The Kid

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Chapter Five

Boston Tribune

column copy, KG

Editor-in-Chief, RY

The Look of a Legend

by Kip Gumbo

You wouldn’t think much of Jason Stiller upon first glance. At not-quite-twenty-one years old, Jason looks like a quiet, well-raised young man, a shining example of good schooling and country living. Not a legend, though.

Except when you realize that Jason Stiller, a.k.a. “The Kid,” has claimed the most home runs so far this baseball season, when you factor in the batting average that started off high and keeps climbing, when you go out and just take a look at The Kid in action...

He doesn’t look like much, in the dugout. He doesn’t even look like much walking up to the plate. There’s no bulging muscles, no six-foot stance--Stiller stands five-foot-ten if you measure generous--but when he sets that Slugger on his shoulder, and looks down the alley, then you see it.

Not that you can define it, not that there’s any discernible difference between Jason Stiller and whoever batted before him, whoever’ll bat after him...but he’s just got something, a confidence, a joy for life and baseball and the challenge...he’s got something unpinnable that makes it easy to start telling stories.

To start spreading the legend. Then the real magic happens, when the ball shoots towards him and you don’t think he’s even noticed, but his eyes never waver and that bat just floats off his shoulder like it wasn’t moving, and suddenly the ball is bouncing around in the back bleachers and he’s trotting around the bases, like he was just out for a walk in the spring air.

The man looks young, and some claim he doesn’t belong, but try to take him away from the Braves and see how far you get. He belongs. He belongs in that batter’s box more than most of us belong in our own jobs. We chose our fields...Jason Stiller was born to his.

Catch a game in which he’s involved, and see if I’m telling lies.

And by the way, his current batting average is a record for a rookie. .368 and still going up...

...not that anybody’s counting.

end

* * *

The limousine deposited Raven outside a nice Italian restaurant on Boston’s east side...he had let her pick, freely admitting that even after two months he didn’t know the lay of the land.

If Robert Germane were lurking in the limo somewheres, Jason didn’t see him. And he was pleasantly surprised when Raven walked up to him by herself, with no butlers or manservants keeping an eye on her. “Sure we don’t need to wait for your chaperon?” He smiled so she knew he was joking.

She knew. “Apparently my father trusts you.” The thin brow over her beautiful right eye arched upwards, and Jason understood that the lady herself did not trust him quite as far.

But when he offered his arm, she took it and they walked in together. The title Germane had provided quick reservations and a very nice table with a view of whatever river the restaurant fronted. Jason wanted very much to make a joke about rich people, but decided, wisely, that maybe it was time to be a little more serious. “You look beautiful.”

This was no joke; Raven had taken his offer of dinner with some gravity, attired as she was in a quiet but very pleasant beige dress, with lace and a matching handbag--set off very interestingly by a green ribbon in her hair which of course mirrored her striking eyes. When she had first stepped out of the limousine, Jason’s breath had caught, and for a wild moment, he couldn’t believe she was there to see him.

He assumed that women liked to be told they were beautiful, and was a bit surprised at the way his comment was received.

“Look.” Raven folded her hands on the table, not angry but very serious. “If I had a dollar for every time some guy had informed me of my beauty, I might just be worth more than my father. Your comment is duly noted and appreciated but if we’re just here so you can tell me how beautiful I am, this is a waste of time.”

* * *

She waited for his answer, at once glad to have stood up for herself and also terrified, deep inside, that she was going to mess up and drive him away. Raven had deliberately started off strong for that very purpose...might as well send him packing sooner rather than later, if he wanted out.

Jason just smiled. “Okay. I’ll never mention it again.”

“Thank you.” Suddenly self-conscious, Raven wondered if he had been telling the truth...wondered if she really were pretty. And as long as she was thinking about it, he didn’t look too bad himself.

It was embarrassing to be polite and say it, though. After her tirade. “You,” she coughed daintily, “You look, um, very handsome yourself.”

Waiting for the response she deserved, Raven was surprised when he simply said, “Thank you,” and smiled, with a twinkle in his eyes.

Was that how one was supposed to take a compliment? Seemed a little more polite and less harsh than the way some people did it, the young lady realized. And, blushing slightly, felt led to say so. “I think your response was better.”

His smile became a grin. “I do too.”

A waiter popped up then with menus and pad, taking drink orders. She asked for tea and didn’t miss that her--friend? Date?--escort for the evening stuck with water. “You didn’t have any liquor the other night, either,”

* * *

“--does that mean you don’t drink much?”

“Mm, not at all, really.”

He couldn’t help noticing that her mask was clamped down tight, and the guards seemed to be doubly posted, the wall between them thicker than ever. But at least she had shown up. “You?”

“Not really.”

“I never cared for the taste of the stuff.”

She looked down. “I’ve always been terrified of getting drunk. I hate the thought of losing control like that.” A moment of silence. Then, as if she had revealed part of herself and had to cover for it, she changed the subject. “Is Italian food all right? I didn’t know what you wanted but I’ve always been fond of it, and I thought that you at least wouldn’t mind--”

The hand that he was holding up stalled her, and she just blinked at him for a second or two before he said quietly, “Italian is fine. Are you that nervous around me?”

* * *

Raven closed her eyes, sighed, and then looked down at her hands that were twisting a napkin around and around. She spoke just as quietly. “I’ve thought about this...date, for the past three days, and was really looking forward to spending time with you.

“But it’s been so long since I’ve done anything like this. I’m afraid. Afraid I’m going to get it wrong.” She scowled so that she would not cry.

When he reached across the table he moved so very carefully and gently that she let him take one of her hands in one of his. His fingernails were clean. She almost laughed, the things one noticed.

“Raven.”

She looked up and saw those eyes again, just a simple brown but so deep, so open, so honest. She couldn’t meet them and had to look away--but when she had marshalled the strength to look back, a moment later, he was still there. “I like Italian food. Especially a good pizza pie, and before you start I know they don’t serve pizza here and it doesn’t matter.

“While I’m at it, I also like baseball, and riding a bicycle sometimes, and stargazing,” and then a bit of a smile tugged at his face, “and I will even admit that I like Action Comics, though that’s a bit childish and you might think less of me.” She couldn’t look away from him, and felt suddenly like she could look into his eyes forever. “I like you as well, Miss Germane.

“I don’t know who you’ve been hanging around, but I’m not the sort to turn and run if you make a mistake or two. Or three.”

Then Jason stopped speaking, letting her talk if she would. Raven twisted, and thought, and then spoke without looking up at first. “I like roses...

“And collectible dolls, and sunsets,” and the tiniest beginning of a smile quirked somehow onto her face, “And pistachio ice cream.”

He was smiling, and still waiting, and though she had a most terrifying moment at the very thought, Raven Germane realized that she had a friend. Someone that she could be herself with. Someone she could trust.

Raven Germane closed her eyes, and took a deep breath...and put the mask away.

* * *

Jason nearly fell out of his chair. The young lady who looked at him then...was no-one he had seen before. The same gal, perhaps, her eyes hadn’t changed color but her entire face had softened, taking on what had to be, yes was a pleasant expression--a little sad, still, but not harsh or uninviting. Somehow she had decided to let herself be herself, and he saw who she really was, deep inside.

And just as suddenly Jason Stiller understood that he was deeply in love.

He was wise enough, though, to keep this to himself. “Pistachio ice cream?”

The slight smile tugged a bit wider. “Yeah. Problems?”

“Not if I don’t have to eat any.”

Her nose wrinkled just a bit, and he found it adorable. “So we don’t have much in common, huh?”

Again, Jason was wise enough not to say it aloud, but he knew then and there that he would most certainly find something they had in common, even if it meant taking up collecting collectible dolls. “I dunno, we’ll have to work on it.”

* * *

“I used to like baseball,” she said, as sort of a peace offering, suddenly a little concerned that they really might not have anything in common, and hoping that wouldn’t prove true.

“Mmm--yes, Mr. Muldowney was telling me a little about you when you were young.”

She felt her eyebrows go up all on their own. “Oh really.”

“Yes, something about a milk bottle?”

That was all he offered, making her figure out...what...and then she did remember, an incident that was over a decade old, that she hadn’t thought about for a long time.

And when she did think about it, a real, honest laugh bubbled out of her...and that hadn’t happened in even a longer time so she enjoyed herself, and about the time the laugh was finished she thought of the story again, just to laugh a little longer.

He waited, smiling.

When she had laughed all the laugh there was to that story, and had wiped her eyes with a kerchief he had offered, and given it back to him, she met those brown eyes again and said “Thank you.”

“Thank you, Raven. That’s the most beautiful laugh I’ve heard in a very long time. It--” and he stopped, and Raven recognized the sudden fear and sorrow on his face, but for some reason he finished his sentence, “It reminded me somehow of my mother.”

A quiet silence. Raven looked at Jason, she now giving him time to decide whether or not to be himself.

When he nodded, and sighed, she knew he had.

It wasn’t fair, but she didn’t want to start things. “You first?”

* * *

Jason closed his eyes, wondering if the story still hurt like it had the last time he had told it. He had done such a good job at putting things away, taking all of the awful feelings and thoughts and just making them disappear...

...but they always came back, and at the oddest times. Jason figured that unless he could find a world where nobody talked of mothers ever again, those feelings were his forever.

He decided that hurt or not, he would rather tell her than not tell her, and opened his eyes. “Okay.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time to tell, really. Not long after I turned eleven, back in ’38, there was an outbreak of Smallpox all over the midwest. It hit Gillett Grove just as much as everywhere else. My mother...was the only one in our family who got the disease.”

A low question from the other side of the table. “Didn’t they have the vaccine by then?”

“Some places, yes. New York. Boston. Denver.”

“Not Gillett Grove.”

“Not Gillett Grove. The worst thing...” and he took a deep breath and kept going, “The worst thing was that she didn’t have to get anything, she didn’t have to contract any disease--they warned us about it, told us it was coming, said what precautions could be taken.

“But my mother,” and his voice cracked, and she said nothing, and he went on when he could, “She had to go and help people, she had to keep tending the sick that she knew, and comforting the families who had lost somebody, and then...then our family had lost somebody.”

Through everything that had come to pass he was still holding her hand, and now she held back.

“I couldn’t even see her. They took her away and told Dad I had to stay home and by the time he returned...I never said goodbye.” He looked at the ceiling, blinked a few times, not ashamed of a tear or two, perhaps, but having no desire to weep in front of anyone. “That’s about it.”

She didn’t know what to say, until realizing that it was her turn. She couldn’t very well open up his wound and shelter her own.

Raven was saved for the moment by the arrival of food; and a few minutes passed with the rituals of salt-shaking and water-glass-arranging and complimenting each other on their choices.

Then their eyes met again, and Raven remembered her debt.

She picked at her fish for another moment, trying to think of how to begin.

“I had a school project that was coming due. Middle school,” she explained unnecessarily. “It was a science project, and I had been so busy with my friends, looking at the new spring dresses in the shop windows, whispering about some boy or other, that I had let the project go.

“Until the last minute, of course, the night before it was due, I realize that I’m not finished.”

The thirteen-year old girl behind Raven’s eyes still felt so very guilty...“Father and I had a dreadful argument about it. He thought that since I didn’t get the work done, that I should just have to go to school empty-handed and take my punishment.

“I yelled at him for not caring about me and then burst into tears, which was how I always got my mother to help me out. She said, like I knew she would, that she would go get the supplies I needed, help me finish.

“Made me promise that it wouldn’t happen again, and then off she went in Father’s Studebaker. We didn’t have any limousines back then. Money was a little tighter.” The salmon was excellent but still seemed to get stuck halfway down, and it took extra effort to clear her throat. “I never broke my promise, at least.

“It never happened again.” She blinked, and blinked, and couldn’t make the tears go back where they had come from.

“Raven, please, just let them come.”

She scowled at him. “You didn’t cry.”

“Maybe I didn’t need to. Maybe I don’t even know how. If you can, do, okay?”

She didn’t know what that meant but in the end, it seemed to be okay if she cried, so she did, not really caring if her fish got all wet. Fish knew how to be wet. “So she went into town and I shut myself in my room, trying to get everything done and so angry at my father for not understanding.

“And she didn’t come back, and didn’t come back, and I started getting upset with her for making me stay up late...” the sheer selfishness of it angered her but she squeezed her eyes tighter shut, sighed, felt another set of tears roll off her eyelids and kept going, “and she didn’t come back. The police knocked on the door around eleven, and my father went out to talk to them and they talked for a long time.

“When he came back, he said that Mommy had been in the drugstore getting my things when a man came in with a gun.

“He was yelling things nobody could understand, and as everybody on the sidewalk dove to get out of the way he killed the store owner, killed my mother, killed somebody’s child who was standing by the candy rack, and then killed himself.”

* * *

It was one of the most awful things Jason had ever heard, and he gripped her hand tightly.

“And so she was just dead, and I never said goodbye or even knew why it had to happen. Just that it was my fault.”

“How can you say that?”

“Jason...”

“No, Raven. I’m sorry that it happened and you have every right to hurt because of it but how in the world can you call it your fault?”

The young lady he loved hissed at him. “Because she wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for me! She wouldn’t have left, she wouldn’t have been at the store, she wouldn’t have died...”

It looked like she was about to really break down, and Jason cared about her--knew she wouldn’t want to do so in public. He pulled gently on the hand he was still holding. “Come here.”

Not far from their table was an open doorway leading to a balcony that overlooked the river...and Jason found it mercifully empty as well as dimly-lit.

* * *

Ballplayers or owner’s-daughters, small towns or big cities, friendship or love...none of that really mattered as Raven turned to Jason, sank deeply into the strength and acceptance of his arms folded strong about her, and wept bitterly, trying not to be consumed by the hurt and the guilt and the pain.

* * *

Jason tried his best just to hold her, just to be there for her, and not think of how wonderful she smelled, of how the skin of his neck was tingling from the warm breath of her sobs.

When she had finished crying he knew it would be proper to let her go, and against his wishes he did so. Raven stepped away a pace or two, grateful to again take his handkerchief. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I.”

He stepped closer to her and she let him take her hand, just so they each could know the other was there, as both looked across the river at the lights beyond, and knew only their own thoughts for a time.

Until Raven quietly invaded the heavy silence. “How did you get past it all?”

Without conscious thought his grip on her hand tightened just a bit. “You could start by realizing that it wasn’t your fault. I mean--your dad could have gone after your school things too, and maybe he should have, but you don’t blame him, right?”

Her “Don’t I?” drifted away on the breeze.

* * *

Raven waited, certain that now there would be even more remonstrations, arguments about how she shouldn’t hate her father any more than she should blame herself, but the words she expected didn’t appear.

When she finally looked up, and at him, the moonlight had caught up his eyes in a soft shine. “You have to live your life, Raven. I could talk for hours about how it’s not your fault, and about how she won’t come back no matter how much you might wish for it...and that the best thing you can do is be good to you, love yourself and try to be happy.

“But you’re smart enough to figure that out on your own. That’s up to you. But as far as this goes...” his left hand, the one not holding onto hers, came up to ever-so-gently brush her cheek, and she realized that he was trembling, “If it pleases, you may tell me anything you wish, ask of my time however you’d like.

“Whatever can be done, I will do it...if you ask.”

Raven Germane looked at the handsome, earnest young man standing so close by her...and felt it could be nothing but a dream.

He squeezed her hand once more and let go, and she remembered walking back inside, and paying for their meal, and parting at the front of the restaurant, but Raven was caught up in the possibilities of the dream, and the quiet denial available thereby.

She entertained feelings for and about Jason Stiller, and pushed feelings about her mother--and her father--far away, one more time.

* * *

Jake Beerschadt, the Illinois Reds own legendary pitcher, had been giving The Kid a hard afternoon. Not that Jason hit everything that came at him, but as he went up to bat for the sixth time he knew without a doubt that it was his worst game yet.

He had to show this guy up. He had to be the best, because if he wasn’t the best...

...then what was he? Anything?

“Hey, Kid, you wanna get your head out of the clouds and play baseball?”

“What? Er, yeah. Watch me.” The last thing he needed was some no-name catcher getting on his case. The Kid stepped into the box and faced his enemy down.

Beerschadt’s fastball was a fair match for Bud Tripplehorne’s, but as had already been discovered--and shared over and over since The Kid became big, in papers and radio news across America, the story getting larger with every telling--Jason Stiller knew how to hit a fastball.

He hit this one.

“The very ball itself,” Kip would later write, “seemed to be screaming in pain as it arced out of the stadium--according to the reports of the people watching from outside, that ball never did come down.

“It isn’t a change of subject, fellow baseball enthusiasts, to mention that there are more than a few people wondering if Jason Stiller might end up being the greatest baseball player of all time.

“Not that anyone wants to disparage Hank Aaron, or Babe Ruth, or Jason’s fellowman over at the Red Sox, Ted Williams...but believe it, Mr. Williams, you’ve got heavy competition!”

The Braves still, however, lost by two runs, though with one-third of the season behind them, they were the top contenders in the already heated pennant race.

There was not one person on the team that would deny that their success was largely owed to one heavy-hitting rookie.

Surprisingly, however, there were differing opinions as to whether or not Jason Stiller’s contribution was beneficial.

Over one of their weekend cardgames, in the growing heat of early June, Dutch and Pickens and Lefty sat and listened as Bud Tripplehorne said the same things he had been saying for three months.

All three noted that he got a little louder and a little nastier every time.

“I just can’t believe it. You read the papers last week?”

“Yes, Bud.” Dutch tried to keep a neutral tone, hoping it might calm down the star pitcher.

His hope was in vain. “These wet-eared kids are all alike, and now our snot-nosed golden boy has a big fan and fellow snot-nose on the Tribune, have you seen it?”

“Yes, Bud.”

“This Kip fellow, with the soup for a last name--and don’t try to tell me there ain’t something wrong with that,” Bud interrupted himself, fuming, “This squirt keeps writing up our wonderful save-the-day rookie like he’s Babe Ruth reincarnate--”

“Uh,” Pickens wondered, “Isn’t Babe Ruth still alive?”

Dutch muttered quickly, “Shut up, Pickens!” He tossed two of his cards down and waited for Lefty to deal more.

Somehow Bud steamrollered over the comments without stopping. “--and we’d all just better bow down before him and declare him God, just because he can hit a dadblamed fastball.

“Like hitters are all that important anyway. Everybody knows that it’s a pitcher that’ll pull your tush out of the fire, for sure. Call ’em.”

While they figured out who had won the hand, each of the other three players at the table had their own private, differing opinions as to which position on the team was especially important, but each was also wise enough to keep silent about it.

“That little hayseed is the worst thing that ever happened to the Braves, and by God if I knew how to get rid of him I’d do it. The worst thing is, it was my easy pitches during that five-of-seven fiasco that let him in the door.

“If I’d really leaned on him from the beginning,” Bud looked again at his cards and decided they wouldn’t get any better, tossing them onto the table, “We wouldn’t have this problem.”

Of the three other men at the table, Herbert “Dutch” Cattan was the closest to Francis Tripplehorne as far as friendship went. They had shared dinners with wives and fishing trips with each other and just common enough dreams, for quite a few years. Despite this...or perhaps because of this, Dutch gauged his words carefully. “You know, Bud...

“I’m right with you when you say that Jason Stiller is a little too big for his britches, that he’s never really acted like the rookie he’s supposed to be. I don’t truck with having reporters follow rookies around...come to think of it, I’ve been a card-carrying member of this team for a lotta years, and not once has any reporter wanted to tell the world my life story.”

Another hand passed by. Bud didn’t say anything, Lefty and Bill didn’t think Dutch was finished, and so there was a short silence.

Dutch coughed. “And I also agree that pitchers have their place and maybe the public doesn’t pay the guys on the mound enough attention. Maybe they don’t pay enough attention to third basemen or second basemen or shortstops, either.”

Bill Pickens and Lefty respectively grunted and quietly nodded their agreement.

“But there’s an other side to this that maybe you haven’t fully thought through.”

Another silence fell over the group, but this time it was much less peaceful.

Finally Bud allowed in a low voice, “And what would that be?”

Dutch looked across the table and met his friend’s eyes. “Maybe he isn’t the quiet, no-name rookie that he should be, but The Kid doesn’t seem to be out for glory either. He’s not hogging any spotlights, he’s not out there for money or power or anything.

“He loves to play baseball and darned if he isn’t really amazing behind the plate. Whether or not you like him,” and at this point Dutch looked at his cards again and upped the ante by a quarter, “you have to admit that his abilities are something else. Maybe legendary. And all The Kid is trying to do is play baseball, which is all we’re supposed to be doing, right?

“Bud...I want to win the pennant this year. I really don’t have a big problem admitting that I have World Series dreams, every May and October I wake up nights--in the middle of catching the final out in the bottom of the ninth, the end of the seventh game, and it hurts a little inside because I’ve never been there.

“We’ve all come a lot closer than the barbers and cabdrivers of America, but I for one still haven’t been there.” Again his eyes met Bud’s, and they were pleading a little. “I want to be there, Bud. The Kid, I think we’ll make it with him around.”

Francis Tripplehorne understood exactly what Dutch was saying, what he was feeling. He had known such dreams himself, once.

But just getting to the Series wouldn’t be enough. Even winning it wouldn’t be enough, not if all the headlines and radio announcers were raving over some punk-faced, snot-nosed puke from beyond the middle of nowhere.

Not if someone else got his glory.

As usual, Bill Pickens spoke without thinking, at the worst possible time. “After all, Bud, we can’t rely just on your fastballs anymore, can we?”

In unison both Dutch and Lefty turned to their teammate, yelling, “Shut up, Pickens!”

But the words could not be taken back.

Silently Bud sat in his chair and regarded the Braves’ shortstop. Bill, for once, had regretted his words even as they left his mouth, and regretted them even more as he watched Bud turn several different shades of red without moving.

“Ah, Bud, I was just kidding...” even this feeble attempt faded into the growing silence.

Finally Bud sighed, and pushed his chair back. “You’re right, Bill. As always, you know how to get right to the root of a problem. I think it’s past my bedtime, boys. My wife’ll be wondering after me.” With that, he stood up, tossing the cards he was still holding down onto the table. It was the winning hand, but the star pitcher of the Braves made no move to pick up his money.

With a smile and a wave, he started to walk out of the clubhouse...

...but as he passed right behind Bill Pickens’ chair, the burly pitcher clamped a meaty hand onto one of the back rungs and yanked it straight out from under his teammate, and as Pickens fell his chin banged hard against the tabletop, his teeth clacking together loud and painfully, and then the smaller man fell backwards to the floor.

Bud glared at Lefty and Dutch, daring them to say anything. Both looked away.

Bill didn’t seem to have anything more to say either.

Only Bud had a last comment. “Gotta be more careful, Pickens, you wouldn’t want to bite your tongue.”

Then he disappeared, leaving behind three old friends that didn’t know what to think or say.

* * *

Not long after that conversation, Jason Stiller opened his locker, just a few short minutes before an important doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, to find a surprise waiting.

All of his uniforms were tied in thick knots as well as being soaking wet.

D.G. walked up to find The Kid angrily beating his fist against the locker door. “Problem, Jason?”

“Do you see this?”

Dennis took a good look, and couldn’t help a quick bit of laughter. “Well it’s about time somebody hazed you, rookie.”

Jason said nothing, but his scowl was answer enough.

“C’mon, kid, it just means everybody ain’t walking on pins and needles around you anymore. You’re part of the team now.” It actually didn’t seem like that to the Braves’ manager--this prank, coming suddenly when it did, almost halfway through the season, felt weird somehow. But it happened to every new player and was probably nothing. “Get over it, huh?”

There was still fire in Jason’s eyes. “I already was a part of the team, and what happens to the team if I can’t play today because of this, huh?”

“For cryin’ out loud, Stiller, you walk on water or something? Like the Braves can’t struggle along without you if they had to?” Even as he spoke, D.G. considered just how right Jason was--which was something he could and would not tell him. “Golly gee, Mr. Stiller, I sure do hope you don’t get sick or anything, we might have to forfeit the rest of the season.”

Dennis looked his player in the eye, but could not read the young man’s expression. He decided it wouldn’t hurt to wheedle a bit--every good manager was both father and mother, after all. “C’mon, Kid. I’ll bet Brice has a uniform that’ll fit you. Think of how confused everybody’ll be with two number 24s out on the field, huh? You can get that Kip fellow to make it into another grand story about your tolerance and love of the game and everything.

“It just means they like you, Kid.” He clapped the young man on the shoulder. “Let’s pull it together?”

Jason’s expression had softened a bit. “Okay.”

“Okay.” D.G. saw to it that Jason would be able to play clothed, and though Brice was a bit shorter than The Kid--and obviously had the name BRICE and not STILLER on the back of his jersey, they made it work. Dennis went out to the dugout and watched his players play, reflecting for awhile that afternoon on the many jobs of a baseball manager.

Not only father and mother but friend, nurse, referee, counselor, judge, taskmaster, boss, and the dispenser of barley candies on occasion.

Whatever it took to keep the team together. He decided to have the boys assemble after the games and put Jason’s wardrobe back in order together, as sort of a group project, and figured that would probably settle things.

* * *

All that day, through both games, Jason felt humiliated, and though he refused to let it affect his performance, he came out of the second win more tired and strung out than ever before.

He didn’t agree with his manager that it was a harmless prank, or that whoever had done it had done it for fun.

And he also had a pretty darned good idea who the guilty culprit was, but said nothing to anyone.

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