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Authors: Mike Lupica

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BOOK: The Batboy
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The first pitch wasn’t close to being inside. Not only did Buddha extend his arms, but he got all of the pitch, hitting a hooking line drive toward the left-field line.
Hard to Brian’s right.
And this ball wasn’t going to hang up like the one Brian had hit earlier. Buddha had gotten on top of Kenny’s fastball, putting all this topspin on it, like the killer forehand in tennis.
Getting a good jump on the ball wasn’t Brian’s strong suit as an outfielder. He had a strong arm, and if he could get his glove on the ball, he could catch it. But he wasn’t fast and he knew it.
He’d been ready for this one, though, and got a good jump on it. Still, he felt his heart sinking the way the ball was, the ball tailing away from him too hard and too fast, Brian just knowing it was going to land fair. And if it landed fair, both runners would score and the Sting would lose. And Kenny would have finally gone nine, only to lose the game.
Brian waited until he couldn’t wait anymore and went into his dive, extending his left arm across his body, lying out with his glove hand as much as he possibly could.
He felt two things then, one right after another.
He felt the ball in the webbing of his—what else?—Hank Bishop glove.
Then he felt his right shoulder hit the outfield grass at Kenning Park as hard as if he’d used that shoulder to try to break down a door. But Brian wasn’t worrying about that, he was just worrying about keeping his glove as high above the grass as he could, even if that meant his shoulder had to take all the impact when he hit.
So he didn’t roll. It was basically as if he’d just belly-flopped out there, about a foot from the chalk of the left-field line.
But with his Hank Bishop glove high enough for the infield umpire to see.
The glove that held Kenny’s first complete game ever in its webbing.
Brian sat up, holding the glove above his head now, like some kind of trophy. The ump signaled out. Brian sat right where he was and saw Kenny, still standing on the mound, throw his own glove up in the air.
Then he watched as his bud ran toward the Sting’s bench, where Kenny’s father was pumping his arms in celebration. They hugged, hard.
Brian stood and began slowly walking off the field, his shoulder suddenly hurting a lot more than it had a moment ago.
CHAPTER 16
T
here were so many questions he wanted to ask Hank Bishop, so many questions he realized he would probably never get answers to.
It was pretty clear by now that Hank wasn’t just rusty at the plate. Even Brian could see that he didn’t have the same bat speed he used to have.
There was something else, too. Brian couldn’t pinpoint what it was, exactly, but something about Hank’s swing itself looked different. Brian told himself it was just the angle he had, now that he was watching on the field. But even watching from home when the Tigers were on the road, there was no denying it. Hank Bishop was no longer the hitter he once was.
Brian remembered Tim McCarver one time on the
Game of the Week
saying that getting a fastball past Hank Bishop was like getting table scraps past a hungry dog.
Now Brian wished there was some way to ask him what that was like. What it felt like to swing and know instantly that the ball was headed out of the park for a home run. What adjustments he had to make at the plate now that his hands wouldn’t do what he wanted them to do, what his brain was probably still
telling
them to do.
And did it make Hank mad?
Or maybe just sad.
Hank Bishop wasn’t a bad hitter now. He just wasn’t great anymore. His average was at .280 since he’d come back to the Tigers, with three homers and ten RBI. But whether Brian was watching him from next to the dugout at Comerica or watching him on television, he’d always see a few pitches per game that were practically begging to be crushed by Hank’s bat but would end up being routine fly balls.
More than anything, though, the question he knew he would never have the courage to ask was this:
How much Hank Bishop thought steroids had to do with the success he used to have.
Brian loved baseball enough to know that it was the record books, the
stats,
that connected one era to another, that connected somebody like Ty Cobb, the greatest Tiger of them all—and, from everything he’d read, a hundred times the jerk that Hank could be—to the players of today. And Brian knew that what was now called the “steroid era,” the era that pretty much took up his whole life, had made a fine mess of the record books and of history, especially when it came to home runs, because nobody could sort out how much the modern stats were real and how much they had to do with drugs. Who was clean and who wasn’t.
Every time one of Hank’s balls ended up on the warning track, he wondered if it would have been a home run five years ago.
He knew Hank had to wonder the exact same thing, whether he’d ever admit that or not.
Brian had experienced a lot of feelings since Hank Bishop became a Tiger again, more bad than good. A
lot
more bad than good, actually.
He’d never expected to feel sorry for him. Yet he did.
Even stranger, in a way that Brian couldn’t understand
properly, it made him feel sorry for himself.
It was three thirty in the afternoon, middle game of the Red Sox series, halfway through the home stand, the Tigers riding a four-game winning streak, and Brian and Finn were in Equipment Room No. 3, the real start of their day.
“Here’s what you need to do, if you want my opinion,” Finn was saying.
“Wait a second,” Brian said. “This opinion, the one you’re about to give me, is this one I have a choice about?”
“Yes,” Finn said. “But I’m telling you in advance, it’s not one you’d want to miss out on.”
They were changing out of their own clothes and into their Tigers golf shirts.
“I’m going to risk it,” Brian said.
“I know you well enough already to know you don’t mean that,” Finn said.
He turned now, having pulled his shirt over his head.
“You gotta stop thinking you’re going to get to know Hank the Crank,” Finn said. “Get to know what he’s
really
like.”
He put air quotes around
really.
“Why’s that?”
“Because
this
is what he’s really like!” Finn said.
“I still don’t believe that,” Brian said.
Finn acted as if he hadn’t even heard him. “And I’ve got another bombshell for you.”
“Wow,” Brian said. “Who’s luckier than me today?”
“All those questions you tell me you want to ask him about being a former juicer? Say you did ask him one day in a moment of complete wigged-out insanity. You think he’d give you an honest answer? He still won’t admit he even
took
the drugs, remember? Says he didn’t know what his trainer was giving him.”
“I still want to know.”
“Dude,” Finn said. “You’re the big history guy, remember? You’re the one who told
me
that guys wouldn’t tell the truth about drugs even when they went in front of
Congress.

“Yeah. Mark McGwire said he didn’t want to talk about the past on a day all they
wanted
from him was to talk about the past.”
“You need to start focusing on the guys who actually like having us around,” Finn said. “Not Hank the Crank, who acts like
we
were the ones who suspended him from baseball.”
Brian thinking: The guy acts like he’s
still
suspended.
Hank was playing in the field tonight for the first time since coming back, playing third base. Brian knew he was ready for it even though all he’d done was DH so far, having watched Hank take ground balls at third every single day during batting practice. He had even seen him take grounders at first, breaking in a brand-new first baseman’s mitt, a surprise just because Brian knew without looking it up that Hank had never played a game at first base in his entire professional career.
The bigger surprise? Being in the field was something that seemed to make Hank happy. Brian would stop and watch him during practice making one clean, smooth pickup after another, making one sure throw after another across the diamond. And those simple actions would actually make him smile sometimes, even get him to engage in a little light trash talk, nothing heavy, with Willie Vazquez, the king of trash talk with the Tigers.
“Ooooh, Mr. Hank Bishop,” Brian had heard Willie say today after Hank had backhanded a ball behind third and fired a strike across to Bobby Moore at first. “I didn’t know your arm was still
so
strong and powerful.”
And Hank had said, “Compared with your rag arm? Yeah, I guess mine would look powerful.”
Willie had laughed like that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, then laughed again a few minutes later when Hank ranged way to his left and cut in front of Willie to pick up a grounder that was practically in Willie’s glove. But instead of throwing to Bobby Moore, Hank just took the ball out of his glove and, in what seemed to be one slick motion, went behind his back with it to Willie, who had the presence to barehand the ball and gun it to Bobby himself.
The two of them high-fived each other and, watching from the dugout, Brian thought that maybe these few minutes were the start of something. That maybe going back in the field tonight might make Hank feel more like the player he used to be.
It was almost a rough beginning, though. He nearly booted a ball in the top of the first when the ball caught the edge of the grass before the infield turned to dirt. The ball jumped on Hank, came up and caught the heel of his glove, falling in front of him. But he was able to grab it with his bare hand and make what Brian thought was a pretty amazing throw and to get the runner by a step.
When the Tigers came off the field, Davey Schofield put out his hand and said, “Nice recovery.”
Hank said, “I used to be able to field balls like that with my
teeth
and not drop them.”
In the top of the fourth, two out and two runners on, full count on the Red Sox cleanup hitter, Hank made the defensive play of the game. The runners were going with the pitch and the batter hit a screamer that bounced over the bag, but somehow Hank was there. He timed his dive perfectly, came up out of the dirt with the ball, and threw what looked like a 95 mph fastball to get the out.
As Hank came off the field to a standing ovation, he did something Brian couldn’t remember his having done since his first night back at Comerica:
He tipped his cap.
Another good sign.
Maybe.
Tom MacKenzie, the Tigers’ starter, had been the biggest fastball phenom in baseball before three shoulder surgeries robbed him of his heat. He was a ground-ball pitcher now, getting by on a lot of sneaky off-speed junk. But tonight, throwing his sinkers and changeups, he induced batter after batter to beat the ball into the ground for easy outs. Through seven brilliant innings, he had given up just one run to the high-powered Red Sox offense.
BOOK: The Batboy
2.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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