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Authors: Mike Lupica

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BOOK: The Batboy
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“Liz.”
“You’ve got a great kid,
Liz.
Even though I haven’t told him that yet to his face.”
Brian actually thought he might choke on that one. This was the kind of performance Hank gave every day in front of his locker for the writers, the guys he said bought into the same stupid storybook stuff that Brian did.
They chatted a few minutes more, almost as if Brian wasn’t even there. Hank said how nice it was to meet her. His mother said, “Nice to finally meet
you.

Hank turned to Brian. “See you tomorrow?”
Brian just nodded.
Then, most amazingly of all, Hank put up his hand so that Brian could give him a high five.
“No hard feelings?” Hank said.
“No sir,” Brian said.
No feelings at all.
Later, lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark, hands behind his head, unable to sleep, he couldn’t believe what had happened.
He’d thought about telling his mom the truth at dinner, but stopped himself. What was the point? Maybe if she thought Hank Bishop was a good guy, she’d like baseball a little more. Or at least hate it a little less.
He just couldn’t believe what he’d witnessed outside Comerica. When Hank Bishop finally tried to act like a human being, it was toward Brian’s mom. The mom who suddenly decided it was a fun fact that she had been married to Brian’s dad, someone she could usually go months without mentioning.
I’ve heard a lot about you, Hank.
You’ve got a great kid, Liz.
Gag me, Brian thought.
CHAPTER 15
T
he Tigers were scheduled to play two games in Minneapolis against the Twins. Then they were going from there to Chicago for three against the White Sox. After that they returned to Comerica for a ten-game home stand against the best of the American League East: Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees.
What that meant to Brian was that he got a full weekend of baseball with the Sting, Friday and Saturday games against the Lake Orion Dragons, then a doubleheader against Motor City on Sunday at Lahser High School.
He still missed the team when it went on the road, missed the routines he’d already fallen into in a pretty short time, for both day games and night games. He even missed hanging around with Finn every day.
But the idea of taking a little break from Hank Bishop didn’t kill him.
He knew this wasn’t just his summer with Hank Bishop, it was his summer with the
Tigers.
That meant the other twenty-four players, the manager, the coaches, Mr. Schenkel, even the broadcasters he saw at the ballpark every single day. He’d been given a kind of backstage pass to big-league baseball.
Not to just one guy.
Even if that one guy had been his favorite player his whole life. And even if that one guy seemed to be taking over his life. Now even his mom seemed interested in baseball.
On Thursday night she came into the den and announced she was going to watch the Twins game with him, at least until
Grey’s Anatomy
came on.
“I’m sorry,” Brian had said when she’d sat down in the big leather chair in the den that used to be his dad’s favorite seat for watching baseball. “Are you
lost
?”

Lost
is Wednesday night,” she said.
“Good one, Mom.”
“What,” she said, “I’m not allowed to watch a little baseball with my boy?”
“You mean watch something you
never
watch?” Brian said. “Or maybe it was one of my other moms who told me once she’d rather have food poisoning than watch a whole baseball game? The mom who just the other day was comparing baseball to the
Mafia.

“Those were figures of speech,” she said. “In writing, we call it dramatic license. Even newswriting. And, by the way, I didn’t say I wanted to watch the whole game.”
“You just want to watch Hank,” he said.
“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.”
Like they were still just kidding around. Only now Brian wasn’t. He didn’t know why the air in the room had changed, why he felt hot all of a sudden. But he did.
“You meet the guy one time and suddenly you’re interested in the Tigers?”
“And there’s something wrong with that?” she said. “I thought you wanted me to like baseball.”
“Mom,” he said, “when I first got this job, you sounded like you’d rather have me be a bag boy in a supermarket than a batboy for the Tigers. Or mow lawns to make extra money. Or just hang around the house doing nothing.”
“I come in and want to watch a few innings of a game with you and now you’re getting
mad
at me?”
“I’m not mad.”
“Well, you sound mad to me.”
“Well, I’m not.”
She turned the chair a little, angling it so she was facing him now.
“Then I guess I’m not getting this,” she said. “Because you’re the one who told me one time that I shouldn’t hold baseball against you because of the problems it caused for me and your dad. And for you.”
“I know I did. But, well, you shouldn’t like baseball again just because of this one guy, is all.”
“But I thought he was your guy,” she said. “Are you telling me now that he’s
not
?”
“No,” he said, “I’m not telling you that.”
“Then what are you telling me? I feel like we’re having a fight about something here and I don’t even know what it’s about,” she said. “Which
is
something I mastered when your dad was still around.”
“I guess I’m just saying that I don’t get you sometimes.”
“Makes two of us,” she said, getting up out of the chair now. “If you don’t want me to watch with you, just tell me and I won’t.”
“I’m not saying that, either.”
“Okay, then.”
“Okay.” Brian sighed, trying to squeeze a smile out of himself. Trying to change the air. “Hank just struck out to end the top of the second. I’ll call you when he’s up again.”
“Okay,” she said, and walked out of the room.
Brian sat there thinking. It was as if Hank Bishop was in the room even when he wasn’t, when he was playing on the road, because he was up on his mom’s radar now. And that
was
making him mad, even if he wasn’t going to admit it.
Liz Dudley had an expression she used on Brian all the time: Be careful what you wish for. Now he knew exactly what she meant. Ever since his dad had left, there’d been so many nights when he sat in this room and wished he had somebody he could share the games with. Now he wasn’t so sure. By the time Hank Bishop did come up the next time, he was up in his room, listening to the game on the radio. Alone. And liking it.
Alone and wondering how baseball ever got this complicated.
The Sting won both games at Lake Orion’s home field, Brian’s only hit of the series driving in a run. It was Will Coben’s ninth-inning home run that won Saturday’s game.
They ended up losing the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader against Motor City, but that wouldn’t be the game everybody would remember. The second game, with Kenny Griffin pitching, was the one they’d remember at Lahser High.
It wasn’t going to decide anything in their league, so there was no reason for the game to have any kind of playoff juice or edge to it. But the longer it went on and the longer it stayed scoreless, the more it felt
exactly
like the playoffs.
Brian felt the way he did watching Tigers games from his seat next to Davey Schofield, only this was better. This was what Kenny called “the goods.” This was a great game that Brian was
in.
He had worried that because he had the batboy job, playing for the Sting might not make him feel the same way he used to about playing ball. But he was finding out today on the field at Lahser High that there was nothing to worry about. He was actually glad the Tigers were in Chicago today because if they hadn’t been, he would have missed out on Bloomfield-Motor City, Game Two.
From the top of the first, Kenny had pitched like the total star he was. His pitch count was low today, as low as Brian could remember it. He had been around the plate all day and the Motor City hitters weren’t taking many pitches, almost like they wanted to keep Kenny out there as long as possible, even as Brian could hear their coach practically begging them to be patient.
Kenny usually had to be pulled from the game once the seventh inning ended because the maximum number of pitches he could throw—the number agreed upon by his dad and Coach Johnson—was ninety. And he’d be right around ninety by the sixth or seventh. But today the innings kept going by fast and Kenny kept getting stronger, striking out the side on eleven pitches to end the Hit Dogs’ seventh.
“You good?” Coach Johnson said to him when he got back to the bench. “Because you’re only at sixty-eight pitches.”
“Sixty-six,” Kenny said, toweling off.
“Well, I got you with two more.”
Kenny grinned at him. “All due respect, Coach? I got
you
two off.”
“I take it that you’d like to continue then?”
“Try getting the ball away from me.”
“What we need to get is a run.”
It came in the bottom of the inning, Kenny doing the job himself, singling home Will from second with one out and then advancing to second base on the throw home. Brian had a chance to make it 2-0 when he ripped the first pitch he saw from the Hit Dogs’ starter, a beast of a lefty with a vicious rising fastball. But the ball hung up just enough in right-center for their center fielder to run it down.
So the game stayed 1-0 headed into the eighth. Kenny got two quick ground balls and a strikeout to close out the top of the inning. He was still way under his limit, but Coach Johnson came over and sat next to him with the Sting up to bat in the bottom of the eighth. Before their coach even asked the question, Kenny grinned at him and said, “Coach? Don’t even think about it.”
It actually made Coach Johnson laugh. “Coaching this team is such an easy job sometimes,” he said, and got up and walked away.
When he was out of earshot, Brian said, “You sure you’re good?”
Kenny turned to him and in a whisper said, “I’m gassed. Totally.
Mad
gassed. But you know the deal. This is my chance to go the distance. Never did it in Little League, never did it in school ball.” He kept his voice low and said to Brian, “You know that home run you want to hit someday? Going nine is that home run for me. A tape-measure shot.”
Brian knew exactly what his bud was talking about. The Sting went down in order, so Kenny didn’t get much rest before taking the mound for the top of the ninth. He walked the first batter he faced on four pitches, took a deep breath, then got the second batter to line out to Will at first.
The ball was hit hard, though. The next kid singled on the first pitch.
First and third, one out. And Brian could see that Kenny was laboring out there.
“C’mon, finish these guys,” Brian said to himself, willing the words to reach Kenny all the way from left field.
The next batter worked the count full and should have taken ball four to load the bases, but he wound up doing Kenny a favor by swinging right under the high pitch.
The runner on first had been running with the pitch and ended up stealing second easily.
One more out to go.
Brian hadn’t been doing the math, but if Kenny wasn’t at ninety pitches by now, he was close enough as the Motor City cleanup hitter stepped into the box. He was the biggest kid in the game, and strong. Brian had heard the other kids calling him “Buddha,” not sure whether the nickname was meant to be a compliment or not.
Thinking, It sure does fit, though.
Buddha had hit the ball hard every time he’d been up, even if he still didn’t have a hit to show for his efforts.
Inside,
Brian said to himself. Do
not
let him extend those massive arms.
Inside
, Kenny G.
BOOK: The Batboy
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