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SUMMARY: Two boys growing up together in an idyllic beachfront community share a passion for baseball. One excels at the game and plays it with reckless abandon; the other, less talented, studies the game and those who play it, hoping someday to share what he learns with others. Best friends since childhood, the two have seen how baseball can bring them closer together. Now, having just graduated from high school, it’s about to show them a crueler side of the game. Baseball is about to separate them even though neither wants that to happen. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story here. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Unless otherwise indicated by context, all of the characters, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs portrayed or mentioned in this story are fictional, not depictions of real people, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters, leagues, stadiums, teams, clubs, or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.
NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there is something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so. If you haven’t read the short introduction to Part II here, you may want to do so now.
The sun was already up by the time the alarm clock went off. It was another one of those little purchases my mother had made for me over the course of the last couple of weeks. She had told me I would need one now that she was no longer going to be around to wake me up every morning; and then she had showed me how to program the thing and set it to the time we had agreed I should get up.
But I didn’t really want to get up this morning, especially to the beeping of some stupid alarm clock. Mom had always been the one to wake me up until now. She would do it gently and then tell me how much she loved me; and I loved her for never forgetting to tell me she loved me. I wouldn’t be hearing that anymore in the morning. It seemed like a poor exchange to me, replacing a mother with an alarm clock.
The truth is I wanted to go back to sleep and forget today had finally arrived. It was the day I was leaving for Shoreham, the day I had been dreading for most of the last fifteen months. I had told my mother I could take the bus to Shoreham; that she didn’t need to take time off from work and drive me there. But she wasn’t having any of that.
“There is no way I’m going to drop my baby boy off at some bus station on the biggest day of his life,” she had responded firmly; and that was the end of that.
And now here I was in bed and I could tell from the smells drifting up the stairs that Mom was making my favorite breakfast. Ordinarily I would have been out of bed in a flash and down the stairs once I inhaled those smells. But today I clung to the bed, hoping I would never have to get up.
There was no way that was going to happen, however, and I knew it for sure when I heard her voice from somewhere below.
“It’s time to get up, Ethan,” she shouted.
I climbed out of bed, tossed the alarm clock into my suitcase, and made my way to the bathroom. After showering quickly and making the bed, I dressed. Then I took time for one final check in the mirror to make sure my hair was arranged just the way I liked and everything was in its place. I grabbed the suitcase Mom had bought for me and made my way to the door.
Stopping to look around my room, my eyes caught sight of Mr. Bare Ass sitting there on the window sill where I usually placed him each morning while making the bed. I had thought about bringing him along with me, at least briefly, but there was no way I could do something like that. When the guys on my new team found out about him, they would ridicule me mercilessly. I didn’t have the courage to face that on top of everything else.
So I had decided to leave Mr. Bare Ass here and now I moved him back from the window sill to my bed. I don’t know why, but my eyes began to well up as I stood there staring at him. He seemed so lonely, as if he knew I wouldn’t be coming back any time soon.
But seeing me there tearing up, he wasn’t having any of it.
“Be sure to tell Hunter thank you the next time you see him, Ethan,” he whispered across the bed. “I love my new pants so much.”
It was too much to take and I remember turning around and walking quickly out of the room, then down the stairs. As I entered the kitchen my mother embraced me.
“I love you, Ethan,” she said. “I’m so proud of you and so happy for you. You’re the best son a mother could ever have.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I mumbled.
It was nice to hear her say that, especially this morning, but I knew it wasn’t true. If my Mom only knew some of the things I thought about, some of the things I did up in my bedroom when I was alone, she wouldn’t have been proud of me at all. I had the best Mom in the world and knew just how disappointing a son I was. But I didn’t want to think about any of that now. I didn’t really want to think about anything much at all.
I dragged the suitcase out to the car and popped the trunk. I had already placed most of my baseball gear in there the previous evening; my favorite bats, a couple of caps, and my glove. I picked up the glove and caressed it. Of all the gear I had collected over the years, it was my glove I loved the most. From the very first day I bought it, it had been a perfect match for my hand, almost an extension of it; and just wearing it made me feel like there wasn’t a ball that could ever get past the two of us.
Its rich brown leather was worn now, but it had aged well. I lifted the glove to my nose and inhaled and it brought back memories of a time when both of us were younger and the world seemed like a much simpler place, a place where playing a game of baseball just meant playing a game.
Returning to the kitchen, I sat down at the little table my mother and I had shared over so many meals. My Mom chatted about this and that while I devoured the breakfast she had placed in front of me. I didn’t say much in response, just smiled and nodded to let her know I was listening even though my mind was somewhere else entirely.
Eventually it was time to leave. I climbed the stairs and took one final look around my room. I wasn’t really bringing all that much with me because I still didn’t know exactly where I would be staying that evening. Mom and I had talked about that and agreed she would bring more of my things over to Shoreham once I was settled in. For the moment my room provided a comforting reminder of what my life had been like up until now.
“This room will always be here for you, Ethan,” my Mom said.
I hadn’t even heard her follow me up the stairs, but now there she was standing behind me, her arms wrapped around my chest, her head on my shoulder, her voice whispering how much she loved me and how there would always be a room for me at home.
I wanted to cry, but stifled the instinct. If I started crying now, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Instead, I took one final look around the room, trying to freeze everything into memory. Then I quickly turned, walked down the stairs, and out the front door.
I was about to climb into the car when I spotted a familiar figure approaching.
It was Hunter.
He had offered to come along that morning on the drive over to Shoreham, but I had told him no, that he had better things to do on a summer day than to spend a couple of hours in a car on a boring trip to some boring place and then back home again. He had seemed disappointed at the time, but it just didn’t make any sense for him to tag along and I was surprised to see him this morning.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“You didn’t think I was going to let you escape this god forsaken place without saying good-bye, did you?” he replied, shrugging his shoulders.
“I thought we had said our good-byes last evening,” I responded.
“Yeah, well, I wanted to say good-bye this morning. Sue me.”
So there the two of us were, in front of my house, saying good-bye one more time. Only this time I was the one to embrace him.
“Best friends forever,” I whispered into his ear, the tears welling up in my eyes once again.
“You got that right,” he responded.
And then we separated, exchanged a high five, and I climbed into the passenger seat.
“You know you’re still welcome to come over to our house any time, Hunter,” my Mom said. “In fact, I was planning to have spaghetti tonight and I know how much you like my homemade spaghetti sauce. Come over for dinner if you want. I baked a fresh apple pie last night too.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Williams,” Hunter responded. “You’re the best cook in the world. I think that’s the only reason I ever made Ethan my best friend. If I come over, can I have his share of the spaghetti and pie as well?”
“Forget about it,” I said, sticking my tongue out at him.
He returned the favor and then we were driving away and I remember waving to Hunter and him waving back as we pulled further and further away.
My Mom had offered to let me drive that morning and usually I would have jumped at the chance. But I wasn’t really in the mood to drive. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts; and the thought that kept recurring to me was a dark one indeed, that somehow God was banishing me from Paradise for my sins and I would soon find myself alone and abandoned.
And yet, if I was going to be banished, I wanted to take everything in one final time so I could keep the memory of Eden close as I tried to make my way in the world. As we slowly drove through town, I forced my eyes to absorb all the small details that were part of the mosaic that made up our little community.
Rehoboth Beach was just coming alive as we passed through the downtown area. It was still early in the season and the tourists weren’t really out and about in force like they would be soon enough. There was Nicola Pizza with its little train that circled the ceiling. It had fascinated me as a small boy.
And then, just to the south, I looked left and could see all of the shops beginning to get ready for the onslaught of tourists that would soon overwhelm them today.In the far distance the light was glinting off of the ocean and a few young boys were headed down toward the boardwalk like Hunter and I used to do.
Heading south toward Silver Lake, I couldn’t restrain myself. I turned and looked down Queen Street toward Poodle Beach. Hardly anyone would be down there this early except perhaps a few of the older men walking their dogs. But it wouldn’t be long before Poodle Beach came alive and was crowded with men, all of them driven there by the same desires I shared.
I remember thinking I wouldn’t be around to see it this year; and yet wherever I was, I knew the desires would still be there with me, still demanding satisfaction from somewhere deep within.
And then we were around the corner and over the little bridge and on our way into Dewey.
It’s kind of funny actually. You’re born and grow up in a place like Rehoboth Beach and everything seems to be exactly the way it should be and nothing ever seems to change. And then, boom, suddenly your life is turned upside down and everything old and familiar is gone, replaced with things that are new, strange and unfamiliar.
All my life I had gone home to the same place every evening. My Mom had taken care of me and I never had to worry about anything much at all. That isn’t to say I didn’t worry. I did, especially once I was old enough to figure out I was different from the rest of the guys. But I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from or how to put clothes on my back or where I would be sleeping at night.
All of that was taken care of for me by my mother; and now I was about to lose all of that.
“I know this must be a big change for you, Ethan,” Mom volunteered.
She was uncanny that way. There were times when she knew exactly what I was thinking.
“This is the beginning of your life as an adult,” she continued. “My little boy is all grown up and become a man. I’m going to miss you so much, Ethan. But I’m only forty miles away. Like I told you this morning, you can come home whenever you want. If you decide playing baseball isn’t for you, well, it isn’t the end of the world. You’ll find something else to do and I’ll be proud of you no matter what.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I responded.
I should have said more. I should have told her how much I loved her and how grateful I was for everything she had done for me over the years. But I was kind of depressed about the whole thing to be perfectly honest. There are dudes who never want to do anything except play baseball from the moment they’re born. They’re like Peter Pan that way. They never want to grow up. And some of them are actually able to pull it off, to spend their entire life absorbed by a boy’s game.
Unlike them, I wasn’t sure baseball was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I mean, yeah, sure, I enjoyed playing ball. I was pretty good at it and liked hanging out with the guys a lot. But was baseball the center around which I wanted to build my whole life? Even now, I just wasn’t sure.
As we drove south the towns seemed to blend into one another seamlessly: first Dewey, then Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, and finally in the distance I could see the Ocean City skyline. But we would turn west on the Ocean City Expressway before we reached downtown Ocean City; and that would eventually lead us to Route 50, the major east-west corridor on the peninsula, running from Ocean City in the east to Washington, D.C., in the west. Some people called it the Ocean Gateway.
By now I was completely lost in my thoughts. My Mom was chattering about something and I tried to acknowledge what she was saying from time to time, but mostly I was just silent. And then, before I even knew it, we were approaching Shoreham, the county seat of Wicomico County. The whole trip had taken just a little over an hour and now here we were entering the largest city on the eastern shore of Maryland, the commercial center of the Delmarva Peninsula.
I had visited the place a couple of times for different school events, but had no real recollection of it. Everyone said it was a nice enough place, but it was also apparently one of those places noted for nothing very much at all. No one famous had ever been born in Shoreham or lived there or had even passed through the place from what I could tell; and the biggest event every year was the Pork in the Park festival, a three day celebration of barbecue pork held the third weekend of April at one of the local parks.
Someone had mentioned Shoreham had a college and a zoo, both of which I was planning to explore. In fact, my Mom had suggested I consider taking some classes that would provide credit toward a college degree. But at the moment my attention was focused on the main attraction Shoreham held for me.
There in the distance was Lloyd H. Fisher Stadium, the place that housed the Middle Atlantic Baseball Hall of Fame. More importantly, it was the home of the Delmarva Heat, the Class A minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Blues and Shoreham’s representative in the Middle Atlantic League, which actually covered a lot more territory than the name suggests.
The stadium the Heat played in had been built in the early 1990s and was named after the founder of the meat processing company that was Shoreham’s largest employer and the sixth largest producer of hot dogs in the world.
Lloyd Fisher and his wife, Maude, were long since dead, but the Fisher family continued to run the business and the stadium was one of the legacies they had bestowed on the grateful citizens of Shoreham. Lloyd’s grandson, Roy, had donated the land on which the stadium was built and put up more than $5 million to help construct it; hence its nickname, The House That Roy Built, to me a lame imitation of a much more familiar baseball nickname.
My mother pulled into the parking lot, which was mostly empty at that hour of the morning. She pulled up near what appeared to be the main entrance and the two of us got out of the car. I walked over to the entrance and tried to open it, but it quickly became apparent I wasn’t going to succeed.
“It’s locked, Mom,” I shouted over to her. “What now?”
My mother was about to say something when a boy who seemed to be a couple of years younger than me appeared out of nowhere. Cute was the first word that came to mind as I stood there looking at him while he approached the gate.
His hair was brown, neither especially long nor short; and although it had no part, it seemed to just naturally curl around the sides of his face and then point north as if to call attention to his brown eyes and eyelashes. His nose and mouth seemed perfectly shaped to fit a face that was small in some ways, but had a distinctive chin.
He also had perfect teeth, unblemished skin and a winning smile. He was shorter and thinner than me, his muscles seemingly just beginning to develop; and when I had taken all of that in I remember thinking he was more than just cute. He was very cute, but in boyish kind of way that seemed to make him look even younger than he was.
Later I would learn we were almost the same age, which surprised me.
“Can I help you folks?” he said, staring at me and my Mom from the other side of the locked gate. “If you’re here for game tonight, we don’t open until 6 p.m.”
“I’m here with my son,” my mother responded, smiling at the boy. “He’s going to be playing ball for the Delmarva Heat. We were told to be here by 10 o’clock so he could meet with the manager of the team, a Mr. Foster. Do you know him?”
“Grady? Sure; I can help you find Grady’s office,” the boy responded, reaching around to a set of keys that was hanging from his belt.
I had never seen so many keys before in my life and you could see how they were slowly tugging the kid’s pants below his waist. To me it was a miracle he could keep those pants up under the circumstances, but somehow he did and eventually he retrieved one of the keys from the chain and opened the gate.
“Does he have any stuff he needs to bring in here with him?” he asked, looking over at my mother.
Walking back to the car, my mom popped the trunk lid. I retrieved my suitcase and the rest of my gear. It was too much for me to carry, at least in one trip.
“I can help with that stuff,” the kid offered, seeing my plight.
“Do you want me to come in with you, Ethan?” my mother asked.
I was pretty certain she wanted to help me get settled in, but it seemed to me it would only delay our inevitable parting.
“No,” I lied. “I can take care of things from here, Mom; and, besides, you need to get back to work.”
My mother looked over at me and for a moment I thought she was going to argue the point. But then she just embraced me and I remember feeling a little embarrassed she was doing something like that in front of a stranger. In turn, that made me mad because I didn’t want anything my mother ever did to be something I was embarrassed about.
I loved my Mom and now she was about to leave me alone and I didn’t want her to leave but knew she had to.
“I’m just up the road, Ethan,” she finally whispered. “I can come get you anytime if need be. Call me when you know for sure where you’ll be staying. I can bring some more of your things down once I know. Do you still have that calling card I bought you?”
“Sure, Mom,” I mumbled; “and, yeah, I still have the card.”
We embraced one final time and then she was driving off and I remember just standing there staring as the car disappeared into the distance. I stood there until it was finally gone, no longer visible.
I picked up my suitcase, my glove and my caps while the boy grabbed my bats. Then the two of us turned, walked through the open gate, which he relocked, and headed into the stadium.
I wasn’t really paying attention as we passed from one shaded corridor to another. I just followed along behind the kid who was carrying my bats. To be honest, it was only now it was beginning to sink in that I was on my own at last. Up until the moment she got into the car and drove off, nothing was final. I could have told my Mom the whole thing was a mistake; that I wanted to go back home and stay with her.
Yeah, it would have been embarrassing. We would have had to return the signing bonus and the rest of the money for travel and such the Blues had provided upfront. But it could have been done. Now even that possibility was behind us. I was alone in a strange ballpark following some nameless kid I didn’t know to some place I had never been before; and when we finally got there, the kid just dropped my gear and told me to wait.
“The Skipper is probably having a doughnut and some coffee down in the lunch room, but he should be back around 10 o’clock,” he said. “I would tell him you’re here, but he doesn’t like being interrupted this early. It’s only 9:30 a.m. now so make yourself comfortable. Just don’t touch anything.”
I sat down on a couch that had seen better days and surveyed the office. It wasn’t much to be honest, just a small cubicle with an old battered desk, a chair that seemed to be falling apart and the couch I was sitting on. There was lots of paper on the desk, so much that the different piles seemed to be in some kind of strange competition to see which of them could reach the ceiling the quickest.
But what attracted my attention the most were the pictures on the wall, most of them of ballplayers. One ballplayer in particular was in the vast majority of the pictures and I was pretty certain it must be the manager of the Heat, Grady Foster.
I had done some research on Foster on the internet and been pretty impressed. He was an older man now; in fact, at 69, he was ancient. But he had been young once and an excellent ballplayer, one whose career had been cut short by an injury and who had refashioned himself as a coach and one of those baseball lifers who intrigued me at times.
Compiling some pretty decent statistics in the process, he had played second base for the old Washington Justice back in the 1960s before the Justice moved out of town. He had won a gold glove award and had a lifetime batting average of .286. After his playing days were finished, he had gone on to work in the minor leagues, coaching at every level with a considerable degree of success.
He had even managed in the majors for three years. And then, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear, he had returned to the minor leagues, coaching for several different organizations before finally settling in with the Blues.
I was impressed with the man, even more impressed with those pictures that hung on the wall. It was hard not to recognize some of the other players in the pictures. There was one of Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams and a lot of the other legends from years gone by and they all had inscriptions that made it clear they knew and liked Coach Foster.
“To my best friend, Grady, the greatest second baseman in the major leagues ever!” the one from Davey Johnson was inscribed.
To me that was incredibly high praise coming from the starting second baseman for Baltimore back when they won four American League pennants and two World Series between 1965 and 1972, a guy who had made four All Star Game appearances and won three gold glove awards himself.
As I stood there reading one inscription after another, I heard the door open and turned around to be greeted by a grizzled face.
“And you are?” a raspy voice asked.
“Ethan Williams, sir,” I replied, focusing my attention on the man. “I was told to report here this morning. I’m a new player assigned to the Heat, sir.”
“Ah, yes, so you are,” Foster responded, sitting down at his desk and motioning for me to sit down on the couch.
“Someone over in Baltimore told me you were coming and they even sent a report on you. Now let’s see if I can find it.”
With that he began searching his desk methodically for the paper he was looking for.
“Where is that damn report?” he continued, searching among the different piles with increasing frustration.
Eventually his fingers came to a rest on a piece of paper. He pulled it toward him and leaned back in his chair.
“Let me see,” he said, scanning it.
“It says here great hands, quick feet, excellent range in the field; disciplined at the plate but without much pop. Undersized but athletic, versatile and lithe; what the hell does that mean? Lithe? Jesus H. Christ! Why don’t they just say whatever they mean?”
“Oh, fuck, never mind; what else should I know?” he continued, looking down at the paper again.
“Great speed, but needs help reading pitchers to make the most of it.”
“Does all of that sound about right, son?” he asked, looking over at me.
“I don’t know, sir,” I replied. “You’ll have to be the judge.”
“Oh, I will be,” he responded. “You can count on it.”
“Too bad about that lack of power though. We have Mark and Nicky, but this team could sure use another player who can power the ball.”
“You know how teams lust after boys with big bats, don’t you, son?” he added, trying, unsuccessfully, to maintain a straight face.
I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes and didn’t say anything, just nodding my head in agreement.
He took another glance at the paper and then looked over at me.
“It says here you play shortstop. Is that right, Eddie?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
“Damn it,” he said, suddenly slamming the report down on his desk as hard as he could and startling me in the process.
“We already have a shortstop. I’ve been telling those idiots in Baltimore for months now I need a couple of pitchers, a long reliever, and a right fielder with a stronger arm if we’re ever going to have any chance of finishing somewhere other than last place this year.”
“Have you ever played right field, Eddie?” he asked.
“No, sir,” I replied. “I never have. And it’s Ethan, sir, not Eddie.”
“Shit,” the coach said.
Then he let out a fart. It was one of those big ones, real loud, but fortunately it came without much of a stink.
“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with you, son,” he said, looking over at me.
“Dylan Quinn plays shortstop for us and he isn’t exactly the friendliest person in the world under the best of circumstances. I’ll probably have to sit you on the bench for a few days until I figure out what to do with you. That’s probably the smart thing to do.”
“Have you ever played minor league ball before?”
“No, sir,” I responded. “This is my first experience with any kind of professional ball.”
“Well, just as well to sit you then,” he replied. “It’ll give you a chance to see how much faster the game is played up here compared to what you’re used to. Maybe I’ll be able to get you into a game this weekend. Give Dylan a rest or something. He won’t like it, but it’s not like he’s the greatest shortstop in the world either. May as well see what someone else can do at that position at some point.”
“Of course, you look a little, um, a little . . . lithe, Eddie,” he added, returning his gaze to me and giving me a once over.
“You’re kind of short, not real short but short enough so you probably don’t have as much range at a position like shortstop as I would like. Underweight, too, so you probably can’t hit worth a lick of spit, but what shortstop can?”
“That paper says I need to get you bulked up, add some muscle to that frame of yours. Of course, we could do that one of two ways. Steroids would be the quicker. What do you think of that, son?”
“Um, well, I thought steroids were banned from baseball, sir?” I responded.
I knew they were banned for sure and I didn’t understand why he was asking something like that, but I didn’t want to challenge him directly.
“They are banned, but you can still find them around if you look. Are you interested in looking, Eddie? I know where you could.”
“No, sir,” I said. “I’m not.”
“That’s good son. I’m glad to hear that. I’m old school that way myself. But it means we’ll have to get you built up the old-fashioned way, with weights. Of course, we don’t have the greatest equipment here for that. That’s the minor leagues in a nutshell. They don’t want you boys using performance enhancing drugs, but they’re too cheap to provide me with what I need to do it the right way.”
“Oh, never mind,” he continued. “That’s my problem, not yours. I’ll get Mark to try to figure out some kind of conditioning program for you.”
The whole time he had been looking at me to see how I would react to what he was saying. I had done my best not to react at all and I think it frustrated him some.
“You’re pretty though, Eddie,” he continued. “I’ll give you that. Maybe that will help us attract some more of the young ladies from town to our games. We could use more of them as fans. Best watch out though. Some of the veterans are likely to be on your case about being so pretty so you might want to think about letting your beard grow.”
“Um, well, I don’t shave that much yet,” I responded, sensitive to what he was saying. “It’s just that I don’t have much facial hair for whatever reason, sir; and like I said, my name’s Ethan, not Eddie.”
“Oh, well, don’t worry about it then. It’s not like it’s something you control. But let me ask you something, son. Do you want to play in the big leagues?”
“I think so, sir,” I replied. “I’m not sure I’m good enough, but, yes, I would like to make it to the top.”
“You and everyone else on this team,” the Coach responded, gruffly, “except Mark, apparently; Mark Manning. He used to play in the majors and he’s probably the only player on this team good enough to play major league ball, at least in my opinion. But that won’t happen unless he accepts reassignment to our AAA team and he refuses.”
“Women! The curse of every ballplayer; Mark stays in this god forsaken community because he’s madly in love with some dame who lives up in Baltimore.”
“Do you have a girlfriend, Eddie?”
“No, sir,” I responded.
“That’s good,” he said. “At least you won’t be distracted. But I’ll tell you this, son. If you keep thinking you may not be good enough, you’ll never make it to the majors. It’s one thing to want it. Everyone who sticks it out down here in the minors for any length of time wants it. But you got to believe in yourself to make it happen. And right now you’re killing yourself by thinking you might not be good enough. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” I responded.
“And that’s another thing, damn it,” he added. “Stop calling me sir. I may be old but I’ve forgotten more about this game than you’ll ever know. I’m the manager of this team, son. You can call me Skip for Skipper or you can call me Coach. You can even call me Grady or that old fart behind my back, but don’t call me sir. I’m not ready to croak just yet.”
“Do you have any questions for me, son?”
“I have one,” I responded. “They didn’t tell me where I would be staying while I play here. Do you know?”
“Well, that’s turned out to be a problem, son,” he said, “so you’ll be staying at my place for the first couple of nights, at least until I can make arrangements for you to stay with one of the local families. I’ve told my wife to expect you tonight, but don’t get used to it. Hopefully you won’t be there long. I’ve asked some of the boys to check with their sponsors to see whether any of them are willing to take on an extra body.”
“It’s getting harder and harder to find people willing to provide a free room these days; and some of those willing are wackos and perverts so we have to check that out. In any event, like I said, you’ll be staying at my place tonight; maybe a few nights longer. You’ll be in a room with my son.”
“Babysitting you young guys is the worst part of this damn job, but I don’t know that I want to be dealing with another irate mother by sticking you in one of those sleazy hotels downtown. Fortunately for you, I don’t have the money to do that even if I was willing.”
“Brady, get your ass in here,” he shouted toward the closed door.
The door opened and the kid who had brought me here reappeared; by then it was apparent to me he had been listening in on the conversation the whole time.
“Brady, this here is Eddie Williams,” he said.
“Ethan, sir,” I interjected. “I mean, sorry; Ethan, coach.”
“Whatever,” he responded. “This boy here needs to be fitted for a uniform and then taken on a tour of this place. Be sure to take him by to meet Mark so we can set him up on some kind of program; and I suppose you should show him where he’ll be getting his food as well. Not that it’s all that important, of course, since he could just follow your shadow. You’d lead him there soon enough.”
“Brady here spends all his free time mooching food,” the coach said looking over at me and winking.
“But he can get you fitted out for a uniform, show you where the showers, lockers and bathrooms are, and whatever else you need to be aware of around this place. He knows this place better than any of the rest of us. He’s our clubhouse manager, aren’t you Brady?”
The boy beamed when he said that and I remember smiling. You could tell he liked the title, but the whole thing seemed a little strange.
“And once you’ve done all of that, Brady, get him on to the field so he can meet the rest of the boys.”
“Welcome to the Heat, son,” Foster added, looking over at me one final time. “I hope you last longer than the last kid who was here. He was out of here in a week.”
“Thank you, coach,” I replied. “I hope I last longer too.”
“Oh, you will, Ethan,” he said, getting my name right for the first time.
“The big boys in Baltimore are cheap, but not stupid. I expect they drafted you high for a reason.”