Two outs, bottom of the ninth. Hank Bishop at the plate with a chance to win the game.
Hank had scored a run earlier, but he had also struck out twice, including once when the bases had been loaded. Now, as Hank walked slowly toward the plate from the on-deck circle, Brian was afraid Davey might call him back and pinch-hit Bobby Holmes—go lefty hitter against right-handed pitcher.
Don’t do it, Brian said to himself. Not against this guy.
Not against Todd Wirth of all people.
Davey must have been thinking the same thing because he never even looked in Bobby Holmes’ direction. Just sat stoically, chewing on sunflower seeds as Hank stood in the batter’s box.
And proceeded to whiff through two fastballs.
It was 0-2, just like that.
Brian, sitting at the edge of his chair, nearly fell right over on strike two. He had seen just this week that Hank had trouble catching up with real good fastballs now. But if he could just time one now . . .
He thought, You’re still rooting for this guy as hard as you ever did, even knowing what he’s like.
The ballpark grew louder again, encouraging Hank, wanting to be part of his comeback. Hank fouled off one 0-2 pitch. Then another.
“C’mon, Bishop!” Willie yelled down from third, clapping his hands. “Bring it home, baby.”
Wirth delivered another fastball.
Brian knew not only the sound of a broken bat by now, but when a guy had connected. And Hank Bishop connected now—Brian knew it before he saw the high arc of the ball, knew from the sound the ball made on the fat part of Hank’s maple bat.
The ball had been carrying in the hot air all night, even with no breeze blowing out to speak of, and now it carried Hank Bishop’s moon shot to right.
Brian watched it the way everybody in the ballpark did, standing, including the rest of the Tigers, all of them at the top step of the dugout, with their heads back, eyes wide, watching the flight of the ball.
” Davey Schofield yelled.
“Get out of here!”
Jordy Hall, the Angels’ right fielder, was running full speed, acting as if there were no wall in front of him. At the last second, in perfect stride, he timed his jump and climbed the wall, just inside the foul pole.
Then he came back to earth, ended up sitting in the dirt in front of the wall, and in that silent moment nobody at Comerica, including Jordy Hall, knew whether this was one of those “Web Gem” plays everybody would watch on the late
Or if the Tigers had just won the game.
Jordy looked into his glove.
It had taken a few extra seconds, but Hank Bishop had just hit a two-out, three-run, walk-off homer—his first home run since coming back to baseball—to win the game.
Brian raced for home plate like the rest of the Tigers, hanging in the back of the crowd waiting for Hank to finally reach home plate. After Willie touched the plate, he ran back up the third baseline to act as cheerleader, running along with Hank, then jumping on his back as Hank got ready to touch the plate himself.
Hank had enough memory and enough experience to toss away his batting helmet before crossing home, knowing he was about to get pounded on. It was the only show of emotion Brian had seen from him all the way around the bases.
Brian ran for the helmet. He had already had Hank’s bat in his hand. Wasn’t about to let go of either one.
And when the celebration around the plate was over and Hank had finished with his postgame interviews, first for the Tigers’ television network, then for Tigers’ radio, finally for ESPN and the MLB Network, Brian Dudley could no longer contain himself.
Not on a night like this.
He was waiting near the top step of the dugout, knowing that Hank liked to take his favorite bat, his gamer, to his locker with him, sure that this night wasn’t going to be any different.
As Hank approached him, Brian said, “Your first homer in the majors, your very first one, was against Todd Wirth! How great is that, you did it again!”
Then he handed Hank the bat.
Hank nodded and took it. Behind Brian were all these people still in the stands near the Tigers’ dugout, still cheering the home run, still cheering for Hank Bishop. Brian could hear the kids calling Hank’s name, just wanting him to look in their direction. There was one kid, wearing a Tigers cap and a Tigers T-shirt, glove on his left hand, screaming, “Hank, this is the greatest night of my whole
Hank didn’t even look at the kid, any of the kids. But he did look at Brian with this look on his face that was almost curious, as if he didn’t understand what Brian had just said to him.
“Fascinating,” he said.
Then he took the bat from Brian and disappeared down the dugout steps.
Brian stood there for what felt like a long time. Even the kids who had been yelling Hank Bishop’s name started to leave. Finally he took one last look into the stands. The kid in the Tigers cap was still there, watching Brian.
Almost like he knew.
Brian walked down the dugout steps, got one of the baseballs the home-plate umpire had thrown out of play in the ninth inning. Without a word, he came out and stuck it into the kid’s glove.
Sometimes you wanted to go home with something more than a memory.
It was a lot more than Brian was going to get from Hank on this night.
r. Schenkel called Brian and Finn into his office after Saturday’s game, saying he had something he wanted them to tell their parents.
It was always “parents,” Brian noticed. Plural. It was something you noticed when you had only one parent.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” Mr. Schenkel said to them in his office. “There are going to be times this season when there’s a real late game one night and a real early game the next day and the most sensible thing is going to be to just sleep here. So with ESPN making us their
Sunday Night Baseball
game and us having to play a twelve thirty on Monday because the Rangers are flying to the West Coast right after the game, well, long story short, we’re gonna just stay over tomorrow night.”
Brian wasn’t sure he’d heard him correctly.
“Stay . . .
Finn said, “No
“It’s a fact,” Mr. Schenkel said. “Now you can both close your mouths. I didn’t tell you before because I didn’t want the two of you to start pecking at me the first time a Friday night game ran late and we had to turn the whole thing around for Saturday afternoon.”
“We get to have a sleepover . . .
” Brian said.
” Mr. Schenkel said, “it’s okay with your parents.”
“Oh, trust us,” Finn said. “It will be.”
And it was.
Brian explained to his mom what Mr. Schenkel had explained to them: that Mr. S. would take the couch in Davey Schofield’s office and Brian and Finn would sleep on the two couches in the main clubhouse, the ones set up in front of the two flat-screen television sets.
Liz Dudley shook her head. “By the end of the season
going to end up feeling like your home away from home.”
“Do you not want me to do this?” Brian said, scared as soon as he said it that she might say that she didn’t.
“No, no, no,” she said. “You go and have a good time. I know it’s where you want to be.”
“It’s only going to be this one night and maybe a few others during the season,” Brian said.
She closed her eyes, slowly shook her head. “Look at me,” she said, “getting to live the baseball dream all over again.”
As she walked out of the room, she said, “It’s like they say about the mob. Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.”
The last thing he heard was her shutting the door to her bedroom. He’d always known that baseball was never going to be anything he could share with her, not the way he had with his dad when he was still around. And he’d tried to tell her every way he knew how that baseball wasn’t ever going to come between them the way it had with her and his dad.
But now he wasn’t so sure.
Sunday went so fast for Brian that he felt as if he’d instant-messaged himself through the whole day.
First he got two hits against Royal Oak, even plated the go-ahead run in the seventh when he doubled home Will Coben, before the Sting scored six in the eighth to turn the game into a total beatdown.
When the game was over, he changed in the car, his mom getting him down to Comerica at four o’clock on the nose, yelling at him as he sprinted for the entrance that he’d forgotten his gym bag, the one with his toothbrush and a change of clothes in it.
“Thanks,” he said, out of breath.
“I have never seen anybody this excited to get hardly any sleep,” she said.
He went straight for Willie Vazquez’s locker, the way he did every day now, starting to feel a little bit like he should be wearing one of those little red McDonald’s outfits as he took Willie’s order. By now, word of the burger runs had spread, and Willie gave him orders from Curtis and Mike Parilli, too.
“Mike, too?” Brian said.
“He says he’d rather eat paper than those little cut-up veggie deals,” Willie said. “Just think of it as givin’ us all fuel, just with pickles and fries and whatnot.”
And tonight it worked like rocket fuel for Willie. He went 4-for-4, scored three runs, knocked in three, stole two bases, and even ended the game with an acrobatic play behind second base—laying out to his left, somehow gloving the ball, then flipping it out of the glove in one motion to the second baseman, who made the turn like a pro and finished off the double play that gave the Tigers a 7-5 win over Texas.
Then the night became different from all the others before it. Usually Brian was in no hurry to finish his chores, even when he knew his mom or Finn’s mom would be waiting outside. Sometimes even Finn would tell him to pick up the pace, asking Brian if he was shining the shoes or putting new soles on them. Mr. Schenkel liked to tell Brian they didn’t have all night.
Tonight they did.
The game had taken three hours and thirty minutes, which meant that the game-ending double play didn’t come until a few minutes before midnight. Brian saw the players showering and dressing in a hurry, dumping out of the clubhouse as quickly as they could, knowing they had to be back by ten in the morning, even though Davey had given them all a shout-out that there wouldn’t be any batting practice.
Hank Bishop, who’d hit another home run tonight, was usually one of the first to leave, which made it easier for Brian and Finn to stay out of his way once they started doing their work—staying out of what Finn called the line of fire. But for some reason he took his time tonight, ended up being one of the last to head for the players’ parking lot, actually pausing to say “’Night” to Mr. Schenkel as he passed by his office. As usual he ignored Brian and Finn, who were tossing towels and uniforms into a bin near the clubhouse doors.
It wasn’t until Hank had disappeared through the doors that Finn sarcastically said, “Good game, Hank.”
Brian joined in. “We’ll have your coffee ready when you get back, just the way you like it.”
Finn, laughing now, said, “Hope I don’t spit in it.”
“Heard that!” Mr. Schenkel called out from his office.
Then they all laughed, Brian and Finn the loudest, mostly because it was still totally ridiculous to them that they got to do this tonight.
When all the work was done, Mr. Schenkel brought out a couple of dark-blue Tigers blankets and a couple of pillows, then began shutting off the lights in the players’ lounge and in the trainer’s room.
“Ask you something, Mr. S.?” Finn said.
“Where are your cookies and milk?” he said.
“No,” Finn said. “I wanted to ask if we can watch TV for a little while.”
Mr. Schenkel handed them the remote. “Knock yourselves out,” he said. “Just keep the volume down, because I’m going to be asleep in about ten minutes.”
Brian and Finn had each brought T-shirts and the Tigers sweatpants Mr. S. had given all the batboys. They changed into them now. “It’s like we’re getting into our jammies,” Finn said, before Brian told him to shut it.
Now the only lights in the clubhouse came from the flat-screen in front of them, showing all of the highlights from Sunday’s games.
When the show went to a commercial, Brian got off the couch and walked over to Hank Bishop’s locker.
“Be careful,” Finn said. “There might be some sort of invisible fence around it, like people use for dogs.”
“Just want to check it out,” Brian said.
Hank had a couple of bats in there, a few extra pairs of spikes, a pair of sneakers. A pair of jeans hung on a hook. There was a bunch of toiletry stuff on the upper shelf.