arm, but it’s good enough to through Terry out if he doesn’t get a good jump and Gates throws the right pitch. If Richie swings at the pitch, it’ll make it much harder for Allen to throw, but there’s no way to know for sure if Richie is going to swing or not—Terry could give Richie the sign that he’s going to steal, but he has an inkling that Allen would recognize it. If that happens, then Terry would be out before reaching halfway, as Allen would relay the sign to Gates, and Gates would simply throw back to seconds. It’s a tough choice, but Terry’s done it enough times that he doesn’t break a sweat.
Terry inches forward a bit. He gives Richie a hint of a sign—instead of bring his hand on top of his helmet, as if to make it fit better, he brings his hand up about halfway before letting it drop back down. Richie will recognize it if he’s looking for it. Terry lifts his first foot as soon as Gates brings his arms up over his head to begin the pitching motion. He lifts his second foot as Gates brings his arms back down and kicks with his leg, thus binding him to throwing to home plate or getting called for a balk.
Terry breaks at full speed, which isn’t the fastest on the team (that’s easily Bran), but is pretty good for an athlete as old as him. The mud does slow him; his spikes get caught in it, and soon Terry is propelling his body faster than his legs can move, so he tries to make up for it with longer strides. His legs reject it; he realizes what he is about to do too late, and now there is no stopping it. To preserve what he can, Terry breaks into an early slide; on a dry day he would have had a chance, but in the mud Terry is out by a mile.
He is slow to get up—there is a sharp and immediate pain in the back of his right leg, and soon he realizes that though he can stand all right, he cannot lift the leg without a grimace that is obvious to the fans even in the upper deck. Even before Liam sprints out of the dugout, Terry knows what it is he’s done.
“Ham-string,” Terry says when Liam is close enough to hear. He has to turn it into two words to avoid creating more pain than it’s worth.
“You sure?” The only reason Liam bothers to pretend to trust Terry’s judgment, Terry knows, is because Terry’s injured it…either his right leg or his left leg…enough times through the years to recognize it the moment it happens. Still, Terry is not a doctor, so he defers to Liam.
“I think so.”
“Felt it right away.”
“Best to come out then.” It’s almost like a ritual for the two of them, but they know it satisfies the umpires, the managers and the fans, so they do it just the same. There’s a scattering of applause as Terry leaves the field, but he knows that like his conversation with Liam, it’s more form than anything else.
It is not until he looks back at the diamond that he realizes his stolen base attempt was not entirely in vain—Leo must have caught the sign to Richie, because he took off after Terry, and with Gates and Allen distracted by Terry, he stole second with ease. The double play is averted, and just maybe Pete won’t chew his head off for trying to steal with no one out.
#32, Richie Haus, right fielder
Though Richie has long loved traveling, there is nothing about Kansas City that recommends itself to him, with the exception of the ‘Nadoes ballpark.
When the Kansas City Tornadoes had first come into existence, the owner had wanted to create a ballpark that was far different from any of the other ones in the league, one where there would be a distinct advantage to the hitters instead of the pitchers. The owner offered no explanation for it, but no one seemed to have any objection to it at the time. The result was that it was only about two months before Hilltop Park (which did not, in fact, rest on a hill), with both a short right porch and a short left field was nicknamed ‘the Silo’ by players, coaches and writers. Richie loves the park.
Taking batting practice before the evening’s game, he is in a rhythm. The long fly balls that are outs in any of the other fifteen stadiums bounce off of the outfield walls here, and for the moment Richie is able to reclaim his past glory. The evening sun is still warm enough to make him sweat a bit; the air is clear and dry. It’s a far cry from the weather in Hope City at the moment, but the forecast is for thunderstorms in the night. The air, Richie thinks, is too light to spawn a storm, but spring on the plains is unpredictable. His first year playing, the weather got violent enough during the game that the entire park was evacuated to the ‘Nadoes clubhouse, fans included, because it was the only place strong enough to withstand a tornado. They were lucky that there were a rather small number of fans in attendance, but even so, the clubhouse created a lot of new claustrophobics. Still, though, Richie thinks, even with the pleasant evening, there’s something missing with Terry nursing his hamstring and not even making the trip out west.
Terry and Richie don’t have a whole lot in common outside of baseball, but as the two oldest position players on the team they find themselves in each other’s company more often than not. With Terry not there, there isn’t really anyone that Richie feels comfortable talking to, not because he is antisocial, but because he is simply not as talented as any of the other starters. The bench guys don’t help much; Dan is a career bench guy, Eliot and Kent are likely to start eventually and Dylan simply has the problem of Adrian, Damien and TJ being too talented for him to see much playing time.
Batting practice gets boring quickly for Richie, so he gets an idea. He tells Paul, who is throwing BP as part of his throw day, to hold off for a moment.
“What’s up?” Paul drops the three baseballs he is holding in his left hand back into the supply bucket, but keeps the one he was about to release in his right.
“I want to do something…here, give me that ball.”
“Why?” Paul asks it, but he tosses the ball to Richie anyway.
“You see those fans over there?” Richie points to a girl and a boy, neither who look much older than fourteen, who are in the stands by the first base line. This early before a game, there aren’t many people in the stands, so Paul picks them out with ease. The girl, dark haired and pale, is dressed more appropriately for a rock concert, while the boy, who shares the same complexion, is wearing the jersey of ‘Nadoes second baseman Aaron Jones, an old, worn shirt that makes Richie think that neither the girl nor the boy have much money to their name. This game is maybe a once in five years treat for the two. There is a look of sheer terror on the girl’s face, though the boy seems indifferent. Richie’s seen it enough in Hope City to know why.
“Yeah? What about them?”
“You see the girl’s face?”
“Yeah…she looks like she thinks we’re about to throw this straight at her or something.”
“It’s because they don’t have seats there, they either snuck into the Silo or if they have tickets, it’s for the upper deck.”
“Why...what are you going…how do you know?”
“Follow me.” Richie walks towards the first base line trying hard to hide a smile. He’s not sure if he is about to smile because he likes the idea of teaching Paul something that Paul probably has yet to learn, or because of what he is about to do, and he refuses to smile until he knows for sure.
The girl’s look of terror only becomes more exaggerated when Richie approaches, but the boy seems undaunted. If anything, he looks disappointed that it’s Richie approaching and not the name on his jersey, Aaron Jones. There’s a security guard on the field near where Richie is, so Richie takes the five seconds to let the guard know what he is about to do. It would never fly in New York or Chicago, but here Richie knows he could get away with it every time. He gets the permission he needs, and then, without a second thought, climbs over the low wall that separates the stands from the field.
“Got a pen?” Richie addresses it to both of them, but he’s not sure if either of them comprehends the request, so he asks again. “Do either of you have a pen?”
“I think Cassie has one in her purse,” the boy sputters. He looks straight at Richie, and not at his sister. The girl, Cassie, digs through her rather large bag and comes up with a laundry marker. It’s perfect, Richie thinks, much easier to sign with than a normal pen.
“Hey, do you want two?” Paul chimes in from the field, now fully aware of what Richie is about to do. Richie nods his head, and Paul is back quickly with a second baseball. He hands it to Richie.
“Right, then, so we have Cassie and…”
“Drake,” the boy says, sheepish. “I go by JD though.”
“Cassie and JD. Right, well, tell me, and be honest, what seats are on your tickets?” Cassie grimaces and now JD looks terrified. “Well?”
“They’re…” Cassie starts, but JD elbows her slightly.
“You two brother and sister?” Richie asks it, though the two look so similar that it’s not really a question that needs asking.
“Twins,” Cassie says.
“Ah. Right. Well then, where are your seats?” Richie is met by a considerable silence.
“We’re not staying down here,” JD manages at last. “We just wanted to see batting practice up close for once…you know, see Aaron Jones up close or something…we were gonna leave before the game starts.”
“You have tickets, though?” Richie expects them to run off at this point, but to his surprise they each pull out a stub for seats in the left field upper deck. It’s good enough for him. “Well, my congratulations to you for successfully sneaking in all the way down here!”
Richie uncaps Cassie’s green marker, and on the first baseball, he writes:
To Cassie: If you sneak in, try not to look so scared. It’s a giveaway. –Richie Haus, May 18
On the second baseball, he writes:
To JD: Don’t elbow your sister like that…Aaron Jones says he’s sorry for sending me to sign this instead. –Richie Haus, May 18.
“I’m not gonna make you start rooting for the Spartans, but if I see these baseballs up for sale online or anything like that, I’m going to go and call the ‘Nadoes and tell them not to let you in to any future games, okay?” He tosses Cassie’s ball to JD, and JD’s ball to Cassie before handing Cassie back her marker. “You probably have about five seconds after I leave to sprint back to your real seats, the one on your tickets.”
“T-thanks,” JD stammers. Richie smiles and hops back onto the field, where Paul is waiting for him.
“That was awesome.” Paul tries to control his laughter, but it’s hard.
“Think I scared them just a bit?”
“Doubt it. If it was me, it’d just encourage me to try it again.”
“I’m not talking about sneaking down to the first base line, I know they’re gonna do it again. I mean, d’ya think I scared them enough that they won’t sell those baseballs?”
“Oh! In that case…if they didn’t have plans to sell autographed balls, they certainly don’t now…”
“Then I’ve done my job,” Richie says, glad to have, for once, done something worth remembering.
#9, Micah Garcia, pitcher
He won’t remember it, but Micah doesn’t pitch too poorly against Minnesota. Four runs in six innings isn’t exactly pitching well, but the Spartan offense is having a good day (even Micah has a single). When Micah leaves the game after the end of the sixth inning, the Spartans are up 6-4. It’s the best he’s pitched so far this season.
Micah’s pitching troubles are worrying not because he’s never had them before now. If that was the case, Pete wouldn’t be so worried—every pitcher goes through a rough stretch once in a while—but it’s not. Micah’s troubles are an issue for both Pete and Steven because neither can figure out exactly what’s wrong. Micah’s delivery hasn’t changed, he’s not added a new pitch, and he’s not coming back from a long time away from the mound. He’s been struggling to get his fastball to stay over 94 after the second inning, and his change up has simply not been there. Somehow, today, he managed to keep the fastball working a little longer, and while he’s aware that Pete and Steven will see it as a good sign, it is still only masking whatever is at the root of his pitching problems.
Micah showers last so he can spend a long time in the shower, after the evening’s game, thinking about it. The steamy water is not just capable of cleansing his body; it cleanses his thoughts as well. He can concentrate on any one particular pitch that he wants, any one particular at bat, and think about how if he had moved his finger just a little bit or stepped a little more towards third base, the pitch would have gone for a strike instead of a single. Whatever pitch he concentrates on, though, he still comes back to one thing: his elbow. No matter how much he stretches it, no matter how much he tries to keep it loose, there is still a nagging stiffness.
If he was Graeme or Willy, or maybe even Paul, he would have no issue going to Liam and telling him just what he felt, but three years in, he still doesn’t have a firm grasp of English. It’s much better than it was since he was a rookie, but it’s still not good enough to try to explain how his elbow feels odd when he pitches. He figures that if he did say something, one of two things would happen—either Liam will tell him that his elbow is supposed to be sore after pitching, or that if Micah can pitch a baseball over 90 miles an hour, there really isn’t any reason for concern. At least, Micah thinks, if Steven doesn’t seem to be concerned—and he doesn’t—then he’s probably just imagining it.
Micah finishes his shower with some regret. He’s not got any plans for after the game (he seldom does), but the idea of heading home for a quiet night, playing old video games to take the edge off has some merit. Eduardo did offer to take him to Roberto’s, their favorite bar, but Micah’s in no mood for alcohol. It clouds his mind, and on nights after he’s pitched, Micah’s discovered he doesn’t like to be enveloped in a shroud of mind fog.
He’s the last player to leave the clubhouse, though Pete will stay a few more hours looking over game film and the ball boys are busy enough cleaning the common area and restroom for the next game. It’s eerie without the noise of the other Spartans; Pete’s office door is closed, though Micah knows if he wanted to talk to Pete, he wouldn’t even have to knock. The game was not remarkable enough for any extended post-game coverage; the biggest baseball news of the evening is no doubt Washington’s 14-0 mauling of New England, scoring eight runs alone in the third inning against Dante, who is the Tribe’s best starter thus far.
After he dresses—pants with a tight-fitting, thin sweater—Micah knocks on Pete’s door, just to let him know he’s the last one leaving.
“Micah? That you leaving?” Micah imagines, from Pete’s voice alone, that Pete’s hit the pause on his player, looked up and addressed the inside of his door as though Micah was standing right there. It’s comforting.
“Any plans?” Pete asks out of kindness, not interest.
“A casa. Going to relax.” Relax might be Micah’s favorite English word.
“Y tambien.” It’s an afterthought, wishing each other safe travels, but it’s habit.
Micah makes his way through the tunnel, and out the player’s entrance of the Stadium. His car, which he bought before anything else in America, which he put a down payment on even before he had his New York driver’s license, is at the far end of the player’s lot. It’s a small, two-door convertible, black, with a perfectly kept interior—it is, for the moment, his baby. He’s not very good at parking, so he parks at the end of the lot because he knows no one else, not even Cory who is anal about bad drivers, will care if he’s over the line in the last row.
The drive from the Stadium to Micah’s own Hope City apartment is easy; he’s only on the main highway for three exits, and there is little traffic on a Monday night. He drives a little bit faster than the speed limit, but not faster than the flow of traffic—one speeding ticket last year was all it took for him to come to his senses, especially after the negative press it generated. He’s listening to a CD that Eduardo made for him as a ‘welcome-rookie’ present after his first win, a mix of hard rock, reggae and Latin pop. Eduardo included the Latin pop as a joke; Micah has never told anyone just how much he enjoys it. He figures—rightly—that if he were to admit such a thing, it would prompt questions from his teammates he wouldn’t want to answer.
Micah gets off at the third exit, Jefferson Street. He’s got to go four lights on the four-lane thoroughfare, before making a left onto Stewart Road, and then a second right onto Brighton Lane. The trip will take him through a gritty, though livable part of Hope City at the first light, to a respectable neighborhood by the third and fourth lights, to, finally, the nicest area of Hope City that is still a part of the city proper. TJ, Bran, Dylan and Eduardo all have apartments in one of the converted brownstones lining Brighton Lane; most of the other Spartans either own a home in Hope Falls or live in a similar neighborhood on the other side of the city. It’s not quite Manhattan, but as far as living the high life in Hope City goes, this is it.
Micah breezes through the first light, which is green, and doesn’t pay much attention, not even to his own favorite Latin pop song echoing through his speakers, as he heads straight towards the second. He’s still thinking about his elbow as he glances the light going from green to yellow, but he’s paying just enough attention that he stops when the light turns red. He loses himself in his thoughts, thinking about how that one pitch back in the third inning, if that had been called a strike, would not have started a three run inning for Minnesota, thus cutting the Spartans’ lead (at the time) to one. He thinks about how last year or the year before, he could make that pitch with no problem. He is vaguely conscious of the light turning green, and acts on reflex. He hits the gas immediately, not bothering to look to his right or to his left, so he misses the large SUV coming from his left, speeding and weaving in and out of lanes with no signs of stopping. Even if he had seen it, though, the moment Micah put his foot on the gas, the conclusion becomes inevitable.
The last thing Micah remembers, before it all goes black, is that he’s suddenly aware of the chorus to the song:
En este momento, baile!
La vida no se esperará
Saturday, December 29, 2007