It had been unusual for Brian to watch the bottom of the ninth against the Indians from the dugout, Davey Schofield being like most managers and not wanting his batboy running back and forth in front of him and obscuring his vision of the field. But that game had been an exception, Davey seeing how much Brian was into the game, giving him a chance to experience a great bottom of the ninth from inside. Most of the time Brian was in a chair set up on the field, right next to the end of the dugout closest to home plate.
For most of the game that was where he sat, unless he was fetching a bat or running new baseballs to the home-plate umpire. Finn’s chair was down the third-base line, at the point where the stands were closest to the field.
Finn had told Brian his name for the summer should be Foul Ball Simpkins.
For now, though, the two of them got to enjoy watching batting practice. Brian still felt stupid excited as he watched Hank Bishop get ready to take his cuts with the rest of the regulars. Davey Schofield would be using him as his DH tonight and batting him fifth in the order.
The Tigers’ first-base coach, Rudy Tavarez, was throwing batting practice today. Rudy had been at the end of his career as the Tigers’ second baseman when Hank Bishop had first come up with the team. As Hank came around from behind the batting cage now, Rudy yelled, “Oh, man, am I seeing a
Hank just gave him a little wave. The gates had been opened early today, so there were a lot of fans in the stands, and they gave Hank his first cheer of the day now. It wasn’t much, the cheer almost sounding as if it came from outside, but it was enough for him to give a brief tip of his batting helmet.
Hank was ready to hit.
Brian noticed that everything seemed to stop inside Comerica. Even some of the Tigers players warming up in front of the dugout, to Brian’s left, had stopped throwing or stretching. The media, so much more media than Brian had seen for batting practice in the first games he had worked, crowded to the front of the rope lines that had been set up in front of both dugouts.
Brian stopped watching them, focused on Hank Bishop. He laced the first pitch he saw over the screen in front of Rudy Tavarez and over Rudy’s head, and Brian saw that his batting stance hadn’t changed a bit in his time away from the game:
Bat held high and held completely still as he waited for the pitch. No waggling of the bat or extra movement from Hank Bishop. Hardly any stride at all.
He hit one out of the park on his third swing, the ball hit so hard and so high as it came off his maple that for a moment it looked as if it might go crashing into the scoreboard in left, the one Brian felt hovered over Comerica like a satellite.
It didn’t. But it cleared the wall with ease. Now there was a bigger batting practice cheer. Hank kept swinging. Nobody had made any announcement around the cage, but it was clear that he was getting extra swings, maybe because everybody just wanted him to get his bearings back.
Or maybe just out of respect.
He ended up hitting two more out, the last one to dead center, which at Comerica could feel like hitting a ball over the moon. When he left the cage, Brian was hoping he might walk over and hand him his bat, the way some of the guys did when they were done with BP. But he didn’t. He just walked past Brian and Finn, down the steps, put his bat in with the other ones already in the rack, and placed his batting helmet, looking as new as his uniform did, with the others.
Then he walked down the tunnel toward the clubhouse. Brian watched him go and then said to Finn, “Be right back to help you start cleaning up, swear.”
He followed Hank Bishop.
When Brian got to the clubhouse, the only two players in front of their lockers were Hank and Edwin Rosario, tonight’s starting pitcher. Edwin was facing into his locker, listening to music on his iPod. Hank Bishop walked across the room, poured himself a cup of black coffee, the coffee that Mr. Schenkel had showed Brian and Finn how to make superstrong for the players, and walked back to his locker.
Brian had learned that Hank’s locker used to be on the other side of the clubhouse, in the corner, but that one now belonged to Curtis Keller. Mr. Schenkel had also told Brian that nobody in the big leagues ever gave up a corner locker without a fight.
As soon as Hank Bishop sat down, Brian took a deep breath and walked across the room himself.
When he was standing in front of his idol, he said, “Mr. Bishop, my name is Brian Dudley and I’m one of the new batboys.” The words came tumbling out of him, like a spill he’d have to clean up later. “And I just wanted you to know that you’ve always been my favorite player and not just when you played for the Tigers. And besides that I just wanted you to know how happy I am that you’re back with us.”
He stuck out his hand. Hank Bishop looked at it, then up at Brian’s face, and smiled.
It was the first time Brian had seen him smile all day.
“I’m sorry?” he said.
“I just wanted you to know how happy I am you’re back,” Brian said.
“I get that,” Hank said. “What I don’t get is . . . was I talking to anybody?”
“Were you . . . ?” Brian said. Not getting this. “No, sir.”
He was looking right at Brian, the smile still in place.
“Then don’t talk to me,” Hank Bishop said.
rian stayed away from Hank Bishop the rest of the night and told Finn he probably ought to do the same.
“Maybe he’s just freaked about this being his first game back,” Finn said. “I’m just putting that out there.”
“I’m just putting
out there,” Brian said. This was a few minutes before the first pitch. “I’m not even making eye contact with the guy from now until we’re in the car going home.”
And he didn’t, not for all nine innings of a game the Tigers finally lost, 4-2. And that wasn’t easy with a DH, because they didn’t play in the field, which meant they were around twice as much as the guys who were.
Brian had noticed in the past that the Tigers’ DHs would often go down to the clubhouse in the top half of an inning. Some guys would watch a replay of their last at-bat on the big flat-screen TV in the players’ lounge, where that night’s game was always being TiVo-ed. Some would ride the stationary bike to keep themselves warm. When Bobby Moore, the team’s regular first baseman, was DH-ing, he’d go down to the batting cage and either hit off a tee or have one of the coaches throw him some extra BP.
Brian would make sure to tell them that if they needed anything, a new T-shirt or jersey or batting gloves, to just let him know. One night Willie Vazquez had DH-ed when he was a little banged up from playing the field. He’d ended up changing jerseys after his first two at-bats.
“Duds, get me some new duds,” he’d told Brian. “No hits in what I got on.”
Tonight, Brian made absolutely no attempt to follow Hank Bishop around between his at-bats. He just stayed in his chair and did his job. He was still rooting for Hank to get hits, every time up. And he did get one in his second at-bat, a hard single over the shortstop’s head that got him a standing ovation from the crowd. And Brian knew he was going to keep rooting for Hank the way he always had.
Even if he was still stinging from what the guy had said to him.
Was I talking to anybody?
With that smile on his face. His magazine-cover smile. Or the TV smile you’d see from him in the old days, after he’d found a way to win the Tigers another game.
Then don’t talk to me.
Hank had that same smile on his face when the game was over and he was talking to the media again. There was even a time when Brian was across the locker room and heard a big laugh from the crowd surrounding Hank’s locker.
Funny Hank Bishop.
This was one of the nights when it was his mom’s turn to drive him and Finn home. As they walked out of the stadium, Brian couldn’t help but think how the day had begun a lot better than it had ended. And it had nothing to do with the game.
Brian had waited his whole life to meet Hank Bishop. What felt like his whole life, anyway. For all the pictures he owned, there had been one above all others he’d carried inside his head from the time he’d started rooting for the Tigers and rooting for Hank Bishop:
What it would be like the day he finally shook his hand.
The guy was nicer to his
It was a quiet ride home, once Liz Dudley gave up on trying to get any news out of either one of them.
But Brian had to hand it to his old mom, she kept trying.
“So what was he like?” she said.
“I really didn’t get to talk to him very much,” Brian said.
He was in the backseat with Finn, who added, “I didn’t get to talk to him at all.”
“But you say you did, Bri?”
“Just for a sec. Before the game at his locker.”
“So tell me, what’s he like?” He could see her smiling as her face looked back at them from the rearview mirror. “Is he at least as cute in person?”
“Oh,” she said. “I’ve been hit. Somebody help me. I’ve been Mom-ed.”
Brian said, “He doesn’t say very much.”
“Like my batboys tonight.”
“I guess,” Brian said.
Finn said, “Same.”
She officially gave up then. When they got home after dropping off Finn, Brian said he wasn’t ready to sleep yet. His mom told him she was cool with that and joked that both of them were moving up on having vampire hours. Before she headed upstairs, she said, “Hon, seriously? Did something happen at the game that you’re not telling me about? With Hank or anybody else? Did you do something wrong?”
Yeah, he thought, I did. I tried to talk to my hero. But he wasn’t going to tell his mom that. So he just said, “Guess I’m already taking these losses too hard.”
Then he added, “But you know what they say, right?”
“What do they say?”
If it worked for the players and coaches and the manager, why not for him?
He poured himself a glass of milk and went into the den, where he used to watch games with his dad.
Now the den belonged to him when there was a ballgame on he wanted to watch. He turned on ESPN’s
and waited for them to get around to Hank Bishop’s return to Comerica, something they teased through two sets of commercials.
Finally they got around to the Tigers highlights. There was Hank’s second-inning single, several shots of the Comerica crowd on their feet cheering him, one guy holding up a huge sign that said, “The Bishop of Baseball Is Back!” Then came a brief shot, very brief, if-you-blinked-you-missed-it shot, of Hank acknowledging the crowd by tipping his cap.
He was interviewed on the field after the game by one of the ESPN reporters, saying to the woman, “Until we lost the game, I felt like I was walking on air.”
? Brian thought.
His mother had come back downstairs without Brian hearing her, but he heard her now from the doorway, turned, and saw her holding her own glass of milk, staring at Hank Bishop’s face on the screen.
“Like I said in the car,” she said. “Cute.”
This time Brian didn’t say anything.
“Yeah,” Brian said. “It’s killer all right.”
rian and Kenny were on the field at Way Elementary on Thursday morning with the place to themselves.
Kenny wasn’t scheduled to pitch again until they played the back end of a two-game series against the South Oakland A’s in Royal Oak on Sunday night. So he was treating today like his “throw” day, same as a big-league pitcher would, getting in some light throwing between starts. And when it was his throw day, he would bring a bag of old balls to one of the fields run by Bloomfield Little League and pitch batting practice to Brian.
When Kenny had first suggested a routine like this, Brian had told him it wasn’t the job of the starting pitcher on the Sting to help the part-time left fielder stay sharp at the plate.
But Kenny Griffin had his own ideas about being a bud.
“You’re going to miss a ton of practice time,” Kenny had said. “So you’re going to need to get in your hitting against real pitching or you’re going to have no swing at all. The real pitching would be me. End of conversation.”
“Can I just say one thing?” Brian had said to the guy everybody knew was the best pitcher in the district.
“Please go easy on me.”
They always watched how many pitches Kenny threw, and he got plenty of breaks, just like he was pitching real innings. Bag of balls after bag of balls. And they both figured out right away that it didn’t feel like real practice at all.
Just pure fun.
Brian had caught a break with the Tigers’ schedule that week. They were playing the Rangers in ESPN’s
Sunday Night Baseball
game. So Brian could play the one o’clock game against South Oakland and still get to Comerica in plenty of time to get his work in before the eight-fifteen start.