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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.
SUMMER BOYS, SUMMER DREAMS
Having tossed and turned most of the previous night, I was tired when I boarded my flight back east the following morning. I was glad about that because it gave me a chance to nap and napping helped me avoid obsessing about what had happened too much.
But the flight east was a long one and soon enough I was awake and thinking about the events of the previous evening. It hadn’t been my finest moment and I couldn’t quite shake the feeling I had done something shameful; and yet try as hard as I could, I couldn’t figure out exactly what I had done wrong.
Was it talking to a stranger in the park? I couldn’t see anything wrong with that. I talked to strangers every day while signing autographs. Being friendly with people was part of my job. Was it following Donnie to the restroom that was wrong? I had followed him because I was lonely and wanted to talk to someone. I wanted a friend. Where was the shame in that?
Maybe there was more to it than just that, of course. Maybe I knew why he was going to that restroom and wanted that as well. But I think it was mostly about just wanting to be with someone who was like me. Thinking about it in retrospect, perhaps his need was different from mine that evening. But was his hunger any less compelling than my loneliness?
Was it wrong to give Donnie the money? He and his friend needed it; they needed that $10 a lot more than I did. I didn’t see it as paying for something. I saw it as helping two people who were hungry.
Was it the location? I wasn’t sure about that. It just happened to be a convenient location for two people with certain needs.
Or was it wrong that I hadn’t gone through with it?
Donnie seemed to understand I was scared. He hadn’t complained, hadn’t belittled me for not being man enough to do it; and I hadn’t asked for the money back because I hadn’t given it to him for that reason in the first place. I had given it because he and Tyler needed it for food and I wanted them to have it.
Thinking about all of this left me confused. When I examined each detail of what had happened, I could find no blame to assign to either of us. And yet, when I stepped back, a feeling of shame lingered. Perhaps it had more to do with the sense that my mother and Hunter would have been disappointed with me; and yet I even wondered about that.
They loved me; and if I was ever able to work up the courage to tell them the truth, maybe they would understand just how much I needed to be with someone who was like me.
Finally, none the wiser, I managed to put it behind me, at least for the moment. It had happened and it was over and done and it was time to move on. The holidays were approaching and I was going to be spending them with the people I cared about most. When I finally reached Baltimore-Washington International, I was too excited to wait for a bus so I rented a car and headed off on my own.
I detoured south and had dinner with D.W. and Brady along the way. They wanted to know everything about the Invitational and how I had done so I spent a lot of time talking with them about that. At some point I realized Brady was eager to say something. Turning the tables, I asked what was new in Shoreham.
“Did you hear?” Brady asked, his eyes wide with excitement.
“Hear what?” I replied.
“Did you hear D.W. and I are going to rent a place together after spring training next year?”
I looked at D.W. He just grinned and nodded his head in agreement.
“Wow, that sounds great, Brady,” I responded. “The two of you will finally be on your own, but you’ll have to be sure not to annoy the neighbors with any loud parties.”
“That won’t be a problem,” he responded. “I’m almost a grownup and I know what’s expected of me. I’m just really glad to finally be on my own, especially with D.W. We’ll be perfect together. I know it.”
Later I drove the rest of the way home, east toward Ocean City and then the final leg north to Rehoboth Beach. My mom was as excited as me that I was home and the two of us talked forever that evening.
By now it was almost Thanksgiving and I was looking forward to that because I knew Hunter would be home from college.
I found a job bagging groceries at one of the local supermarkets, but that still left time to spend with Hunter over the long Thanksgiving weekend. He even surprised me when he joined me every morning for my workout at the high school we had attended.
Hunter had never been one to work out all that seriously and I remember kidding him about it one morning. He had just finished lifting some weights and I was surprised by how much he had lifted.
“You’re lifting more than I would have guessed you could,” I said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you must be working out at college.”
“I have been,” he volunteered. “Every morning, just like you told me you were doing when we got together last summer.”
“I’m shocked,” I said, grinning at him. “You’re the last one I would expect to ever spend time working out.”
“Things change,” is all he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“If I don’t do this, I’m going to get fat and out of shape and then you won’t love me anymore,” he added, grinning.
I remember being surprised when he said it. Hunter had never been a big one to share what he was feeling about me. I knew he was just kidding, of course, but decided to play along with his little joke.
“Oh, well, you don’t have to worry about that,” I responded. “Hell, I stopped loving you years ago.”
“Did you really?” Hunter asked, looking over at me.
For a moment it seemed like he was actually concerned about that. But then he caught himself and stuck his tongue out and that made me laugh.
“Of course not, you doofus,” I said. “You’re still the man, Hunter.”
“I wish,” he sighed.
The whole thing had only taken a moment, but I remember thinking about it later that evening in bed as I jerked off to the thought of Hunter making love to me.
Why? Why can’t I just tell him how I feel?
As always, there wasn’t a real answer, just the same old concern that Hunter would hate me if I told him the truth; that he wouldn’t want to be friends anymore.
And yet there was a part of me that still wanted to do it, that wanted to take the chance. It was just a matter of finding the right time, the right place.
Why not wait for the Christmas holidays, Ethan? I asked. He’ll be home longer then. It’ll give us more of a chance to talk it through.
Thanksgiving is just too short a time to lay something heavy like that on him. Better to wait until the Christmas holidays. That makes a lot more sense.
It was just before he left to go back to Newark on Sunday that Hunter told me his parents were taking him and his sister to the Caribbean for the holidays. He hadn’t wanted to tell me before because he knew it would spoil our Thanksgiving together and he didn’t want that to happen.
I remember sighing.
Christmas without Hunter was going to be hard. I couldn’t recall a time when we hadn’t celebrated Christmas together.
Things change, Hunter had said.
But they didn’t always change for the better, at least as far as I was concerned.
I was sitting at home late one evening reading a book a few days after Thanksgiving. Hunter was back at college by now and I missed him. My mother was sitting across from me busying herself with some paperwork. The weather had turned colder the day Hunter left and now the winds whipping in from the ocean had turned bone chilling.
It was the kind of night that made you glad you were curled up inside with a book, inside a warm, cozy home where you knew you were loved and you loved the person you were with.
The doorbell rang and I looked up. I remember thinking it was a little strange because hardly anyone came by to visit at that hour of the night.
“I’ll get it,” my mother said, putting her papers aside and heading toward the door.
Having found the spot where I had left off, I resumed my reading, at least until I heard my mother’s raised voice.
“Oh my Lord, what happened to you?” she was saying.
There was a muffled response I couldn’t make out.
“Yes, come in,” my mother said. “Ethan, there’s someone here for you.”
Standing up, I walked to the front door and was stunned by what I saw. There was Zachary standing in our front hall. He had two black eyes, a nose from which blood was still trickling, and the rest of his visible body was badly battered and bruised.
He wasn’t wearing a jacket and I could see he was shivering and struggling not to cry.
“What happened, Zachary?” I asked, as my mother closed the door and ushered him into our living room.
“Good Lord,” my mother interrupted having taken a second look. “This boy is hurt, Ethan, badly hurt. I think we need to take him to the emergency medical center up in Lewes right away. He needs to be looked at.”
“No,” Zachary responded. “I’m okay. I don’t need to go to no medical center. I just need to get out of the cold and maybe get a couple of bandages.”
My mother and I looked at one another and I shook my head. It wasn’t that she was wrong, but I knew Zachary better. It was going to take more talking before we would have any chance of persuading him to go to the center.
“What happened to you, Zachary, and how did you get here?” I asked again. “You need to tell me what happened right now.”
“It’s my father,” he replied. “You know how well the two of us get along Ethan, but tonight was even worse than usual. He . . . he, ah . . . he hit me like he usually does, but tonight, um … tonight he tried to do more.”
“What did he try to do?” I asked.
He looked at me like I was totally clueless and rolled his eyes. Turning away from my mother, he lowered his voice.
“I’m not going to answer that in front of your mother,” he whispered.
Then he looked over at her.
“The point is, he hit me. He hit me a lot.”
“And he tried to do other stuff, too,” he added, glancing back over at me.”
At that moment it occurred to me that perhaps I did know what he meant after all; and that was all I needed to know to understand why Zachary was reluctant to say more.
“Can I stay here tonight?” he asked, and now his eyes were pleading with me.
“Of course,” I said. “We’ll take care of you. But how did you get here?”
“I can’t take anymore, Ethan,” he replied. “After he tried to, um, after he stopped hitting me, I went down to the bus station and bought a ticket to Ocean City; and then I switched there and took another bus up here. I knew your address from Brady and someone told me how to get to your street; and I want to stay here tonight. Can I? Please?”
Behind his back my mother was frantically signaling we needed to get him up to the bathroom so she could try to get him fixed up.
“Absolutely,” I responded. “You can stay here as long as you need; and you can trust my Mom, too, Zachary. She and I are going to get you cleaned up as best we can. Depending on what we find, we may have to go the medical center. I won’t make you go unless it’s absolutely necessary. Understood?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding.
The two of us brought him upstairs to the bathroom. My Mom pulled out some of her medical supplies; bandages, gauze, Neosporin, all the stuff she used to bring out when I was a boy and got banged up real bad. I remember wondering whether it would be enough given the shape Zachary was in.
She was about to start working on him when she suddenly stopped.
“I need to get something,” she said, disappearing from the bathroom.
When she returned, she was carrying our digital camera.
“Before I clean you up, I want to get some pictures of this,” she said to Zachary.
“And while I’m doing that, I want you to tell Ethan exactly when this happened tonight and where and how long your father beat you. Ethan, you need to write down everything he says.”
“Why do you need the pictures, Mam?” Zachary asked, not really resisting the idea so much; more just curious.
“I need them because you’ve been abused, Zachary, and I want to document everything that’s happened to you as best I can. Honestly, your face is a disaster. Your nose looks like it could be broken although I’m not certain of that. Your arms and legs aren’t looking great either. There covered with welts, almost as if you’ve been whipped.”
“You should see the rest of my body,” he said; “my back, my butt, and my thighs. I got lots of welts all over them, but that’s mostly from what he’s done before, not so much tonight. Tonight he mostly just kicked me, hit me with his fists, and used his belt on me.”
“Well, we’re going to take pictures of your whole body then, including your back and your bum,” she replied.
“No way, Mam,” Zachary protested. “I’m not going to let you look at that. You’re a, you’re a . . . you’re a woman.”
“Will you let Ethan take the pictures I need then?” she asked. “I can leave the two of you alone here while you get undressed if my being here embarrasses you.”
“Ethan? Oh, yeah, sure; Ethan can take pictures of the rest of my body,” he said, winking at me; “especially my butt; that’s where my dad whips me the hardest.”
As terrible as the situation was, Zachary was being playful now, still trying to get me to look at his butt. I wanted to cry; even now, after a savage beating, Zachary could still be playful, still give his hormones permission to run wild. I remember thinking the kid had an indomitable spirit, one that wouldn’t be broken easily, even by that son of a bitch father of his.
After I had finished taking the pictures and had found an old swimsuit he could wear so he wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of my mother, we must have spent the next thirty or forty minutes fixing him up as best we could and extracting exactly what had transpired earlier that evening. A lot of it came out in fits and spurts when my mother was off getting more things she needed to patch him up.
His father had come home drunk around 7 p.m. Zachary had been expecting him much later and tried to go out. But his father stopped him before he could get away; and then, after beating Zachary almost senseless, he had tried to rape his own son.
It was unbelievable; if the man had shown up at our door at that moment, I would have taken one of my baseball bats and killed him. Anyone who could do something like that deserved to die, at least that’s what I thought at the moment.
But I knew he wouldn’t show up; and after my mother had fed Zachary and checked his bandages again, the two of us led him upstairs and put him to bed in the ocean view bedroom.
He had insisted I stay and talk with him so I did. Without my mother around, more of the story came out and I knew I would have to add it to what I had already written down.
Mom had given him the strongest pain killers we had in the house because he was still resisting a trip to the medical center. But it wasn’t too long before he said he was tired, closed his eyes, and finally just fell asleep as I sat there on the bed looking at him.
When I was certain he was asleep, I gave him kiss on the forehead and then went back downstairs.
“I think we should call the police,” my mother said; “if not tonight, first thing tomorrow morning. This is criminal, Ethan. This is not something we can ignore; and we certainly can’t send that boy back to Shoreham.”
“I will not let that boy go back to his father!” she added emphatically and I knew she meant it.
“I hear you, Mom,” I said, “but I have another idea.”
Picking up the phone, I dialed a familiar number while my mother just stood there watching. Eventually he picked up the phone.
“Avery, this is Ethan Williams,” I said. “You know how much I try not to pester you, but I’ve got a situation I’m dealing with here at the house; a really bad situation. I need you to come up here tomorrow morning first thing and I think you should bring one of those lawyers who work for you too. My mother and I are going to need your help figuring out what to do about this.”
I spent the next forty five minutes filling in the details as my mother sat there listening. I didn’t try to sugar-coat it for her. Both Avery and she needed to know what we were dealing with and I didn’t spare the details.
When I was finished, Avery promised to be at our house first thing in the morning.
I woke up early the next day and just sat on the edge of the bed where Zachary was sleeping until he finally opened his eyes. My mother had already called in and taken the day off from work.
While she made breakfast for the two of us, Zachary and I just sat there talking. He wanted to know everything that had happened in Arizona and I filled in the details for him as best I could; not all of them, of course, just the stuff about baseball.
Aware of what was in store for the day, I finally let him know I had told my mother and agent everything he had told me the previous evening; that they needed to know exactly what had happened if we were going to help him.
He was embarrassed at first. He understood why I had told them and wasn’t mad at me. But he was ashamed and it bothered him that anyone knew what had happened, especially my mother.
I tried to reassure him that it wasn’t something he needed to be ashamed about, that he hadn’t done anything wrong and that I was proud of him for fighting off his father’s attack and finding his way to our house.
Avery was as good as his word and when he arrived I introduced him.
“Zachary, this is my agent, Avery Jennings. Avery, this is my friend Zachary Taylor.”
“Zachary Taylor?” Avery responded. “Wasn’t Zachary Taylor a President or . . . .”
“Let’s not go there, Avery,” I interjected, quickly; out of the corner of my eye I could see Zachary grinning at me and just seeing that grin on his face lifted my spirits.
We spent most of the morning going over ground that was already familiar to my mother and me, but Avery and his lawyer had a lot of questions and wanted to hear it again firsthand. Zachary was a little reluctant to say very much at first. But I just sat there holding his hand and eventually he came around and opened up and provided the details we needed.
At one point he mentioned he was gay, but he never said a word about me. I appreciated that although I had already decided in my mind I wouldn’t try to hide it from anyone if it needed to come out. It never did.
When Zachary’s story was finally out on the table, I asked the obvious question.
“So what are we going to do about this, Avery?” I said.
“That depends,” he replied.
“What do you want to do, Zachary?” he asked, looking directly at him. “Do you want to go home to where you live? If not, where do you want to live? Do you have family or friends you could stay with instead of your father? Do you want us to report this to the police?”
“What do you think we should do about it?”
I was surprised, but it seemed to me Avery had figured out exactly the right way to approach the whole thing. He understood Zachary’s opinion was the most important one in all of this, but I remember gulping when he responded.
“No cops, but I don’t want to live with my father anymore. I’ve put up with a lot, I think, but what he tried to do last night, um, well, that’s the final straw for me; no more.”
“I want to live with Ethan,” he quickly added, staring directly at me. “We have a lot in common. We both like baseball. We’re both shortstops and he’ll treat me the way I want to be treated.”
I was hoping Avery would come to my rescue and explain why that wasn’t possible. But he understood better than me that I had to be the one to spell it out for Zachary.
“What do you think about that, Ethan?” he asked. “Can Zachary come live with you?”
“If there was any way I could do that, I would,” I replied, turning my attention to Zachary. “I would like to have you come live with me, Zachary; I really would. And maybe you can in a couple of years when I’m more settled, but right now I can’t take care of you the right way.”
“I play minor league ball for a living. I’m on the road half the year. I barely have enough money to take care of myself. I want to help; I want to be there for you as much as I can. I’ll do everything possible to spend as much time as I can with you, Zachary, but living with me now just wouldn’t be the right thing for you.”
Before Zachary could even respond, my mother piped up.
“What about living here?” she interjected. “He could live here with me. You would be here in the off season to help out, Ethan, and I could take care of him the rest of the year.”
Turning her attention to Zachary, she looked him straight in the eye.
“Would you like to live here with me and Ethan, Zachary? There would be rules, of course, and Ethan wouldn’t be here a lot of the time. But you would be in a loving home and I would take care of you. I promise I would take care of you.”
“Sure,” he responded. “I would like that.”
“That would be better than nothing, a lot better actually. I knew Ethan probably couldn’t do it, but I didn’t know what else to say because I don’t have anyone else to go live with; no family, no friends, no one, just my father.”
At that point, Zachary began crying for the first time that morning and I put my arms around him and let him bury his face in my stomach. He had been trying hard to keep his emotions in check while all of the adult talk swirled around him. He wanted to man up, to be strong, but he was only a boy; and knowing he wouldn’t want any of us to see those tears, I was happy to let him bury them in my stomach.
It stopped nearly as quickly as it started and that amazed me, that a boy his age who had gone through so much could have so much self-control in the face of such a terrible situation.
“I would like to come live with you and Ethan, Mam; if you would have me.”
“There’s only one problem with that, Mrs. Williams,” Avery interjected. “You don’t have legal custody of the boy. There’s just so much that depends on that; in fact, everything depends on it. You would need it to get his school records, his medical records, to make all the legal decisions only a parent can make.”
“If we report this to the police, which we really should do even though Zachary doesn’t want us to do that, I’m pretty certain Zachary would be removed from his home immediately. But he’s already told us he doesn’t have grandparents or any other family he could live with so the state would have to place him in foster care, probably temporary foster care initially while they’re searching for a more permanent arrangement.”
“Maryland and Delaware have a cooperative agreement so you would be able to apply for custody down the road. But none of that would happen quickly or easily if we do exactly what the law tells us we should do.”
“There must be some way,” I said.
“There is,” Avery said, looking at me and Zachary.
“With everything we know, I could try to persuade Zachary’s father to sign over his parental rights to your mother; and I suspect he might be willing to do so when we spell out the legal alternative if he isn’t willing to cooperate. Those pictures you took last night are damning. The courts take a dim view of child abusers and that’s what this man is. He’ll be going to jail for a long time if he doesn’t agree.”
“It bothers me we’ll have to let him get away with beating Zachary in exchange for signing his rights away, but it’s the only leverage we have with him. And even then I can’t guarantee he’ll agree, of course.”
“If he doesn’t we don’t really have any choice except to go to the police. The whole process will take longer although I imagine it would end up in pretty much the same place. But I think there’s a chance I’ll be able to persuade him and I’m willing to try.”
“Do you want me to?” he asked, looking at the three of us.
“I do,” Zachary responded immediately.
Neither my mother nor I said anything.
“It’s a big decision, Zachary,” Avery continued; “and it’s an important one, too, so I’ll give the three of you a couple of hours to talk about it among yourselves. In the meantime, we’ll stick around and come back later in the day and do whatever you want us to do.”
So that’s what we did. We talked about it, sometimes together, sometimes separately.
With Zachary I kept reemphasizing that I wouldn’t be around much of the year; that he would be spending most of his time with my mother. He understood and told me he liked my mother; that he had never had a mother but had always wanted one and he would work hard to make her like him.
I pushed my mother equally hard when the two of us were alone because she was getting older and taking on Zachary would be a much bigger challenge for her than for me.
But she was insistent she wanted to do it. She couldn’t fathom how any parent could do what Zachary’s father had done to him; and with me no longer around to provide an outlet for her motherly instincts, it was clear this was something she wanted to do.
In the end, when we had made our collective decision to tell Avery he should try, Zachary threw his arms around my mother’s waist and buried his head in her chest.
He sobbed his thanks; and later, after Avery had left, the two of us spent much of the rest of the day wandering around town, with me pointing out all of the different things he could do if he ever came to live with my Mom.
That evening I tossed and turned most of the night wondering whether I should have gotten his hopes up like that. Knowing just how much his father hated him, I wondered whether even Avery, with all his persuasive skills, could pull off something like this.
To my surprise, we had an answer by lunch the next day.
Later I learned Avery had showed up at the man’s place the very next morning with a bunch of lawyers and officers he knew from the Maryland state police in tow; big, burly, men who weren’t there in an official capacity at the moment, just friends of his who were happy to let themselves be used to intimidate the guy by their presence.
Zachary’s father was cruel. But when he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t stupid either. He got the message pretty quickly about what his choices were; and given the choices he faced and how little he cared for Zachary, he signed the documents on the spot that Avery’s lawyers had spent the previous evening preparing.
It may not have been exactly how child protective services would have done things, but it was enough. That part of Zachary’s life was over and done once and for all. His new life as part of our family was about to begin.
It was a big change for all three of us, especially for me in some ways. Knowing I really was Zachary’s big brother now, I spent all of my waking moments doing things with him after school, at least until February rolled around and I had to head off to spring training again.
That meant I could no longer make trips up to Newark on the weekends to spend time with Hunter once he got back from the Caribbean. When I explained why, he understood immediately.
He knew I needed to spend my time with Zachary and promised to try to come down and meet him. But life can be funny that way. As much as the three of us wanted to get together, it just never happened.
One of baseball’s greats, Rogers Hornsby, has been famously quoted about spring training: “People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Eventually February rolled around and the days started counting down. Soon enough it was time to pack up and I remember hating the thought. Zachary was settling in really well and seemed to love my mother as much as I did, but I was worried how things would go when I was no longer there for him to confide in.
Finally the day arrived and I found myself on a bus headed south to Florida where the Blues and their minor league affiliates work out every spring. The team had extended non-roster invitations to Mark and me, which meant we would be practicing with the major league team, not our friends on the Heat, at least at first.
Everyone handles their first exposure to the major league experience differently. For me, I remember being in awe at just being in the same locker room with major league players. Most of them were pretty nice about the whole thing, pretty welcoming. They treated me as if I belonged, called me by my first name and insisted I do the same with them.
Later, when I returned to working out with the rest of the minor league players, I got to renew my relationships with my friends. Seeing D.W., Brady, and the rest of the guys was awesome, but Grady seemed to be on my case more than usual that spring. Never satisfied with my play, he was pushing me hard all the time and it was only later I realized why.
Finally April arrived and it was time to break camp and head north to Shoreham.
I hadn’t been sure what to do about my living arrangements because no one had told me where I would be playing that year until the very last moment when the Blues had me break camp with the Heat. Like they had mentioned the previous fall, Brady and D.W. had rented a place together and offered to put me up. But I didn’t want to get in the middle of them learning to live together so I was glad when Mark offered to let me stay with him.
It was different now between Mark and me, of course, totally professional; and while it was frustrating not having a sexual outlet, it helped me to focus more on baseball.
We got off to a great start that season, winning our first six games and 21 of our first 26 in April. I was on a tear personally, still hitting an unbelievable .486 on the last day of the month. I was happy with how I was performing and everything seemed to be going fine, at least until the morning Brady approached me on the field while we were getting loose.
“The Skipper wants to see you, Ethan,” is all he said. But he had a look on his face that made me nervous.
Ask anyone who’s ever played ball and you’ll discover soon enough that no player likes to be called in from the field to see the boss. You know something is going to happen, but you don’t have a clue what or whether it will be for better or worse. I had a sinking feeling, but tried to shrug it off.
He just wants to talk about that mistake you made yesterday again, I told myself.
I knocked at Grady’s door and took the grunt that responded as an invitation to enter.
“What’s up, Skipper?” I said, sitting down.
Grady looked over at me and got straight to the point.
“You’ve been reassigned to the Crush,” he said casually, as if he was telling me the sky was blue.
The Columbia Crush was the AA affiliate of the Blues. They played in Columbia, Maryland, which is located 100 miles northwest of Shoreham. It’s about equidistant between Baltimore and Washington although a little closer to Baltimore. Some would say that was symbolically important because they were an affiliate of the Baltimore Blues after all.
I remember taking a deep breath. I had known at some level there was a chance I would be reassigned at some point during the season, either to our high Class A affiliate, the Rockville Royals, or to Columbia. But now it was happening a lot sooner than I had expected and there was a pit in my stomach because I knew what it meant.
It meant picking up and starting all over again somewhere else; somewhere further from Shoreham, further from Rehoboth Beach, further from everyone I loved.
“You know some people say the promotion to AA ball is the hardest of all,” Grady continued. “I don’t know whether I agree . . . .
“When do I have to leave?” I interjected, not wanting to let him get off on a tangent.
“Now,” Grady said. “I thought I would save the team some money and not rent a car for you. I’ve asked D.W. and Brady to drive you over to Mark’s place. Pack enough stuff to last a week. Once you have, they’ll drive you up to Columbia. When they get back from dropping you off, I’ll have Brady pack up the rest of your things so we can get them to you once you know where you’ll be staying.”
“Do I have to leave now, Coach?” I asked. “Isn’t tomorrow soon enough?”
I was pleading, quietly for sure, but definitely pleading. Both of us knew it.
“I mean, I would like to have a little time to say good-bye to Mark, D.W., and the rest of the guys.”
“You can take a few minutes and do that now,” Grady responded, his voice level, his demeanor cool and professional. “But I promised to get you up there by the time they play tonight. I doubt they’ll play you, of course, but it would be good to meet your new teammates and practice with them before the game. In any event, that’s all I have to say for now.”
I remember standing up. I was in shock. Although it was finally beginning to sink in, the whole thing was devastating and I think it must have shown on my face.
I turned and started to head for the door.
“Ethan,” I heard Grady say.
Turning around again, I looked back at him.
“I just want to say it’s been great having you on this team, both from a professional and a personal point of view. You’re a good player, Ethan. If you keep your nose to the grindstone and work really hard, you’re going to make it to the big dance. You’re good enough to do that.”
“More importantly, you’re a good person. I appreciate everything you’ve done for Brady. He was crying when I told him about this just before I sent him off to fetch you and I know he’s going to miss you a lot.”
“Look, I know this is tough, son,” he continued. “Baseball can be a very cruel game at times and this is one of those times. I usually avoid offering a lot of personal advice to players, but I like you, Ethan, so I’ll just say this. True friendship is rare in the minor leagues and it’s going to get worse the higher you go.”
“You need to face up to that. What with all the players coming and going, getting promoted, demoted, traded or released, the lifestyle is a transient one.”
“You won’t have to wait too long before you’ll see one of your new teammates getting tapped on the shoulder by the clubhouse attendant, called into the manager’s office and sent packing. All of them will leave without a job; some will leave with a wife and small kids in tow. Before the fellow is even out of the stadium, that clubhouse attendant will rip his name off the top of what’s been his locker, wad it up, and toss it into the trash.”
“Spare yourself the grief, Ethan. Don’t get too close. No one will admit it straight up, but everyone knows this is a game for people who are ruthlessly competitive, especially people playing the same position like you and Dylan. His success is your failure; his failure or injury is your success. Everyone is vying for a chance at the brass ring. You won’t find anyone looking out for number two.”
“The point is, too much can happen and it can happen quickly. Most guys just give up the ghost and quit at some point. They get reassigned, sometimes up, sometimes down, but everything you try to hold on to gets taken away from you at some point and you have to start all over again.”
“It’s probably best to recognize that and to avoid trying to make any close friendships.”
“And yet, having said that, I want you to know I consider you a friend and I think Brady, D.W., Mark and most of the rest of the guys feel the same way about you.”
“We’ll miss you, Ethan, but you can be sure everyone is proud of you too for taking it to the next level. It gives everyone hope and makes them try harder and trying to be the best you can is what baseball is all about.”
“Good luck, son. I’ll be watching your progress from a distance.”
And then it was over and he looked down and started fiddling with some papers on his desk.
As I walked out of his office I could feel the tears welling up in the back of my eyes and I took a moment to get control of myself before saying my good-byes. It wouldn’t do for the guys to see me crying. And yet I wanted to cry.
Within a couple of hours I would be alone again, without friends or family or anyone I really cared about; alone again and about to start the whole cycle all over again in a strange place that I knew nothing about and cared about even less.
So, yeah, I wanted to cry, but the unspoken rules of the game don’t allow you to do that.
Man up, they tell you; but what does it mean to be a man?
Does it mean not having feelings; not caring about anything except your job; only looking out for yourself?
Is that what being a man is all about?
And if it was, what kind of life was that after all?
[End of Part II]