Feeling like Willie Vazquez flying around third base on a single and trying to score.
He was out of breath but grinning.
“You broke too many today,” he said, handing the bat to Hank.
Hank grabbed the bat by the handle, both hands on it, whipped it back and forth in front of him. Over his shoulder Brian could see the home-plate umpire watching both of them, arms crossed.
The first rule of being a batboy, he knew, was to not delay the game. But he wasn’t as worried about the ump as he was about Hank Bishop, because something was clearly wrong.
“What’s this?” he said.
“Your bat. From your locker. One of your gamers. I noticed you had extra today.”
“Who told you . . . This is the bat I was trying out in BP. It’s way lighter than the one I usually use.”
“But I thought . . .”
?” Hank said. “Thought about what? This is the wrong bat, you idiot.”
Now Brian saw the home-plate umpire walking toward them, looking the same way he did when he was about to break up a conference at the pitcher’s mound.
Brian didn’t know how much time had elapsed, how much real time, since Hank had broken his last bat. It just seemed like forever.
“Problem, Hank?” the ump said, mask in hand.
“No,” Hank said, glaring at Brian, walking toward home plate, taking some vicious practice swings as he did.
Brian went back to his chair, thinking that of all the times in his life when he’d rooted for Hank Bishop to get a knock when the game was on the line this way, he’d never rooted harder than right now.
Hank swung at the next pitch, as hard as he could at a cut fastball that didn’t cut and seemed to hang right over the middle of the plate.
Popped the ball up, right to the shortstop.
He ran a few feet down the line, stopped when the guy caught the ball, walked calmly back to home plate, picked up the wrong bat with two hands, and broke it over his knee as if he were snapping a No. 2 pencil.
Then walked toward Brian, each hand holding half the bat, the last broken bat of the day.
Brian stood up and just waited for whatever was going to happen next.
When Hank got close enough, he spoke in a voice that only Brian could hear.
“If a batboy can’t even handle bats,” Hank Bishop said, “then what’s he doing here?”
ank never got up again that game. The Tigers went down 1-2-3 in the ninth and lost.
Only Brian had heard what Hank said to him after he’d ended the last chance the Tigers had to come back. Maybe the bat had nothing to do with his missing a fat pitch. Or maybe just worrying about the bat had made all the difference.
Brian didn’t know and didn’t care.
This was on him.
It was like a bat
in that equipment room. And the room was closer than the clubhouse. Why hadn’t he gone there instead? And why hadn’t he thought of doing that sooner, the batboy who took such pride in being one step ahead of the game and always prepared?
He knew the answer. He
It was because he was trying too hard to make Hank Bishop like him, to wear him down and win him over.
Maybe even remember his name.
He’d thought there was something special about those bats in Hank’s locker, even though Hank hadn’t gone back during the game to get one for himself.
So Brian had done that for him.
He felt like the jerk now, felt like he’d cost the Tigers this game even if only he and Hank Bishop knew why. Unless Hank went to Mr. Schenkel and Davey Schofield or even the reporters and told them about the batboy who couldn’t manage to put the right bat in players’ hands.
Maybe, Brian thought, maybe Hank had been right from the start. Maybe everybody would be better off if Brian
talk to him or have anything to do with him.
Finn kept asking what was wrong after the game. Brian rolled with a version of things he’d used with his mom that time, the first day he’d met Hank, telling Finn that maybe he just took these losses too personally and too hard. They were in the dugout, sweeping up the trash and then putting it into Hefty bags, the real grunt part of the job, like being forced to clean your room at home.
“I don’t believe you,” Finn said.
Finn said, “Dude? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you lie about as well as my mom does when she tells me I’m not getting something for Christmas I know I am.”
Brian laid his broom against the bench and sat down where Davey did during games when he got tired of standing on the top step. “I messed up today,” he said. “Big time.”
Then he told him.
When he finished, Finn said, “He blamed
didn’t get a hit? That’s worse than weak. That’s like practically
“He didn’t come right out and blame me.”
“Yeah,” Finn Simpkins said. “He did.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Brian said. “I can’t do anything right with him, no matter how hard I try.”
“You mean you’re not like all the other close friends he’s been making since he showed up here?”
“Bottom line? It was the wrong bat.”
“They used to say he could go up there with a hockey stick and hit line drives,” Finn said. “Remember?”
Then he took the broom, handed Brian the Hefty bag, and said, “Blame the batboy. Wow. What a guy.”
They finished up in the dugout, went back to the clubhouse, collected the last of the dirty clothes, and put them in the laundry bin for Mr. Schenkel. Shined all the shoes, Hank’s included. Then went back to No. 3 and changed into their regular clothes.
Brian wouldn’t even look at the storage area where the players’ extra bats were stored and stacked and organized by numbers, lowest to highest—rows and rows of them in shelves built into the wall.
He and Finn were being picked up separately today, Finn going out to dinner with his parents in the city. Brian’s mom had the night off and they were going out to dinner, just the two of them, at the Townsend Hotel in Troy.
Before he left, Brian went back to the clubhouse for one last look. He wanted to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, wanted to make sure he at least got things right
the game. The room was quiet, empty. Brian knew Mr. S. had to be around somewhere. Nobody with the Tigers worked harder than he did or put in more hours at the ballpark.
Yet Mr. S. was nowhere to be found. Even Davey and the coaches had beat it out of there by now, all of them getting the chance to have a night to themselves before the Tigers went back out on the road tomorrow.
Time to go.
Brian went back through the double doors, down the quiet hallway, pushed the button for the elevator, and heard it groan and start down from the lobby level. The doors opened. He got in. Then just as the doors started to close, he heard, “Hold the elevator!”
And in that moment he knew a bad day was about to get worse.
Because the voice belonged to Hank Bishop.
hanks,” Hank said before he saw who’d held the doors for him. Then he saw that it was Brian.
“Great,” he added.
Brian thought, Took the words right out of my mouth.
“Do me a favor?” Hank said. “Don’t apologize.”
In a small voice Brian said, “Okay.”
“Tell me you weren’t waiting for me out here so you could apologize.”
Brian, looking down at the floor, wanting to disappear through it, said, “I thought all the players were gone.” Then added, “Mr. Bishop.”
The ride to the lobby level took only a few seconds, but it felt longer today, one more part of Brian’s long day, the one that had begun with a sleepover at the ballpark and was ending with a nightmare.
When the doors opened back up, Brian just waited for Hank Bishop to get out first. Which he did. Brian kept his mouth shut for once and put his head down and followed him, just wanting to get outside, get to the street, get to his mom.
But when he did get outside, Hank was waiting for him.
“Hold it,” he said.
“I don’t want to wear you out with this, kid,” he said. “But you gotta leave me alone now.”
“I didn’t think I wasn’t,” Brian said. “Leaving you alone, I mean.”
“I see you following me around,” he said. “I see you watching me. But you gotta get it through your head, I’m not that guy. You think you know me. All you fans think you know me. But you don’t.”
His voice was rising, like he was getting mad all over again, like they were still standing there between the dugout and home plate, but this time Brian hadn’t done anything.
“That guy?” Brian said.
“You know what I mean, don’t act like you don’t,” Hank Bishop said. “I’m not the guy you still want to be your hero. I was
that guy, even when I was going good. And you want to know something else? I never
to be that guy.”
“I’m not asking you to be anything,” Brian said.
Thinking, Except nice to me.
“Yeah, you are. You’ve got all this storybook . . .
going on. Like the writers do. Only this isn’t a storybook. You gotta get that through your head. It’s more than that with me. A
more. You know why I came back
? You want to know the truth? There’s only one reason I’m here. . . .”
He stopped himself then, as if he’d said way more than he’d intended to.
Or couldn’t believe he’d said it to the batboy.
“I’ve got my reasons, is all,” he said.
Brian looked up at him now, a voice inside his head telling him he was too big and too old to cry, as much as he wanted to. That if he started crying in front of Hank Bishop . . . well, that was something you
came back from.
“Why are you telling me this?” he said.
All the days when he couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark, and now he didn’t just want to leave, he wanted to
“Because I look at you and see what everybody wants out of me and I’m sick of it!” Hank Bishop said.
Brian didn’t know what to say to that, now or ever. But he didn’t have to worry.
“Well, well, well,” he heard his mom saying. “If it isn’t my favorite guy and his all-time favorite player.”
He turned and saw his mom walking toward them, smiling her very best smile at both of them.
That wasn’t the most amazing part.
The most amazing part?
That Hank Bishop, whose head had seemed ready to explode about thirty seconds before, was smiling back.
Brian said, “Mr. Bishop, this is my mom. Liz Dudley.”
His mom, still smiling, said, “Heard a lot about you, Mr. Bishop.”
“Call me Hank.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you,
“Only the bad parts are true.”
“Well, I find
hard to believe.”
“Not if you heard the conversation I was just having with your boy.”
“Did I miss something good?”
“Don’t know if I’d call it good, exactly.”
She was still smiling, like it was some kind of show now near the employee entrance to Comerica Park.
“I was actually about to apologize to your boy before you came walking up.”
“Apologize for what?”
“For jumping up his . . . For jumping
his throat for a mistake he made today.”
Yeah, that was about to happen, Brian thought, him apologizing to me.
“I don’t know as much about baseball as I should,” his mom said then, “even having been married to a major-league pitcher. But isn’t that the way you learn, from your mistakes?”
“You were . . . ?” Hank said to Liz Dudley. Then he looked over at Brian, like seeing him for the first time. “You never told me your dad pitched in the big leagues. What was his name?”
“You’re Cole Dudley’s kid? How come I didn’t know that?”
Because you never even asked what my last name was, Brian thought,
why. But he said, “I don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“I faced him when he was at the end of his career. Guy still had nasty stuff, even when he could barely break 80 on the gun. What’s he doing now?”
“Pitching coach. Japan.”
Hank looked back at Liz Dudley. “You and Cole Dudley . . . ?”
“Divorced,” she said, and then as if Brian wasn’t there, she said, “I was released with a full pardon.”
“Wish I could have gotten one of those when I got divorced,” Hank said. Now he was smiling again. “The same way I wish I could have learned from
“Anyway,” he continued, “I’m glad you’re around to hear me tell Brian I’m sorry I lost my cool before. You’ve got a great kid, Mrs. Dudley. . . .”