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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. This and the following chapter will continue to introduce some of the main characters featured in Part II.
SUMMER BOYS, SUMMER DREAMS
Leaving my things behind for the moment at Brady’s suggestion, I stood and followed him out of the office. Once outside, he turned left and headed down a new corridor that eventually brought us to what looked like some kind of closet. It had one of those small half doors with a handle down below and a boarded up window above. Pulling that huge pile of keys from his belt, Brady searched through them until he eventually found the one he was looking for.
Then, opening the half door, he bent down and scooted inside before closing the door behind him. The next thing I knew he had lifted the boarded up window and was staring at me from the other side. It was as if he had taken on some entirely new role.
“Waist size?” he asked, looking at me as if we were meeting for the very first time.
“Twenty-eight inches,” I replied. “And I guess twenty-nine or thirty inches would be just fine for the inseam.”
“We don’t stock pants in waist size 28,” he replied. “The best I can do for you are some that are thirty inches long and have a thirty inch waist. Do you want them?”
I wondered why he was asking. I mean, it wasn’t like I had any say in the matter. It was either the pants he was offering or running around the field half naked. Looked at that way, it didn’t seem like much of a choice to me.
“Sure,” I responded. “Those would be fine.”
“If you’re not mean and I decide I like you, you can give them back to me tonight after the game,” he continued. “I’ll see if my Mom can take them in for you so they’ll fit better.”
“Thank you, Brady,” I responded. “That would be very nice.”
He took another long look at me, one that made me feel self-conscious for some reason.
“You look like a small in the shirt size as well.”
“Here you go,” he added, handing me a spanking new jersey and a cap featuring the Heat’s shimmering sun logo. “You can adjust the cap size. Do you need me to show you how?”
I thought that was weird as well because it seemed obvious enough how to adjust the cap. I had been doing that for years, but it seemed like he was just trying to be helpful.
“No, I think I’m good,” I said. “I can take care of that.”
“I’ll have my Mom sew your name on the back of another jersey,” he said, “but for tonight you’ll have to use one without a name, just a number. Here’s a pen and a notecard. Spell out your last name for me so I can give it to her.”
I did as he asked and handed the card back to him.
“We have different uniforms for our road games,” he continued. “I’ll put one of those aside for you as well.”
“Thanks,” I responded.
Then, without warning, he abruptly closed the window, reopened the half door below, and scooted out of the little closet.
The more I talked to the kid, the stranger he seemed. But he also seemed to know what he was doing so I followed along meekly behind him as he led me off to my next destination.
It was another small room on the other side of the stadium, but this one was crowded with various pieces of workout equipment. In the corner I notice an older dude lifting some of the weights.
“Good morning, Mark,” Brady said to the guy. “The Skipper told me to bring this boy up here so you could put together a weight lifting program for him. As you can see, he’s kind of small and not very well developed.”
I almost laughed at that.
Here was this skinny kid commenting on my physique. Compared to him, I was a regular Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I bit my tongue and didn’t say anything.
“Good morning, Brady,” the dude replied. “Thanks for bringing him over. Do you happen to know his name?”
“Ethan, I think,” the boy responded. “At least that’s what he told the Skipper although the Skipper kept calling him Eddie for some reason. But you know how the Skipper is about names.”
“What time should I come back for him, Mark?”
“Give me an hour, Brady,” the dude responded. “Did you bring along a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt for him to wear?”
“Of course,” Brady said, handing the stuff to me. “I would never forget those.”
“Thanks,” Mark replied. “You’re right about that. I should have known better.”
Then he looked over at me.
“You’ll be needing to change into those things, Ethan,” he said, staring at me.
As far as I could tell, there wasn’t a changing area in the room. As Brady and Mark stood there patiently, it finally dawned on me they were expecting me to strip down and change right there so I did. I remember feeling a little self-conscious about that because Brady never took his eyes off of me. It was almost like he was staring at my junk deliberately, but he didn’t really react to what he was looking at.
“I’ll come back and get you in an hour,” he said after I finished changing. “In the meantime, I’ll get your stuff at the Skipper’s office and bring it down to the locker room.”
And with that he was off, leaving me alone with still another stranger.
This one was a tall dude, well over six feet, with an appealing, wholesome face. He had prominent cheekbones, teeth that were big and white, and bushy brown eyebrows and long eyelashes that seemed strangely delicate for someone so big. His body was muscled and well-developed; just looking at him you could tell he was in excellent shape. Later I would also learn he was quiet, reserved, and polite.
“Hi, I’m Mark Manning,” the dude said, extending his hand to me and smiling.
“Ethan Williams,” I replied, shaking his outstretched hand.
This was the second time I had heard that name this morning and I remember thinking it seemed vaguely familiar. Then it came back to me.
Mark Manning had been a rookie phenomenon a few years back, one of the youngest players ever to start in the major leagues. As best I could recall, he had been ripping the league up with his play when he was beaned in the head by an opposing pitcher. It had been a devastating injury, one that ended his season prematurely.
I couldn’t remember what had happened to him after that, but I found it hard to believe this could be the same guy. I mean, the Delmarva Heat was a Class A team after all, not AA or AAA. It was about as far down the ladder as you could get from the major leagues and it was hard to believe someone as good as he was back then could be playing at this level.
“You’re not the Mark Manning . . .”
“I am,” he replied quickly, interrupting me. “But let’s not take a trip down memory lane right now. We only have an hour together before Brady comes back for you and he’ll be back in an hour precisely.”
“So I guess I should begin by saying that a lot of the guys don’t much believe in working out with these machines,” he continued. “Some of them think they do more harm than good. I don’t believe that myself, but it’s a free country and everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Coach usually asks me to put together a program for new players so that’s why you’re here today. Some of the guys do it for a couple of weeks and then give up on it. Some never come back after the first day.”
“You can do whatever you want. I’ll just show you what we have and how to use the equipment properly and you can decide for yourself; fair enough?”
“Sure,” I responded.
And so that’s what we did. We spent the next hour testing out the different machines, some of which were no longer working, as Mark tried to figure out an appropriate starting point for me with each and then watched carefully as I worked through my repetitions; and when the hour was finally over I knew I was going to feel the workout later that evening.
But from what I could recall from memory about Mark Manning, it seemed to me he was a lot better ballplayer than me, however brief his time in the majors, and that I might be able to learn something by taking his advice. Whatever the truth might be, I promised to give it a fair try in the coming days. I was used to working out with machines, but these seemed more geared toward building certain muscles.
True to what Mark had said Brady was back in precisely an hour. He waited patiently while we finished up.
“Take him down to the locker room and let him shower,” Mark told the boy. “By that time the buffet should be ready so you can take him upstairs to get some chow. And be sure to introduce him to some of the guys later, Brady. You know the ones I’m talking about.”
“Sure thing, Mark,” he said, and I had the sense Brady would have done anything for Mark; that the boy admired Mark perhaps more than anyone else in the world, at least at that moment.
When we got to the locker room, I decided to get a belt from my suitcase to keep those new pants of mine up. That’s when I noticed someone seemed to have gone through my stuff.
Nothing seemed to be missing, but things were definitely askew.
“It looks like someone has gone through my suitcase, Brady,” I said. “Do you have a problem here with people stealing stuff?”
“I didn’t touch your stuff,” he screamed, vehemently, and I could see he was becoming visibly agitated.
I hadn’t meant it to come across as an accusation. But now, thinking about it, I could see how he might have taken it that way so I did my best to calm him down.
“I know that, Brady, and I’m sorry if what I said came across like I was accusing you. I know you wouldn’t do something like that, but someone has definitely been looking through my stuff and I’m just wondering whether I have to worry about things getting stolen.”
“It was probably Dylan,” he replied, calmer now that he understood I wasn’t accusing him.
“He isn’t a thief, but he’s nosey. He likes to know everyone’s business so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was him.”
“Okay,” I replied. “It’s not like anything is missing so I guess no harm was done.”
“Stay away from Dylan,” Brady added, cautioning me. “He’s mean to everyone, especially me; he’s mean to everyone except his buddies.”
“Okay, thanks for the tip,” I said. “I guess I’ll take a shower now.”
I was expecting Brady to take that announcement as his cue to leave, but instead he just stood there and watched me undress. Sitting down on one of the benches, he stared at me as I showered; and although I didn’t have the sense there was anything sexual about it for Brady, it seemed kind of weird.
Later I would discover he just took what people told him to do literally and that he was waiting to take me to lunch like Coach Foster and Mark had told him to do.
When I was done, I suited up in my uniform and Brady led me off in still another direction. Soon enough I could smell food in the air and eventually we reached a room where a buffet lunch was being served.
“The plates and stuff are over there,” Brady said, pointing. “As far as the food goes, you can take however much you want, but you have to eat what you take. That’s the Skipper’s rule.”
“And the other thing is the cost of the buffet will come out of your paycheck; if you want, you can make a peanut butter sandwich over there,” he added, pointing in a different direction. “Those are free.”
Then he walked me around and introduced me to some of the different players, not all of them but enough to get me started. When he was done he led me over to the food line and I started to fill a plate. Later, when I discovered just how small my paycheck was, I would become a big fan of peanut butter. But for now I was hungry and wanted something more substantial.
By the time I reached the end of the line Brady had disappeared.
I looked around, but no one motioned for me to join them so I found a table off in a corner by myself and sat down.
A couple of minutes later I was joined by Mark.
“Being shy isn’t a virtue in here, Ethan,” he said. “Some people will think you’re standoffish. I’ll introduce you to more of the guys this afternoon, but it’s never too soon to start making friends.”
I wasn’t sure what to say in response so I decided to change the topic.
“So what’s the story with Brady?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Mark replied.
“Nothing really,” I said. “I mean, he seems very nice, but also a little strange at times.”
“That’s because he doesn’t know you yet,” Mark replied. “So he doesn’t know whether you’re one of the guys who will treat him nice or one of those who will end up tormenting him.”
“Brady is the son of Coach Foster. He’s a special needs kid, not exactly handicapped but he doesn’t learn the same way as other kids. He’s been working part time here at the Stadium for years, but he finished up his program at high school this year and now he’s officially on the payroll and working full time for the Heat. The Skipper got him the job. It’s a great job for someone like him and he does it real well.”
“He does just about everything that needs to be done around here. He’s a gofer for the Skipper, keeps the locker room clean, and helps out the grounds crew. Sometimes he works in the food stand when they’re short-handed. He prints programs up for the games and then passes them out as the fans arrive, at least when he’s not taking tickets. But what he likes the most is being our batboy. He just loves being the batboy and does a great job of taking care of everyone’s equipment. You can trust him with yours.”
“He’s a really nice kid, Ethan, and I hope you’ll treat him nice and not be one of the assholes around this place who like to torment him because he’s a little different. He’s really not all that different when you get to know him.”
“No, of course not,” I said. “I would never be mean to him. I like him. I just didn’t know, but now that I do you can count on me to treat him good, Mark.”
I didn’t say very much more after that, but it helped make sense of everything that had happened so far and I remember promising myself I would be nice to the kid. I mean, it sounded like we were almost the same age and I was still a kid myself in lots of ways and I was different, too, for that matter. But I wanted people to treat me good and could understand where the kid was coming from.
Having finished lunch, I wandered out to the field and took up my position at shortstop. One of the coaches started hitting ground balls to me and I fielded them easily. It felt good to be out on the field at last. I might not be playing that evening, but every ballpark has its own special quirks and I wanted to get the feel of Lloyd H. Fisher stadium as soon as I could.
But that feeling of being somewhere friendly quickly dissipated when another player approached.
“I’m Dylan Quinn,” he said. “I’m the shortstop for the Heat. I don’t know who the fuck you are and I don’t really care, but you’re in my territory and I don’t really like that. So you need to get your ass somewhere else, dude. And I mean right now.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just moved away, toward third base. But then I started to get nervous about doing that, wondering whether the third baseman would feel like I was invading his space as well.
“Um, well, don’t mind me,” I said looking over at him. “I play shortstop, but apparently Dylan doesn’t want me over there near him.”
“Why am I not surprised?” the dude responded. “Dylan’s not really the friendliest person in the world under normal circumstances, and I expect he’s particularly unhappy right now because he sees you as someone who wants his job. We’ve been hearing a new shortstop was about to arrive and Dylan’s mood has been getting, um . . . well, a little darker than usual; which is actually kind of hard to believe once you know how dark he can be when he’s in a good mood. But we can toss the ball around if you want.”
“Thanks,” I said. “My name’s Ethan Williams.”
“D.W. Pierson here,” he replied. “D.W. actually stands for something real, but it’s too embarrassing to mention so I just go by the initials. Great hands, can’t hit; that’s my story in a nutshell, Ethan. But I’ve always liked playing ball. I figure I’ll do it for a couple more years until they tell me I have to get a real job and become an upstanding citizen of this great country of ours.”
“What’s your story?”
“Beats me,” I responded, grinning. “I’m so insignificant I don’t even have a story yet.”
D.W. just laughed when I said that, which helped put me at ease again after my encounter with Dylan.
“I like you already,” he said. “And I’ll even help put together a story for you if you want. There’s nothing like a little mystery to make life down here in the minors more interesting.”
We spent the next couple of hours getting loose, tossing the ball around, taking batting practice, running the occasional sprint; and then guys gradually began disappearing into the clubhouse to get into whatever routine they liked to get into before the evening’s festivities.
That was something that never changed at any level. Everybody has their own little routine to get themselves ready for a game. Some started playing cards; solitaire for those that wanted to be left alone, poker for those willing to socialize. Some plugged in their earbuds and listened to their favorite music. Still others just sat there watching television or tried to take a nap.
Brady had already shown me my locker and I spent a little time putting a few things away and then walking around the clubhouse trying to quietly introduce myself when guys gave me the opening to do that.
But that effort was soon disrupted when Dylan finally made another appearance.
“Oh, there you are,” he said, pointing me out to a couple of his friends and looking over at my locker.
“I see you got a picture of your mother up there in your locker; and that other picture must be of your boyfriend. He’s kind of pretty, just like you. Is he a faggot too?”
I had brought along a picture of Hunter and me playing together in the surf that my mother had taken a long time ago. It was my favorite picture of the two of us and now it was apparent these were some of the things Dylan had found pawing around in my suitcase.
It was also apparent he was trying to turn the guys in the locker room against me. I didn’t have a clue why and I didn’t want to get into it with him in front of everyone. But I also didn’t like his choice of words and I wasn’t just going to sit there and take it.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to use words like that?” I responded. “It’s a pretty nasty one and says more about you than it does about me.”
“Aw, shucks, did I hurt your feelings, faggot?” Dylan retorted, smiling at his friends. “Are you going to cry now; maybe run home and tell your momma some big bully’s picking on you?”
That caused a couple of his friends to laugh.
“No; and I’m not interested in standing here all afternoon exchanging insults with you either,” I responded. “Look, Dylan, I’m new here and I’m not looking for trouble. I don’t know why you’ve taken an instant dislike to me, but I’ll leave you alone if you do the same.”
“Sure,” he responded, snickering. “I don’t much like having anything to do with faggots. It’s a damn shame Baltimore would sign one, though, if you ask me. The draft this year must have been pretty slim pickings if the Blues were reduced to taking someone like you.”
And with that he turned around and abruptly walked off.
Some of the guys had been watching Dylan and me jaw at one another, but no one said anything after that and I didn’t know what more to say either so I just kept my mouth shut. But I was grateful when Mark came over and started filling me in on our opponent that evening. I think he was trying to reassure the other guys I was okay and I appreciated that.
Later Brady handed out peanut butter sandwiches to those who wanted them; and then, as the sun slowly began its descent to the west, we headed back out to the field to warm up.
“When I stopped playing, what I missed most were the sounds of the ballpark,” one of baseball’s legends, Stan Musial, once said. “For years after I retired, I heard those sounds in my head before I went to sleep.”
I didn’t really know it quite yet, but for all their differences every minor league baseball stadium is exactly the same in some ways, especially during that last hour before a game begins as the stands start to fill up. If you slow yourself down, stop chatting, and just take in the sights and sounds, an idyllic scene will unfold before your eyes.
Most minor league stadiums are located in small towns far away from big cities and usually they feature one or more fuzzy mascots who help keep the kids entertained while their parents get settled in. While they do, teenage girls wearing tight shorts and revealing halter tops lean over the fence and help keep the players entertained by giving them just enough of a peek to encourage a bit of flirting.
It’s an age-old ritual sustained by the hope that someday they’ll score big and find a way out of those dreary small towns; and because the boys are young and there’s not much to do in a small town, it even works on occasion.
Elsewhere, young boys with their gloves at the ready patiently wait for a ball to be hit in their direction, often rushing to surround some older dude trying to catch a foul ball bare-handed in the hope the sting will cause him to drop it and let them corral the ball on the rebound. Smaller kids race around shrieking endlessly while the P.A. systems blare out Y-M-C-A and other crowd favorites.
Soon enough the lights come on even as vendors continue scurrying about, flinging peanuts and hot dogs into the crowd and somehow retrieving the money sent back in their direction. The crowds grow louder, the players more anxious for the game to begin.
Eventually someone, often a small, long-legged teenage girl, is escorted on to the field by an announcer and perhaps some dudes wearing military uniforms and carrying the flag. As hats cover hearts, people stand and the national anthem is played while she belts out the words (“by the dawn’s early light . . . whose broad stripes and bright stars . . . so gallantly streaming . . . and the home of the brave”) and you stand there wondering how such a big voice can come out of such a small girl.
It’s another night of baseball in still another dusty town in a long summer filled with baseball nights, but this was the night of my very first professional game and I stood there in awe of those sights and sounds. It was humbling.
At one point Brady approached me and he was in his uniform as well by then and you could tell this was the moment he had been waiting for all day, the start of the game and the chance to wear his batboy uniform.
“What’s your song?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“I need to know what song you want the stadium announcers to play when you go up to bat. Not that you’ll be batting tonight, of course. The Skipper sits all the new players. But everyone has a favorite song and usually the announcers play a little of that while you’re getting set up at the plate.”
“Um, well, you know something, Brady, I hadn’t really given it any thought,” I replied. “What’s your favorite song?”
“Mine? My favorite song is Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5. Why?”
Before I could answer he started dancing and I remember smiling because he was a good dancer, a very good dancer, as well as being cute. Truth be told, he probably moved better than Jagger and the whole thing made the evening even more special for me because I would remember that little dance for a long time.
It seemed to me he had good taste in music. I liked that song too and by then I was beginning to warm up to Brady.
“Why don’t we use that as my song,” I replied. “I mean, if it’s okay with you, Brady? I don’t want to steal it from you or anything.”
“Sure,” he responded and by now he was grinning and I knew he was happy with the choice I had made and had decided I was okay as well.
“That would be great, Ethan. And you won’t be stealing it because I don’t get to bat, but hearing that song I’ll pay special attention when you do because it’s like both of us will be batting.”
“But for now I’ll just go tell the announcers,” he added. “And you can change if you decide you don’t like it.”
“No, I think that’s the right choice, Brady,” I replied, returning his grin.
We lost our game that evening.
Someone told me it was the sixth loss in a row the Heat had suffered. The team played well enough the first couple of innings and it seemed like we had a chance to win. But then a couple of errors by us in the sixth inning, combined with a controversial call, broke open what had been a close game up until then.
There wasn’t much Grady could do about the errors that inning except sit there and seethe. But when the next runner reached base on a blown call by the first base umpire, it was too much for the man. He was livid and out of the dugout in a flash.
He started out reasonably enough, pointing out the mistake that had been made and asking the umpire to check with one of the other members of the umpiring crew for a second opinion. But the dude just turned his back and walked away and that only enraged Grady.
He started hopping around like crazy, kicking dirt toward the umpire, and his words were coming faster now and you could tell they were much harsher words as well. I had seen a manager or two challenge calls in games I had played in over the years, but nothing like this. It was an incredibly creative and entertaining display of anger, one well worth the price of admission alone.
By now the fans were cheering Grady on and he responded to that like the prima donna he was. But the umpire had suffered enough by then and finally gave Coach the thumb. I thought that would be the end of it, but I was wrong.
Grady’s rage was like a tidal wave now and he wasn’t about to concede that some no account low life of an umpire that had probably never actually played the game had the authority to toss him out. He continued to protest for another minute or two, storming around the infield, kicking up dirt, and by now I had the sense he was enjoying the whole thing himself; that it was a relief for him from having to watch us play so poorly.
In the end, of course, the call stood. Umpires never lose an argument. Grady was banished from the dugout and once he was gone a couple of the players, mostly Dylan and his friends, started snickering. That bothered me some because Coach had been right. It had been a terrible call and I felt like we should be supporting our skipper because he was doing his best to support us.
Things went downhill pretty rapidly after that. By the end it was apparent our guys weren’t even trying anymore. They just wanted the game to be over and soon enough it was.
The final score, 11 to 2, was an embarrassment.