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Authors: Mike Lupica

The Batboy (23 page)

BOOK: The Batboy
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What he didn’t have was a lot of time. Or a lot of outs to give.
The Sting finally got on the board in the bottom of the eighth when Ryan Santoro, their center fielder, tripled home two runs. But Andrew Clark, their catcher, couldn’t get him home. The game stayed 3-2.
Kenny had exceeded his pitch count by then and couldn’t talk Coach Johnson into leaving him in there to finish up the game. Instead he switched over to shortstop. The Motor City coach had also relieved Adam Connolly by then, replacing him in the eighth with the Hit Dogs’ closer, Pete Torres, a right-hander who threw even harder than Adam did.
The Hit Dogs went down in order in the top of the ninth. Just like that, the whole season for the Sting had come down to this one half inning. One to tie, two to win.
Don’t score at all and go home. Season over.
Coach Johnson told the team to gather around him in front of the bench. It was then that Brian heard the applause from behind him.
He turned around along with everybody else on the team, along with Coach Johnson, and saw all the people on the Bloomfield side standing. At first Brian just thought it was some kind of spontaneous show of support from the parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and friends who had come to the finals, everybody trying to get the Sting amped for the bottom of the ninth, for last ups.
It wasn’t. The fans weren’t cheering for the Sting, at least not for the moment.
Weren’t even looking at them.
Coach was standing now, looking toward the far end of the bleachers, saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Then all of the Sting players were up, too, pointing the way the fans were.
Pointing at Hank Bishop as he came walking toward their bench.
rian walked around their bench over to where Hank was standing on the other side of the chain-link fence.
“You’re supposed to be in Cleveland,” Brian said. “In fact, I watched you
in Cleveland this afternoon.”
Brian looked over his shoulder past Hank and up to where his mom was sitting with the Griffins and saw her laughing her head off as though this had to be a joke. It couldn’t be real.
“One o’clock game,” he said. “Went 3-for-4, couple of ribbies. Then got into my rental car. Punched in the address on my trusty GPS, here I am. You ever want to make the trip, it’s two and a half hours by car, if you step on it.”
“But how did you even know . . . ?”
“Your mom might have mentioned something,” he said. “Besides, you guys were both at my big game. I thought I’d just return the favor. You up this inning?”
“Set those hands,” Hank said.
Hank said, “And what else?”
“Wait,” Brian said.
“There you go,” Hank Bishop said, and then made his way up the bleachers. The fans started to applaud again, but when he got to where Liz Dudley and the Griffins were, he put a finger to his lips and pointed toward the field.
Coach Johnson got the team back around him.
“Hank Bishop did something the other night that maybe only he believed he could do,” Coach said. “Now you guys go do something we’ve
believed we could do since the first day of practice.”
Kenny was leading off the inning. He laced the first pitch he saw over first base, making second easily, so easily he thought about going to third. But he stopped himself because he knew it wasn’t worth the chance, knew you never wanted to make the first out of the bottom of the ninth at third base. You have to give the hitters behind you a chance to do their job.
Tying run on second now.
Will Coben up next. He worked the count to 3-2, but then couldn’t lay off a fastball up in his eyes, swinging right through it.
One on, one out for Brian.
He got up out of the on-deck circle, took a quick look at the stands, saw them all standing, saw Hank Bishop turning his mom’s cap around on her head, like he was making it into a rally cap.
Hank standing there next to his mom, both of them here for him. Together.
Like it was strictly regulation.
When he came around the ump and the catcher, he took one more look up there and caught Hank’s eye. Hank Bishop posed in his batting stance.
Setting his hands low. And still.
Brian nodded.
He looked out at Kenny now, who pounded his heart. Twice. Then Brian checked the infielders and saw the Motor City third baseman, the one who’d robbed him, basically sitting right on the line now, not wanting to let a ball by him for extra bases.
Brian dug his back foot in, anchoring it the way Hank had told him to that first night in the cage.
Set his hands.
Took strike one, a fastball down the middle from Pete Torres, a fastball so sweet he wanted to step out and bang his bat against his batting helmet, thinking he might have taken the best pitch he was going to see.
That the one good pitch for this at-bat might have just gone right past him.
Pete Torres came out of his stretch again, even as Kenny danced off second and tried to distract him. Brian kept his hands back.
And waited.
And when his hands came through, when his bat fired through the zone and he came in behind his own short stride and caught Pete Torres’ fastball on the sweet spot, he knew.
He knew the way he’d known with Hank’s 500th. Knew that he had gotten all of it. Not because of the sound of the ball on the bat this time.
Knew because this time he was the guy who’d hit it. Greatest feeling in this world.
Brian came out of the box running, running for his life. But he kept his eyes on the flight of the ball as it headed high and hard toward left field, high up there against the lights of Royal Oak, up there against the baseball night.
Like one of Hank’s.
Brian was still running hard when he got to the bag at first, taking it in stride on the inside corner.
And he never slowed down.
Even after the ball had cleared the outfield fence.
The Hit Dogs, almost in shock, were already walking off the field, heads held low. The Sting players? They’d already started the party at home plate.
Brian couldn’t wait to get there.
He rounded third and tossed away his batting helmet the way guys in the big leagues did in moments like this. Then his teammates were giving him just enough room to jump on home plate with both feet.
Kenny was on him, pounding on his back, yelling, “Not bat
, dude! Bat
! Because you are
the man!”
Finally Brian broke clear from Kenny, and Will, and Ryan, and even Coach Johnson. He hopped over the bench and walked over to the fence where his mom and Hank Bishop were waiting for him.
His mom’s rally cap still turned around on her head. She was beaming.
Then his mom’s arms were around him and she was trying to say something but couldn’t. The words came out as a laugh or a cry.
Or both.
Then he broke free from his mom and it was just him and Hank. Hank put out his fist, just the way he had after his own home run at Comerica the other night.
Brian reached out his fist, but instead of bumping him one, Hank reached out both arms and lifted Brian straight up, as if trying to raise him all the way up to the top of the night. Brian felt as if he had cleared the fence all over again.
“Told you to wait,” Hank said.
Yeah, Brian thought, I waited for this, all right.
Waited my whole life.
Mike Lupica, over the span of his successful career as a sports columnist, has proven that he can write for sports fans of all ages and stripes. And as the author of multiple hit books for young readers, including
Heat, Travel Team, Summer Ball,
The Big Field,
Mr. Lupica has carved out a niche as the sporting world’s finest storyteller.
Mr. Lupica, whose column for New York’s
Daily News
is syndicated nationally, lives in Connecticut with his wife and their four children. He can be seen weekly on ESPN’s
The Sports Reporters.
BOOK: The Batboy
4.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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