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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.
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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. August 19: I’m going to be away through Labor Day starting this Saturday, August 24. I’m still planning to post the next two chapters on schedule, but be sure to read the introduction and update to Chapter 15 at the blog or the Annex for the very latest information regarding the story.
SUMMER BOYS, SUMMER DREAMS
I woke up feeling better about things the next morning. It hadn’t gone down exactly the way I was hoping, but Mark hadn’t rejected me either. To me that was a beginning, something to build on; I recall thinking I needed to stay positive and give it my best shot.
The day passed quickly enough, but that second evening in Asheville started badly as the Legends didn’t just beat us. They crushed us.
In the bottom half of the first inning their leadoff hitter narrowly beat out an infield single to shortstop that Dylan managed to get to, but couldn’t quite pull the trigger on once he did. It was a tough play and I couldn’t really fault him for holding on to the ball. But it came back to haunt us two batters later when their catcher pounded out a double to the left-center field gap. That brought the first dude home.
In the third inning the same guy drilled a double to right field and then scooted to third when our second baseman, Sammy Stiles, mishandled the throw from Anthony. He reached home for the second time that evening when their third baseman grounded a single through a drawn-in infield, providing the Legends with a two run cushion. In the meantime, we couldn’t get anything going against their pitcher.
The Legends added four more runs the next inning on a leadoff triple, an RBI single, and a walk followed by a three run homer. By now Grady was pacing back and forth in the dugout, muttering to himself. He was never the most relaxed dude in the world, but that evening he looked like a volcano waiting to erupt.
And then a close call the next inning that went against us gave him the excuse he needed and he was charging on to the field and arguing vociferously about the injustice that had just been done. Like I said, it was a close call, not a slam dunk. I think Grady knew that and was just trying to light some kind of fire under a team that seemed mostly interested in getting the losing over as quickly as possible that evening.
The call stood and the game continued to its inexorable conclusion; and when Andre Taylor, our center fielder, took a called third strike in the top of the ninth, the slaughter was mercifully over. The final score, 8 to 0, didn’t even begin to reveal how totally we had been dominated. It was humiliating.
Dylan went zero for four at the plate that evening and was charged with a throwing error as well. I suppose I could have taken some consolation in that; I mean, by now I despised the guy. But I didn’t want to become one of those teammates who took delight when others played badly.
It wasn’t just Dylan in any event. The whole team had played lethargically; and hard as it must have been to play the game, sitting in the dugout watching the whole disaster unfold was even tougher in some ways, especially believing you could have made a difference.
I thought Grady would be happy to get out of the stadium quickly that evening, but he surprised me. He just stood in the locker room door preventing anyone from heading to the bus waiting to take us back to the motel. That little vein in the side of his head was twitching something fierce and it was pretty obvious he wasn’t a happy camper.
I stood there waiting for him to explode, but he didn’t. He just waited patiently until the whole room fell quiet and everyone was looking at him.
“Five hundred forty miles,” he finally said. “Is this what you guys sat on a bus over ten hours for; five hundred forty miles to do this once you got here? That was the most embarrassing performance I’ve seen out of this team all year and I’ve seen quite a few embarrassing performances. Not the losing so much because losing happens. But the lack of effort; it was a disgrace.”
“Professional baseball players? I don’t think so. Hell, I’ve seen Little League teams put out more effort than you guys did tonight and they don’t even get paid to do it. They just love playing baseball and respect the game and they try. You guys weren’t even trying tonight. It was shameful.”
Then he turned, walked out the door, and headed for the bus that was waiting to take us back across town to where we were staying.
The locker room was deathly silent. No one said anything. No one laughed or tried to put Grady down like they sometimes did behind his back. They knew he was telling the truth. One or two guys coughed and then, finally, not knowing what else to do, guys started filing out of the locker room toward the bus.
No one said anything on the drive back to the motel and everyone scattered quickly once we got there. I followed Mark up to the room. While he showered, I stripped down and climbed into bed and waited for him. I kind of doubted he would want to have sex after everything that had happened that evening. But I was wrong about that.
I guess Mark had decided that getting a blow job wasn’t so bad after all. He climbed into my bed refreshed and renewed and soon enough his dick was twitching. The next thing I knew it was in my mouth and glad to be there apparently.
When it was finally over and we were settling down in our separate beds, I looked over at him and smiled.
“Look, Mark, if you want to score a home run tomorrow night back here at the motel, I’m going to need to see a better performance at the plate; a lot better performance.”
He let out one of those little involuntary laughs, then turned serious.
“Yeah, I hear you. I feel bad about what happened tonight. Grady was right about the lack of effort. I could see it happening right from the get go and I should have done something about it. I don’t know why I didn’t. Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been thinking I’m near the end of the road; that I’m never going to make it all the way back to the big dance.”
“It’s not surprising, I guess, but it’s disappointing, real disappointing; and sometimes I find myself not even trying that hard anymore. But now that you’ve given me a little incentive to do better, I’ll make a serious effort to do so. Because I can still hit the long ball when I concentrate and I definitely like getting to home base.”
Both of us laughed at that. Then I rolled on to my side and fell asleep. Whatever anyone else did, I was pretty certain Mark would give his best effort the following evening.
I woke up early the next morning. Not wanting to disturb Mark, I dressed quickly and walked down to the lobby to see what was available for breakfast. Grady was already there and he and Brady were talking about something. I filled up a plate and looked around for someone to join. Seeing me standing there, Grady motioned for me to come over.
“Morning Coach,” I said. “Have you recovered from that bus trip yet, Brady?”
“I enjoyed the trip,” he responded, looking at me. “Why would I need to recover?”
“Well, there you have it,” Grady said. “I’m glad someone on this team is still young enough to enjoy a long bus ride.”
He reached over and tried to tousle Brady’s hair, but the kid swatted his arm away before he could. Then, turning to me, Grady was all business again.
“It’s your turn to play today, son,” he said.
I already knew that; not knowing what to say in response, I said nothing.
“You know, Ethan, some of the boys on this team have given up on the season. They won’t admit it, but you can see it just by the way they approach the game. You can tell they’re just playing out the string, waiting for the season to end so they can get back to wherever they came from.”
“Have you given up, son?” he asked, looking directly into my eyes.
“No, sir,” I responded, holding his gaze and refusing to look away. “I mean, I haven’t really been here long enough to give up, but I’ve never given up on a season wherever I’ve played in the past. I’m not about to start now.”
“That’s good,” Grady said. “I’m glad to hear that. You know, even now after all these years, every game we play gets my undivided attention until the very last out. Paying attention like that, it helps if I can focus on a player who hasn’t given up, who’s trying his very best. I’ll probably be watching you tonight, Ethan.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what Grady was trying to tell me, but he obviously cared and for some reason I wanted him to know I cared as well.
“We’re going to win tonight, Skipper,” I said. “Believe me. We just had a bad day yesterday, but we’ll bounce back tonight. You’ll see.”
“That would be terrific,” Grady said.
And then he looked at me closely again.
“You know, before you came in here, Brady was telling me he thought I should pencil you in as our leadoff hitter today. Have you ever been a leadoff hitter before?”
“No, sir,” I responded, “at least not a regular one. I mean, yeah, I’ve done it a few times over the years, but usually I batted further down in the lineup, third or fourth mostly.”
“Those were probably pretty good spots for you, Ethan, at least where you were playing before. I was planning to slot you fifth in the lineup today, behind Nicky and Mark. But you know something? I think maybe Brady is right about you leading off. It would give us more opportunities to take advantage of that speed of yours, those base running skills you’ve flashed a couple of times.”
“Plus it’s hard to score when you don’t get on base and we’ve been having a terrible time getting our first and second batters on base lately. That makes it easier for the other team to pitch around Nicky and Mark; so I think a little experimenting is in order and I’m going to do it. I’m going to put you in the leadoff spot today and move Sammy Stiles up behind you batting second.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“I’m just happy to be playing, Coach,” I responded. “I’m not going to make any promises, but I’ll do my best.”
“I’m sure you will,” Grady responded. “Of course, the main thing about leading off is you have to be patient. You have to study the opposing pitchers real carefully and be patient. Like that fellow who’ll be pitching against us today, Will Jensen. Damn fine pitcher; spots his balls real well. I think he’ll make it to the big dance someday.”
“But he tends to get a little frustrated and impatient when batters make him work harder than he thinks he should have to. Loves to nibble you to death around the corners, but if you foul those balls off he gets annoyed; and once he gets annoyed, he tends to try to overpower you with heat. With a pitcher like Jensen, patience is definitely a virtue.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” I responded, making a mental note to myself to do that.
“Of course, when you’re leading off, how you get on base isn’t really that important,” Grady continued.
By now I could see he was trying to provide me with a little tutorial about leading off without really lecturing me too much about it. Respecting Grady as I did, I gave him my undivided attention.
“You could go for the hit. Most guys prefer doing it that way and that’s always nice. But a walk is just as good. Hell, even getting hit by the ball works,” he added, smiling. “Whatever it takes; that’s the attitude a good leadoff hitter has to have. Whatever it takes to get on base; and patience is real important, of course. Patience is real important.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “I’ll try my best to be patient today.”
“Good,” Grady said.
That pretty much ended our conversation and I went back to the room to take a shower and watch a little television. Later on, after lunch, we boarded the bus and headed out to the stadium.
Every player has a set of routines he goes through before a game to get himself pumped up and ready to play. I pretty much followed mine that day, but for some reason I found myself becoming more and more agitated the longer I thought about what had happened the previous evening.
Back home in Rehoboth Beach, I had always been one of the leaders no matter what team I played for. For whatever reason, guys looked to me to fill that role and it was a challenge I didn’t shrink from.
With the Heat, it was different. I was a rookie, not even the starting shortstop. I hadn’t earned the right to play that kind of role. And yet I was disappointed with the way guys were playing the game. Grady had been right. I hadn’t endured a 540 mile bus trip to let a bunch of dudes on another team pound us around like we were some kind of piñata, especially the Legends.
Legends, I remember scoffing; what a crock of shit! They may be legends in their own freaking minds, but they just had a good night. They’re not that great.
They had been condescending toward us the previous evening in a lot of small ways. I didn’t like that. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to avenge what had happened, to show those assholes we weren’t a bunch of losers like they seemed to think.
I wanted to win. I wanted to win real bad and I was determined to do everything I could to win.
“Everybody hits today,” I blurted out, looking over at D.W. “I’m going to start it off. But everybody is going to get at least one hit today and that includes you, D.W.”
“Don’t hold your breath, Ethan,” he said, rolling his eyes. “If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been in a slump lately, a bad one.”
“It’s all a question of getting the incentives right,” I responded. “What can I do to make you get a hit today, D.W.?”
“Um, well, I dunno,” he replied. “I’m a simple country boy with simple needs. I can’t really think of anything.”
“If you can’t, I can,” Brady volunteered, wandering by at that moment and injecting himself into the conversation.
“You can what?” D.W. said, staring at Brady.
“I can think of something one of us could do that would make you get a hit today.”
“And just what would that be?” D.W. responded, challenging him.
Without hesitation, Brady reached down, rubbed his groin and then grinned.
It was just a quick gesture, one only the three of us saw, but it wasn’t the kind of gesture you could mistake.
“One of us could make sure you have a good time when you get back to the motel tonight I expect.”
I remember being totally shocked by what he had done, even more shocked by what he had said. I was glad no one else was around at the moment.
D.W. was even more shocked because he turned bright red and started blushing like crazy.
“Where do you come up with ideas like that, Brady?” he finally stammered.
“Hey, you two guys aren’t the only ones around here that are test . . . testa . . . testo . . . .”
“Testosterone,” I interjected.
“Testosterone crazed you know,” he said, finally getting the word out.
The whole thing made me wonder. Up until then I had always assumed Brady was just a boy, a good looking boy for sure but one without any real sexual identity. But now for the first time I was less certain of that.
Brady? Gay? I mean, yeah, sure, sometimes he says stuff that makes you wonder. But there’s no way someone as sweet as Brady could be gay. He’s just trying to pretend he’s one of the guys again; that’s all. Or could I be wrong about that?
“Um, well, I was thinking of something, uh, more conventional,” I replied, trying to conceal my doubts. “Like maybe doing D.W.’s washing for the rest of this trip.”
“Whatever,” Brady said, shrugging his shoulders. “That wouldn’t be my first choice, but whatever D.W. wants is fine with me as long as he gets a hit. I’m counting on it.”
Then he turned and walked away.
I looked over at D.W. and could tell he was still in a state of shock.
“Sometimes that boy worries me,” I said, breaking into a grin.
“Tell me about it,” D.W. said, a phrase he had picked up from me. It was one of Hunter’s favorites, one I found myself using a lot now that he was no longer around.
“I know Brady was just kidding, but he did give me an idea. How about you invite me down to Rehoboth Beach the next time we have a day off? I mean, I haven’t checked the schedule so I don’t even know if we get another day off. Assuming we do, I wouldn’t mind going back to that little home town of yours.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll do your washing for sure, but let me think about that.”
I mean, I hadn’t checked the schedule either and didn’t know when we might get another day off. If we did, however, I wondered whether Mark might want to do something with me that day.
“Maybe we could,” I finally added. “I hadn’t really thought about it. But it’s definitely a possibility I suppose, along with the washing. But, hey, you don’t get anything without getting at least one hit tonight.”
“Get two hits and I’ll owe you big time; maybe even what Brady suggested,” I added, trying to see whether I could elicit another blush.
“I always try,” D.W. said, shrugging his shoulders but not taking the bait.
“It’s not like I don’t try, Ethan.”
“I know that, D.W.,” I replied. “But tonight’s the night you’re going to break out of that slump you’re in. I know it, dude, and so do you. Just keep visualizing your bat and the ball connecting. It’s going to happen for sure. Tonight’s the night!”
After that I made the rounds of the clubhouse, talking one on one to the guys I knew best, promising some of them little things if they got a hit that night. I even told Nicky I would pick up the tab for the next issue of his favorite magazine if he got a hit. He just grinned and nodded.
And then finally it was time for the game to begin and I made my way to the on-deck circle and watched while Will Jensen warmed up.
At the umpire’s signal, I stepped into the batter’s box, dug in, and glanced down toward third base to get the signal. The signal told me to take the first pitch so that’s what I did. A curve ball caught the outside corner of the plate for a strike.
A ball followed, then another strike and two more balls. By now the count was knotted up at 3 and 2 and I didn’t need to look for a sign because I knew the decision was up to me. Jensen tried to nibble the outside corner with a curve again and this time I managed to foul it off.
Two more pitches, both of them fast balls; two more fouls. Jensen and I were engaged in a duel of wills and I wasn’t about to give in.
Turning his back to the plate, he stepped off the mound and rubbed the ball real hard with his hands. I could sense he was annoyed. Finally, he stepped back on to the rubber and looked in for the catcher’s signal. Shaking it off, he nodded his agreement with the next signal the catcher flashed him. He was ready to go back to work now.
Wanting to think about what had happened so far and knowing it would annoy him still more, I signaled the umpire for time, stepped back from the plate, and began fiddling with my batting gloves.
Jensen had been showing me mostly curves and fastballs and it occurred to me that perhaps he would come with something different this time. The scouting report had mentioned he occasionally liked to mix in a changeup with his other pitches. It was the kind of pitch that could make batters look foolish so I kept my eye open for that.
Sure enough, the next pitch was a changeup, one I was prepared for. I lined it hard between the shortstop and third baseman for a single. Down at first base I looked over at the dugout and a couple of the guys were giving me a thumbs-up for delivering on my promise to start things off.
The next batter, Sammy Stiles, worked the count to 1 and 2. Then I was flashed the signal to steal. The next pitch from Jensen was a fastball that Sammy just managed to get his bat on somehow. The ball dribbled down the right side of the infield just eluding the second baseman while I raced all the way around to third.
Nicky was up and Jensen worked him carefully, too carefully it turned out. Nicky was on with a walk. Now the bases were loaded with nobody out. Mark was stepping up to the plate and you could tell Jensen was becoming more and more frustrated.
Mark looked down toward third base to get the signal. While he was retrieving it, I took the opportunity to rub my groin quickly. He smiled momentarily.
Then Jensen came with a fastball. He was trying to overpower Mark, but didn’t succeed and you could tell by the sound of the ball hitting the bat that Mark had gotten all of it.
I stood there momentarily and watched as the ball sailed out of the park. It was a thing of beauty and not even close. That ball had to be a good fifty to seventy-five feet beyond the 410 mark in center field. Racing home, I took up my position at the plate waiting for Mark’s arrival.
By the time he got home Sammy and Nicky had joined me and the three of us mobbed him. Our little celebration ended quickly enough and the four of us raced back to the dugout. As we entered and took our places on the bench, I looked up at Mark.
“If it was me, I wouldn’t be satisfied with scoring just once,” I said, grinning at him. “I would definitely want to score more than once.”
“I do,” Mark said, grinning at me.
Then he pushed pass me and found his place on the bench.
Start a ballgame with a grand slam homer like that and it does amazing things to settle the nerves of your own starting pitcher. Suddenly he can relax and not worry that every pitch could mean the difference between victory and defeat. And that’s what happened that night.
Brad Collins was pitching for us and now you could see how relaxed he was. He started mowing down their hitters one after another; and that first inning proved infectious for the rest of the team as well. Suddenly everybody wanted to be part of the winning and by the eighth inning we were up seven to zip.
Everyone had managed to get on except Brad; even D.W. had already gotten a hit.
He was standing there in the on-deck circle, batting ninth now because Grady had decided to bring in a reliever for Brad and had shuffled the lineup appropriately. Because I would follow him into the circle once the inning began, I was out there with him. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Um, well, not to put pressure on you or anything, but this is it, dude,” I said. “I want that second hit and I want it now. Hell, I’ll even do what Brady suggested if I that’s what it takes.”
“You wouldn’t dare?” he responded, looking over at me and grinning.
“Would I lie to you, D.W.?” I said, returning his grin. “But, hey, I guess you’ll never know unless you get that hit.”
By that time the umpire had motioned D.W. into the batter’s box.
“You can do this, dude,” I whispered as he started to walk toward home plate. “I know you can.”
He stepped into the box and looked down for the signal. The signal told him to take the pitch, but the pitch was a lazy curve ball that just hung there and D.W. had another idea. He swung and connected and the ball scooted past the pitcher and straight out to center field.
I remember cheering like crazy as he raced to first base. As I stood there staring at him, he reached down, touch his groin momentarily and grinned.
I walked to home plate and stepped in.
Jensen was long since gone and I’m not sure what their relief pitcher was thinking. It had been a long night for the Legends and they weren’t used to losing, let alone getting blown out like this. Whatever he was thinking, he came with a fastball on his first pitch, one aimed directly at me. I fell back and could feel the breeze as the ball just narrowly missed nailing me.
Part of me wanted to go after the guy, but I remember thinking it would annoy him more if I just ignored the whole thing. While I stood up and brushed myself off, the umpire walked a couple feet out toward the mound. Tossing the pitcher a new ball, he also volunteered some advice.
“Do that again and you’re gone,” he said.
That didn’t provide a lot of comfort for me. If I had been their pitcher, I would have wanted to be gone right about then. But I guess he got the message because he didn’t try to bean me again.
I worked the count to 2 and 2, then figured he would bring his fastball again. I was right about that and I got all of my weight into it. It was a close thing, real close, but somehow the ball managed to sneak over the wall for a home run. D.W. was waiting for me at the plate and gave me a big high five.
I was really happy for him. Celebrations like that at the plate were rare for him and I was glad he was finally getting the opportunity to let off some steam.
As we walked toward the dugout, he looked over at me.
“So is tonight really the night? Are you a man of your word?”
He had me on the spot and he knew it and he was rubbing it in, taunting me, trying to make me beg.
“Um, well, I try to be,” I replied; “most of the time, at least. Sometimes I don’t always recall what I said.”
He just laughed at that.
“You know damn well what you said, dude, but I’m a man of my word as well. I told the good Lord I would let you off the hook if He would just let that ball get over the fence. So consider yourself off the hook, at least this time.”
“Praise the Lord,” I said, looking at him and grinning.
After that the rout was on. Sammy and Nicky walked. They brought in still another reliever, their third of the night. But it didn’t do them any good as Mark promptly hit the first pitch tossed to him for a three run homer.
As he entered the dugout, I gave him a high five.
“Could be a long night,” I said.
“You better believe it,” he replied.
Those turned out to be the last runs of the game. The final score ended up in the books as 12 to 0, not just a total reversal of the night before but a serious put down of a team that liked to think it was destined for greatness.
We had won. We had won big. But mostly we had redeemed ourselves and Grady was obviously happy about that and that made me happy.
I had done well leading off, two walks, three hits, including the homer, and one stolen base; and I had played flawlessly in the field as well.
It was a good night. I was proud of myself and proud of my teammates.
Later when we got back to the motel Grady pulled me aside.
“I just wanted you to know I’ve seen enough. You played terrific tonight, Ethan, but what I really appreciated was the leadership you displayed in the clubhouse. Brady told me about that and a couple of other guys mentioned it as well.”
“You seemed to get everyone going tonight. Keep it up, son. I’m going to start you again tomorrow; from now on you’re our starting shortstop and leadoff hitter.”
But Mark was the one who managed to keep it up that evening. He did me the twice he had earned and then, just for good measure, a third time. I could see he was starting to get it into now even though I didn’t think he was gay. Like a lot of guys alone on the road, he was just horny and I was glad to accommodate him.