Chapter Seven: Lake Forest
Getting David and Moshe to Little League practice required coordination that would challenge the most adept hospital scheduler. They played in different divisions. David was moved up to AAA this season while the coaches recommended that Moshe play another season of Single A. David was the better athlete of the two and enthusiastic about going to every practice and game. Rachel could punish him by threatening to take away practice time. Moshe didn’t seem that interested in sports.
They reminded me of Muriel and Dylan. Muriel threw herself into every activity we signed her up for, whether it was softball, choir, or ballet. We tried lots of things with Dylan from sports to Scouts. He’d stick with them for a while and then give up. Except Rachel wouldn’t let Moshe give up on anything. The parenting books Teresa and I read when our kids were young said that it was wrong to keep kids in things they didn’t like. With the way things turned out with Dylan, maybe they were wrong, and Rachel was right.
Still, it was difficult to get both of her kids to practice. David’s practice was at Heroes Park at Jeronimo and Los Alisos, and Moshe’s was in Foothill Ranch, 15 minutes away. I dropped David off first. His manager, Coach Hoyt, offered to watch him after practice if I was late after picking up Moshe. Then I drove Moshe to his practice. I knew he would be late, but Moshe didn’t seem to mind. Especially since his coach was usually late too.
We stopped at the signal at El Toro and Jeronimo. On the corner stood a man in an Army jacket and faded jeans. Next to him was a shopping cart filled with stuffed black trash bags and a rolled up sleeping bag. He held up a cardboard sign. “Homeless Vet. Iraq War. Married, Two Kids. Anything Helps. God Bless.”
“Dr. Glass,” Moshe asked, “Why do they do that?”
“Some people are just unlucky, I guess.”
The signal turned green. I drove past the man.
"C’mon, Mo. Nice even swing.”
The coach stood in the middle of the infield behind an L screen. He tossed an easy pitch towards Moshe. He swung too early and too low. The ball bounced against the backstop.
“C’mon, Mo. You can do it!”
The coach tossed another easy pitch. Moshe swung again. This time, the metal bat made a muted ping as it brushed the underside of the ball. It flew off foul and rolled to the edge of the backstop.
“That’s better, Mo. Keeping working on it.” He turned to the dugout. “Batter up!”
Moshe tucked his bat under his arm. He peeled off his batting gloves as he walked towards the dugout.
I only knew her as “Jimmy’s mom.” Her clinically obese body was always squeezed into a black t-shirt with “Baseball Mom” in glitter and the “o” in “Mom” in the shape of a heart with baseball stitches on it. Her baggy denim shorts bared her fleshy and spray-tanned thighs. She was the loudest of the moms on the bleachers.
“I never see you at practice.” She spoke with a honey-and-nicotine drawl. “Which one is yours?”
I glanced toward Moshe as he made a leisurely jog towards the outfield.
“Oh! You’re Mo’s dad!” She used the nickname his coach gave him.
I didn’t know how to answer her. Rachel and I chose not to talk about our relationship. Most of these women go to the same church. We weren’t sure how well our housing situation and personal arrangements would go over with them.
But Jimmy’s mom didn’t give me the chance to answer. “Your wife usually takes him, right?”
Again, I didn’t know how to answer. And again, she didn’t give me a chance to answer.
She leaned in close and lightly touched my arm. She spoke softly, well, softly compared to her usual booming voice.
“Now, your wife, she’s Mexican, right?”
“Uh...” My voice tensed. “No. She’s Israeli.”
Her voice boomed again. “Oh, bless my stars! I get so confused. Everything is so diverse and politically correct nowadays that it’s hard to keep up.”
I decided that I shouldn’t correct her about anything else she said. Especially that Rachel wasn’t was my wife, and we weren’t living together under the bonds of holy matrimony.
“That’s it! That’s it!” The coach watched the ball jet into the outfield towards Moshe. He ran towards it but stopped when he got close to it. He let it go right past him.
“You got to go for those, Mo!”
Moshe said nothing.
Jimmy’s mom patted me on the shoulder. “He’s just learning.”
I could tell she mastered the art of the kind insult, especially when she followed up by looking towards the stands.
“Caren!” She bellowed at a peroxide blond in too short shorts climbing onto the bleachers. “When did you get here?”
She started to walk towards the bleachers when she remembered her manners. She turned and gave me a fingertip wave.
“Nice to meet you, um...”
“Ollie.” I figured it would better not to mention I was a doctor. Or have a Jewish last name. Even “Oliver” seemed out of place here.
“Well, see you around, Ollie.”
Freed of her obligation to me, she waddled back to the bleachers, arms waving at Caren, and no doubt filled with enough gossip about me to satisfy the other mothers.
I knew how the game worked. I spent enough time around bleachers in Muriel’s leagues and Dylan’s season in Little League.
And nobody played the game better than Teresa.
There were many long drives after softball games when she would give me the tabloid-style rundown of who was sleeping with whom, whose kids were caught smoking pot, and whose house sheriff’s deputies pulled up to because an argument went out of control. I just kept my eyes on the road and said nothing. That was because I also learned things. When we men hung around the outfield fence, we’d gossip too. That’s how I learned things about Muriel that I wished she would have told me herself. Things I should have told Teresa, but I didn’t.
"One, two, three, Lugnuts!”
Moshe raised his hand high with his other teammates. He cheered with enthusiasm, probably because practice was over.
I waited by the opening of the dugout as he put away his glove and unclipped his bat bag from the chain-link fence along the back of the dugout. He emerged from the field with his bag over his shoulder, head slightly down, the bill of his cap concealing his face.
I patted him on the shoulder. “Let’s go get your brother.”
He said nothing. He didn’t say a word as we walked to the car. I tapped the remote to unlock. I opened the lift gate and put in his bat bag. Moshe opened the rear passenger-side door.
“Do I still have to use a booster seat?” he grumbled.
“You know what your mom said.”
He climbed up into the seat and shut the door. I closed the lift gate and got into the car.
“Did you put on your seat belt, Moshe?”
I put on mine and pressed the Start button. I kept my foot on the brake as I shifted into reverse. The backup camera showed Jimmy’s mom, her friends, and their kids laughing and chatting as they ambled from one side of the screen to the other. When they moved out of the way, I slowly let off the brake and pulled out of the parking space.
Moshe’s distraught voice floated from the back. “I don’t think they like me.”
“What makes you say that?” I shifted into drive.
“They always talk to each other. They never talk to me.”
“Do they say anything worth hearing?”
Silence. Then, “I dunno. I just don’t like to be left out, you know.”
I did know. There were so many stories I could tell him about how I felt when I was growing up. Stories that might help him. But he was too young to hear them. That’s why I didn’t tell them to Dylan when he was younger. I should have when I had the chance.
“Why do I have to call you Dr. Glass?”
“Because that’s my name.”
“But it makes me feel like I’m going to the doctor.”
I smiled, until Moshe asked me his next question.
“Are you and Mom ever gonna get married?”
“Well...I suppose...you know, your mom and I...well, we’ve been dating for a short time...and...”
“You can leave anytime.”
Silence filled the car. I could promise that I would never leave with the hope it was true. But it wasn’t true when my dad said it to me. Or when Teresa said it to our kids. How do you tell an eight-year-old that love is temporary, even under the best of circumstances? My mom loved me, but her love was temporary too. It ended when her life ended. All that was left of her was silence, like the silence that filled the car.
I cleared my throat. “You want to listen to the Angels game? It’s about to start.”
“Can I listen to Radio Disney instead?”
The silence was broken by the cheerful bounce of a heavily censored Ariana Grande song.
We arrived at Heroes Park. A long driveway wound around the baseball fields with parking spaces along the sides. It was nearly hopeless to find a parking space on game day. If we couldn’t find a space in the lot or on the street, we’d park at the Target on the opposite corner and hope we didn’t get towed.
On practice days, the lot was nearly empty since most parents dropped off their kids. We had to go to the AAA Field, which was at the end of the driveway. I drove slowly because of the speed bumps. Even at slow speeds, each bump jostled the entire SUV. At the end of the driveway was a black lifted pickup truck.
As soon as I opened the car door, I heard Coach Hoyt’s gravely growl.
“C’mon, boys! Let’s dig, dig, dig!”
I helped Moshe get out of the booster seat, and we made our way to the field.
Heroes Park was essentially a bowl, which is why it always filled up when it rained and would take days to dry out. A concrete path led from the parking lot down to the fields below. I started down the path, but Moshe started scampering down the slopes.
“Slow down there, Moshe,” I called to him.
“All right.” He continued racing down the slope.
Coach Hoyt stood at home plate smacking balls to the kids on defense. David played second base, his favorite position. Coach Hoyt smacked a ball up the middle. A player, who filled in as a base runner, took off from first. David rushed towards the ball, leaned forward and extended his glove arm. He stopped the ball and brought the glove towards his chest. He picked up the ball with his right hand, his throwing hand, but froze. The base runner made it to second, and no one on defense was there to cover.
“Alfonso, where are you!” Coach Hoyt’s voice rattled through the whole bowl.
The shortstop muttered something inaudible.
“You’re supposed to cover second!”
Alfonso’s shoulders slumped.
Coach Hoyt kept up the loud growl. “Let’s try that again! Francisco, back to first!”
Another coach tossed Coach Hoyt a ball. He caught it with one hand and smacked it again. This time, the play seemed to be executed perfectly. David made the stop, Alfonso covered second, and with a quick throw from David, Francisco was out. Francisco, still running, turned in front of second.
He froze at Coach Hoyt’s bellow.
“You were supposed to slide!”
Francisco, “But coach, I was out...”
“You slide at every play! The fielder could have dropped the ball. Let’s do it again!”
The players reset and ran the play again. I could see why Coach Hoyt was one of the league’s best coaches. His team won division last year, and he coached his older son’s All-Star Team. But as Moshe stood stiffly by my side, I knew there was no way he could play for someone like Coach Hoyt.
I wanted to play baseball so badly as a kid. I grew up listening to Angels games on KMPC radio. I rooted for Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, and Lyman Bostock. It was a shame what happened to him.
Dad bought me all the gear: a bat, a glove, cleats, and a batting helmet. Mom signed me up for Little League. Grandma Dinah protested. She didn’t like that they played games on Saturday, which was Shabbat. Even after Mom told her about Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, she still wasn’t convinced. “They aren’t real Jews,” Grandma Dinah grumbled. The fact they wouldn’t play on Yom Kippur, even if it was during a pennant race or the World Series, didn’t change her mind. She didn’t go to any of my games. Neither did Dad. He wanted to go, but he either had to work, or he was too sick or tired to go.
He always seemed to be tired. “Your dad’s had a long week,” Mom would say. I knew he put in long hours as a surgeon. But it seemed that every time I saw him, he was lying on the sofa. And when he wasn’t there, he seemed to shuffle through the house, mumbling to himself. He seemed to be especially tired after that one patient of his died on the operating table.
I loved playing baseball. I wasn’t the best player, but I worked really hard. My AAA coach, Coach Danny, said I was the most dedicated player on the team. We won the division championship that year. I didn’t make the All-Star team, but I didn’t mind. The smile Dad gave me when he held my trophy was the happiest moment of my life.
“I wish you could’ve seen me play, Dad.”
He put the trophy down on the floor next to the old leather sofa and put his hand on top of my dirt-and-sweat stained baseball cap.
“I wish I could have too.”
“Do you think we can go to an Angels game sometime?”
“Sometime.” He nodded and leaned back on the sofa. “Dad’s tired right now. Goodbye.”
When Dad said “goodbye,” it unnerved me. He had a weird way of saying it, as if he were saying it for the last time. “Goodbye” made Mom turn away and cover her face.
He died a month later.
When we moved to Lake Forest, Mom thought about signing me up for the Little League there. By then, I started studying for my bar mitzvah. Plus, Grandma Dinah imposed herself more in our lives since Dad -- her son -- had died. She would not tolerate anything violating Shabbat ever again.
I still loved baseball. But between Dad’s death and Grandma Dinah’s demands, I didn’t have the heart to play it anymore.
"Your son’s a good player, a smart player.” Coach Hoyt kept his grumble even as we talked casually.
“Thanks.” I didn’t correct him for the same reasons I didn’t correct Jimmy’s mom.
I followed him up the walkway. He carried a five-gallon painter’s bucket full of baseballs in one hand and a clutch of bats in the other with the barrels resting on his shoulders. One of his massive biceps had a Hieronymus Bosch-like hellscape surrounding a flaming human skull. His goatee that was the color of straw and chewing tobacco with strands of gray. He was not the type of person I hung around with in high school. Yet, I trusted him with David.
“You really should put him in travelball this summer. High school coaches won’t even look at kids if they haven’t played travelball.”
“My oldest daughter did that with softball.” It cost me a lot, especially since I was also paying her child support.
We reached the parking lot. Coach Hoyt stopped and turned towards me.
“I’m putting together a travel team this summer after All-Stars. You think your son would be interested?”
“I’m sure he would, but we have to talk about it.” I knew I had to clear it with Rachel.
He walked to the side of the black lifted pickup truck. He hoisted the bucket of balls and bats into the bed.
“Well, see ya around, uh...”
“Ollie.” I smiled.
“Ollie.” He reached out with a massive hand and give mine a firm shake. He smiled before turning to the truck. He then called out to his son, “C’mon, Hunter.”
I knew we had to go too. Moshe remained nearly tethered to me. David was running up and down the slopes with a couple of his teammates.
“C’mon, David,” I called.
“Coming!” He waved to his teammates and started heading up the slope toward us.
Then Moshe’s puzzled voice floated from next to me. “Ollie?”
I glanced down at him and smiled. “Ollie.”
From behind us, the engine of Coach Hoyt’s massive truck growled like his voice. Toby Keith blared out his stereo. The huge mud tires of his truck plowed over the speed bumps like beer cans.
That’s why I told him my name was “Ollie.” Guys like him used to beat the snot out of guys with names like “Oliver.” I was beaten up by a couple of them.