DISCLAIMER: This isn't real, it is not meant to defame or slander, and is
only meant for entertainment. I own nothing. I am protected by the first
amendment.
SUMMARY: Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too. – Greg, age 8

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The pain in his left arm - his pitching arm - flares up again during the second inning; it's been off and on for a few months now. He thought he'd just be able to ignore it, tough through it. But he was mistaken, and the sharp twinge bites into his pitching elbow as he fires off his trademark 12-to-6 curve.

Only, this time, the 12-to-6 curve doesn't curve at all. It hangs over the juicy part of the plate. Luckily, the man at bat takes a wild swing and misses badly, and the count is now full, 3 balls and 2 strikes.

Ramon leaps out of his crouch behind home plate and lifts off his mask, scuffing a foot in the dirt. The retreating sunglight stabs into his eyes, and he squints out to the mound. The sunlight makes it look as if the pitcher is glowing.

The way Michael is shaking out his left elbow does not infuse Ramón with a good deal of confidence, and he sets out.

The pitcher and his battery mate meet on the mound, and Ramón tucks his leather glove under his armpit, slipping his index finger through the belt loop of Michael's pants, engaging him. Forcing him to look at him.

"The elbow?" Ramón asks, quietly, giving a slight tug on the belt loop because Michael isn't quite looking him in the eyes.

Michael's chewing on the leather thong of his glove and kicking up dirt. He seems jittery, maybe even nervous. Ramón's never seen the kid nervous before. "Elbow's fine, Ramón," he lies, and the twinge of pain flares up again, as if to punish him for telling a lie.

Ramón tugs on the belt loop again. "I don't believe that. You gotta tell me if you're hurt so we can save that arm."

"I'll be fine." Michael continues to gnaw on the webbing of his glove and continues to not look Ramón in the face.

And Ramón is worried.

Michael shakes his left elbow out once more, but this time the full ache doesn't go away. It lingers on, like a metal band tightening around his entire arm, but especially his elbow.

Ramón senses the change in his pitcher from confident and cocksure to insecure. Frightened. He motions to the trainer to come out.

Michael flexes his left arm, and winces openly in pain. He grabs onto his elbow. "I thought I could play through it," he murmurs, after the team's trainer and manager join Michael and Ramón at the pitcher's mound.

"What is it now, Michael? The elbow?" the trainer flexes Michael's arm gently.

"Mm hm."

"How long?"

"'Bout two and a half months. Off and on." Michael hisses in pain as the trainer hits a sensitive spot.

"Probably tendonitis," he says, more to the manager than to Michael or Ramón.

"What do you suggest?" Michael asks.

"Pull yourself. It's not worth it risking that arm," the manager says, giving Michael a pat on the ass as he takes the ball from his hand. "Take care of that arm, kid. That's all."

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"Strained ligaments in my pitching elbow. I'll miss about three to four weeks," Michael sighs, tucking the plastic receiver of his cordless phone under his chin. "Got my arm in a splint too. For three weeks, to keep the tendons and shit from tearing or straining any more."

"Oh... Wow... I'm sorry about that, Michael."

"I'll be back for the playoffs though," Michael says, firmly, as if to convince himself more than Carlos. "We'll be ok. Rich is filling in well."

"Ok Michael... Sorry 'bout the arm."

"See ya, Carlos." Michael hangs up the phone and scratches at the skin of his arm under the cast-like thing the doctor had put on his precious arm, to protect the strained muscles, tendons and ligaments the Oakland A's needed dearly to make the post-season.

It's only late August, the dog days, as they like to say. That time of the season when August slowly begins to bleed into September, and you stop being able to tell the difference. These are the times you want to be on the mound. Not in late March and early April, when none of the games mean anything. You want to pitch in August and September, when it actually starts to count.

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Michael watches the next game from the pressbox. He'd give anything right now to be in the dugout right now, with the team behind by two runs, rooting them on.

But he's not. He's in the pressbox in a starched, itchy suit making small talk with reporters.

And the team doesn't win the game.

Michael goes to the clubhouse after the game and the sight of their ace pitcher brings smiles to the faces of his teammates. He gets sympathetic slaps on the back, a couple high-fives. But to Michael, it just doesn't feel the same.

It's only been a couple of weeks and all ready Michael is feeling left out of the clubhouse dynamic. It's only been a couple weeks and Michael can feel his conditioning all ready start to slip away. With every day that he doesn't practice, he can feel it in his body.

It starts in his left shoulder, moves to his left arm, it shakes up his arm and tightens his shoulders. It presses between his shoulder blades. It loosens his groin, shudders into his hamstrings and then into his calves, and then, finally, into his toes.

Then again, it might all just be in his mind, a figment of his overactive imagination. He doesn't know anymore. He's lost the ability to tell the difference.

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Not playing has turned him into a kind of couch potato. He's mastered the art of one-armed Madden 2004, and can quote, line-by-line, the Brady Bunch episode where Marcia falls in love with her married dentist. He's seen it three times on TVLand now, and he's beginning to get sick of precocious, blonde-and-blue-eyed Marcia's silly romantic dilemmas.

Sometimes, Mulder and Huddy stop by to keep his spirits up, but it rarely ever works. Watching the game from his couch is not the same as actually participating in helping your team to victory.

Michael feels left out. He feels like he's on the fringe, on the outside of the A's insular, family-like team.

He misses the feel of the dirt of the pitcher's mound underneath his cleats, the smell of the fresh grass filling his senses, the soothing heat of the sun warming the back of his neck.

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The game is his number one love. The game comes first. Always. And everyone knows that.

But now, he doesn't even have the game to fall back on. He doesn't have that luxury anymore, what with the elbow injury.

It's so frustrating without the game to occupy his time, and his mind. Even if he wasn't pitching that particular game, he still had something to think about. Now, all he thinks about is how he can't be on the mound, or in the dugout.

He doesn't even bother going to the Coliseum. It hurts worse knowing that there's nothing he can do to help the team climb up the win column.

It's hart to keep not playing off of his mind. In fact, he's never really been able to get it off his mind. He thinks about it every waking moment. Thoughts of the game, and how much he misses it, consume his thoughts.

He can't wait until the team activates him and he can finally slip his familiar number 75 over his head, and take to the mound, his second home. He gets butterflies in his stomach thinking about his eventual return, like a rookie, and he hasn't been a rookie since 2000.

It's so silly, really. He knows he shouldn't feel like this, but what can you do?

You just got to roll with it.

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TBC