Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Season, Part 8

Right, do me a favor: if you're a fairly regular reader of these Season updates, please comment and let me know. Doesn't have to be anything more than 'I read' or 'on occasion', but I am wondering if I have more than just two readers here =)

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven

(c) Rebecca Glass, All International copyright laws apply

#51 Jeff Martin, relief pitcher, seventh year

Out in the visiting bullpen, beyond the right field fence, Jeff Martin is freezing. He won’t let it show, but the dug out, at least, has the heat from the tunnel sneaking up into it, warming it even just that little bit. Not in the bullpen. The bullpen is an ice cube, no different than Green Bay in January. Maybe worse. Football players, Jeff thinks, at least have pads to keep them covered. Not so much baseball players. No helmets…for pitchers, anyway, just black, red and gold baseball caps. Jeff’s ears feel like they’re about to fall off and land beside his feet.

Jeff is fairly tall, with auburn hair, green eyes and freckles. It isn’t much coincidence that he was forced to dress up as a leprechaun his rookie year; he still has the costume at home. Still, when he’s given the go-ahead to warm up in the seventh inning with the Spartans ahead 3-1, it’s a bright green glove he grabs. It was a gift from Graeme for his rookie year, so he uses it whenever he pitches in relief of Graeme’s starts. In the seven years he’s pitched, he’s given up exactly one base hit while pitching with the green glove, and that was the one occasion he tried to use the glove in relief of another pitcher. Baseball is a superstitious sport and Jeff is a superstitious person, so the green glove now only comes out when Graeme pitches.

As Jeff takes his warm up tosses, he pretends not to notice how the bright green clashes horribly with his uniform—black pants with a gold stripe, and a red jersey with black letters outlined in gold trim. Throwing does help make Jeff a bit warmer; he puts more power into each warm up throw and he notices his breath in the air a little less. With one out and two on in the inning, Pete makes the slow walk from the top step of the dugout to the mound, takes the ball from Graeme and points towards Jeff.

The run out from the bullpen is a lot more fun in Hope City, when Jeff enters to Irish rock, but the adrenaline is still there, even on the road. This is his chance to show everyone why he deserves to be on the team, and even though he’s done the same thing the past six years, it never gets old. This is his moment.

Jeff finds himself much more comfortable on the mound; the little sun there is striking his face, taking the knife of cold away from his face. When Ben comes up to the mound to discuss how to pitch to Craig and Gonzalez, he too enjoys the sun for a moment.

“Fucking freezing,” Ben says. It takes a lot for him to utter any language he would not want a child to hear, but the cold is enough to do it.

“At least you’ve been playing. Sitting in the ‘pen is like murder…Dante’s ninth circle or whatever.”

“I’ve never read Dante,” Ben laughs through his shiver, “but I could have sworn Hell was supposed to be, you know, hot?”

“Nah. The ninth circle is a lake of ice. Anyway, what do you want to tell me about two guys who are one-for-six with four strike outs?”

“Graeme and I pitched Craig inside, but it’s tricky. Craig likes it high and inside, so if you miss, he might hit it out. Gonzalez is a bit easier. He’ll swing at anything over the plate, so feed him fastballs, but change speeds.”

“I thought Gonzalez was a fastball hitter?”

“He is, but it’s so damned cold he’ll swing at it just so he can sit down.”

“I wouldn’t blame him. Craig’s the catcher, right? I’m going to use a slider on him. A double play would be wonderful.”

“Don’t miss,” Ben says, as Kelly Jordan starts to make his way to the mound to break up the conversation.

Jeff waits for Ben to show the signs, but they are fake signs. With a runner on second, Ben doesn’t take any chance, which is why he came out to the mound to talk to Jeff in the first place. Jeff shakes him off a few times; if this was a movie, he thinks, he and Ben would be in line for Oscars.

After the second shake off, Jeff sets. Craig stands much too close to the plate for most pitchers, but it doesn’t bother Jeff. He takes the ball, winds up, and throws—and it’s a beautiful pitch.

The ball slides downwards at just the right moment so all that Craig can do is drive it into the ground. It bounces straight back to Jeff, who underhands it to TJ for the out at second. TJ has all the time in the world to toss it to Terry for the out at first as Craig, a catcher, does not run well. Inning over, Jeff makes the quick and easy walk to the dugout.

The heat coming up from the tunnel is so nice that Jeff stands at the edge, unwilling to move even as his team threatens to break the game open.

# 23 Leo Castiglione, Left Fielder, tenth year

Life is that much better after a win, and Opening Day wins are underrated. This is what Leo Castiglione tells the woman in the bar, who he saw last night but with whom he has never had a conversation. He’s managed to steal her away from her friends…or she’s run away. Leo’s not sure which.

“Underrated?” The woman’s got light brown hair, lightly tanned skin and pretty, but not unusual blue eyes. Leo’s talking to her only because he recognizes her from the night before, and because Adrian has gone and disappeared. Where to, Leo does not know, but that’s not much of his concern. Adrian will probably be passed out in his hotel bed long before Leo gets back.

“Yeah. I mean, most people don’t care about what you do on Opening Day, they care about October, but Opening Day wins are great. Stadium’s full, everyone cheering, every team thinks they can win the Championship…it’s great.” Leo’s got a soft, smooth voice that, if it could speak Italian like his grandfather, would captivate anyone that managed to cross his path. Most of the time, though, Leo can get by just by letting his body do the talking. Golden hair, blue eyes and well-toned muscle, there’s a reason he and Adrian have a reputation as the…well…studs of the Spartans. However, unlike Adrian, Leo is not so much the boy next door, and more like that other boy next door.

“I’ve never been to an Opening Day game. Been to a Championship game, though.”

“Really?” If this woman’s a Washington fan, Leo thinks, she’s got to be lying, as Washington hasn’t been in the Championship game in forty years. Even Leo’s not that old.

“Yeah, I saw the Tribe beat Minnesota a few years ago. It was pretty crazy up in Boston. Drove up ten hours to see it, too.”

“Ah….oh-three? Did you have good seats at least?”

“Upper deck. It was freezing, though. Kind of like today.”

“Ah, it’s not that cold,” Leo lies, pretending to be as stalwart as the Hope City fans that support his team.

“Says you.” The woman takes a sip of her drink, being very exact in her movements as if there is only one possible way to drink it.

“Says me. I like you, but I’m not sure I caught a name?”


“Janelle. Nice to meet you, Janelle,” Leo says, as though this is to be the start of a long and fruitful relationship. “I’m Leo, but you knew that.”

“I did know that.”

“So let me ask, what’s a pretty girl like you doing without a guy?” It’s usually a risky question to ask, but Leo gets by with his smooth voice and the knowledge that yes, he is a professional athlete making millions.

“What’s a handsome guy like you doing here alone?”

“Well, I offered,” Leo laughs, “but Jaime’s out in California.”

“I see.” Janelle doesn’t press the subject matter any more. Something about Leo’s posture is giving off the idea that whatever it is Leo’s going to talk about, it better not be Jaime.

“Come on, we should find somewhere a little quieter than here.” Leo grins, with an honest desire to converse, and Janelle, like so many others, is too enchanted to protest or think of doing anything else.

Leo leads Janelle out of the main crowded and stuffy bar room, into the dark hall and down a spiral set of stairs. They emerge in a softly lit room with comfortable black seats clustered around a few low tables. The walls are a dark red that glows with the little light there is, and though some of the seats are occupied, for the most part the room is empty. It’s still fairly early; the lounge will fill up as the night goes on, but for now, the silence is pleasing.

“So Janelle,” Leo says, taking a seat towards the center and best-lit part of the room, “are you from Washington?”

“Me? I’m from Connecticut originally, but I’ve been here five years, so it’s beginning to feel like it. What about you? Are you from Hope City or California?” Janelle laughs, and Leo gets the impression that she finds Washington distinctly inferior. He doesn’t blame her.

“Ah, okay. I’m from Jersey, went cross-country to play college baseball, met Jaime there, and now the only time I’m ever back in Jersey is when we’re playing New York.”

“So where in California did you go?” Janelle moves a bit closer to Leo. It’s uncomfortable for Leo, but as he’s the one that initiated the conversation he’s not, for the moment, in a position to say anything or move away.

“Northern California. San Francisco. It’s lovely out there, you ever been?”

“Once, when I was fourteen.”

“You should go again if you get a chance.”

“Ah, but that involves money.”

“Ah.” It’s hard for Leo to come up with an appropriate response, given his own fortune. “Well, if you get the chance, you should go. Rent an RV, drive cross-country, could be an experience…”

“It would be, yeah.” Janelle moves even closer to Leo, to the point where Leo can feel the presence of her legs next to him. If Leo’s going to make any sort of move, for or against, it’s got to be now. He takes a sip of his beer, stretches his arms and stands.

“Gotta go take care of some business,” Leo says, implying a need for the men’s room, “I’ll be back in a sec.”

“Okay,” Janelle says, not bothering to hide the disappointment in her voice. It’s as clear as daylight that Leo’s not coming back.

#6 William Tully, pitcher, third year

There is a lot less glamour to starting the second game of the season, but that’s just the way William Tully likes it. Slightly built, and with an unremarkable brunette complexion, he’s never been much of one for attention. He’d always rather be the guy that no one knows than the one everyone knows for a simple reason: if no one knows who you are, you’re doing something right. So when William takes the mound to pitch the bottom of the first, he’s not nervous or wishing that he could have pitched yesterday. He’s calm. He’d rather be nowhere else.

It’s cold today, like it was yesterday, but there is a little more sun to give the illusion of being warmer. Aside from the scouting reports that Graeme had, William also has the knowledge of what the hitters did yesterday. Gonzalez can’t hit in the cold, so William can throw him nearly anything that’s not straight down the middle. Craig might be a bit harder to get out, but with Ben behind the plate, William’s not concerned.

The first three innings go as best as they could; aside from a walk to Craig in the second, no runner gets on base. However, in the fourth, William pitches himself into a jam. He walks the lead off man, who steals second, and goes to third on a single before anyone is retired, which brings up Gonzalez.

William’s first pitch is inside—way, way inside, nearly hitting Gonzalez on the shoulder—and it brings Ben running up to the mound. William finds himself turning away from home plate, taking the rosin bag, and thrusting it onto the grass beside the mound. This is not close to the worst pitching performance he’s ever had, but the sudden loss of control in the fourth inning bothers him. He’s a better pitcher than to suddenly lose focus. Ben knows it, too, or else he wouldn’t be rushing to calm him down.

“You all right?”

“Freezing,” William says, side-stepping the issue.

“It was colder yesterday. Don’t over think it.”

“I’m not.” William is defiant more as a matter of form than anything else. A pitcher is supposed to exude confidence, to the point that it becomes a liability, or at least appear to do so.

“You are…you are when you keep shaking me off like you’ve been doing. Your sinker’s working today, stick with that. Don’t try to strike these guys out, let them put it in play. Field’s hard as a rock from the cold, anything hit anywhere in the infield’s gonna be a double play.”

“Field’s not that hard.”

“You haven’t tried sliding into second.” It draws a laugh from William. “Use your sinker. Gonzalez will whack at it unless you’re actually trying to hit him, in which case I don’t know you.”

“Very funny,” William laughs, as the home plate umpire begins to walk up to the mound to break up the conversation. “Sinker it is.”

Appeased, Ben walks down from the mound, and William takes the extra few seconds he has to think it through: use the sinker, don’t try to force it anywhere; it’s good enough to locate itself. Don’t worry about what Gonzalez is going to do, you can’t control that. You can only control the ball. Trust in yourself, let God do the work. The last bit is not something anyone’s ever taught him, but his own, deep-rooted faith. It helped his brother beat cancer, and it helped him reach this level.

William’s always been pretty good at taking his own advice, so he does just that. He doesn’t shake Ben off, he grips the ball as he would a sinker, sets, steps and releases. It’s a beautiful pitch that sinks at just the correct moment—as Gonzalez tries to swing, the ball tails downwards, so his bat only catches the top of it, pounding it into the ground. The ball bounces (no other word for it) straight to Adrian at third. Adrian throws to TJ at second for one out and then TJ underhands to Terry Jones for out number two.

A run scored, but the hard work is over. Two outs now, William gets the next hitter out with ease, and the Spartans are down only one run with five innings to play.


  1. Great stuff as usual. Only you could work Dante into a baseball story and make it work so marvelously. Jeff is the Matt DeSalvo of the Spartans.

    Did it really have to be so cold there given the weather here? I want to be thinking about warm places now.

    I can picture Jeff as a leprechaun and it made me chuckle. Can't wait til next Sunday for more.

  2. I have 76 baseball tabs I read everyday, you're one of them. You have had some good stuff, but I have not read this series you have going.
    I am a red sox season ticket sharer, attending 10+ games a year. I will never attend Yankee stadium on many principles. The one exception would have been had me-rod signed with another AL team this October. I would have attended his first game in NY.

    Peace from Section 31 of Fenway Park, the best place on earth.

  3. Jeff? Irish rock? Well, the obvious choices might be U2 or The Cranberries, but I'd go with The Glengarry Bhoys, " 'P' Stands for Paddy" ;-)

    Gee, Leo is such a tease!!

    [missed six and seven due to some issues, but have gotten back on track]

  4. Well you know me. I haven't missed a week yet. And am always eagerly rushing to your blog every Sunday.

    I read it on other days. I do a Pete -> Becca read every day. Not much else.

  5. OK, you are already up to 4 readers - double your prediction. I have looked at The Season some. Not really reading it through, though. So, 4.5?

  6. Is that Rico from the Post? Heya, Brutha!! [from MGW]

  7. You guys are amazing.

    Have I told you that? =D

    4.5 it is, then!

    (Hello Anon, fellow Sox fan! hope I've managed to provide an intriguing point of view from the other side of the fence!)

  8. Well, here's another reader for ya.(:

    Really liked the interaction between Leo & Janelle. Keep up the good work.

    p.s. I'll get more specific with my comments on your story, just give me a day or two! (;