The lights are shining bright, and the noise from the packed audience in Syracuse, New York is so loud that it’s difficult to hear yourself think. It’s the first day of the 2040 Major League Baseball Draft, and Luke Bradford and his childhood friend, Jacobi Cramer, are sitting side-by-side with their respective families anxiously waiting to hear their names called. Granted, it’s only the first day; there are 40 rounds to go in this thing and every team in the league has expressed interest at one point or another over the last 12 months in scooping up either of the two Arizona State standouts. It’s no secret that Luke is rumored to go as high as No. 1 – unbelievably to his hometown team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Analysts and scouts from all across the country see Luke as dynamic, aggressive, and a fearless competitor on the mound. He’s got a rocket arm and the size to go with it at 6-feet-4-inches and 221 pounds.
“Bradford is a surefire pick,” one ESPN anchor exclaims on the flatscreen TV nearby. “With that huge frame, he can really dominate the plate. You have to take him now, especially when you’re talking about a team like Arizona. They’ve been looking for that missing piece for a long time!”
Meanwhile, Jacobi is a fantastic prospect as a centerfielder. Early projections had him going as high as in the Top 10, though there are rumors that his draft stock has plummeted over the last four months due to a slew of off-the-field issues. The rumor was that he raped a woman. She immediately pressed charges, but her story was riddled with inconsistencies, and on top of that, she didn’t want to cooperate with investigators and has since disappeared. Jacobi was never arrested because of a lack of evidence and no witnesses, but his reputation is forever tainted in the eyes of many ball clubs, especially since he’s known for his questionable lifestyle. Jacobi was always a womanizer; everyone knew that. But no one wanted to believe he was capable of rape, especially Luke.
“Everyone sees Luke Bradford and Jacobi Cramer as a package deal. And as luck would have it, the Diamondbacks hold two of the first 15 picks in this year’s draft. Honestly, though, you gotta wonder if Cramer gets drafted at all,” the TV analyst continued.
Jacobi’s eyebrows furrowed as he tried to not listen to the television. He wanted nothing more than to go over to the small stage the ESPN analysts had set up on the other end of the auditorium to do their broadcast and tell them off. It would be just like him to do it, too. Jacobi has always been a huge hot head and switches gears faster than the quickest race car on the market.
One minute he’s angry and cocky, and the next he’s completely humble. Then he’ll flip on a dime and think only with what’s in his pants.
“Damn, these guys need to back the fuck off,” he says to himself. “These clubs would be crazy not to draft me!”
Jacobi shakes his head and reminds himself to live in the moment.
“Dude, can you believe this? Can you believe we made it?” Jacobi says with a massive smile as he nudges Luke with his shoulder.
“I know, man! It is surreal,” Luke fires back. “I can’t wait to get out on the field and start in The Show.”
“Really, dude? I wasn’t just thinking about that! I was thinking about the money and women,” Jacobi said sharply. He didn’t even see Luke’s reaction because he turned so quickly to scope out the venue and who was watching. “Ok, fine, and playing in a major league game, too!”
Jacobi turns away again, almost as if he’s looking around to see if he can spot his next late-night bootie call. Luke looks over to him and stares with his eyebrow lifted and a curious but concerned look on his face.
“You know, I know my dad was a total asshole, but I sure wish he was here to see this … to see me get drafted,” Jacobi said while looking straight ahead and past Luke.
Luke can tell Jacobi is embarrassed when he talks about his dad. Mr. Cramer was sent to prison 11 years earlier for physically abusing his wife and son. Jacobi shouldered most of the abuse so that his other siblings wouldn’t suffer the same fate. He’s the oldest of three, and his mom had always been a very polite and beautiful lady, but Mr. Cramer’s anger and abuse tore the family apart.
Mrs. Cramer continued as a single mother working two jobs to support her family. She knew she couldn’t afford college, so the fact Jacobi got a scholarship was the best thing that could have happened. Baseball was his escape, and he was really good at it. If he could just get drafted, he’d be able to give back to the only woman he truly respected and loved.
Luke feels sorry for his buddy but wonders if years of abuse have settled in and caused Jacobi to follow in his dad’s footsteps unknowingly.
“Did he do it?” Luke thinks to himself. “Did he rape that girl? I have always believed Jacobi and thought that he didn’t hurt her. Did he lie, though?”
Luke continues to stare at Jacobi, almost forgetting the immensity of the stage that they are both on at the moment. He couldn’t help but wonder if his best friend is a monster.
“And now to begin,” Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez says as he takes the microphone to introduce the MLB commissioner.
Luke’s mom, who is sitting beside him, nudges him to get ready for the big announcement.
“Here it is! Pay attention, honey,” she says with excitement.
Luke turns back to sit up straight and focus just in time to see the commissioner of baseball, Don Palmer, take his place at the podium.
“Welcome everyone! I’m not a believer in wasting any time, and I know all these fans in attendance can appreciate that, right?” Mr. Palmer said to a roar of cheers from the cheap seats. The event had become a massive spectacle over the years with more fans being allowed to experience the first day of the draft in person. “With the first pick in the 2040 Major League Baseball Draft, the Arizona Diamondbacks choose ... Luke Bradford, a pitcher from Arizona State University.”
Almost in one unified voice, everyone in the building erupted. Mostly, there were cheers and congratulatory air horns, but there were also boos raining down from disappointed fans who wanted Bradford to slip down to their favorite team.
Luke’s parents and Jacobi congratulated him with hugs, kisses, cheers, and tears. Luke Bradford – the first pick in the draft. Luke had a feeling this might happen, but he didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself. As he stood to meet the commissioner, he had the most obvious of stunned looks on his face.
Jacobi grabs Luke’s hand with a strong male handshake. “Dude! You fucking did it, man. You are the first fucking pick!”
“I did it, man! I did it!” Luke says as he tries to hold back tears.
Luke lets Jacobi go and passes all the other people who are standing and cheering. He continues to talk to himself as he walks.
“I can’t believe I did it! I am shaking the commissioner’s hand and am going to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks,” he exclaims like a child. “Things can’t get any better than this.”
Even though a crowd of reporters is jockeying for position to interview him, Luke sticks around to make sure he’s there for Jacobi when his name gets called.
The only problem is, Jacobi’s name doesn’t get called.
Jacobi can hear the whispers from everyone around him. They all believe he is more than good enough to play in the pros, but they, too, realize he may have screwed his chances by not following the straight and narrow path in life.
“Oh, please, someone pick him,” his mother whisper’s to Luke’s mom.
After a few tense hours, the Bradfords and Cramers decide to leave and watch the rest of the draft from their respective hotel rooms while Luke stays behind to complete a few more interviews with the local sports media.
Jacobi is pissed and leaves without saying goodbye.
Several days and 39 more draft rounds go by, and Jacobi’s name is never called. Jacobi is shocked, mad, and disappointed. Luke feels the same but is not as shocked as Jacobi because he knows how much his best friend’s off-the-field issues have influenced every team’s decision not to draft him. He tries to call and text Jacobi several times, but there’s no answer. Luke realizes Jacobi has every right to be mad, but he hopes Jacobi won’t give up.
Despite everything, Jacobi is a great player.
After weeks of no contact, Luke decides to go for broke and call in a favor he probably hasn’t earned yet. He calls the manager and general manager of the Diamondbacks and begs them to give Jacobi a chance. He praises his best friend for a good 10 minutes, giving reason after reason why the D’Backs should consider doing something with the kid.
As luck would have it, they agree and tell Luke that Jacobi is invited to attend spring training. There’s no guarantee he’ll make the team, but he’s welcome to try out and see what happens.
Luke is ecstatic and can’t wait to tell Jacobi – if he can get ahold of him.
In desperation, he grabs a team hat, orders a pizza from a nearby parlor, and drops in unannounced at Jacobi’s apartment.
When Jacobi answered, he was not pleased.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jacobi asks as he tries to close the door on his best friend.
“Whoa, buddy,” Luke says like a salesman. “I’ve got a hot pizza here. I know you can’t resist that – might as well be a hot babe out here, right? Besides, I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
“I don’t want to talk to you or anyone else,” Jacobi says. “And why are you wearing that fucking hat in my presence? Are you here to gloat?”
“Oh, this hat? It’s not mine. It’s yours,” Luke says as he tosses it at Jacobi. “You’ve been invited to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ spring training camp.”
Jacobi looks at Luke and immediately screams.
“Are you shitting me?” Jacobi says.
“No, dude! They want you to come to try out as an outfielder,” Luke says confidently. “I’m serious.”
Jacobi tackles Luke to the ground in excitement.
“Whoa, Jacobi! Don’t damage my No. 1 draft pick arm!” Luke says with a laugh.
“Oh, you got jokes,” Jacobi says. “Look, man. I know you did this. I know you got me this tryout. Don’t fuck with me!”
“I did. But as soon as I recommended you for a tryout, they didn’t hesitate,” Luke said. “They always liked what you have to offer. They like your physical abilities and your drive. They want you. Now, it’s up to you to show them your talents and make the team. I can’t help you there.”
Jacobi looks at Luke with a serious face. “I will, man. Thank you. Thank you!” he says. “They won’t regret this. I will even be a model citizen, too.”
“Dude, sometimes things happen for a reason. My mom always tells me that,” Luke says. “Maybe you were meant to be with the Diamondbacks. Do you believe in that stuff?”
“Nah, man. I believe in things I can see,” Jacobi says as he releases his bear hug on Luke. “Let’s eat that pizza and celebrate.”