FINE FORM PRESS
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Copyright © 2016 JT Therrien
Cover Art © 2016 by Fine Form Press
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
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Cover image(s) from Flickr.com creative commons.
Creative Commons License link:
“baseball” original image copyright © 2007 by Sean Winters www.flickr.com/photos/theseanster93/1152356149
Original images modified under Creative Commons license terms by Fine Form Press 2016.
“Legend” first appeared in the short story collection Guppy Soup, Fine Form Press, 2013.
Table of Contents
A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
“I really love baseball,” Kyle proclaimed, lounging on a sea of cool, clean sheets. Sounds of summer, the drone of lawnmowers, the buzz of cicadas, all competed for his attention. A soft breeze puffed out the lace curtains, bringing fresh morning air into a sun-warmed room. The refrigerator motor began its familiar mechanical thrum and manic birds added their own tweeps and churls to the cicadas’ solar-powered revving. A jet plane passed overhead and he listened to it until nature eventually drowned out the whine of fading turbo engines.
Without looking at the clock radio on the nightstand beside his bed, he understood he would soon have to get up.
“When the ball is pitched to me, it looks as huge as a watermelon. The closer it gets, the bigger it is. I don’t think I could miss it even if I swung the bat with my eyes closed,” the ten-year old boasted.
He pursued his boyish summer musings as the sun climbed higher in the sky and a crow’s cawing became more insistent. Even with his love of baseball as impetus, it was an effort to get up on a beautiful morning.
“Love? What does a ten year-old boy know about love?” The older man, the baseball legend, sighed. He ran a hand over his shaved pate, feeling stubble where thick golden hair had once made him look young and invincible, before half of it forsook him, preferring a new life at the bottom of the bathtub to a vainglorious existence on the covers of sports magazines. When drunk enough, he would joke that his ex-wife got half of his hair, too, in the bitterly contested settlement.
“What?” the boy asked.
“You said that you love baseball. You don’t know what that word means. You’re too young and too . . . . You’re just too young.”
“I know what love is!” the boy replied hotly. “Love is that warm feeling deep in my heart. I would die if I couldn’t play ball. It’s the best sport in the world, isn’t it?” Eyes clear as the sky, an anxious moment passed in agony. He bit his lip waiting for an answer.
“Hmm . . .” the legend replied. Under the bed sheets, he flexed his legs and groaned. His knees were already killing him. He’d need lots of Tylenols and whatever else he could get his hands on just to lace up his cleats tonight. Maybe an ice bath would help. His hand felt along the outside of his right thigh, his fingers tracing the long scar: too many stitches to count. Torn right ACL. Twice. The first time, it happened long before they could do non-invasive surgery. The second time, just last year. “I missed forty-eight games last year on the DL. That stands for Disabled List.”
“I know what the DL is!” Kyle replied.
“Yeah. Well, you just think about that word, kid. Dis-abled. It means unable. Not capable of performing. When you get to be my age, you learn all the different words that mean you can’t play.”
“I know, but . . .” the panicked reply. Kyle didn’t like the legend’s words. Not one bit. There was something downright scary about them. Unable to play baseball? Yeah right! That’ll be the day.
“I went two for two last night! I’m the best hitter on the team. Coach Adams says that if my fielding can improve, I can maybe try out for the AA team in St. Catharines when they hold their next team trials in—”
“Shut up, kid. Just. Shut. Up.” What could he tell the boy to make him stop dreaming of this foolishness? Stay in school and get a good education? For what? So he could slave at a minimum wage job, what people so quaintly called a McJob?
The legend closed his eyes to the cicadas’ courtship and the robins’ warbles. If he craned his neck and looked outside he would see the sunlit oak tree covering the lawn with dark shadows. It always reminded him of Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe. His third wife had been into art and she’d taught him everything about art history. Nowadays, he dropped into an art gallery once in a while, MOMA, the Getty in LA, but he didn’t keep up with the newer artists.
The boy continued, his voice an energized whisper. “I hit a single and a home run. Drove in three runs! And I wasn’t even trying all that hard. Coach Adams told me that I’ve got potential.”
“Potential,” the legend spat out the word and shook his head. “Potential. Do you know what potential is? Potential is maybe signing on for twenty and a half million because A-Rod is making twenty-nine. It’s the potential to get the five per-cent bonus for maybe making the All Star Team, potentially getting the extra cash for keeping your batting average above three hundred through to the end of the season.”
The man checked to see if the kid was listening. He was.
“And what happens to you with all that potential? You get to play in so many cities in so many nights that your head spins and you feel like a circus freak wheeled in from one town to another. And why? Just so the crowds can cheer or jeer you, and you get to the point that you don’t give a flying . . . you don’t care what they do because all that adulation, venom and hatred sounds the same by the time it reaches your ears out on the field.”
Kyle listened to the legend’s cruel words. He blinked involuntarily several times and fought back burning tears. “I don’t understand why people would hate me just for playing ball, but I wish you’d stop talking like that. Baseball’s a great game. It’s the only game there is, isn’t it?” Such hope and anticipation riding on that question.
The legend swallowed hard, feeling the familiar burden of the game smother him once again. One more day. He shrugged a shoulder and winced at the white-hot pain. He’d have to have that rotator cuff scoped at the end of the season. “It’s a game, kid. It’s just a game like any other game. There’re winners and there’re losers. You just gotta make sure you’re on the winning team.” He sighed and rubbed his shoulder.
A shadow darkened the legend’s face, festering memories haunting him: getting cut from travelling teams; an ever-growing list of friends and teammates who turned out to be back-stabbers; endlessly drawn-out, emotionally costly and publicly humiliating divorces. He’d seen and lived through it all. Greedy owners taking advantage of amazing players’ talents, and mediocre players doing whatever they could just to keep their spot on the roster. Climbing the ranks, his childhood left on the baseball diamond, through college ball, up to the minors, and finally, after years of traveling, of swatting practice balls, of living away from home and family: arriving in the majors.
But he knew. Behind the glamour of being a pro athlete, it was a dog’s life. The sport turned all men into animals, himself included. He wouldn’t deny it. Never did. He never contested one divorce. His ex-wives were right: he did treat them like dirt. When you didn’t love yourself, how could you ever hope to properly love someone else?
Was it worth it? He wondered, and extended his leg beyond the familiar twinge of pain. Yeah, that felt better.
The legend liked to perform a game-day ritual. He cleared his head and tried to imagine what it might be like to have a normal life away from baseball. What if he had never picked up a baseball bat? Never played the infield? Never even owned a mitt? Nope. He couldn’t do it. He was defined, essentially, down to his very DNA, by baseball. What was he without the game? Easy answer: no one. Nothing. So, he played. And played. And when he got older he began to shave his thinning grey hair, and he still got up for every game, even at forty-two, with two knee surgeries and a bum shoulder. Well-past his prime, but still so much better than a lot of the spoiled younger talent out there.
Kyle opened his eyes and felt the sunlight streaming in through the window. He took a deep breath. And another one, just to feel the muscles in his chest expand. A murderous heat wave had settled over the city. His throat would be parched during the game later.
“Isn’t it worth it?” he repeated aloud, doubt blurring the periphery of his words.
“What? Is what worth it? The money? The women? The travel? The four-star hotels?”
“Playing ball! That’s all I ever cared about. That and hitting another juicy home run like I did yesterday.” Kyle grinned.
The legend laughed, a gravelly rumble issuing from deep within his chest. “Kid, you’re ten years old. You were playing Rookie Ball just two years ago. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You should take up golf. It’s a more civilized sport.” The legend rolled onto his back, tentatively arched the vertebrae. Loud pops disturbed the peace in the room, and the pain returned to the tender area the trainer had worked on for two hours yesterday. He groaned at the reappearance of his constant companion on this seemingly endless road trip: the all-too-familiar ache that had set up residence between his shoulder blades. Every swing of the bat tonight would feel like he was being stabbed with a meat cleaver. “Golf’s more civilized,” he repeated softly.
“Yeah, golf’s okay,” Kyle said. “But it’s nothing compared to baseball. You gotta be too quiet on the golf course. And you can’t chew a big wad of gum! I want to make it to the big leagues when I grow up. I want to face one of those Patrick Corbin hundred-mile-an-hour fastballs and smack it so hard that the cover comes right off,” he giggled. “I want to make great double plays! I just want to play.” The boy’s eyes sparkled as he dreamed of future successes, captured by cameras and featured on late night SportsNet game recaps.
The legend sighed again at the kid’s enthusiasm. It was a sin to harbor so much love and adoration for a sport that churned out mass-market hype and second-rate entertainment that, on most nights, was hardly better than wrestling.
What had Shoeless Joe said after the infamous scandal? He would’ve played for food? The idiot.
So much love . . . for a pastime. That’s what it came down to, wasn’t it? A simple pastime . . . and people believing you owed it to The Game and to The Fans to play your heart out every at bat, that you had to hustle on every fielded ball, a hundred and sixty-two games a year. Was it worth it? Was it really worth it, not being there for your little boy and girl? Constantly wondering who your wife was seeing behind your back? Living out of a suitcase from March to October every year? All the sacrifices you had to make. And for what?
“For what?” Simple answer: Joe Lunch Pail didn’t get forty-thousand people standing on their feet cheering him when he punched out after a night-shift, no matter what kind of incredible job he might have done. No, Joe didn’t get his picture plastered on the cover of every newspaper in North America, no matter what tragedy he averted at work. Those things were reserved for the world’s elite, for the baseball star who homers in the bottom of the ninth inning of the World Series to win it all for the team’s shareholders.
Was it worth it? Of course it was . . . a million times yes, it was worth it! Play for food? Look into the man’s soulful eyes. Shoeless Joe Jackson would’ve played ball for free. You can bet on it.
Kyle sat up in the king-sized bed. Temporarily blinded by the sunshine filtering through the hotel’s white curtains, he swung his aching legs over the side and absently rubbed his knee. A tear rolled down his face and dropped on the sheets gathered in his lap. What city was he in, again? He shrugged and winced at the shoulder pain.
He smiled at the warm recollections triggered by the hot morning sun. Once in a while, not very often anymore, but once in a while he could still dredge up the memory of being the best ten year-old to ever play the game. It all came back in a rush: The smell of fresh-mown grass; the chest-tightening panic when rain showers threatened to cancel a Saturday afternoon game. He could even almost grasp what it felt like to play without pain, and the pure joy of standing at the plate and swinging at a ball that appeared to be as big as a melon.
Once in a while, mostly on sunny game day mornings, the legend could remember being the ten year-old boy who just played the game for fun.
JT Therrien writes fiction in genres ranging from literary to romance, ranging in length from short story to novel. He also writes a series of middle grade fiction about the adventures of Shadow, the black Lab.
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