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Authors: Mike Lupica

The Batboy (14 page)

BOOK: The Batboy
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“It’s great to see you, pal,” he said.
“You too.”
His dad was on the couch now, Brian in the chair facing him, on the other side of the coffee table. He hadn’t known where to sit and had just grabbed the chair.
“Listen,” his dad said, “before we talk about anything else, I’m sorry . . .”
And that was as far as he got. What hadn’t changed about his dad? It still looked to Brian as if he had the biggest hands in the world, hands that could make a baseball disappear as if he were doing some kind of magic trick with it. His dad stared down at those hands now, as if he’d rather have a ball in them, as if then he’d know what to do . . .
“Dad, you don’t have to.”
“No, I do. I’m sorry about the way I left, sorry that I haven’t called or written back or anything.” Now he looked up. “But getting out of here,” he said, “it was like when it was time to get out of baseball. Pitching-wise, I mean. It was just time, is all. I didn’t want to stay around and try to find the right words, or answer the questions I knew you’d want to ask. If it had been a game, I’d have just handed you the ball like I was taking myself out and kept walking.”
He smiled at Brian, and then shrugged. “Anyway, I’m real glad to see you, as hard as that might be for you to believe.”
“Dad,” Brian said, “you don’t have to explain now. Really, you don’t.”
He worried in that moment that if he said the wrong thing, his dad might get up and leave again, before his one day with him had even started.
His dad, still smiling, said, “Gee, but I’m so good at it.” He nodded at the doorway. “Practiced my talking skills with your mom’s back.”
There was a quiet between them now, neither one of them sure where to take this next. Brian thought, All the times when I wanted to be with him watching a game on TV, or sitting next to him in Section 135, and now here he is and I don’t know what to say to him.
And he knew why. Knew how little they’d
ever
had to say to each other when they weren’t talking baseball.
“So the batboy deal,” he said. “They being nice to you?”
“Yeah.”
“You like it then, being around the game every day?”
“A lot.”
“They know you’re my son?” he asked. “Even if you probably don’t feel like that lately.”
“Some of the guys do,” Brian said. He grinned and said, “You know, the older ones.”
“Ouch.”
Then it was quiet again. Brian could hear his mom moving around upstairs, the floorboards squeaking the way they had since they’d moved into this house, when they were still a family.
“What about you?” Brian said. “How’s the Japan deal working out?”
“Well, they sure do love their baseball,” he said, “so I’m good with that. Not so good on the food, of course, the raw fish and whatnot. So I feel like I spend a lot of my free time looking for a good burger.”
“You like coaching?”
“Oh, I still have a lot to say on the subject, but now I’ve got to say it through a translator. Though some of my own old coaches would say I always needed one of those.”
“You were always good at talking baseball to me, Dad,” Brian said.
First time he’d called him that today.
Dad.
“Well, I can tell you it’s a little different over there,” his dad said. “’Cause once I get past
konnichiwa
for hello and
sayonara
for goodbye, I pretty much got to use these old hands of mine.”
Brian could see him loosening up now, relaxing, settling into this, always more comfortable talking about himself, about baseball. “It’s good honest work and better than anybody was offering me in the big leagues. And it helps that I’m working for an American.”
Bud Valley had managed the Twins and the Orioles in America, but had taken the job with Chiba Lotte after the Orioles had fired him two years ago.
“Bud must trust you if he’s got you scouting now,” Brian said. “Mom said you want to take a look at Hank Bishop.”
“Your man,” his dad said. “Oh, I don’t think I’ve got a snowball’s chance in Miami of even getting him to talk to us when the season’s over. But they surely would pay him, because he’s the kind of big American name they love over there.” He grinned again and said, “Heck, you don’t even have to be a big name. Some of them even remember your old man.”
He sighed. “But enough about me,” he said. “You really doing okay, pal?”
I’m still his pal, Brian thought. Talking to me like I’m still five, when he’d come home for a visit during the season, about this time of year, or come home for good after the season, before he’d find some excuse to get to Florida or Arizona early for spring training. . . .
“Good,” Brian said. “Really good. I really do love my job, and I was even having a pretty good season for my team, the Sting, before I went into this horrendo slump.”
“Man,” his dad said, “aren’t those the pits?”
“My swing feels all discombobulated, like I’m off balance all the time.”
His dad nodded and Brian knew what he wanted to happen now, wanted his dad to tell him they should go find the nearest field and he’d take a look at it.
His dad’s cell phone went off. Still playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” He pulled it out of his pocket, looked at the number, said, “Gotta take this, pal,” and walked through the terrace doors to the small outside patio. “Yeah, I’m in Detroit, on my way to the ballpark in a little while, then out of here on the first flight tomorrow.”
The conversation didn’t last long; they never did with his dad. When he came back inside, he said, “Hey, I was thinking, we got some time here before I drive you to Comerica.”

You’re
taking me?” Brian said.
“I cleared it with the boss,” he said, pointing upstairs.

Cool,
” Brian said.
“Like the old days,” his dad said. “Just the two of us.”
Maybe it was going to be a great day after all. “Yeah,” Brian said. “Like that.”
“Anyway,” his dad said, checking his watch, “we still got a little time and I’m starving. How about we get some lunch?”
“Sushi?” Brian said.
“Funny,” Cole Dudley said. “I want to find a thick burger dripping so much blood it’s like I just shot it myself. Is Hunter House still in business over there on Woodward?”
“Sure is,” Brian said.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “Go get ourselves a couple of big, fat sliders.”
One thing really hadn’t changed with his dad, then.
He still couldn’t wait to get out of this house.
CHAPTER 19
H
is dad had called ahead to the Tigers and they had given him a seat in the stands where some of the other scouts sat. Tonight, for the Tigers-Blue Jays game, the seats were on the home team side of the park, but closer to home plate than the Tigers’ dugout, in Section 130.
Not exactly the old seats, but close enough.
Cole Dudley had told the Tigers’ PR people that he was coming with Brian, so they left his ticket at the Montcalm entrance, along with a one-day media credential that would get him into the Tigers’ clubhouse and onto the field.
His dad had said on his way to the ballpark that he wanted to say hello to Marty McBain, his old teammate, and Rube Morgan, the ancient—or so Brian thought—Tigers pitching coach. Brian had never really talked with Mr. Morgan, but it turned out that he had been Cole Dudley’s first pitching coach in the majors, when he’d come up with the Dodgers.
And his dad had mentioned that he’d pitched with Tom MacKenzie when MacKenzie was a phenom in Boston, and with Mike Parilli for two months in Arizona once.
He had never played with Hank Bishop, but Brian knew that Hank’s lifetime stats were great against Cole Dudley: twenty career at-bats, ten hits, three home runs, eight RBI.
“I told them in Japan that if they were looking for references on Hank, they didn’t have to go any further than me,” his dad said.
Everybody made a big fuss when his dad walked into the clubhouse. Bobby Moore, who’d played a year in Japan once, even bowed and said,
“Konnichiwa,”
and Brian’s dad laughed and said, “I got your
konnichiwa
right here, dude.”
And just like that—that fast—Brian’s dad was one of the boys again.
Or maybe once you were one of the boys, once you were in the club, they always treated you that way. Maybe it was like the Robert Frost poem they were studying in English, the one about home being the place where when you went, they had to take you in.
Davey Schofield came out of his office to say hello, and Marty McBain lifted up Cole Dudley in a bear hug, saying that his old buddy sure hadn’t missed many meals over there. Mike Parilli told him to save a job for him. Tom MacKenize joked that after all his arm surgeries, now
he
knew what it was like to get by with total junk, the way Brian’s dad had his whole career.
“Junk and brains,” his dad said.
Tom said, “If it was brains, you wouldn’t have lasted long enough to earn your pension.”
They all laughed again.
The only one not making a fuss, not included in the reunion, was Hank Bishop, who was just sitting in front of his locker signing the balls in a box that would be passed around the room eventually so everybody on the team could sign them. Brian knew that this box was on its way to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
Hank would look up occasionally and take the scene in, the way Brian was. Like he wasn’t a part of it.
The way Brian wasn’t.
When they’d first entered the clubhouse, Brian was at his dad’s side, standing there, grinning as people came up to him. At one point his dad had even said to Marty McBain, “You better be watching out for my kid.”
Something his dad hadn’t done himself in a long time.
“He’s a great kid,” Marty had said. “Best batboy we’ve ever had. Knows the game, too. Must get that from his mother’s side of the family.”
Then he and Marty began reminiscing about the time when their plane had been grounded by fog in San Francisco and they’d had to hop a bus back to Los Angeles, and how one of the rookie infielders was in the bathroom at some diner and got left behind.
Almost without realizing he was doing it, Brian had moved away from the scene in the middle of the clubhouse, was standing near the door to Mr. S.’s office. He knew he had work to do, he couldn’t just hang around all day.
But even though it was as if he’d moved out of the picture, been cropped out of it, he couldn’t make himself leave.
At one point he saw his dad go over, say something to Hank, shake his hand. Hank nodded, no expression on his face, looking at Cole Dudley the way he would at Brian or Finn. His dad reached into the side pocket of his jacket, pulled out what had to be a business card, and handed it to Hank. Looking more like a salesman in that moment than an ex-player.
Rube Morgan finally came through the door in his uniform, gave his dad a hug, and said, “I don’t know what’s in the water over there or them Californy rolls, but you look older’n
me
now.”
“Rube,” his dad said, “only the earth is older than you.”
“But you
do
look as if you could still give me a third of an inning.”
“Oh man,” Cole said, “don’t I wish.”
“Listen,” Rube said, “I wish I could catch up with you, but we just called up some twenty-year-old kid from Triple A and I’ve got to go see what kind of stuff he’s got. You want to come?”
Cole said, “You don’t have to ask twice.”
Then Rube Morgan was telling him about the kid’s minor-league statistics and the two of them walked right past Brian, his dad not even seeing him, and out the clubhouse door.
Brian watched them go. Watched the door close behind them.
Sayonara,
Brian thought. He leaned against the wall outside Mr. Schenkel’s office, feeling tired all of a sudden, even though he hadn’t done a stitch of work yet, hadn’t even changed out of his regular clothes.
There was a lot less noise, a lot less action, in the clubhouse now that his dad was gone. Somebody turned up some music.
Still Brian didn’t move. When he finally pushed off the wall, he felt himself sag a little, felt that catch in his throat you felt when you started to cry. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, stopped what was trying to come out of him right there. He hadn’t cried when Hank Bishop had started yelling at him on the street that day, and he wasn’t going to cry now because his dad had made him feel as if he were invisible.
But he did need to get out of here.
Now.
Brian took one last look across the room, to the spot in the middle near the couches where his dad had been meeting and greeting before he’d left for the bullpen with Rube Morgan.
And noticed Hank Bishop staring at him.
Brian looked up into the stands in the top of the fifth inning and saw his dad sitting with the other scouts at the game, pointing at something in the outfield, smiling and saying something to the guy sitting to his left, both of them throwing back their heads and laughing.
BOOK: The Batboy
8.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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