Author's Note: I'm going to finish my other stuff, I swear haha. An old friend and I were chatting and somehow this came up. Moderately autobiographical. Really feel like I'm writing for therapy. Title will make sense eventually.
I have no choice but to inelegantly wipe my forehead with the back of my hand. It's damn hot out. The sun is beating down on us relentlessly and the sweat is forcing my shirt to cling to my back. The plastic seats are comfortable enough but the metal flooring just reflects the horrendous heat back at us. The man next to me offers his kettle corn; I accept without hesitation. Ballpark food has always been my weakness.
He offers me a beer next, and my fingertips have just reached it when the smack of a baseball causes both of us to freeze. We watch as the ball skips right to the shortstop. Effortlessly the throw is made to first base. Muted applauses come from the thousand or so spectators. As the players of the home team shuffle to the dugout, I finally finish the transaction. Armed with a cold beer, I take a heavy swig in a worthless attempt to cool my body down.
"Looks like we didn't miss much," the man next to me says as he settles in his seat. It's the bottom of the first inning and there's no score. I hate missing out, but the tickets were so cheap I couldn't complain. It's the first time I've had the chance to go to a game since I got back to my hometown and I honestly should be more excited.
Baseball is my favorite game. Perhaps it's more than that. For as far back as I could remember the crack of a bat or the pop of a ball and glove echoed in my mind. The one-on-one duel between pitcher and batter; the brief moment when your heart stops before stealing a base; the effortless shuffle of feet as you move for a ground ball… it was more than nostalgia and more than just a game.
Yet, I feel very indifferent. My heart lacks the excited fluttering that has always appeared during games in the past. When the man next to me smiles, I try my best to return it sincerely. This was his idea. It was our first date, and he'd known about my love for baseball for a few weeks before he'd asked me out. I really should be more appreciative. He doesn't even like sports. Why did I say yes, anyway?
I've been on this amazing streak of endless first dates. I'd receive an offer, accept, and find myself utterly bored the entire time. I'd always promise to call them again, but conveniently never had the time. The lack of stability had caused me to move around. For whatever reason, I finally ended up back in my hometown. Everyone around here calls it "the rubber band;" no one ever leaves for good. I was hoping it would be the end of this record streak, but with my level of excitement on this particular date, I have a feeling that won't be the case.
"Alri-ght ladies and gentlemen let's have a little inter-inning fun! Can I get your attention down to the first baseline where…"
I snap my attention to the field.
The on field entertainment for independent league and minor league baseball teams always ranges from intriguing to ridiculous. Often times, it's the only reason spectators even go. For our local independent league team, it was always ridiculous. Yet it wasn't what might await us down there that caused me to focus so intently.
It was that voice.
From my seat behind home plate I try to get a good view of the on field shenanigans through the protective net. I can see a grown man, grown woman, the mascot, and a group of kids playing some odd hula hoop and hopscotch hybrid. The woman is clapping, cheering on the kids; the man has the microphone, and he's yelling at the stands for the fans to cheer the kids along.
There's no possible way for me to confirm my suspicions. The man has his ballcap pulled too low for me to get a good look at him. My focus is solely on him as I try to piece my memories together. Where do I know him? I shouldn't know him. As far as I've heard, I'm the first of our group to stumble back to this dead place.
The on field competition ends and the man mutters, "Well, that was stupid." I'm not sure if he realizes his mic was still on or if he just doesn't care.
My date laughs, "That guy loves his job."
I don't respond. I'm already pushing him aside and hopping down the stairs two at a time. I think he shouts out to me, but I don't hear it. If there's one thing about it, it's that I never let a hunch go to waste. Until I was absolutely convinced I didn't know the man, I wasn't going to let it go.
I bolt alongside the field-level seats, trying to keep an eye on him. He ducks into a reserved area where only maintenance crew members go. There's no way for me to reach him. I'm a solid twenty feet away and there's a nasty chain link fence preventing me from wiggling my way down there. But I'm close enough now. I can see the sharp bridge of his nose, those ears perfectly shaped ears, that unmistakable thin-lipped frown, the way he moves his eyebrows with each word…
I'm surprised I shouted out to him like that. I'm not fourteen. Maybe I'm just excited to see a familiar face.
He keeps chatting with his coworkers. Maybe I was wrong? It's not as though he couldn't hear me. You could hear a child fart with how quite this crowd is. I think to turn away and leave, embarrassed. But just to make sure, I yell again, "Davis!" Still nothing. One more time, then. "Davis!" Nope. Well, if it really is him, there's one easy to way to piss him off. "Dave!"
His eyes shoot up to me. Twenty feet away and I can still feel the daggers he's glaring at me. It doesn't take long for the rest of his body to follow his eyes. A solid thirty seconds past as we merely stare at each other, confirming our mutual existence.
Then, that's it. He turns back to his coworkers to continue the conversation, and I move back to my seat behind home plate. When I return, my date isn't very happy. He asks, "What was that about?" Of course I assure him its nothing.
Except it's not nothing. When the games ends (we lost, but I couldn't care), I place myself outside the entrance and wait. Davis has to leave eventually. I wait with my date for a few minutes before he grows tired of it. He asks if I want a ride – which, he was my ride so if I refuse it's a long walk home – and I turn him down. I think he gets the hint that I'm not interested, because he doesn't even assure we'll talk again.
I'm not sure why I did that. As I watch the last of the fans trickle out, I feel like I've made a mistake. Obviously, Davis wants nothing to do with an old friend. Otherwise, he would've said something, right? I wait apprehensively in that warmth of the night, the heat rising to my skin fast enough I'm sweating again. Nervous sweat - that's the worse.
Finally, the lights are shutting down on the field. It's only a few minutes later before a lone man exits, saying his goodbyes to the remaining workers. I plant myself firmly in the open so he has no choice but to acknowledge me. For the first time in a long time, my heart is racing.
He sees me, adjusts the bag that's slung over his shoulder, and saunters up. I force myself to keep eye contact even if I'm embarrassed. It seems as though he's up to the challenge. A game of chicken commences, and before long we find ourselves nearly stepping on each other's toes.
"That was you. What are you doing at a game by yourself?"
His voice is hoarse from all the yelling he's forced to do with his job. He must know this, because he opens his bag and grabs a bottle of water. While he waits for my answer he chugs. I take this moment to observe him more closely. Yes, it is definitely Davis, those deep brown eyes would never lie. Yet he looks… haggard. There's shadows under his eyes, lines on his forehead, and a bit of uncharacteristic stubble on his chin.
I honestly have no idea what to say. I want to ask, "What are you doing here at all? How the hell did you get a job a mic jockey for an independent sports team? What happened to medical school? To working for a professional team?" Instead, all I can do is answer lamely, "No, I had a date."
He raises a brow, swallows the water noisily, and asks, "Where is he now?"
I feel my cheeks turning red. Embarrassing. I look like I was just left alone outside a ballpark. I want to check his ring finger – out of curiosity more than anything – but I'm too afraid I'll just look even more pathetic if he's married. Shit, at 27, almost everyone else is.
"Wanna go for drinks?"
I'm taken off guard by the question. He seems to already know my answer since he's moved past me and is moving towards the parking lot. Silently, he beckons me with a blind wave over his shoulder. Without thought I follow. He leads me to a beaten up decade old coupe that's seen more miles than possible. There's no need for him to open the passenger door for me, because after all I never opened a door for him, either. He's already seated by the time I open the passenger door, and I have to wait a few seconds for him to clean the seat off.
April 12th, 1998
Calloused hands gripped the wooden bat tighter. It was covered in chips and dents from years of use, hundreds of hours played in those empty fields. A group of eleven kids found a way to make up two uneven teams. Surrounding them were not spectators or bleachers but vineyards and cattle corrals. Base paths were crooked and home plate was a hubcap. To most, it's just a field, but to these kids it's the closest they've been to heaven.
And now the pride of heaven is on the line.
It was the bottom of the ninth, even score. There was a runner near the irrigation well (which acted as second base). Up to the plate was an eight year old girl, in her hands her trusty black and blue bat. Pitching was a tall and lanky nine year old boy, his glasses recently scratched and chipped from a nasty hop the ball took off a rock. There were no signs from the catcher – after all, he can only throw a fastball. There was also no hesitation; he's pitched in tougher spots to tougher folks. With all of his might, the ball was hurled toward the plate.
She swung. The shock of hitting the ball sent vibrations to her fingertips and throughout her entire body. The sweet crack was disturbed when it suddenly went hallow. The bat broke. Pieces went forth, raining down on the young pitcher. No one noticed, not even the boy. All they could do was watch the ball as it flew well beyond their reach. As it sailed over the nearest fences into the horse's pasture, the girl thew her fist into the air.
"Game winning home run!"
Her scream was more of genuine surprise than anything. Irritated the boy kicked the ground, only to find his toe making contact with the splintered barrel of the broken bat. For years he swears he wasn't thinking, as he picked it up and again threw with all his might. His aim was better than before. It struck his target as she was rounding the bases.
March 14th, 2003
They ran into each other in the gymnasium as the two teams shuffled into their respective locker rooms. It was the first time since they've started organized sports that they weren't on the same team. The colors on their uniforms are identical, but the ball they throw isn't the same anymore.
"So, softball, huh?" he asked. It was evident he had no idea how to start the conversation.
"Yeah," she said, her voice equally unsure. She shifted uncomfortably, adjusting the heavy Mizuno bag on her should and tightening her grip on the helmet she holds. Even the helmets were different, hers now fastened with a mask. Somehow, she smiled at him. "So, baseball, huh?"
"Yeah," he said with a laugh. As if it'd be anything else.
"Barnes! Get your ass in the locker room! Clean up!" the baseball coach shouted.
April 30th, 2006
It was just practice, but she played hard. Occasionally she would glance at the wooden bleachers where she could spot him. He didn't play baseball anymore. They were about to be seniors, so he wanted to make sure he's ready for college. "I'm not good enough to go pro, but I figure I could go to med school, become a team doctor or something, you know?" he told her the day he hung up the cleats. She never stopped, though. College was paid for if she could just get that scholarship.
He respected this, so he was at every practice. With his book open he'd divide his attention between her quick moves at shortstop and his studies. She paid back his loyalty by keeping him fed. Between softball equipment and taking him to dinner she didn't have a dime to spare. For a high school kid, it wasn't so bad.
It was a simulated game and a pop fly went uncaught by their centerfielder. As the ball was rushed in, she went to cover second base. Just before the satisfying feeling of ball hitting glove, something else hit her. There were no real thoughts in her mind as she felt the cleats of her teammate dig into her knee, pushing it harshly at an angle it was never meant to bend. A pop inside her joint sent her entire body into an adrenaline rush like she'd never felt.
She'd finish practice, but she wouldn't finish the season.
March 11th, 2007
She sighed, irritated. A glance down at her leg showed the bandages of a surgery recently completed. The baseball field wasn't the same anymore. Crutches made it hard to navigate the small town field. The small pebbles that make up the bleacher area are so unstable. Lawn maintenance barely existed so trucking around in the outfield is a joke.
Still, she had to try. There were a dozen eager faces smiling at her, wanting nothing more than to learn the game she loves so much. Some of the kids have been playing their whole lives while others have never worn a glove. There was much to teach and much to learn.
She gets them going on warming up. Occasionally she had to stop and remind a few how to throw the ball properly, but they're having fun regardless. She would've watched them play catch forever, had a familiar voice not called out, "Hey!"
Waiting near the dugout in a battered grey shirt and grass stained baseball pants was a spectacle-wearing boy. A duffle bag packed full of equipment rested on one shoulder while the other arm waved enthusiastically at her. His smile was wide and genuine. She asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I know you have such a short temper. You'll explode on these poor kids if someone more level-headed isn't there to keep you in line," he said. He was only partially joking. For a moment, both remember the time eight years ago when the roles were quite reversed.
It was odd to be the coach instead of player, but she can't leave this sport. It was odd to be on the same team as him again, but… she doesn't think she can leave this boy, either.