The Kid

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Chapter Eleven

Jason Stiller stood outside a Boston front door that looked very similar to the doors on either side, not to mention across the street, down the way, and all over the city...wondering at the unseen danger shadowing about within.

He didn’t know what he was in for, but one thing he did know--he couldn’t stand out on the front porch for the rest of his life.

Besides, D.G. was supposed to be here too, and maybe somehow at the end of the evening The Kid would have a baseball career again.

That decided him. He was willing to face a lot to again face down major-league pitchers. He raised a hand to knock on the door, but never got the chance, as it swung open.

Francis “Bud” Tripplehorne stood on the other side. The smell of roast beef slipped out to entice Jason further--and The Kid was wearing loafers, so at least nobody was about to tie his shoelaces together.

“Come in, Jason.”

The door shut behind them, taking the aroma of roast beef with it.

* * *

D.G. Muldowney didn’t have much more of an idea of what was going on than his star was Bud Tripplehorne’s stage, and they were all just bit players, himself especially.

But he had noticed how different the first-string pitcher for the Braves had acted since that game, since the official rebuke. Dennis had known Bud for a long time, and the man was not himself, not since...hmph.

It was too much for an old man to decipher. Hopefully somebody would clue him in, or at least prop him in a corner and hang coats on his arms. Just as long as he was useful, D.G. mused.

Bud and Jason walked into the living room, and D.G. stood up to greet his players. “Thanks for having me, Bud. Evening, Jason.”

“Hi, Mr. Muldowney.”

It was at the tip of his tongue almost without thought: Call me Deeg, Kid...

But he couldn’t really say that, not after what he had said before.

If Jason noticed the miscue, he didn’t say anything.

Yes, D.G. thought, just stand me up in a corner, make a lamp out of me or something.

Be easier on everybody.

When the dinner finally got underway, it was not too soon for any of those Boston Braves.

* * *

Jason was surprised, for some reason, to discover that Bud Tripplehorne had a family. A beautiful wife with kind, gentle eyes, and three children--two lovely girls in their mid-teens and a four-year old, missing-his-two-front-teeth scamp of a boy. The adults sat down in the dining room while the children sat arguing peacefully with one another in the breakfast nook. While D.G. chatted with Missy and Bud over a few familiar things--things Jason was left out of--the young man took the opportunity to listen in on Jane, Melanie and Michael. The conversation between the three kept jumping back and forth on different topics, as Jane wanted to know what Melanie thought of some new guy she had met over the summer, Melanie kept trying to get Jane’s opinion of what she should wear at the start of the fall term, and Michael just tried to get anybody to pay attention to him.

Jason listened, and learned something about children, and hoped deep inside that somehow, someday, he would have the joy of being a father.

The hope surprised was nothing he had ever experienced before.

When he next caught Bud’s eye, he commented, “You have a wonderful family, Mr. Tripplehorne.”

Missy, to his right, smiled gently and seemed glad to hear it. Bud, to his left, smiled less gently and rolled his eyes. “First off, Kid, call me Bud.”

“Good luck, Francis,” D.G. dug at his favorite pitcher, “He won’t call you anything but what he wants.”

“We’re trying to make friends tonight, Deeg, and while it’s certainly up to him,” Bud grimaced at Jason and The Kid recognized how difficult all of this civility was for his baseball peer, “I’m trying as hard as I can do come up with a friendship here. And secondly, thanks for the compliment on my family. They’re great kids.” There seemed to be more to that, and Bud picked at his mashed potatoes for several seconds. “But darned if two of ’em aren’t girls, though, and my bouncing firstborn son, he don’t have any truck with baseball neither.”

“Bud!” Somehow Missy looked both freshly upset and also like she had heard this sort of thing a thousand times before.

“I was so happy that you gave me the son I asked for, Missy, all you had to do was let a bit of baseball fire get into him, was that too much to ask?”

Jason looked at D.G., and since his manager was pretty much ignoring the exchange, he tried to as well. It seemed like something should be said, though.

But...if the Tripplehornes knew this script, if they had been through it before, it most likely wasn’t a guest’s place to say anything. Mrs. Tripplehorne began clearing the table, giving her husband exasperated looks.

The object of the argument wandered in from the other room. “Mommy, can I be excused from my table?”

“You’re already up, aren’t you?”

“Well I had to get up to ask you if I could get up...” and the logic of the sentence seemed to get Michael confused.

“Come here, Mike-o, and I’ll excuse you.” Bud reached for his son, and the four year-old wasted no time running to his father and climbing in his lap. “Now then, what does Daddy want you to be more than anything in the world?”

“Baseball player.” The confusion was gone.

“Get your fingers out of your mouth, Michael. You know I want you to play baseball, you know I want to give you my glove and my bat and especially a nice, new baseball--you know how much I’d like to go to a park and watch you send some batter right back to the dugout on three pitches? Hmm?”

Michael put his fingers back in his mouth, speaking around them. “Wanna go the park, Daddy!”

“Not the park down the block, I mean a baseball stadium. Like where Daddy plays? Wouldn’t you like to do that?”

Thinking about it, Michael made a concentrated study of the dining room ceiling. Then he looked seriously at Jason. “I like rocks.”

“Really?” Jason didn’t really know what else to say.

“I do.”

“Go play, Mike-o. No bugging your sisters.”

“Bye, Daddy.” The child slid down to the floor and ran off. His father watched him go and sighed. “Kid has no interest in baseball whatsoever. We finally come up with a boy, and he wants to be a rockhound. That’s life, huh?”

Once again, the one thing Jason really did want to put forth was not something a guest really had the right to say. He looked at his manager, but D.G. didn’t look like anything was wrong.

Maybe it was just him, maybe he was making a lot out of a little. Maybe Bud Tripplehorne was a wonderful father and The Kid didn’t know enough to see it.

Either way he put it aside. “So what was it we were trying to do tonight? I’m glad to meet your family and I sure enjoyed your wife’s cooking, but that wasn’t it, right?”

* * *

“Don’t look at me, kid,” D.G. admitted, “I don’t know anything.” He sure hoped that there was more to the evening than just the meal. Frankly, the next series of baseball games were not ones he wanted to lose, and without the Kid...

Besides which, the older man missed his friend very much. They were living in the same house, still, but couldn’t seem to get past the fence that had gone up between them.

D.G. thought of his wife, who was probably praying for them all just then...and rather than laughing at the idea, or shaking his head at his wife’s foolishness, Dennis G. dredged up several very old and dusty prayers, entreaties that had not seen the light of day in many years.

And even as he did so, he hoped God could forgive an old codger for just wanting things to work out for once.

* * *

Bud looked like he had been thinking for a long time about what he would be saying that night. He screwed up his face in concentration, trying to get the words out right, and it would have been laughable--except that it wasn’t. Perhaps the seriousness of the man, perhaps just what he was trying to say.

Francis Tripplehorne was baring his soul, and it was not a thing to take lightly.

“Look, Jason...I’ve been thinking a lot since you tackled me last week. And when I asked you over here tonight I was thinking mostly of the team, but also of you some too. I hope that somehow we can just put all the stuff behind us and talk as men for awhile, just like we didn’t have any grudges or evil stuff between us, just a couple of baseball players on the same field for once.”

* * *

Jason was touched by the earnest determination in Bud Tripplehorne’s eyes. The man was speaking from his heart, and it was painfully obvious that such revelations did not come easily. The mere courage that it took for the man to open up changed Jason’s heart toward him, made him see the pitcher in a different light.

“I’d like that too, Bud.”

* * *

“First off, then,” the pitcher began as he settled more comfortably into his chair, “I want to apologize to you. I had my reasons for the way I’ve acted in the past few months--and I’ll get into those, too--but in the end, I didn’t act like much of a man. More like a spoiled kid. It wasn’t right, and I’m sorry.”

Jason wasted no time in his answer. “I accept,” he said quietly.

Bud accepted the acceptance with a nod, and then shifted to an utterly different track, which he unknowingly had a habit of doing at times. “You know, my father worked in the Coalwood Springs mine, down in South Carolina, most of his life.

“He loved it, too, which never made a lick of sense to me. Wore him to death, that place did, but somehow it was the best thing of his life to wear the hardhat, turn that little light on, and go down into the darkness.” Bud laughed suddenly. “That light on the helmet, it didn’t do next to nothing against the dark. He took me down one time, and all you could see was little fireflies bobbing around, and a bit of somebody’s face underneath. With tons of rock above.

“Scared me silly. I couldn’t sleep for a week.” Bud realized that he had gotten lost in a memory, and coughed to give himself time to come back to his point. “Anyways, he thought that I should be working in the mine too. He thought that it was good enough for him and so I ought to do it also.

“I didn’t think so. When the boys and I got together to throw a little pickle, I was easily the best at hurling that ball down the alley--and folks said I was pretty good. Not just my friends, mind you, but folks that maybe knew what they were talking about.”

Bud’s fingers traced the edge of the tablecloth while his mind worked back a long ways. “Daddy didn’t take to it, and I didn’t take to his thinking he could run my life, so before I was seventeen I left home, started hitching west.

“I didn’t get that far.”

“You got to Boston.” D.G. was grinning, knowing the story well.

“I got that far, and durned if it wasn’t far enough. I had worked out all the way there, mile after mile, how I was going to go up and impress the first baseball manager I could find, and get a spot on a ballteam, and finally do what I always wanted. And wouldn’t you know it, I showed up for spring training one year, a whole lot of years ago it seems, and did my best fast-talking to Mr. Muldowney here.”

The story was close enough to Jason’s that he wondered, in all seriousness: “He didn’t make you throw five strikes out of seven, did he?”

Both D.G. and Bud barked laughter. “No, I save my really nasty requests for snot-nosed kids like you, Stiller, and Bud wasn’t a punk kid who thought he could rule the world. He was ready to beg, borrow or steal for a chance to be anything on the Braves. I liked that from the start.”

“That’s not the way I remember it.” Bud and D.G. faced off in a friendly way. “I seem to recall you telling me that you had all the worthless men you needed on your ballclub and I should get my tail back home.”

“I would never say a thing like that.”

“I remember it well, Deeg, because you told me the same thing seventeen days in a row.”

“What?” Jason wanted in on this. “You came back every day?”

Bud turned back to his guest. “Every day, Jason, because I was too dumb to know that I didn’t have a chance at being a part of things on the Boston Braves. There was just no possibility in the world, but nobody told me that, I was too much of an idiot to figure it out for myself, and so I basically bugged Mr. Muldowney here until he couldn’t stand it any longer--”

“--and I gave you a job cleaning up after the games just to shut you up!” The two laughed again, while Jason sat there with his mouth open.

Bud saw the look. “Seems a long way from being some fancy pitcher, don’t it?”

“You could say that.”

“More perseverance. I knew that if I just worked on Deeg for enough days in a row, he’d eventually fold.” The pitcher leaned back in his chair, thinking about it. “Though it took a year and a half to finally get a pitching tryout. But I had been practising, my friends on the team had been helping me out secretly, and by the time Deeg was willing to watch me throw, I was ready to show him something.”

* * *

“True enough.” D.G. realized that he hadn’t thought about those days in a long time. Somehow they seemed golden, even though the smart side of his mind remembered that they hadn’t been, either. “You turned up just when I needed you most, and I didn’t even realize it.”

“We do have a lot in common.”

Bud looked away from his manager and D.G. saw the smile fade back into the serious look he had started out with. “We do, Jason. I think we really do.

“I understand why it is that you have to be the best at everything.”

* * *

Was that what this was about? Jason just wanted to be back on the team, he just wanted to play ball again, couldn’t they just shake hands and be done with it?

Apparently not.

“But you’ve proven yourself worthy of being a Brave, kid. That first set of pitches D.G. made me throw at you, that was the best hitting I’ve ever seen in my life--and I’ve seen a lot of baseball.”

Jason wondered what it had cost the man to say that.

* * *

More than The Kid could know, and the conversation was getting more difficult every minute. “I don’t know why I was so mean to you when we first met, Jason, I really don’t. I remember the circumstances,” as did Jason, apparently, by the way The Kid colored and looked away, “but I guess I was just having a bad day, or maybe I was showing off for my buddies.

“You have to admit, it’s not a usual thing for a fan to wander into the clubhouse, and you caught me at a bad time. I didn’t act like a gentleman and I apologize for that, okay?

“As for the way I treated you that afternoon, and the following months, that has a whole different side to it.” Bud leaned back in his chair again, looked out the window at the hills, watching as they began to wrap up in twilight for the evening’s sleep.

Then abruptly he turned back around and said what was on his mind before he could stop himself. “From the first day you stepped up to the plate you’ve scared me to death, kid.”

* * *

Jason was not expecting it and had no reference to understand it. “What?”

Now that he had committed, Bud was apparently going to see it through. He looked straight at Jason and his gaze was almost uncomfortable. “Baseball is the only thing I know, Jason. It’s my entire livelihood, and my entire life.” The host waved a hand around the table. “Baseball paid for this table and this house, and for the food we just ate, and the clothes on my son’s back.

“The sport has been good to me, I’ve been as lucky as anybody I know, and then you came along and you threatened my entire way of life.”

Jason still didn’t understand. “I’m just a hitter. I’m not a pitcher. What threat was I to you?”

* * *

D.G. could not believe how open his old friend was being, and while he knew exactly what was being said, he couldn’t imagine Bud actually letting the truth out.

Even the two of them had never discussed it. It wasn’t something one could discuss.

But it looked like Bud was going to give it his best try. “Only those of the Braves who’ve been around for awhile, like Deeg or Dutch Cattan, only they realize what’s happening--and if I’m lucky I’ve still got some time left before the owner, say, or even worse the fans catch on.”

“Catch on to what?”

* * *

Bud tried as hard as he could, but he could not make his statement while looking The Kid in the eye. Staring at his tablecloth, the man let loose. “Catch on to the fact that I ain’t no great pitcher anymore, Jason.”

* * *

The first thing Jason thought of was the faded baseball card with Bud Tripplehorne’s picture on it that still sat in a worn pile with many others, buried in his sock drawer...and The Kid found his emotions split down the middle.

Part of him, the part that was still Bud Tripplehorne’s truest fan, wanted to immediately argue this.

But Deeg and Cattan weren’t the only ones that had noticed Bud’s fight with age. It was something a pitcher’s truest fan couldn’t help but notice. “You still do okay, Bud.”

Somehow Bud read his mind, and grunted. “You’ve seen it too. I can do okay, sure, but all three of us know that despite D.G.’s bluster, despite all of the foofaraw and applause, I am not about to go out and throw us into a pennant victory...much less a winning World Series.

“In the past decade, when I haven’t been afraid of being shot in the middle of a war I didn’t start, I’ve been back home, terrified that some young hotshot pitcher would come along and blow me out of the water.” Bud’s smile was a wry one. “You don’t even pitch, Stiller, you don’t play defense at all, and yet you’re still my worst fear come true.

“I don’t know how to do anything else, and I can’t pitch forever anyway, and that glory you’ve been getting? The autographs, the cheers, the newspapermen? That’s my glory you’ve walked off with.” The man didn’t look upset, more resigned. “Anyway, that’s why I’ve been treating you like dirt and it was wrong. I see that now. I’m just a washed up ballplayer and I won’t stand in the way of current heroes.

“The team deserves better, and so do you, Stiller.”

And with that, Bud seemed to be finished.

Jason wanted to say something...frankly he wanted to grab Bud by the shoulders and shake him, tell him to look around! See his wonderful children, his beautiful and gracious wife, see the great things he had that he was missing, taking for granted, while he moaned and cried over lost glory.

But he didn’t know how to say it, he didn’t know the man well enough to get his words across...and besides, it was time for his own open-heart surgery.

Jason could feel Mr. Muldowney’s eyes on him, and The Kid knew that if he wanted to be The Kid anymore, he’d better get his troubles straightened out so that the manager of the Braves could trust him again.

The soft brown eyes closed against the world.

This was not going to be easy.

* * *

D.G. saw the resignation on his friend’s face, and knew that finally an answer or two would come.

He only hoped that once it had, that they could all go back to playing baseball, go back to normal, and put this entire mess behind them.

* * *

Resigning himself to the task, Jason’s face was not all that different from Bud’s, though he did not realize it.

No beating around the bush. Now that the dirty laundry was to be aired, might as well get down to it. “My mother died when I was eleven years old. Just over ten years ago. Smallpox came to Gillett Grove--maybe I’ve told you. I forget.

“She was always going around helping people, always wanting to tend to another sick person...then she was sick and there wasn’t a blessed thing we could do about it.

“She died and I never got to say goodbye.” For a moment that revelation stung his mind enough, and he stopped. Nobody tried to put any encouraging words into the silence, the men just let him be for a moment, and for that Jason was grateful. “The thing of it was my father.

“I would’ve sworn that he cared about her. Sure seemed to. But after the funeral, after it was all over, he mourned her for a week, maybe two, and then life went back to normal for him.” Jason hadn’t opened his mouth about that awful summer in a long time, and he wondered how to shape the words correctly. How to get it all out. “Like it was a good thing that had happened, my father kept talking about God’s will, that He had taken His beloved servant home, and after a month you wouldn’t have even known that anything was wrong.

“He was tending his store, greeting the customers, and the world was a wonderful place again.” Jason looked vacantly out the same window Bud had peered through not long before, though now the skies were dark and little could be seen. While his eyes were taken up by the black outside, his mind allowed the blackness of his own heart to rise to the surface.

In the quietest whisper Jason let the words come. “I never forgave him for that.”

Again silence took hold, and the big room echoed with the weight of heavy memories.

The Kid sighed and continued. “So our relationship strained a bit after that. Maybe I mourned her too long, maybe I had too difficult a time letting go, but he seemed so callous, so cruel about it--like I said, I thought he had loved her. Now I knew he hadn’t, either. Mom deserved so much better than my father...” and then Jason shook his head, suddenly, as if pushing ancient demons away, “So I started drifting away from schoolwork, away from the friends I had previously known, and one summer later on--a much better summer than when I was eleven--I discovered that I had something of a talent for baseball.”


D.G. had been watching, and the mention of that holiest of sports had cleared The Kid’s countenance more than a little.

He was glad for it, having never seen such an expression on his friend’s face.

How awful a man had his father been? Dennis remembered how little Jason had liked the patriarch of the Germane family, even from the start, and thought it did not seem so very strange...not now.

Jason went on. “I was good at it right from the start, which didn’t hurt any. If I could play ball, could just imagine how things were someday going to be...even though it was just a borrowed bat and a ball with electrical tape wrapped around it to keep the seams from splitting, when I would hit one out past the drugstore...” a familiar faraway look was in the boy’s eyes, and D.G. knew exactly how he felt. “It didn’t matter that my mother was gone and my father didn’t love me. I didn’t care if nobody loved me.

“I could just dream, for as long as the ball was in the air, dream that I was in the big leagues, that people were cheering me on, that life was somehow perfect.”


Jason caught both men’s eyes in turn, and saw that they understood. But he said it anyway. “I tell ya, every time that the ball disappears and I look down that white line to first base, knowing I can take all the time in the world to make my way back to home plate--everything is right with the world.” Suddenly The Kid laughed, struck by the memory. “The first time I did that, hit a home run I mean, boy it was long ago.

“But I still remember. It was my first game. Almost my first at-bat, and I was so excited, knowing that I’d get to just trot around the bases and wave at everybody, pretend I was a big star, that I got a little crazy, and started doing cartwheels right down the first base line.”

“You’re kidding.”

Jason found a smile to give his manager. “Not a bit. I did about a dozen cartwheels, right down the line, and then got dizzy--I had to just sit on first base for about three minutes until I got my bearings back.” His smile turned into a chuckle, which both of the older men were happy to share.

“But the game waited on me, though. They all had to wait. I had hit a home run, and if I wanted to take fifteen minutes to amble around the bases, I’d do just that.” For a very short moment Jason Stiller was fourteen again, sitting on first base, dizzy and half-sick and utterly ecstatic about being alive.

The moment passed. “Of course Dad didn’t like baseball.

“He wanted me to help him run the store after school, he wanted in the end to hand the store over to me, and didn’t care a whit for baseball.” The smile had quickly disappeared, replaced by something ragged and stony. “We stopped talking to one another more than we had to. I guess I came close to pulling a Tripplehorne, just up and running away, more than a few times.”

“But you never did?” Bud wondered aloud.

“No, I never did. Scared to, maybe. Or too smart.” Across the table his manager gave a short laugh. “I think it was brains that kept me home, ’cause I knew that the chances of just showing up at a big-league or even a minor-league doorstep and getting a job were near impossible.”

“Some of us managed it, Kid.”

“I ain’t as lucky as you, Bud.”

The hero from his baseball card chewed on that one for a moment. “I don’t know about that, Jason. I’ve seen you behind the plate.”

Jason acknowledged this with a nod. “Something my Dad never managed. Never came to a game, not one.” Which hurt, would always and forever be a wound to him. The man hadn’t even bothered to care--Jason would rather have been hated than nothing at all to his father. “Not even when I got into a local garage league with my amazing talents...not even when after firing off letters to every major and minor ballclub in this country, when I got one back from the National League Certified since 1903 Boston Braves, a letter that said Come on down, we’ll give you a tryout, and even paid for my train ticket, did he bother saying that I had done anything good.

“Never acknowledged that he was proud of me. Drove me to the station, told me good luck, waved me we were strangers. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.” Jason tried to remember where the story had been going from the start. Ah, yes. “So I say all that to say this:

“I’m sorry that I’ve been a jerk, sorry that I’ve been running around trying to prove myself to everybody and be the best at everything.

“I’m sorry that I drove a wedge into the Braves. I didn’t mean to.” The Kid looked at his hands, not able to face the men watching him anymore. “I just want people to accept me. If I can be the best at everything...then maybe I’ll be worth something.

“That’s all.”


D.G. thumped a couple of knuckles on the wooden tabletop until Jason looked up at him. “We both understand, Kid.

“I’m no headshrinker, I can’t tell you what you should think about your father or anything. All I know is baseball, and from what we’ve been witness to this evening, I think that you and Mr. Tripplehorne will treat each other as teammates from now on?” There were nods from his players. “And you both will be a part of the team, doing your best for the Braves and not going out for nothing more than personal glory?”

The looks he got then were much more sheepish, but in the end another set of nods were handed over. “Okay. So let’s get out and play some ball tomorrow, huh?”

A look of relief passed over Jason’s face that almost hurt Dennis to see. He hadn’t meant to cause The Kid so much trouble--and in the end, had he done the right thing?

D.G. reflected--not for the first time--how much easier life would have been if he’d become a cook or a baker or a walking-stick-maker instead of what he was, the den mother for a bunch of guys in uniform all trying to work together and separately at the same time.

Well, it was too late to change anything now. He was stuck. But the man grinned when his friend shook his hand and said thanks. “It’s good to have you back, Jason. I’m sorry if I lost my temper last week.”

“I’m sure I had it coming, Mr. Muldowney.”

Not this again! “For crying out loud...Kid, like I said, I’m sorry for yelling at you. Call me Deeg, already, you’ve certainly made it acceptable.”

And then a strange thing happened, or perhaps not so strange...a shadow passed quick as a thought across Jason’s face, and he half-smiled, and said nothing more. Yet somehow the manager of the Braves knew that it was to be Mr. Muldowney for the time being, until...?

Until The Kid himself believed he had earned the right to call his superior by the more familiar name. Until Jason Stiller felt like he belonged.

D.G. said nothing about it, and tried to push it all from his mind. The team was whole again. His star pitcher was mollified, his star hitter was ready to belt a few dozen more and send the whole team up to the Series in October...

Everything was going to be fine.

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