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Authors: Mike Lupica

The Batboy (13 page)

BOOK: The Batboy
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The problem was, despite runners on base in just about every inning, the Tigers couldn’t score at all. So the game stayed 1-0, Boston. You didn’t see many of those pitching battles in the American League, the league with the designated hitter.
Between the top of the seventh and the bottom, Finn came running down to the dugout to get a quick drink and said to Brian, “You know when you told me that a 1-0 game could be, like, the best?”
“You mean the time I told you and you answered that I was an idiot?”
Finn said, “I take it all back. Because this is . . .”
“Baseball,” Brian said, just because sometimes that explained everything.
The game was still 1-0 Boston in the bottom of the ninth when Willie laid down a perfect bunt single against the Red Sox closer, Rex Green, known through baseball as T-Rex because he was 6 foot 6 and weighed 266 pounds. On a thin day.
T-Rex was known for ignoring base runners, so Willie proceeded to steal second on him. T-Rex came back by striking out Curtis and then Marty McBain. But Bobby Moore walked. So did Mike Parilli.
Bases loaded, two out. Hank Bishop walking to the plate. Brian heard Davey Schofield behind him, saying, “Well, here’s your Hollywood ending.”
Tom MacKenzie might have been pulled from the game an inning ago, but he hadn’t left the dugout, not even to ice his shoulder. Now he was standing next to Davey.
Brian moved his chair a little closer to them and heard Tom say, “He has trouble now catching up to this kind of cheese.”
“I just got a feeling,” Davey said. “Had it all night.”
Tom said, “Davey, if one of us is gonna be right, let’s have it be you.”
The count went to 2-2. T-Rex had a splitter, but he was strictly going with what Tom called his cheese now—his fastball. High cheese. Hank had swung through the first two fastballs but laid off the next two, both of which were high and outside the strike zone. Brian was expecting another fastball, thinking T-Rex wasn’t going to take a chance getting beat on his second-best pitch.
But that’s exactly what happened. He must have thought he could cross Hank up, get him off balance, maybe even sneak that splitter across the inside corner for a called strike three.
Hank wasn’t crossed up at all. He was sitting on the pitch as if he knew it was coming, and just the sound of the ball on the fat part of that maple bat told Brian he had gotten all of it. That he still knew what to do with a mistake pitch like that.
That was the only sound Brian needed to know the ball was gone. Not only would this be a walk-off home run, but it would be a
grand-slam
walk-off. Number 499 for Hank’s career—just one away from the magical 500.
He jumped to his feet like the rest of Comerica and watched Hank Bishop instead. Hank knew it, too. He took two steps out of the batter’s box and stopped, posed really, flipped the bat away, watching the flight of the ball.
He had gone to right-center with this one, gone the other way, the way he used to when he used the whole park, when he had power to all fields. His swing still didn’t look the same to Brian. But he had sure put an old-time, Hank Bishop crush on the ball.
And everyone in the stadium was standing as one, waiting for the ball to clear the wall.
Everyone except Tony Gilroy, that is, the Red Sox center fielder, who was running toward the wall in right-center. He slowed at the warning track, reached up casually without having to jump, and gloved the ball about two feet shy of the wall.
Game over.
Red Sox 1, Tigers 0.
Hank Bishop was still standing between home and first when Gilroy came sprinting toward the infield with his glove held high in celebration.
Brian couldn’t see Hank’s face, but he saw the way his whole body seemed to sag. He wondered which was greater: the shock that the ball hadn’t been a home run. Or the humiliation that he’d been so sure that it was.
He didn’t walk toward the Tigers’ dugout right away, just turned around and walked slowly toward the place in the grass where his bat had landed.
Just as Brian got there to pick it up.
“Don’t touch it,” Hank Bishop said in a quiet voice.
Brian looked up at him.
“I got it,” Hank said, then reached down and picked up the bat as if that took all the strength he had.
Brian didn’t know what to do next, so he just followed Hank Bishop across the field. When Hank got to the dugout, he walked down the steps but didn’t head for the clubhouse, just took a right turn and went to the far end and sat down, placing the bat next to him.
Finn’s voice was a whisper. “What do we do now?”
Brian whispered back. “Work around him.”
So they did, staying away from Hank, cleaning up as best they could. They removed the coolers, came back and collected the towels, took the other bats out of the rack and stored them in Equipment Room No. 3.
They got back to the dugout and saw that Hank Bishop was still there, still staring toward the outfield.
Brian and Finn were in the runway, trying to decide what to do about sweeping up with Hank Bishop still there, when Mr. Schenkel walked past them and saw Hank for himself.
“Leave the rest of it,” he said. “I’ll take care of it later.”
They did. Left Hank where he was.
On the night when Brian was sure he had turned himself back into the old Hank Bishop, Hank just looked old.
CHAPTER 17
I
t wasn’t just Hank who wasn’t the hitter he used to be.
Brian had completely lost his stroke for the Bloomfield Sting. Forget warning track power—he had
no
power now, and he couldn’t buy himself a base hit. The harder he tried, the more clueless he felt.
Kenny had a theory about it. But then Kenny Griffin had theories about everything from whether or not space aliens actually existed to palate expanders and how they had just been invented by kid-hating orthodontists for their own sick, twisted amusement.
“You know whose fault your slump is?” he said. “The Tigers’.”
“The
Tigers’
?”
Kenny nodded, the way teachers did when they led you to the right answer.
“Yup. You spend so much time with them and so little time with us, you’re picking up bad habits. Despite the fact that you spend most of your days and nights watching guys with
excellent
habits.”
“You know what my bad habit is?” Brian said. “Striking out.”
“It’s just a slump.”
“More like an incurable disease. Terminal scrub-ness.”
They were back at West Hills, getting ready to play the third game of three against the other team from Rochester, the Bulldogs. The two teams had split the first two. Brian had struck out three times in Friday night’s loss and three more times yesterday, a game Kenny had saved with a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the ninth.
“I’ve got one more theory,” Kenny said.
“You always do.”
“I think maybe you’re a little burned out.”
“Burned out,” Brian said, nodding like he was agreeing. “At fourteen. Good call. Burned out. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Go ahead and go full snark on me,” Kenny said. “But check it out: Maybe even
you
can’t eat, sleep, and drink baseball every single hour of every single day of your whole life.”
“So this
isn’t
the Tigers’ fault,” Brian said. “It’s
baseball’s
fault?”
“Now you’re talking.”
“And you’re a freak,” Brian said. “This isn’t baseball’s fault, it’s my fault. I couldn’t hit a meatball right now with a fork.”
“Meatball with a fork? Dude, I gotta admit, that’s the first time I ever heard that one.”
“It’s one of Davey Schofield’s. He’s got a lot of them. One time he referred to a play as being the straw that broke the coffin’s back.”
Kenny laughed, which didn’t take much. Sometimes Brian wondered if he was ever sad about anything besides giving up a run.
“You know when you’re snapping out of the junk?” Kenny said. “Today.”
But Kenny was wrong. The Sting might have won the game, but Brian went hitless, striking out three times in four at-bats.
The more he pressed, the worse it got. The more he guessed on what pitch was coming, the dumber he looked. He was either off stride or late getting his hands through or pulling his head off the ball on every pitch.
The only thing he was consistently hitting right now was
air.
When it was over, even though the Sting had won in a beatdown, his mom consoled him, or at least tried to, as if they’d lost the game.
“Tough day, pal.”
“You
think
?”
“You’ll get ’em next time,” she said.
They were walking toward the parking lot. Brian knew she was just trying to be a mom, even if she didn’t know the right thing to say.
Brian stopped.
“Please don’t,” he said.
“Don’t what?”
“Don’t act like you know that things will get better,” he said. “Kenny tried that earlier. Because you
don’t
know. I’m lucky to even be
on
this team, and now I’m the one doing the most to let it down.”
“Sorry for trying,” she said. “But then, I was never much good at pep talks even if I do know a thing or two about persistence.”
“Mom,” he said, “let’s not do this today.”
“I wasn’t aware we were doing anything.”
It didn’t matter what the subject was these days, Hank Bishop or anything else, all these conversations were starting to feel the same. Sound the same. He stood there between the field and the parking lot trying to remember the last time talking to his mom felt easy.
It was as hard as trying to remember the last time hitting a baseball felt easy.
“The sorry one is
me,
” he said, and started walking again toward their car. “Maybe if I can’t be a real member of the team, then I shouldn’t be on it anymore.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, kiddo,” his mom said.
Finally she was right about something.
“But I have one more thing to say, and I think you’ll want to hear it.”
Brian steeled himself and faced her.
“Your father is coming to town.”
CHAPTER 18
D
ad?” Brian said. “Coming
here
?”
“He arrives on Thursday. He’s apparently in the States to do some scouting for a week or so. He said that originally he was supposed to stay on the West Coast, but now—isn’t this a happy coincidence?—they want him to take a look at Hank Bishop with an eye toward maybe bringing him to Japan next season.”
“Hank . . . Japan? No way. Even I know he’s way too proud.”
“Your father says that he’s still a huge star over there and that they’ve signed guys like him at the end of their careers, for a lot of money.”
“So, am I . . . are we going to see him?”
“He wants to come here the day he arrives, says he’s going to the Tigers game that night, leaving the next morning.”
“He’s coming to a game?” Brian said. “Does he know . . . ?”
“About your job?” she said. “He does, as it turns out. Because when I gave him the news, he informed me that you’d informed
him
in a letter.”
“I tried shooting him an e-mail,” he said, “but it bounced back. I figured Dad’s still as computer savvy as ever.”
His mom said, “It’s not the contact info I’m interested in. I wasn’t aware that there was any contact at all.”
Brian wasn’t going to take any heat—have his brand attacked, as Kenny would say—for telling his dad he’d gotten a batboy job. So he just tried to make a joke out of the whole thing. “Technically,” he said, “if somebody doesn’t respond, then how much contact did you really have?”
Now she smiled for real.
“You got me there,” she said. “I’ll give you more details on this breaking story as it comes in.”
He wasn’t going to tell her this, but the only detail that mattered was that his dad was coming to town. Brian knew he’d take any kind of contact he could get with him.
Even if it was for only a day.
Cole Dudley hadn’t changed all that much. Starting with the fact that he still seemed to think that a high five was the same as a hug, no matter how long it had been since you’d seen your son.
Brian and his mom and dad were in the living room and Brian was still trying to process the fact that the three of them were in any kind of room together. But they were until his mom—who acted as if she’d rather be anywhere else in the house except here—finally said, “Well, you two have some catching up to do and I have to get ready for work.”
Before she left, Brian’s father asked, “How’s that going for you, at the station, I mean?”
“It’s going,” she said, and walked out.
His dad’s hair might have a little more gray in it. He might have put on some weight, Brian wasn’t sure. But he didn’t really look any older than he had when he’d left. He had worn a blue blazer to the house, and when he took it off now and draped it over the back of the couch, Brian saw that his golf shirt had “Chiba Lotte” stitched on it.
BOOK: The Batboy
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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