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Authors: Mike Lupica

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BOOK: The Batboy
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And taped to the inside of one of his locker walls was a picture of a girl.
A teenaged girl, Brian was guessing, tall and pretty, smiling, standing on a beach somewhere.
The picture was big enough that she had written “Love you, Daddy” in Magic Marker against the blue water behind her and the blue sky.
Brian had almost forgotten that Hank Bishop had a daughter. He’d gotten divorced during his steroids suspension. Brian suddenly remembered her name, Katie. Katie Bishop. Living near an ocean somewhere without a parent, singular, the way Brian was.
He stood there and stared at the picture and wondered if there was one like it in the clubhouse of his father’s team in Japan, because Brian had sent him one earlier this year without telling his mom he was doing it, a picture of him and Kenny in their Schwartz Investments Pirates uniforms. He’d included a letter along with the photo, telling his dad about his season, about his batting average and RBI.
Told him at the end how much he loved him and missed him.
And never heard back.
Brian had no way of knowing how old the picture of Katie Bishop was, how long ago it had been taken. He stared at it now, and for some reason, it made him like Hank Bishop more.
CHAPTER 11
I
t was past midnight now, way past, on the night of the great Comerica sleepover.
“C’mon,” Finn said, “they’re about to show the plays of the week on the Tigers’ channel.”
“Plays that occurred,” Brian said, turning, “in a ballpark we are still inside of.”
“Good night, children!” Mr. Schenkel yelled from behind the closed door to Davey Schofield’s office.
“Good night, Mr. Schenkel,”
they sang out in classroom voices.
They watched the highlights from the week. Watched Willie’s four hits, his headfirst slides on his steals, watched him glove that ball behind second again. Watched the replay of Hank’s walk-off against the Angels again, saw the other players jumping him at home plate. It wasn’t like the rockets he used to hit, Brian knew. It looked more like a ball just falling out of the sky, landing just beyond the right-field wall.
Who cares, Brian thought. The swing still looks the same, just not the results. There had been a fly ball early in tonight’s game, one that the crowd thought was a home run when it came off Hank’s bat. But when it ended up an easy out on the warning track, Brian had heard the Rangers’ pitching coach yell out, “Not anymore, big boy.” Trash talk about the steroids.
Brian didn’t know whether Hank had heard, but Brian had.
They watched the rest of the highlights until Brian looked over and saw that Finn had fallen asleep, as if the air had come out of his balloon all at once.
Brian gently took the remote out of his hand and used it to shut off the television. He left Finn where he was and took the other couch, the one in front of the other television set. The only light in the Tigers’ clubhouse now was from the supermarket-style refrigerators, the ones with the glass doors and bottles of water and Gatorade and fruit juice and Vitaminwater inside, the ones he and Finn were constantly re stocking.
He was almost ready for sleep, too. Almost. But first there was something he wanted to do. He walked across the room, through the double doors, down the stairs, and up the runway to the dugout.
Then up the stairs to the field.
He took it all in. The quiet expanse of the outfield. The blue tarp on the mound at home plate. He noticed that the lights at the top of Comerica were dimmed slightly, and would stay that way through the night.
Then he walked over to home plate in his bare feet, feeling the cool, wet grass underneath him, and got into the batter’s box side. He took a huge swing with an imaginary bat, hit himself a great big imaginary home run, and started to run around the bases, taking his time.
As he came around third, he tossed away an imaginary batting helmet before jumping hard on the blue tarp covering home plate.
He took one last look around, taking in the sights of the empty place and the night sounds, even though there were hardly any sounds at all at this time of night. Comerica was so quiet he could actually hear the hum of the stadium lights.
He started back toward the dugout, again feeling the soft ballpark grass underneath his feet.
When he got to the top of the dugout steps, he used his own chair as a ladder and hopped into the stands and walked up through the empty rows and then over a couple of sections to the two seats on the aisle where he and his dad used to sit, in the last row of Section 135.
And in that moment, Brian didn’t feel alone at all.
CHAPTER 12
H
ank Bishop was the first player there the next morning, arriving in the clubhouse a few minutes after Davey Schofield.
And for the first time, Hank spoke to Brian without Brian saying something to him first.
“Hey,” he called out when he saw Brian across the room.
Brian couldn’t help looking over his shoulder to make sure he was the one Hank was talking to, even though it was just the two of them in the clubhouse. Brian was there to make sure the coffee had finished brewing and was ready for the early arrivals.
There were two forty-two-cup Hamilton Beach coffee urns set up on a long table in the clubhouse for regular coffee and a smaller pot for decaf, because only Davey Schofield and Rube Morgan, the old pitching coach, drank decaf. One of the urns had an
R
on it, meaning “regular.” The other had an
H.
For “high test.”
The high test was like the coffee version of Red Bull, which meant a caffeine bomb. Brian and Finn had been instructed to put twice as much ground coffee into its oversized filter—going by Mr. Schenkel’s instructions—as they did the other.
And to make sure it was always filled, even after the game had started.
“Sometimes our kids need a little jolt to get their hearts started,” is the way Mr. S. put it.
But Brian knew enough about major-league baseball to know the deal, had read up on how players dealt with the long season. Many of them used to use amphetamines before amphetamines became a banned substance in baseball, something you got tested for along with other illegal drugs like the ones Hank Bishop had used.
The players weren’t kidding anybody. Brian knew high-test coffee was a kind of substitute now, even if nobody talked about it that way.
“Hey,” Hank said now. “Hey, you.”
You,
Brian thought.
“How about a cup of your breakfast special?”
High test.
“Yes, sir,” Brian said.
He filled up a tall cup, not having to be told what kind of coffee he drank because he still watched every move the guy made without letting on that he was watching.
Brian walked the coffee across to him, eyes on the cup the whole way, desperate not to spill any.
“Here you go, Mr. Bishop,” he said, handing it to him.
Hank Bishop tasted it, winced a little. Brian stood there as if waiting to be dismissed. “Yep,” Hank said now. “My favorite. Kind that tastes like you ought to be pumping it for three dollars a gallon at the gas station.”
“Is it
too
strong today?” Brian said.
Thinking he’d already said more than he should have, even about a stupid cup of coffee.
Hank Bishop said, “Let me explain something to you: It could
never
be too strong to suit me.”
He placed the cup on the carpet next to him, Brian noticing even more bats than usual inside his locker today. Then he picked up the sports section of the
Free Press
he wanted waiting for him at his locker before day games. Brian could see his eyes scanning the front page. Then Hank looked up, as if surprised to see him still standing there.
“What’s your name again?” he said.
Brian told him.
“Brian,” Hank said. “Why can’t I ever remember that?” Then he stood up with his coffee and his newspaper and headed for the players’ lounge.
“Brian,” he said again, without looking back.
And as much as Brian felt like a complete idiot, he turned and felt himself smiling as Hank disappeared through the door to the lounge. As he did, he saw Mr. Schenkel watching him from outside his office, shaking his head, almost like Brian had done something wrong.
“What did I do?” Brian said.

You
didn’t do anything,” Mr. S. said. “I just wish guys like
him
were nicer.”
“Most are.”
“Just not him.”
“Not yet,” Brian said.
“You ever hear the one about the guy who finally stops beating his head against the wall?” Mr. Schenkel said.
“No.”
“When he finally does, somebody asks him how he feels and he says,
Great!

“That’s me?”
“Little bit,” he said. He shook his head. “I can’t figure that guy anymore. He used to love every part of this game when he was a rookie. Almost like
he
was a batboy.”
“Maybe he just forgot how,” Brian said.
Mr. S. said, “I keep thinking the kid I used to know must still be inside him somewhere, but I’ll be doggoned if I’ve been able to find him.”
Then he held up the pair of shoes Brian hadn’t noticed him holding in his hands, shoes looking scuffed and dirty, and said, “Somebody forgot to make Willie’s kicks look pretty,” and handed them to Brian. “Maybe a task like that will wipe that goofy grin off your face.”
“Nah,” Brian said.
It was as if both teams had forgotten to set their alarms for baseball today, and everybody was sleepwalking through the early innings of the game.
The Tigers scored three unearned runs in the second thanks to a booted ground ball and a throw practically into the stands, it was so far over the first baseman’s head. The Rangers came back with four of their own, all of
those
unearned, in the top of the fourth when Marty McBain, with two outs, just flat missed a routine fly ball. No sun to speak of, no wind. He just lost concentration and closed his glove too early and the ball popped out. It was the kind of mistake even Brian didn’t make when he was playing left field for the Sting at Kenning Park. The Rangers followed with five straight base hits and it was 4-3.
The Tigers got the lead back an inning later when the Rangers’ pitcher walked four straight guys with nobody out and then allowed a sacrifice fly to bring in another run before Hank helped him out by grounding into a double play.
But then the Rangers’ cleanup man hit a two-run homer to put them back on top, and that’s when the game—and the players—finally settled down. Bottom of the eighth inning, Rangers 7, Tigers 6. One out, runners on second and third.
Hank Bishop up to bat.
A base hit would put the Tigers back ahead, a fly ball would tie the game. There wasn’t much of a crowd for the afternoon game, but the people who were in attendance pumped up the volume now for Hank, who used to make his living in late-inning situations like this.
On the first pitch to him Joe Apuzzo, the Rangers’ All-Star setup man, busted a cut fastball in on Hank’s hands and broke his bat. Brian watched it happen, half the bat flying toward third base, and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Not because he hadn’t seen anybody break a bat before, but because it was the fourth bat Hank had broken today, which in Brian’s time as Tigers’ batboy was more than any player had broken in a single game.
Hank usually had two of his bats in the dugout and three more in the rolling bat rack in the hallway. Then he had his complete stash, a dozen more, boxed in Equipment Room No. 3, where all the Tigers had their extra bats, ones he hadn’t tried out in batting practice or a game yet.
So Brian knew something Hank probably didn’t, that he was down to his last good
game
bat.
He wanted to watch this at-bat, especially if Hank did something great here. But he couldn’t take the chance, not with Joe Apuzzo being famous for breaking bats on right-handed hitters with that cutter of his knifing in on them when he had it working.
As if on cue, before Brian was down the dugout steps, Joe Apuzzo put another cutter on the inside corner and Hank made a defensive swing, fouling it off.
Brian heard the sound and winced. Hank’s
fifth
broken bat of the game.
Now Brian was on the dead run, knowing he was already in trouble. Hank was going to be expecting him to be walking toward him with a new bat.
Brian could have stopped at No. 3, but he decided to run back to the clubhouse instead, taking the steps three at a time, having remembered the extra bats he’d seen in Hank’s locker before the game. They were still there, underneath the picture of Hank’s daughter. He grabbed one now, feeling like this was another kind of game and the clock was about to run out on him, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. He ran back to the dugout, up the dugout steps, nearly colliding with Davey Schofield as he did.
BOOK: The Batboy
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