Every champion was a contender that refused to give up.
“It’s a big game tonight, Al. Anaheim has to win if they want to even get a shot in the playoffs.”
“You’ve got that right, Dan. They’re lucky Reese Tateman is on the mound tonight. As long as the Segler brothers stay as hot as they have the first four innings, they can’t lose.”
Sitting in the dugout, I have to agree with the announcers. Reese has been able to keep the runs down on Milwaukee. His fast ball is like lightning tonight. I don’t remember seeing him throw this way in a long time.
I’ve gotten three base runs, a homer and a strike out. Dillon has hit it out of the park twice tonight. He’s our clean up guy, Dillon is going to win us this game. I just want to get one more on the board.
I head to the plate. Taking a couple of practice swings, I watch Schloss like a tiger does its prey. I’m going to score. I’m going to bring it home, I can feel it in my bones. Tonight we will win.
Settling myself into position. I’m ready to send this ball into the nosebleed seats way in the back of the park. Reading Schloss, I know he’s going to try his sinker first. It’s his go to pitch. As he lines up, he shakes off the catcher twice refusing his calls then gives the nod. Yep, he’s going for it. Watching it closely, I don’t fall for it. The ball drops low, right as it passes the plate.
Beautiful pitch. I wish he was on our team. But there’s no way he could ever match Reese. Lining up for pitch two. I’m ready, it’ll be a fast ball. Here it comes. I swing, hard and low, in the box. When my bat connects with the ball, I feel it vibrate through my arms and down my body. It’s not going to be a home run, but it’ll get me on base and give us a full count. Tossing my bat aside, I head for first and take the base.
So the game continues to play round the bases we go. Just like in college. I know this game like the back of my hand. As the ball is hit again and we move around the track. We get a strike out and wait. Baseball players have to be patient to get their moments. I’ve got patience tonight. Home plate I’m coming for you.
We struck out! It wasn’t our finest moment tonight and now they’re poised to take the lead. Dillon eyes me from center field nodding that he’s ready to end this. I’m right there with him. An ice bath and a cold beer sounds good right now.
We’ve got a full count, three on base and two out with Miller up to bat. The runner on second leads off. He’s gonna go for it, hit or not he’s running. I knew it would be up to me or my brother, Dillon, to catch this ball and make sure Milwaukee only gets one run at most. If they get more than that we won’t have a chance to win this game. It’s not happening on my watch.
My baby blues watch for the call, Reese shrugs off the call from Mark, our catcher, he wants to throw his heater. I’m all for it. Reese has a killer arm, his fastball is one of the best in the game. When he gets the call he wants, I grin, my dimple on show for all the ladies in the stands. I hear them scream my name and know the camera caught it on the Jumbotron again. Those women are here for me. Every home game, I have a group that gathers behind home plate and outside the locker room just for me. I get my pick, it’s tough but someone has to do it.
What can I say, I’m a handsome devil. With my dark hair, light blue eyes and stubbled face, there’s not a woman I can’t have. I work hard on this body, on my game and they love me. Or would love to have me. But my love is the game. I have no interest in settling down with one woman anytime in the near future. I’m on the road for weeks at a time, I’m gone half the year or more, depending on the schedule and any endorsements I have lined up. I don’t have time for a woman.
I get my needs met when I feel the urge. But I’m careful, cautious about who gets that pleasure. I don’t want my name in the gossip mill anymore than it is. Besides, Carla takes care of any needs I have without the commitment. She has her reasons and I have mine. It works for me.
My mind has to stay in the game, I can’t get distracted. I work hard on my game. I’ve got the most home runs on the team. I’m one of the best in the league at third base. I plan on staying there for the duration of my career.
I punch my fist into my glove and get in my position. Glove up, eyes scanning the field, runners ready to go for it as soon as Reese lets the pitch fly. The ball is released and they’re off and running. The ball is hit and I’m jumping high to catch the ball. I feel the heat of the ball over my head and the hard thump as the ball flies into my glove. I lunge out to tag the runner, who is sliding right toward me.
It all happened too fast, faster than I thought, when I stretched to tag the runner, but he kept coming. Legs sliding past me, his body is upright sliding on his ass and his helmet hits hard into my knee. The contact slows time instantly.
I felt the pain in the hit, felt it shoot both directions, up and down my leg. Something burns, rips and I know I cried out. The pain is excruciating, burning through me something fierce. When I fell to the ground, grabbing my knee the entire stadium went silent. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to think about how bad it was. I’m not sure I want to know. MLB is finicky that way, if you don’t play, you'll lose your position in the game. I have to play.
The coach and medical team were out on the field immediately. They asked, over and over, if I was okay, could I stand? Could I walk? If I could, wouldn't they think I would be walking it off? Instead, I’m sitting on my ass on third base, holding my knee praying my career isn’t over. It feels like it. It was a hard hit. Harder than any other I’ve taken.
“Nate, let’s get you on your feet and off the field to get a good look at it. Come on, man. Suck it up just for a minute, then you can scream.” Our trainer, Carson, voiced to me before shrugging my arm over his shoulder and helping me to my feet.
Carson is a big guy, he works out with the team and is just as good of shape as I am. He also gets just as many, if not more, women than some of us. His bark brown hair is a bit shaggy and in need of a trim. Those puppy dog brown eyes see and feel empathy and joy with every player he works with. The dude is built with a perfect smile and tanned skin, all giving him the hot surfer impression, but I doubt the guy goes to the beach, much less spends much time in the water.
The crowd cheered loudly for me as I started off the field. Looking up I see a close up of my face, cringing on the jumbotron. Just what I want my family seeing right now. Me in pain, my face red and drenched in sweat is not a good image. That’s not gonna make them worry at all. Giving the camera a wave the cheers get louder.
“Segler! I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean to hit you!” The runner apologized in his thick accent. I nod to him and give him a wave. No one means to hurt anyone out here, but it happens, more than we want to admit. Most of the time we walk it off, but I can’t this time. I can’t even put weight on it.
I get help into the locker room and get up on the exam table that’s setup for injuries. Carson grabs ice and his bag. Setting both next to me, he gingerly lifts my leg up and stretches it out on the table. I’m fisting both of my hands trying to keep from punching him out. I know he’s doing his job. I know he’s got to look at it, but moving it hurts like hell.
“Dammit! Carson, I can’t straighten it like this! What the hell?” I ground out my words, trying to control my pain. It wasn’t helping at all.
“I need to check it out, man. Let me scan it.” He gets out the machine, putting some gel on my leg, he runs the wand over my knee. I’m watching the screen just like he is. I can’t tell what happened there. Carson makes some muttered sounds and grumbles to himself, before pushing the machine back and leans against the counter behind him.
“Well? I’m okay, right? Just a pull.” I say, hoping he’s going to agree with me.
“It looks like you tore your meniscus. It’s the thin, fragile tissue that is found in between the joints of your knee. I need an MRI to be sure, but depending on where the tear is and how bad it is, depends on what we need to do. You could need surgery, Nate.” Carson knows that isn’t what I want to hear. “Sorry. Get the MRI tomorrow, I’ll know more after that.”
Well shit! That just ruined my night.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
How many times in your life can you start over? I feel like the only constant in mine is change. I’ve started and restarted my life too many times to count. I just want some consistency, some stability, something I know won’t change on me tomorrow.
I made my choice. Life in New York wasn’t the place for me. It’s too busy, too loud, too many people and not enough silence. I made my choice, one last change. Moving on the other side of the country, getting as far away as possible from a life I hate to start over. Things can only get better.
I got the job. It’s not the best job but it will pay the bills. I got the condo, that was a splurge for me. A beachfront condo with the sound of the ocean every day. I wake with the sun, the only entertainment I need is right outside and I can finally enjoy this chapter of my life. This one's for me.
I will be able to do this.
Moving away from everything I knew was the hardest, scariest thing I ever had to do. But I did it. I wasn’t exactly given much choice in the matter. With no family, no friends, no support system once the state deemed I was an adult and could take care of myself, I had nothing left.
The last foster home didn’t like me much. The feeling was mutual. I couldn’t stand by and watch my foster parents tear each other down and rip each other apart. It’s not like mattered to them. I was a check in the bank every month. When that check stopped coming, so was my welcome in their home. I was just a kid in the system, growing up at the hands of the state and whatever family decided to take me until they got tired of me and sent me back.
That’s the story of my life.
Moving as far from that world as I could, was my only desire. I worked three jobs to make ends meet. I saved every dime I could. I hid money away from my guardians, they would only have spent it on themselves anyway. I earned it, I wasn’t going to just hand it over.
When I saved enough, I bought a car. It runs okay and got me across the country with minimal repairs. I worked when I needed to or ran out of money. I waited tables through small towns and hole in the wall diners until I had enough money to get out and move on. I kept doing it until I got here on the coast, as far as I could without crossing oceans.
I’ve lived in my car for the last month. I’ve showered on the beach, ate when I could and saved. Now I have a job that will just pay enough for everything as long as I have no emergencies. I can do this. I have to.
Stepping into the condo for the first time and knowing it’s mine was a relief. It’s so quiet I can hear the seagulls cry over the waves. It’s perfect and for just a moment I feel better. Taking a quick spin looking at everything and settling myself knowing I don’t have to move tomorrow or the next day. I have a home as long as I pay my rent every month. I will. I won’t lose my freedom again.
Taking my time to unpack the car, I brought in everything I own and piled it in the middle of the living room. I don’t have much. An air mattress, a pillow, a box of things that I made growing up. My toothbrush, hair brush I put in the single closet of a bathroom. The only pot, spatula and spoon went to the kitchen. A knife and fork I set on the counter with the two packs of ramen noodles, popcorn and a can of spaghetti O’s.
I found an old five inch black and white TV at the Salvation Army store. Plugging it in on the counter, I checked to be sure it works. It was my five dollar splurge on myself when I found out I got the job. It’ll do. I don’t watch much television anyway. Turning back to pile, I take my shirts and pants, a couple of skirts and a box of shorts, T-shirts and my underwear to the bedroom. Hanging up the few items I have on hangers and leaving the rest in the box on the floor inside the closet, I go back to the living room and look around.
That’s everything I own.
Tuning in a channel on the TV, I adjust the antenna until I have a clear screen and hope for a local channel to come through. I find I’ve got four channels available, I can make due with that. I have my prepaid phone. No extras for streaming movies or anything, just a phone to call out and get a job with.
What I do have is a gorgeous view of the beach, the soothing sound of the ocean out my windows, sunsets to enjoy every night, and a job within a short driving distance of here. I can run on the beach for exercise and for entertainment, I can watch other people, making up a story of their lives in my head.
I don’t need anything else.
The channel I found on the TV has a ballgame going on. I’m not really a sports fan, but I leave it where it is for background noise so I can finish unpacking. I’ve got a bath towel, wash cloth, a couple dish towels and cleaning stuff from the dollar store after I picked up my key and signed the lease. I’ve learned where to shop on a dime and I have no problem with it. I’m supporting myself. That's what matters, I owe no one for anything.
Having bounced through the state foster care system, I don’t make friends easily. I keep my head down and stay to myself as much as possible. I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere long enough to get to know anyone, and if I was, I didn’t have anyone who kept in touch. Out of sight, out of mind, that’s been my life from the beginning.
So it’s just me. I’m not afraid of being alone and I can enjoy my own company. Most times I even prefer it. I’m not reliant on anyone to take care of me or support me. I know how to be responsible and fend for myself. I’m very independent and I like it that way.
Putting the cleaners away, I heard the crowd on the TV go crazy then it all went dead silent. For a second, I thought I lost signal and looked over to see a player on the field holding his leg and rolling in the dirt. The camera panned to the crowd, some covering their mouths, some looking on with worried expressions on their faces. Then what I assume are teammates and coaches racing to the player on the field.
The camera does a close up on his face. It’s all scrunched up, red and sweaty. Gross! His eyes are squeezed tightly closed as he rocks, soothing himself through his pain. It looks like he really hurt himself. The guys around him are trying to get him to stand, but I can read his lips, the guy’s cussing his head off at them. With the help of two guys on either side they get him up. Finally he’s helped off the field and the crowd cheers.
He gives the crowd a wave as they get him onto a cart and drive him off the field. He must be a good player because even the other team is coming over to him and giving him a high five or shake his hand. As the show goes to commercial I turn back to my task of fixing dinner.
“Sucks to be you, buddy.” I say softly and put on my hot water for my ramen noodle. He’s definitely going to be off that leg for a while.
I bet they take him right into the best doctor money can buy. Those athletes get the best of everything. They should for the money they’re paid. The medical field is profitable off the rich athletes out there. It’s one area that everyone needs at some point in their lives. And it’s an expense a lot of us can’t afford half the time. The luxury of getting hurt or getting sick isn’t an option for those of us who don’t have a pot to piss in.
I’m trying to change that for myself. I don’t want to feel like I have to go without a basic need like health care anymore. I want to do better for myself. I want to study nursing. It’s a good career path and a guarantee of a paycheck. I’ve been reading a lot online and at the public library about what I need to do to get there, but I’ve never had enough money for college. I barely made it through high school.
The closest I’ve gotten to what I want to do with my life is this new job. I’m going to be a secretary in a medical rehabilitation office. They work with old people who’ve fallen, spine issues and sports injuries like what that player just got hit with.
I wonder where those guys go for their medical team? They probably have a specialist on staff, the best medical center money can buy. I would hate to see him in the office on Monday morning dealing with that pain he was in. I bet he’s furious after that hit, and afraid it could end his career. The other guy took him right out at the knees. He’s definitely going to need therapy.
I tune out the TV once again and finish cooking my dinner. Using the pot as a bowl, I carry it out to my balcony and sit down on the wood deck. Letting my legs dangle down, I eat my ramen and watch the sunset. I’m finally home.