Out at Home

I was one of those guys born with baseball in my blood. I played the game from the moment I was old enough to wear a glove and it became my one and only passion. I was lucky enough to be good enough to succeed at the game, first in pee wee league, then in little league, followed by Mickey Mantle league, and finally American Legion ball, not to mention playing for the Hillsboro High School Hurricanes.
Growing up in Blue County, I had the extra bonus of the amateur Serguci League which meant I could keep on playing after high school. The league features eight teams playing a 42 game schedule between Memorial Day and Labor Day at historical Beano Field in Hillsboro. I was good enough to make my hometown Beansboro Beansters at age 17, playing as a utility outfielder while still in high school when most of the other guys were college age and above.

The Serguci League is a no thrills league. Beano Field is a former Army Supply depot park from the 1930s and it pretty much looks the same now as it did then. The league doesn't ruin the interior with dozens of advertising billboards, there is no exploding scoreboards or loud music or mascots or promotional giveaways. People pay a buck at the gate to watch a baseball game.

By nineteen, I was the Beansters' starting right fielder, attending Blue County, working for old man Neilson's recycling and salvage company, and dating fellow athlete Amanda Mead, a Green College coed I met at a party. Mandy was attending Green on a basketball scholarship and because we were both jock-minded in our attitudes, we hit it off. Our idea of a good time was working out together, watching television sports in bed nude, and supporting each others' athletic goals and dreams.

By the time I graduated from BCCC, old man Neilson had enough of running his fly by night business so I took over and expanded it with financial help from my father and a few Serguci League investors. I renamed the business 'Mags' Recycling and Removal Service' specializing in collecting recyclables from local businesses and performing various removal services, which usually meant cleaning out people's garages, cellars, and estate sale houses. The business was located in a former gas station and featured a huge back lot of scrap metal, junk cars, and other "collectables". My staff included Mandy, my old high school pal Arky Summers, and a couple of part timers that came and went.

Mandy graduated from Green and we married that summer. We bought a four bedroom semi-run down old house we purchased on the cheap. Mandy landed a job with the Greenville Savings Bank to help with the finances since we weren't sure if my business was going to make it.
Mandy's basketball career was over but she stayed athletically active by joining The Panther's Gym and coaching the Hillsboro Junior High Girl's Basketball team. I kept playing with the Serguci League, becoming an established star (even though the Beansters never competed for the league title) and I loved being able to keep my childhood love alive into my adult life. Mandy was my biggest fan because she knew how much baseball was a part of me. I truly appreciated Mandy's enthusiastic loyally cheering me on from the stands. We usually took a vacation in late September after the Serguci League season to celebrate.
Our daughter Angie was born when I was twenty-four. Annie followed two years later and Abby came along two years after Annie. Life became a balancing act between jobs, family and the Serguci League. Mandy's family lived in New Jersey but my family was local and they helped out a lot as we strived to raise a family and keep the business going. We probably wouldn't have made it without Mandy working a twenty-hour a week six day job at the bank.

Of course you know what happened. Once the kids came along, summers of baseball became complicated. Mandy would show up with Angie in a stroller and just when Angie was old enough to function on her own, along came Annie and then Abby.
Mandy didn't come to the games as often once Abby was born and planning our family routines around the Beansters' schedule became problematic. There was always a game on the holidays (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day) which interfered with family gatherings and other events.
I played at least two games (sometimes as many as four) every weekend and usually a couple during the week too. The longest break between games was three days. Players who played in the Serguci League sacrificed their summers and families had to give up a lot to support the cause. Plenty of guys quit after college or marriage but a core group of die hards like me kept on playing for the love of the game.

I was thirty when Abby was born and that's when Mandy started urging me in earnest to finally give up baseball. As the mother of three whose basketball days were long behind her, Mandy figured it was time for me to call it quits too. The discussions actually began soon after Angie was born but I was never serious about quitting. I was a good player, a team leader, and I loved being a part of the team and the sport.

I had been playing long enough that the saying "maybe next year" really did mean something. The Beansters never won and I wanted to play another year to see if maybe we could. I didn't want to miss out on the thrill of victory if it happened. When I was a kid, the family would take long trips to Iowa to see our grandparents or south to Florida for a vacation. I never slept even when my father drove straight through because I didn't want to miss anything. That's how I felt about playing ball too.

There have been some players who played in the Serguci League who had prior minor (and even major) league experience but very few promote up from the Serguci League into professional ball. We all know that this is the last stop in our baseball life – that we are "the best of the worst" as I heard one player put it one time, but we were still proud about our talents and our abilities. There is pride in being able to play the game right, of being good, and of being able to make the play. I would also be lying if I didn't admit we enjoy the applause, the recognition, and the popularity that comes with playing in the league. We get our name in the paper, we get invited to be guest speakers at local business events, and we get to go on the radio sometimes. It's small town celebrity and a little bit of entertainment.

Arky had left the recyclable and removal business and most of my employees were fellow Serguci League players. A lot of my business referrals came through my Serguci League connections and contacts so I saw my involvement in the league as a win-win proposition.

Yes, it was hard on Mandy with me out of the house so much in the summer, especially with three young kids at home, but my parents and siblings continued to help out and we took a week long vacation during April school vacation week. Sure I felt guilty sometimes but I loved playing baseball and I wasn't ready to give it up no matter how badly Mandy wanted me to walk away from it.
As one of my lame compromises, I promised Mandy that I'd quit if my performance or athleticism dropped below a certain level. I was still a .300 hitter and a fleet footed outfielder in my early thirties so walking away from the game while still playing so well didn't make sense to me.
Mandy bared with it with some frustration and annoyance but as each new season approached or ended, she would ask me if I was ready to give it up. The problem was...I wasn't.

I suppose I was too self-absorbed and focused on baseball to see the warning signs. Mandy stopped coming to the games all together and the girls would only be there if one of my family members brought them. Angie, the oldest, was my biggest booster. She understood the game and loved watching me play. Annie was just as happy to play on the kid's playground area down the left field line and Abby usually stayed home with Mandy or my mother.
Summers became the season of stress, resentment, and detachment at my house. Once Labor Day passed and the season ended, Mandy would slowly climb out of her igloo and stop giving me the cold shoulder and the mutterings under her breath. We would resume our family routine and marriage through the winter and all would be well, capped off by the fun family April vacation.
But then Mandy would start asking if I was going to play as the season approached and when May team workouts started, she would retreat into her protective shell and by the time Opening Day came, we were barely talking again.

Looking back on it, I should have quit. Surely my family and marriage was more important than a boy's game but I truly loved baseball, my teammates, and being part of something special and unique and I honestly couldn't give it up.

By the time I was thirty-five, thirteen years into my marriage, baseball had caused irretrievable damages between Mandy and me. I hit .312 in 38 games the previous summer and in 18 seasons I had a career .324 batting average. But only three guys who were on the team when I started were still playing and two of those guys were pitchers who didn't play every day.
Mandy stopped bothering to ask me if I was quitting and the cold shoulder treatment starter earlier in the pre-season and lasted longer into the post-season. I hit .303 the following season in 36 games and the team finished third, our highest ranking since I joined the team. I was the "old man" of the squad, a seasoned veteran, mentor, and honorary coach who truly made a difference with the younger players. I liked the role and I loved going to Beano Field as much as Mandy hated it.
That winter, as I tried to re-accumulate myself into the family routine, Mandy never seemed to thaw from the previous summer of her discontent. She was out of the house a lot at night, allegedly attending meetings, hanging out with friends, and enjoying "down time". She said it was payback for my being missing in action for three months every summer and I really couldn't argue with her. So instead of fighting about it, I accepted her new game plan and concentrated on being a Dad, making up for lost time in the summer with quality time in the winter. The Recyclable and Removal business was more successful than ever and I was able to schedule my work hours to my advantage in order to spend time with the kids.

Unfortunately, April vacation that year was not a good one. We went to New Jersey to visit Mandy's family and she would disappear for hours at a time. I didn't say much. She was home and if she wanted to visit with old friends, so be it. The girls and I still had a good time despite the tension and awkwardness.

I had seriously given some thought to quitting baseball but I decided that if Mandy was going to be a bitch about it I might as well be a bastard so I suited up once again and played the game with twelve year old Angie my biggest fan. At 36, I was still anchoring right field without a challenge and I was hitting .341 before the August bombshell dropped.
I had gone straight from work to the ball park that evening for the game. Angie didn't show up but I didn't think much of it. We beat the Mudhens 7-3. I went 3-4 with 2 RBI hitting fifth and the win kept us in second place. The Beansters had never been this high in the standings this far into the season in all the years I had played.

I drove home feeling good about the game and season and I saw that the house was unusually dark and quiet when I pulled into the driveway. Nobody was home when I went inside and at first I figured Mandy had taken the girls to Red's Tastee Freeze for a late ice cream. But then I started looking around and noticing that things were missing. Mandy's favorite end tables in the living room. The computer. Most of the DVDs and CDs.
I went upstairs and was horrified to realize that suitcases were gone, dressers and closets were empty, toys were missing, and the bathroom was stripped of all the womanly (and girly) supplies. The family cat Willie was no where to be seen and Annie's hamster Henry was also gone. My stomach feel like somebody had just poured ten pounds of cement into it.

I tried calling Mandy's cell but there was no answer so I sat in the dark waiting for Mandy to call (I had left at least ten voice mails in three hours) but she never did. Finally, at one a.m., a cryptic text message was sent by Angie: "Dad. The sign said RI. Mom said we moved. She's with 'Gary'. What's going on?"
Gary?
I racked my brains for an answer. Gary Robbins the VP at Mandy's bank? Didn't I read something in the paper a few weeks earlier about him landing a new job in Providence Rhode Island? I never bothered to ask Mandy about it even though I knew she was friendly with him and he was a member of the Panther Gym too.

Oh...

Now it all made sense. The disengagement. The lack of concern or interest. The non-communication. The nights out. Did Gary go to New Jersey in April when we were on vacation? I was too stunned to react. I truly couldn't believe Mandy would pack her bags, take the kids, and leave. I didn't realize she could be so cold, cruel, insensitive, or that I had pushed her that far. I knew our relationship was strained but I honestly believed we were in this together for the long haul and that we would weather the (baseball) storm. Now I was out at home.

I searched the house for a note and found it in the cellar where I had my 'I Love Me' baseball shrine with my awards and recognition starting with pee wee league. Mandy had stuffed a wadded letter into the mouth of my Dwight Evans Bobble head doll which listed her complaints, disappointments, frustrations, and sadness while at the same time explaining how happy Gary made her. The affair had been going on for nearly two years and Gary's recent divorce (and job change) was the chance for a new start for the two of them.

I was feeling too guilty and depressed to get angry but I knew I didn't want anything to do with Mandy who had quit on me so drastically. She had chosen someone else and although the betrayal cut deep I had to own up to the reality that I was the one who made her a baseball widow and I had to take some responsibility for want happened to our marriage. My family was enraged by Mandy's actions and I had to talk them out of kidnapping the girls!

I didn't put up much resistance to the state of affairs. For the sake of the children, Mandy and I avoided dramatic ugly scenes. We met at a truck stop outside of Worcester on the turnpike to exchange the kids. I got them for February and April school vacation weeks and one weekend per month, plus one month in the summer. Holidays were negotiated on a case by case basis.

Even though I was out at home and baseball was now the furthest thing from my mind I felt I owed it to the team to show up at the park. Hanging around the quiet and empty childless house was not something I wanted to do. I slept walked through the rest of that fateful season, going 7 for 46 for a paltry .105 clip that dragged my season average down to a career low .295 as the team fell out of contention. Ironically, I wondered if it was time to call it a career, abet a little too late given what had happened to my family.

The split was hardest on the kids but they bounced back and accepted the new reality as best they could. I never bad mouthed their mother in front of them or said mean things about Gary (I tried not to mention him at all) knowing that the girls were living with the guy and deserved a stable home there too. My family was less sympathetic and more outspoken about Mandy and "him" when the girls were around and I found myself playing referee and mediator.

By the time April of the next season rolled around, we had all adjusted to our new routine and when the kids were with me for school vacation week, they told me I should keep playing baseball if I wanted too. With that vote of confidence, I worked out with the team in May. I had to admit that I had lost some of the passion for the game considering I was out at home but I was in the starting line up on opening day. I got off to a good start but I skipped the games on the weekends I had the kids.

The girls were with me for the month of July but my family helped out so I only missed a few games and I was able to balance my work responsibilities too. I played in a career low 30 games that year but I hit .319 even though my power numbers were down. Gone were the triples and homers of the past. Most of my hits were now singles with the occasional double but I was still contributing to the team and as empty as I felt inside about my personal life I still loved the game.

We trudged along as a broken family. I saw the biggest change in Angie who was bitter about the breakup. Annie and Abby seemed to be okay with the new normal (they accepted Gary) but Angie remained loyal to me and she started acting out when she was with her mom and Gary. We had many talks about her behaviors and in time Angie vowed she'd do her best not to cause problems. After a rough spell, Angie settled down and she also remained my biggest fan.

Buck Rogistillo had been a Beanster teammate of mine for ten years and the Beansters' skipper for the past eleven. We were friends and we got along well so there wasn't a lot of drama when he asked me to accept a utility position with the team for the following season. I was 38 years old in my 21st season with the team. I had lost some bat speed and a step in the outfield and there were younger players ready for full time responsibilities. Also, because I was out at home, I had lost some of my enthusiasm too.

I graciously accepted the new role with the team, happy to still be wearing the uniform after so many years. I pinch hit, played some outfield as a reserve, and a little bit at first base, hitting .346 in 52 at bats, my lowest plate appearances since my rookie year. But I still enjoyed the game and I felt positive contributing to the team's success in a limited capacity.

My weekends with the girls were fun and meaningful and the month they spent with me in July included day trips to the public beach at Sun Rise Lake and a three day adventure at Summer's Beach. The business was almost self-sufficient these days and I enjoyed the work. I continued to hire Serguci League players to work for me and my nephew Donny was my right hand man.

During the girls' weekend visit in September, Angie revealed that Gary was sick. He was ten years older than Mandy and he had been diagnosis with a brain tumor. He was scheduled for major surgery and the prognosis was iffy. I had mixed emotions when I learned the news. I certainly didn't want the girls to have to endure a long and lingering illness that would take its toll on everybody and I guess I felt sorry for Mandy who was being forced to watch somebody she loved suffer but it was hard to have too much sympathy for the guy who stole my wife from me.

I hadn't had any direct contact with Mandy since the day she left. Angie made the phone calls when messages needed to be passed along and when we exchanged the kids at the Worcester truck stop, Mandy never got out of the car. A few times, Gary made the drop off or pick up. We'd mutter awkward brief hellos and perhaps pass along necessary information and updates on the kids, but that was about it.

What was I supposed to say to Mandy now? Sorry your wife-stealing lover is sick?

Each time I saw the kids over the winter, they'd give me updates on Gary who had undergone three separate operations, missed a lot of work, lost weight, was bald with "icky" scars on his head, and was acting differently.

"He's not funny anymore," Abby reported.

"He forgets things," Annie added. "He's always tired or sleeping."

"He's kind of goofy in a weird way," Angie agreed.

I took the girls to Myrtle Beach SC in April and we had a great time but the kids seemed worn down by Gary's illness and the stress it placed on their mother. Angie shared that Mandy was "bummed out and sad" most of the time but all I could do was be there for the girls. We talked a lot about serious issues like life and death and illness and loss.

I was 39 entering my 22nd Serguci League season as Memorial Day weekend arrived. There was no reason not to play another year as a utility player but I did miss several games in July when the girls were with me. They told me that Gary had been "stricken" and was not doing well at all.

"Mom said something about Hospice," Angie told me.

I tried to be sympathetic to the situation even though deep down I really didn't give two hoots about Gary or his illness. I worried how the situation was affecting the girls but I didn't think too much about Gary and his problems.

Naturally, I felt guilty when I received a call from Angie in early August informing me that Gary had died. I was torn as to what to do – should I head for Providence and be there for the girls or stay away and respect Mandy's grief and privacy? Angie told me not to come. Grammie and Pops and Uncle Jess and Aunt Michelle from New Jersey were all in town and her mom was doing okay.

The girls visited me in Hillsboro the last weekend in August and they told me their mom was "sad" but the girls themselves seemed to be holding up pretty well and I wondered if Mandy might consider moving back to Blue County so I could be closer to the girls.

The subject had come up more than once in the past, usually the girls telling me they wished they could live with me all the time but I knew it was too soon to broach the topic with Mandy now. I did ask Angie privately if she was still willing to move back and her reply was "now more than ever, Dad."

I hit .400 in just 40 at bats that season, appearing in 23 games in limited duty and missing several games to be with the girls during a difficult summer.

The news from Rhode Island over the winter was not good. Gary was divorced but Mandy and I were only legally separated. I don't know why we never got divorced. I guess I was waiting for Mandy to initiate the process. Apparently, Gary never changed his will after his divorce so his estate (and life insurance policy) went to his ex-wife and two adult children. Mandy was not entitled to any property or assets even though she had lived with Gary for three years. The ex-wife had no sympathy for Mandy who she believed stole her husband from her (just as I believed Gary stole Mandy from me).

I worried that my kids might end up homeless but I needed to remain calm and not panic. I knew Mandy would make sure the kids were okay. Angie would update their status every time I saw the girls or talked with them on the phone. Mandy was "let go" from Gary's bank and she was collecting unemployment and on food stamps. They had moved from their "really nice" house into a rented apartment. The three girls shared a bedroom and their mother was sleeping in the living room couch.

"It's kind of dumpy, Dad," Annie sighed.

My family wanted me to sue for custody of the girls but I couldn't see myself putting Mandy through that given what she was going through. I did write her a letter letting her know I could make sure the kids were safe, secure and happy and that Mandy should let me know if I could help in anyway.

Mandy (through Angie) let me know that she could use a little extra child support and gas money driving the kids to the Worcester truck stop. Angie told me that their mom was working at McDonalds.

In April, I took the kids to Disneyworld and we had the time of our lives although the girls felt bad that their mom couldn't enjoy the fun too. I had to admit I felt guilty picturing Mandy working at McDonalds and living in a dumpy apartment while we were with the Mouse.

"I can't remember the last time I saw Mom smile, Dad," Angie told me.

I truly felt sorry for Mandy. Whatever resentment, bitterness, distrust and anger I harbored against her for leaving me didn't seem all that important anymore. She was going through hell and I didn't want the mother of my three kids to suffer. The man she left me for was dead and what reason did I have to keep hating her?

I wrenched my back in May moving a piano out of some old lady's cellar and that pretty much doomed my 23rd season in the Serguci League. I tried to play through the pain but my swing was affected and I could barely run. Buck mostly used me in blow outs late in meaningless games, usually pinch hitting for the pitcher.

I didn't play at all in July when the girls were with me, hoping rest and some massage therapy might help the back but at 40 years of age maybe I had finally reached the end of the Serguci road.

The girls were practically begging me to let them move in with me, complaining that living in the small apartment was driving them crazy and that they were all miserable, especially their mother. I kept hoping Mandy would come to her senses and I was waiting for her to initiate the move.

My back felt better in August but my play didn't improve much. I was only hitting .200 in 20 at bats, I couldn't get to balls like I once did in the outfield and I made three errors in four appearances at first base. I didn't want to embarrass myself after such a stellar career and I began to seriously considering hanging it up. After everything my family and I had been through these past few years baseball just didn't seem very important anymore. I truly hated being out at home.

The girls came up for their August weekend visit and their morale was low. They were worried about their mother and concerned about me and my baseball career. They insisted that I show up for the two scheduled Beanster games that weekend – a Saturday afternoon double header against the County Crusaders. The girls said they'd come to both games.

Angie was sixteen now, Annie 14, and Abby 12, old enough that they didn't need their grandmother or Aunt accompanying them to Beano Field. I pinch hit for the pitcher in an 8-0 loss in the first game (I struck out) and when Buck realized that my three girls were in the stands, he put me in at first base in the fourth inning of the second game. I went 1-2 with a walk and – more importantly – didn't commit an error! We won the game, 5-3.

I took the girls out for pizza after the long day at the park and I was amazed at how grown up, well behaved and responsible they had become. I missed them when they weren't with me and I wished Mandy would see that they belonged back in Hillsboro. It was really hard letting them go when I dropped them off at the Worcester Truck stop and I almost approached Mandy's car to ask her to come to her senses but I didn't have the guts for a confrontation.

I was slightly surprised when Angie told me during her August weekend visit that she had been "seeing" some seventeen year old kid but I guess I had to accept the reality that my little girl was growing up. Still, I didn't expect them to show up in Hillsboro unannounced on Friday night of Labor Day weekend.

"You two drove up here from Providence!?"

"Don't be mad, Daddy!" Angie pleaded.

Truth be told, I was happy to see her. The car they arrived in looked safe and in condition and the boyfriend looked reasonably responsible.

"Does your mother know you two are here?" I had to ask as the parent.

"Yeah, we had a big fight," Angie admitted.

I decided not to get into that with her.

"Well, it's nice you're here," I said with a smirk. "You can watch me play in my last two games."

"What do you mean?" Angie asked with surprise.

"I'm done, kid," I replied. "It's over. I'm retiring from the Serguci League."

"Oh My God!" Angie exclaimed. "Are you serious?"

"Yep."

'Oh, Daddy," Angie cried, giving me a hug. "I'm so sorry."

"It's time, Ang," I told her.

I took Angie and her boyfriend Jerry out to dinner and the kid seemed to be okay but I made the two of them promise that Jerry would stay in Annie's room all night and not try anything funny with Angie.

"Oh, Dad," an embarrassed Angie groaned but Jerry understood what I was saying.

In the morning, Angie joined me in the kitchen. Jerry was still asleep.

"Promise you won't get mad?" Angie asked.

"Jerry left Annie's room last night," I accused.

"No, Daddy!" She frowned. "I called Mom."

"Oh?"

"I know Annie and Abby would want to see your last games, so they're coming up!" Angie beamed.

"Why would I be mad about that?" I laughed happily.

"Well, Mom's driving them up," Angie explained. "I knew you wouldn't have time to go to Worcester."

"Your mother's coming to Hillsboro?" I asked with surprise.

"Yeah," Angie confirmed. "But she doesn't have anywhere to stay. She can't afford a motel for two nights."

I looked at my oldest for the longest time. "Tell your mother she can stay here," I finally said.

"Oh My God, really!?" An amazed Angie wanted to know.

"Sure, why not?" I fake smiled.

Angie leaped out of her chair and practically knocked me off of mine when she gave me a meaningful hug. "You're the greatest, Dad! I love you!"

"What was the fight about?" I wanted to know. "Jerry?"

"Not really," Angie sighed. "We're all just going nuts down there, that's all. The apartment is a sardine can, we're all on top of each other, Mom's a mess, and it's just a crazy situation."

"Do you still want to come live here?" I dared to ask.

"In a heartbeat, Dad," Angie replied openly. "All three of us."

"What about Jerry?" I tested.

"We're mostly just friends, Dad," Angie assured me. "He'd get over me!"

I laughed and squeezed her hand. "No promises, Angie," I warned.

"I understand," she nodded.

Okay, so maybe I agreed to Mandy staying so I could finally have a show down with her and convince her that the kids needed to be here. Maybe I did it to look good in front of Angie. But I really did want Annie and Abby to watch my final games in a Beansboro Beanster uniform too.

I had purposely not told Buck of my decision to hang it up because I didn't want a big production made out of my retirement. No speeches. No ceremonies. No gifts. No stopping the game. I just wanted to enjoy the experience of playing two more games and then be done with it.

I loved baseball but it had cost me my marriage and a normal family life and there was no point celebrating that sad reality that I had been out at home for years. I loved my girls and I wanted to play one last time for them. I would fondly remember my baseball days and I'm sure I would miss baseball when it was over but all good things must come to an end and life goes on. Hey, baseball is full of clichés so why not use a few here!?

I really didn't think about Mandy coming. I was more focused on the games and the girls and taking my swan song with them in the stands. We had a 1:00 game against the White Sox that day and a 1:00 game on Labor Day against the Sun Rise Lake Lions in my final game.

Angie said Mandy and the girls wouldn't get to Hillsboro until game time and that they would meet her and Jerry at the park. I went ahead on my own to participate in the pre-game warm ups and drills with the team.

Angie and Jerry arrived ten minutes before first pitch and I noticed Annie and Abby walking into the park with their mother during the tape recorded playing of the national anthem.

I really hadn't seen Mandy since she left me, except through the windshield of her car. But there she was, sitting in the stands along the third base line just like she always did back when she was my biggest fan in a previous life before I was out at home.

Mandy's long black hair was streaked with a few gray strands and it was cut shorter than the last time I saw her. She looked thinner and it was obvious that she had been through hell. Her eyes were dark, her face was sunken, and she looked emotionally exhausted. But seeing my 'four girls' sitting in the sun at Beano Field again all together almost reduced me to tears. I was also struck by how much the girls looked like their mother.

"Holy shit!" Buck exclaimed when he noticed Mandy sitting with my three girls in the third inning of our scoreless game. He turned to me with a realization. "So, you're retiring."

I sheepishly nodded yes and some of my teammates looked at me with surprise.

"I can't believe she came back for this," Buck remarked.

"Me either," I admitted.

I pinch hit for Rick Sorrento in the fourth and walked. I played the rest of the game in left field (less ground to cover and the big wall behind me), going 1-3 with a single in our 3-1 loss. Bus Rucchi pinch hit for me in the 9th and struck out with a runner on 2nd to end the game.

"No dog and pony show on Monday," I told Buck after the game. "Just another game."

"Just another game," Buck agreed.

I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say to Mandy but when I got to the bleachers she was already gone. The three girls and Jerry were waiting for me.

"Great game, Dad!" Angie always the cheerleader told me.

"Are you sad, Daddy?" Annie asked.

I laughed in response. "How can I be sad when my three favorite girls are here!?"

"That's true," Abby smiled, giving me a hug.

"Where'd your mother go?" I asked with curiosity.

"She said she'd see us later," Angie shrugged.

There was no point in avoiding the inevitable but I guess Mandy was going to delay it as long as she could. I recognized Mandy's late model Volvo (apparently Gary's ex let her keep that!) in the driveway when we got back to the house (in two cars since Jerry drove Angie).

I was feeling strangely nervous as I entered the house, not certain what I was going to say when I finally saw Mandy face to face again. But she wasn't in the house – she was sitting in one of the lawn chairs in the back yard and I slowly walked out the back door and cautiously approached her.

"Hello, Mags," Mandy said as if we had just seen each other yesterday.

"Hi, Mandy," I replied bravely, trying to act as though we never had any animosity toward each other.

"I didn't think it was appropriate to go into your house when nobody was home," she explained.

"You're welcomed anytime," I said, trying to sound hospitable. "I told the girls I'd make my famous chili after I showered.

"Sounds great," Mandy replied, although there was no excitement in her voice.

"Just make yourself at home, Mandy," I said, realizing just how emotionally spent she really was.

"So, you're really retiring?" She asked, stopping me from leaving for my shower.

"About five years too late," I sighed sadly, glancing at her with true regret.

She may have felt like she was out at our home but really the both of us were out. She looked at me for a long moment but she didn't say anything so I nodded and went into the house to shower. I guess after all this time there really wasn't anything left to say.

Mandy was still sitting outside when I was done freshening up. Abby and Annie helped me make my killer chili and I spent most of my time staring out the kitchen window looking at my (separated) wife sitting half-comatose in the backyard. If she wasn't so out of it, it would have been as if we had stepped into a time warp and gone back four years. We were together as a family again, making chili like the old days.

The kids were like caged animals set free. The house seemed massive compared to their tiny apartment and they were happy to get lost in the rooms, or relax on the front porch watching the traffic go by. A couple of the kids from the neighborhood stopped by to say hello when they realized the girls were visiting.

Jerry and Angie set the table and when the chili had percolated enough we sat down to enjoy the grub. Mandy hadn't come in yet so I sent Annie out to get her.

"She says she's not hungry," Annie announced when she returned to the dining room alone.

I could see the disappointment on the kids' faces so I excused myself and went outside to where Mandy was seated.

"The kids would really love to have you join us," I said cheerfully.

"I don't belong in there," she told me.

"You gotta eat."

"I'm really not hungry, Mags," she said with exasperation.

"You can't stay out here all night," I advised.

"Why not?" She asked sarcastically.

"Look, there's no point torturing yourself," I said. "Come in and sit with us. It will be okay."

Mandy looked at me I wasn't sure if she was going to laugh, cry, or go off on me. But she sighed in resignation and stood looking as tired as she used to after an overtime basketball game when she played all the minutes. She didn't say anything as she followed me into the house but the kids smiled and cheered up when their mother joined us at the table although all she had was a few pieces of corn bread and some carrot sticks.

The kids were full of stories for Jerry, telling him all about Blue County and Hillsboro and how great it was to live here. They had been gone four years but it was as if they had never left. I hoped that was because I was able to offer them a sense of place whenever they visited during the past few years. I was out at home but that didn't mean they had to be all the time.

After we cleaned up from the chili, the kids decided we should have a marathon Monopoly game. Mandy wanted no part of that but the kids talked her into being the banker and we sat around the dining room table most of the night playing competitively. Abby was the first to fold, of course, always making stupid and gullible trades before becoming bored and tired and selling off her assets. Annie had a killer instinct and demonstrated little sympathy for her victims while Angie and Jerry were greatly amused at the entire proceedings. As always, I held my own and was the last man standing against Annie.

Jerry and Angie both went broke and Mandy abandoned her banking role long before that. It was Annie and me fighting it out until the previously imposed midnight deadline arrived and Annie had more money and property than me, so she was declared the winner!

Abby and Annie bunked together in Abby's room while Jerry was quarantined in Annie's room. I forced Mandy to take our former room and I slept on the old couch down in the I Love Me Section of the cellar.

I wasn't thinking about my last baseball game in the Serguci League at all as I lay on the couch in the dark of the sleeping house. I kept thinking about Mandy, amazed that I didn't feel any rancor, anger, resentment, hate or disgust toward her. When I told Angie that her mother could stay at my house I never expected that I would actually feel sorrow and pity for the woman who left me for another man. Maybe I should have felt satisfaction and justification seeing her look so miserable and broken from what had happened to her over the last few years but deep down I knew it was my fault that her life had become so messed up.

If I had simply retired when she asked, Mandy never would have felt compelled to have an affair and run off with a guy who up and died on her. My kids wouldn't have been torn from their home and they wouldn't be living in a dinky little apartment with an unemployed depressed mother. Had the last five years of playing in the Serguci League and my idiotic obsessive love for the game been worth being out at home?

Absolutely not. But it was too late to change what had taken place and now I needed to figure out what I was going to do about the situation. The girls needed to be here, but what could I offer Mandy to convince her that it was the right thing to do? I almost wanted to smile at the thought that we were all back in the same house under one roof again. At least for this night, I wasn't out at home (even if I was sleeping on a couch in the cellar!).

We took Jerry out to experience breakfast at Johnny C's Diner (although Mandy didn't get out of bed). Mandy was still in bed when we came back but it was a nice day so we packed up a picnic lunch and headed for the public beach at Sun Rise Lake for the day. I sent Annie in to the bedroom to see if her mother was interested in joining us but Annie reported that Mandy was "resting" today. Maybe some down time would do her some good so I didn't argue.

It was a great day of laughing, splashing, swimming, and having quality time with my family and I was confused when I realized that I was actually wishing that Mandy had come with us. Was I really willing to forgive her so easily and let go of the painful past just like that?

I was relieved to find that Mandy was out of bed when we got home late in the afternoon. She had even made corn chowder for a light late supper later in the evening which was an encouraging sign but as soon as I walked into the house Mandy retreated to the lawn chair out back and I got the clear signal that she didn't want to be around me. It sort of hurt but I guess I couldn't blame her. I was still out at home.

We cleaned up from swimming and then sat around relaxing until we were hungry enough to have the soup. I sent Annie out to get Mandy who was sitting in the dusk and I was glad when she joined us for the meal.

After cleaning up the dishes, the game of choice for the evening was Scrabble. We played in teams – Annie and Abby vs. Angie and Jerry vs. me. The girls talked Mandy into playing although she played as her own team instead of joining me, but that was okay.

It was a fun night – Angie and Jerry had the superior brain power and won two out of three matches, even though Annie joined Mandy and Abby joined me for the second two rounds!

The kids turned in and Mandy disappeared to her (my) room so I headed downstairs to my couch. I was changing into shorts and a tee shirt to sleep in when I noticed that there was a piece of paper sticking out of the Dwight Evans bobble head doll. It almost looked like a cigar!

Curious, I stepped over to the shelf and pulled the piece of paper out of Dwight's mouth.

"I don't know what to say to you," was all it said, but I recognized Mandy's distinct cursive right away.

I didn't know what to say to her either. But I suppose one of us had to say something sooner or later so I tiptoed my way to the second floor, careful not to disturb the children. The door to Mandy's (my) bedroom was slightly ajar and there was a soft light spilling from behind the door. I gently pushed it open and saw that Mandy was sitting up in bed reading a book.

She seemed surprised to see me in the doorway. She closed her book and set it in her lap while I softly closed the door behind me and stepped into the room. It was an image I never thought I'd see again: Mandy in my bed.

"We haven't done a very good job communicating with each other for a very long time," I said as I was bold enough to sit on the end of the bed at an angle so I could see her.

"No, we haven't," she agreed.

"It feels pretty hard trying to communicate now," I sighed.

"Yes, it does," she agreed again, clearly nervous and uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry I didn't listen to you," I told her. "I wish I had."

"I never had any intention of cheating on you, Mags," Mandy confessed. "It hurts to think about how it all fell apart. I never wanted to hurt your or the kids and I know it's my fault. I made the choice and it cost us everything."

"I made choices of my own," I reminded her.

"I knew from the day I met you how much baseball meant to you," Mandy remarked. "It was unfair of me to expect that would change."

"Well, it should have," I told her. "You and the girls were the only thing that should have mattered."

"I must disgust you." Her voice broke.

"No," I admitted.

"What I did is unforgiveable," she said. "What could I possibly say that would begin to justify what I did?

"Nothing," I concurred. "It's what you can do that will make a difference though."

"What do you mean?" Mandy asked, wiping a tear from her eye.

"All you can do is work on you," I let her know. "It doesn't matter what wrongs you did or how horrible you feel about it. I did wrong too and I feel horrible about it but what's done is done."

"You must hate me," she sighed. "I know I do."

"All of this sucks," I said. "It sucks even more when the kids are involved. I hated what happened. I hated that you cheated. I hated it that I was out at home but the last thing I wanted was to be anywhere near you so I'm glad you left. I was so disgusted by what you chose to do that I couldn't be anywhere near you. I had nothing to say to you."

"I don't blame you," she sighed.

"But it really doesn't matter anymore," I said.

"Of course it does," she argued.

"No, not really," I debated. "I've had a lot of time to think about all this. Plenty of time alone in an empty lonely big old house. Plenty of time with the kids two hours away. I'm remorseful. But all we can do now is make amends. To the kids. To ourselves. To each other."

"What are you saying?" A confused Mandy asked.

"What are you going to do now, Mandy?" I needed to know. "Keep those kids hold up in that little apartment? What are you staying in Rhode Island for?"

"I have nowhere else to go," she sighed. "New Jersey is the last place I want to bring the girls."

"Bring them here," I said.

"You mean give them up to you," she sighed with defeat in her voice. "They're all I have left, Mags."

"You can come back too."

She looked at me with bewilderment. "Yeah, right."

"Seriously," I assured her.

"As if you would ever trust or believe in me again," she sobbed.

"Look, you made your decision and you're living the consequence of that decision," I said. "I know you didn't think the guy was going to die but you've never made yourself out to be the victim either. I know I pushed you away and I take responsibility for my own failures but I really think its time we make a decision for our family's sake."

"What kind of decision?"

"I'm not sure our marriage will survive but I think we owe it to ourselves, our girls, and our past to give it another try," I revealed.

"What?" She was dumbfounded, looking at me as if I was crazy.

"If we don't make it at least we will be able to tell the kids we truly tried to get our acts together," I theorized.

"I can't come back here, Mags," Mandy told me.

"Why not?"

'Well, your family will lynch me for one," she said.

"They'll get over it," I assured her.

"I would never be able to face people," she sighed.

"You've already faced yourself and now you're facing me," I said. "You've already done the hardest part."

"Why would you possibly want to do this after everything I put you through?" She whispered.

"Losing you was the bottom for me," I told her. "I didn't realize how my baseball obsession was affecting you but when you left I experienced how it felt to be out at home and now that baseball is over for me I finally realize that my life is nothing. I want to try to work through our issues and maybe it will help heal some of the pain we've both been suffering through."

"Isn't it too late, Mags?"

"Maybe," I shrugged. "But we won't know unless we try."

"I can't understand why you would be willing to do this," she said.

"Look, you were an asshole for cheating on me but I hold some responsibility in what led up to you looking elsewhere for what you weren't getting here."

"Don't try to rationalize or justify what I did, Mags," she said.

"I'm not," I assured her. "Didn't I just call you an asshole?"

"You did," she confirmed with a frown. "But I guess I deserve it."

"Look, we've had a lot of time and space between us," I said. "I played ball and I ran the business and I tried to be the best Dad I could for the girls. I obviously failed you and for that I apologize. I don't understand why you were willing to flush our family down the toilet but I guess I didn't see the changes in you. I took our love and our marriage for granted and that was my mistake."

"It doesn't excuse mine," she said. "I just can't comprehend why you would take me back after such an act of betrayal."

"Well, we'll have to go to marriage counseling, obviously," I said. "Maybe even family therapy with the kids."

"I cheated on you and gave up my home," she told me. "I let my insecurities go unchecked until I acted upon them and I don't think I can ever make it up to you."

"Just move back," I urged. "For the sake of the kids if nothing else."

"But they have friends and school back there."

"They've told me they'd move back here yesterday if they could," I revealed.

That revelation didn't seem to surprise her. "Let me think about it," Mandy sighed, clutching a pillow to her chest.

"Sure," I agreed. "You think about it."

She peered at me. "Would we even be having this conversation if you weren't quitting ball?" She asked.

"I don't know," I admitted. "But I guess the only thing that matters is we are talking about it."

"I still don't know what I'm supposed to say to you," she confessed with defeated guilt. "I want to cry every time I think about it."

"Why didn't you ever ask for a divorce?" I wanted to know.

"I was waiting for Gary to ask me to marry him," she revealed, looking away, too ashamed to look at me.

"But he never did," I guessed.

"Almost from the start, I knew there was something weird going on," she sighed. "He wouldn't put my name on any of the deeds or documents. I wasn't even on the mortgage for the house. When he got sick I kept asking him if he was going to take care of things and he always said yes, don't worry about it, but then after he died and the lawyer and the executor of the will told me what was going on, I realized that he hadn't done anything to protect me or the girls."

"That wasn't right," I concurred.

"Christ, he knew for a year he was dying," Mandy frowned. "He just didn't want to make a commitment to me even in death. That's what I get for running away with a man who cheated on his own wife. We deserved each other," she said distastefully.

"I'm sorry that happened to you."

"You can't imagine what it feels like being told to leave the house you lived in," Mandy sighed, slipping down into the bed covers and rolling over on her side, her back to me. "That day we moved from the house filled me with such a sense of betrayal. Then I realized how you much have felt when you came home that night and found us gone."

"It was a rotten thing to do," I said, bravely moving up on the bed and lying next to her, sort of spooning her but not really touching her.

"Moving the girls into that apartment was the most humiliating thing I've ever done," Mandy revealed weakly. "But I couldn't face asking you for help. I didn't want to give my parents the satisfaction of admitting I needed assistance. Gary's pals at the bank cut me loose and I couldn't get a job elsewhere because of the economy so I ended up as shift supervisor at the local McDonalds. My life was a mess."

"You can let it all go now," I whispered. "Just go to sleep and forget about everything."

"I'll never forget how foolishly wrong and stupid I was," she sobbed.

I wrapped my hands around her waist and felt her jump. "Don't I repulse you?" She asked.

"No," I said, leaning up above her and turning out the reading lamp, sending the room into darkness. "Go to sleep," I whispered.

In the dark, there was no sense of time or place. It was almost an incredible feeling of nothingness with only the sounds of our breathing and her quiet sobs filling the room. We could have been nineteen again, having just finished watching some sports event naked, or in our twenties, having just conceived one of the three girls and holding each other as we went to sleep. For a moment, I was able to forget about being out at home, forget that my wife cheated on me, forget that I had hurt her terribly, forget that I let baseball ruin my marriage, and forget that I had been a single dad for the past several years. For a moment, in the still darkness of nothingness, Mandy and I were together and I pretended that we always had been.

### ### ###

In the morning, I awoke to find myself still spooning Mandy, my arms wrapped around her waist and it felt good to be sharing a bed with her again. I had a short fling with a young baseball groupie sister of a teammate and a more serious involvement with a professional woman who balked when the responsibility of the three girls hit her in the face, but for the most part my social life had consisted of work and the Serguci League and not much else. I was focused on being a good (single) Dad and I didn't want to bring another woman into their life but that had left me lonely. I hadn't realized how lonely I really was until I felt Mandy's hair itching my face as I lay in the still and quiet morning.

I was so busy thinking about Mandy and how wonderful it felt to be holding her that it completely slipped my mind that this was the last day of my Serguci League career. I lay in bed smelling Mandy and wondering if there was any future for us.

The sounds of the girls getting up began to fill the house. I carefully left the bed without disturbing Mandy and when I opened the door to leave the bedroom I nearly ran into Angie who was coming out of her bedroom. She stared at me with confused disbelief when she realized where I spent the night and she was about to say something when I put my index finger to my lips to signal her to be quiet. Her jaw dropped and for the first time in years I saw a look of hope fill her face. I smiled and headed for the bathroom.

When I arrived downstairs Annie was cooking bacon, eggs, and pancakes and Angie kept giving me knowing looks. Mandy and Jerry were both still sleeping but Abby was a bundle of excitement.

"Daddy! Look!" Abby laughed, handing me the sports section of the Greenville News and Dispatch as I took a seat at the kitchen table.

"Long Time Beano Favorite Ends Career Today" read the headline for Mickey Demrest's column.

Apparently, Buck leaked that I was retiring and Demrest was kind enough to dedicate his column to me, including a mug shot baseball photo taken at the start of this season. Mickey had been covering the Serguci League forever and his opinion and commentary carried a lot of weight so I appreciated the kind words and flattering testimony to my long career, especially him saluting my positive attitude and determined dedication playing for a perennial losing team. Of course that determined dedication was why I was out at home but I guess that was beside the point.

Mandy made a surprise appearance in the kitchen, claiming that the smell of the bacon and eggs was too much to resist which got Annie smiling even more. Abby led Mandy to her seat across from me. Angie threw both of us looks but Mandy didn't give anything away and I knew I needed to play it cool since I really had no idea what was going on anyway. Would Mandy really be able to forget the past and start all over?

The kids chattered about my last game, asking me if I was nervous or sad and I had to honestly state that I was feeling both satisfaction and completeness knowing I had finally reached the end and that I was okay with that.

"Just having you guys here is what is important," I said, throwing Mandy a look.

"Do you remember your first Serguci League game?" Mandy asked.

I was surprised she would even bring it up.

"Pinch ran for Cranky Armano," I replied. "Never forgot the feeling running out onto Beano Field in the middle of the game for the first time," I smiled. "Seems like a lifetime ago now."

"It was a lifetime ago!" Mandy confirmed.

"When's the first time you saw Dad play, Mom?" Angie coaxed.

"I was at Green College," she answered without hesitation. "We had been dating a few months and it was the first game of the season. Your Aunt Lil brought me. Your Dad was the starting right fielder and he told me the night before that he was going to hit a home run for me."

"Did he!?" Annie asked with amazement.

"Almost," I muttered.

Mandy laughed. It was the first time I heard her laugh all weekend. "Your father hit single his first time up and a double the second time up. Then he walked."

"No home run, huh?" Annie sighed.

"Ninth inning, two outs, team's down by four runs," Mandy told them. "Your father hits a rocket shot over the center fielder's head and it goes all the way into the triangle out there. Your dad is flying around the bases for an easy triple but of course he doesn't stop at third – runs right through the coach's stop sign."

"Inside the park homer!" Angie said with excitement.

"Almost," I muttered.

"Your dad was out at home," Mandy smiled.

I couldn't remember the last time I saw her smile like that.

"I really wanted that home run," I smirked. "For you," I added, looking at Mandy.

There was a noticeable moment of quietness as the girls looked at us, amazed that we were having such a friendly and enjoyable conversation after so many years.

"I appreciated the gesture," Mandy smiled and it was all I could do not to leap across the kitchen table and kiss her.

How I wanted to go back to those innocent happy days of youth when she loved watching me play ball and I loved playing for her.

"I got benched the next game for doing that," I recalled with a grin. "But it was worth it."

"Are you going to hit a home run for us today, Daddy?" Abby asked.

"Sorry, Baby, I don't think I have it in me," I said sadly as I put my around her midsection and gave her a hug. "But I promise to play the best game I can and I'll be so happy to be able to do it in front of all of you." I was surprised to feel a lump in my throat. "I want to thank all of you for all the support you've given me over the years letting me play the game." I looked directly at Mandy and added. "I couldn't have done it without you."

The three girls gave me hugs and Mandy stared at me for a long time. It had finally come to this. My baseball life was over.

We cleaned up after breakfast. Jerry finally made an appearance but all he got was a banana! He seemed impressed by Mickey Demrest's column and we spent a few minutes talking about the Serguci League and the quality of play.

"Maybe you could move here and go to Green College or BCCC and play in the league!" Angie teased.

Eventually I went up to the bedroom and put on the maroon Beansboro Beansters uniform for the final time with its pull over shirt top and 'Beansters' written across the chest. I had been wearing #39 for years and was proud to put it on one more time.

"Do you think you'll miss it?"

I looked up from where I was pulling up my sockings sitting on the edge of the bed (that Mandy had made) to see her standing in the doorway.

"No," I answered truthfully. "There are plenty of other things I've missed much more than I'll ever miss baseball."

She nodded. "Well, good luck today," she said. "Enjoy the moment. You only get to say goodbye once."

I stood, feeling like I was about to step into battle for the final time. Like I knew I was about to die on the battlefield. "You coming to the game?"

"Sure," she said. "If you wouldn't mind."

"It would really mean a lot to me," I admitted.

"Okay," she said with a touch of emotion in her voice. "I'll be there to watch you play one last time."

"Thanks."

I smiled gamely and walked past her, my cleats slung over my shoulders. I got a hero's send off as I came down the stairs with the girls cheering and clapping, giving me high fives, and wishing me luck.

For twenty-three years I had driven to Beano Field several times a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day to play the game of baseball. And now I was doing it for the final time. I felt at ease and peaceful as I walked into the ball park for my final appearance as a player. I goofed off and joked around with my teammates while we stretched, did infield, and took batting practice. I wasn't focused on 'the last time' stuff as much as I was just doing what Mandy suggested – enjoying the moment.

As game time grew closer, I noticed that there were a lot of former teammates in the stands, sitting together behind the dugout to cheer me on and that meant a lot to me. Some I hadn't seen in years.

My family came into the park and I realized that they didn't know Mandy was in town and I wondered if I should anticipate some sort of scene but when Mandy and the girls entered, my family were so happy to see the girls that it was almost as if they didn't even realize Mandy was among them!

I was disappointed to discover that I wasn't in the starting line up but I wasn't the kind of guy who was going to complain so I took my seat in the dugout and watched as the Beansters took to the field.

"Where's your left fielder?" Home Plate Umpire Andy Collins asked as he stepped toward the dugout.

"What are you doing sitting in here?" Buck asked me.

I glanced at the line up card on the side of the dugout wall and grinned when I saw that Buck had erased Rick Sorrento's name from the line up and penciled me in. I ran out onto the field alone to a standing ovation and I tipped my hat as I jogged to left field.

Jimmy Cohn the PA guy came over the speaker. "Ladies and Gentlemen, #39, Left fielder Martin "Mags" Magneto. Magneto."

My heart was racing in my chest but I needed to settle down and focus on the game and not think about the reality of the situation.

I had four put outs in the game and an assist cutting a guy down at the plate. I singled in the third, walked in the fifth and lined to center in seventh, each time receiving a warm reception from the fans.

I ran out to left field to start the ninth with us leading, 4-1. The first guy struck out and the second guy popped to short and then I saw Rick Sorrento running out to take my place in the outfield, which meant I had to trot off the field for the final time, to another standing ovation.

Jimmy Cohn the PA guy came over the speaker once again. "Ladies and Gentlemen, in for Left fielder Martin "Mags" Magneto, Rick Sorrento. Sorrento" Cohn paused and then added. "So long, Mags."

I tipped my cap and grinned, making sure to look at my entire family on the third base line, giving them a final wave and blowing them a kiss before I ducked into the dugout. My final batting average for the season: .228

"You okay?" Buck asked as I stood next to him for the (hopefully) final out of the game.

"I'm great," I said truthfully, feeling complete and satisfied, knowing I was leaving with only one regret – that I had been out at home when Mandy left.

Fountain Martino got the final Lion batter to line to second and that was the ball game and my career. I shook hands with Buck but then some of the guys grabbed me and forced me out of the dugout for the final salute. I lifted my cap off my head to acknowledge the cheers farewell, waved to my former teammates behind the dug out (realizing I was now one of them) and then turned to my family across the field, giving them a hand salute. Some of the fans told them to go greet me on the field so I stood near home plate and greeted my three girls, my parents, my sister and brother, some of my nieces and nephews, and finally Mandy who had been standing off to the side watching the embraces and celebrations.

I stepped up to her and gave her a hug. "Thank you for the good times," I whispered in her ear.

"Sorry for the bad ones," she sighed but I felt her hugging me back.

"That's all over."

My parents wanted us all to come to the usual Magneto Labor Day Picnic but Angie worried about driving back to Providence on the final day of the holiday.

"Who said you're going back?" I asked, throwing a glance toward Mandy.

"What do you mean?" Annie asked with confusion.

"Would you girls rather stay here with your father?" Mandy asked.

The three jumped up and down and hugged me and each other and the rest of the family was equally as thrilled to hear the news. Angie was the first to look at her mother.

"But what about you, Mom?" She worried.

"She's staying too," I announced before Mandy could say anything.

"Oh My God!" Angie cried and all four women hugged.

Angie walked Jerry toward the third baseline for a private conversation while my family continued to congratulate me and some sort of awkward peace accord was fashioned between my family and Mandy on the spot. Nobody was about to make a scene or question me.

Jerry headed back to Providence alone while the rest of us headed to my parents house for the late afternoon picnic/retirement party/welcoming home gala. Mandy played it low key while I was the center of attention. Some of my former teammates stopped by to offer their congratulations and it was a great evening with friends and family.

Mandy and I were still doing the awkward slow dance of not really knowing what to say to each other or how to act with one another. Mostly we played the role of Mom and Dad and son and (semi) daughter in law/brother and semi-sister in law as the evening progressed. To their credit, my family was polite and hospitable and I didn't hear any rude comments or impolite insults about Mandy, either to her face or behind her back.

It was nearly ten o'clock when we finally headed "home". We told the girls we would enroll them at Hillsboro High (and junior high) School the next morning. Their mother and I would drive down to Providence later in the week with one of the work vans and load up all their belongings.

The girls were onboard with the move, happy to have their old rooms in their old house back full time again. Angie insisted she and Jerry were "cool" with the turn of events and all three girls said they were looking forward to getting reacquainted with old friends and classmates.

I was pretty sure they were going to be okay with yet another major upheaval in their lives. The jury was still out on Mandy and me. The girls were tired despite their excitement and all three went to bed soon after we got home. I pealed out of my Beanster uniform for the final time and took a shower.

I was wondering where I was sleeping that night when I poked my head into the master bedroom to see Mandy on her side of the bed again, wearing a tee shirt and reading a book.

She glanced up from the pages when she saw me in the doorway.

"Can we really forgive each other?" She wanted to know.

I stepped into the room and closed the door behind me.
"Is there anything left to prove?" I sighed as I stepped toward the bed. "Does it matter anymore that both of us were very, very wrong?"
"I don't know," she admitted.

"Neither of us will ever be totally free if we don't," I said. "Don't we deserve the dignity of forgiveness? Don't we deserve a second chance?"

"Do you remember the first time we made love?" Mandy asked.

"After I got thrown out at home during that show off game," I smiled.

"Do you think we should make love after your last game?" She whispered.

I leaned over and took the book from her hand, tossing it aside. I reached up and turned her light out and then I crawled into bed next to her.

"Yes," I answered. "I think it's a whole new ball game, don't you?"

I was just glad to finally be safe at home for the first time in a long time.