The Kid

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Chapter Four

The Kid hit three home runs in his next game, and two in the game after that, and there were more autographs, more cheers, more fans, and more people counting numbers--The Kid’s average was at .350 and climbing.

Jason Stiller had figured out how to keep his distance from Bud Tripplehorne, and they had not had any confrontations. For several weeks there was a quiet peace among the Boston Braves, marked only by more games won than lost.

Except for one thundercloud that formed indoors on a rainy afternoon.

Because of the team’s success and also because the gentle spring rain was not very conducive to practicing baseball, D.G. had moved things inside to the clubhouse, and for most of the afternoon there was card playing, fish storytelling, and the general camaraderie of men together.

Near the end of the afternoon, D.G. held a formal meeting about the status of the season, the things the team needed work on, and whatever else was on his mind. Then when he was finished grouching at his players, he brought out a small bag of barley candy.

Every man in the room started paying attention. Jason Stiller had learned along with Ted and Phil, his fellow rookies, about the game the manager of the Braves liked to play with his boys at the end of meetings. The rules were pretty simple.

“Dutch Cattan,” D.G. called, “What’s the name of this here team we’re all trying so hard to win for?”

Chewing on the inside of his cheek, Dutch leaned back and made like he was thinking hard. “Well, now that’d be the Boston Braves, Deeg.”

“Good for you.” He pulled a piece of candy from the bag and tossed it to Dutch, then turned to Bill Pickens. “And what league would those selfsame Boston Braves call home?”

Bill was trying to show David “Mack” McKenzie a card trick, and answered “The National League,” without glancing at his manager. He did look up fast, though, as his candy zipped through the air, and even then he almost fumbled the catch.

A murmur ran around the room--if you caught the candy it was yours, but if it bounced, it was anybody’s. Thus was the game made interesting.

“Lefty? Babe Ruth’s number?”

“He was No. 3, and that number has since been retired.”

“Smart boy.” A toss and a catch. “Conroy?”

Phil looked up from where he was sitting next to Jason. “Yessir?”

“Who invented the curveball?”

“Uh...”

D.G. turned away. “Sammy?”

“Candy Cummings, in 1867.”

“Two pieces for you.” To avoid the struggle of having two catches to make, D.G. handed the reward to its recipient. A few catcalls at Phil’s expense, and the boys were getting into the game.

“Jackson, tell me the difference between the pennant playoffs and the World Series.”

“World Series is best of seven games, playoffs best of five.”

A toss and a catch. “Hey Squints, get your eyes out of that comic book and tell me why there was no World Series in 1918.”

“That would’ve been because of the first World War, Deeg.”

A toss and a catch. “Make sure you don’t ruin your eyes, Squints, and don’t tell me how it comes out.” D.G. turned away, admitting, “I haven’t read that one yet.” Laughter. “Billy, how many years was there a Federal League?”

The Braves’ first baseman held up a hand while he thought for a moment. Then, “Two years, 1914 to 1916.”

“And nobody wept when it folded, neither. Take two pieces, Billy, seeing as how you’re my favorite first baseman.”

“Seeing as how I’m your only first baseman...” he let it go at that and popped both of the barley candies into his mouth.

The bag was starting to empty; while he took a gander at how many pieces remained, D.G. kept up with the questions: “Mr. Star Pitcher, sitting over there by the door so he can get back home to his wife in a hurry,” more laughter, “would you enlighten the group as to where the first professional baseball game of all time was held?”

Bud grinned and opened his mouth, but the answer wasn’t there. He laughed and looked like he was thinking, until a quiet voice from the other side of the room supplied what he needed.

“Hoboken, New Jersey.”

D.G. looked up to see that Jason Stiller had answered his question, and there was some good-natured ribbing in Bud’s direction. Though some of the veteran players were surprised: it was an unwritten rule with the candy game that rookies could answer a direct question, but otherwise they kept their loose change out of things. But nobody said anything, Jason Stiller being somehow much more than the rookie he was...whether any of them liked it or not.

If he had been thinking, the manager of the Braves would have called an end to things then and there, or perhaps made it clear who he wanted to answer his next question, but it had been a long day for Deeg as well. “What year?”

Bud jumped on the question, his mental block cleared up with the fire of jealousy. “1846.” Now it was The Kid who was getting riled.

Again, it would have been an excellent time to be done with games, but once again D.G. wasn’t thinking, and the sudden conflict between the two had the whole room listening. “What day?”

Jason got there first. “19th, July.”

“Name one of the teams?”

“The Knickerbockers.” Bud.

“The other?”

“New York Nine.” The Kid.

Nobody moved in the whole room except D.G., who continued to toss candies in the right directions. When Jason missed a catch that passed over his right shoulder, nobody jumped for it. From opposite sides of the room, the air between Jason and Bud still crackled.

“Final score?”

Bud again. “Twenty-three to seven.”

Now D.G. was starting to understand things and figured he’d better get finished. “Okay, last question, can anybody tell me the interesting thing about that score? That game?”

Jason looked blank. Bud grinned, having the upper hand at long last. “Mind if I take this one, Kid?” He looked at his manager. “The Knickerbockers lost by sixteen runs, even though the game was their idea in the first place, and the New York Nine had to be hired and taught how to play baseball just to give ’em some competition.”

“Fine. Perfect. Here.” D.G. lobbed the bag itself at Tripplehorne, having lost count of who got what anyway. “That’s the end, boys. Go home.” All of a sudden he was very tired.

The meeting dissolved, and though there was scattered snatches of conversation, nobody really knew whether to congratulate Bud or joke at Stiller or what, until Bill Pickens made things worse without thinking, like usual. “Don’t worry, kid,” he clapped Jason’s shoulder, “You can still hit his fastball, can’tcha?”

Most of the players still hanging around saw the look that passed between Jason and Bud Tripplehorne, and The Kid was glad there was an entire room’s space between the two of them. Somebody said “Shut up, Pickens,” and some forced laughter followed and everybody left.

Jason was walking out of the stadium, talking to Phil, when Dutch Cattan caught up from behind, and was as blunt as usual. “What do you think you’re doing, Jason?”

“Can I help you, Mr. Cattan?”

Dutch was not one for playing games. “Yes you can, boy, you can drop this How-Great-I-Art attitude, especially around your teammates.

“Look, kid, you’re a crackerjack hitter. The best we have. This team wouldn’t be the same without you, we all know that and it’s now officially acknowledged. And if you develop rivalries with pitchers, that sort of thing is expected, even encouraged.”

Now they were stopped, all three, just past the exit to the stadium’s parking spaces. “It gives the fans something to watch for, makes the games more interesting. By all means, go make some pitching rivalries.

“But for crying out loud, Jason, would you do us all a favor and pick a pitcher on another team?”

Dutch continued walking, making his way to his car, leaving a surprised rookie centerfielder and a chastened but thoughtful star hitter behind.

* * *

“...That was Mr. Danny Gorman for Quaker Puffed Wheat, ladies and gentlemen, and I must say that if our Mr. Gorman is anything to go by, that cereal just puts the stuffing into a man.” The radio announcer pushed the headphones more firmly over his ears and leaned into the microphone. “This is still WACE in Wakefield, and I remain Donald Warmack, your announcer and fellow sports enthusiast.

“And just like I promised before we went on break, we’ve got a few more minutes here at WACE to talk with our special guest, Mr. Jason Stiller, the man you baseball fans know as “The Kid”, come up from Boston and the Braves to give us a little chat.

“Jason, once again it is marvelous to have you here with WACE today. Why not send out a special hello to the many thousands of your fans that may have just tuned in.”

Across the board that ran the radio functions, standing by the microphone set up for his interview, Jason gave Donald Warmack a nod and leaned into his task, but his special hello to the many thousands of fans that might have just tuned in didn’t actually register on the radio. His mouth moved but only dead air.

Warmack’s mic was still working. “Well, it looks like Jason’s gone a little tongue-tied...no, seriously, folks, I think we have a bit of a problem here in radioland. Bear with us for just a moment...” and the announcer went on for several more seconds of banal chatter while three technicians worked frantically at fixing the problem.

D.G. was watching from outside the studio, and he recognized growing frustration in his star hitter’s eyes. Chuckling quietly to himself, the manager of the Braves recalled that Mr. Stiller hadn’t really wanted to go on the radio in the first place.

Of course, when Robert Germane got what he thought was a good idea into his head...

“Give it another shot, Jason.”

Jason first gave the announcer a very long-suffering smile and then spoke into the microphone again. “Any chance we’re getting somewhere?”

Warmack laughed. “I think now we are, Jason, yes.”

“Well, I’m still enjoying myself here at the station today, and as always I’m happy to say my thanks to anybody listening who shows up to cheer on the Braves.”

“The Braves certainly, but today I’m more excited than I usually get just to have you yourself with us, Jason. I’ve been around for a lot of baseball, seen a lot of games, but when you step up to the plate it’s really something to behold.”

D.G., listening, found himself nodding in agreement. The Kid was something else, that was for sure.

The announcer continued his commendation. “I have to admit that I never got to see the Great Bambino in action, I’ve only viewed the movie reels, but I’ve heard tell that your grace, your obvious love for the game of baseball makes people think of the Babe himself, like George Herman Ruth has come back for a few more games...less maybe a hundred, a hundred-fifty pounds, of course.”

Jason laughed like he was supposed to, although he rolled his eyes at D.G. when Warmack wasn’t looking.

“So we’ve discussed your progress with the Braves, but I’m a little curious as to just where you came from, Jason--I mean, as has been reported in the dailies, you never played in the minor or bush leagues at all. Just how did you come to be a part of this nation’s greatest baseball team?”

“I don’t know if you’re prejudiced or not, Mr. Warmack, but that kind of support we can always use. Actually it is a little strange, how I left Gillett Grove and the state of Iowa to come over to the very accommodating Massachusetts..” here he stumbled, “Uh, Massachusites? Massachusettians?”

Warmack laughed. “If I had any idea what the answer was, I’d tell you, kid. Say Bostonians, if you have to use a term.”

Jason was red-faced and not pleased with himself. “Well, as I was saying, the good people of Massachusetts and especially Boston have been very kind, especially considering the lack of any professional record they had to look at in the first place.”

“So you never played professionally.”

“Not a single game.”

“I don’t imagine you just wandered into the Braves’ spring training and were hired, though.”

“No, not really.” Jason looked up and to the right, thinking about it. “I was a pretty fair player if I do say so myself, but until the turn of this year I had never but played on neighborhood or what we called ‘garage’ league teams, like for the local hardware store. I actually played for Stuckey’s Hardware for several years.”

“Hard to get the talent scouts to show up for games like that?”

The Kid laughed. “I should think so. I sent letters to every ballclub in the major, minor and bush leagues, and I guess that finally a letter got through...because though I never saw a scout or anybody connected with the Braves at any of my garage-league games, this past December I got a letter from Robert Germane himself, asking me to come to spring training.

“He paid my train fare and everything.”

“That’s amazing. And, Jason, I have heard that the day you showed up for training there were a few bumps?”

Now Jason looked right at his manager, and it was D.G.’s turn to be embarrassed. “Well, I hadn’t written or phoned to confirm that anybody wanted me to show up, and apparently Mr. Germane didn’t tell anyone that I would be there, and the only reason Mr. Muldowney, my manager, didn’t throw me out on my keester was because there was a locker with my name on it.

“But he did let me cool my heels on the bench all day.”

D.G. was waiting for Warmack to get into the Five-Hits-Out-Of-Seven-Pitches story that had already become a Boston legend and was fanning outwards; but apparently the radio interview was close to over. “We just have time for one more question, Jason. I doubt it would surprise you to hear that WACE is very much a family station, and for all those families that are listening, the fathers just about to go out to play a little catch with their sons, could you give us just a sentence or two about how your own father did you good, growing up?”

The manager of the Braves had just stood, figuring that they’d be leaving shortly; when he heard the question but heard no answer he looked back into the studio.

Jason Stiller had the strangest look in his eyes. Finally, just as Warmack was about to ask the question again, The Kid blinked and stumbled through his answer. “Uh, that wasn’t a question I was expecting, Mr. Warmack, but I don’t know that I have anything to say. Sorry.”

“You--ah, sure, Jason. Nothing wrong with that--folks, you’ve been listening to Donald Warmack on WACE, and my special guest has been Jason Stiller, the amazing rookie from the Boston Braves. More after this.”

Commercials began and Jason made his goodbyes, getting thanked and asked for an autograph by the announcer. If Warmack had found anything strange about the end of the radio interview, he didn’t mention it.

* * *

D.G. and his Brave had walked the mile from the train station to the radio station for the morning’s interview; they walked back after, and though the older man was trying to make a point with his junior with the walk itself, The Kid either hadn’t noticed that they had walked instead of cabbing it or hadn’t cared.

Either way, he hadn’t asked the question D.G. was ready to answer, but Dennis figured he could always just be blunt if he had to.

As they hoofed it down Main Street, Wakefield in the general direction of the trains, Jason seemed a little preoccupied, but he responded when his manager knocked him in a friendly manager-player way on the left shoulder. “Huh?”

“Were you caught by surprise back there, or what?”

“I don’t understand.”

“When the guy, Whatshisname, the announcer, asked you about your dad.”

Jason looked away.

D.G. tried a little push. “Lord knows my father was the biggest influence that got me into baseball. I figure most players are like that.” When there was still no response, he continued, “How about you, huh?”

Jason spoke clearly and distinctly, obviously not wanting to repeat himself. “My father wouldn’t know a baseball bat from a hole in the ground. I don’t want to talk about him.”

“Huh. Okay.” D.G. figured it was as bad a time as any to bring up his other subject. “Wanted to talk to you about something else anyway, Jason.”

“Sure.” The Kid kept looking at the ground.

D.G. tried to think of how he would breach things, but at least it had nothing to do with fathers. “When you think of star players, the real legends of a baseball team, do you think of the guys that get their own baseball cards, the guys who get the best train berths when the team goes on the road, that sort of thing?”

“Yeah. Although I would look at a guy’s performance first, you know, before I called him a star.”

“Of course. But it’s the performance, the game-winning and clutch playing that make the powers-that-be call someone a star, give him special treatment.”

“Right.” The look he was getting from his player told D.G. that Jason had no idea where he was going.

“Now there’s a player on the other end of the scale, any player really who is hanging out on a ballclub for his very first year.” He wanted Jason to supply the answer.

“Rookies, you mean?”

“Yes,” D.G. was pleased, “That’s exactly what I mean. Rookies. They almost get overlooked--the smallest berths, the smallest lockers, the worst treatment. Because they’re rookies.”

“It isn’t fair, but it’s how things go.”

“Jason, you’re making my point beautifully.”

“Huh?”

D.G. stopped by a dressmaker’s window. Then he stopped looking at his own reflection and actually looked into the shop, and hurriedly started walking again. Jason was still laughing when he caught up. “I said, ‘Huh?’”

“It’s just this, Jason. Some players are rookies and some are major stars.

“I don’t really think even you can pull off being both.”

Finally Jason understood, by the look on his face, and D.G. let him think about it for a few dozen steps.

“Do you understand what I mean, Jason?”

“Of course,” he said softly, “though it really isn’t fair.”

“I know it isn’t fair, but it’s how things go.

“I’m not about to lay down the law for you, son, in this case I think you should make your own decisions. You’re not in trouble, and I certainly ain’t thinking of cutting down on your swing time--you’ve proved yourself amazing behind the plate...

“...in fact, Mr. Stiller, you honestly are the most talented hitter I’ve ever seen. You’ve seen a glimpse of star treatment, granted, but given a year or three I don’t know but you might end up being the greatest baseball player of all time.”

A good minute of silence passed. Dennis G. was mulling over how much that admission had just cost him, as far as emotions and dreams went--but also he realized how true the statement still was.

What Mr. Stiller was thinking about was not indicated or discussed. Finally D.G. continued the conversation. “But you ain’t the greatest yet, and you are definitely a rookie until this year is out, come heaven or high water nothing’ll change that.

“Like I said, it’s going to be your decision, but I certainly hope you feel like maybe pushing Robert Germane’s favors away a little bit, use that star treatment he’s giving you to say No sometimes, like to radio interviews maybe.” The train station hove into view, but there was time before the next ride left. “I’m also not saying that you need to tell folks to get lost when they ask for your autograph, that you shouldn’t wave when people cheer.

“If Brice hit a home run and people cheered, he could do all the waving he wanted. If Conroy gets asked for his autograph, nobody’s going to mind him giving it.

“But where the Braves are concerned, if you go around letting the owner treat you in a way rookies aren’t to be treated, the team starts taking sides. Then it’s not a team anymore.”

Jason spat into the street. “I’m not that fond of Robert Germane. I owe him a great deal, but I don’t think much of him.”

“That’s up to you, Jason, just like how much you let him give you life on a platter.” Dennis thought twice about what sprang to mind, but went ahead and said it. “And another thing, if you maybe show a little humility, take life alongside Brice and Conroy instead of living it up, you might just get Raven’s attention.”

Even expecting a reaction, D.G. was still surprised. All of a sudden, like a lightbulb had gone off in The Kid’s head, Jason went from half-listening, half-thinking-his-own-thoughts to complete and devout attention. “What did you just say?”

“I know, you didn’t expect me to change my mind on that subject. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t.

“But she’s a big girl now, she can make her own decisions. And that night we all went out to dinner, after the game with the Senators, well I dunno, Kid.” D.G. scratched behind his right ear. “You looked pretty good together.” Almost to himself, he continued, “She didn’t look happy, but she looked at least human again. Haven’t seen that in awhile.” Remembering himself, the manager of the Braves continued while fishing for his return ticket. “Just think about it, and try to maybe be more a part of the team and less of a showoff.”

“Ouch.”

“I call ’em like I see ’em, kid. No apologies.”

Jason followed his manager onto the train, and when they had found seats still had a thoughtful look on his face. “How about Kip?”

“Eh?” D.G. had been thinking about Raven again.

“Kip?”

“Kip...oh, that young punk reporter of yours?”

“Yes. He was going to come with the team to New York tomorrow, but I guess I could tell him no. I really don’t have a feel for that, you know?”

“Well I’m flattered that you think my opinion will help.”

“It’s why I asked, Mr. Muldowney.”

“Kid, if you don’t start calling me Deeg I’ll make you sit out a game until you learn better. As for Kip Jumbalaya or whatever his name is, I guess you’re okay if you don’t flaunt him.

“Since he’s your age and according to that first conversation I overheard you’re both more-or-less rookies trying to help each other, I think he’ll be okay. If there’s a problem, let me know and we’ll talk things through.

“But Kid...if Casey O’Malley or Jerome Bertrand wants to do a front-page exclusive, tell ’em to talk to me, okay?”

Jason chuckled. “You have a deal...Mr. Muldowney.”

D.G. cuffed his player upside his head. “Watch yourself, boy.”

“Yessir. By the way, your mention of Raven brought up a question that’s been tickling the back of my mind since I first saw her in the stands.”

“And that is?” The train started with a jolt, and then the two Braves were on their way.

“Did you call her a raccoon?”

D.G. had to think about it for a second, and then a horselaugh erupted from him that surprised them both. “Oh, son, I didn’t know you heard me. I don’t remember saying it out loud, but I used to call Raven my Little Coon.”

Jason didn’t say anything, but there was a quietly pleading sort of look in his eyes that asked to hear more.

D.G. figured if The Kid was going to reach for the moon, at least his manager could try to build him a ladder. He started telling Jason about Raven. At least, the Raven he had once known.

“She used to hang out watching the practices all day long, and one day when she was maybe nine, starting to think about boys and being a lady and all, I’ll never forget...Gary Steinbauer, you’ve never met him but he was a great pitcher, one of the best, he told Raven that if she held this empty milk bottle up to her eye and looked through the bottom, the sun would turn blue.

“So she tries it, and complains that it isn’t working, and Gary says ‘Try the other eye,’ and she does and it still isn’t working, and she gives him back the bottle and walks away, and for almost three hours has no idea why everybody’s chuckling around her.

“Gary had put some soot around the rim of the bottle, you see, and boy, was she mad when she finally saw the circles around her eyes,” D.G. was wiping tears away from his own eyes, laughing at the memory, “And for ages I called her my Little Coon, and it used to get her so worked up...”

* * *

The following Monday, Jason was walking quickly down the main corridor of the stadium, heading for the exit, needing to get onto the bus that was ready to cart all of the Braves to the train, that would in turn get the team to New York. Kip had shown up, everybody was there and all waiting for him--since he had picked up his uniform but forgotten the bag with his street clothes back in the locker room.

As late as he was, however, when her green eyes and that chestnut hair caught at the edge of his view Jason turned and skidded to a stop.

Raven was just leaving her father’s office, and for a long moment both regarded one another silently. Jason realized that she owned at least two outfits--the gray dress he had seen twice had been replaced by a dark navy skirt and a green blouse that matched her eyes. The chestnut locks were held back in a ponytail that the young man found achingly cute.

They both spoke at once.

“My father asked me to find his--” “I have to get to the bus--”

And then silence again, though Jason laughed at himself and even Raven found herself smiling without thinking about it, her fortress unguarded for a brief moment.

He saw the smile and did not waste the opportunity, losing no time being nervous. “You look real nice.”

Suddenly blushing and self-conscious, she looked down at the dress she was wearing and stammered, “I--felt like wearing nice--I mean, something pretty.”

“You succeeded.”

She looked up again, still a bit flushed. “Thank you.”

Now or never...“Raven, we’re on the way to New York, but by Thursday I’m back in town.” No time for a deep breath, just do it, “May I call on you, then?”

She looked a little startled, then a little scared, and then to his dismay the mask came back down. The fortress guard was on duty once more.

Yet her answer surprised him. “Yes.”

He was late and getting later, but held her gaze for another long moment, until her expression softened just a bit, almost imperceptibly, as she waved in the general direction of the bus. “You’d better go.”

“Right.” It was as good as he was going to get, Jason felt certain, but also considered himself lucky. He remembered the bus full of players who were waiting impatiently for him, said, “Sorry to rush off, but I’ll see you,” and turned to go.

He was surprised again when she called after him. “Jason?”

“Yeah? Yes?”

Her eyes met his once again. “I’m looking forward to Thursday.”

Jason’s grin carried him all the way to the bus.

* * *

Swaying with the motion of the train, Phil Brice stopped by his manager’s room to check the postings for who would be sharing what berth. His own placement with Ted Conroy in the rear of the train, over the wheels, was completely expected by the rookie--but Jason Stiller...

In his infinite wisdom, Robert Germane had assigned Jason Stiller to share the best berth on the train with Bud Tripplehorne.

His eyes wide and his mind spinning with the confrontation that was sure to come as soon as Bud read the manifest, Phil moved fast through the chatting and card-playing Braves, hoping to find his friend before Bud did.

* * *

“You didn’t have any professional experience?”

Jason leaned back in the seat and sighed, feeling the vibrations; the berth he was in was next to Conroy and Brice’s, and they had been right--the ones over the wheels were terrible. “I’ve heard that question before.”

“C’mon, I’m not complaining,” Kip wheedled, “I’m just trying to understand. It’s a great mystery to everybody.”

“To me too, Kip. No, to answer your question, I never played anywhere professionally before my first game with the Boston Braves.”

Kip sat back in his own seat, pushing the hair out of his freckled face. “Just those garbage games.”

“Garage, and watch it--I could always go find a real writer.”

“Ack!” Kip made like Jason had shot him through the heart. He fell back against the seat, his eyes shut. But he was still a reporter. “Tell me about those games before my death, huh?”

Laughing as well as shaking his head, Jason looked out the window and thought about it. “The garage games were just extensions of neighborhood ball, I guess. Somebody had a little extra money and nothing better to do, and found enough of us guys to form two teams, and we’d play. The only real differences between any game in a vacant lot and the garage league was that there was enough money for extra baseballs and extra light, for the occasional night game--and steady fans.

“Tell the truth, Kip, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Baseball is baseball, and a hit off of Lenny Bruce of the Knicks feels just as good as a hit off Andy Sweeney back in Gillett Grove...but then you had twenty people watching.

“Now I’ve got thousands. Maybe it shouldn’t make as much of a difference as it does, but still--a lot more people think I’m something special.” He looked away from the swooping telephone lines and back at his friend. “A lot more people like me.”

Kip was nodding. “I can understand that. I used to write for my high-school newspaper.”

“Uh-huh. Well,” and everything else he planned to say was abruptly swallowed as Phil Brice burst in the door.

“Jason!”

Alarmed by the look on his fellow rookie’s face, Jason jumped to his feet and Kip was right beside him. “What’s going on?”

“It’s about the berths--Bud Tripplehorne--Robert Germane--you gotta leave, or run, or something!”

Jason understood and immediately his shoulders relaxed. “Is that all?”

“But--”

“Phil, where could I run to on a train? Thanks for being worried, I appreciate it, but it won’t be a problem.”

Francis “Bud” Tripplehorne apparently thought it was a problem, as suddenly he burst onto the scene, banging the door against the wall and pushing past Brice without a thought, until he had backed the star hitter against a corner and all Jason’s perception was a thick finger pointed at his nose and very dark and angry eyes behind that. “I have had enough of you, boy! This has gone far enough!”

Jason didn’t move, but tried to calm the furious man down with a quiet word. “Bud.”

“I’m tellin’ ya right here and now, there is no room on this team for fatheaded, know-nothing, freeloading, gold-digging mama’s boys, and there is no way in Hades that you are sleeping anywhere near the middle of this train car tonight, you hear me?”

If the reference to his mother--or any of the other insults--hurt Jason’s feelings, he didn’t show it. “Bud,” he tried again quietly.

“Not even in the aisle, not even on the roof, I will throw you right off of this train before I see you sitting nice and pretty in a bunk reserved for a real team-member. You’ve proven that you can hit a ball or two but by God you’re still a rookie, boy, you hear me? You waltz around acting like the greatest thing since cherry fizz and I’m sick of it!

“I was fighting Japs when you were in middle school, Kid, and whether or not anybody ever told you to respect your elders you are going to pay attention now--and you will get rookie treatment just like the others or so help me I’ll thrash you good. I have had enough!”

“Bud.” Another try. Just as quietly.

Tripplehorne looked like he was casting about for more insults and decided to let the kid speak, just to have something to work with. “What?”

Calmly, Jason continued. “I agree with you.”

“Say what, boy?” The eyes were still angry but the pointing finger had been recalled.

“You’re absolutely right. I’ve been given favors I haven’t earned, and I haven’t been acting the way I’m supposed to. I’m sorry.

“I saw the list on Mr. Muldowney’s door and I don’t know why Mr. Germane put us together, but it wasn’t right, so I asked our manager if I could switch with Bill Pickens. I’m sleeping back here with Kip, and Pickens is in with you.”

Bud Tripplehorne had been brought up short, but with such humble words had nothing to rail against. “You’re in here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Pickens is in with me?”

“Yes, sir.”

The big pitcher didn’t look too excited at the switch, but he couldn’t really complain about not getting what he was after. “Well...” he seemed at a loss for words, “Fine then. Watch yourself, kid. Keep your nose clean and stay out of my way.” The big man turned and left, much more subdued than when he had entered.

Jason let out the breath he had been holding and sat back down. Phil looked amazed. “I guess you had things under control after all.”

“Soft answers turn away wrath, and all that.”

Kip laughed, letting his own tension go. “I didn’t figure you for a Biblical scholar. Does that mean you’re a God-fearing man, Jason, as well as a wise one?”

The Kid closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. “God and I have an understanding.” He left it at that.

Since the crisis had been diverted but his friend looked a little worn out by it, Kip turned to Phil Brice and asked him a few questions just to pass the time, in case the rookie centerfielder had some good stuff for his newspaper.

Jason found himself left alone, and enjoyed the few moments of peace. Idly watching out the window, his eyes following the lines between telephone poles as they swooped down and up, down and up again, there were two sentences that alternately ran through his head. Neither was from Bud Tripplehorne.

“Given a year or three...I don’t know but you might end up being the greatest baseball player of all time.”

“...I’m looking forward to Thursday.”

Jason Stiller’s eyes drifted with telephone wires, but his mind saw a packed stadium with thousands and thousands of cheering fans...heard the distinctive crack! of a wooden bat belting the stuffing out of a white horsehide ball...and saw himself rounding third base, trotting towards home, no hurry about it...looking straight into the deepest green eyes he had ever seen, eyes watching adoringly from the first row.

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