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Authors: Mike Lupica

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BOOK: The Batboy
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There were no stats for Brian to fall back on now, no matchup numbers. All those decimal points inside his head were totally useless. The only numbers that mattered were these: 2-2. The only thing that mattered was finding a way to do something all hitters tried to do in moments like this:
Figure out a way to catch up with the other guy’s fastball.
Brian guessed that the next pitch would come right down the middle. One of those hit-me-if-you-can pitches.
Brian did.
He kept his head on the ball, made sure not to pull off it, kept his hands back when the impulse was to rush them through.
And when he did bring his hands through, he gave the ball a ride.
For one split second he thought this was finally the one, thought he had hit it hard enough to clear the left-field fence. Not just get a real jack finally, but a walk-off jack at that. But as much of a rope as it was, the ball didn’t have the elevation. What it did have was enough smash to split the left fielder and center fielder and roll all the way to the wall, scoring Andrew with the run that gave the Sting an 8-7 win.
Brian wasn’t sure how to act at first.
By the time he got to second, it was as if he’d forgotten all the rules of baseball, which he knew as well as he knew all his numbers. So he put on the brakes and stopped right there, afraid to leave the bag, even after Andrew had crossed.
And it was there, at second base, where Kenny Griffin got his arms around him and his momentum sent them both tumbling onto the outfield grass at West Hills.
Before the rest of the Sting got there, Kenny yelled, “Bro, you know what you are today, right?”
“Get off me, you lunatic,” Brian said, enjoying the moment even as Kenny crushed him.
“Bro,” Kenny said, “you’re the Bishop of Bloomfield!”
Bishop. As in Hank Bishop. It was a name Brian didn’t mind one bit.
CHAPTER 6
B
rian had come early his first day of work at Comerica, had his mom drop him off at two in the afternoon for a seven o’clock game, and even then he’d seen that manager Davey Schofield was already there, all his coaches were already there, and so were most of the players.
The players didn’t have to officially be there until three o’clock, but even that first day Brian could see the looks guys who showed up right on time got.
Like: Where have
you
been?
So from that first day, Brian knew something: Even big-league ballplayers wanted to be here as much as he did.
It was as if they couldn’t wait to leave their real homes for their baseball home, to get here and be part of the team—despite all the time they’d already spent together, beginning with spring training.
His mom said it used to be the exact same way for his dad. Once Christmas was over, she said, it was like he kept checking his watch, waiting for it to be time for him to leave for Florida or Arizona.
No matter how late a night game ended, even if it went deep into extra innings, they would be back early the next day, ready to do it again. Another day of the longest season in all of pro sports. It had taken only a couple of weeks, but Brian was beginning to understand what it was like to be a part of this world within a world: the world of the clubhouse, the dugout, the game, of
baseball.
Some of these players had been only five or six years older than Brian when they’d first gotten to be a part of this world, and it was as if once they did, they never wanted to leave. As if this was a place where they never had to grow up.
The Tigers had returned from their road trip, ready to start a four-game series, all night games, against the Angels. Brian asked his mom if he could show up real early.
Like it was the first day all over again.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with your man Hank coming home today, would it?” his mom said.
“Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t,” he said.
Because she was the station’s best news writer and one of their senior producers, and because the station was all news all day and night, Brian’s mom could pretty much make up her own schedule. And for this summer in her son’s life, she had managed to organize it as best she could around the Tigers’ schedule. So she was working four to midnight when the Tigers were in town, dropping Brian off on her way to the station. After the game, Brian would get a ride home with Mr. Schenkel, who lived in Bloomfield Village, or with Finn Simpkins, another one of the batboys, who lived a few minutes away from the Dudleys, over near the famous Oakland Hills golf club. And sometimes Liz Dudley would be the one driving Brian and Finn home.
Today she dropped off Brian underneath the walking bridge over Montcalm at a few minutes before two. She never got out of the car, never walked him to the door. Like this was as close to Comerica—to this world—as she wanted to get.
Brian checked himself in, got on the elevator, went down to the service level like always, amazed at how normal this felt to him already—as normal as walking into his own room.
When he walked through the double doors today, he didn’t even stop to say hello to Mr. Schenkel, just kept going right into the clubhouse.
And saw that Hank Bishop was already there. Like he had walked right out of one of Brian’s baseball cards.
Here he was. Brian really felt like he was in a movie theater, only the star had walked right off the screen and into the audience.
Brian saw that Mr. Schenkel had placed Hank’s locker between Willie Vazquez, the life of the team and the life of the clubhouse, and Marty McBain, the team’s veteran left fielder and one of the few Tigers left who had been around when Hank Bishop was still playing third and batting third.
Marty had even played with Cole Dudley when both of them were with the Mariners. The team knew by now that Cole Dudley was Brian’s father, and every once in a while somebody would ask Brian where his dad was, what he was doing, and he’d tell them.
Brian hadn’t noticed Finn hanging back near where the coffeepots were, staring across the room the same as Brian was. But now he heard Finn, in a low voice—batboys were supposed to be seen and not heard—saying, “The man, the legend.”
Brian answered in a total whisper. “Oh, baby.”
Finn said, “Like he never left.”
“He probably wishes that’s the way things had worked out,” Brian said.
He looked the same, at least to Brian, looked like the guy they’d always said was too big to play shortstop, even though he once played the living daylights out of the position, covering as much ground as anybody in the league at 6 foot 3 and 225 pounds. Maybe he was a little skinnier than that now. And maybe he looked more tired than Brian remembered.
But he was still Hank Bishop.
In the flesh.
There was a home-white No. 24 jersey hanging in his locker. Mr. Schenkel, who handed out numbers to new players if they didn’t request a particular number, had never let anybody else wear No. 24 for the Tigers even though the number wasn’t officially retired.
So there was his old uniform, looking brand new. Brian wondered if everything felt brand new to Hank Bishop today, as if he’d be starting all over again once he put on his uniform.
He kept staring. So did Finn. Mostly Brian wondered why Hank Bishop, who’d been away from baseball for as long as he had, who’d been given the baseball version of a prison sentence, didn’t look happier.
Brian just wanted to stand there and watch for a while, watch the guy’s moves with his teammates and with the media when they were allowed in. But both he and Finn knew there was another of Mr. Schenkel’s big rules for his batboys:
Once they were at the ballpark, they’d better get busy. And stay busy.
Brian knew by now that usually rookie batboys like himself and Finn started on the visitors’ side of Comerica, that working on the Tigers’ side was something you had to earn. But all of the batboys were rookies this summer, and so Mr. Schenkel had had to choose, and he had chosen Brian and Finn.
“I always liked watching your dad pitch,” he’d said, “ because he
knew
how to get outs even when he didn’t have his best stuff. And, on top of that, you wrote the best letter this year.”
So Brian and Finn went down to Equipment Room No. 3—or simply “No. 3,” as they now called it—to change into their pregame uniforms: what looked like a blue Tigers’ golf shirt, worn with their uniform pants. They wouldn’t put their regular jerseys on until four thirty, when it was time to go out for batting practice.
It was just like any other day.
Only it wasn’t.
“You think he can still do it?” Finn said. “At the plate, I mean?”
“I don’t think Mr. Schofield would have brought him back if he couldn’t,” Brian said.
“But if he’s not doing steroids anymore . . .” Finn stopped himself. Finn Simpkins had red hair and more freckles than anybody Brian knew, and had just turned sixteen but was small for his age. He played baseball, too, but had told Brian he was nothing more than a scrub on his Juniors team, and hadn’t even tried out for tournament ball. Finn didn’t know as much baseball history as Brian, but he seemed to love the game just as much. “You think the steroids helped him hit as many home runs as he did?”
Brian blew out some air. “I think they helped everybody,” he said. “Hitters, pitchers, everybody who used them. It stinks, just thinking about it, how they screwed up the record books. But it’s a fact. And if it’s a fact for everybody else, it’s a fact for Hank Bishop.”
The two boys began going through their list of supplies, even though it was still early. They wanted to make sure that all the work they usually did before batting practice was done so they could be on the field when Hank Bishop took his first cuts.
But it wasn’t just that. Brian and Finn knew how things worked with Mr. Schenkel, because it was another thing he’d told them their very first day:
The harder you worked, the more prepared you were, the more likely you were to
stay
on the home team side of Comerica Park this summer, to not have to switch over to the visitors’ side, the first-base side, which Finn referred to as “Siberia.”
So the two of them went around the room, making sure everything was in order and fully stocked. Pine tar? Check. Cups? Check. Sunflower seeds—which the players could devour in epic proportions?
Check.
Sugarless gum and Bazooka and Big League Chew?
Check.
The two of them went back to the clubhouse and made sure they didn’t have to refill the coffee machine. Mr. Schenkel gave them some shoes that needed shining. Brian and Finn took care of that. When they got back down to No. 3, it was almost time to lug the coolers of Gatorade up to the dugout.
Brian grinned at Finn and said, “I am mad, stupid excited.”
“No kidding,” Finn Simpkins said. “I hadn’t picked up on that.”
By four thirty, Brian and Finn had been in their real uniforms for half an hour. So were Matt Connors and Adam Price, the batboys working for the Angels tonight.
BOOK: The Batboy
10.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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