Everything went white.
Comebacker, sounds like something desirable, something loyal.
Loyal, sure, that ball he so loved, that he caressed in his palms and kissed, gently, when he held the glove to his face for the sign. Yeah, well, it came back to him.
Had he not loved it enough? Had he teased it, tried to break its skin? Was it only getting even? Had he not loved it enough, the game, the moment, so pissed about coming out of the pen, him better than that, wanting more, and more, failing to feel what the game had given him already?
Greatness never comes with contentedness. He had discontent down; was working on the other stuff. He was better than theyíd labeled him. Heíd show them, heíd show them all: Not just the other guys either; his own.
Everything went white.
Finally theyíre around him. He canít open his eyes without blindness flooding in, like everything he sees is perfectly aligned with rush hour sun. If he squints he sees their shadows hanging back like heís some kind of broken down car. Heís waiting to be kicked, tested.
What took them so long to get here? Was he out? Is he out now? He canít see. Would this have happened if he was starting like he should have been? Should have been, fuck. Youíll never ever be good enough. Thatís why heís discontent; itís true. The best guy in his high school, but only the last two years. He wasnít the kind of guy who was great as a freshman, you hear those stories around here all the time, best at every level. He was the best when the other best graduated. Then he lost at State two years in a row. His dad told him Thereís always someone better. Was that meant to comfort him? His dad was awkward with his sonís success, ashamed somehow when he should have been proud. Maybe it was loyalty - momís his ex. His little half-brothers are great at math but canít throw a ball across a room. Dad shows up at State. Comes back. Like heís loyal or something. First game heíd seen all year.
Scholarship to a Division I school, still not the best but itís a solid program. Lefty, works hard. Drafted at 19. The 50,000 dollar bonus seemed like all the money in the world. He put half of it away, still had half until last year when he gave 7000 of it to his sister at her wedding. She looked at him like sheíd wished it was more; like it should have been. Sheíll ask him for more later on.
He worked hard. Pretended to hate the buses but he loved where they took him. Small town kids have his autograph. Slept with a farmerís daughter in A ball outside Des Moines, something she wouldnít even give her boyfriend.
At 23 he was invited to Spring Training and pitched great for a couple of weeks before they sent him down. He swallowed pride and fury and dominated the Southern League even though his team sucked, relievers screwing him, hitters choking, shit. He got called up in September, two goes out of the pen and one spot start in a make-up double header when both teams were out of contention. He wonít admit he was overwhelmed; says he didnít have his best stuff, arm worn out. Tells himself itís from carrying his shit team all season. Atlas at least had his shoulder.
At 24 he has a brilliant spring but is sent back down to the minors. Takes him a couple of weeks to rebound from that kind of disrespect, but he gets hot. Really hot. Gets called up when Starter #5 goes down but where do they put him? The bullpen. And heís great there, long relief for the turd that got the starts. Two runs over ten innings in just over two weeks. Then they sent him down again when Shithead #5 came off the DL.
Back to AAA. Itís August. Heís 25. Doesnít make the transition. Assigned to the pen there too. Limps to the end, now heís the guy the starters hate. Limps to end. Gets called up in September anyway. Comes out of the bullpen twice, does okay, wishes heíd get traded.
Heís 25. Itís said a married guy gets priority, gets called up that much faster. A bunch of his teammates are married, have kids even. He doesnít see it getting them anywhere any faster except maybe broke. Heís not broke; heís careful. But heís also superstitious. Wound up married that winter. Sheís pretty, has friends to keep her busy. Wants a baby so screws him all the time. It occurs to him he doesnít really know that much about her beyond her body. But why wouldnít that be enough?
Heís 26 before he gets his next call up, two new teams between it and his last one Ė wishes do come true. Signed a minor deal then takes the bump, feels rich. Has a kid, a house, a wife and women. Itís a good year. Solid long relief. Press calls for him to start, he gets two: Spot starts, goes deep, wins both.
At 27 heís officially a major leaguer. Just in time, his wifeís mother gets the idea of coaching opportunities into her head. Heís nowhere near that. Heís good, heís sound. Heís nearly a millionaire.
He gets his first regular start before his 28th birthday and finishes the season 6-3. Would have been 8-1 if his team helped out at all, stupid bunch of butter fingers, flaccid relievers. Kids. He plays with a bunch of little children, pizza eaters listening to shit kid music. Heís better than them. He knows it, so do they.
Heís traded, this time to a contender. He was good last year, heís better this one but they have him back in the bullpen. Shit. He gulps down fury but that pride keeps coming up on him. It burns his throat. He sits alone on the bench, the bus, the plane. He eats alone. Itís a thin line between plotting and focus.
But focus wasnít the issue when that
ball came back at him. It was speed, pure speed. And there he was on the ground,
too stunned to have a good idea of what might have happened or what the
ramifications might be. His eyes are tearing too hard to see anything. He feels
dirt in his lips, his face is all wet. Heís not sure which way heís lying but
then a hand burrows under his head. He can feel it moving dirt to get there,
determined fingers bearing the weight of his skull like his own on the seams of
a fastball, rocking his head just a little, or maybe itís throbbing. He hears
whispers, or something like singing. Itís in Spanish. A second hand is wiping
his cheek. Itís so gentle, like he should have stroked his baby when he could
have, she was so small. Itís in her baby honor heís crying, thatís all, an ode
to his little girl. Someone else puts a hand on his chest, keeps him from
All this in an instant. All this, before the stretcher comes.
That was eleven months ago. Eleven
and a half. Eleven and thirteen days. He is 30 years old. He doesnít mind being
in the minors. He doesnít mind coming out of the bullpen. This is the first time
in nearly a year heís on the mound with an audience of more than six or seven.
Itís the first time in nearly a year heís on the mound in a game. Itís the first
time he ever remembers hearing the sound of the crowd. Heís lied about the
headaches but he feels fine right now, just fine. He slows his breath. Heís not
scared at all of the ball coming back to him. Heís only scared that it wonít.