The Time of My Life | Teen Ink

The Time of My Life

December 30, 2010
By kew711 PLATINUM, Naperville, Illinois
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kew711 PLATINUM, Naperville, Illinois
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Favorite Quote:
"Don't let someone tell you you're no one." - Sick Puppies


Author's note: This is the first story I ever wrote, and finished the whole way through. I used my favorite thing in the world - the 2008 Chicago Cubs - and gave them my own twist to make this novel.

It had all started that one day when I was four, when my family and I moved to Palm Springs. Back when it was just me, my mom, and my dad. Except for not long after the move, my dad left. He gave no warning. One night he just up and left for Chicago. I woke up to my mother, red-eyed and crying, sitting alone by the kitchen table. Of course, then being so young, I wasn’t nearly smart enough to understand what she meant. She did the same thing she had done for me when my grandpa had died, she had left a big ice-cream sundae sitting on the table for me, as if ice cream could make the pain numb. But now, knowing this, I would have thought that my dad had died. Then she showed me the letter.

It explained everything. That he wasn’t living the life he had dreamed of living, getting tied down to a wife and child when he was just eighteen, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to support either of them at a young age, and it was time to make a move, to really start his life. He was twenty two and moving to Chicago to try out for the rookie Chicago White Sox pitcher, his dream.

Two weeks later, we got a message in the mail. He had gotten the role, but his playing time was limited. I didn’t care much for baseball, anyway. Even being four, you could tell that sports weren’t my thing. I was always engrossed in schoolwork and was medically challenged -- I had just gotten back from the hospital to see my mom carry in the letter from the mailbox. Why was I in the hospital? You’ll see.
ELEVEN YEARS LATER
I’m fifteen, and as if an anniversary, I’m staring at an all-too familiar blank white wall. My mom is next to me, talking to a nurse. Yes, once again, I am in the hospital for my peanut allergy that had already gotten me into the hospital twice.

It was a long, silent drive home, and when we got there, my sister had a note in her hand. “Who’s Alex Rushing?” I knew that name was familiar… it was a White Sox starting pitcher.

“Alex Rushing?” I asked. My mom handed me the note. I read it in disbelief. “Mom, what does this mean?” she took the letter from my hands and crumpled it up. “Why Alex Rushing? Why doesn’t it say Sean Rogers like it’s supposed to?” Yes, Sean Rogers was my father. Or so I thought.

It turns out that Sean Rogers was Chelsea and Kelly’s father. My father was, yes, the one and only Alex Rushing.

So when people ask me why I’m a White Sox fan in California, I don’t say that it’s because my father plays for them. I just say ‘I don’t know’ and walk away.

Chelsea and Kelly still didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to get a letter from Alex Rushing. They didn’t know who he was, and certainly didn’t know that he was my father. So when I see Sean Rogers, when he comes home from Florida, he’s not my father. Learning this, I had a tough time adapting. In school, whenever I wrote Mark Rogers on my paper, I stare at it numerous times throughout the hour, thinking, ‘that isn’t right. It should say Mark Rushing’. How could my mom not understand the pain I was going through? When I’m flunking school she doesn’t even think to relate it to the fact that my whole life was a lie, that the person I thought was my father wasn’t my father.

Finally, summer comes. All my report cards have D’s, D minuses. Barely enough to scrape by. My mother started to regret letting me go on vacation with our best friends, our neighbors, since I did so poorly in school. But she decided to let me pass and we were off to the airport one morning, ready to board our four hour flight to Chicago.
When we finally arrived, I started to question why my mom had brought us here. We got into our room and my sisters and friends all went to explore. My mother and their mother went to the city, since they thought I was going with my friends. Instead, I sat on my bed, rereading the letter to my mother over and over again.

Shannon,

I once again apologize for my leaving, but you must know that I only did it to pursue my childhood dream. Now I have fulfilled it, and I can’t help but wonder about the life I left behind. I need to know how my son is doing, and if you have told him who I am yet. I would really appreciate it if you sent him down here to watch one of my games. I bought you ten tickets so you could bring who you like. The game is on April 6th. I’ll be looking for your smiling face right behind home plate as I pitch, and hope that I will be able to recognize my son.
Alex Rushing


April sixth was today. My mom called everyone back into the car to tell us finally why we were here.

To go to the White Sox game.

Michael wasn’t too happy to be there, since he was a Cubs fan. He sulked next to me as I watched in earnest, staring at my father, not knowing whether I respected him or hated him. It had started to drizzle in the first inning as he struck out every Cardinal to come to the plate. When they were up to bat, they started out with a solo homerun to left and a walked-in RBI single. The classic game you’d watch on the television, a quick home run or two in the first to start with a quaint lead. The second inning, Rushing once again struck out every batter. When the Sox batted, a triple and two doubles, 4-0, White Sox. The third inning was the disaster inning.

Alex Rushing continued his no-hitter with three more continuous strikeouts. The Cards had a new pitcher this inning, Alan McDunnel. With one out and a man on first and second, my father approached the plate. The fans gave a standing ovation, yet I seemed glued to my seat. I had a bad feeling.

A fastball, right down the heart of the plate. Rushing took a glance of it and let it pass by. Strike one.

A sinker, dropping to the center. He glanced at it and once again let it pass by. No balls, two strikes.

A missed splitter, dropped too early and way above his head, no sense in even considering. One ball, two strikes.

A fastball, way behind Rushing, gets by the catcher. Runners advance to second and third. Two balls, two strikes.

A cutter, taking a swerve right at the incorrect moment, forcing Rushing to jump back. Three balls, two strikes, full count.

Last pitch. A fastball, one hundred three miles per hour, moving so fast that even blinking could make you miss it. Alex Rushing must have blinked. That ball went straight for his head, he didn’t even move away. A bean ball, similar to those used on Jackie Robinson during his time in Brooklyn. And my father went down. He dropped down right onto the plate and lie there, not moving. My mother and I gasped, and the fans stood up, booing McDunnel. The athletic trainer ran onto the field and looked at Rushing, not sure what to do. I don’t know what prompted me to do it. I just did. I leapt over the fence, not even thinking about looking back, and I ran to my father’s side. His face was swollen and purple. Not a good sign.

“Hey, kid, what are you doing here? Get off the field!” The athletic trainer yelled. I shook my head.

“No way. This is my father! If he’s about to die, then I need to be here, even if I don’t know anything about who he is! So tell me. Is this fatal?” The athletic trainer stared at me.

“I can’t say it isn’t.” Soon my mother had run onto the field yelling. She pushed me out of the way, and I looked at my sisters and neighbors all standing at the gate, staring at us.

“Is he okay?” she asked, completely out of breath and on the verge of tears. The athletic trainer shook his head.

“And you are?”

“Shannon… Rushing. Shannon Rushing.” The athletic trainer shook his head once again and then got out his cell phone.

“We need an ambulance on the spot. U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. The man has consciousness but we aren’t sure how long it will last. Thank you.” My father was conscious, just barely. He looked up at my mother solemnly.

“Shannon…” he said, and grabbed her hand. “I’ll be fine.” The ambulance got there in no time, and Alex Rushing was taken to the hospital. My mother gathered everyone up in a rush and we headed back to the hotel.

I was sitting up in my bed, staring at the news, hoping they’d say the condition of my father. My mom was on the phone.

“Mark?” she said, calmly sitting down on the bed next to me. The door was slightly open and I could see Michael peering around close to the door, listening. “That was the doctor. Your father is in intensive care. They’re going to announce his condition in about ten minutes.” She hugged me and we both sat, staring at the television nervously. Finally, the ten minute mark passed.

“In sports news, Alex Rushing was hit in the head today by a one hundred three mile per hour fastball. We will now go live to the Edward hospital in Chicago to see his condition.” The screen flashed and I saw a white room, similar to that I had seen twice in Palm Springs. The doctor was talking to the news reporter.

“I’m afraid that it is unlikely that Alex Rushing will survive the blow. If it is not fatal, which would be a long shot; he would probably be paralyzed for the remainder of his life.” That was all my mother could take. She turned off the TV, grabbed the keys to the rental car and was off to the hospital without even saying goodbye.
TWO MONTHS LATER

We were all back at home, sitting at the kitchen table and eating breakfast, watching the channel 7 news. Suddenly, the breaking news bulletin segment flashed on.

“We have breaking news from the hospital in Chicago, White Sox pitcher Alex Rushing has just passed away after a severe blow to the head two months ago.” They showed the clip of the fastball hitting my father and my father falling to the ground. My mother dropped her fork and let it clatter to the table as she watched in disbelief. I watched with her, paralyzed watching the news progress that has changed my whole life. I never really met my father. The first time I had really seen him through grown up eyes was the last time. So now I don’t have a father at all.

“I’m going for a walk.” I said. I put on my shoes and jacket and walked out the door.

Now I am seventeen. I had gotten my license a year ago and right away used it to go to the gym. I wasn’t working out, but I knew that there was something I had to do. My father’s death had shaped me differently, and I needed to cherish his memory in any way possible. I started taking pitching lessons in a baseball clinic at the local gym. My goal was to become the White Sox’s rookie pitcher when I twenty or so, in three years. Three years to be as good as I could be.

My mother or sisters never knew where I was going when I took the car out. I was gone for about five hours every day and they didn’t even bother to ask where I was going. I knew nothing would stop me from reaching my goal and making my father proud. I thought I had been doing really well when some guys who ran the facility stopped by and watched me pitch. They talked for a while, then left. Realizing that people could be watching me at any moment, I worked harder.

From noon to five, I would work the hardest I possibly could. I didn’t take one day off. If the gym was closed for a holiday, I’d practice against the wall in my house using a special pitch-trainer that I had bought last year. It was a sticky ball that was about the same weight as a regulation baseball. I’d throw it against the wall and decide if it was a ball or a strike.

Sometimes all six of us would go to the baseball field and practice. Now, nobody knew that I was a pitcher and in Little League I had played shortstop, so that’s what they pegged me as. But since we didn’t have enough people, it would be me playing shortstop and third, Michael playing first and second, Alexis and Chelsea splitting the outfield, and Alexandra and Kelly taking turns tossing the ball. Whoever wasn’t “pitching” would take the spot of the person who was batting. We didn’t have a catcher. The batter would have to shag any missed balls.

I cherished the time we spent there, knowing that someday it would make me a better player. Even if I was a pitcher playing shortstop, that should change. If you don’t have a dream, you can’t have a dream come true, so I set the bar high and fantasized of achieving greatness.
ONE YEAR LATER

Our family had just gotten back from our trip to Chicago that we took every year. It was December so in the Midwest it was frigid. In California, not so much. Before I had even unpacked my bag, I took the car and headed for the gym. I took the same path and ten minutes later, ended up at the usual location. I parked the car and immediately sensed that something was way wrong. The fact that my car was the only one in the parking lot. I ran to the front door and knocked once, twice. It was locked and deserted. It wasn’t closed because it was half past noon, and it wasn’t a holiday. Then, I found a note on the stoop.

Loyal visitors,
Yes, we have closed down to move to a different location. On behalf of the chain, we needed to go to a more populous area and therefore moved to Los Angeles. I apologize for any inconveniences.



So now I was on my own. I would have to train myself to be the best that I could be. That was the day that I started to think that my dream was too big to handle.

I got in the car and started my trip back home. It seemed a lot longer knowing that now I was pretty much doomed of ever achieving greatness and fulfilling my dream to fulfill my father’s dream.

I got so caught up in my senseless thoughts and feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t paying attention to the road. I was going near seventy in a fifty mile per hour zone, and when my vision finally cleared, I realized that I was going to crash into the guy in front of me in the intersection.

I slammed on my brakes, and just barely stopped in time. I was inches away from the other car as I breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly, though, I was propelled forward at an astonishing rate as the car behind me didn’t manage to brake fast enough. Thank God I had at least remembered to wear my seat belt, because that and the air bag saved my life. However, part of my head missed the bag and crashed onto the dashboard hard.

That day was also the day where for the third time, I awoke in the hospital.

I was staring at the familiar wall yet again, but this time nobody in my family was there. None of them knew what was going on. My sisters didn’t even know that I had left. I sat up as a nurse walked in.

“I suppose you’re awake,” she smiled, a tired-out smile like she hadn’t slept in days. “You’re family is on the way.”

“Is there anything wrong with me?”

“Nothing serious. Some cuts and bruises. Nothing like what the guy who crashed into you got into. Burns everywhere. Crazy, that is. I’ve never quite seen anything like it.”

“Can I just go? I mean, if I’m fine, then why stay here?” Without waiting for her to answer, I jumped out of the bed.

“Well, your mother and sisters are on the way. I can alert them… that you’re leaving.”

“No problem. I got it,” I said, showing her my cell phone. I exited the building and dialed the phone. It stopped ringing, but nobody had picked up and there wasn’t a voice message. I looked at the screen. Blank. The phone had gone dead.

I walked over to the pay phone and dropped in my last 25 cents. I dialed my mother’s cell phone. She answered nervously.

“Hello?”

“Hey, mom, it’s me.”

“Oh my god, Mark, are you okay?”

“I don’t know; I haven’t gotten much time to recuperate. But, I’m leaving, so you don’t need to check me out here, k?” I hung up before she could protest. It would be a long walk home, especially since I didn’t know the way. That’s the story of my life so far. I never knew the way. And I certainly didn’t think that I’d find it.
ONE YEAR LATER

Now it was July. It was boiling hot inside and outside. It was almost murder to practice. I would still practice every day for three to five hours. My shoulder was sore, and I felt like I was the best I could be. Of course, I had to punish myself for thinking that, because I knew I had to be better. I threw side-arm, overhead; I even threw pitches practically underhand with my arm on the floor to find out what was comfortable. Every day I would decide that one pitch was right, practice it, and the next day it would change. I didn’t know if that was good or bad, because on one hand, you’d always fool the batters, but on the other hand, it was inconsistent and managers might not go for that.

And every night before I finally went to bed, mad at myself for not practicing the best that I could, I’d stare at the scar right above my right eye that reminded me of that day when my trainer left town and I finally felt alone. Even with my mother and sisters and friends, this affected me a lot because he was helping me achieve my dream. Well, now that dream seemed pretty far away. I only had one more year, less, because I had to try out in March. I had eight months to be the best that I could be, and I felt like I was nowhere close to my goal. Each day I would think about how I had one day less to work, and about how much I needed yesterday back to fit in the time I could have spent. The time I spent sleeping and eating soon got dramatically less. I would eat as fast as I could and run to the garage, I would go to bed at two in the morning after practicing all night and wake up at 6 to start over again. I got 4 hours of sleep a night and each meal took about ten minutes to eat. Ten times three is thirty minutes a day eating, so I spent four and a half hours each day not practicing. The other nineteen and a half hours were spent pitching at the wall, thinking of imaginary batters. If I walked one, I’d do fifty push-ups. If I gave up a meatball, one of those pitches right down the heart of the plate that could easily be smashed out of the park; I’d do fifty push-ups, eighty sit-ups and run around the garage fifteen times. I was literally killing myself. When I felt that a pitch was horrible enough, I’d think of a cruel punishment on the spot. If I “hit a batter”, I would do push-ups until my arms gave out and then get up and do twenty five more. The only time I gave myself a break was when my mom came outside to see what I was doing. She didn’t mind that I wasn’t in college—I don’t think she even noticed. She never said anything, and I never mentioned it. If I was going to play, I couldn’t waste time with school. I was nineteen, so I was still too young for the major leagues. I also didn’t want to waste time in the minors, so I knew that I had to be just that good to stun them at first sight.

Each passing day would make me realize that I was one day closer to March 18th. Day after day passed, and each day I’d become more and more exhausted. I knew I was killing myself, and I didn’t care. I thought it was for the best. One night, though, I went to bed at two in the morning as usual, but missed my 6 o’clock wake-up time. I slept until noon, woke up astounded, and immediately set off to practice. Now I had 6 hours less than my daily average. I was beating myself up over it, too. I felt like those 6 hours might have been enough to make or break my whole career.
EIGHT MONTHS LATER

The day had almost come. It was March 17th, and this time I actually knew what was best for me. Instead of practicing myself even harder, I gave myself a little rest. We were in Chicago for another White Sox game, Sox against Cubs, and the series of the year. Yesterday was the day I worked myself until I thought I would puke in the steaming-hot Chicago gym. Today, I slept in and had a good breakfast, and just in general took the day off, and hoped it would help. Even making the Minors wouldn’t work for me. I wanted to fulfill my dad’s dream as soon as possible, and the Minor leagues wouldn’t cut it. I was nervous, I’ll tell you that. At 7:00 we went to the game. It was a good match. There were four home runs hit that day, three by the Sox and one by the Cubs. They made up for it by hitting in runs, and it went into extra innings. The final score was Cubs 6, Sox 7, due to a double by Alexei Ramirez followed by an RBI single by Orlando Cabrera. It was one of the most exciting games I had ever been to.

The game ended at 10:45 and by the time we got back to the hotel room it was about 11:30, and we were all exhausted and went immediately to bed.
10 HOURS LATER
It was 9:30 central time and the clock was ticking for me and my fellow ten comrades trying out to impress Ozzie Guillen and the rest of the team. I thought I pitched well, seeing as how they put me out there five times. I was continuously switching between side-arm and overhand, because I thought that the risk would pay off. Not many managers see a guy who can pitch comfortably 2 ways, and it could definitely throw off a batter. They seemed impressed, and for the first time in years I felt confident and proud of what I had accomplished on my own and with my trainer. AJ Pierzynski was there to give the signals and catch our throws. There was one guy – Josh Morgan—who I knew would never make it. AJ ran after every pitch that guy threw, and he still looked conceited even though he was doing so badly.
Ryan McHenry was one guy who I knew was a tough competition. I knew they’d have trouble turning him down. He was amazing—he probably couldn’t be a starter, he didn’t have enough stamina—but a good reliever or closer. All I knew was that I was dreading being turned down.
And yes, eventually I did have to tell my mom what I had been doing the past few years out in the garage, and she knew I was here and she accepted it and she and my sisters and friends were all cheering me on from the hotel, nervously awaiting the news as I was. And then time came to receive it.
“Okay, I need Josh Morgan, Kevin Alamone, Frank Gerald and Jeff Smith to go with AJ.” Guillen announced. They headed over to the dugout, and Pierzynski started chatting with them, and they all looked downright depressed. They had to be the ones who didn’t make it.
“Sean Adams, Nick Jenkins and Derrek Jones, with Alexei,” I figured that they must have been the minor leaguers, because they were decent, but not outstanding.
“Ryan McHenry and Mitch Johnson with Joe.” So those two went with Joe Crede and I was left standing alone. I knew that they had made it, because after the first thing Crede said, they started to celebrate. I was left standing alone.
“And Mark Rogers, with me.” Guillen said, and led me to the other dugout and sat on the bench, motioned me to do the same.
“Mark, here’s the thing—I think that you’re an amazing pitcher. You’re too good for the minors. And the different pitch styles that you have, that all work out for you is… ideal. The problem is that makes any man prone to injury. We already have taken enough risks as to who we take on the club, and I’d like to tell you that you have made it into the Major Leagues as a starter, however, not in this particular club. You’re a deserving man, Rogers, and I want you to get what you deserve. Therefore, you will play on the Chicago Cubs.” I didn’t know what to think. Yeah, I was in the major leagues, and I had accomplished a great feat, but not in the way I would have liked.
“What if I only did one pitching style?” I asked calmly, although I didn’t feel calm in the least.
“I know that the Cubs have been looking for a pitcher like you, and I’ve already told Lou Piniella that you’re here. You’re one of a kind. I won’t let that go to waste.”
It felt like my heart was about to jump out of my throat. I wasn’t angry, per se; I was happy and unhappy at the same time.
Ozzie Guillen stood up and shook my hand. “Good luck, kid.” That was all he said, then took his cell phone out of his pocket, started dialing, and left me standing in the dugout.

I was sitting with all of the Chicago Cubs, new and old, waiting to be introduced. It was the day of the Cubs Convention, and the emcee was calling us in three at a time.
“I’m going to bring in four people right now. They all have something in common that they don’t know about yet.” I looked at the players, calmly talking, not knowing whether or not it was them being called in. “starting second baseman, Mark DeRosa.” DeRosa stood up and walked through the curtain, disappearing from sight. He was about my height, and he seemed like a pretty nice guy.
“Starting shortstop Ryan Theriot,” Theriot stood up, looking a little nervous. It was his second convention, first as a starter, so I figured he should be. He looked like a vulnerable guy. He was pretty short, and definitely uncomfortable.
“Relief pitcher Carlos Marmol.” Marmol… he was the kind of guy where you saw him and new that there was something about him… whether it was good or bad, you didn’t know.
“And second baseman Mike Fontenot.” Fontenot was the shortest one on the team at 5’8”. He played more than second base, and he played it really well. But I understand why DeRosa got the spot.
“Now, what do these people have in common? We know that Fontenot, Marmol and Theriot all went to LSU, but there’s something else. Marmol, tell us all the positions you’ve played… in general.”
“Pitcher, catcher and right field.” That was all he said. He couldn’t speak too well, and he was born in the Dominican Republic.
“Fontenot?”
“Uh, second and third and shortstop.”
“And we all know that DeRosa is our utility player. DeRosa, what positions have you played?”
There was a pause as he leaned toward the microphone. “All of them.” He said firmly, and everyone laughed. “Except, maybe… pitcher and catcher. The positions that Marmol can play. The positions that have to be used in every play, the most important ones. Soto is a great catcher, and Blanco… he has to be a great catcher, he’s Soto’s mentor. All of our pitchers are great, too. I’m just not one of them.”
“Thank you, Mark. And then we have Theriot. Now, I’ve only seen him play shortstop, but according to his records, there’s more. Ryan?”
“Yeah, there is more. I am the starting shortstop, but in the minors I played second base mostly. I was like DeRosa here; I played short, second, outfield, and I started learning to catch. Then in my pre-minor league days, I was always the pitcher in high school and my first college year. You all know the story of my pitching feat in LSU?” I did know about that. In one of the playoff games, the Tigers had used their entire bullpen and there were two outs, so they needed a pitcher and Ryan had stepped up because he wasn’t going to get in the game and he knew it – Fontenot was the starter, he was secondary, and with two outs he got the batter out using all knuckleballs. “So I was like the DeRosa who could pitch. I’ve seen him pitch, it was downright frightening.”
“Yeah, I was wondering why you had to go chase down my pitch and yours went right to me.”
The crowd burst out laughing. “Now, you guys came from an unsuccessful 2007 season. Any ideas why?” There was silence at the table. “Anyone?”
“Um…” Fontenot said, “Maybe because I wasn’t playing?” The crowd once again laughed. “I didn’t get up from the minors until Ryan hurt himself. That’s when they noticed my full potential and let me on.”
“And then when I healed for some reason they decided to keep you.” More laughter. “Um, no, I think that maybe we just shut down. Our season was kind of on and off, where we couldn’t manage to hold onto a winning streak. In the end, I guess it got to us and we just… gave up.”
“Now, DeRosa, I heard you spent a little time in the hospital two weeks ago, and I’m hearing rumors about a ‘near-death experience’. Can you tell us exactly what happened?”
“Not really, because I was passed out for most of the time.” These guys were on a roll. The crowd wouldn’t stop laughing. “Maybe you should ask one of these guys who were there the whole time. All I know is I passed out, and when I woke up, nobody would tell me what happened. Like they expected me to find out on my own.”
“I assume you know what happened, Ryan?” He asked Theriot.
“Oh, it was a heartwarming story. DeRo starting acting weird and then he passed out right in the middle of Fitch Park. Mark O’Neal came over and had no clue what to do, so he called an ambulance, until he realized that DeRo wasn’t breathing. We were all ready for a funeral service.”
He paused awkwardly. “And then…?” Ryan looked at Fontenot for help.
“How about Mike finishes the story?” he said, and then took a long drink of water. Fontenot looked confused.
“Alright. So, we were all standing there, and then Theriot comes running up because he was working with Trammell and didn’t know what was going on. He just saw us all crowding around. He comes up and asks what happened, then Derrek Lee explains, and he just jumps into action. Lucky for us he took a medical course in college. Two minutes later, he had DeRosa up and ready to be taken into the ambulance.”
“What exactly did he do to Mark to wake him up?”
“CPR. Here, I thought that Ryan told me everything that he knew, all the courses he took, because we were in most of the same ones, except for the one o’clock course. That’s when I was in French and he told me he was in Spanish.”
“I was in Spanish. I was in the medical course at night school. It was a 9 o’clock course.” Theriot explained.
“Marmol, what troubles have you faced being a pitcher?”
“In college I was a starter, so I had to adapt to being a reliever, and adaptations aren’t too easy. I had quite a few days where I couldn’t seem to find the strike zone, and halfway through the season I felt like I was for sure either being traded or heading down to the minors.”
“Well, thank you, guys. You can have a seat next to the stage. Now let’s bring out our next three guys. Starting pitcher, Ted Lilly!” Lilly stepped onstage. He looked totally apathetic and bored, he would never smile. “Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano!” Zambrano was having a tough time speaking English, so it would be an interesting interview. “And the newest member of the Cubs, taking the spot of Sean Gallagher, starting pitcher Mark Rogers!” I walked out and took my seat. Nobody had ever even heard my name; they all looked confused, except for my family and friends.
“Mark, being the newest member of the Cubs, what are your strengths for the team?”
“Well, not only do I have numerous pitches, but I can pitch all three standard ways, and I play almost any position. I have played outfield, and I was primarily a shortstop.”
“How old are you exactly?”
“Twenty.”
“Serious?”
“Yes.”
“Okay, Ted Lilly. Coming into this season will be your third Cubs season, Zambrano… what is it, your tenth? And Rogers, you’re first. Carlos Zambrano, can you give any advice to the new Cubs members?”
“Every year you know that you are one year older, but you feel one year younger, ability wise. Then, you start getting older again. Just don’t get side swept by how you feel, just focus on what is really important.”
“Thank you. Ted Lilly, how was your experience on the Cubs different from your experience on the Blue Jays?”
“Will you ask the same question to Johnson?” he asked, then continued. “No, I definitely like this team better. They’re more serious when they’re playing, but aside from that, they’re like a bunch of kids. I know that sometimes Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa bring their daughters to batting practice, and with Ryan Theriot, it’s a different kid every week, and it’s really fun to have the kids watch us and learn about what we do for a living. But we all try to be kids and just have fun with the time we have left as a team, before the trading deadline. Last year, we lost Matt Murton, Sean Gallagher, and Eric Patterson to the A’s but got Mark Rogers here, along with Chad Gaudin and Rich Harden, who is currently on the DL and will be going into rehab. But anyway, a pitcher and two position players for the best starting pitcher in the game, a beyond stellar reliever, and this guy here who by what we’ve heard is capable of quite a lot.”
“And Mark, building off of what Ted Lilly says, Lou Piniella mentioned to us that in case of an emergency, he may stick you in the infield or outfield. What do you think of that?”
“So I’ll be the next Mark DeRosa, except for the fact that I’ll spend most of my time pitching? Fine, that’s great. We just aren’t sure that that’s going to happen. I know Carlos Marmol was told that he might be used to play outfield if he was called, and he never was, so I’m open to it one hundred percent if I’m needed, and if not, that’s cool. Playing every five days can get boring, but it can most definitely be worth it.”
“Zambrano, you must know that in Mark DeRosa’s blog entry, “My First Half Awards”, he mentioned that an MVP could not be a pitcher, because they don’t play every game. Do you agree on this standpoint?”
“I obviously see what he means, but in some cases, the best player is the starting pitcher. Not many, because they do play only every five games, but I think that it’s his call on how he sees his team.”
“Do you think that our pitching is better than our fielding?”
“We have some good fielders. Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and the thing about those people is that they can all swing the bat too. But our starting pitching is also a very good quality.”
“Ted Lilly, how would you decipher the team’s hitting skill?”
“Well, we have our big hitters like, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Soto, Edmonds, and DeRosa. Then we have the people who are good at home runs and at base hits, like Johnson, Fontenot, Cedeňo, and Fukedome. And then there are people like Henry Blanco and Ryan Theriot who can get on base a good percentage of the time, and can even knock in a home run or two throughout the season. All of our hitters are good at what they can do and all affect the team positively in their own way.”
“Mark, you’re new to the team and so we don’t really know too much about you as a hitter. Zambrano is probably our only pitcher who can hit homeruns regularly, but you also mentioned that you can play almost any position. Would you consider you’re hitting to be at par of a pitcher or a fielder?”
The question struck me as odd. What was I supposed to say? Yes, I’m amazing; I can hit fifty home runs in a season? Or say, no, I’m a crappy hitter like the average pitcher; don’t count on me at all? So I paused, struggling for words.
“Well, I have my days. I can put up numbers in homeruns and RBI’s. Not an outstanding amount, expect maybe five to ten homeruns a season, a few RBI’s. But some days I just can’t seem to get on base at all. I’ve had ten, fifteen game slumps but I’ve also had maybe four games in a row where I hit a homerun a game.”
“So are you saying you’re inconsistent?” this guy was seriously trying to ruin my career before it even started, trying to have me make a fool out of myself.
“I’m somewhat consistent. It’s like, I’m either really hot for a week or I’m average for a week or I’m in a slump for a week. I’m consistent for short periods of time.”
“Well, I think that ends today, so there are more Cubs Convention interviews tomorrow. Now you can go talk to the players all you want, form single file lines.” Every player had a little chair that they sat in against the wall as fans stormed to the front for autographs. All of the pitchers were next to each other and the infielders were by each other and the outfielders—same gig. I was sitting in between Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. Long lines of fans formed by both of them. I was left standing with the few excuses for fans I had – my friends and family.
“So, were you nervous?” Jenna Springz asked. I shrugged. “I can tell he wanted you to screw up with that last question, but you handled it quite well.”
“Thanks. Um, yeah. It’s kind of nerve racking, being up there, but at least there are two other people up there who want you to succeed. Or in the group before, in their case, three. Either way, it’s not as bad as I imagined. It’s probably just worse because I wanted to be on the Sox and ended up with their rivals. Well, city rivals, it’s not like the Tigers or the Cardinals.”
“Don’t worry, pretty soon, you’ll have tons of fans cheering you on, and quite a few people will have Rogers shirts on. Do you know your number yet?” my mom asked.
“I think its number eleven, but I’m not sure. Either eleven or fifty four, something like that.”
“Well, you did a really good job up there.” I kind of doubted that, considering after they left, I was forced to look at all the fans Ted and Ryan had, and everyone else had, whilst I was still waiting for one.

Today was a big day. No, today was a huge day. It was April—that meant that it was time for our first spring training game. Everyone on the team got really psyched about it and starting working out like, double time. We’d all go to the field every day and split up into groups—the pitchers would go pitch with Larry Rothschild, the pitching coach, Ryan Theriot and Mark DeRosa would practice with Alan Trammell, and the other half would take turns switching between the batting cages and the weight room.
But today was our first spring training game against the Houston Astros. Len Kasper and Bob Brenly were in the booth, announcing. They always televise one or two spring training games—they chose this one. And because I have almost no experience, I was the first starting pitcher of the unofficial season. Larry told me that I have three different pitches, and I should focus on one a game. I decided to rule out underhand, that was a little uncomfortable, and switch off between side and regular.
The Astros were a tough team to start out against. They had Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada, Mark Loretta, Carlos Lee and Benji Molina all starting, their star players. I was downright nervous.
I didn’t know almost any of the batters, so I just followed Soto’s signs. Curveball, to the right against Molina. I was going to savor the moment—my first pitch in the major leagues. Technically, it wasn’t the season yet, but it’s the first time any of these people saw me. And I was excited. I placed my hand firmly on the baseball, rolling my fingers around it, trying to find a comfortable grip as I nodded to Soto that a curveball strike would work. I took a deep breath, did my wind-up, and the pitch—perfect strike, swung on and missed. The second pitch was a fastball just to the right and outside of the strike zone. I placed the pitch with my mind, once again found my grip, took a few deep breaths, and threw it hard and straight, and once again, swing and a miss. This was so cool, doing what I had dreamed of and having a team truly support me. Soto signaled my pitch—it was a riser, starting low and moving to the center. This was one of the toughest pitches to throw, so I really tried to focus all my energy on getting this once pitch right.
One pitch away from getting my first strikeout, I thought to encourage myself. I knew that it was going to work. I threw it, and then watched helplessly as Molina gave it a look like he was going to crush it. It never rose. It was a perfect fastball, right down the middle. I was waiting for him to crush it. Then I heard the umpire yell “Strike three!” and then realized that the ball was in Soto’s hand. Molina never even swung.
The next two batters went down in a similar way. Not the same pitches, but there were only three. It was such a relief to have three batters up, and three batters struck out. But next inning I’d have to face Loretta and Berkman, one after another.
Bottom of the first, no outs, nobody on, Soriano was up to bat. He watched the first pitch. It was a ball, just like the second and third. The fourth one, he watched again. Strike, fastball down the middle, very alike my Molina third pitch. The next one, he swung and missed. Full count on Soriano. Anderson, the pitcher, was a veteran right-hander. He knew what he was doing. He threw the pitch, it looked like a splitter, but it was still a strike. Soriano swung and made contact, it was a high-flying ball. We were all screaming in the dugout, we were all sure it would be a homerun. Instead, it went over the outfielder’s head and bounced, then went into the stands. Ground rule double. Still very close.
No outs, man on second, Ryan Theriot up to bat. First pitch, he swings and makes contact. A dribbler in the two-hole, so it was right between the third baseman and shortstop. The shortstop dives for it and it goes right past him. Theriot reaches first, Soriano reaches third. Next up, Derrek Lee.
He too watched the first pitch, and the count was 0-1. The next pitch was a sinker for a ball, 1-1. He swings at the next pitch, a splitter too low for contact, 1-2. He watches the next two, and there’s a full count. Theriot is making a huge lead off first. The pitcher pretends not to notice. Theriot is inching toward second base, then suddenly the throw flies to the first baseman, and Theriot is three quarters of the way to second. Berkman throws to Loretta, and Theriot turns around. The throw goes back to Berkman, and he turns again. It’s a classic rundown, and eventually Theriot starts to look exhausted. He makes a final break for second after numerous throws back and forth. Of course, Loretta has the ball right by second base and is about to tag Theriot when Ryan actually dives between Loretta’s legs. He’s so shocked he just watches Theriot take second. It was a perfect moment.
Lee is still up, no outs, man on second and third, full count. The pitch is a bad one, low and outside. By the time Molina catches it; Lee is already bending down and taking his shin guard off. Bases loaded no outs for Ramirez, “Mr. Clutch”.
With any sense, he would no that the pitcher had no intention to walk him. Yet he still watches the first three pitches fly by, two strikes and a ball. The next one is a perfect pitch down the middle. Ramirez hammers it and takes it for a ride, a long high-flying ball. The outfielder was on the warning track… and catches it up the wall. Soriano tags and runs home, Theriot advances to third and Lee to second. An amazing sac-fly for Aramis Ramirez and the score is 1-0.
There’s one out with man on second and third for Geovany Soto. He too decides to swing big and makes amazing contact, and that ball is gone for sure. The outfielder just stands by and watches it fly. The ball was hit so well that it actually flies out of the ball park. An amazing three-run homerun for Soto in the first inning to make the score 4-0.
1 out, nobody on for Edmonds. He watches the first two, a strike followed by a ball. He then swings at the next pitch and misses, 1-2. He swings at the next pitch, too, and makes a lazy pop-out to the center fielder.
2 outs nobody on for DeRosa this time. He watches the first pitch for a ball, 1-0. The next pitch he swings and fouls off, 1-1. The next one he watches for a ball again, 2-1. Another ball, 3-1, hitter’s count. He watches the next one, strike, full count on DeRosa. He swings and makes contact, but grounds out to Loretta. There goes the first inning, and we’re leading four to nothing. Next up: Mark Loretta and Lance Berkman.
I was nervous, yeah. Mark Loretta was anything but the easiest person to avoid getting on base. I didn’t want to walk anyone because I wanted to get off to a good start. Soto gave me the signs—fastball a little to the left. That must have meant that Loretta never swung on a first pitch. As I threw the pitch and he didn’t swing, I knew that was correct. Next pitch—curveball to the outside corner. The curveball really wasn’t my best pitch ever, but that didn’t stop me from trying. Loretta nailed that ball, and I watched it fly past the leaping DeRosa and into shallow outfield. An easy single.
But then, out of nowhere, Edmonds comes flying up and dives hard on his stomach, does a barrel roll, and comes up with the ball in his mitt. The people in the dugout stand and cheer as Edmonds tosses the ball to Ramirez who throws it to the umpire. So I avoided getting Loretta on base. With a lot of help from Edmonds.
Everyone takes their spot back on the field to prepare for the dreaded Lance Berkman. This time Soto told me first pitch ball. I reluctantly agreed and threw it to the right. Berkman swung on the inside pitch, making it 0-1. He told me to throw another ball. This time Berkman took it. Next pitch, splitter for a strike. Berkman fouled it off deep into the stands, 1-2. Then Soto told me ball on the outside. I agreed, I didn’t know what else to do, and I threw the pitch. A big swing by Berkman, and he strikes out. No contact made.
The next batter signaled a bunt. I threw a fastball down the middle and he laid down a horrible bunt—that might not have been the word for it, considering it never even came down. It flew up practically right into my mitt, and just like that, three up three down, we went to the bottom of the second. Due up: Fukedome, me, and then Soriano.
Kosuke Fukedome was the first batter for the Cubs in the second inning. He went down pretty fast. One pitch and he grounded out to Tejada, the Astros’ shortstop. So with one out and nobody on I was up. I looked at the stands while I was warming up—they were empty. Nobody could watch a spring training game. But as soon as the regular season started up, those stands would be full of cheering fans. I didn’t know if I was ready for that step.
Like Lou Piniella instructed me, I let the first pitch go by for a strike. The next one was an obvious ball to the outside. The count was one and one, and I was pretty much sweating just with the anticipation of batting. I found myself watching the next two pitches, two balls. The count was three and one. The next pitch I just couldn’t let go by. It was perfect. Fastball, straight down the middle. Why would anyone pitch that?
I swung and watched the ball sail toward the stands. It just kept going it seemed, and as I was rounding first I saw the outfielder Carlos Lee try to jump and catch it above the basket. No luck. My first at-bat as a major league baseball player turned out to be my first homerun. It’s just too bad that it wouldn’t go in my records for stats.
I finally trotted home and gave Soriano a quick high-five. I ran into the dugout where everyone was ecstatic. I ran through giving and receiving numerous high-fives and slaps on the helmet. Now we were leading 5-0 with nobody on and one out in the bottom of the second and Soriano was up. I sat down on the bench when Lou Piniella came up to me and sat down.
“So that’s deceiving. You tell me that you’re not all too good for homeruns, yet the first time I see you bat, you hammer one into center field.”
“I guess I’m just a deceitful person,” I responded with a grin. He gave me a pat on the back.
“Well, good job kid.” He muttered as he stood up shakily. “And keep up the good pitching. Larry Rothschild must have given you a few pointers.” He said as he was walking away. I turned my attention back to the game. Soriano had gotten intentionally walked and was on first and Theriot was batting. He signaled a bunt—a sac bunt—and laid it down perfectly down the third base line. Soriano advanced and Theriot, running as fast as he could, which was pretty fast, made a close play at first. The umpire stood up and did the safe motion with his hands. The sac bunt turned into a single, so with one out and two on, Derrek Lee stepped up to the plate.
The pitcher wouldn’t walk him, because that would mean that in his opinion, the next batter would be easier to deal with. That was Ramirez, and that was not any easier. On the first pitch, Lee gave a huge swing and made contact. It wasn’t a homerun, but it was tucked away in the right field corner, making it an easy double. Soriano and Theriot both scored, so the score was 7-0, man on second, one out for Ramirez.
First pitch was a strike, a curveball that really looked like a ball. Even the pitcher seemed surprised. The next pitch was outside and low, 1-1 the count. The next ball way high and over Ramirez’s head. Molina rips off his mask and goes to chase it as Lee advances to third. Anderson now looks pretty angry and sets off to work with a 2-1 count. The next ball way inside. Ramirez tries to take a hop-step back to get out of the ball’s way, but it’s no use. He is hit in the elbow, which doesn’t seem like a big deal as he casually takes first base.
1 out, man on first and third for Soto who hit a three-run homerun first time up to bat. First pitch, ball one. Soto did his little warm-up at the plate, swinging his bat around, and took the next pitch for ball two. The pitcher was totally angry yet apathetic, and I understood why. The score was seven nothing in the bottom of the second. The game seemed pretty much over. Soto took the third pitch, another ball, and you could tell he was ready to get on first with a walk. And obviously enough, the fourth pitch was a ball, so Anderson loaded the bases with one out for Jim Edmonds.
Had Edmonds ever hit a grand slam? Not that I knew about. Not since he was on the Cubs, anyway. Or else Michael would have told me about it. But he did hit a lot of homeruns, so you could never doubt him. First pitch he took was a strike on the outside corner. The second pitch was similar so he swung on it and missed. The third pitch was practically in the dirt, but somehow Edmonds got the uncanny urge to swing at the horrible pitch. So the score was 7-0 in the second inning, two outs bases loaded for Mark DeRosa. And based on last season, every time this happened he hit a grand slam. Or pretty much every time. I watched as I picked up my bat, shoved on my batting helmet and waited on the dugout stairs.
First pitch, as usual, a strike on the outside corner. Anyone could predict that. The second pitch was a strike on the outside lower corner. Man, did he crush that ball. It went flying to the stands, and nobody gave it a second look. Another grand slam for Mark DeRosa. The score was 11-0 in the second inning with two out and Fukedome was up. I stepped out of the dugout and onto the on-deck circle. This would be the second time Fukedome was up this inning, he generating the first out. This time was a bit different. He never swung. At anything. So strike one, strike two, strike three, and he was out. So it was a 7 run second inning and now I was back out to face Lee, Tejada, and Anderson.
Carlos Lee was very similar to Derrek Lee. 1. They both have the last name Lee. 2. They are both very uneasy to face, seeing as how they hit so many homeruns. I threw my first pitch strike to Lee, and he let it go, giving it the ‘whatever’ face that he was so good at. Second pitch he swings and misses on what I thought was a horrible pitch. Either way, the count was 0-2, the pitcher’s count. I let the third pitch fly, and he hit it right near DeRosa, a line drive to DeRo’s right. DeRosa makes a diving save, and I look at the dugout as they go crazy. Fontenot, Cedeňo, Blanco, Dempster and Marquis especially. So Carlos Lee was the first out.
The next one I would go for would be Miguel Tejada. Soto indicated I walk him. I indicated I wouldn’t. I threw my first pitch strike, and he watched that as usual. I threw a second pitch splitter and he takes a huge swing and misses, doing a Fukedome strike and actually spinning around. Now he looks determined, I figure I may look scared, because Soto is giving me strange looks from inside the catcher’s gear. The third pitch he tells me to throw a riser. I don’t like my risers. I can’t seem to make them rise. But once again, that didn’t stop me from trying. It started on the ground practically and ended up right in the middle of the strike zone. The umpire calls it strike three and Tejada looks furious.
And finally, Anderson came up to bat. I didn’t want to get too cocky, but pitchers really aren’t the best hitters. I know that I’m saying this after hitting a homerun in my first career at bat, and we have Zambrano, who last season nailed almost five homeruns, but still, things like that are unlikely. And Anderson…? Definitely having a bad day, so it didn’t seem like a problem.
Strike one; he watched it go down the middle of the plate. He tried to intimidate me by staring me down as Soto gave me the signs, but rather than looking confident he looked nervous. So I gave it right back to him; strike two, on the outside corner. Now he just looked apathetic, and I could tell by the look in his eyes that he would most likely swing at whatever the next pitch happened to be. Soto kept giving me calls for a strike. I kept telling him no. He wouldn’t get the message. Finally, he called for a splitter, and I agreed to it. Anderson was preparing to swing the bat carelessly, which is just what he did. Another three up three down inning, and we headed into the bottom of the third with the score still 11-0.
I was the first one up in the bottom of the inning. Then Soriano. Then Theriot. I grabbed my bat really quickly to warm up in the on-deck circle as Soriano got his batting gear on. I took a deep breath and finally stepped into the batter’s box. I watched the first pitch go by for ball one. I looked Anderson deep in the eyes, wondering why he was still pitching if he gave up eleven runs in two innings. I let the next pitch go by too. Two balls, no strikes. Anderson was sweating hard while I was relatively fresh still. He had given up 6 hits and 5 walks in two innings while I had given up no hits and no walks in three innings.
The next pitch was so perfect, I couldn’t let it pass. I hit it hard, and it was flying way over Lee’s head like my last at bat. Would it be a homerun? No, it didn’t feel that good off the bat. But it was still flying in the air. Finally, it lands right behind Lee and bounces into the stands. I am already near third but it still counts as a ground-rule double. So make that 7 hits.
Now I watch as Soriano takes the plate and Theriot steps into the batter’s box. We are both intently watching Soriano as he takes the first pitch for a ball. The second pitch hits him in the knee, but alike the pitch that hit Ramirez, it didn’t seem to hurt him at all. He just trotted to first and let Theriot take the plate with no outs and a man on first and second with Lee in the batter’s box now.
Theriot is… short. I’ll say that. Not that short, he’s like five eleven and I’m like, six one, but it still shrinks his strike zone just a bit, yet he still manages to hit a lot of singles. Last season he got hit by two pitches that made him actually fall to the ground and get taken out of a game, and those are like the only pitches that ever hit him. He hit well over two hundred balls and got about seventy walks, so you never knew with him. With one homerun last season, that was an unlikely feat, but you could always depend on him for an easy single. So I don’t know what Anderson was thinking when his first pitch hits Ryan right in the gut. It looked painful, I could hear his breath stream out as he got hit, and I could see the horrible look Molina gave Anderson as Ryan Theriot lay over home plate holding his stomach. He eventually gets on his knees as Mark O’Neal runs to his side.
I looked over at Soriano at first, actually sitting there chatting with Lance Berkman. I looked over at Derrek Lee who was standing in the on-deck circle in shock, looking at him and then back at me. O’Neal gets Theriot into a standing position, but then Ryan just falls back over, making Lou Piniella come out onto the field. He and O’Neal both get Theriot up and practically carry him into the dugout. I felt bad for Ryan. I was totally angry at Anderson. Who does he think he is, hitting some harmless guy like that and getting him taken out of a stupid Spring Training game? Hopefully Theriot would be okay, and he wouldn’t have to go through rehab, but he was practically limping too; he must have twisted his ankle pretty badly in the fall. They get him into the dugout, and as they sit him down, Fontenot gets up and runs to first in his place. Yet Anderson still doesn’t look guilty at all.
Lee is next up. As usual, I’m getting sick of repeating it, first pitch is a strike. Some games can be boring sometimes, even though numerous people hit homeruns and grand slams and doubles, etcetera, exciting plays, whatever. Now there is a ball and a strike on Derrek Lee. The next pitch is a close one, right on the outside. The umpire pauses for a moment, and then calls it a ball. Two balls, one strike on Lee. He watches the next one, too, which is a ball, to make the count 3-1. Having it be a hitter’s count, he lets the next one pass, too. Anderson is crazy, who knows? He might walk a guy with the bases loaded. Anderson gets the call from Molina, but then he makes a stupid move. He goes to pitch the ball, does the windup, and never throws the ball. That means that we get a free base, because he made a pitching motion but never threw the ball, also known as a balk. So I’m allowed to walk on home as Soriano takes third and Fontenot takes second. Finally, Anderson throws the 3-2 pitch, a ball, and Lee gets to walk to first. Now the score is 12-0, bases loaded, for Ramirez.
I get into the dugout and go into the trainer’s room. Larry Rothschild and Alan Trammell are both standing by Theriot and grabbing his shoulders to make sure he doesn’t flinch as Mark O’Neal tries to find out what’s wrong. I’m not the only one down there. Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis are both standing by, just kind of watching. Finally, Mark steps away. Yet he says nothing.
“So, how is he?” I ask cautiously, as O’Neal opens the freezer and gets a bag of ice. Ryan Theriot just looks sick as he loosens his grip on Rothschild and Trammell.
“Jason, would you mind getting Lou down here for a second? I’d like him to know also.” Marquis took off up the steps and moments later came back with Lou Piniella. Theriot is now sitting on the bench with his injured foot on and the other one off, holding the ice onto it.
“Okay, to be completely honest, I’m not sure what’s wrong. I called over a doctor from the hospital to come over and take a look at it, but I don’t know when he’ll get here. His ankle is either twisted or broken, I can’t tell, and I need Doctor Albertson to take a quick X-ray of the ribcage, but I think that’s it. It’s up to her now.” Lou motioned for me, Dempster and Marquis to all go back upstairs and watch the game and told Trammell and Rothschild to look after the game while he has a quick word with Ryan.
I got upstairs just in time to get my mitt on and get onto the field. Ramirez told me what happened, that he struck out, Soto hit a bases-clearing triple, Edmonds then hit a homerun, and DeRosa and Fukedome struck out, so the score is 17-0 and I was leading off. And it was only the fourth inning.
The rest of the game just seemed like a lot of repetition. I would go three up, three down in the top of the inning, and we would get a few people on base. There was a pitching change on the other side, and Anderson totally went nuts in the dugout. It was pretty fun to watch. After every half inning, a few people who weren’t up anytime soon or were already up to bat would go and see how Theriot was doing. In the eighth inning O’Neal told us that we couldn’t do that anymore because the doctor was here, so we were instead in the dugout talking about what might happen. In eight innings, I went from knowing nobody to getting to know a lot about Dempster, Marquis, DeRosa and Fontenot, and a little about Theriot—what he was able to say between innings, mostly. In the end of the eighth inning the score was 18-0; we had 14 hits and they still had zero, thanks to an amazing stop by DeRosa, Edmonds’ diving catch, and Ramirez’s leaping save. Other than that, they were pretty ordinary outs.
So, the ninth inning. I was still in, and the only way we would have to bat again would be if they got eighteen or more runs in this inning, which was pretty unlikely.
Carlos Lee was the first one up. He hadn’t gotten on base yet—but then again, nobody had from the Astros. He swings at the first pitch and grounds out to five foot eight Fontenot, the shortest guy on the team. So there is one out for Miguel Tejada, who goes down in a similar way. He swings at the second pitch and also grounds out to Fontenot. This brings us to the pitcher’s spot with Josh Sanders pinch-hitting. He was a draft pick, and is making his major league debut with this at-bat, so neither Soto nor I had any idea what to do. But I was one out away from throwing a perfect game, my first no-hitter. And I wasn’t about to let Josh Sanders ruin it for me.
I threw a first pitch ball, thinking he might swing at it. He did just that, making the count 0-1. Now, the thing about DH rookies is that they tend to swing at almost anything to get the bat on the ball. Using this, I threw a splitter near the dirt, and he swung at that too. Now he was getting smarter. I threw another ball and he let this one go by, although I could tell that he was dying to go for it. This was one of the most nerve-racking moments for each of us. I wanted to preserve a no-hitter and he wanted to spoil it. So praying that the fielders would help me out with the 1-2 count, I threw a strike, hoping he thought he was so smart and thinking it was a ball, not going for it. But no. He swung, and you could hear how hard he swung at that fastball. He was not going to let me have my no-hitter.
I looked up, trying to keep an eye on the ball flying through the sky. I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere. And then I heard screams coming from the dugout. It wasn’t a homerun, was it? Then I realized that they were coming from our dugout. Sanders had missed the ball. I had thrown my no-hitter!
Dempster, Marquis, Lilly, Blanco, Cedeňo, Zambrano, Johnson—everyone in the dugout came and tried to jump on top of me. Everyone was thrilled! It was one of the best games ever! I had gotten my first homerun and my first no hitter, keeping the Astros away quite easily and helping us to an eighteen nothing win. I was the center of one of those mobs of red and blue you saw on TV that you normally only dreamed of being in. I know I wanted to be on the White Sox, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to give up this team for anything.
We all ran back into the dugout and the whole team went into the training room. The doctor had just left, so we all went down to tell Ryan what had happened.
“I guess we won, seeing as how happy you guys are?” Theriot grinned. Fontenot pushed himself into the front of the mob to tell Ryan Theriot what had happened.
“Rogers threw a no-hitter! It was like the first one since who knows when!” He practically yelled. “We won, eighteen zero.”
Reporters were flowing in. Although fans couldn’t watch all the Spring Training games, they were still allowed to know what happened. And even when they could, they still got the interviews and recaps in the post game show. So first we had to tell the reporters.
There were three networks – Fox, Comcast, and ESPN that all wanted an interview. Fox reporters got interviews with me for my no-hitter, DeRosa for his grand slam and Soto for his homerun and triple, etcetera. Comcast got an interview with me, Edmonds for his homerun, and Theriot. ESPN got interviews with me and Theriot. I was like the man of the hour.
Yeah, now I was sure I didn’t want to give this team up for anything.

The whole team was getting together after the game to watch our interviews at Ted Lilly’s house. All the MLB players have humungous houses, especially Lilly. His wife was home watching with us while she was cooking, and she was really thrilled for all of us. The first interviews we saw were the interviews with me, Soto and DeRosa.
I saw DeRosa first with all the microphones up to his face, the questions flowing in from numerous people in the crowd.
“Mark, do you have a special mindset you find yourself in whenever you hit a grand slam like that?”
“I think that when the team is having a good day, I have a good day, and vice versa. We all work together as a team, and it seems to work out. We had an amazing game going on, with Soto and Edmonds with homeruns, and who could forget Rogers with a homerun and a no hitter? It takes serious skill for anyone to do something that huge.”
“Ramirez is known to the team as “Mr. Clutch”. Do you still think that he earns that name or do you think it should go to someone else?”
“It’s tough to say. Today, we never had a clutch. Rogers had a really impressive day, hitting a homerun to make the score 5-0 and a double to start off the third inning, so today he’d probably be the Mr. Clutch if I had to pick one. He got on base every time he was up, and that’s impressive. But he’s still a rookie so throughout the whole season last year, its still got to be Ramirez.”
“Last season, you were known as more of a contact hitter, but as the year went on, you were known as a power hitter. What do you consider yourself more of?”
“I’d say that I’m a powerful contact hitter, where I can get on base a few times but also hit a homerun when needed. It’s like a special power.”
“Rogers is new to the team, yet today he hit a homerun and two doubles, and got on base every time. What kind of hitter would that be considered?”
“That’s tough, because it’s only one game. I’d say a power hitter for today, but when the season actually starts, who knows? I’m more concerned with his pitching skill and ability to stay healthy.” No more questions were asked for a while. Finally, DeRosa just said “thank you” and left, like you were supposed to do, and then the screen cut to Soto.
“It does, it feels really good to help the team out like that. Hitting homeruns is something that most people can do; it’s just that some can put up more numbers than other people. But today was just a good day. April is that time of year where you just start to get excited. In a month we’ll be playing a different team and it will really count. I believe we’re playing the Cardinals, so that’ll be fun, a little rivalry there.”
“Who do you consider to be the MVPs of today’s game, other than, well, yourself and Mark Rogers?”
“Well, Rogers was the obvious candidate. I’d say Mark DeRosa did a really good job; Soriano got us a double and a walk or two, a single maybe. Ryan Theriot didn’t really get the chance, but he really handled the situation nicely, and Mike Fontenot just getting up and going in, he did really well considering he didn’t get warmed up or anything.”
“Do you think that this season is going to be as good as last season?”
“Well, based on today, we got four homeruns, about five doubles and a triple, few strikeouts, and a no-hitter, based on today, yeah, I think that it’ll be our best season yet, and I’ll be shocked if we don’t make it to playoffs.”
“Well, do you think you can actually win the series?”
“I don’t want to think too far ahead, but without being cocky, I’d say, yeah, I do think we can make it all the way, but don’t quote me on this, because the season hasn’t even started yet, and things can take a major turn at the last minute. There’s always that possibility.”
“Well, thanks, Geo, and good luck to you and the whole team, in that case.”
“Thanks, you too.” Then the scene cut to me. It looked so… weird. I knew every question and answer ahead of time, and it’s just weird to see yourself on TV and be in the center where people are actually eager to see you.
“Mark, today was your first time playing, and you’ll have the next four games off, but how do you think you played today?”
“Well, I definitely did well, I mean, a homerun, two doubles, and a no-hitter? I tend to think that’s kind of far off from bad. Yeah, it feels good to have, in one game, your first homerun and your first no hitter. It’s especially weird, because if you went back when I was a teenager, and told me that one day I would be throwing a no-hitter, I would say ‘I don’t believe you’ and walk away, mostly because in those days, I was a shortstop and I also had a problem where I never thought I could be great, a slight self esteem issue, you could say.”
“If the situation does come up and Lou Piniella puts you in a different position the day before your next start, would you or would you not let him start you?”
“Well, shortstops play every day usually, so why should I have to take yet another day off because I played shortstop one game? Starting pitchers are known to have great stamina, so if Lou came up to me after that and told me that I wasn’t playing next game because of it, I’d say he’s crazy and play anyway.”
“You’re new to the team. Has that been a challenge for you?”
“Nah. When Theriot got hurt, me, Dempster and Marquis mostly went down and chatted with him between innings, and the four of us got to be really great friends, them and DeRosa mostly, but yeah, I’ve bonded with everyone.”
“I heard that you were discovered trying out for the White Sox. Do you still want to be on the south side?”
“Honestly? Yeah, I did before this game. But then I got to know the people and make some friends, learn a little about the history, and after seeing how well that made me today, I’d say that I wouldn’t go back to the South Side for anything. I feel that this is where I belong, and I’m not going to leave unless it’s pretty much life or death.”
The next one was an interview with Jim Edmonds. Since he was new to the team last season, Edmonds was used to being interviewed. They’d always ask him about how it felt to have fans say, “Just get rid of Edmonds”, and then at the end of the season, “I’m so glad we got Edmonds.” Now the interviews will be different.
“Jim, we all know you can hit. You’re always hitting homeruns, a lot of the time two in one game. However, since we’ve seen you, you’ve never hit a grand slam. Do you tend to get nervous in the clutch and not perform as well, or is it just a coincidence?”
“Well, sometimes, yeah, I get nervous, a little shaky, and then I end up swinging at a pitch in the dirt and then beating myself up over it. But sometimes, I just don’t hit a homerun. A double or even a single is fine, right? DeRo, he’s great at those grand slams. I’m just not DeRosa.”
“Would you consider your fielding or batting to be a bigger strength?”
“Probably my fielding. Anyone can hit homeruns, a person who hits twenty rather than ten doesn’t really change anything for the team. On the Cardinals, I was known for stealing home run balls from the stands, and not a lot of people can do that. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do that. I’ve seen plenty of attempts by DeRo and Johnson, but they just can’t get it. And like every outfielder, I have had a few diving catches. I had one today, and it always feels good. To think now, if I had just given up on that ball like plenty of people would have done, then there wouldn’t be any no-hitter. So I’m glad I did.”
“Have Rich Harden, Chad Gaudin and Mark Rogers started to fit in with the crowd yet?”
“Mark Rogers, definitely. I would look over occasionally to see how he was doing, and he’d always be talking to someone else, laughing, and just bonding. Gaudin, he was similar last season. Within a month he had plenty of friends, which was actually harder because during the game you’re confined to only the people in the bullpen – Neal Cotts, Kerry Wood, Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lieber, all those guys. He got it done with them, and with the people in the dugout, everyone else, the off time really helped him. As for Rich, it took him awhile. I think he’s just one of the quieter people, but he really tried, and people helped him out, they were all pretty nice to him, but it still felt a little awkward at first. Now, though, we’ve all come to appreciate him and help him come out of his shell a bit.”
“Well, thanks Jim.” The interviewer/emcee commented. Not a lot of questions there, but they all needed big answers.
“No problem.” Then the scene cut to Ryan Theriot. That’s when I realized that we never asked him what happened. So I suppose we were going to find out now.
“Well, not everybody’s watched this game. We showed a few clips already, but just in general, what happened?” then the clip started to play as Ryan talked.
“Anderson was having a really bad day I guess, and that pitch just kind of got away from him. It was really fast, I never saw it coming, it was, I think, a one hundred three mile per hour fastball? And it hit me in the ribcage, and bounced off my foot at the wrong angle – not that there is a right angle – and when I fell I must have twisted it around and it stayed like that.”
“Did you ever find out what happened?”
“The doctor came over from the hospital. She said my ribcage was bruised, so that would take about a week or two to heal, so I would be back for the regular season, except she also said that my foot was inflamed and fractured, so I’ll need surgery on that which pushes it back to about a month into the regular season, give or take maybe a week.”
“You’ve gotten into some bad collisions, one last season with Mark DeRosa and two seasons ago with Felix Pie. Out of those two and today’s injury, which one do you think was the worst?”
“Well, this one got me out for a month, so time wise, maybe this one. But come to think of it, maybe the DeRosa collision because on that one I broke my ankle and had to go into a rehab assignment with Iowa. This one is depending on how the surgery is. I guess it really depends. With Pie, I think that it might have hurt him more that me, but it’s hard to tell.”
“Well, I think we’re out of time, so thanks, Ryan, and good luck with the surgery.”
“Thanks, I’ll try to get back as soon as possible.” Then it cut back to the newsroom where they did the game analysis.
“Well, there you have it. A homerun by Edmonds and Soto, another triple by Soto, a grand slam by Mark DeRosa, a perhaps season-changing injury for Ryan Theriot, topped off with a homerun and no-hitter by the newest member of the team, Mark Rogers. It was a good day for most of the team, and they came away with an eighteen to zero victory against the Houston Astros. The regular season starts in three weeks, and we wish good luck to Ryan, who will have his surgery on opening day. We’ll get back to you on that when it’s all over and he’s able to talk to us about it.”
“Wow. I didn’t know it was that bad,” Mike Fontenot said to Ryan, who shrugged in return like it was no big deal.
“It’s not the first time I’ve gotten hit in the ribs, not the first time I’ve gotten hit in the foot, but either way, I bet it could’ve been worse.” I started thinking about what could be worse than getting hit in the ribs with a one hundred three mile per hour fastball and maybe having it affect the whole season. Then I remembered what would be a lot worse.
Worse was getting hit in the head with a one hundred three mile per hour fastball that affected the rest of your life… because you lost it.

We had just gotten back from our last Spring Training game, in which I sat out and watched Ted Lilly pitch. Opening day was in two days, and the whole team was super-excited after our 4-3 win against the Braves. Ryan Theriot had just gotten checked into the hospital the day before and we thought that it would be nice to give him a visit. He had surgery in two days, and then we’d know if he could play again soon or if he had to go through rehab first. Ronny Cedeňo had been filling at the shortstop position, beside Mike Fontenot at second base and Mark DeRosa at right field because Lou wasn’t happy with the way Fukedome was playing.
When we got in the room, Ryan was sitting upright, reading a book I had never heard of before. The title looked like it was in a different language or something, but it had a picture of a baseball diamond on it. I honestly had no clue that he liked to read.
He put the book down when he saw us coming. The hospital room looked similar to the ones I had seen earlier in my life, the blank walls and unhappy people. He didn’t share his room, though, and the nurses came in often to check on him. It was a slightly depressing sight if anything. It brought the mood down a lot. His foot was in one of those slings that hang from the ceiling, and it wasn’t covered so you could see how it was slightly deformed. His crutches were leaning against the wall to the left of him, and he looked downright tired.
We talked to him for a while, trying to get him cheered up a bit—turns out he never had surgery and was pretty nervous. A lot of people told them their stories – how Mike had his tonsils removed and Mark had to get his appendix out and Geo had a heart problem. His was the only one that somewhat related to the situation, because it was much more serious than the rest. Every once in a while the nurse would come in and make sure everything was okay. All of a sudden we heard running footsteps coming down the hallway and a little boy’s voice yelling, “Daddy, daddy!” really loud. I wondered what room his father was in.
All of a sudden the little boy appeared in our room and ran over to Ryan and started jumping around, followed by a distressed woman. I assumed it kind of had to be his family.
“Oh, Joannah, I guess you should meet Mark, he’s the new starting pitcher…” Ryan said slowly.
“Hello, Mark. Great job against the Astros. My sister and I were huge fans right after the third inning or so.” I smiled wanly and shook her hand.
“I’m glad you think so.”
“Well, guys,” Mike said quickly, “Maybe we should head out, give Joannah some time to talk with Ryan…” Everyone nodded in agreement and walked out the door.
3 DAYS LATER
Today was the big day. It was a huge day. It was opening day. And I got to be the first pitcher this season. We were still in Chicago, it was about noon. The whole team was there and warming up. At 12:45 it was time for the first pitch, to be thrown out by the legends themselves, Ryne Sandberg, and Billy Williams. The pitches were thrown to Geovany Soto and Ted Lilly, which really was a great honor. They introduced themselves to me, telling me how well I did in that one game. I really wished that today was similar to that one.
They asked me to announce the batting order for the Cubs, and Louis Rodriguez for the Padres, the first team we were playing this season. As Rodriguez announced the batting order, we all took the field. Batting first for the Padres was the former Cubs catcher, Michael Barrett. Due up were Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanoff. All very tough players to face.
Someone in the front row had a radio playing really loud, playing the game on WGN 720, so I could kind of hear what the announcers were saying. They said, “First pitch on Michael Barrett a strike, and we are underway.”
So my first real pitch in the major leagues was a strike. That made the fans pretty happy. The second pitch was a strike too, low and away but swung on and missed. When I threw the third one to the outside corner, called strike three, the fans went wild. That step that I was talking about from not having fans watching to have fans watching was a pretty good one. My first strikeout and I got a standing ovation. I really loved Cubs fans. I decided that.
Adrian Gonzalez was the next one up. There were two Gonzalez’s playing today, Adrian and Edgar. Adrian was the third baseman and Edgar was the second baseman. They weren’t related, it was just a coincidence.
First pitch on A. Gonzalez was a ball. But just barely. So on the second one I got him back and threw a strike. He swung and grounded out to Cedeňo at shortstop. That made out two, and up stepped Kevin Kouzmanoff, which was proving difficult to say when I was listening to the radio in the front row. The kid who had it had a Theriot shirt on and was holding a sign that said, “Tell Ryan to Come Back”. Not the most creative thing, but I would tell him about it after the game.
Kouzmanoff swung at the first pitch and flew out to DeRosa in right field. And just like that, the top of the first was over.
It was my job to announce the batting order in today’s game. It was pretty boring. If you want to hear how I said it, I said it like this – “Batting first today in his usual spot is Alfonso Soriano in left field. Batting second is our first baseman Derrek Lee, followed by our third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Last year’s rookie of the year Geovany Soto will be batting fourth, followed by Jim Edmonds playing center field. Batting sixth and playing right field for Kosuke Fukedome is Mark DeRosa, and then playing second base for DeRo will be Mike Fontenot. Playing shortstop for Ryan Theriot is Ronny Cedeňo batting eighth, and batting ninth is me, Mark Rogers, your starting pitcher.” Easy enough, right?
While Soriano batted and Lee warmed up, me and Mark DeRosa talked to the bat kids for a while, answering their questions which they had a lot of, about everyone else on the team, about what it’s like to play in the majors, and a lot about what happened to Ryan Theriot. Trevor, the older bat kid, was a huge Ryan Theriot fan, and Michelle, the younger one, was a big Geovany Soto fan. All of a sudden we heard contact made and some cheering. Mark and I turned our heads immediately to the action to see Soriano sliding safely into second. A leadoff double. I liked having the crowd watching you play. It made you feel good, like they all want you to do well.
Next up was Derrek Lee. I saw Edmonds and Johnson talking as they watched from behind the dugout fence. I went up and stood next to Edmonds.
“So, Mark, do you know whose going over to the hospital after the game? I know a few people can’t make it.” Edmonds asked.
“Uh, yeah, you two, me, DeRo, Dempster, Fontenot and Marquis I think. Seven of us.” Just then Lee hit a grounder to Louis Rodriguez, the shortstop, who threw it to Kevin Kouzmanoff at first, generating the first out. Ramirez stepped up to bat next.
“What time is the surgery scheduled for, do you know?” Johnson followed up.
“No. Probably by about the third inning or so, don’t you think?” Edmonds answered. He looked at me and I just shrugged, then he went to go get his batting gloves and helmet on as Ramirez hit a single to right field and the fans went crazy again. Ramirez was on first and Soriano was on third as Soto approached the plate and Edmonds ran to the on-deck circle, and DeRosa went to get his gear on.
“So, what do you think, should DeRosa be playing right field or should Fukedome get another chance?” Johnson asked, spitting out a seed.
“Well, personally, I think that DeRosa would make a much better right fielder than Kosuke, but he is a second baseman. I think that the smartest thing to do would be to keep Mark at second and maybe move you or Edmonds to right field.” He nodded in agreement.
“That’s what I thought too. I think that DeRosa should just stay at second. He’s good at it.” The call was made for ball four and Soto walked to first, and the bases were loaded for Edmonds, and DeRosa made his way into the on-deck circle. Suddenly, I heard Lou call for me, so I told Johnson to hang on and ran over to Piniella.
“Mark, I have a question for you. Cedeňo told me that he feels more comfortable as a second baseman than a shortstop, and I know that you used to be a shortstop, so for tomorrow’s game, would you mind playing for me?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” It was better than getting a day off, right?
“Thanks, kid. I’ve gotta go tell Ronny that he’s off the hook. At least for tomorrow.” I smiled and turned my attention to the game for a moment as Edmonds hit a pop fly to the center fielder Hairston, a good sac fly to score Soriano. And just like that, we were up, 1 to nothing in the bottom of the first with two outs. With men on first and second, DeRosa stepped up to the plate. I went back to the fence where Johnson was, but he wasn’t there. He was sitting next to Blanco and they seemed deeply into conversation. I had no clue who to talk to. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Marquis sitting down near the front of the dugout, and just as I was about to walk over, DeRosa grounded out to Gonzalez at third and the inning ended. So instead I grabbed my mitt and took the field.
The second inning was a little disappointing. Jody Gerut got a hit off of me, a single, but at least I wasn’t dreading that anymore. It had to happen eventually. Louis Rodriguez grounded out to Mike Fontenot on the first pitch to generate the first out, and Brian Giles hit a sac-bunt to advance Gerut to second. Then, while Edgar Gonzalez was batting, Gerut stole third successfully, and I went on to strike out Gonzalez, so even though they got a hit, they didn’t score. So it definitely could have been worse.
Fontenot was the first one up for us, followed by Cedeňo and then me. I was leaning on the wall by the dugout stairs, waiting for Fontenot to finish his at-bat so I could take the on-deck circle. It was long, too. The first two pitches were balls, and then he fouled one off, then another ball, then a strike to make it a full count. Then he fouled off about ten more. It was unnerving. I really just wanted it to end. Finally, it did with a long-flying ball down center field. The kid with the radio was cheering and turned the volume up even louder as the ball flew.
“Could this be it?” the announcers were saying, “the first homerun of the season for the Cubs and Mike Fontenot? That ball is going, going, going, GONE!” they said as a fan in the bleachers caught the ball and started celebrating with his friends. Fontenot made his triumphant run around the bases, and then gave Cedeňo a high five, then me, then ran through the dugout as people slapped his helmet. For someone so short, he really does hit a lot of homeruns.
So when Cedeňo took the plate, I started swinging in the on-deck circle, stretching out my arms, everything you usually see. Nothing exciting. Cedeňo popped out to the second baseman Edgar Gonzalez, so I stepped up to the plate with one out.
First pitch, strike. Easy to predict. Most first pitches were, a high percentage. The next pitch was a ball, so I let it pass. The next one was almost identical to the last and the third one also. The next pitch was obviously hittable, so I hit a nice short fly to right field and ran to first for a single. Next up was Soriano.
Matt Sinatro, the first base coach, told me what to do. Quade would tell him what to hit, a sacrifice or not, and I should run on a three-two count no matter what. He fouled off the first pitch, which was followed by three continuous balls. Having it be a hitter’s count, he let the next one pass for a full count. I took my lead off first, and as Soriano swung and missed, I was running full speed for second. It looked like it would be close. I started my dive just as Barrett threw the ball, and it looked like we reached at pretty much the same time. I looked pleadingly at the umpire, and very quickly he called me safe. So that was my first stolen base of the season.
Two outs, man (me) on second for Derrek Lee. He nailed the first pitch and it went flying. It didn’t sound that loud off of the bat, but it was flying. It hit the warning track and got caught in the ivy, and Hairston couldn’t find it anywhere. That would be a ground rule double for Lee, so I could only advance to third.
Ramirez was up, and Barrett stood up to intentionally walk him. Ball one, two, three, and four and the bases were loaded for Geovany Soto. Not a good situation for them to be in because Soto could hit when the time called for it. Now, it wasn’t DeRosa, but you could count on Soto to usually get at least one run in. Strike one was down the center of the plate as he watched it as mostly anyone would do. Second and third were balls, and then the next one alarmed the pitcher. I don’t think he meant to throw it, but it was a perfect fastball down the middle. Soto hit it into the right field corner and it was called a fair ball. I ran easily to home plate, and then motioned for Lee to follow, and then Ramirez. All three of us scored and Soto made it safely to third, making the score 5 to 0. Edmonds flew out to make the last out and we took the field once again.
The third inning was definitely worse than the second inning. In the top of the inning when I was pitching, Hairston got a double to lead off the inning. Greg Maddux, the pitcher, was an easy out, mostly because he used a sac-bunt to get Hairston to third. Then, with one out and a man on third, Michael Barrett took the plate. The first pitch was a strike, the second one a strike also. And right away after I agreed on which pitch to throw, I got a bad feeling. As I threw the pitch, I tripped a little and stumbled off the mound. I never actually fell, but I found myself kneeling in the grass as I watched Michael Barrett round the bases after hitting a two-run homerun. After he touched home I got up and back in my spot for Adrian Gonzalez, and I could tell you I was not happy. Soto came up to the mound to chat with me as the homerun ball came rolling back up the field. The fans always threw the other teams’ home run balls back.
“Don’t worry about it; we’re still ahead by three. And you know it had to happen sometime.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t want it to happen like that.”
“At least you have a better excuse than anyone. You tripped. End of story. Did you see last year’s all-star game? I fell over the warm-up bat and completely wiped out. Yeah, I was embarrassed, but you get over it. Especially something stupid like this. One homerun won’t make all the difference.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Anyway, you’re going to walk him, but not intentional. You’ve got skill. Just first pitch strike and then a few balls. You might still get him out, you never know.”
So I did just that. First pitch, strike. Second, third, balls. Fourth was swung on and missed, and the last one, he watched it go to the inside corner for just barely a strike. That made out two.
Kouzmanoff tried to blast the first pitch out of the park. Edmonds was running back on it, jumping into the ivy, and reaching his hand into the stands. It was a shallow ball, so I was so nervous; I knew Edmonds could get it. It’s what he was known for. Suddenly, Edmonds came down and I started holding my breath. Did he have the ball? Or did some fan have it instead?
Edmonds reached into his mitt and pulled out the ball. I exhaled happily as the outfielders all ran over to Edmonds to high-five him as he ran into the dugout.
I sat down by Edmonds in the dugout. “This is the second time you’ve saved me like this, man. It’s bad enough I gave up one homerun, but two just would have been horrible.”
“No problem. It’s what I do. If I can prevent them from scoring, I’m going to try. It’s been about a year since of done that last, it felt good. No need to thank me.”
I didn’t really have a chance, either as DeRosa hit a single and I had to run to get my batting stuff on.
Fontenot, who hit a homerun last time up, did something similar this at-bat. It wasn’t a homerun, but it was way over Giles’ head in right field. It rolled all the way into the corner and DeRosa ran home. Giles threw over to third just as Fontenot began his dive, and he just barely made it on time. Now the score was 6-2.
I made my way to the batter’s box and watched Cedeňo take his at-bat. It took four pitches to strike him out, so with one out I was up. I was still very unhappy about last inning, and apparently you could tell. The first pitch was perfect. I could see it. It was slow and down the middle. I tightened my muscles and swung as hard as I could. As soon as I heard the contact I knew that ball had to be out of there. I started running and watching the ball fly. I heard the radio in the front and the announcers yelling, “It’s going, going, going… on the warning track, and… there’s out two.” Hairston caught it on the edge of the warning track. I was already rounding second.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I said to myself and then swore a few times under my breath as I made my way into the dugout. I sat down on the far end of the bench and threw my batting helmet down on the ground. I was so sure, too. I thought that would be out of the park, or at least off the warning track. This had to be one of the worst games I would pitch in, right? I really hoped so, at least.
Ted Lilly sat down next to me, and neither of us said a word for a while as we watched Soriano bat. Finally, Ted spoke.
“You gave that ball quite a ride, didn’t you? I was sure that would be gone. I think we all were. We were going crazy.”
“Yeah. I was pretty sure too.” I sighed and watched Soriano foul off continuously. Lilly struggled for words.
“That went a lot further than anything I could hit, I know that.” He said finally, and then as Soriano grounded out, I grabbed my mitt and just left the field for the fourth inning.
In the seventh inning the score was still 6-2 and I was still pitching. I didn’t know for how much longer, though. I had gotten myself into a pretty bad situation. Gerut got a single, and then I walked Rodriguez. Now Giles is up, so I knew he’d probably either hit a homerun or a ground rule double or something.
Of course, I was right. I carelessly tossed a slow fastball – or maybe a slowball? – Down the heart of the plate, and Giles never took a second look. He crushed that ball deep into the stands. I didn’t even get the satisfaction of watching the fan throw it back because it just so happened that a Padres fan caught it… and why would there even be a Padres fan in Chicago?
Soto came running up to me again. I couldn’t believe it—I was feeling so sorry for myself that I just gave up a three-run homerun to make the score 6-5? Talk about selfish!
“Are you okay, first off?” Soto asked, and he sounded pretty concerned. “This really isn’t like you.”
“I think I’m just having a really bad day.” I paused. “And I think I want to be taken out of this game.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Neal Cotts and Bob Howry were already warming up in the bullpen anyway. Soto nodded to Lou Piniella and he made his usual walk to the pitcher’s mound as I rolled the ball around in my hand, and I was pretty disappointed.
“Are you alright, kid?” Lou asked after he made it all the way to the mound. I nodded slowly.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just guess that today isn’t my day. I would like to be taken out. I think I need a rest.”
“And rightly so. If you’re going to be playing the field tomorrow, then maybe it’s best that you get a little rest now while you still have the chance.” I nodded and Lou gave me a little push off the mound. I gave the ball back to Soto and started unhappily walking back to the dugout when I noticed that a fan was standing. Then I realized that about ten were. Then thirty. Then fifty. All the Cubs fans were giving me a standing ovation. And I didn’t think that I deserved it at all.
“Good luck,” I muttered to Cotts as he ran on to the field.
“Good job,” he muttered in return. I slowly walked down the stairs and took a seat on the dugout bench.
Everyone in the crowd was standing. Everyone in the dugout was standing. I stood, leaning on the rail and yelling with Lilly and Marquis, all showing our support. It was the top of the ninth. We were winning, 8-5 after a pinch-hit homerun by Henry Blanco in the eighth, which served as our go-ahead run. There were two outs for Adrian Gonzalez and the bases were empty, Kerry Wood pitching. The count was no balls, two strikes. Me, Lilly and Marquis would all take turns yelling something out. Finally, Kerry threw the pitch. A big swing by Gonzalez, and then…
Go Cubs Go starting playing very loudly. Everyone was yelling as all of the players in the dugout ran onto the field to give each other hi-fives. I checked the time – it was about four forty five. We all celebrated for a while, and then went our separate ways. They interviewed Henry Blanco while some of us went into the dugout to get some clothes and change and others (me, Dempster, Marquis, Edmonds, Johnson, DeRosa, Fontenot and Lilly) all got in our cars and drove to the hospital to see how Ryan Theriot was doing. I was the sixth one to get over there, followed by Lilly and then Edmonds. We were about to walk in the front door when we saw a news van pull up also, and a reporter and a cameraman stepped out.
“Hey,” I said, making everyone turn around. “Why don’t you wait until the team even knows what’s going on before you stick your noses in his business and tell America your twisted newsroom version of the truth? Why don’t you let him relax for maybe a second?” There was a difference between being interviewed after a good or bad game and getting interviewed minutes after surgery was done and you just learn the truth yourself about what’s happening. “Why don’t you wait here in your fruity little van until we come out and give you the all-clear that you can go in? You don’t want him on TV right after he’s been drugged. And if you quote me on this, I swear I’ll sue your stupid little—”
“OKAY, Mark, I think you made your point!” Ryan Dempster said to me, covering my mouth. “We’ll just go on inside, and you do as this guy says!” he ordered, pointing to me as he dragged me inside.
“God, I hate the media.” I said loudly.
“Yeah, I could tell.” Mike Fontenot responded. We walked to the front desk, all chuckling happily.
“Yes, can I help you?” The receptionist asked calmly.
“We’d like to visit Ryan Theriot,” DeRosa answered. The lady did a quick check of our names, noted that we were here before and told us what room to go in. It was in the recovery ward, so the surgery must have not been too long ago. But maybe he wouldn’t still be loopy.
We found our way to the third floor. I looked out the hall window and saw the cameraman and the reporter still sitting in the parking lot, looking confused.
“Serves them right,” I said under my breath. We went to the end of the hall and found the room. We were about to knock on the door when a nurse opened it and came outside.
“Are you here for Ryan?” she asked quickly.
“Yeah.” Jason responded. “Is everything okay?”
“We don’t know yet. The painkiller just wore off, so he isn’t drowsy anymore, but the doctor still needs to check and make sure everything went right. You can go in and get situated in the meantime, I suppose, although we don’t have enough chairs.”
“That’s fine,” Jason answered, and opened the door as we all filed in. Ryan was lying on the bed with his foot suspended in the air and his eyes closed. This time, though, his foot was wrapped. Apparently he hadn’t heard us come in.
“What, do you have a headache or something?” Ted asked, making Theriot jump a little and open his eyes wide.
“Wow that scared me. What; did I fall asleep or something? I didn’t hear you guys at all.”
“Well, we are pretty stealthy…” I said, and everyone kind of laughed. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Well, of course not, considering I just got my whole foot rebuilt, but based on those circumstances, I’d say yes, I feel fine.”
“Good to know…” I mumbled. “So, have you heard anything yet? About when you can come back or anything?” Ryan laughed at this one.
“The doctor still has to check that I don’t need surgery on my ribcage yet. If I do, I’ll have to go through minor league rehab. If not, then as soon as my foot heals, I’ll be good to go.” Just then, the doctor walked in.
“Okay, Ryan Theriot… and friends. Just so you know, guys, I am a big Chicago Cubs fan and am amazed that I get such a famous patient, and it’s really nice that you guys all came to check on your friend.”
“I think someone wants and autograph…” Ted Lilly joked. The doctor laughed.
“I wouldn’t mind…” he said slyly. “Now, for the checkup.” He quickly took the bandage off his foot and started feeling the bone to make sure it was replaced correctly. There was a huge scar where the incision had been made. I remembered my own scar above my right eye, and my hand shot up to it. I had completely forgotten that I had it, considering that as time went by it was practically invisible. Mike looked over and I slowly lowered my hand.
“Does this hurt?” he asked Ryan as he rubbed his finger around a specific part of the foot.
“A little, yeah.”
“One bone was placed a little to the right. I don’t know if it will continue to hurt, but if it still does tomorrow, let me know. Besides that, though, I think it will be okay. If something is wrong, then another procedure should fix it.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. That was good to hear. “And the ribcage?” Everyone laughed at me a bit. “What, I just want to make sure that everything is okay! Can you blame me?”
“Well, based on the video I saw, you got hit right over the heart and lung area. Are you finding it harder to breathe?”
“Not a whole lot. I’ve always had slight asthma, though.” He responded nervously.
The doctor used his little stethoscope and felt the heart and the lungs. “Is this hurting?”
“No.” A little more, then he wrote down a few numbers and turned to face everyone.
“The bone is still intact. We won’t need a surgery on the ribcage, it’s just slightly bruised. So it all depends on how his foot heals. We did have to rebuild the whole thing, so it won’t be a surprise if something is wrong. You won’t need to go through rehabilitation; however, it will be two weeks to heal at least, possibly more if we have to do a follow-up surgery, and if we do, it will probably take place tomorrow while the incision is still slightly new.” We were all very relieved to hear that. Now we just had to find a way to tell Lou and the rest of the team, because it was unlikely that they could stand waiting until tomorrow’s game. But it looked like they would have to.
“And if we don’t need surgery tomorrow, then feel free to go to the game. Just don’t play, obviously, and don’t try to walk on your sore foot. I know it’s a pain, but you have to use the crutches.”
“We’ll still be playing the Padres. It’ll be the second of three games.” I said.
“How was today’s game? It totally slipped my mind after all this…excitement.” He asked.
“It was long and… interesting might be the word.” Johnson said as he took a seat by the bed. “It’ll take a while to tell you the play by play… so where to begin…”

I pulled my car into the parking lot about 3 hours before the game started. Sometimes people would wait by the parking lot fence for autographs, but today nobody was there. I got out of my car and saw Ryan Dempster – starting today – walking into the players’ door to get into the dugout, along with Rich Harden. They started being better friends when they learned that they were both Canadian. I slowly made my way through that door also. I was greeted with a fielder’s mitt and a reminder that I was today’s shortstop. Up until right at that moment I had no clue that a fielder’s mitt was any different than a pitcher’s mitt, but I know now and I tend to think of it as kind of pointless.
“Good luck today, kid,” Lou said, still the only one of the coaches to call me ‘kid’. I didn’t really mind, though, I was a rookie and a pretty young one, too, so he has the right, I suppose. More power to him if it gets me on his good side. You never want to be on the bad side with a coach.
Three hours before the game started, me and Ted started warming up in the foul territory while Zambrano and Harden did the same, Dempster and Soto were practicing on the field and the outfielders for today, including DeRosa, were working on pop-flies or something with Alan Trammell. He was Theriot’s fielding coach, so without Theriot, he had nobody in general to coach, so he just helped the outfield. I thought maybe he should help me, another shortstop (for today at least), but it was okay. Ted was starting tomorrow, so he needed the practice and someone to warm up with.
After one hour passed, Trammell called over me, Ramirez, Lee and Fontenot to warm up in the infield. Lilly then started working with Blanco, so I guess it would work out.
“Now,” he said, “If any of these balls go into the outfield, you’re going to have to do some push-ups. Unless you give one hundred percent effort. Then, only about half as many.” So he was pretty tough. “The stronger you are, the faster you are, and you need to be fast to play baseball. Trust me.” That explained why Ryan was one of the fastest guys on the team. He probably had to do a lot of conditioning. No offense, I’m not saying that he sucks and every ball gets by him, but in the major leagues, the shortstop position is pretty tough. You find yourself diving for a few balls and still not even getting a hand on them.
First to Ramirez, an easy grounder, fielded and thrown to Lee at first. The throw was a little off-mark, but it still made it there. Second to me, another easy grounder, fielded and thrown to Lee. The same went for Fontenot, then a grounder to Lee who just touched the base.
“Now we’re going to need a little communication,” he said slyly. That made me a little nervous.
There was a pop-fly way into the outfield grass. Ramirez and I both backed up. He stuck his hand out, and I guess that was supposed to signal that he was getting it. But I was closer.
“No, I got it.” I said, then stuck out my mitt and caught the ball, followed by another throw to Lee who threw it back to Trammell.
The second one was a grounder between Fontenot and Lee. Lee looked at Fontenot who looked back at Lee for a brief moment, then made a diving stop at the last second, barely preventing it from getting into the outfield.
The next one was just behind the pitcher’s mound, a high-flying ball. “DON’T LET IT HIT THE GROUND!” Trammell yelled, as it was about to hit the ground. In a last attempt, Fontenot and I both went diving for it. Neither of us touched it.
“That will be twenty five pushups,” Trammell said. “I gave you about three-quarters effort, so instead of the standard thirty five, I’ll give you ten off.” Mike and I both dropped down and gave him twenty five pushups. On number ten, the fans started to file in, and then I realized that it was almost game time. After number twenty five, Trammell yelled, “And back to the dugout, everyone!”
I took my spot at the shortstop position as the game was about to begin. In the dugout, Mike Fontenot educated me on the open-mouth closed-mouth signals. I looked through the dugout for Ryan Theriot. He wasn’t there. It was about one twenty now, game time, so if he was coming, he’d have to be coming soon. Dempster threw the first pitch strike, and the game was on.
The first batter Michael Barrett flew out to Reed Johnson in center field on three pitches, a ball and a strike preceding the third that he swung on. The second batter, Adrian Gonzalez, took ball one for the first pitch, then swung and missed for a 1-1 count. He then took the next three pitches for balls and walked to first with one out.
Kevin Kouzmanoff was batting next. He let the first two pitches go by for strikes, then hit the third one past a diving Mike Fontenot into right field for a single. I heard a radio faintly somewhere in the crowd, I think down the front row right field wall. I watched Gonzalez on second, walking almost right up to him as he took his lead off second.
“Weren’t you pitching yesterday?” he asked as I got into my ready position. I nodded my head.
“Yeah, what’s it matter?” I asked in return as Jody Gerut swung at a pitch and fouled it off into the stands. That shut him up. Then Gerut hit a fly ball into right field to Mark DeRosa. He caught it as the runners tagged, and then a quick relay throw to me, covering second. Kouzmanoff is trying to get on base, and he cleats me in the arm and gets a foot on the bag just as I try to tag him in the leg. The shock of his cleats digging into my arm sent me flying backward about a foot or two. I know I got a hand on him, but I wasn’t sure if I beat his foot hitting the base.
The umpire called him out. A sac-fly turned into a double play and the top of the first was over and scoreless.
I made my way into the dugout to find Ryan Theriot sitting on the bench, talking to Ronny Cedeňo. “Ryan, you made it!” I said, sitting down on the other side. Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis followed suit and sat next to me and started firing questions at him.
“So, you didn’t need another surgery?”
“When can you play again?”
“Do you feel okay?”
“No minor leagues, right?”
“You’re going to be gone for no more than a month, correct?” The four of us (me, Lilly, Marquis and Cedeňo) were just asking questions like crazy as he tried to answer them.
“No, soon, yes, yes and yes.” He said. “Is that right? Or did I miss a question?” he joked.
“When you say yes, do you mean that you don’t have to go through minors or you do?” Marquis asked again.
“It means that I don’t.”
“Okay. Just for clarification.” Lilly and I started laughing at that, how dumb Jason was acting.
I turned my attention back to the game for just a moment to see Lee hit a single. Soriano had gotten out before I guess, I hadn’t been paying attention. Ramirez was up next. I had a good feeling about this at-bat, so I decided to watch. Apparently everyone felt the same because the five of us were all watching. DeRosa walked up to all of us.
“Did I miss something? You guys all look so… intent…” he drifted off and started watching, too. Then Ramirez hit a deep fly ball to center, over Scott Hairston’s head, and into the crowd, whom all started cheering madly as Ramirez happily trotted around the bases.
“Creepy…” he said, taking a seat subconsciously. I watched him zone out and started laughing.
“Mark, you’re supposed to be getting ready…” I said. He stood up really fast and went to get his batting helmet.
“I knew that,” he said, shoving it on his head and sliding on his batting gloves.
“Yeah, okay.” He sat on the dugout steps and watched as Soto grounded out to Rodriguez to make the second out. That brought up Reed Johnson in his first game this season. Last season, he didn’t get to play as much as Edmonds, but he is a really good center fielder. He hit a game-winning grand slam against the Padres last season, and although it wasn’t really the same situation, you should never doubt him.
On the first pitch he swung and hit it over second baseman Gonzalez and in between Hairston and Giles. It rolled all the way to the wall. Keep in mind when I tell you what happened, that Johnson is really fast. The three fastest guys on the team are Theriot, Fontenot and Johnson, and it just so happens that they’re three of the shortest, too. But by the time they even picked up the ball, Johnson was about to round third. It was a weak throw to home plate by Giles, and it bounced all the way there, but the point is that the play was a close one. The umpire didn’t know what to do, but in the baseball world, tie goes to the runner. So that would be an inside-the-park homerun for Reed Johnson, something almost impossible to accomplish, to make the score 3-0. Next up was Mark DeRosa.
He let the first two pitches go by, a ball and a strike, before swinging at the next one and hitting it deep but foul. The next one was a ball that he was tempted to swing at, so he tried to hold his swing. It was close, I couldn’t tell. Barrett tagged DeRo and pointed to the first base umpire to make the call. Mark didn’t go around, so the count was 2-2. The next pitch was also a ball to make it a full count. After that was an aggravating series of fouls. There must have been about five or so in a row before he actually let the pitch pass for ball four and take the walk.
Mike Fontenot was up next, so I was warming up in the on-deck circle and watching at the same time. He too went to a full count but then shot the ball onto the warning track. It wasn’t close to a homerun per se, it would never pass. It wasn’t high enough to make it out of the park. But it bounced and rolled into the ivy. It took Hairston a while to get it out, and by that time DeRosa had scored and Mike was on second base, and I was batting with the score now 4-0. It sounded strange when they called me up. The voice said, “Batting next, your shortstop, Mark Rogers!” It felt strange to be a shortstop again.
I looked at Mike Quade’s signals. He told me to swing at the first pitch. I nodded and as the first pitch came, perfect and down the middle, I swung. I watched the ball hit the bat so I could make good contact, and yeah, the contact was good. Good enough to make the ball fly out of the ballpark and into some fan’s hand. I watched that fan as I rounded the bases. I watched him turn around and show off the ball to all his friends. And what really touched me is that he was wearing a Rogers jersey with the number eleven, my number, emblazoned on the back. My first homerun ball in the official season was caught by a fan of mine, the first one I had ever seen. And it felt so good to know that someone appreciated the work I was putting in for this team.
I got to home plate and made sure to step on it, then gave Mike a hi-five, then Ryan Dempster. And for the second time, I was able to run through the dugout, giving everyone hi-fives after my homerun. But only the first time that the fans were cheering about it, too.
It was the top of the tenth inning. That’s right, it’s no error. The tenth. The Padres had caught up to our 6 runs with two homeruns (two run homeruns) and 2 additional RBIs, all off of Chad Gaudin. Now Carlos Marmol was pitching, because Wood was taken out in the eighth because of a strain in his shoulder. Louis Rodriguez nails a pitch right behind me, near the outfield. I run back on it, calling Soriano off. I realize that’s a mistake when the ball is still behind me. I jump and extend my mitt backward, don’t ask why I didn’t just turn around. I guess I was caught in the moment. I felt the ball in my mitt and I put my other hand over it to make sure that it doesn’t fall out, which affects my balance as I fall hard on my back. Mike runs over and helps me sit up, and I landed so hard that the wind is knocked out of me. Speechlessly, I hold up the ball and the crowd goes wild.
Now there is an out in the inning and Edgar Gonzalez is batting as Brian Giles takes his lead off first base, which he got to on a walk to start the inning. No balls, two strikes on Gonzalez. The pitch is thrown and he lays down a bunt right down the third base line. Marmol quickly gets a hand on it and throws it to Fontenot at second who uses a relay throw to first (Gonzalez is very slow) to get Gonzalez out.
Now we were approaching the bottom of the tenth. Ramirez was leading off for us, so that would probably call for either a homerun or an out.
It only took three pitches to get Ramirez called out. Johnson stepped up to the plate. As you remember, in the first inning he hit an inside the park homerun. Now I was begging for an outside-the-park homerun at best.
The pitch is thrown, strike one. The next pitch is similar, and Johnson watches it cross the plate for strike two. Now he looks nervous. He calls for time and takes a deep breath or two, then nods to the umpire and stares the pitcher down like he had laser vision. The pitcher looks more creeped out than scared, and as the third pitch crosses the plate, Johnson slams it out. Not just out of the park, out of the stadium altogether. He crosses home plate and everyone goes wild for the second day in a row. We all run out of the dugout cheering as fans all stand and sing ‘Go Cubs Go’ happily. An interviewer pulls Johnson aside to get an interview as we all huddle up and celebrate some more.

Now we find ourselves in game three of a three game series with our arch-rivals, the Saint Louis Cardinals. We dominated the first game with a 7-1 win with Carlos Zambrano, then a close game for a 5-4 win with Ted Lilly. Today is the first game since the Astros Spring Training match that Ryan Theriot is able to play, so we have our starting shortstop back, which is going to help us try to sweep the Cardinals.
Today, I am pitching. It’s an honor, really, to be one of three people who get to start against the Cardinals… sorry to Marquis and Dempster. Has anything changed? Well, some things might change. It’s the middle of July now, which draws us dangerously close to the trading deadline. Last year, the Cubs lost Sean Gallagher, Eric Patterson, Matt Murton and single A Sean Donaldson in return for Chad Gaudin, who almost blew numerous games for us since, and Rich Harden, who has been on the disabled list for, so far, the whole season.
So this is the last day of inter-league play for awhile, so after this we will go on and play the Boston Red Sox, after a one-day break. DeRo is still playing right field while Fukedome is in Triple A Iowa, getting his hitting ability back. Today Cedeňo is taking over the second base duties as Mike Fontenot takes a day off, along with Geovany Soto, causing for Henry Blanco’s second start this season. We are batting first, so the first pitch to Soriano is a strike, and we are underway. He swings at the next pitch too, a sinker by Looper that ends up in the dirt. He takes the next pitch for strike three, a pretty bad call, but arguing balls and strikes could get you thrown out of the game.
Ryan Theriot grounds out to shortstop on three pitches. Lee swings big on the first pitch, and the ball is crazily building velocity as it shoots for the wall. Schumaker is on the warning track, I can almost hear the intensity from the booth, although my ears are drowned out by everybody screaming in the dugout. Shumaker jumps and…
Reaching up against the wall, he makes the catch for the third out. Everyone playing disappointedly grabs their mitts and heads onto the field.
Bottom of the second, Albert Pujols is up, which is never a good thing. I tried to walk him, I can honestly say that I tried hard without intentionally walking him, but still, my fourth pitch on a 3-0 count, low and away like Blanco and I had agreed on, he crushed it out of the ballpark for a leadoff solo homerun. I didn’t know what else to expect from Pujols than for him to do just that.
So I watch disappointedly as he rounds the bases, making the game 0-1, the Cardinals having the lead. Skip Schumaker is up next, another power hitter. But then again, almost everyone on the Cards is a power hitter, right? I thought I had gotten really lucky or something, because on the 1-2 count, he hits an easy grounder right to Ryan Theriot. He picks it up, starts to make the throw, and…
Just before he lets go of the ball, his legs fly out from under him and the ball stays in his hand, at least. Ryan gets up shakily but says he is okay, and Schumaker gets on with an unearned single to bring up Looper.
Pitchers should have been easier to get out. I threw a first pitch ball, as instructed by Blanco, followed by two strikes. Blanco tells me to throw another ball, and I am slightly confused as to why, but I agree. I throw the ball slightly to the left, and Blanco snatches it and throws it straight ahead to second as Schumaker tries to steal second.
And imagine this—as if Ryan Theriot isn’t already having a bad enough second inning, he drops the throw from Blanco but doesn’t know it. He tags Skip anyway, way before he touches the base, and then Schumaker cleats him right in that same spot where he got hit by that pitch by Anderson. When the umpire calls Schumaker safe, Ryan tries to ask why, but can’t get any words out, because the force of Schumaker cleating him near the lungs got the wind knocked out of him. He realizes when Ramirez angrily points behind him that the ball is in the outfield grass, while Theriot is still gasping for air.
Now there is a man on second, and Ryan just looks defeated. A few fans started to boo him and the team in the dugout didn’t look too happy either. I threw a strike to get Looper out, and then miraculously, Cesar Izturis, the former Cubs shortstop who got replaced by Ryan Theriot, flew out to him also. Well, sort of. Ryan catches the ball, drops it, then barehanded it back to Lee for a still not close play at first. Izturis was anything but fast.
So with two outs, Adam Kennedy approached the plate. I gave him a pitch to swing at that would hopefully stay in the park for a 2-2 count, and sure enough, he flew out to Soriano to end the inning. Everyone runs into the dugout and sits down except for Ramirez, Blanco, and Edmonds, who have to bat. I sit by Ted and Jason yet again, and I look over to see how Ryan Theriot is doing. He takes a seat on the far end of the bench alone, takes off his hat and throws it on the ground, then kicks it and puts his head down, looking very disappointed.
Trammell goes over to him and kneels down and tries to talk to him, but Theriot refuses to speak and Trammell just walks away, shrugging to Lou Piniella. Ryan continues to watch his feet as Ramirez, Blanco and Edmonds all get out easily.
So now let’s cut to the bottom of the fourth, when signs really point to disappointment.
Yadier Molina is the first man up to the plate. This play isn’t too exciting; it’s just a simple single. But the next play is just horrible. There will be clips of this everywhere. Albert Pujols is batting. What’s the first thing you think? Homerun? No, that isn’t nearly what happened. This inning, at least. A soft grounder to Ronny Cedeňo at second. He puts down his mitt and tries to field it, and then a bird flies overhead. Ronny looks up for a brief second, looks down and the ball is gone. He turns around and can’t find it. Pujols takes a major risk and breaks for second as Cedeňo turns around again and falls over suddenly. I look under his feet and see the ball laying there. He gets up and tries to pick it up and kicks it to Derrek Lee. Lee picks it up, and a fast throw to third, and… well, miraculously, Pujols is safe. Cedeňo looks downright miserable. Now the score is 4-0 after two runs scored in the third. Skip Schumaker once again makes a fool of Ryan Theriot with a grounder a little to the right of Ryan. He could have easily gotten there, but ended up on the ground as he falls over again. Albert Pujols scores, Schumaker makes it to first, and Theriot once again gets up rather shakily.
Looper strikes out once again, the average thing for a pitcher to do. Izturis doesn’t want to get out. On a three-two count he fouls every pitch. I lost count after awhile. Maybe about ten fouled off? And no, I’m not exaggerating. Finally, he grounds out to Ramirez, who throws to Cedeňo at second who throws to Lee at first to turn the double play. The throw is way too high for Lee, so he jumps and catches the ball, but still lands in time to get Izturis out. Remember, he’s very slow.
Top of the fifth. Cedeňo gets out on an easy grounder. Next up is… me. I manage to go out there and draw a walk off of Looper to bring up Soriano with one out and a man on first. He also gets out, however, he gets the second hit to go past the infield for us since Derrek Lee’s almost-homerun in the first and I advance to second anyway. Next up, Ryan Theriot. He hits one of his classic singles, and I am relieved that he actually got on base and didn’t keep up his streak of making stupid plays. As I arrive at third, I realize that he isn’t at first. I’m very confused, because I don’t see him anywhere. Then I finally spot him as he gets into a kneeling position in foul territory near home plate. Here’s the chain of events: He got cocky with his single. He starts running, and then he steps on his bat, rolls his ankle and ends up injured again. Mark O’Neal comes out to make sure he’s okay.

O’Neal crouches down and Ryan stretches his legs out straight so O’Neal can look at his ankle. Meanwhile, I am at third thinking about how this game is going to be just bad.

Finally, O’Neal helps Ryan up and gets him to limp into the dugout as I run in to get my mitt and start off the next inning. I pass up Ryan on my way and I look at him for a second. The look on his face made me stop in my tracks. I didn’t know if he was in really bad pain or was just really, really mad at himself, but either way, the look on his face was enough to just mentally crush you. He looked like he was about to start crying, and most people in the major leagues won’t be caught dead crying. I sure hope that the paparazzi didn’t catch him bawling about a bad game.

Top of the sixth now. Ryan had been replaced with Mike Fontenot the last inning and Ramirez is up to bat, man on first and second (Lee and Soriano). He hits an easy single, but on his way to first he stumbles over his bat and ends up on the ground similar to Ryan Theriot. O’Neal comes out again, checks on Ramirez, and orders that he be taken out of the game. Now we have two men injured and out, to be checked on again later. Now we have Mike Fontenot at shortstop and Mark DeRosa at third while Johnson takes over at right field.
Until the bottom of the sixth. The bottom of the sixth is when Cedeňo can’t stand the pain any longer. O’Neal comes out yet again, and asks him what he’s talking about. Apparently he hurt his ankle when he stepped on that ball in the third inning. Sure enough, his ankle is dark purple. Cedeňo has to be taken out, but the problem is that we have nobody to put in. Daryle Ward would have been the obvious choice, but he had another back problem and wasn’t available. With only one option left, Fontenot moved back to second and our new shortstop was Geovany Soto. That could only cause for disaster.

Of course Soto made all the catches and everything, he was our starting catcher. He just wasn’t fast and couldn’t get around the field. As Soriano stepped out of the on-deck circle as I ran into the dugout after flying out in the top of the seventh, Lou was going crazy. He stopped me and asked for help.

“Mark, I know this sounds odd, but if you desperately needed a shortstop at this minute, who would you put in?” I thought about it, really took the situation into consideration.

“I’d say Jason Marquis. He’s fast, you always use him as a pinch-runner, and he isn’t pitching for a while.” Lou thought about it, and then when Soto was about to hit, he made his move.

“Geovany,” he said loudly, “Get back here. Jason, go get your batting helmet. You’re going to play shortstop.” Jason just looked confused but reluctantly went with it anyway.

“Gee, kid, I hope you’re right,” Lou Piniella said as he walked away. I really hoped so too.

One thing Lou Piniella did wrong was that he let Marquis hit instead of Soto. Of course Marquis hit into a double play after Soriano hit a single, so with the score 5-0, we headed into the seventh inning.

Ryan Ludwick was leading off the inning. He hit a grounder to Marquis at shortstop. One more thing Lou didn’t consider – Keeping Fontenot at shortstop and changing the second baseman. The shortstop is supposed to be your best fielder, and Ryan Theriot was having an awful day, so we had to replace him sooner or later. But Fontenot was a fielder. Marquis wasn’t.

So the ball goes between his legs and into the outfield to Soriano. Soriano picks it up and drops it, then picks it up but lets go too early and the ball goes to Johnson in right field rather than Lee at first, and Ludwick gets in with a double.

Troy Glaus tries to hit a sac-fly, but DeRosa drops it and it turns into an RBI single instead. Lou comes out of the dugout and talks to the umpire about making a switch.

And what an odd switch! The umpire said that he had never seen one like it! Soriano and Edmonds, Blanco and Lee stayed put. Marquis moved to pitcher, I moved to right field, DeRosa moved to second, Fontenot moved to shortstop and Johnson moved to third. I didn’t have a clue now what Piniella was thinking; I reasoned that he must have been pretty desperate. Now there was a pitcher at outfield and an outfielder at third while a second baseman took over shortstop? I was a shortstop, why couldn’t he just switch me and Marquis? Then everything would be close to how it should have been.

Glaus is at third, Ludwick is at first with no outs. Yadier Molina flies out to me in right field, and miraculously, I make the catch. One out. Pujols then blasts one down center field for a three-run homerun, so the score is 8-0 with one out. Schumaker hits it to shortstop, probably out of habit, and Fontenot picks it up and throws to first to get him out. Things were finally starting to turn around, it seemed. Looper served the easy strikeout, and the inning is finally over.

The rest of the game is similar, and the ending score is 8-0. Lou’s new lineup served well, but now he had to figure something out against the Red Sox. He called us in when we were finished.

“The lineup is going to be similar, but not the same. The batting order will be different,” he started. “Cedeňo is going to be out for the next two series, and although Aramis and Ryan are okay, we’re still going to give you guys a day off on Tuesday. So here’s how it’s going to work.” He said, then got out his list and cleared his throat.

“Our batting order is as follows: Soriano at left field, then DeRosa at third, Johnson in right, Fontenot at second, Edmonds in center, Lee at first, Rogers at shortstop, Blanco catching and then Soto as our designated hitter.” We all let that soak in, tried to remember. I was batting seventh. That should be easy enough, right?

He dismissed us to go as we pleased. We were still stuck in the airport, awaiting a private jet to Boston, reserved for our whole team. I looked at where everybody was in the gate holding area. Dempster and Zambrano were laughing about something and sitting right in front of me, Jason, and Ted. DeRo, Edmonds, Johnson and Lee were playing cards. Ramirez was talking to Cedeňo; Blanco was talking to Soto, probably giving him a few pointers. Everyone in the bullpen was off behind us with another deck of cards. Fontenot was talking to Theriot, who just sat and listened, still looking defeated. Trammell called over Fontenot and left Ryan alone.

“One second, guys,” I said, and then walked over to Theriot, who didn’t even seem to notice what was going on.

“Some game today, huh?” I asked. “Not the best.” I shrugged as he continued to look down.

“I’ll say. Not really the best day to mess up, either.”

“Why was today any worse then any other day?”

“Because of the trading deadline. Lou told me last season that I wasn’t up to par, and I was dangerously close to being traded. After that, he would let me go in a second.”

Suddenly, Cedeňo was called over by Piniella, as was Fontenot. I watched as Piniella had a word with them, and then kept them there and called over me and Theriot.

“You four have all served as my shortstops throughout the first half, and I want to be completely honest with you. The club is looking to make a move on the Roberts trade, and I want to warn you that if we do get him, two of you are gone. Rogers, this is different for you. I wouldn’t trade you as a shortstop – my problem is that Rich Harden is coming off the disabled list soon and is going to try to make his next start. He doesn’t even know that you’re on the team. As far as he’s concerned, it’s Sean Marshall in his place.” I took a deep breath and looked at everyone’s faces. They all looked paralyzed. “So I’m just being honest with you, and we’re looking at a few trades, and we’ll let the team know who’s going by the end of Wednesday.” So we really had to perform. Today was Sunday, and Theriot and Cedeňo had an awful game. Tomorrow he had off, and then Tuesday we had the strange lineup where neither of them would be playing, so it pretty much all game down to Wednesday.

We lost to the Red Sox 6-3 on Tuesday with Dempster pitching, and now Lou made a point to put me, Cedeňo, Fontenot and Theriot all in on Wednesday’s game. Theriot was shortstop, Fontenot second base, Cedeňo third, and I was the designated hitter. I guess that meant that Lou got to see me play shortstop yesterday, but didn’t like that I went 0 for 4 and wanted to make sure that I was able to hit.

Soriano was batting first, followed by Theriot and then Lee. Soriano started the game with a leadoff single on three pitches by Josh Beckett, the pitcher. Theriot was up next.

I was very nervous for Ryan. Over all that has gone wrong, and all that’s happened to him so far this season, we actually got to be pretty good friends. That one game against the Cards where he had started crying (I think, I’m still not sure), I once again pushed the media out of his face. This time, though, he knew about it and went on to thank me.

But of course I wanted him to do well. He had never been traded in the majors before, but had a lot of really good friends on the team. He and Mark DeRosa were really great friends since Ryan had saved Mark’s life that one day in spring training last year, but DeRo practically forgot about that friendship when Jeff Samardzija came up from the minor leagues. They were both football players, and the two of them bonded, leaving Theriot in the dust, and that’s when he got to be good friends with Mike Fontenot again, his college buddy, and Carlos Marmol and Chad Gaudin, who all went to LSU. And I don’t even begin to doubt that he considered me a pretty close friend.

I’ll admit, I knew DeRosa’s background from Michael, but I’d never really gotten to know him. For Michael’s birthday I had given him permission into the dugout for one game, and he chose August 24, one of the days that I wasn’t pitching, but we were playing the White Sox. I was pitching the second time we played them, but not the first, the one at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anyway, Ryan Theriot was batting and I was sitting by Fontenot and Cedeňo, all three of us wanting him to succeed. He fouled off a pitch on a 3-1 count, making in full. Come to think of it, maybe Ronny and Mike didn’t want him to do well, because they didn’t want to be traded, either. Although I couldn’t imagine Mike ill-wishing. But I could image Cedeňo.

Theriot with a line-drive behind left fielder Jason Bay’s head. It rolled all the way to the wall for a double as Soriano went home to score, making the score 1-0 in the first, bringing up Derrek Lee. Lee grounded to Dustin Pedroia at first to make the first out of the inning and bring up Jim Edmonds.

Edmonds took strike one, then the next two for balls, making the count 2-1. He swung at the next one and fouled it off into the stands for a 2-2 count. Then he took ball three. I checked on Theriot at second and saw him taking a major lead of second. Beckett threw the pitch and Kevin Cash, the catcher, caught it and made the throw to third. Theriot was a very speedy guy, he had quite a few stolen bases and he never lost rundowns. The one against the Astros was the closest he came to getting out. He starting his dive with perfect timing, not too early, not to late, and made it onto third still with time to spare. So Theriot with a stolen base and there’s a man on third, and then Edmonds gets the walk.

Soto is up next with one out, meaning that Cedeňo has to go get ready for his at-bat. He gets up quickly as if mad, and storms away toward the cubbies to get his batting helmet and gloves.

“So I guess he wants us to do pretty badly,” I said to Mike, watching him shove the helmet on his head angrily. “Well, I’m glad Ryan’s doing well. He needs the confidence.”


“Same. I mean, I don’t want to get traded, and I in no means am saying that I want you to get traded, but Ryan deserves to stay. He’s been working really hard, and I’d be kind of crushed if I got to stay and he didn’t.”

“I don’t want any of us to get traded. The problem is, I’m kind of a utility player, and DeRosa’s like, a super utility player, and there’s no sense in having more than one, so that puts me on the chopping block. Especially if Rich Harden is coming back.” Soto hit a sacrifice fly to Jason Bay and Theriot ran home, scoring easily as Edmonds got to second. Johnson was up next.

“Okay, well, I guess I have to get ready then…” Mike said, standing up quickly. “If I get on base, then good luck at your at-bat.”

“Thanks, well, if you get to bat, then good luck at yours, too.” I said, as Ryan Theriot entered the dugout and stopped to have a word with Alan Trammell. Reed Johnson flew out to Coco Crisp (seriously?) at right field to get the third out. I threw Mike his hat and mitt across the dugout and he laughed as he tried to catch his hat on his head. He then ran to his spot at second base, and Cedeňo ran to third. Ryan finished up his chat with Alan and ran over, got his stuff and took his spot at short.

I walked over to the railing that Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis were leaning on. I didn’t really like being the DH, because I didn’t get to field, I only got to bat. But I guess if Lou wanted me to be the DH against the White Sox at US Cellular field, I needed to be ready. If I was still on the team then.

Mark DeRosa stood next to Ted and started joining in our conversation. I didn’t know what to feel about Mark; the way he just started ignoring his so called “best friend” because some guy who played football was on the team just didn’t sit right with me. I figured that maybe it wasn’t my business. I had gotten to be really good friends with Ryan and Mike, and from the start with Jason and Ted, and those were really great friends. I’d try to get along with DeRo, maybe for Michael’s sake at home, but I wasn’t sure it would work.

Kevin Cash hit a line drive hard to Fontenot’s left. He dove for it, did a quick barrel roll and came up with the ball in his mitt, without letting it ever touch the ground. The whole dugout erupted in applause as Mike threw to Derrek Lee who threw it into the crowd. Coco Crisp was up next.

“Imagine if your name was Coco Crisp. You’re life would be ruined from the beginning. What were his parents thinking?” Jason joked.

“You see, that’s the problem,” Mark said sarcastically, “They weren’t thinking.” I laughed along with everyone, but couldn’t tell if I was making the right choice by doing so.

“So Harden is coming back to pitch Saturday, huh?” I asked nervously. Ted nodded in response.

“Umm, yeah…” He said awkwardly. “That isn’t really good though. That means that one of the starters has to go.” Mark DeRosa eyed the three of us nervously.

“Well that’ll be interesting…” he droned. I realized that talking to starting pitchers about that wasn’t really the best idea. Crisp grounded out to Theriot at shortstop to make the second out.

“I overheard Lou Piniella talking to Trammell about a Brian Roberts trade,” Lilly said nervously. I didn’t know what to say about that. I know? Or, really? I had no clue! It was especially awkward because Mark was sitting right there.

“What about that Jason Bay?” I said awkwardly again, trying to change the subject, as he was batting. “He’s… tall…” nobody said anything in response. They all looked their opposite directions. Jason Bay flew out to Reed Johnson in right field, and without saying another word, I got up, got my batting stuff and stood on the steps, watching Cedeňo take his at-bat in silence.

It was now the top of the ninth inning, and we were down by two. I was going four for four with three singles and a double, and Mike, Ryan nor Ronny had made an error. This trade was downright intense.

Johnson was leading off the inning. He looked over at Mike Quade down the third base line and followed his instructions and didn’t swing at anything until the 2-2 count. Then, there was a curveball that looked like a ball, but broke at just the right second. Johnson, alarmed, quickly swung and fouled it off to stay alive in the at-bat. He went on to get walked after taking the next two pitches.
Cedeňo was up next. He got the perfect pitch and swung, but not nearly hard enough at ended up flying out to J.D. Drew in center field. With one out and a man on, Fontenot stepped up to the plate, once again the tying run.
He shot a ball straight down the second base line, in between the second baseman and shortstop, causing the ball to roll into the outfield. Johnson could only get to second and Fontenot took first. Mike Quade instructed me to use a sac-fly to advance the runners.
That was pretty stupid. A sac-fly should only be used to get runners home. I said yes but secretly knew that I wouldn’t do such a thing. I let the first pitch pass for strike one, then swung at the next one for strike two. Two balls later, I was feeling nervous. I couldn’t mess this one up. The team needed me.
I saw the perfect pitch go right down the plate. A homerun pitch. I took the same approach as Cedeňo did, but made sure to get a good amount of power behind it. I was relieved just to make contact, but that ball sounded incredible off the bat. I watched it fly as I jogged toward first, mesmerized. It was about to land and… yes. Just barely past the wall.
I jogged the bases as the crowd screamed, as the team screamed, and when I got down home plate I received hi-fives from Johnson and Fontenot, and then Soriano and Theriot. Everyone in the dugout was going crazy except for Ronny Cedeňo. He took a secluded seat as I sat down by Ted, Jason and Mike while we continued to watch the game. I looked over at Lou who was madly writing notes. I wondered who was going.
We won that game 4-3 with my homerun and everybody was thrilled. Almost everybody. Cedeňo was still pouting in the corner. He only got up when Lou called for a team meeting.
“This is about the trades we are making for the trading deadline. First matter, with the starting pitchers. Rich Harden is coming back this week. We aren’t allowed to have six starters, so here’s what I’m going to do. Mark Rogers, you are going to be a utility fielder along with Mark DeRosa, and if the situation calls for it, you can move to the bullpen or become starter again.” I was relieved. The fact that he said that must have meant that I wasn’t getting traded. But I was also disappointed because either Ryan, Mike, or both of them would have to go.
“Nice job,” Mike said to me softly. I nodded my regret and continued to listen to Piniella.
“The next matter is the Brian Roberts trade. We have decided to go through with it. I told Rogers, Theriot, Fontenot and Cedeňo that two of you will be going, but I offered one and they accepted. In exchange for Roberts, we sent Ronny Cedeňo…” Cedeňo looked almost murderous at that moment, “And Jeff Samardzija to the Baltimore Orioles.” Jeff looked shocked. That had come out of nowhere. But I think that Mark DeRosa looked even more shocked. “There’s a plane for you two in two hours. You’d better get packed up.” I looked from Mike to Ryan to Ronny, each one more amazed than the last. Lou walked away, and Mark said something quickly to Jeff, and then let him go get his stuff.
Cedeňo had a different type of walk-off. “Screw this,” he said, then picked up his bag and simply walked away. Everyone else was relieved.
It was our last game against the Red Sox. Brian Roberts hadn’t come, and Lou told us that it was okay. DeRo was still playing right field and Fontenot was now our only second baseman. I was playing left field because Soriano hadn’t gotten any days off in a long, long time.
Theriot was up first, then Lee and Ramirez were also due up. Edmonds, DeRosa and I followed, and the bottom of the order was Soto, Fontenot, and then Blanco pinch-hitting for Jason Marquis. Ryan started the inning by lining out to Kevin Youkilis at shortstop. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez went down in a similar fashion, both flying out to JD Drew, and the first half inning was over, just like that.
Now it’s the top of the fourth. We singled in a run in the third and Kevin Cash responded with a two run homerun in the bottom of the third to make the score 1-2. Ryan Theriot was leading off again as me, Ted, and Mike sat in the dugout watching. Then Mark DeRosa sat down next to Mike and tried to join in the conversation. Theriot grounded out after singling last time up and went into the dugout. He put his batting stuff away and went to sit in his usual spot next to Mike, and then saw DeRosa there. He just said a quick, “oh.”
“Is there a problem?” Mark said, I couldn’t tell if he meant if truly or sarcastically, but Ryan’s response for sure wasn’t sarcastic.
“Well, yeah, there is.”
“What; aren’t we all friends here? Does it really matter who sits where?” Mark shot back, standing up and looking down menacingly into Ryan’s eyes. This didn’t look good.
“I thought so.”
“What do you mean? I though you and I were cool,” DeRosa said strangely. I looked over and saw Lou eyeing them intently.
“I did too, after I saved your life in spring training. Then Jeff Samardzija came up and all of a sudden you forgot anyone else existed. Like being in love, ain’t it?”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t forget about anyone, anyway. And that is just really creepy!”
“Let me guess; you were just too wrapped up in yourself and your stupid obsession with football to notice anything else.” They were both practically yelling now, and everyone on the field turned to look as the umpire called a time out. Lou was just watching.

“Yeah, okay, you’re right. I didn’t give a crap. Are you happy? If there was an issue, you could have just told me.”

“I think I just did.”

“So are we done with this now?”

“I don’t think so. I think that you still have to explain to me why the fact that Samardizija is gone means that you have to try to turn everyone against me.” The umpire was screaming at them to be quiet and break it up, but they were so into it and so loud that I think that I might have been the only one that heard.

“Right. Like I totally forgot about everyone else because this big, tough guy who plays football came up from the minors. I totally forgot about the whole rest of the team.”

“The sarcasm won’t work. I think that for once in your life, you should take something seriously.”

“Yeah, because your life is so hard, you’ve never used sarcasm before. What’s your life story? A few wrong turns, and you find yourself here, thinking ‘all is forgiven!’ and it will become a must-see film? Your life isn’t as much of a drama as you give yourself credit for.” I had no clue what this meant. What wrong turns? What drama? Was there something about Ryan that he had neglected to tell me? “Do you think that just because one little thing goes wrong in your life, the world has gone mad?!”
“What are you talking about? Not everything goes right for me, and it is never the end of the world when it doesn’t!”
“I’m sick of you always having to be the good guy. When some guy from the Brewers punches you in the face, you won’t fight back. I collide with you, break your ankle or something, you say that you’re sorry! So that when everything goes wrong, everyone will feel sorry for you! Are those the values that you’re teaching your children? Because they seem to be that annoying when you decide to show them off to the team at batting practice!”

“Shut up about my family.” I couldn’t tell if Ryan looked upset or mad at that last comment, but sure enough, I saw his fists clench.

“You’ve always been the good guy. But tell me, Ryan; are you really all that self-confident? When someone punches you in the face, you sit there and take it. When I take a stab at your family, you sit there and take it. You’re technically the ‘lovable loser’ pushover type. If I wanted to punch you in the face right now, you’d probably say that you were sorry for getting in my way. Tell me; are you that confident?” Ryan stared him down, not saying a word. “You always seem to go with the flow. You bring these flashy sunglasses so you can not use them.” He picks up the sunglasses and breaks them in half, then throws them onto the field. “And aren’t you from Louisiana? What happened to your accent? You don’t believe that all southerners are hicks and you want to prove it? I’ve heard you talk to your family; that accent is there.”

“This has gone way too far.” Ryan said, stepping forward and pushing Mark back. “Just shut up and stop taking cheap stabs at me, when I can’t even help to change what you’re saying.” He turned his back to Mark and we all stood there in anticipation. The umpire looked like he was about to put the game back on.

“Hey, Ryan,” Mark said calmly. Ryan slowly turned around to meet Mark’s fist as it hit him in the face. He collapsed onto the ground. “See? You can’t even take a punch.” He looked like he was ready to throw another one, too.
Zambrano and Dempster grabbed DeRosa and held him back while Ted and Mike helped Ryan off the ground and onto the bench, clutching his face, while Jason, Geovany and I just look shocked. The umpire ejected DeRosa right there, and he just walks out the door furiously as Mark O’Neal comes over and checks on Ryan, then leads him into the training room, Mike and I following right behind.
“What was that?” Mike yelled, still in disbelief. I heard the crowd silenced as the umpire called the game back on.
“Mike, why are you here? … I need you to go in for Ryan. Go upstairs and get ready to take the field.” Mike slowly backed out of the room.
“Should I leave too?” I asked, slowly edging out of the room.
“No, Soriano will play. I need some help anyway, and I think that Ryan here would trust you more than most of these guys.” I nodded and walked toward Mark O’Neal. He was hurrying around, looking for a towel because you could really tell that Ryan needed one.
“Are you okay, Ryan?” O’Neal asks as he runs around the room. Theriot just looks in continuous disbelief.
“I’m not sure that even happened.” He said. “I just can’t believe that Mark would do something like that. He’s always been a pretty calm guy.”
Lou stuck his head through the door. “Is Rogers down there? He needs to take the field.”
O’Neal had found the towel and held it over Theriot’s face as Ryan lowered his hand. “Tell Soriano to go back in. I need Mark at the moment.” Lou disappeared as O’Neal washed off Theriot’s hand. “Where’d you get hit?”
“I dunno, I think I broke my nose or something.” Theriot said. O’Neal told him to lift up the towel for a moment. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Yes, his nose looked broken. It was bent to the right and it sure seemed to hurt him. It also looked like he had popped a blood vessel in his eye, because it was glowing red. I couldn’t bear to watch as Mark examined his bent over nose.
“Definitely broken.” This wasn’t going to play out well.

After the game, I quickly checked my watch. It was three thirty. Michael was probably back in his dorm room in LAU, doing homework. I picked up my phone and called him on his cell phone.
“Hello?” he answered calmly. I knew he hadn’t seen the game. He had just gotten back from class and was just turning on the television. I could hear it in the background.
“Hey Michael,” I responded. I heard him turn the volume on the television down a bit as he eagerly responded.
“Oh, hey, Mark, how was the game today? I couldn’t watch it, I was at class.” I sighed. I didn’t know how to tell him that his favorite player had just been ejected for punching a teammate in the face. “Did DeRosa hit a homerun? Or, anything good? Gosh, just tell me, I’ve been wondering—is he cool? Like, your friend? Just tell me who you’re friends with! I’ve never gotten to ask you!”
“It’s pretty cool here,” I answered, beating around the bush. “I find that I seem to get along with Ted, Jason, Mike and Ryan pretty well. Ryan Theriot, that is.”
“What is up with him? How many times has he been out so far this season, like five? He’s gotta stop getting hurt.” I didn’t answer. “He didn’t get hurt today, did he?”
“Oh, he did alright. Out with a broken nose and burst blood vessel in his eye.” I said nothing more. I could tell that Michael was getting impatient.
“How did he get hurt?” I heard a soda can open and the television volume turn up a bit more.
“Oh, just go on CSN or ESPN. I’m sure they’re recapping it right now.”
“Alright…” he said. Now the volume was up high, and I could hear what they were saying on the TV.
“In Chicago Cubs news, what happened between Mark DeRosa and Ryan Theriot? Our camera crew was close enough that you could hear they’re words exactly.” I heard the whole argument play out, the umpire screaming, and us guys in the dugout chatting nervously in the background, praying for peace and unknowing of what would happen. Suddenly, I heard a few shrieks and something hit the ground, and I knew what part that was.
“Mark DeRosa was ejected for three games, which takes him out of the series against the Oakland Athletics coming up. Mark O’Neal and Mark Rogers tended to Theriot in the training room as Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster kept DeRosa back until the umpire had ejected him. DeRo went surprisingly quietly. Ryan Theriot is out with a broken nose and a popped blood vessel in his eye, and he will return to the team as soon as possible. Kosuke Fukedome will be brought up from the minors to play DeRosa’s position and tomorrow Mike Fontenot will start at second against Oakland as Mark Rogers misses his much needed day off to play shortstop.” I heard the television click of as Michael returned to the phone.
“Wow. Would… would DeRosa really do that?” I wasn’t going to dignify that with a response, but I ended up doing so anyway.
“Nobody saw it coming. I don’t think that he even saw it coming. But it’s over. Let’s just hope that he’s back to normal by August 24, right?”
“I don’t know. If he would really do that… I don’t know... is he still my favorite? I mean, except for you, that’s a given, but… I don’t know…” There was a long pause, and neither of us had anything to say. I sat there quietly for about twenty seconds and then suddenly I heard a click and a buzz, and realized that he had just hung up. I closed my phone and sat down in the empty dugout, watching the grounds crew clean the field and all of my teammates leave, not even caring that I was still sitting there.
After our series against Oakland, we were going to play the White Sox, where Michael would be coming. I wonder if he would still be as eager to meet DeRosa as he was before.
It was 7:45 a.m. and everyone was supposed to be waking. Every morning, whether we are home or away, we always got up very early, ate breakfast and jogged a little while before going to the field to warm up for an early game or just doing whatever.
We were all sitting in a breakfast restaurant that I had never heard of, waiting for everyone to arrive. There were four seats at each table, and everyone knew and respected who would be at our table: me, Ted, Jason, and Mike. Ryan was not willing to go out in public with a broken nose and bright red eye, especially if there were people there to recognize him. There was a table on either side of us; one with DeRosa, Soto, Ramirez and Cotts and one with Zambrano, Lee, Wood and Brian Roberts, who joined us finally today. At 7:50, our table consisted of me, Jason and Ted. Mike was nowhere to be seen.
We stalled our waiter until 8:10, and then we knew that something was wrong. I got out my cell phone and called Mike’s. Nobody answered.
Knowing that Mark O’Neal was still probably in a room with Theriot, I called him to see if he knew what was up. The phone rang three times before he picked up.
“Hello?” He asked, breathing heavily. It didn’t sound like a good sign.
“Is there a problem?” I asked quickly. “What are you doing?”
“Um, yeah, we have a few minor problems.” He paused and said nothing more. He simply left me hanging.
“What kind of problems?”
“Well, first off, I woke Ryan up and his eye was actually bleeding, and it was pretty dirty business. He freaked out, and eventually he worried so much that his nose started to bleed. You don’t understand how much it hurts when your nose is broken and it’s bleeding. He lost a pretty decent amount of blood. But, that’s all cleaned up now, but I’m not sure that he’ll make it to the game.”
He hadn’t said anything about Fontenot, and he wasn’t about to. “Hey, Mark, is Mike still there?”
“Oh, um… yeah.”
“Why? Is there a problem or something?” Jason and Ted were eying me suspiciously, waiting for me to get off the phone and tell them what was going on.
“Yeah, there is a problem. I think that Mike came down with the, um, stomach flu. You don’t need the details. But the doctor is coming over to take a look at both of them. I’d doubt that either of them will play today.”
“Well, can you tell me when you find something out?”
“Will do.” I heard a scream on his line of the phone. I couldn’t tell whose scream it was.
“What was that?” I asked, the noise still ringing in my ears.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, then quickly hung up. I slowly took the phone away from my ear and closed it, then put it in my pocket. Jason and Ted were eagerly awaiting the news.
“What’s going on?” Ted asked slowly. DeRosa, Soto, Ramirez and Cotts had their chairs turned toward our table. I guess they were listening. Zambrano, Lee, Wood and Roberts had followed suit, and pretty soon the whole team was looking over.
“Mike and Ryan won’t be at today’s game.” That was all I said. Ted looked at me, motioning me to continue.
“And why not?” DeRosa asked. I saw Jason nodding after he said that, and everyone’s eyes were on me.
“Ryan is having… well, that’s a little graphic, maybe. And Mike is sick. He’s got the stomach flu. A doctor is coming over to check on them, and then… someone screamed and that was all I heard.”
“What’s so graphic? I don’t think that any of us mind.” That was the first thing I had ever heard Brian Roberts say. Why would he be so curious about them already?
“Um… okay, honestly? His eye was hemorrhaging, then he worried too much and his nose did the same, and he lost too much blood, and they’re afraid that he might pass out if he plays.” Some people looked pretty grossed out, others just scared. I grabbed my phone and walked outside, then dialed Michael’s number. He was probably getting ready for class now, but he was always the first I told about Cubs news.
“Hey, Mark, how’s it going?” Michael asked. I sighed. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, um… no, not really. We’re officially short a second baseman. DeRo is suspended, and… recent news shows… yeah, Fontenot is out.”
“Why?”
“Um, well, Mark O’Neal says that Ryan started bleeding in his eye and he worried so much that he bled through his [broken] nose, and… almost passed out.” He remained silent on the other side. “And then Mike is out with the stomach flu, so… we’re kind of in a jam.”
“Wow that sucks. Do you know what they’re going to do?”
“I have no clue.”
“Who’s pitching?”
“Dempster.” Neither of us had anything to say. It was August 21, and Michael’s hopes of getting to see all of his favorites were winding down. “Well, I’ve got to go,” I said.
“See you in… three days?”
“Yeah, okay. Bye then.”
“Bye.” We both hung up. I realized that I hadn’t seen Michael since Spring Training. Even when we were playing in California, I had never talked to him in person. I gave him his birthday present in the mail!
My life seemed to be consistently getting harder. I hadn’t had a day off in about a month, I couldn’t see my family and friends, and Ryan was constantly getting injured, which is why I have to play so much more… and now Ryan is hurt, Mark is suspended and Mike is sick. Brian Roberts was getting his first Cubs start today. I didn’t think that he liked it here at all.
August was just proving to be a bad month.
The game that night started at 7:05. We were supposed to get there at five o’clock sharp. It was five forty-five, and guess who hadn’t shown up? Brian Roberts. For the second game in a row. If he didn’t come, we’d be short a second baseman. That would be a stupid trade, a shortstop/second baseman and a reliever for nothing.
This time when we told Lou that Roberts hadn’t come, he said that it wasn’t okay. His lineup was due in five minutes. He grabbed his stuff and sat down by Trammell, which is when I realized that Mark O’Neal wasn’t here, either. And that he had never called.
I grabbed my cell phone and dialed his number. It rang a nonsensical seven times before he answered breathlessly. “Hello?”
“Mark, is everything okay?” I asked. “You said that you’d call as soon as the doctor came. How are they?”
“Well, the doctor did come. Mike is sick, that’s for sure. One-hundred one degree fever. And Ryan…”
The pause seemed to last forever. “And Ryan what?” He took another deep breath before answering.
“You heard a scream, right? Well, when you called last, I was trying to get Mike’s temperature. He was looking out into the hallway. Ryan had a question or something, so he walked down the hallway, and suddenly just stopped. I knew something was wrong when Mike had that strange look on his face, and suddenly Ryan just collapsed. Mike screamed and ran out of the room to try to shake Ryan awake, and… well…”
I tried to take it all in. “He’s not dead, is he?” I asked nervously. Mark seemed to answer this one much quicker.
“No, no, he’s alive, don’t worry about that,” he said, shocked that I would ask that. “But… just a question, did you guys have anything with sugar or caffeine? Soda or something?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, let’s just say… Okay, when Mark DeRosa punched him in the face, we can say that he technically saved his life.” When he realized that I wouldn’t answer, he continued on his own. “If he had passed out anywhere but the room, the doctor wouldn’t have been there to help him.” I must have looked pretty shocked because pretty soon the whole team was staring at me, as well as some people from the Athletics.
“So what was wrong with him?” That really caught people’s attention. Ted and Jason sat on the bench next to me, as did Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds, just staring. Everyone else just kind of walked closer.
“It turns out that he has type one diabetes. It’s hereditary.” I said nothing, and I think he knew that meant that I had no clue what the consequences were. “It reacts when he eats or drinks more than a certain amount of sugar or caffeine. I think that the most he can have is… 5 to 10 grams of either. Obviously soda is more than that. Does he usually drink diet?”
“Yeah.”
“That’s 0 to 4 grams on average, so no wonder it never hit him. He had no clue he had it, and he decided to go decadent on it this time and he ended up passing out. But we all found out the strangest thing…”
“What would that be?”
“It’s hereditary, but neither of his parents have it. That leads me to believe that either he’s medical prodigy or his parents aren’t his parents.”
“Is the doctor still there?”
“No. Well, how is it going over there?”
“Brian Roberts didn’t show. Again.”
“Well, now I’m going to have a word with him and the Major League Baseball committee. Well, bye, Rogers.”
“Bye then,” I said, and hung up. As soon as that phone was shut millions of questions were fired at me. “One at a time!” I yelled over the mob.
“Can you just tell us what’s going on?” Jason asked loudly as everyone nodded their agreement.
“Mike is out with a 101 degree fever. And you know that scream I told you about? It was Mike screaming when Ryan passed out in the hallway. They must have thought that it was from loss of blood, but it turns out that Mark there saved his life by hitting him. The doctor had come to check on him, and when he had passed out, the doctor was there because he had been hemorrhaging. If it was just Mike having a fever, then they wouldn’t have needed a doctor. Anyway, the doctor took a look at Ryan, and you know how we drank all that pop yesterday?” Everyone nodded intently, waiting for me to continue. “Well, turns out that Ryan has type one diabetes, which enables him to have sugar or caffeine more than 5 grams. The doctor gave him some quick insulin, and now he needs to take that wherever he goes.” I didn’t mention the part about his parents. I wanted to give him a bit of privacy.
“What is insulin exactly?” Chad Gaudin asked. He was standing next to DeRosa. When I looked at DeRosa, he just looked shocked. I don’t think he even considered that by hitting him he had saved his life.
“Insulin is a diabetic needle. So when you have an attack, before you pass out you can give yourself a quick shot and avoid it. Kind of like what you use when you have allergy attacks.” He nodded. Saying nothing more, I took my phone and went into the back room to call Michael.
“Hello?” he called slightly when he said that. Apparently he was running around the room.
“Hi,” I said confusedly. I think that he had stopped running, because now I couldn’t hear shoes across the floor and he wasn’t breathing quite as heavily. “What are you doing?”
“I was getting ready for class and I couldn’t find my book, so yeah. I found it, and now I’m walking out the door. So, what’s going on?”
“Brian Roberts didn’t show up. Lou already put in the lineup but I don’t recall knowing what it is. Anyway, Mike is out sick, you already know that.”
“Yeah.”
“And we just discovered that Ryan has diabetes.” Michael gasped, and I could tell that he had stopped walking.
“You’re kidding.”
“No. He was walking down the hallway and they said that he just collapsed. I wasn’t there, but that’s what Mark O’Neal claims. So the doctor asks if he had any caffeine or sugar and O’Neal says yes because we were drinking pop last night, and we didn’t have any diet or anything. So he said that Ryan had type one diabetes and gave him an insulin shot, and that’s all I know. I don’t know if he’s even awake yet.”
“That’s horrible.”
“I know. The way Mark said it, it sounded like he had died. But, I think you should know that by DeRosa punching him in the face, he saved his life.”
There was a pause on his end of the line. “How?”
“Because his eye was hemorrhaging and his nose started to bleed, a doctor came over. Right before the doorbell rang, Ryan collapsed. Therefore, the doctor was there right on time to prescribe him before he did die. So there. That cancels it out, and he can be your favorite again.”
“I guess…” He said. He was walking again now. We were both silent as I heard a door open and he started walking through an empty hallway. Suddenly, there was a yell on his line.
“Rogers sucks!” A kid yelled on the other end.
“Shut up, you Sox fan. We all know that Pierzynski sucks more than anyone.” I heard no argument from the kid. “Oh yeah… I’m wearing my Rogers shirt. A lot of kids have these, you know. Like, when we first got Harden? As many people have Rogers shirts as they do Harden. Maybe even a bit more. Honestly, I think that you’re the most unique player in a long time. You pitch and field? It’s so strange.”
“Well thank you, Michael. You’re strange too. But I’ve got to go. Lou is telling us the lineup.”
“Okay, then. Bye.”
“See you when this series is over. And just so you know, DeRosa isn’t really a bad guy.” He didn’t say anything. He just hung up. I ran to my bag and put my phone in the pocket and ran to join the group.
“As for lineup changes,” Lou said slowly, “Pretty much the only change we’ll have is that Soriano will be moving to second and Johnson will be playing left.” Soriano was a second baseman in the minor leagues partially, so I fully understood why he made that choice. “Alfonso, you will be warming up with Trammell today. Rogers, I need to speak with you.”
I curiously followed him into the back room. He sat down behind his desk and put his head down. It looked like something from the Godfather. “You know that I don’t know anything about what’s going on, right? I don’t know what’s wrong with Mike, or why Ryan isn’t here, even if he can’t play, and I’d for sure like to know why Roberts hasn’t come. Ever since we’ve traded Ronny, it seems like we need him more and more.” He said ‘we’ve’ as if I had a say in who got traded. “And I’m sorry that you wanted to be a pitcher so badly and now you’re stuck being a position player, but there is something I would like to pass by first. For our series against the White Sox coming up, I hope we’ll have Ryan, Mike and Mark back, and I want to give Geovany a chance to play again, because he’s been a DH for four games in a row now. You will be my DH for the Sox.
“Also, Trading Deadline is not over. If Roberts doesn’t start coming, then we can kick him out of the league and steal our players back. We also get to call up people from the Minors to be on our postseason roster. You know that Marquis has been struggling a bit? I might move him down to Iowa.” I held my breath. It would suck if he moved Jason to the minor leagues. “And then you would be a starting pitcher again. Would that be okay with you?”
I stared at him. I had no clue what to say; I was merely at a loss for words. “Well, Lou, you know I already have a position as a utility player. You’ve stuck Marshall in when somebody couldn’t pitch; maybe if Zambrano goes through another dead arm phase I could be that guy, but there is no point in making Marquis go through Minor leagues because I’m not happy with what I’ve got. And what if Ryan gets injured again? You know he’s pretty good at that. I’m the only other shortstop. If in the postseason roster Marquis is in the minors and Ryan gets hurt again, who would play shortstop? They are the best fielders. We have two people who play shortstop and three who play second base. We could train one of them, but that would be too risky in the pennant race.”
“I guess you’re right.” He said, and then continued on a different subject. “And I heard that Mark O’Neal has been telling you the recent chain of events, while I still have no clue what is going on. Mind to tell me?” So for the third time in a row, I retold the story while I should have been getting ready to miss my day off.

At first I was playing fine, nothing spectacular for about six innings. Next thing I know, I’m laying on the ground, looking into the stands at all the Athletics fans just booing me like crazy. I must have forgotten what had happened—I hadn’t had a clue. I sat up and looked in front of me to see Emil Brown, the left fielder, lying on the ground also. Soriano ran over to me, as did Alan Trammell. I then remembered that O’Neal wasn’t there today. Soriano supported my back as Trammell bent down.
“For God’s sake, son, tell me you’re alright,” Trammell said nervously. I wiped the sweat off of my forehead and shook my head.
“What happened?” I asked groggily. “Why am I lying here and why is everyone booing me?” I looked over at Brown again to see the Athletics’ trainer talking to him. He was still on the ground.
“There was a collision, and it looked terribly painful,” said Trammell in return as Lou came out of the dugout.
“And we’re low on players, so it might be best if you’re in good shape to play,” Soriano added on. Now Ramirez and Dempster were there also.
“Brown was running the bases and must have looked away, because there was a single and he must’ve been watching it—right in between you and Soriano. He was running to third and you were running to second, and you just collided in the base path. It looked like we were going to lose you for a second there,” Trammell elaborated as Soriano, Dempster, and Piniella nodded along.
The fans applauded as Brown got into a standing position and was practically carried off the field. “Do we need to do the same for you?” Lou asked impatiently. Trammell was already studying my arm and leg.
“That one took your legs out, it did. You hit your head pretty hard on the way down,” said Trammell, “But you look okay.”
“But the important question is how do you feel?” Dempster asked nervously. I sat there for a minute. I really couldn’t tell. My bones and joints and everything were just numb. I couldn’t tell if they were in pain or just shocked from the impact.
“I think I’ll be fine,” I said, as Trammell nodded. He and Lou each helped me stand up and I took my spot on the field shakily. That must have given me short term memory loss, because I remember nothing about the game previously. I guess I would be able to watch it later, as everyone did to see what they did wrong. I stood at shortstop shakily and looked at the scoreboard. It was the bottom of the sixth, and we were winning, four to two. How we had gotten those points, I had no clue, but I’d have to help build off of them.
A familiar face stepped out of the Athletics dugout. The familiar red hair of Matt Murton. He had probably been called up a few days before because I had heard that an outfielder had gotten injured and they needed a cushion. Where was our spare fielder?
Murton took second base for Brown as Carlos Gonzalez stepped up to bat. I stared at him a little. I had never seen him in person, because he had been traded. He had no clue who I was, and he probably didn’t know that I was a pitcher, either. He looked at me briefly and we each got a good look at each other. He was about my height, same complexity and build but with bright red hair. That must have been just about the only difference between us. We both had short hair and no facial hair; the only difference is that this year, all of the pitchers decided to wear our socks out, and although I wasn’t a pitcher anymore, I thought that it be best to know that I was one, and in case of emergency I was available. I don’t know if Harden, Dempster or Lilly had ever worn their socks like that before—I knew that Zambrano and Marquis did regularly.
I also remembered that tomorrow was the throwback game! We got a new jersey to add to our four home jerseys and two of both away and alternate. Now we had nine.
They were plain white, a similar design to the road ones but brighter with the 40’s logo on the chest. We had blue and white hats and we all had to wear high blue socks with red stripes… it sure was different, I’ll tell you that.
There were two outs in the inning, and two strikes and one ball on Gonzalez. He flew one into right field to end the inning with two on, one in scoring position. I jogged slowly back into the dugout just in time to have Trammell usher me onto the bench and put ice on my forehead. I was instructed to hold it there until further notice.
Blanco was leading off the inning, so there was a bit of a wait before I got to bat. Jason and Ted gave me space as I struggled to remember what had happened in the last six innings. I couldn’t remember worth anything, and finally I agreed on the though of watching it back in the hotel room. It saddened me to realize that I wouldn’t be allowed to watch with Mike unless he took a lot of painkillers, but he was a pretty cautious guy. I would have to live watching it with other miscellaneous people, including Jason and Ted, however, and Ryan, possibly.
I also decided to try to get along with DeRosa again, because I knew that Michael wanted to meet him. I figure that if he saw me getting along with him, the madness would end and we could all relax and get along and Michael could see the team at their best.
Nobody wanted to watch the game with me when we got back to the hotel. I sat in my own room and watched by myself. We had ended up losing that game in an extra-inning upset including two homeruns and a rundown gone wrong. Everyone was so infuriated that they went into their rooms and stayed there all night.
I watched the game by myself for about three innings, pretty ordinary ones. A few singles, a few outs, whatever. It was scoreless nonetheless.
Suddenly I heard a knock on my door. “Yeah?” I called out, and slowly the door opened. It was Chad Gaudin, looking nervous.
“Mark, I have a question—do you live in Chicago?” I had moved out of my mother’s house as soon as I had made the team, and I did live in Chicago, in a small house suitable for my rookie pay.
“Yeah, why?”
“Oh, never mind. I’ll tell you later.” He walked away, leaving the door hanging open and allowing Mark DeRosa to slide in. He sat down and I neglected to look at him. This is my chance. I thought to myself, my chance to get along with him. For Michael’s sake.
“Are you mad at me for hitting Ryan?” He asked, and I said nothing in return. “Because I’m sorry if you are. My anger got to me, it’s always been a problem, and now it seems like everyone’s turned on me. I’ve never done that before, but believe me, if I could change it, I would.”
I slowly turned to face him. “Look, Mark, if you’re so sorry about it, then why are you wasting your time telling me? If you want to apologize, then apologize to Ryan straightforward. Telling me that you’re sorry will do you no good.” He said nothing for awhile.
“I guess you’re right.” He said, and stared at the television screen, watching Soriano fly out to left field. I slowly took my phone out of my pocket.
“And while you’re apologizing,” I continued, “There’s one more person I’d like you to explain yourself to.” I dialed the numbers into my phone.
“Who?” he asked impatiently as I handed him the phone and it started ringing. I hoped he answered.
When he did, I finally explained. “You’re biggest fan.” Yes, it was Michael on the other end of the phone. I wanted DeRo to be his favorite again, it didn’t seem right any other way.
“Hello?” Mark said, smiling slightly. Michael paused on the other end of the line. I heard him grab a can out of the fridge and take a seat on the couch, turn on the television.
“Who is this?” He asked, apparently freaked out. “Mark?” he guessed, knowing full well that it wasn’t me. DeRosa and I sounded nothing alike at all.
“It’s someone named Mark.” Michael said nothing. I knew he must have been confused. “It’s Mark DeRosa.”
“Oh. Well, that’s weird. Hi, I guess…” I got up and walked out of the room. I didn’t need to know what happened in the game. All that mattered was that there was another one tomorrow, and we needed to play a lot better. Perhaps Mike would feel better by then? And Ryan’s nose is coming… less bent over every coming day.
The season wasn’t over yet. In fact, it felt like it was just beginning. I felt like I was getting new hope.
The next day, August 22nd, we played at 3:05 eastern time. We went out to lunch for California-style pizza and sat in a bunch of little booths. Mike felt tons better, he said, and was eager for a big meal. Ryan decided to tag along because his eye wasn’t red and his nose was taped so you couldn’t tell how misshapen and discolored it was—only the fact that there was tape on it was weird.
There were five tables of eight—that was enough for me, Jason, Ted, Mike, Ryan Theriot, Ryan Dempster, Geovany and Mark DeRosa. Yes, DeRo and Theriot had forgotten about the “incident” and were beside it, and had gotten to be friends again. I was accepting DeRosa after Michael had told me of the friendly conversation that had on the phone the night before.
At the table next to us were Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Kerry Wood, Henry Blanco, Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds, Carlos Zambrano and Brian Roberts. And I’ll tell you that Lou had the evil eye on Roberts. It was pretty clear that everyone did. He practically cost us yesterday’s game by not coming… thank goodness Soriano played second!
On the other side of us were normal citizens and I knew that they would be trouble. I looked over once and noticed that all four of them were wearing Cubs shirts—there was a Ramirez, a Lee, a Theriot and a Fukedome. They kept chatting and I knew that they must have been pointing at us, because Ryan Dempster, who was sitting directly across from me, was cracking up almost the whole time. Nobody else thought that it was funny, but his laughter was so hilarious that pretty soon everyone at our table was laughing and everyone else staring at us strangely. When the waiter asked to take our order, we were laughing to tears and nobody could get a word out clearly. Finally, Ted calmed down enough to tell them our order and we all stopped laughing eventually. We got our drinks—Theriot, Mike, Geo, Jason and Ted all got diet Cokes, me and Mark got lemonade (it was a weird inside joke about Carlos Lee and Yadier Molina that me and DeRo had… it was pretty much, there was an error on the batting order screen against the Astros and it was said Leemolina and at first glance Mark thought that it said lemonade… you had to be there. Since then, it was all we drank), and Ryan Dempster got a light beer. We made fun of him too.
“Hey, I’m older than all you younguns,” he said in a Southern accent. “And I could use a beer right ‘bout now.” That also made us laugh although it wasn’t too funny. The fact that he was about three years younger than DeRosa, who was the oldest at the table must have really got us going.
“Y’all can say that again,” Theriot said, then laughed. Next to me, he was the youngest one. The same age as Mike but about eight months younger. I still had eight years to go. I noticed that when Mark had made that stab about his accent, he had started using it a bit more. Y’all turned into something he’d say regularly, and he admitted that had been how he talked to his family, but not to us.
“Y’all got that right,” Mike built off. Although Mike was from an even more Southern part of Louisiana, I had never heard him say y’all, so I knew that he was joking.
“I’d say that y’all better quiet down,” said Chad from the table next to us. “Us New Orleans folk have the obvious accents, and don’t you say otherwise.” That accent must’ve been half fake, but still somewhat real.
“Y’all can’t deny it,” Ryan said. That was his catch phrase since… always. It was the name of a southern rap song that he thought was hilarious for no apparent reason; I sure didn’t get it, but it had gotten to a point where it was hilarious every time he used it and nobody knew why.
Dempster took a sip of his beer and coughed a bit. “So is everyone ready for the game today?”
DeRosa picked up a slice of pizza that had just arrived at the table and shoved a portion into his mouth. While chewing, he managed to say his catch phrase, “Get it in ya”, followed by everyone fighting over sliced of pizza so that they could ‘get it in them’. Nothing so random had ever felt so good before. It seemed like forever since I was able to laugh with DeRosa and not feel guilty.
“Okay,” he said as he finished chewing, “Favorite song…Ryan.” That was another thing we did, where you list a topic and a person and you go around answering it.
“Which one?” I asked, taking a sip of my lemonade. Mark though about this one for awhile.
“Dempster.” He said finally, as Ryan set down his slice of pizza and thought.
“You know, I’ve never really though about it.” He said, and then continued to think as we all waited. “How about… Losing My Religion by R.E.M? That one is a classic.”
“I don’t get the name of the band, though,” said Ryan Theriot. “REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, so… it isn’t really that creepy, if that’s what they were aiming for.”
“Okay, favorite song, Ryan,” said Dempster. “It still seems weird to say that, it feels like I’m asking myself.”
“Um… how about that new song by Kid Rock? All Summer Long? That one’s good.” Mike nodded along. “How about you, Mike?”
“Definitely My Wish by Rascal Flatts.” He said. “How about… Geo?” Soto though about it.
“I guess I really don’t have a favorite,” He said, and then everyone started to boo him—quietly. “All the songs I know are Spanish! How about Eres Tu?
“Oh, I know that one!” Ryan said, “Four years of Spanish can really pay off. But yeah, I do like that song.”
“Okay, Jason Marquis.” said Soto. Whenever he named a person, he always used their first and last name.
“Oh, umm… Keep on Loving You by REO Speedwagon?” said Jason. “That song is pretty good. I like the classics. Okay, Ted?”
“Oh, god… I’ll have to say…Just Like You by Three Days Grace; it’s kind of my pump-up song. Not really in the same… perspective as you guys, but yeah.”
“Oh, I love that song,” I said. It was true. It was one of my most listened to songs on my iPod.
“Okay, Mark. Mark Rogers.”
“That’s tough. Maybe… The Remedy by Jason Mraz. Or Amazed by Lonestar. Or something likes that. And that leaves…”
“Somebody Told Me by the Killers!” said DeRosa right away. “No question. I love that song.”
“Have any of you guys heard the song Miss You that they just started playing on the radio like, last year?” I asked, and they all nodded.
“That is definitely one of my favorites,” Jason said, and everyone else murmured their agreement. “Why?”
“It’s weird. Never mind.” I said, and everyone started to boo me now. “Okay, well, before I played baseball I was a singer. I was wondering, because that song kind of is by me.” It was one hundred percent true. I sang that song and was always so busy practicing that I didn’t know it was on the radio until one day when I wanted to listen to music when I practiced. I had submitted my recording about three years earlier!
“No way. That is just… unbelievable.” Mike said. “Aren’t there more songs by you on the radio then? Like… Only You or something? And… I can’t remember the name…I Don’t Love You anymore was one of them… that is just so creepy. I was like about to say one of those as my favorites. I had no clue.”
Everyone started to talk loudly about my newfound glory (no pun intended). Suddenly, I heard the squeak of chairs and the four fans behind us came over to our table. “Can we have autographs?” One girl asked nervously. They were all girls, three brunettes and a blonde. They told us their names and we gave them signatures. The blonde loved Soto, the brunette with the Ramirez shirt liked Ted Lilly, the girl with the Theriot shirt liked… Theriot and the girl with the Fukedome shirt said that I was her favorite.
We passed the books around the table and gave them some signatures, then directed them in the direction of the other players. It was pretty fun. So far, I had great hopes for today.
That afternoon at 3:05 exactly, when we were supposed to be batting, Brian Roberts walked into the dugout. He was already taken out of lineup, which was okay because we had Fontenot back. Lou took him into the office to talk to him as Soriano went up to bat. Because of Roberts, I had missed another off-day opportunity, which I especially needed now because you can’t imagine how bad my head hurt after that collision yesterday. In fact, I would be shocked if I even played the whole game.
Zambrano was pitching today, but lately in his starts he was having shoulder problems. After each start he would end up being taken out early after the other team scored amazing numbers of runs, and Carlos would be diagnosed with some kind of shoulder problem. But he would always be ready in time for his next start.
Emil Brown was out again today, so Matt Murton was the left fielder. I was also moved up a few spots in the batting order, so I was batting sixth rather than eighth. Those were pretty much the only changes in both lineups, including the fact that Mike Fontenot would bat second.
Soriano was up first, and he drilled a line drive to center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who made a diving attempt and missed, causing for Soriano to get on with a leadoff double. Fontenot was batting next.
He had turned into a hero this season in a way—his versatility one way, although he only played second and shortstop, but fans also liked the fact that he had hit the first regular-season homerun this year. The whole team was very determined this game because of last night’s extra-inning loss that never should have happened. I guess that the pitcher knew just how good he was proving to be this season with his ten homeruns—a season high—a little over halfway through the season; because he managed to draw off the walk to bring up Derrek Lee.
This was the part of the batting order that every pitcher hated, because although Lee does hit into a lot of outs, double plays, etc, he had twenty homeruns on the year at the almost halfway point. Me? I had about ten also, which is pretty outstanding for a pitcher—except that I wasn’t a pitcher anymore.
Lee drove in a single to right field as Soriano got home and Fontenot got to third. There were runners on the corners with no outs and the score was 1-0 for Aramis Ramirez, another one of the most hated batters who didn’t hit into many double plays and also hit tons of homeruns. He too managed to get a walk so the bases were loaded for Jim Edmonds. I was on deck, so I got into the on-deck circle and did my warm-ups, stretched. I noticed a few fans eyeing me strangely, but my attention was averted to Edmonds after he hit a long fly ball to Carlos Gonzalez, who made the catch and threw home, but the throw was cut off by Jack Hannahan, the shortstop and Fontenot made it in standing and Lee was to third and Ramirez had stayed at first as I approached the plate. The fans, remembering yesterday’s chain of events, continued to boo me as I looked down the third base line.
Mike Quade instructed me to lay down a sacrifice bunt, which weren’t really my specialty. If it wasn’t good, then they could throw out Ramirez at second instead of me at first, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. I motioned a swing, but as the throw came I signaled bunt but let the ball pass for ball one.
I did the same chain for the next pitch, but this one was better, so I got the ball on the barrel of my bat and laid down a good bunt near the third base line. I ran hard, as fast as could, which I didn’t think was that fast, but in all the time it took the catcher Rob Bowen to rip of his mask, run to the ball and throw it to first, I guess I was faster because I beat out the throw to the fans’ disapproval, and the bases were once again loaded, but for Fukedome with one out when we were up by two.
As usual, he swung at nothing. He let every pitch pass by, and you can guess it, he struck out looking. That made two outs for Blanco.
The bases were loaded, we had to get at least one more run in! Blanco took the first two pitches for strikes and swung at a really bad one, but managed to foul it off and stay alive in the at-bat. He didn’t hit a single, or a double, or even get on base. He struck out on the next pitch and we went to get our things and take the field.
It was the top of the sixth. Zambrano had been taken out an inning ago because of shoulder discomfort, and we were batting. Lou didn’t put Roberts in yet.
The score was four to two, us, after our two-run first and a two-run homerun by Geovany Soto, the designated hitter. I was batting third in the inning.
I shoved my helmet on my head and watched from the stairs as Ramirez grounded out to Mark Ellis at first to bring up Jim Edmonds. Edmonds lasted for about eight pitches, continuously fouling off on a full count until he finally made contact and drilled a single into left field. Now I was up.
Lou didn’t make a motion to put Roberts in, so I figured I would be batting. Quade simply told me to swing away, nothing special. The first pitch was a ball on the inside corner that made me jump backward a little bit. The next two pitches were similar, but each one drawing nearer.
The last one looked like a ball on the outside corner, but it broke early and to my surprise, making my unready as the ball hit me in the knee, making it lock up. I fell over as a first instinct and grabbed my knee. I didn’t feel much pain at all, but since it was locked in place, I wouldn’t be running any time soon.
Mark O’Neal came out and a few fans were booing, probably the four we had seen at the restaurant that morning.
“Are you okay?” was all he asked, very simply and straightforward. I shrugged in return.
“Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t hurt, but my knee just locked up on me. When that happens, it’s hard to pop it back in place.”
“Should we put in a pinch runner?” I knew it was smart, especially since I needed a day off, and I had to be able to play at Wrigley the day after tomorrow, and I was counting on getting tomorrow off. Maybe get Roberts used to playing for us.
“I think so,” I said, as O’Neal called in Roberts who took first for me as Mark helped me into the dugout.
He sat me down and grabbed my leg, which was stuck in a bent position. “This may hurt,” he warned me, and I nodded that I knew it would. I grabbed on to the bottom of the bleacher as he slowly pulled my leg all the way out. I felt like shrieking when it popped into place, the noise was really loud. I’m pretty sure that Len and Bob would even be able to hear it.
And the pain lasted a while. My leg was throbbing for the next maybe two innings as each team went three up three down. But by the eighth it was just numb, like after the collision the other day.
We ended up winning that game, five to two, with the two-run first, the two run homerun by Geovany, and a simple single in the ninth to secure our win after Rob Bowen, the catcher, hit a two-run homerun in the eighth. My knee was still numb, but now I was on tons of painkillers, so I assumed that was the reason.
My phone started ringing the second I walked into the hotel room in Oakland. “Hello?” I answered.
“Are you okay?” It was Michael, of course. He was the only person who called me regularly. “That looked pretty painful. And I heard that it popped pretty loud.”
“Well that’s for sure. But I’m fine, I think, and I think that you should be happy to know that Matt Murton will be playing tomorrow and Sean Gallagher pitching. Am I right?”
“Well, that’s a given; I love seeing Murton out there. It’s like a blast from the past, kind of. Anyway, how’s Ryan doing?”
“He might play… he’ll most likely be playing on the 24th next, is that good?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He said. “Things have been really strange lately. I mean, everyone found out that… I knew you… I mean, they’re all astonished that I know a professional baseball player and everything, but we live in California. Everyone likes the Dodgers, the Angels, the Athletics, the Padres or the Giants. So, technically, I don’t know if it made me more or less popular.”
“I’d think more,” I said, “because I have autograph access to everyone on those teams.” Michael laughed.
“Well, sorry, but I’ve got to go,” he said. “But yeah, I won’t see tomorrow’s game because I’ll be on the plane over to Chicago to see you play the Sox the day after.”
“See you there.”
“See ya.” I hung up my phone and shoved it in my bag. Everyone had already gotten in their cars and left. I was the only one still there, and I just sat in the dugout, thinking about that good feeling I had. Normally, August was amazing for us and September didn’t do us any good, but this season so far, August was turning out to be pretty bad. We all wanted a World Series, that was for sure. It was the big story of the year, how 100 years have passed and we needed a series this year. We were only half a game ahead of the Brewers and two games ahead of the Cardinals, but all of our players were coming back. So I had faith that we could pull it off.
The next day at 1:00 we had started warming up. Jason Marquis was pitching and everyone was wearing their throwback uniforms. Mine was kind of going to waste, because I wasn’t playing, and Ryan wasn’t playing and Mark wasn’t playing because he was still not allowed, not until tomorrow, and all of the other starting pitchers, and… it goes on, but quite a few people weren’t going to play today.
The game started at 2:05 and only the starters had to warm up, so me, Ryan, Mark, Ted and Jim were all leaning against the railing, watching everyone run and stretch and throw, making some random comments to either tease the players or to kind of give them a pep talk. Lou has to give out two pep talks for each game, one in English and one in Spanish. Fukedome listened in on the English one but only caught on to a few words, so he wasn’t usually too pepped up, and it showed because he wasn’t really the best player. He was a decent fielder, but his batting needed a lot of work. He was moved down to Triple A Iowa to work on his batting, but since DeRosa was thrown out, he had to move back up and his batting still wasn’t that good at all. I wonder if he will be moved back down after today?
And wow, was it a boring game! No homeruns, few hits on either team… for the first six innings, the score was tied at 0 and each team had three hits, all singles. I felt bad for the fans that came to this game, but maybe I shouldn’t have… they were Athletics fans, mostly. I was also glad that Michael hadn’t chosen to come to this game because he would have been upset, and he wanted to take a trip to Chicago anyway.
The All Star Game was being postponed this year, nobody knew why, but it was kind of a memorial thing for Yankee Stadium. Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot and Chad Gaudin were all becoming increasingly nervous about their families in Louisiana with the hurricane season coming. Gaudin was thinking about making his family fly up here if they wanted to, since they live in New Orleans, which is most likely to get hit. Mike was nervous, but his brothers were all driving up to California for a nice short vacation, and they were trying to get his wife to come along, too. Ryan was in a dilemma because with a six month old kid, his family wasn’t able to fly. He was thinking about having his wife, Joannah, and his son Houston come up here and have his brothers baby-sit Leanne and Georgia, but he thought that his wife should stay with the youngest kids, although his brothers would stay at his house. They were constantly watching the weather channel and calling over there to make sure everything was okay.
Ryan, Mark, Ted, Jim and I were bored out of our minds! Lou was forcing us to watch the game, so we weren’t allowed to get sidetracked by anything. We were shifting from sitting to standing and back again for maybe an hour and a half. Suddenly, Trammell came up from the clubhouse.
“We have a phone call for Mike Fontenot,” he said, and then Mike got up and walked down with Trammell.
“What is it?” Mike asked, and soon their voices faded as they went down the stairs.
“What is that all about?” Ryan asked. “I didn’t even know that we have a phone down there!”
“Me either, come to think of it.” Mark said. “But I haven’t really been down there too much. Except for, like, after games, but then I’m either too busy having fun or too eager to go home. To the hotel, anyway.”
“Isn’t it weird to think that even though we spend almost all of our time in Chicago, almost nobody lives here?” Jim asked.
“That is weird.” Ted answered. “I live here in California, so I guess that I do get to come here pretty often, though, because there are four teams from California.”
“I live in Atlanta, so whenever we play the Braves I get to stop by and see my family.” Mark said.
“Mike and I both live in Louisiana, so the only time we get to go home is during the off-season and maybe the All-Star Game break, if we time it right. As long as we’re not in it, which has been every time, after one year here. Surprising, right?”
“I live in Chicago, but my family lives in California.” I said, and Ted and Jim looked a bit confused.
“What do you mean, your family lives in California but you live in Chicago?” Jim asked.
“I mean like, my sisters and my mom. I’m not married, no. Not yet, anyway.” Ted nodded.
“Well, I mean, you’re only twenty. You should be in college right now. I didn’t finish college, I came to the minors first.” Jim nodded.
“I finished college and then I went to Lansing. Mike got an offer like, his junior year or something and left right away—everyone was sure that he would be a starter on a major league team. He did go right to the majors, but he still isn’t a starter.”
There was an awkward pause after that as nobody said anything, so we all just turned our attention back to the game.
It was the top of the eighth and Blanco was up. The score was still zero to zero and even the players looked a little bored right now. In five pitches, Blanco had struck out to bring up Roberts. This was his first game starting because it was his first game being here when it started! Lou still really hated him because of him and I’m sure that he would be a benchwarmer if DeRo was allowed to play. And, much to Lou’s pleasure, he also struck out, bringing up the designated hitter, which would be me tomorrow, but today it was Geovany Soto.
In five pitches, a full count, the pitcher, former Cub Sean Gallagher let loose a lazy breaking ball that Soto crushed without a second glance. The ball sailed toward the bleachers, and just like that the score was one to zero, and we had four hits.
As everyone was cheering, Mike walked back up from the clubhouse, an astonished look on his face.
“What is it?” I asked as everyone turned to look at him. “Is something wrong?” I held my breath as he spoke.
“It was Jim Hendry. He said that the Astros had put in an offer for me and he was thinking about considering.”
“What was the offer?” I asked, trying to be calm but really not wanting anybody to get traded.
“They said Tejada and Anderson for me and Ryan.” Theriot looked shocked after he said that.
“Me, Ryan, or Ryan Dempster?” he asked quietly. As Mike was about to speak, Trammell called up to us again.
“Theriot, can you come down here for a minute?” he asked.
“You, Ryan.” He said as Ryan slowly went downstairs. I was shocked. This couldn’t happen! We already have too many starting pitchers! But then it hit me—he might move Marquis to the minors or the bullpen! And two starters for a starter and a backup? That was an amazing offer. Then it would be me, Ted, and Mark… no Mike, Ryan, or Jason… that would really suck.
Ryan came back up the stairs. We all looked at him and he shook his head. “They said that they would most likely go through with it.”

On the plane back to Chicago after we had beat the Athletics one to nothing, Mike, Ryan and Jason all had a little talk with Lou Piniella in the back room, along with Jim Hendry on the phone. Me, Mark, Ted, Ryan Dempster and Derrek were playing poker. Of course, I had no clue how to play, but I still wasn’t as bad as Derrek Lee. I knew when I had bad cards and he always raised, whether he was doing well or not.
I was fully aware that Michael would be staying in my apartment in Chicago, because he didn’t have a whole lot of money so he could afford a hotel room by himself. I had given him a key a while ago because I was sure that he would want to go to a few games. I had called him as we were boarding the plane and he had said that he was already there and super excited, especially when I told him that all the guys were going to come over for a few minutes, which I had technically just scheduled. After I told him that, Ryan Dempster just burst out laughing out of nowhere.
“You know what I just realized?” he had said, “You’re still underage, aren’t you?” I nodded, out of good humor. I really didn’t care; even if I was eligible I probably wouldn’t drink. It’s not really the thing I was into. But everyone was still happy to meet the Cubs’ possible number one fan.
Ryan and Mike came back in, smiling and grinning, cracking up and none of us knew why. I knew I wouldn’t be so happy if I was going to be traded.
“What’s so funny?” I asked, as they calmed down for a moment and took a seat around the table.
“Well, Hendry was talking to us, like making sure that we were okay with being traded and stuff,” Ryan started as Mike wiped his eyes, sighing. “And then he got a call on the other line from the director of Major League Baseball, so he talked to them for awhile, and then when he came back on the line, he said, ‘Sorry, too late. The Yankees got ‘em.’ And then he just hung up. It’s not as much that it’s funny, but I am like, so relieved right now,” Ryan said.
“I was like, dying when he was talking about how when he would sign the deal we would just get on a plane and leave right away.” Mike said. “He said that they wanted us there in time to play today, so we would have just gotten off of this plane and got on another one to Houston. But, the Yankees got em’!” he said, laughing as Ryan Dempster handed both of them some cards.
“Oh, I don’t really get cards. Never really played before, you know?” Ryan said, trying to hand them back.
“Neither has Mark over there, and he’s only in second to last!” Dempster said, giving Theriot his cards back. “So why don’t you learn? It’s pretty hard to lose to Derrek!” Everyone laughed, and then to make it better, Derrek raised again, but lost because his cards were a 2, 4, 6, and 8—all evens, as he said.
We had left at about five thirty and gotten to Chicago at ten twenty. We all got in our cars and everyone followed me to my apartment buildings. We parked and used the little buzzer to call Michael in the room.
“Um, yeah…?” he said.
“We’re here to see a mister Michael Springz,” Jim said in a fake low voice, and then we all ran up the stairs to floor six.
I showed them to the room and knocked three times. We all ran onto the other side of the door except for Ted Lilly, who remained in front as we all hid. Michael opened the door.
“Ted Lilly?” He gasped, and then we all came out from behind the door. “Oh my god, this is way too… strange…” he said as we all piled inside, me last.
“Dude, tomorrow you’re going to see us some more,” Jim said before he walked inside. I shoved him in a little bit.
“It’s not that strange. You’ll get over it.” I said, walking in after him. “Eventually.”
Surprisingly, Michael hung back mostly, and I thought that he would be thrilled to party with the Cubs! I was mostly happy to be in my own room, seeing as how I hadn’t in what seemed like forever.
At about eleven thirty there was a knock on the door. I turned the music off and everyone set down their drinks as I went to get the door. It was my “next door neighbor”, notorious White Sox fan Nicole.
“Is there a problem?” I asked, and she put her hands on her hips in a pouted expression.
“Yes there is a problem. I don’t care if you’re famous or rich or whatever, but this party has to quiet down.”
“Are you kidding me? Look, I don’t really know if you’re a White Sox fan or a Cardinals fan or whatever, but you have access to a party with the Chicago Cubs and you would rather complain?”
“You know, I can always just call the cops on you.” She flipped her long brown hair behind her shoulder and kind of shrugged. “It’s hard to forget the number.”
“Dude, what’s going on out there?” Mark called to me from the kitchen area where everyone was waiting.
“Oh, it’s just my obnoxious neighbor trying to stop the party.” I responded, and then turned back to Nicole. “Maybe there’s a Sox player in the next town over, if you’d prefer.”
“Look, I’ve met you before; I’ve met a few of these people. Maybe that’s why I’m not falling over. Maybe it’s because I know you’d be here tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day and so on. Maybe it’s because Paul Konerko or Mark Buerhle live somewhere in this building, too, and I would prefer to wake up to them in the hall then you. But—”
“Whatever, Nicole. Go sleep in the lobby, but I’m not doing a thing.” I closed the door on her as she tried to protest and then turned the music back on, but louder.
I woke up 5:30 and got ready in the dark so I wouldn’t wake Michael up, who was sleeping on the couch. I went through my usual morning routine and then walked over to the hotel that the others were staying in. They had rented out a full two floors and made sure that there were security guards so that nobody could bother them. I met them out in the parking lot so we could start our usual morning run.
I liked it best when we ran in Chicago because we knew the course really well. We went along with the streetlights because it was still dark outside, and we ran until about one and a half hours after sunrise. Therefore, we were done at about 7:30, which wasn’t so bad. The schedule for the week was to play the White Sox in the next three days, and then we had an off day that we would use to work out before taking on the Brewers at home for a three-game series. After that, we flew to New York for the All-Star Game.
After our jog, we all went back to our respective rooms and decided to get dressed for the game before we would go out to eat a light breakfast at a bagel place or something. I jogged back to my apartment. By now it was about eight and Michael was awake.
“Where have you been?” he asked as I rifled through my drawers. He had a cup of coffee and a piece of toast in his hand and he looked exhausted.
“Jogging,” I said, as I slammed the drawer and opened the next. I couldn’t find anything anywhere! My jersey, pants, socks, cleats, hat, mitt, chain, batting gloves… I couldn’t find any of it! Even my sunglasses were gone! “Have you seen any of my stuff?”
“No. But you know, you’re neighbor was in here earlier and I did leave her in here alone… and you know how she hates you and all…” That was all I needed to hear. I ran out into the hallway and started knocking frantically on her door. She opened it with a self-satisfied look on her face.
“Yes, may I help you? Are you… missing something?” A few people had opened their doors to see what was going on. I had slammed a few things shut. “I mean, besides your dignity and all…”
“Nicole, where the… heck is my stuff? I know you have it!” She clapped her hands together really happily.
“I’m busy boxing it up. It sold pretty fast. I have to get it out to Arizona pretty soon…”
“What in the world are you talking about?” I asked, trying to get into her room but not being able to.
“It’s called eBay.” She said, as I finally managed to break into her room. I looked around, and figured that it was the same layout as my room. That’s how I knew where her bedroom was.
I marched over to the back of the apartment and started to open her door as she quickly ran over and tried to block the doorway.
“Don’t go in there,” she demanded. I simply pushed through her—what did she expect? I’m a professional athlete, after all.
I flipped on the light switch and the room lit up brightly, and to my astonishment! Her room was nothing at all what I imagined! The walls were painted red and blue, there were Cubs signs everywhere and various newspaper clippings of all the players hung on the walls. She had a Cubs couch and there was a Cubs shirt hanging out of her drawer—along with all of my stuff in a box on her dresser, along with her camera and phone.
“I thought you were a Sox fan,” I said as I made my way over to her dresser and rifled through my things to make sure that everything was there. She sat down dejectedly on her bed.
“Who am I kidding? My parents are Cubs fans, my brothers are Cubs fans… and with you living next door? How could I not be? All of my friends are so jealous.”
“You know what I think?” I said, also sitting down.
“What?”
“I think that the only reason you took my stuff and hid it in your room was so that I would come in here and find out. I think you planned this.”
“No way! Like I would ever want someone like you to go around my things!”
“Then I think you planned it subconsionsly.” I looked at her as she turned around to face me. “I think this was all a gig to get me in here so I could really see you in a natural light.”
“Yeah, right.”
“I think that you like me.” She didn’t respond, she just turned around to face me. “I think you want me to take you out tonight for dinner.”
“I think I’d like that.” She said, and then I walked out of her room with all of my things and changed to meet the team at the bagel shop.
“So, what’re y’all doing tonight?” Mike asked the group at the table – me, Mark, Ryan Theriot, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and him. Mark DeRosa gave him a glance. “I mean, what are you doing tonight… Jason?”
“Uh… sitting in the room doing nothing?” he responded. “Along with probably most of you guys, right? Okay, what are you doing tonight, Ted?”
“Same as you, sitting in the room doing nothing. So… what are you doing tonight, Dempster?”
“Me, Mark, Kerry and Sean are going down to the bowling alley to prepare for the party next week,” During the All-Star Game Break, we were having a party at Kerry Wood’s Strike Zone, and everyone who wasn’t in the All-Star Game was going, along with some fans. “Okay, Mike.”
“I’m going to call my wife and make her get over here before hurricane season,” he said, “She’s starting to refuse.” Ryan choked a bit on his drink and cleared his throat numerous times.
“Sorry,” he said as best as he could, and then started choking a bit more. Jason leaned over and started pounding on his back. Ryan waved him off.
“What about you, Ryan?” Mike said as Ryan sat up straighter.
“Calling my brothers and making sure that he’s gonna keep my family safe while I’m stuck here.” He said in a sad tone. “Mark Rogers.”
“Since I’m the only one left again, right?” I said. “Actually, I have a date tonight.” That caught some people’s interest.
“With who?” Mike asked.
“Nobody you know,” I said, while standing up and grabbing my phone out of my pocket. When I did this, I was always calling Michael and they always let me go, so they turned around, but I just went outside—I don’t have to call him when he’s in my room. I just sat outside on a bench with the phone up to my ear while I looked at the landscapes around Chicago. I don’t know why I ran away—I just wasn’t up to facing it. I got up and got in my car, then drove away. If they wanted to know what was wrong later, I could make something up on the spot.

At 2:00 that day, I got in the car with Michael in the front seat. The game started at four thirty, so I was actually running a bit late. He was so excited, and he was letting me know.
“Aren’t you so excited? I mean, you’re playing the White Sox! This is major! This is huge!” I slammed on the brake right outside the player parking lot.
“Sorry,” I muttered, and then parked. I unlocked his door and pointed him in the direction of the clubhouse. “I’ll be right there,” I muttered. He opened his door and walked toward the field. I groaned and leaned back in my seat, then kicked the radio on and took a few deep breaths. I realized why I left earlier. It was the dread of the game today. There was no way I would ever be able to stand up to Ozzie Guillen after he gave me to this team. Especially now that I’m not even a pitcher and he said I had such a great talent. One of us would make a fool out of ourselves.
It was a few minutes before I realized that 1. I was listening to one of my least favorite stations and 2. That a few minutes had passed and I was supposed to be in the clubhouse. I was almost half an hour late to warm up now!
I ran through that door and onto the field. We were taking batting practice so I quickly grabbed a bat and tried to sneak into line. Emphasize the word tried. Lou Piniella came up behind me, grabbed my shoulder and pulled me away. I thought I was in trouble when he sat me down across from him as he sat behind his desk.
“Rich Harden should be pitching today.” He said. That was all he said for a while, as he looked about. “He told me that he was having shoulder problems. Normally, I would put Sean Marshall in someone’s place, but this is what I decided—Rich and Carlos are our two biggest injury possibilities. When Carlos gets injured, I’ll put in Sean. When it’s Rich, I’ll put you in. Then you both get to pitch. So here’s what I’m asking of you- you start today, either play or sit out tomorrow, and then on Wednesday you’ll go in the bullpen—I want you to start getting used to it there. But, in short, grab your pitching mitt—you’re going out for us today.”
A wave of adrenaline rushed over me. No, not a wave, even—an ocean. It was so thrilling, doing what I do best again. I hadn’t pitched in what seemed like ages, and I knew I would probably be a bit rusty, but wow—I had taken for granted how fun it was after all! I loved it! It made me feel… important. And what a game for Michael to watch, better than how I had predicted in the beginning of the year. And this was just warming up.
We sat in the dugout as Alan, Mike, Matt and Lou gave us our pep talks (in English). We sat and talked as they went on to give the same one in Spanish, and Michael was shaking in his seat.
“I have never been here before. It’s so much cooler than going to Dodgers games with Mom and Alexis. And a lot better than US Cellular Field.” He said, elbowing me in the ribs. For the second time today, I froze as I got an epiphany. My eyes shut automatically as I was brought back to that day when my father was struck, eventually dead, on US Cellular Field. How I had brought myself to jump over the fence and to his aid when he never knew me at all. How strongly I had felt… and about how going out here today, I was denying his dream that he never had the chance to live down.
I opened my eyes and tried to sort out my thoughts. I wasn’t letting him down. I tried my best to live his dream. I couldn’t help it if they traded me to the (almost) arch-nemesis, besides the Detroit Tigers or Minnesota Twins. I was being successful. That was what counted.
“Are you okay?” Mark asked me, shoving me to the side and giving me a strange look. Jim and Ted were also giving me strange looks.
“Oh, um, yeah, sure. I’m fine. Absolutely. Never felt better, actually.” This wouldn’t work for Ted.
“I’m not so sure. You’re pretty pale. Do I need to get Mark O’Neal? Do you need to be looked at or something?”
“No, just… a random memory.” I said as I got on my mitt (my pitchers’ mitt) and tried to look happy as I jogged onto the field, onto the pitchers mound, while deep inside I was slowly shattering painfully into pieces.
Top of the first, no outs… first batter of the game, actually, and it was Orlando Cabrera, the White Sox second baseman. Our second baseman was actually Fontenot today, because Lou was having a grudge and denying Brian Roberts any playing time. He wrote the complaint to the Head of Major League Baseball and they responded that there was nothing they could do. They were now optioning Brian Roberts for Mark Loretta, but the Astros, already having lost two of their starters, were not looking to fondly of the deal. Roberts was also dying to get out of it so he could play, and was also dying to get his number 1 jersey back. He didn’t like being number 54, so he had a little grudge against Kosuke Fukedome, even though he was back in the Minors.
Anyway, enough about Brian Roberts, we’re talking about Orlando Cabrera. He was a danger, like everyone on the Sox—just like the Cardinals, everyone was a power hitter. It was never fun to get a team like that to pitch against after not having pitched since practically what seemed like forever. Especially now that the Sox had Ken Griffey Jr. from the Reds, they posed an impending threat.
The first pitch was a strike, fastball in a corner and we were underway. The next signal: index and pinky finger up, pinky out, fist left to right. That meant a slider inside that moved to the right. That was what I pitched, and that was what the next strike was. Next pitch: Last three fingers out, thumb out – fastball outside. That caused for strike three and I started the game with a strikeout. Very classy (haha).
A strikeout is always great, especially the way I did it when you only use three pitches. The only problem I had with striking out Orlando Cabrera is that the next person up was Joe Crede at third. He hadn’t really had the time to be great this season because he was on and off the disabled list. Every time he was better, they would find a time to put him in. They didn’t have a problem with Juan Uribe; they just apparently liked Crede better. Joe Crede, who gave Ryan McHenry and Mitch Johnson the news that they had made the team earlier in the year, hadn’t even been faring too well when he was in the ballgame.
I looked to Ryan McHenry who was sitting in the bullpen. He had posed the biggest threat to me. He was the one who was good, but didn’t have a lot of stamina. He was exactly where I thought he would have been. I looked for Mitch Johnson in the crowd of black in the bullpen, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I looked to the dugout to see him sitting there with his black pitcher’s pullover and was shocked that he had made it to be a starter. I wonder if he knew me, if he recognized me, and if he even took the time to say, “That guy’s gonna be great” like I did to him at the tryout. I saw Javier Vasquez – he was pitching today. I saw Mark Buehrle – he was pitching tomorrow. I knew that the other two had already pitched this week. That meant that in the last game of the series we were going to face Mitch Johnson. And I, apparently, was going to be in the bullpen.
Joe Crede, as I said earlier, was not having the best year even when he was not on the DL. Therefore, I was not ‘scared’ to face him as I was with Cabrera – he was more known to smack a few out of the ballpark and was the first batter I had faced in a very long time. But, I was slowly gaining my confidence and I was going to be… well, you know the word… if I didn’t get him out. Ryan Theriot forbade me to swear anywhere near him, and it was beginning to get habitual, even in my thoughts. Ryan was very religious and always kept a clean mouth and inspired others to do so too. I had only heard him swear once—when he struck out in the bottom of the ninth when the bases were loaded and we were down by one with two outs in a Spring Training game earlier this year.
First pitch was a ball down the middle. Ozzie Guillen, in tryouts, advised his pitchers that “Nobody, at least on my team, ever, ever, EVER swings at the first pitch, and the only way I accept it if they do is if they hit a homerun. Out of the park. That’s it, IT I say!” with his Mexican accent. “ALWAYS throw first pitch strike. ALWAYS.” So now I can use it against him.
Second pitch on the outside corner, an arguable pitch, but called a strike. I would have personally been fine with either way the call went, but I knew that if Carlos Zambrano was on the mound, it would be his way… or the highway.
Third pitch was a ball up high. Soto caught it and made the little motion with his hands that meant “keep it down”. Then he slaps his chest guard and gets back into a crouch, looks around at gives his signal. A two-seam fastball low and away, in the zone. I threw it, but he knew that I couldn’t promise it to be in the zone, but luckily, it was. That was a strikeout in four pitches, but still, it was good.
Unfortunately, once again, a power hitter was up. The man, Ken Griffey Jr., a new addition straight from the Reds and already with two homers for the Sox. Luckily for me, though, he grounded out right to Derrek Lee and we were up to bat.
As the dugout watched Soriano go up to bat, followed by Fontenot and then Lee, I sat on the bench and talked to Michael. He was excited. “Oh my god you guys have to win. This is like, super important to me, you know? God, I wish I could play! Oh my god that would be cool! We would like totally have a party after!”
I looked at my clock on my phone. It was 4:50, and then I remembered that I couldn’t ‘party’ tonight. I had to take Nicole on a date. I had no clue where, or what, or… anything. I clammed up just thinking about it. It was really, really nerve racking.
But my attention was turned back to the game when I heard a yell. It was the fans, of course, as Soriano ran to second after hitting a ground rule double. Everyone applauded and then Mike Fontenot came up to bat.
“Come on Mike…” I said under my breath as Michael watched intently. He was a little too much into it, it seemed. But really, could you blame him? He had a signed ‘Ace of Cubs’ bat hanging on his wall in his single-person dorm—it was one of those cheesy ones, where they put the ace of clubs card on either end of it and have the starters on the front, but get this – it was from last season, and they forgot Jason Marquis. It had Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden, and all of their signatures, including Jason’s, but no picture of him. It was so weird… but he still cherished it one hundred percent.
Mike drilled a line drive into left-center for a single to bring Soriano home. This season, better than any, the Cubs were getting lots of first inning points. I think we scored in the first in all but maybe three games. That was a lot since it was almost halfway through the season.
Derrek Lee was up with Fontenot at first with no outs, and we were up by one. It’s a mouthful for the announcer to say—they have to make sure to get every necessary piece of information and not forget the score, the count, the outs… yeah, a bit off topic, I know.
Strike one to Lee was a fastball down the middle. I would have liked to hit that one, but rarely is there a swing on the first pitch. Strike two was on the outside corner. Strike three was on the inside. Nobody said a word about the sorry at-bat.
With one out Ramirez stepped up. His average was slightly above Lee’s at a .274 and with Lee’s a .269. Mike Fontenot led the team in average in a certain number of games, I don’t remember how many, but he had a .301, and Ryan Theriot, not eligible because he hasn’t played in as many games, had a .381, but that’s because he hasn’t played in many games. But for every game he did play in, he did really well. Except against the Cardinals that one game. Nobody did well that game.
Ramirez grounded out to Alexei Ramirez at shortstop (yeah, Ramirez grounded out to Ramirez) to generate the second out and bring up Jim Edmonds, playing center field.
“Come on, Jim, get Mike around!” I hollered from the dugout. The score was already one to nothing and we had a chance to tack some more runs on. Edmonds hit a single to right field to advance Fontenot to third. Now with two outs and two men on, DeRosa was up to bat.
“Come on, DeRo, we just need one hit!” I said. He hit a ground ball right to Joe Crede in response, so I was just about ready to get my mitt back on when Crede fumbled it and DeRosa got to first safely as Fontenot scored. It wasn’t a hit exactly, it was an error, but he still got on base and got a run in.
Now instead of getting my mitt, I got my helmet and batting gloves to wait on the dugout steps to get ready to bat. Soto was up and Theriot was on deck. They went to intentionally walk Soto, so I was eager to take the on-deck circle.
Ryan Theriot was up to bat with a man on first and second. After two strikes, DeRosa broke for third on a changeup that was a ball, and because the pitch was so slow, he got in pretty easily. Now there were men on first and third, two strikes, one ball. Theriot just kept watching the next few, very close calls on most of them, making the pitcher angry. With a full count, the ball was thrown very near Theriot’s head. He jumped back and ended up on his back on the ground. He stood up fast and pointed to the pitcher, Javier Vasquez. He put up his hands in an attempt to show that he was innocent. The umpire walked up to Theriot. I heard him yelling from the on-deck circle.
“Come on, dude! That was intentional! There’s no reason for him to throw at my freakin’ head! This is wrong! Completely wrong! I think that he should be thrown out of here, I seriously do! That was one hundred percent wrong!” He was still pointing angrily at Vasquez. “That’s not going to work for me. That’s not gonna pass.” Paul Konerko and Joe Crede starting walking by Vasquez and I went up to Theriot. “There’s no excuse for that. That’s just wrong.”
“Dude, you’re kind of making a fool out of yourself. You said ‘that’s just wrong’ like five times. I think you need to chill out a bit.” I said in a horrible attempt to calm him down.
“I’ll say,” Vasquez said angrily. “Like I would try to hurt you. You do it well enough yourself. And besides, you’re not worth it.”
“Okay, one thing, dude,” I said, walking toward him, “That’s just trying to make him mad. You’re just waiting for him to punch you in the face so you can get out of this trouble. I never said he was wrong—frankly, I think he’s one hundred percent correct. But you should know that I have a very short temper, and you are really, really making me so—”
“DUDE! Shut up, okay?” I thought it would have been Vasquez talking, but it turned out to be Ryan. “I can fight my own battles, alright? You just stand back.” To make this clear, he shoved me back into the on-deck circle.
“Look,” he said to Vasquez, “I don’t want to mess with you. It’s not my thing, to get into quarrels.”
“With people much taller than you, I hear what you’re saying. I can’t relate, but…”
“Shut up. I’ll let this one pass,” he said, walking to first base, “But the next time a pitch comes anywhere near my head, that’s it.”
So I guess I was up to bat. I confusedly walked into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two outs, thinking, there is no way I am not going to get another run in. There is no way.
Vasquez was a tough pitcher to face. And, to make it worse, he was mad. So he was throwing fireball pitches, inside, outside… it was so unpredictable, I must have fouled like, twenty off in the duration of the at-bat (well, okay, that’s a little much).
Finally, for like, the fifth or sixth full count in a row, I found a pitch I liked. I swung and made contact, and immediately knew that it would be a base hit. I kept watching it as I rounded first, surprised by how far it was carrying. The wind was blowing out… could it be a homerun? A grand slam? I didn’t think it was possible by the sound it made off the bat, but it was going… going…
GONE! It was a grand slam! Everyone went crazy! I rounded the bases with the biggest smile on my face as the wind tried to blow me off course. It was really strong, and it showed. I remember my first homerun, the one caught by the Rogers fan… it was so great! I was just happy that it wasn’t caught by a White Sox fan! It was caught by a little boy in the front row of the bleachers who had brought a mitt to the game. His father was right next to him, telling him how important it was. And I was proud, for what seemed like once in forever.
I sat with Reed Johnson on the bench in the top of the eighth watching as the White Sox batted. Soriano was in left, Edmonds at center, and DeRosa at right, while Ramirez, Theriot, Fontenot, and Lee took the infield and Blanco caught for Bob Howry after pinch-hitting in the seventh. Michael was talking to Ted Lilly for some reason, so Reed and I were talking about… well, okay, I didn’t know, because we weren’t really talking. We were kind of sitting and muttering our thoughts out loud as the radio blasted in the background, Len Kasper and Bob Brenly the commentators.

There was a man on first and a full count. The ball was pitched pretty badly, down the middle and slow, so Alexei Ramirez hit it pretty decently into right-center, in between Edmonds and DeRosa. There was a lot of action going on all over the place; The man on first had been trying to steal, so Ryan was covering second as Mike also thought that he should be covering so they collided at the bag, pretty painfully, and landed on the ground and stayed there. Soriano, trying to back them up, ran near second for the throw, but slipped and also hit the ground, then got on his knees. Edmonds and DeRosa collided hard and you could almost hear their contact, but you could definitely hear them both yell in pain, as Blanco stood up, alarmed, and Ramirez stood clueless by third. The ball was sitting next to DeRosa who quickly picked it up and lobbed it to Lee as he lay on the ground.

“It looks like a bomb went off in Wrigleyville,” said Len on the radio, “We have five injured Cubs on the field, and I believe its Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Alfonso Soriano, Jim Edmonds and Mark DeRosa are all down.” Mark O’Neal ran out to DeRosa, Larry Rothschild to Edmonds, Mike Quade to Soriano, and Matt Sinatro to Fontenot and Alan Trammell to Theriot.

“Len, I think that the biggest collision today was between Mark DeRosa and Jim Edmonds. That looked pretty harsh,” said Bob in a melancholy tone, voicing the incident. “I’m not thinking that they’re getting up after that doozy.”

“If this was football, we’d need one big tractor cart.” Len joked, “But also, if this was football, we’d have three more sets of guys ready to go right in.” Instead we had… Reed Johnson, Brian Roberts, Daryle Ward, Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano. Rich Harden was injured and I was already in and taken out. And the bullpen had to stay in the bullpen unless they had already played.

Mark O’Neal, being the medical expert, had DeRo up before anyone else had their men up. Lou came out to see what the matter was. “And lucky for us, Lou has a microphone on so we can hear what’s going on,” Bob added.

“Are you okay kid?” Lou asked Mark, and I heard a loud sigh as Mark shuddered on the field.

“No the {heck} I’m not!” he screamed and collapsed back onto the ground. It looked like he was twitching on the field. I would have loved to go out there and help, but I’m not allowed to leave the dugout unless I’m playing, or else it would be disqualification for the team.

“Is there anything I can do?” Lou asked calmly as Mark shrieked with pain. I saw it and heard it just sitting in the dugout, and it was torture to see him suffer like this.

“I feel like… like I’m DYING!” Mark yelled as he began to sob on the ground. Mark O’Neal shook his head.

“Something is obviously not right,” he said, “I think he hit his head in the collision, because there’s no other excuse for him acting like this.”

My attention was brought to Jim Edmonds as Larry Rothschild coaxed him into a sitting position. Lou had to eventually run to all the players with his mike, so as soon as Jim was up he was running.

“Are you alright, Jimmy?” he said calmly as Edmonds quietly nodded his head and took deep breaths. “Are you going to be alright to play? Can you get up?” He reached out his arm and Jim took it and slowly, stood up shakily, then nodded his head.

“I’ll be alright, Lou.” He breathed as everyone applauded. Mark DeRosa was still on the ground and it looked like he was still breaking down, but we didn’t get a chance to see as Ryan Theriot sat up and rubbed his temples.

“I’ve gotta say though, Bob, that collision at second did look pretty painful as well.” Len added as Lou made his way over to second.

“What about you? Are you alright?” Lou said, slightly out of breath. Ryan laughed a bit.

“Actually, for once this season, I think that I am.” He said, as Alan and Lou helped him up shakily also, and he clutched his ankle right away.

“Are you sure about that?” Lou said as he loosened his grip on Ryan, giving him permission to fall back down if he so chose to do so.

“Absolutely; just a bit of aftershock, I guess.” He said slowly, through clenched teeth while getting into a complete standing position. The crowd once again applauded as Lou made his way to Mike Fontenot.

“Come on kid, tell me you’re okay.” Lou said, and I understood. He really must not have wanted to put in Brian Roberts.

“I’m not sure,” he grimaced and barely managed to get the words out. I looked back to Ryan because I noticed that Trammell never moved, and that’s when I realized that Ryan was sitting again, having Trammell look at his ankle. He saw me and gave me a guilty look as I looked at his foot, and sure enough, his ankle was purple-ish. I knew from the look in his eyes that he just didn’t want to make Lou upset again by him getting out injured.

Mike didn’t have any power whatsoever to stand. He remained laying, and I noticed the weird bent position that his leg was in, and it looked awfully painful. It could have even been broken.

“Alan, we need you here,” said Lou, not even turning to see that he was already tending to someone. Alan slowly jogged over as Larry took over his position tending to Ryan. Alan and Lou picked Mike up off the ground and carried him into the dugout. Near the steps, Alan took over the job as Lou turned back around.

“For God’s sake, what are you doing now?” He yelled, looking at Ryan. Theriot looked like a deer caught in the headlights as he sat on the ground with his right leg resting in Larry Rothschild’s hands. “So now you’re not okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” he snapped back angrily, “Go worry about someone else. Sori’s up; Go help him. I don’t need you.” He turned around and wouldn’t say another word as Lou and Alan both ran over to Soriano.

“He just slipped; he’s fine.” said Lou angrily as Soriano got up with a confused look on his face.

“What bit you in the—”

“Ryan Theriot’s freakin’ foot, that’s what!” Lou said, storming over to DeRosa, while still muttering into the microphone. “Never had I heard a player disrespect a coach like that…”
Ryan somewhere inside knew that he was talking about him and freaked out, started talking to Larry Rothschild nervously with a scared look on his face while Larry tried to calm him down.

DeRosa had a bit more sense in him, but not much. “What’s going on? Am I okay? Did I survive? PLEASE tell me I’m okay! I have a family! I can’t be dead! I can’t be!”

“You aren’t dead, Mark,” Lou said calmly, which sounded strange after his outburst earlier. “You made it. I think you need to ice your head a little bit. Get some common sense into you,” he finished with a sense of a bittersweet tone in his voice. He and Mark O’Neal helped him off the field and when he passed by Ryan on the ground by second, he said, “And YOU better get off the field if you can’t play.”

“I can play fine,” he said, showing him by standing up, and he looked a bit in pain, but managed to suck it up.

“Well, I say you can’t.” said Lou, and that was the end of that argument. Ryan walked into the dugout unassisted and sat down furiously at the end of the bench while Larry still tried to look at his foot and completely ruin his point.

“Jason Marquis… shortstop, Reed right and Brian Roberts second.” Lou stated, telling them where to go. Mike and Mark were now in the training room as Alan Trammell pushed Ryan down against his will. I knew that he wanted to have a word with Lou right away and get out some initial anger.

As Reed Johnson got up and went out to right field, I was alone on the bench again. I could go out and help in the training room again, or…

Yeah, I would help out down there again, with nothing better to do. Michael was still having an intense conversation with Ted Lilly and I didn’t want to disrupt them, so I figured it was best.

“Mark, do you need any help?” I asked as I came down the steps. Mark DeRosa, Mike and Ryan were all crammed onto the bench waiting to be checked on.

“Okay, Mike’s in the hot seat,” he said, not acknowledging me entering at all. I walked up next to him. “Oh, yeah, Mark, you can help. I’m going to need a few bags of ice.” I went to the fridge and got three ice packs and handed them to O’Neal as Mike got situated on the doctor’s seat you lay on when you get a checkup. “How are you feeling, Mike?”

“Like my knee got snapped in half,” he strained, grimacing with pain. “It kills… oh my God does that hurt…” He kept muttering things like that as O’Neal tried to calm him down.

“Okay, I’m going to give you my fingers,” he demonstrated, giving Mike his middle and index finger, “and I’m going to bend your leg in all the normal directions. If it hurts, squeeze as much as you feel fit. Ready?” He asked as Mike grabbed onto his fingers. He bent his leg right and left, and his fingers were beginning to turn white.

“Mark, can you look in the back room and get me some aspirin and some athletic tape?” he asked, as he turned back around to Mike and started doing the next test.

The back room was a mess. There were painkillers, crutches, packs of tape, bandages and even wheelchairs stashed in every corner. I got some tape first, and then went to look for some aspirin. They had everything from Advil to Zyrtec, but not in alphabetical order, which made it harder. I finally found some extra-strength aspirin and went back to Mark O’Neal to see what was up.

After concocting all of the tests, the conclusion was made that his leg was broken. As he began to wrap it in the athletic tape, I was forced to go back in the room and get some crutches. When I came back, his leg was bandaged just like a cast, and “just as well” as O’Neal said, so Mike was allowed to take the crutches and go back upstairs.

“I’m gonna wait and make sure that these two are fine first.” Mike said, sitting back on the bench.

“Okay then, Ryan, you’re up next.” Mark said as Ryan stood up and walked clumsily over.

“I’m telling you, I’m fine. I’ll live. It’s no big deal!” Ryan said as Mark sat him down stubbornly. “You’re wasting your time.”

Mark grabbed his ankle and began looking at it. The color had actually gotten darker than it had started. “You’re right. It’s a waste of time.” Ryan got a self-satisfied smile on his face and began to talk, but Mark cut him off. “Except for that you bruised the bone and if it isn’t properly treated it could be easily fractured, and will most likely never gain back shape.”

He grabbed the tape again and began wrapping his ankle. “Mark, another set of crutches,” he instructed me, “You’re not going to be using that foot for a while.” I grabbed some crutches and handed them to Ryan, who snatched them out of my hand. That left Mark DeRosa.

“Ryan, Mike, can you please go and watch the game while I deal with Mark?” he said, as Ryan aided Mike up the stairs with his crutches while Theriot’s were in his hands. “Ryan, get off that foot NOW.” Ryan looked back at him with a devious look in his eyes. “I don’t care if you want to pretend like you aren’t injured, but you are. Use the crutches.” Ryan angrily struggled up the stairs with crutches now as O’Neal turned to me. “Rogers, you too, okay?” I followed suit and took a seat on the bench next to Michael. Ted Lilly had gone into the clubhouse for some water, apparently.

“What’d I miss?” I asked.

“Nothing really,” he said. It was now the top of the ninth and we were winning, seven to five after an RBI single by Lee in the fifth and a two run homer by Alexei Ramirez and a three run dinger by Pierzynski. They had two men on with two outs, one on first and one on third, so they still had a scoring opportunity. Kerry Wood was facing Ken Griffey Jr. with a two and two count. He threw a slider to the left and…

Griffey swung and hit it to shallow right field, between Lee and Johnson. Lee turned to watch as Johnson ran full speed, made a dive, and…

He came back up, looked in his mitt, and suddenly did a double take as he realized that the ball was not in it. He reached down and grabbed it to try to throw it home before Carlos Quentin could come around to score from first and tie the game after Orlando Cabrera had already scored on the diving attempt. It was a near perfect throw to Soto, who handled it nicely and it called for a close play at the dish, and…

Out! We had won! A little ninth-inning scare, but we avoided it and came away with a seven six win! As Go Cubs Go started playing, I thought about the bittersweet performance that came out of today—a grand slam and a win, but also three injuries, including a broken leg and a brain dead moron.

At seven forty five that night, Nicole and I headed over to a fancy Italian restaurant. Remember, even though I’m a rookie, I still get enough money—more than enough—to do practically anything! I was rich, technically, although I hated to think of it in that sense.

Nicole was gorgeous. We had gotten over our fighting, apparently, and that’s when I started to notice her sheer beauty. Her long brown hair was curled in a delightful fashion and she was wearing a teal semi-casual dress. The way she smiled took the breath right out of me.

It was a dinner and a show, and because I’m an old-fashioned guy, that was the conclusion I had come to during the game that I thought would satisfy both of our tastes. The more I was looking at her, the happier she looked, and the happier I got, too.

“Would you like something to drink?” the waiter asked as he took out his card. Now, since I was underage but of course wanted a sense of maturity, I wasn’t going to order a soda.

“No thank you, just water,” Nicole said moments before I could. I grinned at her, and then held up my two fingers to show him ‘me also’.

“So… what have you been up to? I asked as he walked away. “I haven’t been around here much, so… do you work or anything?”

“I’m going to a community college by the art museum downtown. I’m majoring in the arts, so I thought it was a good fit.”

“You’re going to be an artist?”

“Not exactly. Either an art or language arts teacher. I love reading, writing… painting, you know… my dad always pegged me as the creative type.” She smiled. “Well, I know you didn’t go to college, but… what do you take interest in? Besides baseball, anyway…”

“Well, if I did go to college on something besides a sport major, it probably would have been media. I would lake to be a newscaster, or… a sportscaster, I guess, or be on the radio. But I’m even more known this way, aren’t I?”

She laughed, a nice warm laugh. It wasn’t obnoxious, at least, like Laura Mays, who I had a ‘thing’ with in high school. And it certainly wasn’t anything like Mark DeRosa’s annoying laugh. Every time he thinks something’s funny I have to cover my ears.

“Can I take your order?” the waiter asked as he re-approached our table, order book in hand with a pen ready to go.”

“Two Caesar salads, please,” I said as he wrote it down and walked away. Nicole gave me a weird look.

“And how did you know exactly what I wanted?” she asked, astonished.

“It’s not like I don’t know you at all. I just had… a feeling. A feeling from past experiences that all girls get salad when they go out. I don’t know why, but I’m fine with it.” She nodded as the lights dimmed and the show started. I wasn’t really paying attention to what it even was because I was so transfixed on her. I had never seen her in the light.

Our food soon came and I started watching the show more. It was a magic show, apparently, but the magician was doing really bad tricks, the ones that you always see people do.

“You know what,” she said to me, “I think that’s my friend Christy in the front row there.” She said. “Oh my god, it is! That is so weird!” her attention was drawn back to the show as the man’s boisterous voice filled the room.

“I’m going to need a volunteer from the audience,” he said, stepping off the stage. Please don’t come here, I thought, and lucky for me, he stopped right before us and started walking back toward the stage. “You—come here.” He said, pointing to a girl in the front row.

“That’s Christy!” Nicole shrieked. She watched with renewed interest as her friend was laid down on a table. The magician said a few words to her, and then grabbed some knives.

“Christy here is going to fall victim to my newest trick. She will lie down on this table and I will stab these three swords into her, and you can watch as she remains unharmed.” As he grabbed the swords, Nicole started freaking out. I could hear her muttering under her breath.

The first sword went in. Then the second. And finally the third. He used much more force on the third, making Nicole grab onto me in surprise and fear. She kept clinging onto me as he removed the swords. She was nervous, because that looked pretty realistic.

Christy sat up in alarm, then waved to the crowd and jumped off the stage. Nicole breathed a sign of relief. She noticed that she was holding onto me and then looked shocked at her hands. She looked up at me as I looked back up at her.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” she said, still looking into my eyes with hers, stunning blue and pure. I was about to respond, but I suddenly couldn’t speak. I turned away when I realized that I couldn’t breathe, either.

I started choking, but there was nothing to choke on. It felt like my throat was slowly closing.

“Are you okay?” she screamed, as my vision began to fade. I heard a clattering noise and a crash as I knew I hit the ground, but I couldn’t feel a thing. Before I knew it, everything was gone.

I awoke in a shock as I looked around. Where was I? I groaned as I saw the all too familiar white walls again. I had gotten myself into the hospital once more. I was getting sick of this. I was in here how many times? And not only for me, either.

As my vision began to get clearer, I saw the doctor standing next to me, holding my wrist to check my pulse. I saw a test tube of blood on the counter, no doubt mine, which means they had to test for something in my bloodstream.

As I continued looking around the room, I saw Nicole, Michael, Ted, Jason and Ryan Dempster. “What happened?” I said groggily while sitting up.

“You had peanut oil, that’s what.” The doctor said. I remembered my first visit to the hospital when they told me that I was allergic to peanuts, and the bag of insulin I had to carry around. Where had it been when I needed it? “You very nearly died. They had to take you out in an ambulance and give you CPR for about ten minutes before you started breathing again. Then you came in here.”

“But I’m okay at least, right?” I asked, eager to leave. I hated hospitals beyond belief, and I really wanted to sleep in my own bed… even so I could just sit on the bench tomorrow.

“Yeah, you’re fine, but you’ve really got to be more serious about your insulin. Take it everywhere, no matter what. You never know when it could strike. People these days always think that they’re invincible…”

Yeah, it reminded me of eight grade health class, learning about how anything can happen to anyone. That, so far, has been the story of my life, for good and for bad.

Mark Buerhle was on the mound today as we faced game two of the three game series, and I was actually playing—I hadn’t taken into account that our starting middle infielders and utility player were out, and Jim needed a nice day off after colliding with DeRo. That meant Sori back in left, Reed in center, and me in right, Ramirez and Lee in the corner infield, Roberts at second and minor-league call-up Dallas Hill from Alabama at short while Marquis took the mound and Soto catching. When warm-ups started, Henry Blanco went to help Jason get his arm ready. But suddenly, everything stopped as Dioner Navarro came strolling in. Navarro, the Rays’ starting catcher, walking into Wrigley Field with a Cubs jersey on that said Navarro with a 26 on it. He had gotten traded to the club.

“Lou?” I yelled as Piniella came running up from his office. “What is Dioner Navarro doing here?” I asked nervously. Yeah, whenever a strange guy from another team walks in you can never be sure whether or not it was you who had gotten traded. Navarro gave me a weird look. “No offense, man…” I said. Navarro was a small guy. He must have been about five foot nine, taller than only Fontenot—I would have liked to see him stand next to Sean Marshall.

“Oh yeah. I made a trade with Jim Holland, the Rays’ GM, and Navarro is on our team now.” He didn’t elaborate as he walked slowly onto the field.

“For who?” Soto asked, feeling threatened. Navarro was a starting catcher, so that meant that Soto was at the biggest risk, either getting traded or getting significantly less playing time. But I knew that Lou had more common sense than to trade Soto. Or I hoped, at least.

“Don’t worry, Geo, you’re clear. Henry, you’ve gotta go get your things and head onto the jet. They’re expecting you in Tampa to play the Braves.” Blanco looked shocked as Navarro put on his mitt and walked over to Henry.

“I’ll take over,” he said, giving Blanco a little shove toward the clubhouse and urging Jason to throw to him. It looked weird because Blanco was even just a bit taller than Navarro—about two inches, but you rarely ever see the small guy push the big guy out of the way. Henry cleaned out his cubby, muttering all the while and took off out the clubhouse door.

“Well that’ll be hard on Geo,” I said to Reed as I tossed him the ball. Blanco was Soto’s mentor who taught him almost everything he knew, and Geo still had a lot to learn.

“All players in the dugout,” said the umpire, so we joined Jim, Mike and Ryan on the bench, as they were the only ones not able to practice. I sat on the bench between Reed and the slightly younger than me Dallas Hill, who was also twenty but his birthday was in March, while mine was in December. He looked terrified, he had only been in the minors for about a month and he was already in the major leagues, which is a huge feat. He never hit a homerun and only one extra base hit, which was a double, with five RBIs on the season. Still amazing stats for how little he’s been playing.

“Okay, I told everybody the lineups ahead of time, so I have a little announcement,” Lou said, “The voting for the All-Star-Game in New York starts today, and I want to tell you who is running and for what positions. In left we have Alfonso Soriano, in center we have Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson, in right we have Mark DeRosa, at third Aramis Ramirez, at second Mike Fontenot, at first Derrek Lee, at shortstop Ryan Theriot and Mark Rogers, and remember, it’s what position you play the most, so that’s the positions. Then, for starting pitcher we have Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster and for our bullpen Sean Marshall and Neal Cotts.” He paused and we thought he was done. “Also,” he continued, “because we are halfway through the season, you can see,” he pointed at Dallas next to me, “that we can add some minor-league call ups. We already took advantage of that, and Dallas Hill is the first one to come up. We are also thinking about Micah Hoffpauir for first base and outfield, Casey McGeehee for third base and Koyie Hill for catcher, and I will be contacting those individuals sometime today, so if they are coming, expect them tomorrow, and I believe you are out of time. Go play. Play hard, that is.” He said, shooing us off onto the field. I once again grabbed my fielding mitt, this time my outfielders’ mitt, and ran over to right field to start game two against the White Sox.

Dallas Hill was doing a decent job in the first three innings, although he never really got a chance to make any amazing plays. Jason Marquis was holding up pretty well, with the score tied at one in the top of the third, after a homerun by Orlando Cabrera in the second and a responsive one off of Geovany Soto in the bottom of the same inning, probably because of stress after Henry had gotten traded. But now Jason was in a real jam. The bases were loaded with Joe Crede up, but there were two outs, which was always a good sign.

Marquis pitched a fastball down the middle, a meatball, technically, so naturally Joe Crede tried to get as big of a hit as possible. He sent it flying down the left field line toward the stands, but it was clear that it wouldn’t go out of the ballpark.

Reed Johnson started earlier with his attempt of a diving save, but he was really close to the wall. I was afraid that in trying to catch the ball he would crash face first in to the bullpen wall in the direction that he was heading.

That’s just what he did. He reached out his mitt and successfully caught the ball, but kept sliding for too long and tried to curl into a fetal position too late and hit his head very hard on the bullpen fence. Everyone inside was astonished.

That was it. Johnson didn’t get back up. He laid there with his mitt on the ground next to him holding his head up.

“Dude, are you okay?” I yelled as I ran up to him. The fans on the bleachers were all on their feet as Neal Cotts approached the fence, but wasn’t allowed to exit.

“Did it look bad?” he asked as Kerry Wood also got up and joined them. I nodded solemnly as Mark O’Neal and Lou Piniella came slowly onto the field.

“I really wish that they’d hurry,” Wood said, “You don’t know how bad they could be hurt.” O’Neal finally made his way to Reed and told me to clear out. I just walked up to the fence.

“It looked like he could have cracked his neck,” I grimaced as they tried to lift up his head as he winced the whole time, saying ouch on a continuous streak. “That really isn’t good.”

They tried bending his neck every which way, which I wasn’t sure was entirely smart, but they claimed to be the experts, so I wasn’t butting in.

They finally got him to sit up, but he was in no condition to stand. He was grasping his neck and grimacing as his face turned more and more pale. I wondered how they would get him off the field.

Mark and Lou both grabbed him straight off the ground and slowly carried him back into the dugout as we all followed eventually because he had gotten the final out. On my way back into the dugout I grabbed his mitt with the ball still in it. I’d give it to him as a little memento of the experience.

Reed was okay for the most part. No brain damage like DeRo was proving to have, no serious injuries. He bent his wrist backward weirdly, but that was actually a relief compared to what could have happened. He did end up sitting for the rest of the game, but the game wasn’t that exciting, anyway. Yeah, we won, which is always good, but the last time anyone scored was in the fifth inning, and that was us with a homerun by Soriano, so we won 2-1. Nothing great.

I was packing up my bag and getting ready to leave when I bumped into Ozzie Guillen, the one and only. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to him—if anything, I was embarrassed that I wasn’t a pitcher and he pegged me to be one of the greatest pitchers ever to walk into the club.

“Rogers,” he said to me, leading me into the visitor’s dugout and sitting me down, “You remember Mitch Johnson, right?” he asked, and I nodded in response. “He was the second best pitcher I had in that meeting. You know who the best was?” I stared at him. What did he want me to say? “It was the guy who’s now playing utility for my enemy. And the ironic thing? I gave him to them.”

“Where is this going?” I asked, looking away from his direct stare that seemed to gaze into me, seeing everything I stood for.

“I think we both know that you aren’t getting enough for what you can do. I saw you pitch yesterday; it was the same amazing technique, the same talented kid that I saw on the mound at US Cellular back in March. I think you deserve more.”

“Then why did you give me up in the first place?” I snapped. I was really uncomfortable sitting by Ozzie again, and I didn’t like him beating around the bush, either.

“I want you to know that our GM has already put in an offer for you, an offer that will be hard for them to refuse because it will give them a stellar shortstop and a starting pitcher for them to do with how they please. In case you’re wondering, your pitching without you in it is just plain bad and that sorry excuse for a shortstop no better.”

“Okay,” I retorted, “Dallas Hill? He’s a minor league rookie. What do you expect from him? He did well today.”

“I wasn’t talking about Dallas Hill. I was talking about your regular shortstop that the only thing he can do right is hurt himself. I am willing to give Lou a shortstop who can hit homeruns, maintain an exquisite average and who is one of the best in either league.” He paused dramatically. His backup shortstop, Brett Michael, who hasn’t played yet this season, can get so much praise from Ozzie Guillen? “I offered your club Mitch Johnson and Alexei Ramirez.”

That was a huge offer. Everyone knew that Mitch Johnson had huge potential and Alexei Ramirez, the AL Rookie of the Year last year, was almost idiotic to give up.

“Why would you do this now if you could have had me for free before the season and I actually would have wanted to be on your club?” I asked.

“It’s too late. I can imagine that by tomorrow, you’ll be starting for this team.” I would be starting tomorrow in place of Mitch Johnson?

“It’s so not worth it.” I said, standing up and grabbing my stuff angrily to head back to my apartment.

“He’ll give up Alexei Ramirez and Mitch Johnson? No way!” Michael said as he sat on the couch and I paced around the room. “There’s no way they’ll say no!”

“I know!” I was totally stressing out. “They probably already took the offer. I’ve really got to… Oh, I don’t know.” I said, sitting on the couch also with my head buried in my arms. “They waited until I didn’t want to be there to put me on! This is… ugh! Stupid is the word, I guess.”

“You know what you should do?” Michael asked, “You should have a talk with Lou Piniella. Get it straightened out; tell him you don’t want to leave. You know what? You should tell him that if he trades you, you won’t go. You’ll just drop out of baseball altogether. He won’t waste talent like yours, right?”

“I’m not going to threaten him, Michael, okay? That’s not right. And it would be an empty threat. There’s no way I’m quitting. I will talk to him, though. That was a good idea on your part.”

He laughed. “That’s a first.” He said, leaning back. “I never have good ideas, do I?” I had gotten up and walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge.

“Nope.” I said, getting out two cans of Mountain Dew and tossing one over the half wall counter to him.

“You’re allowed to drink Mountain Dew?” He asked suspiciously.

“Just don’t tell,” I responded. “It’ll be like the good old days, right? I need to relax a bit after today.” I sat down and grabbed my phone and dialed Piniella. “I’ll be right back,” I said, and he nodded as he opened the can.

“What’s the matter, kid?” was the first thing Lou said when he answered the phone. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I was just wondering… have you gotten an offer from the White Sox?” I asked calmly, or fake calmly.

“Oh, yeah, about a few minutes ago. Why?”

“Are you going to take it?” I asked, clearing my throat and silently praying that the answer would be no.

“I’m not sure yet.” So I could still sway him to my side.

“Look, Lou, I know what the offer is. I know that they’re traded Alexei Ramirez and Mitch Johnson for me.”

“And how do you know this?”

“Trust me, I have my sources,” I laughed half-heartedly. “But I don’t think you should take this offer.”

“Why not?”

“Remember Brian Roberts? He cost a lot of money. Do we really have that much left?”

“We have a moderate amount.”

“And DeRosa’s out and we aren’t sure when he’ll come back. I think that the best bet is to keep doing what we’re doing and keep me as a utility player because if DeRo’s out for a week, who will play as the utility man?” I asked.

“That’s true.”

“And I love it here, Lou. I want to stay so unbelievably badly that it’s not funny at all. This is my life. I know I dreamed of being on the south side once, but you can’t hold it against me. I love it here. I have the spirit in me now, and it’s too late to change its color. If you trade me, I’ll play but with half as much heart. I think it would be a waste of a rookie who can turn out to do so many great things for you.”

“Well, you’ve just about sold me, so I’ll negotiate with Jim Hendry and Ozzie Guillen and I’ll tell you the verdict.”

“Okay.” He hung up. I didn’t know if he was just trying to make me feel better or what, but I was praying that he was telling the truth.

I walked back into the living area to see Michael anxiously waiting for my return to see how the talk worked. I sat down and opened my soda, took a sip and then started talking.

“So, when I called, Lou wasn’t sure. I talked to him, and by the end he said that he wasn’t quite sold, but he was definitely leaning my way and he would try to negotiate with Jim Hendry and Ozzie Guillen. And I just thought that I hoped he wasn’t lying to me.”

“I don’t think he would. That seems kind of uncharacteristic.” I nodded and turned on the television.

“I have a question,” he said, after a while of silence. You know last season… well, I know you weren’t there, but did you ever find out who started the bagel fight?”

I laughed really hard at this one. “Yeah, they told me all about it. They said that it was either DeRosa or Dempster because they were in the middle, but it was really Soto. He wanted to see what would happen if he chucked a bagel at Dempster, and the outcome… well, obviously he thought it was DeRosa and it turned into a food fight.”

“Didn’t they park Matt Sinatro’s car on a highway and run it over, then give him a new one? Who was that?”

“DeRosa drove the truck that ran it over, and Fontenot and Theriot were the ones who brought him over to see it. Everyone else heard about it eventually and snuck around to see it happen. I heard that it was pretty funny.”

He kept asking me who the culprits were of all these jokes he had heard Len and Bob talking about over the last two seasons, and I told him what I knew. It was fun, until my phone rang. Then a wave of paranoia swept me away.

“Hello?” I answered, not bothering to move from my spot. It was Lou.

“Rogers?” he asked.

“Yeah?” I asked shakily. I was so nervous and Michael was trying to hear the conversation through the tiny speaker in the back of the phone.

“I want you to know that we reached an agreement.”

“What was it?” I asked nervously as Michael gave up and sat back in his seat and waited impatiently.

“It was to keep all of our teams the same. You’re safe, kid, okay?”

“Alright,” I breathed a sign of relief. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” I hung up and turned to Michael.

“Nothing changed.” I said happily and he too sighed, relieved. So Ozzie Guillen’s plan didn’t work. Either he would get me the day I tried out or he would get me never.

As we took the field to warm up the next night for game three of the series, I noticed that DeRosa wasn’t there at all. He had shown up for half of the game the day before, but left because he wasn’t feeling well. Mike said that he had been in the hotel room that day feeling fine, and he didn’t know why he wasn’t there.

Reed and Jim both needed the day off because Reed had hurt his head and Jim was still shaking off that collision, so Lou once again struggled for a lineup.

“I couldn’t get the minor leaguers up today because they were in a huge halfway through the season tournament and I didn’t want to rob them for seeding while this game doesn’t matter quite as much. Every game does change, though, when we clinch.” He said confidently, “We’re going to go Soriano in left, Rogers in center, Ward in right…” Daryle Ward had started the season on the DL and this would be his first game of the season starting, although not in his position. He was a first baseman and left fielder, but left and right field were similar enough. “Ramirez at third, Hill at short, Roberts at second…” he said this with a sarcastic tone in his voice, or at least a tone that showed that he wished he could be sarcastic about it. “Lee at first and Navarro can catch today.” Soto gave him a strange look but accepted the day off. “So let’s get to it.”

I played with renewed confidence knowing that tomorrow I was going to get a day off. Even though I was going to be working even harder on the workout day, it wasn’t for as long. Or, I didn’t think so at least. I never had a workout day before. Maybe it was longer, how was I supposed to know?

All I was really sure about was that I gave everything for that ball. Ryan Dempster was pitching, and he was doing an amazing job of it – the few hits he had given up were unavoidable, dribblers to either side of Dallas or Brian or straight shots to any midfield line. By the third inning, the score was two nothing, us winning after two walks by Sori and Roberts followed by a triple from Lee in the bottom of the third. It was one of the more rare times when we didn’t score in the first against Ryan McHenry.

It was the bottom of the fourth; Ward, Navarro and then Hill were due up. Daryle Ward, not a fast runner, grounded out easily to Alexei Ramirez to start the inning, bringing up Navarro.

Dioner was a great player, nobody could deny that. He was like I was meant to be, growing up as an outfielder but ending up as catcher, whilst I was supposedly growing up as a catcher and turning into a pitcher, or in this case, a utility man who could pitch.

So, being the great player I expected of him, Dioner got on base with an earned single. With one out, Dallas Hill came up to bat.

As the fielders moved into double play depth, I looked and saw that most of our fielders weren’t watching the game. In fact, it was the starters, the pitchers, and Geo on the bench. No Reed, Jim, Ryan, Mike, or DeRo, which was strange because they were all here today, and they were all injured. That gave me the hunch that they were in the training room.

But my attention was averted from my thoughts as Dallas hit a line drive down the right field corner, so that Ken Griffey Jr. had to run all the way back to the wall. Being a shortstop, he was pretty fast. Shortstops had to be the best fielders, and the only slow shortstop I had ever heard of was Cesar Izturis, who used to be on the Cubs but got traded to the Cards, and along with being the slowest, he also clocked in as the shortest at 5’7”.

But that’s beside the point. The point was that Dallas Hill, the rookie minor leaguer, was rounding the bases at alarming speed. He was rounding second as Griffey picked up the ball, and Mike Quade at third did a courageous thing to try to send him home. Navarro, having already arrived, moved his bat out of the way so that he could have a clear sliding path, and the throw was a close one. They arrived at the same time almost exactly, but it didn’t matter because tie goes to runner! Dallas Hill hit an inside the park two run homerun! That was astounding in itself, but add the fact that he was a rookie to the minors and… wow was the only word for it. The only greater feat I had heard of was the inside the park grand slam by Caesar Cedeňo, father of Ronny Cedeňo, oh so many years ago. It was very astounding.

I was nominated to go in the training room and tell everyone the good news as Dallas celebrated. As I bounded down the steps, I saw two benches set up, one apparently full of players who had already been checked on and one of players who hadn’t, with Reed and Mike on the previous and Mark and Jim on the latter. Ryan was in the hot seat, getting the tape removed from his ankle as his crutches lied against the lateral wall.

“How’s it going? What’s the verdict?” I asked, jogging slowly up to O’Neal. “Is anyone healed yet?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, Ryan managed to be good enough to not walk on his ankle and he’s better—nice and able to work out tomorrow. Reed is fine too, but he was from the start and Mike should still be out for quite a while. Why, what brings you here?”

“I’m supposed to bring you the astonishing news of an inside the park two run homerun by the rookie minor leaguer Dallas Hill.” I said matter-of-factly as everyone stared at me, eyes wide and confused.

“Dallas Hill?” was all Mike could say as he stared at me astonished. “Really? That’s amazing!”

“I know!” I responded, “I told him that he should come down here himself to tell you, but apparently he’s a little… I don’t know, shy?”

“Yeah,” Mike answered, “I can imagine, not being in this… business for long. I know I would be, too.”

“Really. Well, honestly, that was the most exciting thing that happened in the game so far, but it really sets the table for more to happen, so I’d better get up there.”

“Hey, Mike, Ryan and Reed, why don’t you go too? See the end.” O’Neal suggested.

“Actually, Mark, it’s the fourth inning.” He gave me a sarcastic glance. “But that’s beside the matter. Let’s go, guys!” I said enthusiastically, leading the way up into the dugout.

It was the eighth inning and the White Sox were threatening again against our four to nothing lead. Orlando Cabrera got a single, Juan Uribe, in place of Joe Crede who ended up sitting because his knee was bothering him, got a walk, then Ken Griffey Jr. got a one-run single to make the score actually one to four with two men on and the slugger Paul Konerko up.

Luckily, ‘Paulie’, as everyone called him, grounded to Roberts at second, but Uribe ran anyway, always being the showoff which is what I despised most about him, even though the main reason should have been that he was on the other team. Roberts threw to Lee who rebounded it to Ramirez and the play was actually closer than you would have thought.


The umpire called him out, so Uribe swiftly snatched his helmet off of his head, threw it near Ramirez and got in the umpires face and started yelling. The umpire started yelling back and as Ramirez came up to see what was going on, Uribe pushed him out of the way. Ramirez fell back, astounded, and started pointing at him to the home plate umpire who ran over to also assess the situation.

Me, Sori and Ward all started jogging to the infield from our outfield spots and arrived just in time to hear the argument get heated up. Dallas had helped Ramirez up and now Aramis felt obliged to join in the argument.

“You’ve been making horrible calls for them this whole game!” Juan yelled, “Like when that… idiot,” he pointed at Hill, “Hit that so called inside the park homerun when he was really out by a mile! And now this? I don’t think you’re as impartial as you should be.”

Konerko had stopped before reaching the dugout and also jogged up to listen in on the argument.

“Look, you arguing my call is only going to get you thrown out and expelled for a week, you hear? So this is the only warning I’m going to give you to calm down and take a seat in your dugout.”

“Make me.”

“Alright then, you’re outta here!” he yelled, using the ejection sign that he had used on DeRosa earlier in the season and Lou many times. “Pack up your stuff and I don’t want to see you on any field for the next week.”

“Right back at you,” Uribe yelled, taking off his batting gloves and throwing them in the umpires face. “Play ball.”

For the rest of the game there was a certain buzz spreading through the crowd. They loved seeing rival team members ejected almost as much as they loved it when Piniella came out and got ejected. They cheered harder at every trivial play for the last two innings, really having a great time as we kept the score the same as we came away with a one to four lead in game three. Now we had a workout day tomorrow and then a three game series against the Brewers, followed by the All Star Game, then a week off before playing again.

“Great job, guys,” Lou said, “And tonight, I’m going to give you all homework- watch the news and the Major League website to see the All Star Game voting play out. I’m sure a lot of you will be in it. So go home, get a little rest because tomorrow is going to be one brutal workout.”

I got changed in the locker room before heading out to my car to drive back to the apartments. I really didn’t like my apartment because it was small, but it was really all I could afford on my rookie salary. Next year, though, I was so moving out.

I parked my car and walked into the lobby and to my horror saw a bunch of fans in Cubs and Sox jerseys alike going into their rooms. I knew that a lot of fans lived here, but none of them knew that I did. Every pair of Cubs and Sox fans were in heated arguments, looking volatile and ready to burst at any minute.

“Dude, just shut up!” I heard a Sox fan with a Konerko shirt yell to a guy in a Wood shirt. “We all know that Uribe was safe, okay?”

“Yeah, right,” was his only response. And yeah, like I imagined, it broke out into violence. The Konerko guy lunged at him as everyone stood buy watching in awe. Were they really that dumb?

Knowing that I would never be able to make it to my room with this going on, I pulled the Konerko guy off of the Wood guy.

“OKAY, break it up!” I shouted, pulling a bit too hard as the Sox fan stumbled over his feet and wiped out.

“Oh, great, that’s just what I need, a Cubs player living in the building.” Some people swarmed around me now, but I wouldn’t pay attention to them.

“Look, I don’t think that you want me to take you on, buddy. I think I maybe work out a little more than you, and maybe—just maybe you should back off.” I said, proving my point by shoving him backward a bit.

He gave me a murderous glance and stormed out the door as a wave of Cubs fans swarmed me. It was like being locking in an airtight container with no escape route.

I finally made a mad dash for the elevator and as I pressed the up button, the door opened to see Nicole, suitcases in each hand. I got in the elevator and pressed the door close button.

“Sorry, but I’ve got to get away from them. You’re going to have to go up again, my bad.”

She laughed. “That’s okay. I can keep going as long as I want. I literally have nowhere to be.”

“What’s with the suitcases?” I asked, her comment making me nervous slightly.

“The electricity and water are out in my apartment. I was going to go to a hotel and try to make a last minute reservation.”

“Well that’s pointless. Why don’t you just stay with me for a few days? I’ll be home tomorrow and I can get you tickets to some of the next games. It’ll work fine.”

“Oh, but I really don’t want to bother you…”

“It’s really not a problem.” I said, and as the door opened I grabbed one of her suitcases for her. “I’ll help you get situated.”

“Well, thank you, then.” She smiled at me and I smiled back. The more I looked at her the happier I was that I had stopped being enemies with her.

I had just gotten off of the phone with the ticket agency and I walked back to the living area to see Nicole on the couch, brushing through her hair.

“Good news, I got you front row seats to our Brewers series.” She grinned as she stood up quickly and went over to hug me.

“That’s great! Thank you so much!” she said sincerely. I pulled away from her. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing at all. I just had a stroke of brilliance, if I do say so myself. Since you’re here anyway, why don’t we go out tonight? There’s a new place opening up downtown, dinner and dancing. I think that maybe we should go… try it out.” She nodded.

“I’ll go get dressed.” She said, grabbing a suitcase and heading for the bathroom. I broke off to my room too, to get prepared. Okay, so it wasn’t really brilliant, more like common sense, but I could make it work.

Nicole and I swayed gently along with the music, a slow song that I had never heard of, as my mind kept trailing away from the music anyway. I was thinking about…her. Only her, in her beautiful prescence that still left me breathless no matter how many times I saw her. The sun had set hours ago and I had completely forgotten about my initial excitement of the night out and my off day tomorrow. It was nice to occasionally get away from the stressful sports life, and to live a real one.

As she looked to the side, pulled close and protectively toward me, I realize that the whole song my eyes had never drifted from her. The song ended as she pulled away from me a bit, until a song I was very familiar with came on, You and Me by Lifehouse.

“No,” I said, as I pulled her back into my grip, as she laid her head against my heart. It felt so right. She was absolutely dazzling me as I fell prey to her glorifying charm. Halfway through the song I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Let’s go,” I said, as pulled away, grabbed her hand and led her out of the building and into the yard in back, where there were fewer people.

“Why?” she asked as I led her to a nice open space.

“It’s too crowded in there,” I responded, grabbing her hands and pulling her back into me as she again rested her head on my heart, relaxing her breathing. “There are so many people that you don’t look as special as you deserve to be. And I know that you would look glorious in the moonlight.”

“What would give you that notion?” she asked as we still started swaying with no music playing.

“Based on how beautiful you look in the sunlight.” She gazed up into my eyes and for a moment the breath literally left me.

“I was right the first time, you are amazing,” she said to me.

“And I promise, this time I won’t screw it up.” I smiled meekly as I looked into her eyes, and without noticing I was leaning closer to her. I could hear her lose her breath as she followed suit and she glowed in the embrace that I wished would never end. As her lips finally touched mine, I realized how amazing she was in return. I never wanted the moment to end.

I lied awake in my bed that same night, thinking back on the night. I couldn’t fall asleep worth anything. I looked at the clock. It was one in the morning. I groaned and rolled over to my side to face the door. Eventually, I heard a knock.

“Nicole?” I breathed as she opened the door, looking exhausted. “What’s the matter?”

“I can’t sleep,” she whispered. “I… I don’t know, it’s just… weird. I’m confused, Mark.”

“Why?”

“Because less than a month ago, we were like enemies, and now… well, frankly, now you’re telling me that I’m beautiful and taking me out and… I’m confused.” I didn’t know what to say to her, seeing as how I was thinking that same thing earlier. I struggled for words, and she stopped me. “But it’s right.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you kissed me tonight… I think I almost fainted, Mark. I’ve just never found a guy… like you. I’ve never felt brave enough, and they always wanted to move so quickly, but… you just make it feel so right.”

“Really?” I asked, as she nodded. “Because I have almost no experience.” I thought back to Laura Mays again, how we had “gone out” for a week because she asked me to prom and I couldn’t say no. She ended up breaking up with me in the end anyway though. “That was the first.”

“Really?” she asked, sitting on the bed. “But… how?” I didn’t answer, I didn’t have an answer. Had I ever thought that? Yeah, how about last week, talking with Mike and Ryan? I was kind of discouraged there.

“But I don’t know what to think. I don’t want this to end up… badly. Like, us being enemies again, because I don’t think I could go back to that.”

“I don’t know what to say to you about that,” I said honestly, “but I’ve never been good with words. I’m more about my actions.” She sat silently next to me as I wondered how I had gone so long without seeing how attractive she was.

“I guess I better go,” she stood up, “You need your sleep after all.” I grabbed her hand before she could walk away.

“No.” I said, “Its fine. I want you to stay.” She turned back.

“But shouldn’t we both get to sleep?”

“It’s been a weird, record breaking night for me. I’m just going to seize the moment. Come on.” I said, “I can stay up as long as I want.”

“Good luck,” Lou said as he walked into the dugout. We were in groups of seven, or in our case, eight, and there were four stations – the fielding, the batting, the weightlifting and the cardio. We had our workout today, and seeing the training rooms, it didn’t look nearly as… exciting as I had thought.

Our group consisted of me, Ryan Theriot, Mark DeRosa, Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds, Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly and Sean Marshall. DeRo was ready to play today, unlike Fontenot, so he decided to take place in the workout. Our trainer was Trammell, which meant the workout would be especially hard because he was the toughest by far. We got him because we had more people in our group, which… didn’t really add up to the suffering we would go through.

We were going in order, first with fielding, and then batting, the weights and cardio last. Alan led us onto the field after our stretch.

“Okay, there are eight of you, so… we’re only going to have two outfielders, Reed and Jim. Then… DeRo go to second, Theriot short, Marshall first and Rogers third.” I had never played third, so I was nervous. “Ted and Jason, you guys can throw back and forth and work on your pitching because I don’t have space for you. If these guys do really well, then I’ll sub them to give them a break.” Jason and Ted looked very grateful as they grabbed a ball and started tossing around. “Okay, for every throwing error, miscommunication, fumble or dead ball, I will give you an appropriate punishment. If you really start to make me mad, then I will make everyone do that punishment. Ready?” he asked, picking up an aluminum bat and a baseball. “Play ball!” he started with a pop fly to DeRosa, who caught it and threw to Marshall at first. Easy enough, right?

We each got one pop fly, and then… and then it wasn’t so easy anymore. Suddenly he popped it to short center, in between both outfielders, as we didn’t have a center fielder, Ryan and Mark DeRosa. Sean and I stood, watching and praying that at least one of them would catch it. But it was placed perfectly and not high at all. It didn’t look like anyone would get there in time.

“I got it, I got it!” Ryan shouted as Mark backed off. He made a diving attempt and landed hard, did a quick barrel roll and came up with the ball barely in his mitt. I breathed a sign of relief as they all walked back to their positions and Ryan lobbed it back to Trammell.

“You really think that I’m going to go easy on you?” he asked sarcastically of us, making a mocking face. “You’ve got to be joking. Jim!” he shouted out of nowhere as he sent the ball flying down the left field line by Jim Edmonds. It was actually going for the stands – that was a plus of a metal bat. “Jump, Ed, jump!” he shouted as Jim reached over the wall, but as you heard a loud clanking noise you knew that it was gone.

Jim landed and gave Alan a guilty look. “10 laps.” He said. That was it. Jim tried to protest.

“But I tried, and I really had no chance, so--”

“I said ten laps, so [darn] it Jim, you’re going to give me ten laps!” he shouted as Jim put down his mitt and started running. “So nobody mess with me, then.”

I looked at him in a new light, the light you see people in when you are absolutely terrified of them. “Sean, DeRo, watch up!” he shouted as he hit a line drive in between them, giving them no time to think whatsoever.

“Got it!” Sean yelled at the last second as he reached out his mitt and grabbed it right before it hit the ground. Jim was still running and breathing heavily.

“Faster, Jim, come on! What do you take me for?!” Trammell shouted. “Mark, go to left while Jim walks around.” I was obedient, so I ran because I knew he was planning something devious. “Ryan!” he said out of nowhere as it hit it out of bounds into the bullpen warm up area, “Don’t you DARE let that ball hit the ground, or I swear…”

Ryan, alarmed, took off running for the side. I knew it wasn’t smart because that could be really dangerous, especially with the high seats there, taking into account how far back he had hit the ball. Ryan tried to jump over the ledge and catch the ball with both hands, and yeah, he caught it, but he fell over the ledge and was kind of doing a one-handed handstand with his right hand while he tried to use his left hand to get out of the rather comical situation. Most people would have just fallen in, like my nemesis Juan Uribe, but he was determined to get out.

“Little help, please?” he asked as I ran over. I grabbed his legs and pulled him out of the predicament and he finally hit the ground and tossed the ball back to Trammell. “Thanks man,” he said, jogging back to short as I saw Jim running near the outfield line still, pacing himself.

“Mark!” Trammell yelled as I was trying to get back to my spot, and I realized that it was me, not DeRosa, and that the ball was going to near center field if I didn’t hurry. I ran as fast as I could and tried to do a barrel roll catch, but I knew immediately that I would come up empty.

“Ten laps.” He said, as I threw him the ball and started jogging. Running ten laps around a baseball diamond is very repetitive, in case you wondered. It makes your legs sore pretty quickly and I really wanted some water, but no luck. I looked at the clock. Only about thirty minutes had passed. That meant that we still had about thirty more before we got a break and moved on to batting.

Next he threw Sean a ball in the first base line stands, but he wasn’t so lucky. He tried to just reach out, being as long as he was, but came out empty handed. Of course, it was hard for me to see because at that time I was running near left field. All I knew was that he ended up flipping over the wall, and Trammell really was starting to get mad at us now.

“What was that? How about some effort, Sean? What are you doing? Did you come out here just to waste everyone’s time?” he criticized as Sean stood back up. “It’s convenient that you’re there. You’ve got some stairs to do.”

“How many?”

“Until I tell you to stop or until you’re falling over. And if it’s because you’re falling over, you’ll be done when I scream at you until my throat is sore and tell you to do twenty five more!”

Sean took off to the seats, jogging up and down stairs as I jogged around and around the field. Jim was back in center, and now DeRo and Theriot were managing the infield alone. I was on lap… seven, so I had three more and I personally wanted to fall over because Wrigley was bigger than it looks. A lot bigger when you’re running around it tons of times.

“Mark, are you almost done yet?” Alan asked as I finished my eighth lap, looking furious about something.

“Almost, why?” I asked, as I saw Ryan on the ground behind second base with his mitt on the ground, apparently waiting for his punishment to be dealt.

“Because I need him to serve his punishment and you’re in the way.” He said. “Of course, if you don’t finish in the next two minutes, I’m going to be really mad like we talked about earlier and you and everyone else will have to do it anyway!” he screamed.

“Sorry, I’ve only got one more, though.” I said, picking up the pace. He looked cantankerously back at Ryan.

“Fine, just do fifty pushups.” He said, as Ryan got into pushup position. “And then afterward, when you collapse like I know you are going to do being the wus you are, I’m going to scream at you and tell you to do fifty more.”

“So should I just do one hundred?” Ryan asked breathlessly. It was a shame because it looked like he had given it all his effort.

“Whatever suits you.” Trammell responded as Ryan started number… who knows, ten, and I finished my tenth lap. “Good, you’re done. Shortstop.” He said, and I wearily walked to the shortstop position. It was going to be a long half hour.

“Ryan, get out of the freaking way so we can play!” he shouted as I waltzed breathlessly back to shortstop. “Go in the coaches’ box or something!” Ryan stood up and glared at him, then walked over to the third base coach’s box. “And because of that godforsaken look you gave me, you owe me one hundred twenty, and if you drop, I swear…” his attention was averted to the seats. “Sean! Pick up the pace! What do you think you’re doing?! You know what, no! Just get down here and do one hundred fifty pushups with Ryan. You guys are making me so angry! How about some effort?!” Mark DeRosa and Reed Johnson had yet to make a mistake, so I knew that Trammell was going to give them pretty harsh balls.

“Everyone go to the outfield in a single file line,” he commanded as me, DeRo, Reed and Jim jogged into deep center field. DeRosa was in front of the line. “Now, I’m going to give you a pop fly and you better give a [darn] good effort and at least get a mitt on the ball or you aren’t trying hard enough!” he screamed. DeRo got ready to run.

He popped it very short between the pitchers’ mound and second base. DeRosa ran really hard but came up short of a touch.

“Pushups until I tell you to stop.” Alan commanded as DeRosa got up and joined Sean and Ryan. Sean was slowing down and Ryan had been going very slowly until he heard DeRosa coming over, then he knew that Trammell would be watching and started going really fast. I could hear his deep breaths all the way from center field.

“Sean! Pick up the pace for the millionth time!” he shouted as Sean started moving faster. Jim Edmonds was next in line. Trammell popped it up very short again, but Jim had a head start because he knew where it was going. Unfortunately, he was also slower than DeRosa and got there at about the same time, once again not getting a hand on it.

“Go join your buddies,” he said angrily as Reed and I stood in center field alone while the other four did their million or so pushups. “Ryan, get up and come here NOW.” Ryan finished his pushup and jogged curiously up to Alan. “One thing I’m sure about is that you’re really fast, and I need you to show these guys how it’s done. Go to the front of the line.” I remember that Alan and Ryan would always work on this drill the few times that Ryan wasn’t hospitalized or out.

He popped it even shorter, about on the pitchers’ mound, but Ryan was honestly very fast, and although he still had to roll forward, he got the very tip of his mitt on it and got a by. “Good. Finish you’re pushups. Ready Mark?” he asked me as I nodded, ready to take off. He tossed it to himself and I started running, but he played a trick on me and instead of hitting it to the pitchers’ mound, he hit it way into the right field corner.

I had to shift my weight and run as hard as I could to get there, because I was in no way going to dive headfirst into a wall like Reed. However, knowing that was my only way out, I did dive into the wall, and I did hit my head, which signifies you that I got there in time.

Ted and Jason joined us again as we prepared to begin our batting session. We were already covered in sweat and dying to leave, but now we were in a gym, outside the batting cages while Rothschild’s team was taking our place on the field.

“Pick up a heavy bat.” Alan commanded as we all nervously complied and walked over to the rack of weighted bats. I got there last and picked up the last one. “Now, each of you is going to take turns in the batting cages. This is going to speed up your swing. Who wants to go first?” Nobody made a move to go. “Thanks, Jason, for volunteering.” He said, opening the door for Marquis to step in. “We’ll set it for ninety miles an hour and see how you do. After you get twenty five hits you may leave.”

Twenty five? You may not know, but with a weighted bat twenty five is a lot! That isn’t twenty five swings, that’s twenty five hits! I was going to be so sore tomorrow…

Gerald Perry’s team was next to us on the cardio and Lester Strode’s team was on weights as Marquis took the cage and started swinging away. Of course, being a pitcher he wasn’t making very good contact and had only gotten about three hits when ten minutes had passed.

“Okay, Jason, no offense, but we could be doing better things with this time. Alright, Jim, you’re turn.”

Marquis happily stepped out, threw his bat on the ground with a clank and headed over to the Gatorade containers to get a drink while Jim right away started pounding them away. He was a monster compared to Jason who eyed him slightly heatedly. In no time, Jim had gotten twenty five. He stepped outside and said, “In college that was my warm-up,” very cockily.

“Ryan, let’s go.” Alan said as Reed, Sean, Ted, Mark and I sat on the ground with our exceptionally heavy bats lying on the floor next to us as we watched Ryan take his turn. It was more like Jason again because Ryan was not a very good power hitter, and you needed to be in this drill, but he still fared pretty well. When he got to twenty five, thirty minutes had passed. We were halfway there and I had done nothing yet.

“Okay, we have thirty minutes for five of you so we had better speed this up. You each have six minutes. I guess you’ll just have to get as many as you can. There’s nothing I can do. This is an easier station evidently.” Jason joined us in our conversation.

“Mark.” He said, and DeRosa and I both stood up at the same time to take our turns.

“Which one?” he asked, laughing slightly but realizing he was working with Trammell, stopped in the middle of his utterly obnoxious laughter.

“Rogers,” he said menacingly as I stepped into the box with the weight of the bat sagging off of my shoulder as I entered the batting cage.

Now, ninety miles an hour is pretty fast even without a weighted bat, so yeah I struggled! It’s hard, you wouldn’t know… most likely.

At the end of my six minutes I had fifteen hits, which wasn’t too bad, considering my rookie state and how I was considered weaker. Jim was a veteran, a very ‘beastly’ one, and I was technically a shrimp in baseball terms.

“Okay, now the other Mark,” he commented as DeRo picked up his stuff and headed in to join Trammell as I stretched my arms which were still tired, then did a small double take as I realized that we had weightlifting next.

“Everybody on a machine. You’re all lifting eighty minimum on whatever you’re on.” He commanded as everyone ran to a machine. “I’ll be working with you each individually now, and trust me, if it doesn’t hurt, you’re doing something seriously wrong. If you don’t pass out vomiting on the floor, you’re not working hard enough. Trust me; this is going to be the longest hour of your life. You’re going to sweat, you’re going to scream, and you’re most likely going to puke, but I DON’T CARE. This is the only way you’re going to get better.”

I prayed to myself that I wouldn’t be going first. I wanted to know how hard it really was before I went; I wanted to know what to expect.

“Mark,” he said to my horror. I was about to stand up nauseously when he added, “DeRosa.” I breathed a sign of relief as I started lifting on my machine and DeRosa reluctantly stood up.

“Now, I’m going to specialize everyone’s workout. Mark, I know that you can really slug the pitches out of the park, so I’m going to work on leg strength with you, okay?” he asked while walking toward the weights on the opposite end, but so that DeRo was still in view as he walked terrified behind Trammell.

Trammell handed him an empty weight stick, then numerous fifteen pound weights to add to the end. When he was done, DeRo was carrying about one hundred fifty pounds of weights on his shoulders and when he tried to lift it, he was shaking from the beginning. He was supposed to do squats with all that weight.

As I lifted my ninety pounds worth of weights, it crushed me to see him working so much harder – forty pounds harder. That made it almost one and a half of what I was lifting. After number ten, DeRosa practically collapsed, but instead landed on his knee. He gasped as he hit the ground and kind of shouted in the meanwhile.

“WHAT THE [HECK] ARE YOU DOING?” Trammell yelled right in his ear, making him cringe, “YOU’D BETTER KNOW YOU’RE GIVING ME TWENTY MORE AFTER THAT… IGNOMINY IS THE ONLY WORD STRONG ENOUGH TO DESCRIBE WHAT THAT LOOKED LIKE TO ME! NOT EVEN DISGRACE IS STRONG ENOUGH!” he shouted at the top of his lungs as DeRosa got back up to start his twenty.

“Ignominy?” I asked aloud, “What does that mean?” Reed on Jim, on either side of me, both shrugged as did Ted, Jason and Sean. I looked at Ryan.

“Pretty much disgrace,” he said, “but ten times stronger.” I laughed as everyone gave me a strange look.

“Well thank goodness we have one person on the team who finished college,” I laughed. Still, nobody really understood, so I shut up and started lifting more.

Trammell added another thirty pounds and commanded him to keep doing the squats.

“HOW MANY STOLEN BASES DID YOU GET LAST SEASON, MARK?” he commanded.

“Not enough,” he gasped, nearly falling over but catching himself before hitting the ground.

“Not nearly enough, you mean?” he asked, and all DeRo had the power to do was nod. “So WHY aren’t you working to all of your ability to fix that? DO YOU HAVE ANY COMMON SENSE?” DeRosa gasped.

“I’m just about done with this, Alan,” he yelled, dropping the weight with a clunk on the ground. “I can’t do this. Especially with you trying to make me feel bad about myself the whole time.”

“Well that’s too bad, now isn’t it? Maybe you should just be BETTER and I wouldn’t have to do that. You get what you give, remember?”

He grabbed a weight vest and put it on him, then led him to the track. “Run down, twenty pushups. Run back, twenty more, until I tell you to stop. Ready… go.” He said, as he took a seat watching him run back and forth with a look of pure torture on Mark’s face.

It almost pained me to watch, knowing that I would have to be tortured like that sometime soon. I knew I could wait for that to happen. I struck up a conversation with Reed to take my mind off of it. It wasn’t really working.

Mark came running back up to us eventually, panting hard. “Are you done?” Jason asked nervously as Mark nodded and ran to the water containers.

“I’m supposed to send in Ted.” He said, out of breath as he slowly walked over. “Good luck.”

“Ted!” Alan said with a fake sense of bliss. “We’ve got to work on some arm strength, buddy! Let’s get going.” He said in a bittersweet tone as he led Lilly to the other end of the gym and handed his some twenty pound weights.

“Lift this one hundred times with that left hand of yours. That’ll be you’re warmup.” He said, walking over to check on us. As he approached us, Ted started slacking off.

“Ted, work HARDER; I don’t want any of that crap.” He yelled without even looking over at him.

“You guys all switch machines,” he said, turning back around and making a short walk back to Ted as I went to the next machine.

“Okay, Ted, since I guess I have to constantly supervise you, drop the weight. You’re moving on to one armed pushups. It’ll be pretty hard considering you can’t even do your warm up correctly.” He practically shoved Ted onto the ground and watched him as he struggled to maintain balance. I had never seen one guy on this team do a one handed pushup – we weren’t superheroes or anything. Sure, it was possible, but Tim Buss, the conditioning director who organized this… torture today, but couldn’t even be here to see it, didn’t work us all too hard.

So, because of this, by the time he got to about ten or fifteen, Ted collapsed onto the ground, also with a shout. Without even waiting to get in trouble, he got up and kept going. Ted never gave up, no matter what circumstances – he was an admirably hard worker and it really showed in his pitching.

“What in the WORLD kind of pushups are those?” Trammell yelled. Alan looks like a pretty respectably guy until you’ve worked with him—then the worst comes out. When he’s just coaching, yeah, he’s nice enough, but as a trainer, not so much. “I’ve just about had it with you, Ted; get up, we’re moving on.” He picked up a circular weight that was supposed to represent pitching with a weighted ball. He stood Ted about two times the distance from the pitchers’ mound to the batters’ box from the wall. “You have five throws. Make one of them hit the wall. You don’t want to know the consequences.”

Knowing that number five would be much harder to throw than number one; Ted just let the first one fly. He threw it with all his might, and as you can guess, assuming the distance and the weight, that it only made it about halfway to the wall. That’s when they both knew that it wasn’t going to happen.

“Move up four steps and try again.” Alan commanded. Ted moved up four gigantic steps and threw the ball again, and this time it went a bit closer, but still nowhere near the wall.

“Okay, so I know this is impossible, right? And I know that it will always be impossible, but while you’re back on the machines, I want you to be lifting the minimum eighty pounds, but with only your left hand. This has got to improve, Ted. Starting pitchers need stamina.” Ted nodded and walked slowly back to the machines, wiping sweat off his brow, still from the one handed pushups.

“Hold up you’re left arm,” he commanded as Ted complied. Trammell stood in front of him on the track, about fifteen feet away from the wall. “Push me all the way to the wall with only you’re left hand, only pushing my hand,” he said, holding out his right arm so that Ted could shove him around. As much as he pushed, he couldn’t make Alan move a foot.

“Come on Ted; come on Ted, COME ON TED. AT LEAST ONE FOOT, OKAY?!” he shouted, as Ted pushed as hard as he could with all his weight, making him fall onto the ground, but Trammell moved a foot.

“Ryan, you’re turn.” Trammell yelled. As Ted stood up and walked over to the weights. Because Ryan was the starting shortstop, Trammell took no pity whatsoever on him in his little speech.

“I know you’re fast and you get on base a lot, but when people look at your stats, they don’t see that you lead the team in average and stolen bases. They see that you lead the team in the least amount of homeruns, so with you, it’s all arm strength. How many homeruns do you have this season?” he asked as Theriot looked at the ground, shuffling his feet awkwardly. “Well?”

“Zero.” He said, self-consciously as he gave Alan a look that told him to back off and leave him alone.

“Good. That’s how many a pitcher has. That’s worse than a lot of our pitchers. So by the end of this season, every workout day you’re going to work on arm strength, and at the end of the season you’ll have at least five. That’s your goal – nothing too distant, right?” he concluded, leading Ryan over to the torture corner, as I called it.

He started off with two handed pushups with Trammell pushing down on him all the while. His breath soon shortened and he started gasping for air after each one. Eventually, he fell onto the ground and Trammell stood up.

“Good. Now you owe me some pull-ups.” Ryan stepped over to the pull up bar and jumped to try to reach, but couldn’t. He was pretty short, although not as short as Reed, only an inch taller. Alan kind of flung him up like in the uneven bars in the Olympics, when the guys are too short to reach, and Ryan, with gravity really against him, started trying to pull up.

“I want you to get above that freaking bar, you hear? Shoulders above it at least. It’s not hard, but like I said, you need some serious work on your arms. It looks like you can’t even throw a ball into the stands from the outfield. How many throwing errors last season, Ryan?”

“Eleven,” Ryan said breathlessly and ashamedly. Trammell shook his head, groaning.

“True, but no the answer I’m looking for. HOW MANY THROWING ERRORS LAST SEASON, RYAN?!”

“I don’t know what you want me to say to that, you really gave me no pattern to follow, or--”

“ANSWER THIS – WHO LED THE TEAM IN THROWING ERRORS LAST SEASON?”

“Me…?”

“AND WHO PLAYED THE LEAST GAMES LAST SEASON?”

“Me.” He said, pulling up harder as he looked like he was about to fall off the bar. He quickly regained grip and kept pulling.

“SO HOW MANY ERRORS, RYAN? THIS ISN’T A HARD QUESTION. ELEVEN IS THE TECHNICAL ANSWER. THROW IT OUT, GET RID OF IT. HOW MANY ERRORS?”

“TOO MANY!” Ryan screamed in pain as his hand slipped off the bar and he fell to the ground. His head snapped back awkwardly in contact, but he quickly got up. Alan gave him a strange look. “I can’t get back up. I’M TOO FREAKIN’ SHORT.”

“Suck it up. I’ve worked with you long enough to know that you can do more than that. I’ve worked with you long enough to know that the errors you make are out of you being uncomfortable with you’re playing because you feel inadequate. Well, if you don’t work twenty times harder, FOR GOD’S SAKE, RYAN, YOU’RE ALWAYS GOING TO BE INADEQUATE!” Ryan looked away, he was so angry at Trammell and you could tell. “Now use that rage at me that you just found and grab a weight bar.”

Ryan went over to the weight rack, grabbed the ball that Ted had been using and threw it as hard as he possibly could, which was actually pretty far. It went about two thirds of the way to the wall, which Ted couldn’t even throw it standing five feet closer. He grabbed a bar and headed over to the lifting platform.

Trammell, slightly impressed, grabbed even more weights than he had intended. Ryan’s workout, because of his experience working with Trammell, was the longest so far and it appeared to be the hardest because Trammell handed him two hundred pounds worth of weights to put on the bar. Then Alan told him to take a seat.

“You’re going to throw this into the air, catch it, and do it again while I get the next person started. When I come back, you’d better be at ten at the least, okay?” Alan was already walking away as Ryan struggled to toss the bar up and then fell off his seat trying to catch it again.

“Reed, are you watching?!” Alan asked sarcastically, “Because that’s what you’re going to be doing. Speed won’t get you nearly as far as strength and homeruns, so while you have more than him,” he pointed at Ryan, “You still don’t have nearly enough.”

“Does that mean it’s my turn?” Reed asked, standing up.

“No. It means you should be watching him while I torment Rogers next.” Thanks a lot, Reed.

“Rogers, what position are you playing?” he asked as I stood up, kind of terrified, which seemed strange for the circumstances.

“Utility, I guess.”

“What should you be playing?”

“Pitcher.”

“At least you cut to the point. So, we’ve got to prove to Lou that you belong there, right?”

“Yes.” I lied. I honestly liked being a utility player, but pitching would be fine, too, in a sense.

“So let’s get working,” he said, once again leading the way to the back. He passed by Ryan, still tossing the weight bar up and catching. “Get back on a machine,” he said monotonously as Ryan gratefully, yet still angrily stood up and walked back to the others. I saw them staring at me.

“Grab the weights that Ryan was using and sit down. We’re going to see what you can bench press,” he said, sliding over the entire weight rack as close as possible. It was hard, though, because it obviously weighed a lot. I sat down and put the burden of two hundred pounds on my shoulders.

“That’s two hundred,” Trammell stated the obvious, carrying over a stack of weights. “As a pitcher, you should be able to lift about three twenty. Can you give me that?”

“We’re going to find out,” I said awkwardly, not knowing what he wanted me to say.

“What kind of an answer is that?” he mocked, “The right answer is yes, Coach, just give me three fifty. Can you give me three fifty?”

“Yes, Coach.” I said as he added one hundred and fifty pounds to the bar. I knew I wasn’t going to last long as soon as the weights were added. My legs were shaking because I was too tall to fit on the seat correctly, so my legs were still holding up a great deal of weight. And I thought that two hundred was a lot.

“Lift.” Trammell commanded. I lifted once, but my arms gave out and the weights went crashing down back into my shoulder-blade. It hurt extremely badly, in case you’re wondering. My shoulder was throbbing. “LIFT!” he yelled. I tried again and got the weights directly above my head, but my arms collapsed again and it once again went crashing into my shoulder, and once again hurt like no other.

“I can’t.” I breathed, then immediately regretted it when I saw the look that Trammell gave me.

“You can’t?” he asked cynically of me, “YOU CAN’T? Mark, you are one of the only people I haven’t given up on, and there’s a reason. We picked you up because we saw how hard you worked. Yeah, this is a lot, and no pitcher really can hold this. Yeah, I lied, but just so you can be the [darn] best that there is. DON’T YOU DARE GIVE UP ON ME, MARK.” He yelled. I was lifting the whole time. After only about five minutes I was sweating uncontrollably.

“Can I please stop?” I pleaded. He shook his head. “Can I please do something else? I really need a break…”

“ARE YOU QUITTING ON ME, ROGERS?! I WILL TOLERATE IT IF YOU DON’T THINK YOU CAN, I WILL TOLERATE IT IF YOU DON’T, IF YOU FALL ON THE GROUND PUKING YOUR GUTS OUT. I WILL TOLERATE A LOT, BUT I WON’T TOLERATE IT IF YOU QUIT. DO YOU WANT TO END UP LIKE RYAN WITH ELEVEN THROWING ERRORS AND ONE HOMERUN A SEASON?” Ryan looked over and broke down.

“GIVE ME A BREAK, OKAY? IT’S NOT MOTIVATING ME IN ANY WAY.” Ryan screamed out of resentment. “IT’S NOT LIKE I DON’T TRY.”

“You see? He’s weak. He’s not capable of a lot and he knows it. HE KNOWS THAT HE ISN’T READY FOR THE MAJORS. GO BACK TO LANSING, RYAN.”

“Do you REALLY think that trying to be antagonistic is going to make the best come out in me? Well, it’s not. You don’t think I have a lot on my mind?” he asked, standing up and walking over to Trammell. “I have my wife stranded in Louisiana with my four year old son, two year old daughter and six month old daughter. I have to rely on my completely irresponsible brother to take care of them while my other brother is off with his wife in CALIFORNIA. YOU SERIOUSLY DON’T THINK I WOULDN’T BE FREAKING OUT RIGHT NOW?”

“Ryan, go outside and catch your breath. You’re wasting a lot of it arguing with me senselessly.”

“You don’t think I’m making sense?” Ryan breathed, “I think that my argument is a [heck] of a lot better than your senseless rambling. You had better leave me the [heck] alone.” I gaped at him. That was only the second (and third) time I had ever heard him swear. However, I thought that he had a very good reason. He was right, and Alan couldn’t deny that.

“Rogers, go chuck that medicine ball at the wall.” He said, turning away from a furious Ryan as he walked out the door. “NOW.”

I grabbed the heaviest medicine ball, because I really didn’t want to mess with Alan after that, and stood really far away and started throwing. I really couldn’t get on his bad side after that argument.

“YOU ALL SAW THAT, RIGHT?” He screamed at everyone on the machines, Ted Lilly lifting his eighty pounds with only his left hand. I wish I only had to lift eighty pounds instead of three hundred fifty like earlier. My arms were sore already and my shoulder was still aching. “I AM WILLING TO STAND UP FOR MYSELF. I AM WILLING TO MAKE A FOOL OUT OF YOU UNTIL YOU WALK OUT OF THIS GYM AND HUMILIATE YOURSELF. I WON’T TAKE ANY BACKTALK FROM ANY OF YOU. I’VE HAD IT. STAND UP AND TAKE YOUR [FREAKING] PUNISHMENT.” I looked out the door and saw Ryan sitting on the steps, facing away from the door. I really wanted to know what he was doing.

“DON’T LOOK AT HIM, ROGERS. HE’S A BAD EXAMPLE. I DON’T WANT YOU TO LEARN FROM HIM.” He yelled in my face. He really hated Ryan today. “YOU ACTUALLY HAVE HOPE.”

I bit my tongue to avoid retorting back to him and standing up to Ryan. Instead, I chucked the ball as hard as I could. As soon as he looked away, I looked outside to see Ryan on his phone. It didn’t look like he was faring well.

“Ryan?” Ryan sighed deeply as his wife answered the telephone.

“Joannah,” he sighed, “I’m about to give up. I swear, I’m praying that I don’t make the All Star Game so I could get out there and protect you. You know I don’t trust Wes one bit.”

“Wesley is fine. He’s being really kind. I trust him, Ryan, isn’t that what counts? And besides, by the time the All Star Game comes around it will all be over.”

“Are you sure that you can’t get out? You have a car, right? I don’t want Georgia ‘braving’ the hurricane. She’s too young. You know how high the waters can get, right?”

“Ryan, don’t fret. It’s Baton Rouge. We’re in the central-most part of the state. We’ll be fine.”

“Do you know when it’s supposed to hit?”

“Three days. Please, Ryan, don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Wesley is a great guy. You seriously don’t trust you’re brother?”

“I usually would. But I’m not ready to trust anyone with the life of my wife and kids. Anyone but me.”

“What if Austin could get here with Aimee?”

“I’d trust Austin and Aimee more than Wes. I grew up with them, Joannah, you know that. Austin works in medicine. I’d trust him over Wes. He doesn’t work at all.”

“I do wish that I could get over to Chicago, but with Leanne and Georgia… it’s not happening. I wish that I could send them with Austin and bring Houston up there with me, but… it’s not happening, Ryan, it really isn’t. You have to calm down.”

“I can’t do that. Look, if you had heard what I just said to Alan, then you’d be shocked. I can’t handle this, Joannah. You have to come here.”

“That would be breaking the law. I can’t bring a child less than a year old on a plane, and child under two can get on a bus. It could cause brain damage. It’s not worth it.”

“Joannah…”

“Ryan, that’s it. I’m not leaving. If you’re so concerned, you come here and lose a million dollars for every day you aren’t playing. You don’t earn that much to begin with.”

“Third least on the team. I know that isn’t good, but still, it is a lot of money. I could be President and earn less.”

“I doubt it. What do you make, five hundred thousand?”

“I wish. More like two hundred thousand. But that’s not the point. I’d rather give it all up to make sure that you’re safe than be rich without cause. You’re killing me, Joannah. I can’t do this.”

“Did you talk to Trammell honestly?”

“I can’t go up to him after that.”

“It was really that bad?”

“He used me as an example for a bad player to everyone, mocked me in front of the team, and told me I was making no sense when I said that I was freaking out because my family was in danger. I had to defend myself.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him that he was the one who wasn’t making sense and that my argument was… better than his. I have to clean it up. I was just so mad, you know that?”

“It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not. Last year was a dud. Gustav? That had no chance of destroying anything. But this year, it’s predicted to be as bad as Katrina. I’m losing hope. I need to be with you, whether it’s here or there.”

“That’s sweet, but I can’t accept. Look, Ryan, the answer is no. I’m not leaving and you aren’t coming here. End of discussion.”

“But—”

“Goodbye, Ryan.” The phone clicked off. Ryan breathed a sigh of terror and dialed the phone again. This time Lou Piniella, the manager, picked up.

“What’s up, Riot?”

“I need a personal leave.”

“What for?”

“I’m keeping my family safe.”

“I can’t permit you to do that. Your wife called last week, Ryan. You aren’t going anywhere.”

“You don’t understand. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Come on, Lou, you have to let me go. This is my life we’re talking about.”

“You know what else I learned? That you’ve been depressed lately. I heard that you’re on anti-depressants the doctor prescribed you with. Why?”

“I don’t think you’re permitted to know that,” he said, biting his tongue nervously.

“I’m your coach. I have to know every medical issue. I know you have hereditary diabetes. I have to know. And depression is a medical issue. You have to tell me or I can throw you out of the Majors altogether.”

“Do you have to know right now?”

“Absolutely.” He breathed in nervously. He was hoping that nobody would know. “You haven’t thought about killing yourself, have you?”

“I’m not that depressed.” He said, as he found himself about to start sobbing. I’m acting immature. I don’t need to cry. I’m a grown man, he thought to himself.

“Are they not working? Are they pep pills or anti-depressants? Tell me, Ryan, I have to know. It’s for your personal health. If you want to commit suicide, I have to take it upon myself to convince you out of it. I have permission from a lawyer. I have it in my hand, so if you don’t tell me, I can sue you.”

“You’d really do that?” he said as a wet tear trickled down his cheek. He embarrassedly wiped it off and breathed in. “It doesn’t have to do with me.”

“That makes no sense. Just cut to the point.”

“It’s my parents.”

“Why would your parents make you depressed? Your mother is a lovely woman and your father is very successful. Christian Theriot, right? Famous artist after he left baseball?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you have to be depressed about then?”

“They aren’t my parents.”

“What?” he could hear Lou’s astonishment on the other end of the conversation. “They aren’t? When did you find that out?”

“When I found out that I was a hereditary diabetic. Neither of my parents have diabetes. That’s when they did a DNA test.” He could feel his eyes openly welling up with tears as he tried to hide it when a white Camry pulled up next to the field.

“That’s tough.”

“My mom had me when I was sixteen. She gave me away because she knew she couldn’t handle it. She left, and I… I don’t know, Lou, I just don’t. I want to know her. She’s a brave woman and I… I would really like to know who my mother is.”

“I understand.”

“And I really wish that my parents had told me, because now I’m a mess. I can’t tell anyone, because… if you couldn’t tell, I’m extremely depressed now. I’m crying my eyes out,” he said, slightly smiling as he wiped his eyes. He realized with humiliated terror that the woman had stepped out of the car and had seen him crying. He wasn’t supposed to cry. He wasn’t allowed to—his dad would kill him if he found out. Not his biological father, the one who always told him never to express his feelings. The artist who wasn’t nobly his father.

The girl, medium height with long brown hair, walked toward him. “Lou, please help me. I’ve got to get out of… here. I need a break, I need to know who I am.” There was a long pause as he breathed heavily, trying to stop the flow of the tears.

“I’ll grant you your personal leave. But I’m watching you—if you go to Louisiana, I’m bringing you back here and never letting you out of my sight again.”

“Thank you so much, Lou. You don’t know what this means to me.” He said, calming down and managing to fake a smile as the girl walked up. “I have to go.”

“Good luck, kid. I know you’ll pull through.” he hung up.

“Is there something I can help you with?” he asked with muffled tears still trickled down his completely humiliated face.

“Ryan Theriot?” she asked, astonished but empathetic. Ryan nodded. “I’m Nicole. Nicole Okrasinski. I was looking for Mark… Rogers, but… you don’t look… happy. Is something wrong?”

“You wouldn’t understand.” I said, trying to calm down. I hated crying, especially in front of people… but Joannah was right, I do worry too much.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“I know you’re a strong person, if I do say. You’ll be fine. Come on, you’re a professional athlete. You’re all tough. I know it must be really bad if you’re… like this. I know you’ll make it.” He managed a smile as she patted him on the back. “I’m going to wait around in the parking lot until you guys finish up. If you see Mark, tell him I’m out there. I need to talk to him.” Ryan smiled. Mark really found a great girl.

“No problem. And thanks.” He said, walking away. She just smiled her response. Ryan opened the door and got ready to face Alan once again.

I was back on the machines lifting as Reed was doing his pull-ups when Ryan walked back into the gym.

“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” Alan laughed mockingly as Ryan stood. “You’re eyes are red. Have you been crying? You seem like the kind of person who would. Considering… that you aren’t the toughest person. Ask Mark DeRosa. You seemed to crumble when he hit you.”

“I’m done with you,” Ryan said, sitting on the machine next to Jason and lifting. “It’s not worth my time.”

“Look who’s so confident.”

“If you’re being antagonistic, it’s my job to be the protagonist. Isn’t that what always happens?”

“Look, you are smart, I’ll grant you that, so why didn’t you get a job in… medicine or something? You did take that night class that saved DeRosa’s life, right? The way you act, that’s more cut out for you.”

“Sorry, but my brother’s a doctor. He’s always wanted to stand out from me. I couldn’t possibly to that to him.”

“You don’t need to listen to your brother. Deep down, you’re better than that.” Ryan shook his head.

“I am completely done talking to you now.” He said, and sure enough, no matter what comments Trammell threw at him, he took them quietly and added another ten pounds to his machine. When he was done, he was lifting one seventy. He was still making it through with no issues. Eventually, Trammell gave up on him.

“He is being senseless.” I said to him, seeing as how he was only two machines down from me. I kept it low just so that Alan didn’t hear. He nodded his agreement and added another thirty pounds to his machine.

“IF YOU PUT YOUR HANDS ON THE FREAKIN TREADMILL, YOU’RE DEAD. I’VE COMPLETELY HAD IT WITH YOU GUYS. THIS IS YOUR LAST STATION. DON’T LET ME DOWN AGAIN.” Trammell yelled furiously as we all ran full speed on a treadmill that was a bit faster than our speed. “DON’T LAUGH—YOU’RE [darn] RIGHT I’M TALKING TO YOU, RYAN!” My machine was at an 8.5 out of ten, and DeRosa, next to me, was at a 7.5 and Ryan, on the other side, was at a 9. That is, until Trammell walked up to us.

“DeRosa, move up to eight, Rogers, move up to nine and Theriot up to ten. And if you can’t move fast enough, you’d better find a way to fix that.” He said, walking away furiously after turning up our machines and walking away to fix everyone else’s. I noticed suspiciously that he had turned Mark any my machines up .5 and Ryan’s up a full point. I decided not to point that out.

“OH MY GOD.” DeRosa yelled, almost being flung off the back. He grabbed onto the handles at the last second and stayed on.

“HANDS OFF THE MACHINE, MARK, AND DON’T LET ME CATCH YOU DOING THAT AGAIN.” Trammell yelled.

I was keeping decent time, but obviously falling behind a bit. I was starting to feel nauseous, seeing as how I hadn’t had a break since the beginning, about four hours ago. We took an hour on fielding and batting and we’re taking two hours on weights and cardio. It was going to be a long two hours.

Seeing as how I almost fell off the back of my machine, I stepped it up a notch and caught back up.

“Good job, Mark.” He said, walking by. “Catch up, DeRosa. I’d rather have you be flung off the back than put your hands on the freaking rail.”

“Alan?” DeRosa asked, out of breath, “Can I maybe get some water? I’m feeling dizzy.”

“Hold out, Mark. Then you can get all the water you need while we go over your medical tests.”

“What?”

“We’re doing some checkups and progress checks when the workout is over. Each of you will get to see your progress and medical accomplishments.”

“Individually, or…?” I asked nervously. I knew that they had taken all my doctor files when I had made it on the team.

“We’ll see. Most likely in a group to save time, unless you do really well and we get out of here quickly.”

I stepped up my work a bit because I didn’t want anyone to see my files. Apparently Ryan didn’t either because he went a lot faster, too. In fact, everyone did. Everyone but DeRosa, that is.

“STEP IT UP DERO!” Trammell yelled, getting in his face. “DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO LEARN YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY?! APPARENTLY THEY DON’T WANT TO SHARE THEIRS. ISN’T THAT INSPIRATION?”

“Seriously, Alan, I’m really dizzy,” DeRosa said, running as fast as he could, which was inconsistent, ranging between his normal speed and ten times slower.

“You’ll get a break in ten minutes, I swear. You can hold out for ten minutes, right? I don’t want to think of you as weak. I can’t even be sure that you aren’t lying to me to get out of working out.”

“I’m not lying, I’ve really never felt so dizzy, and I know that if I don’t get a break, I’ll—”

“I DON’T CARE, MARK. GET OVER YOURSELF.” Alan shouted in his face again as DeRosa gasped for air.

“Alan, I really think that he needs a break,” I defended my teammate, “he doesn’t look good.”

“Give him a break,” Ryan said petulantly. Alan left Mark and got in Theriot’s face now.

“I have had absolutely ENOUGH of you today.” He said, “If I were you, I would SHUT YOUR SMART-[a word] MOUTH.”

“I don’t care what you say normally, but that was just SO out of line.” Jim added into the argument, “I mean, come on, Alan, give the kid a break! He’s just worried about his family. You can’t give him that.”

“Don’t take his side,” Trammell warned.

“I think that we’re all taking his side,” Ted said defensively. “You can’t tell us what to think, whether you’re a coach or not.”

“OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.” DeRosa screamed as he slowed down dramatically, “I CAN’T BREATHE.”

“Mark, are you okay?” I asked precariously, “Don’t listen to him. You should just sit down.”

“I… can’t.” He said slowly, “I can’t even… breathe.”

“DEROSA, IF YOU NEED A BREAK THEN TAKE ONE!” I shouted, stepping on the side of my treadmill and getting in his face like Trammell.

“ROGERS, GET BACK ON THE MACHINE!”

“YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM. HE COULD BE DYING FOR ALL YOU KNOW. LET HIM HAVE A BREAK, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” I screamed.

“EVERYBODY BE QUIET!” Ryan yelled at the top of his lungs, “I CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE OF THIS! IT’S TOO MUCH! JUST SHUT UP, GOSH!” That was when I realized that what I said probably offended him, seeing as how religious and everything he was and… they didn’t use God’s name in vain and stuff. That’s probably also why whenever Trammell talked he looked like he died a little inside. Alan swore a lot.

“AH!” DeRo yelled as his legs flew out from under him and he went flying off the back of the treadmill. He just lied on the floor with his eyes slowly rolling into the back of his head. We all ran off our machines, pulling out the safety cords out and getting them off our wrists, except for Jason who had gotten his stuck on his wrist and ended up with a burn on his arm.

“Now look,” I accused, staring angrily at Trammell, “I knew you weren’t helping anyone.”

“Really?” he said, standing up, “Well then, maybe it would be beneficial to you all if I just left.” He said, walking toward the door.

“Wait!” Sean said hurriedly, “His life could be at stake! You can’t just leave him here!”

“Ryan’s the ‘medical expert’. He claims to know more than me. Ask him if he’s a better person than me. And, by the way, because you back sassed to me, we’re doing the medical news in a group. Shows you to mess with me.” Trammell said, backing out the door and to the medical office next door. “I’ll get set up for you. Dr. Hendrickson is waiting. When you get him up, get over here.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Sean asked worriedly. Ryan was still steaming over.

“I’m sorry, and I know this sounds selfish, but I really can’t focus. You wonder why I didn’t make it to be in medicine? Because I don’t work well at all in emergencies. Especially when my idiot coach is… irritating me to this degree. I’ll try to help, but… ARGH!”

“We don’t have any smelling salts…” Jim said, “How’s his pulse?” I put my fingers to his wrist.

“Ninety.”

“That’s too low considering he was working out,” Jason said, “We’ve got to get him to the doctor.”

“But we can’t move him when he’s like this!” Ted fretted. He wasn’t faring too well, either. “WHAT DO WE DO?”

“COME ON, MARK!” Sean yelled, shaking him.

“DON’T YOU DARE!” Ryan yelped, pulling his hand back. “YOU COULD GIVE HIM BRAIN DAMAGE.”

“IT’S TOO LATE!” Sean yelled back, “REMEMBER THAT COLLISION? HE LOST HALF HIS BRAIN CELLS ALREADY.”

“JUST BE QUIET!” I yelled. “THIS IS GETTING US NOWHERE.” Everyone looked around and mutually agreed. That was the furthest we had gotten so far.

“It’ll be a short recovery,” Dr. Jane Hendrickson concluded after taking a look at DeRosa. He had managed to get up himself, thank goodness, because we weren’t getting anywhere.

“How would you like to view your medical… accomplishments?” the doctor asked, “Individually would keep privacy, which is what I would deeply recommend, but as a group saves time… normally I wouldn’t have that option, but Mr. Rothschild requested it earlier.”

Alan looked at the group. I hoped his was feeling some pity for DeRosa… finally. “We’ll go individually.”

“Who’s first?” Dr. Hendrickson asked. Nobody stepped up.

“Sean Christopher Marshall, correct?” Jane asked as Sean nodded. “Step onto the scale, please.” Sean complied.

“So really, what is this for?” he asked as the scale calculated his weight. She then led him over to the wall to be measured.

“Just to see… how far you’ve come, whether you started in this club at the beginning of the year of if you’ve been here ten years. We’ve discovered a lot of medical traumas in the past two years, so this is just a precaution.” She reached up as high as she could and tried to measure him. “I think you’ve grown.” She laughed. Sean forced out a laugh, too, although after the horrible things he had been a part of today, he wasn’t really feeling it.

“Six foot seven point five inches. You’ve actually grown half an inch, which is amazing for someone your age. In a good way, that is. And more good news is that you lost ten pounds from last year, correct?” Sean nodded. “Now, on my records I don’t see anything… medical related specifically, no allergies or diseases or anything. Is that true?”

“Yeah.” Marshall responded, staring at the pictures on the wall blankly. “As far as I know,” he added, trying to crack a joke. She didn’t notice. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that it really wasn’t funny at all.

“So I think that you are one of the healthier ones I’ll see today. That’s nice, it’s always good to start with a less stressful one. I think you can go.”

Sean turned toward the door, but stopped before reaching the hallway. “Dr. Hendrickson?”

“Yes?”

“Is there anything… seriously wrong with anyone? Like, anything life-threatening? I just really don’t like the whole idea of this, it gives me a bad idea of what’s really going on.”

“I’d love to tell you, Sean, just to ease your mind, but I couldn’t invade anyone’s privacy. Is that hint enough?”

“So there is something life threatening?”

“Oh, there’s a lot. A few cases of allergies, some… well, worse things. I don’t think I’m able to tell you.”

“Any cancers or anything?”


“No, nothing that life-threatening where you know you’re… not going to live. The only exhibits are things that could be fatal if somebody makes a bad choice or stupid mistake. I’d like to not think that would happen, though. I’d like to keep my mind more at ease.”

“Thanks, Dr. Hendrickson. But… one more question… do you think that everyone will survive through the season? I always like to know these things.”

“I think people with a possibility of not would like to know before you.” She concluded. “That’s enough questioning, no offense, but I’m a little uneasy after seeing your… friend all passed out on my bench. Please, don’t be hurt, but… I think it’s time the next person went.”

“I completely understand.” Sean said, and headed out the door to bring in the next victim.
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><

“Mr. Theodore Roosevelt Lilly, am I correct?” Jane Hendrickson asked veteran left-hander Ted Lilly. “Okay, Mr. Lilly, may I ask you to step onto the scale?” Ted obeyed and stepped onto the doctors’ scale in the corner of the room.

She fiddled with the weights on the back for a while, seeming to struggle to get the correct weights. “Two oh five. You lost about five pounds. Not bad, if I do say so myself.” Lilly awkwardly grinned.

“Let’s see how tall you are, now.” She led him over to the measuring tape on the lateral wall. He stood as she moved the stool out of the way that she had used to measure Sean Marshall. She once again struggled to get the exact number.

“Six foot one inch.” She said dramatically, “Exactly the same.” Ted nodded expectantly.

“Doesn’t surprise me. I was, after all, supposed to be done growing like, fifteen years ago. I didn’t expect any differently.”

“Any changes in medicine intake?” She asked, looking through his files. “Or… any medication at all? It doesn’t say here that you’ve taken any vitamins.”

“I’m taking calcium,” Ted responded apathetically, “That’s all.” She nodded and edited her chart. “I’ve never really taken anything else, even as a kid.”

“That can be healthy, Mr. Lilly, but sometimes lack of medication could be dangerous. I would advise…” she said, looking through the drawers in her desk, “That you keep taking the calcium and add some… protein to it.” She said, taking out some fish-oil based pills. “You aren’t allergic to fish, are you?”

“No. I don’t have any allergies whatsoever, actually.”

“Correct,” she said, rifling through her files. “You’re a very healthy man. Pitcher, I’m assuming?”

“You’re assumption is correct.” Ted wasn’t in the most… hardy mood, he kind of needed a break and it was evident.

“No allergies, no traumatic medication… the ideal player, Theodore.”

“Please call me Ted.” He said impolitely. “I’d really prefer it.”

“Okay… Ted. I think you’re more than fit to go. You’re an ideal role model.” Lilly nodded and walked, dignified, out of the room.
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><

“Jason Scott Marquis, right handed pitcher, playing for twelve years?” Dr. Hendrickson asked, reading off her profile. “What we seem to notice for… veterans like you, is that you tend to not lose weight as much as our younger players, so it’s important for us to weigh you in every year and make sure that you aren’t putting on too much. Don’t be offended, it’s natural with all players who’ve played over ten years. Ted Lilly, who was in here last, has been here… nine years? So we’re starting a bit early with him. Everyone else will be weighed and measured today and get the next nine years off.”

“Intriguing.” Jason said cynically as he stepped onto the scale. “I’ve been working really hard for the past three or so hours, so if I weigh what I did before, there’s a problem.” He wasn’t kidding, anyone could tell. He was still drenched in sweat and shivering a bit despite the boiling weather outside.

“Well, congratulations, you must have burned off five pounds. Two ten. Impressive.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“That’s taking interest, Mr. Marquis, I wouldn’t doubt it if I were you. It’s called being nice.”

“Are you implying something?”

“I’m afraid not. Now, let’s drop this and measure you.” Jason didn’t like this… doctor for some reason. She was really just getting on his bad side.

He glared at her out of the corner of her eye as she leaned on her tip-toes to measure him. “Six one.” She grunted, returning to a regular standing position. “No change.”

“Average. Just average.” Jason joked, trying to lighten the mood. “I have no motivation to improve, in case you’re wondering.”

“I would expect nothing less. Change in medication?”

“Nope. Never took medicine, doubt it that I ever will. Why, are you going to prescribe me something out of spite?”

“No, you’re actually very healthy. You’re absolutely fine with no medication. Any… allergies?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Okay, I think you can go, Jason.”

“I’d be delighted.” He happily walked out of the room, making a big production of closing the door behind him hard.
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><

“James Patrick Edmonds, veteran outfielder, playing for eighteen years,” she gaped as she read Jim’s records. “That’s astounding.”

“Thank you.”

“I believe you’ve worked pretty hard.” She commented, shocked. “That’s an accomplishment.”

“Never denied it.”

“Now, before we get started, I just want to point out… your father. He was… overweight?”

“I think we all get it, Jane,” replied Jim, “My father was obese and I have hereditary glandular issues. Everyone gets is by now. I’ve been interviewed about it for five years now.”

“Yes, but your recovery is astounding. Very inspirational.”

“Thank you.”

“So, with that being said, let’s get you on that scale.” Jim stepped slowly onto the scale and tried to read the numbers over his shoulder.

“Look ahead, James,” she commanded. Jim turned back around and stared at the computer ahead of him.

“Two fifty six. You lost four pounds in the past year. Not bad, James, not bad at all.”

“I guess,” Jim said, too eager to step off the scale. She lead him over to the wall with the measuring tape on it.

“How tall were you before, James? I can’t reach my records.” She said, leaning up to measure to the top of his head.

“Six three.”

“Now you’re six three. Healthy, staying the same height and losing weight. Very ideal, James. That’s extremely healthy. Any medicine or medical issues I should know about? Any… new ones?”

“I’ve been taking the standard vitamins every morning. Calcium and protein, nothing bad… right?”

“Correct. That’s what you’re supposed to be taking. Good job, James. Don’t know what else to say.”

“Can I go?”

“Absolutely.” Edmonds headed out the door as the next player clambered through the door.
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><

“Reed Cameron Johnson, center fielder. You were perfectly healthy last time, right?” Reed nodded his head. “Let’s hope you still are.”

Reed stepped onto the scale. “You were one seventy last time. That’s really underweight, which is good for a player like you.”

“I know, I’m not the tallest…” Reed knew that he was the lightest in the group today at five foot ten inches.

“Your weight was consistent,” she exclaimed, “so, let’s see if you grew. With people your height and age, it’s likely that you did.”


She measured him, and sure enough, he had grown half an inch. “Five ten and a half. You grew half an inch.”

“I’m catching up,” he joked. “Making my way to five eleven!” she forced a laugh. She must not have had a very good sense of humor.

“Are you taking any medications?” she asked, looking at her documents. He shook his head.

“Nope.”

“Well, now you’re taking calcium vitamins. As an athlete, pills aren’t as highly recommended, so we’re going to stick with the vitamins; they do the same job, but for some reason, they’re healthier.”

“Alright,” he agreed as she handed him a bottle of vitamins. “Is that all?”

“It depends. Do you have any recent medical issues?” she asked, once again examining the chart.

“I did crash into the wall a day or two ago, it’s so hard to keep track of time that I don’t remember. You’re supposed to check my head and my doctor recommended that you give me a blood test. They think I may be allergic to strawberries or something of that nature…”

“Okay, Reed, do you feel lightheaded at all?” she asked, picking up the little light and checking in his ears.

“Occasionally, but not severely; I never black out, but I’m not always feeling one hundred percent.” She pulled the light back and turned it off and started writing a few things on her chart.

“I think your equilibrium is off.” She concluded, “But I think that’s it. The only way to fix that is with time.”

“That’s good news. Not serious, right?”

“Not at all.” She then opened a chair in the back of the room. “Sit.” She coerced him as he slowly walked over and had a seat. She strapped his arms into the chair.

“I feel like a prisoner,” he joked. She didn’t seem to notice that it was a joke. She just rolled her eyes and got a needle.

“I’m going to test your blood. Do you know your type?”

“I think its O positive, but it was so long ago.”

“What, three days?” she muttered under her breath. Reed just pretended not to hear. She ripped the protected tip off the needle.

“When I count to five, this thing’s going in, whether you’re ready or not.” This lady was seriously astringent.

“Alright.”

“One, two, three, four, five.” She said, quickly, and plunged the needle in. No, Johnson wasn’t ready. She counted five seconds over the time of about one second, so he was still preparing.

She grabbed a test tube off the counter and filled it with the blood that was spilling out of his arm. Reed started to feel queasy, so he closed his eyes,

“What, are you afraid of blood?”

“No.” he said, opening his eyes and watching the clock instead. About two minutes passed before she answered.

“Sit here for a minute while I test this. Get yourself a bandage or something.” Reed un-strapped his arms from the chair and rifled through the doors of medical equipment while she put the test tube of blood through a machine and took notes. He found a bandage and unstuck it from the packaging and placed it on his arm over the place where the needle had broken his skin.

“Get any results yet?”

“I know that you’re O positive,” she grunted. He took a seat on the bench on the door and started waiting impatiently, still watching the clock.

“What about now?” he asked after five minutes.

“I know you’re allergic to something, but it hasn’t specified what yet,” she grumbled. “Something along the lines of strawberries.”

“Interesting,” he said with fake heed while he was still drifting off staring at the clock. “Tell me when you find something.”

“It’s cherries and strawberries.” She finally concluded, taking the test tube out of the machine, “But if I were you, I would just avoid berries altogether.”

“Alright. Can I go?”

“Bring in your next… comrade.” She sighed. However, as Reed walked out the door, he heard her mumble, “Let’s hope he’s better than you.”

“Whatever, Jane.” He whispered as he went into the waiting room and asked who wanted to go next.
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“Mark Thomas DeRosa, age thirty… three, utility player?” Mark nodded that she was correct. “Last year, you were six foot one inch and weighed two oh five. Let’s see if you’ve improved.”

“Sure.” DeRosa said happily. He remembered this doctor from last year, and as he recalled, she had taken quite a shine to him. “Whatever you say.”

She blissfully led him to the scale, following the same pattern as the numerous people before him. “How many people after you, Mark?”

“Two. Ryan Theriot and Mark Rogers.”

“Rogers?”

“He’s a rookie.”

“Oh.” She fiddled with the weights on the scale, trying to get them to balance out. “We need a digital scale, don’t we?”

“Don’t tell me I’m breaking it!” DeRosa joked. She laughed this time.

“You lost two pounds. Two oh three, not bad. Not bad at all, Mark.” He grinned and walked over to the tape measure set up on the wall.

“Hey, I worked hard on those two pounds!” he said sarcastically yet honestly, after remembering the brutal workout they had just encountered.

“Mark… six foot one inch. Same.”

“Hasn’t it been the same for the last ten years? I doubt I grew in any of my past seasons. Nobody tortured me and put me on a medieval torture machine to stretch me out manually.” She laughed again.

“You’ve always been the jokester, Mark. And also, as well as being measured every year, get on the bench. You need an ECG.” Mark was used to ECGs. (Electro-Cardio Graph. Used to check your heart beat and blood pressure.)

“As usual,” he sighed sardonically. He lied down on the pullout doctor’s bench as Dr. Hendrickson hooked him up to the machine with the wires.

“Ready?”

“Yeah.” The cardio graph still made him nervous, despite the fact that he had to take on every year since high school. The machine started beeping as the papers with his heart rate started printing. It looked kind of like a lie detector, but the wires were on his chest, not his head.

“You still have a 100 over 70 blood pressure, which is slightly… irregular. The top number is low, and the bottom is high, which is odd, but it says on your papers that this is what it always is?”

“Yes.”

“And your QT interval is prolonged.” That meant that the time between heartbeats was too spread out. “But that can always happen.”

“Yes.”

“So I think you’re okay.” She disconnected the wires as DeRosa sat up from the bench.

“Okay to go, or…”

“That depends. Are there any medications you’re taking that you weren’t taking before?”

“I’m only taking my heart medicine that you prescribed during spring training after I passed out.”

“Good. Any other problems?”

“You’re the doctor. You tell me.”

“Well, I sure hope not, but I’m not your only doctor. Any other doctors want me to test something or anything?”

“They didn’t specify anything.”

“Then you’re free to go.”

“Thanks, Dr. Hendrickson.” He winked as he walked out the door happily. She smiled as he laughed.

“Jane is fine.” She laughed as she got out the next files.
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“Well, this is a mess.” She groaned, looking at the files. “Ryan Stewart Theriot, starting shortstop?” she asked.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Ryan replied dejectedly. “Good luck. I know it’s a calamity.” He didn’t even attempt to make it a joke or to smile at all. He just looked miserable.

“Okay, let’s start at the beginning. We’re going to weigh you in, and last year, you weighed one hundred seventy five pounds.” He sighed and walked casually up to the scale and stepped on.

“Wow.” She stated simply, “I haven’t seen that before.”

“What?”

“You lost ten pounds. Now, either you’ve been exercising an incredulous amount, you’ve formed an eating disorder, or…”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he interrupted, “and it’s the third.”

“Ryan, that is dangerous. That’s severely underweight, and you don’t know what can happen with an issue like that.”

“I haven’t weighed so little since high school.” He said desolately, leading himself over to the tape measure.

“Let’s hope that you grew, or else this is a serious matter.” She stated, measuring him. She kind of gasped and stepped back. “Ryan…”

“What?” he asked nervously.

“Are you really stressed out or something?”

“That’s one way to put it.”

“You shrank. For someone your age, you’re only supposed to grow. You’re twenty eight, right? You aren’t supposed to shrink.”

“How short am I now?” he asked pessimistically.

“Five ten and a half.” She said, recording it onto the chart. “And I got a fax from your coach telling me about your recently discovered medical issues.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. It’s not like I would be able to elucidate it any better.” She sat him down on a bench.

“Frankly, you’re the sickest person ever to play major league baseball.”

“Why does that not overwhelm me?”

“The first thing we’re going to talk about is your diabetic issues,” she said calmly. “You know it’s hereditary.”

“Eccentrically enough.”

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind. It’s not imperative.”

“If you say…” she said, looking at the printed email and holding up her chart. “I don’t understand. Neither of your parents are diabetic. They’re both very healthy people.”

“Are you certain you comprehended the entire email?” Ryan responded angrily. “I in no means want to explicate this again.”

“I see.” She finally said, after rereading the entire message. “Dire issues, correct? You almost died that night, you know.”

“I’m well aware.”

“Which brings us to the next issue: do you in any way wish that you had passed on when your diabetic shock occurred?”

“Umm… let me think… yes. Of course. Did you at all read the message? Does it not say that I’m a depressed wreck? I lied, okay? I detest myself more than belief. Lou doesn’t know, but I honestly think about suicide more than you recognize.”

“Why, though?”

“I hate myself because I don’t know myself. I know a diminutive version of my dad, and I don’t want to be my dad. He quit at everything, like art and baseball, and then tried to teach me to do the same so he didn’t look bad. He’s not my biological father anyway, which is most of my concern. He taught me the immoral ethics, and I just…”

“You just what? You need to get out everything, Ryan, or else you’ll never recover from this.”

“I just wonder what it would be like if my mother hadn’t given me up. I wonder who I would be, and… everything. I just want to know too much, and it’s gradually killing me. I guess I just want to do it quicker.”

“But why, Ryan? You’re an unrealistically brilliant person. I hardly understand what you’re saying because your word choice is so broad. Come on… calamity, elucidate, imperative, explicate, diminutive, immoral ethics and such… you think I haven’t been keeping track of this and wondering why in the world you hate yourself so much? You’ve accomplished a feat that many athletes haven’t—you graduated college with a major besides sports and went on to be a major league player, blowing past the competition… it’s astounding if you ask me.”

“Well, what I think is maybe I should give those other players an opportunity. My un-biological father seems to benefit from life a lot after he renounced. Maybe I should resign in my own way. Don’t think I haven’t seen any of the Ryan Theriot hate websites. I know people don’t like me. I’m prepared to go; it’ll please some people.”

“It’ll make more people angry or sad or… depressed than happy. Do you want to pass your disease onto fans, teammates… your wife and kids?” Ryan looked up swiftly.

“I can’t help how they’d deal with it.” Ryan stated, and then continued to stare at his feet.

“I’m telling you, you shouldn’t do this. It’s morally wrong, and I know you’re a religious person, Ryan. Is this really what God would have wanted from you? I know and he knows that you have potential. Don’t waste it, please.”

“I’ll think about it.” Ryan said, stepping off the platform and walking out the door without another word. She’d have to be pretty stupid to believe that.
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“Markus Cody Rogers.” She read from her file, “Rookie pitcher and utility player, number eleven. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Markus.”

“Please, it’s Mark.” I said politely.

“Alright then… Mark.” She corrected herself. “It says here that your weight that was taken while trying for the White Sox was… one eighty. Granting your extremely young age, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that went down drastically and your height went upwards drastically.”

“Let’s find out,” I said joyfully. I stepped onto the scale as she started measuring out my weight.

“You’re the last one, correct?” she asked hopefully. I nodded my response. “You are now… one seventy four, so you lost six pounds. Not bad.” I smiled.

“Better than I’d hoped for.”

“Now let’s see… you were six foot one inch, so let’s see if you grew now. Considering your weight loss, I would guess that you have.”

“Alright,” I agreed, stepping over to the tape measure. “Let’s measure.” She stood on her tiptoes and tried to measure.

“Six foot two inches. You grew an inch.”

“Nice.”

“And it says here that you have an allergy to peanut products? That’s very common. You know how to handle that?”

“Ever since my last incident, I carry my insulin everywhere I go. At least now I know how to tell when it hits.” I joked. She laughed.

“So, I’m going to need to test your blood to make sure you don’t have a companion allergy, so other kinds of nuts of any sort.”

“Alright.” I said, heading over to the chair in back myself, “Don’t worry, I’ve done this before.”

I strapped one of my arms in and Dr. Hendrickson did the other as she prepared the needle and the test tube. “Are you ready?”

“Absolutely.” She hastily stuck the needle in and pulled it out and started filling up the test tube. It was about a minute before she finished.

“And now I wait two to three weeks?” I asked as she un-strapped me and I stood up.

“Actually, our machine here does it right away, more like two to three minutes. Here, I’ll put this through and you can get yourself a bandage. Bottom drawer in the desk.” I walked over to her desk and opened the bottom drawer, where there were tons of boxes of bandages. I picked one out plainly and stuck it on the place where the needle had gone in and took a seat on the bench. Only a minute had passed.

“So what do you do when we aren’t here?” I asked uncomfortably as she leaned over her work, pressing buttons and adjusting dials.

“I work in pediatrics and I do just this.” She responded as the test tube came out the other end along with a few papers. “And we have results.”

“Which show…?”

“No companion allergies. You’re free to go.” She said, opening the door behind me.

“Thanks you Dr. Hendrickson,” I said, walking down the hallway. From the back, I could still feel her smiling.

“Wait here,” Alan said, peering around the edge of the stadium and leading the seven of us inside.

“What about Ryan?” DeRosa asked. Alan shook his head and we all sat down in the outfield. The entire rest of the club was there, too, with Lou at the front, ready to give a speech of some sort.

“Alright, Alan is everyone here?” he asked, not even bothering to count heads. Alan nodded as I thought about why he didn’t care that Ryan wasn’t here.

“Okay, hello everyone! Now that you’re finished working out, there are some matters we need to attend to with a certain player in our club.”

“It’s Ryan,” Ted whispered to nobody in particular, “That’s why he isn’t here.” Lou must have heard.

“You are right, Theodore. Ryan Theriot is not joining us today, because we have to express some… matters concerning him. However, I am not supposed to reveal medical traumas to anybody else, but this is severely important.” He paused.

“Ryan has a fatal disease other than his diabetes, which we apparently all know about,” he said, looking straight at me. I leaned back, just making everyone focus even more on me. “But it is partially because of that disease that he has developed MDD. Does anybody know what MDD stands for?” It felt like being in school all over again, and just like school, I didn’t know the answer. Apparently, nobody did. That seemed to make Lou apprehensive.

“MDD stands for Major Depression Disorder,” he answered his own question reluctantly, “And he has all the symptoms. He has an eating disorder as an observer clarified for me,” he looked strangely at Mike, I noticed, “He has severe weight loss,” he nodded at Dr. Hendrickson, “And he has had thoughts about suicide.” His eyes never left the doctor. “We have to help him.”

“He has gotten this way because upon learning that he has hereditary diabetes, he also learned that neither of his parents were diabetics. After a DNA test, he learned that they weren’t his biological parents. He realized himself that he was always miserable, anxious, and stressed and took it upon himself to visit the doctor, where he was prescribed with antidepressants. He called me the other day and I made him confess, and then granted him a personal leave. He’s leaving tonight and coming back in time for the All Star Game, seeing as how he is the second runner for shortstop and is one of our guitarists and singers for the concert we have agreed to hold beforehand. We’ll make sure he comes back.”

“Did he already leave?” Jason asked. Lou shook his head.

“How should I know? I don’t even know where he’s going!” he exclaimed. “I should maybe look into that.”

“Perhaps.” I said. This whole… day was coming as a shock to me. This was just overwhelming. I didn’t know whether or not I could take much more of today. I just wanted it to be over.


ONE DAY LATER

I was preparing for game two against the Brewers, our only threat in the season. It was August twenty ninth, which means that the All-Star Game would be on August 31st, a lot more than halfway through the season, which is why the board had decided to extend the season until October 10th, so the postseason probably wouldn’t end until early November. That wasn’t my first issue. My first issue was getting to the postseason.

I was warming up with Mark DeRosa and Ryan was nowhere to be seen. He went straight to a hotel room after our flight back and called his wife. Lou told us that he had gone to the doctor that night and today again, joining a group for people recovering from MDD. He would be out for the next two days and back in time for the All Star Game.

I was a front runner for the All-Star Game! Voting ended, and we had eight people going, the second most in franchise history. Theriot and I were shortstops, but I was starting, Soriano was a backup left fielder, DeRosa was a backup right fielder, Ramirez was a starting third baseman, Dempster was our starting pitcher and Marshall and Marquis were in the bullpen along with Shawn Balfour from the Giants and Aaron Cook from the Rockies.

I was playing short today because Dallas was negotiating with Ivan DeJesus, the Iowa Cubs head coach, deciding whether or not he should be moved up for good. I thought that he really deserved it and all, but I didn’t want to give up playing time, honestly. We had lost yesterday so the Brewers were closing the gap, making it only a three and a half game lead. It was rather nerve-racking, and the season wasn’t even halfway over, theoretically. Nicole was sitting in her front row seat down the third base line, over our dugout. I smiled at her as I caught DeRosa’s throws and when we went back into the dugout she was still smiling at me.

Ryan Dempster was pitching today as I took Dallas’ spot and DeRo was back in right. Everything else was pretty much the same.

After the workout day and yesterday’s ‘excitement’ it seemed like it had been forever since I played ball, and I was eager to get back. It was my own sense of therapy, unlike Ryan’s that would keep him away from the game for two days and come back for the All Star Game after not having played in four days and having gotten all shook up over the recent events. I think that everyone was shaken up. I had to wear an ankle brace because of my slip, but it was no big deal. I knew that Mike for sure had it worse.

O’Neal said that his leg was no better whilst it should have been, so after the game we were taking Mike to the doctor when Ryan came out, because it was already an idea to surprise him upon his exit. I knew that he needed a friendly face.

The umpire called game on so I took my old position at short and looked at Brian Roberts across from me at second. It was still strange seeing his face, threatening and unfamiliar, so I was just waiting until either Fontenot got better or Kosuke Fukedome got called up from the minors, but Lou said that it was his best interest to call up first baseman-outfielder Micah Hoffpauir instead. Either way, I wanted DeRo or Mike back at second.

Ray Durham, the second baseman, was up first. He had a lot of homers this season, more than ten, for sure, which was a lot compared to my measly five. I was one homerun away from getting the most in the Cubs organization in the past three seasons, which is an amazing feat. I already had the most out of any pitching rookie, and honor in itself.

Ryan Dempster through his first pitch inside but still in the zone for strike one as Durham watched it go. While he was a good hitter, he wasn’t nearly as good of a leadoff hitter as ours, Alfonso Soriano, who has lead the team in homeruns in the past two seasons and is currently leading this season with eighteen so far, and it was only halfway through.

Durham finally hit the ball, popping it straight to the outfield. Reed, playing center today, called it while he was standing next to DeRosa and caught it triumphantly. It was the usual start to the game, as long as we got a few first inning runs.

Former Cubs catcher Jason Kendall was up next. He led the major leagues in number of games played but didn’t have as many homers. He played about one hundred twenty games consecutively last season, while Geovany Soto was in second with about one hundred. He could have held out longer, but Zambrano broke his pinky finger with a one hundred three mile per hour fastball.

Why do these one hundred three mile per hour fastballs keep haunting me?

Jason Kendall struck out on four pitches to bring up Russell Branyan, the third baseman. I tried to give Brian Roberts my signal; he was never watching. I guess he wasn’t used to the signals Mark, Mike, Ryan and I give to each other when we’re in the infield. He did keep holding up his index and middle fingers at me, but I had no clue what that meant. I didn’t have enough time in between pitches to try to explain, either.

Branyan grounded out to Ramirez to end the top of the inning. On our way to the dugout, despite Nicole being there watching my every move, I explained to Roberts our signals.

“Okay, so I know you’re used to the finger thing or whatever,” I said, “But here, we do the open-mouthed closed-mouthed signals. Open means you cover, closed means I’ll cover.” I clarified. He just nodded and ran into the dugout. I followed him, trudging down the stairs and putting my mitt on the seat.

But something wasn’t right.

I counted the people in the dugout. There should have been seventeen people there, the starters, the four other pitchers, Jim, Dioner Navarro, Mike, and Daryle Ward. But there were only sixteen.

I counted everyone. Jim was there, talking to Reed. Navarro was there, talking to Soto. The other pitchers were all together in a mob of blue pullovers. Daryle was talking to Aramis. So that meant that Mike was missing.

There’s never a dull day in the baseball world, is there? I walked over to Jim, who I knew was on the bench the whole time. “Hey Jim, I noticed that Mike wasn’t here.”

“Yeah. Larry Rothschild had to take him to the doctor early.”

“Why?”

“Apparently his leg hurt so bad that he couldn’t handle it. He wanted a professional to look at it.” He shrugged. “That’s all I know.” I nodded and sat on the bench, watching Soriano strike out as usual to start our half of the game. Now it was Brian’s turn to try to get on base or get a homerun so we could keep up our streak of scoring in the first inning.

It looked like Roberts would get on with a single, but in the end, Mike Cameron made a diving save in left. So now it was up to Derrek Lee. He was sitting high with a three and oh count, and sure enough, CC Sabathia threw the ball near the ground to get Lee on with a walk. Now we had an opportunity.

And who is up but Mr. Clutch Aramis Ramirez? I had total faith that he could get us some solid points, either with a single to bring up Johnson, a multiple base hit to bring home Lee or just a nice old homerun to get both of them home. I really didn’t care as long as he got a hit.

After a long fouling streak, he got on with a single through shortstop J.J. Hardy to get Lee to third while he ran safely to first. Now it was up to Johnson to get them home.

“Come on, Reed, let’s keep it up and get some more points!” Jim yelled, as he was sitting next to me. I wanted to shout something out too, but I was at a loss for words. I was strangely apprehensive and I had no clue why. Something just wasn’t feeling right today.

I shook it out. Just some nerves left over from the ‘exciting’ day yesterday that had yet to get out. Or, at least that’s what I tried to convince myself. It wasn’t exactly working. My two days off from playing was getting the best of me.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Jim as I headed into the clubhouse and got some water. As I went to open the lid, I noticed that my hand was shaking. What was wrong with me?

My stomach was in knots as my anxiety grew. Something… wasn’t right. That was all I could get a hand on. I took a sip of water and sat down on the clubhouse bench, trying to ease my nerves. And who should walk in but…

Alan Trammell. The memories of the workout day were coming back to me. Did he even know that he had almost made Ryan kill himself? Did he know that he made everything go wrong? I looked at him, and I tried to read his gaze.

I think he was wondering, is it really my fault? It looked like he could read my mind the way he was staring into me. I wasn’t paying attention, and I finally snapped back into reality when he spoke.

“Are you feeling okay, Rogers?” I shut my eyes for a second as the feeling of queasiness spread over me again. “You look awfully pale.”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look it.”

“But I feel it,” I lied. I was a bad liar, too.

“I can tell that you aren’t feeling as well as you claim.” He said slyly, “Are you sure you’re okay?” I merely nodded. “Then get back onto the field; you should be playing right now.” I set down the water and slowly trudged upstairs, starting to wish that I hadn’t lied in the first place.

It was the ninth inning and we were down by two. I was up with two outs and two strikes on me with Soto on second after hitting a ground rule double that had gotten the crowd all riled up for me. I was so nervous that I was shaking. Or maybe it was the same feeling as before that never went away. I felt like puking, and that was literal. I thought I was going to collapse.

I wasn’t paying attention to the first two pitches, which is probably why they both went by while I was staring into the field longingly. I think I might have been hallucinating.

I dug my toe into the dirt and swung the bat back, ready to use all my strength to get through this one at bat. Sabathia looked determined to get me out. I swore that if he struck me out, I was going to get myself out of tomorrow’s game somehow, probably by telling Alan or Lou that I wasn’t feeling well after all; I wouldn’t be able to live with myself for the next week or so if I didn’t at least get a hit.

I swung my bat around, right hand over left, staring down Sabathia to the best of my ability. It didn’t seem to be working, because he was still boring down into me menacingly. He threw the pitch, a shifted my weight and without even looking at the ball, I swung the bat as hard as I possibly could, which was maybe the dumbest thing I could have done in the situation.

I was very relieved to find out that I had at least hit the ball. I was super shocked when I saw that it was going deep. Down the right field line, Soto was home already, I was just hoping that would matter. Over Ryan Braun’s head… could it make it? It was going to be close, or so I thought when I was rounding second base as fast as I possibly could. It was definitely possible.

I wasn’t paying attention to the base path, just watching where the ball was going. It looked like it was going to go, and…

GONE! Tie game! I stepped on home and gave Soto and Daryle Ward (who would be batting for Kerry Wood) a high five. I stepped into the dugout and celebrated.

All the fans were cheering me on for a curtain call. I looked at my smiling team. “Come on, Rogers, give them a curtain call!” Johnson exclaimed happily. I smiled slyly.

I ran to the steps, took off my helmet and waved it to the crowd. Nicole was standing right in front of me, cheering along with all the other fans that were waiting to get a high five. I slapped a few of their hands, and then I grabbed Nicole’s, pulled her closer and kissed her, long and hard, as the crowd went wild, just like my heart was.

I knew then that I was madly in love.

After I tied the game, we won in the eleventh inning when Ramirez got Roberts home with a single. After Roberts touched home, J.J. Hardy, who had allowed the winning run in when it rolled past him, took off his hat and threw it into the dugout before going inside.

I ran out of our dugout and joined the huge pile surrounding Ramirez and Roberts, a victory celebration that I never got sick of being a part of. We celebrated, and then gave each other high fives like the winning team always has to do. I ran into the dugout with everyone else, still happy and relieved that I had helped that win happen and that I wasn’t feeling anxious anymore. I grabbed my bag and headed out the door to see my car in the parking lot. We had canceled the trip to the doctor because Mike had already gone. Nicole was about to get into her car, so I veered off the course of the players’ car lot. I had to talk to her.

“Hey,” I said, running up, “Can I talk to you for a second?” She smiled at me.

“Sure. What about?” All the other cars were leaving the lot. “Is there a problem?” she asked nervously.

“No, exactly the opposite,” I said, “After that homerun, when I was so overwhelmed, and…” I paused. “Long story short, I think I’m truly and honestly in love with you.”

She looked at me, shocked, and that’s when I thought that maybe it was too soon to admit my feelings. “I feel the same exact way.” She beamed. “Just, one thing… can you prove it to me?”

“Absolutely.” I said, leaning in again and holding her cheek as I kissed her for the longest time yet. People in the parking lot were staring, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t stop; I had to be with her.

“Mark,” she said, pulling out of the moment, “I…” she stopped. I was also at a loss for words. “I… have to go.” She said, getting in her car. I stood there, confused as she pulled out of her parking space. I shrugged as some Brewers fans that were leaving started laughing at me. I shook my head and left. They didn’t know what was going on.

I didn’t, either.

“Try again,” I laughed; pulling apart DeRosa and Cotts, “We have to get this right.” Since the All-Star Game was so close, the Summer Caravan was the day before the All-Star Game Break and we were performing the opening concert, I had taken it upon myself to help choreograph, seeing as how I was a singer previously and wrote a hit song and had to make a music video. Therefore, I was more experienced.

DeRosa, Cotts, Theriot and I were on Wrigley Field grounds at about seven thirty after the game. We were practicing You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi, which Neal and I were performing, and It’s Not My Time, which Mark and I were performing, but trying to work on them at the same time. I was singing in all the songs but one, Gotta Be Somebody by Nickel back, because we all knew that I was a singer. Now, anyway.

Theriot and I were performing Headstrong by Trapt, because that was his signature song after Rob Jones, the former Brewers catcher, and Mark DeRosa had both punched him in the face. We had to clean up the words, though, because I don’t think the director of the MLB would be happy if we went around singing the F and S words with little kids in the stadium, and besides, Ryan wouldn’t say those words. The only problem with the whole thing was that Theriot was too scared to sing in front of people. DeRosa tried to make it a cynical experience and Cotts was actually a pretty good singer. Ryan refused to open his mouth.

What made it especially frustrating was that I wasn’t allowed to pressure him too hard any way because he was still fragile, or so the doctor said. I really wanted to reason him, but I wasn’t allowed to use a tone with him, so I was in a rut.

“Okay, guys, should we just go freestyle?” I asked. Cotts shook his head no.

“With DeRosa here? You’ve got to be kidding me. Someone would end up getting trampled.”

“Yeah – it would probably end up being someone in the bleachers with his… ‘skill’”. Ryan joked. That was one of the first times I had heard him talk in about the last hour.

“So… what do you want to do then?”

“Hey, man, you’re the expert. You tell us—we’re waiting for your opinion.” DeRosa said, stepping forward. “I need you to teach me how to not sound and look like a dying rhinoceros when I flail around, trying to spin and sing at the same time.” One thing that I always liked about DeRosa was that he always added comic relief to the situation.

The ironic part was that he was telling the truth – I would have said dying hippo, but rhinoceros is even better to describe what he looked like.

I opened the door and walked into my room to see the bathroom door open and the light on. I looked inside to see Nicole combing her wet hair. I knocked on the wall a few times so she would acknowledge my being there. “Nicole?”

“Oh, hey, Mark.” She said frantically. I think she knew what I was going to talk about.

“So… about today…”

“I knew you were going to say that!” And I knew she was going to say that. “I’m really sorry, Mark, but I do feel that way, and you know it. It’s just that… I’ve never felt so close to anyone, and it scared me a little.” I smiled and stepped into the room a little more.

“That could be just about the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard,” I laughed, “Are you serious?”

“Okay… I don’t know. I guess I was just feeling anxious.”

“I can relate.” I said honestly, “I was feeling really anxious for no reason. And then I hit that homerun.”

“So… what are you saying?”

“The best things can happen when you aren’t ready for them to come.” I said. I knew that I wasn’t the deepest person, but I was surprised I could think of that with my inexistent skill.

“That might be the lamest line I ever heard,” she laughed, throwing her hairbrush at me. I ducked out of the way and laughed along with her. “Let’s just forget this, alright?”

I nodded and walked away, leaving her alone. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so great again.

I was getting ready the next morning, still feeling awful. I was debating whether or not I would go to the game today when the doorbell went off. I walked slowly to the door, pondering the true source of my pain. I opened it with a shaking hand.

“Mom?” I gasped; astounded as my mom was standing in the doorway with Chelsea and Kelly. I heard Alexandra, Alexis and Michael somewhere in the hallway. “What are you doing here?” She looked astounded as she saw Nicole walking through the living room.

“I heard that you were in the All Star Game, and I thought I’d come over and watch.”

“You know it’s in New York, right?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m just stopping by before we get on the next flight over there.” I nodded.

“Okay. Do you want to… come inside?” I hadn’t seen my mother in years, and she looked very young. I did the math – she was thirty eight, which was the exact age of Jim Edmonds. I tried not to think about that.

“No, we really should be going.” She said.

“Okay… see you in New York, I guess.” I said as she walked down the hallway and I watched her go. I closed the door and turned to see Nicole, her mouth agape.

“That’s your mother?” She asked, “She’s like, half my mother’s age!”

“Yeah, you be quiet.” I said, “It’s not my fault she had a kid when she was eighteen.”

“Eighteen? Are you kidding me?”

“Ha, ha. Very funny.” I said, going into my room and rifling through my drawers. “Something’s got to be wrong. There’s no other reason she would come.” My stomach was still twisting up in knots.

There was definitely something wrong with the situation.

We had a night game that day, so Ryan had showed up, but without the doctor’s note necessary for him to be allowed to play.

“Dallas, you’re going to be our shortstop today,” Lou said, “Rogers, I heard that you weren’t feeling well. I thought I would give you a chance to recuperate before the All Star Game.” I nodded. My head was still killing me and my stomach was queasy. “You just sit and relax.”

Sit, I could do. Relax, that was a different story. How could I relax when it was the last game before the All Star Game? I looked around the dugout. Ryan and I were the only two getting a break before the All Star Game. Even Marquis was playing today. I also noticed that Mike was gone again, so I naturally went back to Jim. “Where’s Mike today?”

“At the hospital. He needs surgery on his leg, they said that his bone got misplaced. He needs surgery. It’s like Ryan’s situation, but hopefully it won’t have the same… side effects.” He said, related to Ryan’s illness of MDD.

I bit my tongue. “Yeah.” That was all I could get out. I uncomfortably turned my attention back to the field as everyone was warming up. It was pretty boring.

My foot was tapping subconsciously as Jim shot weird looks in my direction. He also must have noticed that my hands were shaking and I was sweating uncontrollably. “Are you okay?”

I nodded half-heartedly. “Do you want me to get Mark O’Neal?” he added cautiously. I was about to shake my head, but then I got my common sense back. I nodded, still finding it difficult to speak. Jim shot up like a rocket. He came up moments later with O’Neal.

“How are you feeling, Mark?” he asked, standing me up. I almost fell over forward when he let go.

“Dizzy. Anxious.” I replied. “Apprehensive.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” I said. He led me toward the stairs and helped me down as Jim looked after me curiously.

“It’s weird having you on this end,” he stated as he sat me down on the doctor’s bench. “So you’re anxious?”

“Yes.” I said, up-tightly. “And I don’t know why.”

“How’s your head feeling?”

“Sweaty.” I answered, then I snapped out of it. “I mean… it hurts really bad, long story short.”

“What kind of pain, stabbing or throbbing?” he asked, taking his light and checking in my ears, eyes and throat.

“Stabbing.” I responded finally, after a long time of questioning.

“What about your stomach?”

“Stabbing.”

“Okay, that wasn’t the question but it helps.” He put the light away. “Your throat is red. You should start losing your voice soon, if not right now, and your eyes are really bloodshot. Are you stressed out?” I nodded. When are you not stressed out as a professional athlete? “Game related or home related?”

“Home.” I said, thinking about my mother and sisters and friends’ mysterious appearance, and I remembered back to when Nicole had walked away from me in the parking lot. “Definitely home.” He nodded. “I don’t know what to prescribe you with but Nervio.” I looked at him blankly.

“Nervio?” I asked, wiping my hands on my pants.

“The medical name for stress.” I nodded.

“You know I could have come up with that myself.” I said. I for sure wasn’t in an agreeable mood. “How long will it take for it to go away?”

“Either about a week of relaxation or until you get the thing that’s really bothering you out of the way. You just have to find out what that is.”

“I have a pretty good idea.” I said, once again thinking about Nicole’s car driving away as the Brewers fans made fun of me, standing alone in the parking lot as the girl whom supposedly loved me drove away, of her not talking to me at home, and of my mother coming in unexpectedly and me knowing that something wasn’t right. That was a lot to sort out in such little time.

We lost badly in the ninth inning, five to one, and I was the first to leave. I ran to my car right away and went to my apartment and threw my things on the ground. How could I relieve stress faster? I wanted to be stress-free in time for the All Star Game.

I went to my computer and booted it up and searched for stress. A few websites came up, but every one I clicked on had the same remedy – time. I angrily shut off my computer as Nicole walked in the door. “Hey Mark,” she exclaimed, also throwing her things on the ground. I didn’t mind.

“Nicole,” I acknowledged. I felt a stabbing pain, but this time in my heart. I remembered that we never straightened things out, that it ended with a joke. I couldn’t bear it. I was about to say something but stopped as my heart started aching, while I knew that it was my subconscious mind trying to make a joke. Struggling for words, I simply turned on my heel and left. Maybe she would see what it felt like to have someone just leave, making you stand there alone and confused.

I was in my room when I realized what I had done. I had no clue I could be so heartless. I opened the door and she was still standing there. “Nicole?”

“Yes?”

“Uh… when is your water coming back on?”

“Either tonight or tomorrow.” I stepped outside.
“Look, there’s something… we need to talk about.”

“I’ve been waiting for this.” I stopped in my tracks.

“What?”

“I knew you were going to do this.” That took me aback.

“No, but… if you thought we weren’t going to last then…” she turned and looked at me longingly, “Then that gives me a different… perspective.” She looked back at me strangely. “If you apparently ‘knew’ that this wasn’t happening…”

“Oh jeez, Mark, don’t do this to yourself.” She said petulantly, “I didn’t mean it.” I looked at her in disbelief.

“You didn’t mean it?”

“Mark, we don’t need to do this.”

“Are you insane? We desperately need to talk about this!” She stared back at me. “Look--”

“You know what, Mark? You are right.” She looked at me meaningfully. “I’m not feeling it and I know you aren’t either.” That was a downright lie. I was definitely feeling it. “I do think that it’s over.”

“Really?” I asked cynically, “You do? Because I think that I was maybe about to do the same exact thing.”

“Well maybe I beat you.”

“Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.” I said. She looked at me angrily. “Maybe you should just leave.”

“Maybe I should.” She said, starting toward the door. “And maybe this was a mistake.” As soon as the door closed, I knew that I was the one who had made the mistake. I remembered when I hit the homerun, and I took it upon myself to lean over the stands just to be with her. I stood in the middle of the parking lot just to be with her. And I knew that in this fight, I was the idiot.

I turned around and looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot from stress and I hadn’t shaved in about a week. “The thing that sucks the most,” I said to myself, “Is that I’m the one who’s going to end up alone after this, too.” She was still beautiful to me, no matter what happened. I knew from past experience that this wasn’t my strong suit. I never had the courage to talk to anyone unless it was to make them an enemy, and I looked horrible anyway. “This just sucks.”

I was awoken by my emergency alarm clock the next morning, which proves that I had overslept. I slammed my hand onto the table and groaned. I barely opened my eyes to see sunlight streaming through the windows. I checked the clock – 8 a.m. I had overslept three hours.

I rolled out of bed and looked in the mirror. I looked disgusting. I brushed my teeth and put on my glasses, seeing as how my eyes were still barely open. I felt my long hair that hadn’t been cut in months, and decided that it was time to cut it. Myself.

I grabbed the scissors and looked. I looked kind of like Mike Fontenot. I remembered Kelly, who had dreamed of going to beauty school. Where was she?

I cut it as evenly as I could and it sure looked different. I looked under the sink and found some spiking gel. I poured some out and spread it through my palms and scrubbed it into my hair, making it stand up. I looked in the mirror. I looked like I belonged in a boy band. But it was too late now.

I changed into my Cubs shirt to get ready for the caravan that was starting in about an hour that I would probably be late for if I didn’t get out within the next five minutes. I grabbed my hat at the last minute and shoved it on my head. Maybe nobody would realize my new hair do.

I got in the car and turned the ignition. The radio buzzed to life to the song You and Me by Life house. I forced a laugh. Ironic, in a sick way.

I shut off the radio and let my head collapse onto the steering wheel. Suddenly, the horn honked and I brought my head up slowly. That was also when I remembered that I still had my glasses on.

“Come on,” I said, adjusting them on my nose. It was too late to turn back now, again. I put the car in drive and sped out of the parking lot.

I kept drifting off from the road, only focusing as I remembered the car accident I had earlier in life. My scar was almost faded now. I pulled in at the general hospital, our first stop. Standing outside waiting already were Mark, Aramis, Carlos Zambrano, Dallas Hill, Rich Hill (not related), and Ryan, everyone who was doing the Summer Caravan that we had decided to have this year, instead of the Winter Caravan that we usually have.

“Finally,” Carlos said, walking in the door. I shrugged and walked at the end of the line behind Ryan. He looked suspicious.

“Are you okay?” he asked timidly. I shrugged.

“I dunno, are you?” I asked sourly. He gave me a weird look and turned around and started talking to DeRosa in front of him. I wasn’t yet ready for human confrontation.

As soon as Zambrano got through the door, he stopped in his tracks. I was looking at the ground until I bumped into Ryan. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” He said apathetically, trying to look over DeRosa, but as you can guess, it didn’t work well.

“Gregg?” DeRosa shouted over everyone else. “Are you serious?” DeRosa got out of line and Ryan could finally see.

“Hey, Rex!” he said, also jumping out of line and heading over to the distraction. I heard Zambrano snicker.

“He would know him,” he said sarcastically to Aramis, and they both laughed about it. I still didn’t know who was there. Apparently everyone else did, but I couldn’t see over Rich when he acknowledged someone named Kyle.

Kyle, Rex and Gregg… I was starting to make a connection. Who else was doing a Summer Caravan this year? The Chicago Bears. It was Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, and Gregg Oleson, along with Brad Maynard and Robbie Gould. Hmm. This day just kept getting better. Now more people had to see me as a miserable wreck.

“Are all of you together?” The receptionist asked. Kyle shook his head.

“Not unless…”

“I think its best that we each go separately. We’d cover more ground.” Rich Hill stated. Everyone nodded. “Check us in separately.”

We headed over to floor five as Brad, Robbie, Gregg, Kyle and Rex went to floor eight. We would each cover to floors and go on to the local middle schools, our next stop, where we would be able to teach about ten minutes of our best class. Carlos and Aramis were teaching Spanish, Mark was teaching Social Science, Rich was teaching French, Dallas was teaching Math, Ryan was teaching Science and I was teaching English. After that, we’d go to a Youth Hospital Clinic, then to a fan rally set up in central Chicago, and finally to Kerry Wood’s Strike Zone where everyone would meet up for a bowling party. After that, Neal, Mark, Ryan and I were going to break off and choreograph for the opening concert tomorrow.

The nurse who was instructing us handed us all masks that we slipped over our faces. That wasn’t a good sign.

She opened the door cautiously as we all followed her inside. There was a man, about the age of one of us, lying in a hospital bed. It reminded me of myself, but he was almost definitely more contagious. “He has colon cancer. The mask is just a precaution.”

I breathed a sign of relief and stayed back as Mark and Rich walked up and started talking to the guy. They were used to this after doing it every year for the Winter Caravan. Dallas and I were new, Ryan was relatively new, it was only his second Caravan, and Zambrano and Ramirez just didn’t speak English too well.

This guy’s problem made me realize that my problem was less trivial. He had a certain time left to live and was apparently considering euthanasia. It was depressing. I wondered how Ryan would fare, seeing someone else who would try suicide, but who was a lot worse off than him.

I stood back, still feeling kind of sorry for myself, just leaning against a wall next to Dallas, who just looked scared for some reason. “What’s your problem?” I asked. He sighed.

“I’m just not used to it.” He said. Ryan was listening in.

“What’s your problem?” He asked bitterly. I could tell that he didn’t appreciate my comment earlier. I sneered at him.

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.” He shrugged.

“I don’t have one.”

“What kind of excuse is that?”

“Look, Mark, I don’t appreciate the way you’ve been acting. I think that whatever your problem is, you should suck it up.”

I turned to him. “What happened to your immense vocabulary?”

“It only comes out when I have strong emotions.” He said honestly, “And right now my sentiment is gradually turning astringent because of you.”

“So now it’s coming out?”

“Okay, Mark, yes. I can’t help it! I went to college, I graduated college with a major other than sports education, and I learned something. You should feel incompetent compared to me if anything.” I smirked.

“So now you’re confident. I guess your learning something in your class.” He turned away bitterly.

“Just shut up, Mark.” He said, “It isn’t funny.” I shrugged and also turned away. The nurse walked into the room.

“You have another room to visit, guys.” She claimed. I took my spot at the end of the line and walked out of the room, not even looking at the poor guy who was going to die soon. I couldn’t believe myself.

It took us awhile to get to our last room. This one was a little boy who was diagnosed as a hemophiliac. That was why he wasn’t allowed to leave the room. Ryan and Dallas took the liberty of talking to him. I hung back again.

“So, I can’t help but notice that you’ve been acting strange lately,” DeRosa said. “What’s up?” I shrugged.

“What’s up with you?”

“I’m perfectly fine. I want to know what’s wrong with you.” He started to whisper. “The last thing we want is another person to end up with MDD again like Ryan.” I nodded.

“True, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, “I think it would help.” I shrugged.

“Okay, but you can’t tell anyone else.” I sighed as he nodded. “My girlfriend and I broke up yesterday, and I’m starting to see that it was a mistake.” He looked astonished.

“Nicole? The girl who you leaned over the railing for? The--”

“The girl who drove away, leaving me alone and confused in the middle of the parking lot?” I added, “The girl who wouldn’t even acknowledge it afterward?”

“That’s harsh,” he sympathized, “I’m sorry, man.”

“It’s too late now.” He nodded.

“Well, you know, I broke up with Heidi once,” he said, referring to his wife, “And two years later, we got married. There’s always hope.”

“I guess,” I shrugged. “I hope there is.”

Mark looked at his watch. “Whoa, guys, we have to go.” He exclaimed. We said our last goodbye to our last patient and took off to the local Junior High school.

Our team bus pulled into the City of Chicago Middle school, where we were greeted by a dilapidated building and a grungy principal. We all shook his hand.

“I know that you guys are all… well off, but it’s my job to inform you that the average middle school around here is maybe even worse looking than this one.” I gaped. I thought my apartment was inadequate. “And I think that it’s great that you’re spending time with the kids. Our teachers aren’t all too qualified…”

“Which is where we step in,” Ryan said, “We’ve all volunteered to teach a bit of our best class from high school and junior high.”

“And I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“Do you want us to separate or travel together?” Rich volunteered. The principal pondered.

“I think that the kids would benefit most if you were all there to help. They’d just all have one main teacher.” We nodded. “And once again, thank you so much.” He opened the rusted door that led us into the building with peeling paint and cracked windows. The first class was Spanish.

“Hola!” Carlos said, walking in. “Tiene tengo la camisa negra!” he shouted, pointing to a kid in the front row. Ramirez laughed as he followed him into the room. I looked around and saw Ryan trying to decipher it.

“You have a black shirt,” he concluded. He looked at the kid who was wearing a black shirt. “Yep.”

“Levantarse!” he shouted. “Levantarse rapido!” I looked at Ryan again.

“Stand up quickly,” he said as the kids all stood up. Ramirez laughed.

“No, mas despacio!” He yelled, “Sientate!” The kids sat back down.

“More slowly, sit down.” Ryan concluded, muttering under his breath. “I can’t keep up.”

“Que el deberes?” He asked. I looked at Ryan again, who just shrugged.

“NONE!” the kid ‘Tiene tengo la camisa negra’ shouted. Carlos leaned over to us.

“That means, ‘what is the homework’.” He translated and we all nodded. He turned to the class. “Que tiempo hace hoy?” Ryan snapped his fingers.

“What is the weather outside!” he said. A boy in the back row raised his hand as Zambrano called on him.

“El studiante en la parte de atrás la habitación doble.” We all looked from one to another with no clue what he said. Aramis translated this time.

“The student in the back row of the single room, or classroom in this case.” He said. We all nodded. Well, I was learning something.

“Soleado exceptuando
nublado menos hace color!” he yelled. Zambrano nodded. Ryan was trying to piece it together.

“Sunny except cloudy but it is warm outside?” he said. Ramirez nodded.

“Excelente!” Zambrano applauded the kid. “Como te llamas en espanol?” I didn’t take Spanish any year.

“What is your name in Spanish?” Ryan whispered to Dallas, who nodded. It seems like they both took Spanish.

“Guillermo!” The kid shouted and Ramirez laughed. The teacher stood up from her desk.

“Son las dos menos diez!” she announced as the kids groaned. I assumed that meant that our time was up.

“Adios!” Aramis yelled as he walked out the door to be greeted by the principal.

“I heard a bit. You seem very… up to par. Maybe I should consider getting you a vocation here.” Carlos laughed.

“I’m happy with my job. I was surprised the kids could keep up.”

“God knows I couldn’t.” I muttered sourly under my breath. Ryan gave me a quick glare and kept looking ahead.

“Next stop.” He said, stopping in front of a Social Science room. Dallas urged Mark ahead.

“This is all you.” He said as Mark walked in and we all followed, putting a smile on our faces just for the kids, even though I was miserable.

“Get better soon!” Rich exclaimed as we headed out of the recovery ward. We were in the Chicago Youth Hospital clinic, which made me even more depressed because now I had visions of sick children in my mind. Today was… awful.

“Now where are we going?” Rich asked happily. DeRosa consulted the schedule and pointed.

“We have to be at the fan rally in about half an hour,” He stated, “Let’s get going.”
We nodded and got onto the bus. The inside resembled more of a train, with large windows and tables with booths. I took a seat and DeRosa sat across from me.

“So… what’s with the hat?” He asked. My hands shot up to my head. I had completely forgotten about the stupid haircut!

“Oh, nothing…” I muttered.

“And the glasses?”

“Ran out of contacts.” I lied, looking out the window. I knew he was going to make me admit the truth.

“Okay, now I’m going to ask you again, and this time, I want nothing but the truth coming out of your mouth. What’s with the glasses?”

“I overslept,” I admitted, deciding that if I just gave in, it would be over with a lot faster. He nodded.


“And the hat?”

“I cut my hair and realized how stupid that was.” I muttered. He gave me a weird look.

“You cut your own hair?”

“Yep. I’m not in the best mood, and I really can’t think straight, if you haven’t noticed.” I kept looking out the window as DeRosa quickly snatched the hat off my head.

“Wow.” He said, looking at my hideously spiky hair. “That’s… new.” I grabbed the hat back.

“It’s going to take forever for it to grow back, too.” I said miserably. “As if that’s the worst of my problems.”

“I think it looks good,” Mark confessed, “Not half bad. You look like… I can’t place a finger on it… someone.”

“Wow.” I said embarrassedly. “That narrows it down.” Mark snapped his fingers in realization.

“You look like a blonde Aras Baskauskas but with shorter hair.” He concluded. I looked at him strangely. “Oh, you don’t know who that is, do you?”

“Oh, I know full well who that is, and that’s what astonishes me.” I said, “I didn’t know that anyone watched Survivor.”

“It’s the third most watched show on television.” He stated, “Or it was the year Aras won.”

“Yeah.”

“But I think that’s a pretty close bet.” He concluded. I looked at my reflection in the window without my hat and ran my fingers through my hair.

“Definitely.” I laughed. “More than I realized. That’s a good thing, too, because Aras was by far my favorite that season.” I finished laughing. “I think I’ll make it through this.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t doubt it.”

“It’s tough, because it’s my first… real breakup.” I admitted. “I mean, in high school, this girl… Laura Mays… well, we went out for about a week, and then she broke up with me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She was kind of popular. I think the whole deal was that in order to keep her reputation, she needed a date to the dance, and I was the only guy left. Then she broke up with me. But Nicole was really the first.”

“What do you mean, first?”

“The first girl I was actually in love with,” I said, “And I don’t think that it was meant to end… so soon.”

“You still have feelings for her?”

“Obviously!” I yelled. The others looked over at me. “Sorry.” I said. Dallas looked amazed.

“Mark, what did you do to your hair?” I shrugged.

“Whatever,” I said, standing up and shoving my hat back on my head. I walked toward the back of the bus, not knowing where I was really heading. I ended up taking a seat simply in the back and twiddling my thumbs silently while the ride went on.

We got off the bus and ran into the rest of the team who wasn’t taking part in the Caravan. After this, we were going to Kerry Wood’s Strike Zone to have a party, and then the day would be over for everyone but me, Mark, Ryan and Neal. I was thinking about ducking out of the lesson today.

We got off the bus and met up with the rest of the players as the crowd went wild. We all ran down the line being held back by the fence and gave them all high fives. Lou was there and he handed us all pens.

“They want signatures.” He said happily, handing them out. “Go give them what they want.” A lot of the fans had signs or baseballs or something they wanted signed. We all lined up in number order, meaning I was behind Reed, and ran through the line, signing autographs. First we ran through the front row, and then the second, third, etcetera, until everyone got what they wanted. Then they lined up.

“Hello, I’m Dan Plesac, Fox Sports announcer and your emcee today!” Dan Plesac yelled over the crowd. “I’m here with the Chicago Cubs players and coaching staff. Now, all of you guys, a few of these fans have questions, so we’re going to pick whichever fan is the loudest…” he said as the fans went wild, “And let that fan ask their question. Let’s let the contest begin!”

He started walking through the rows, hearing how loud everyone was as a worker got a microphone out of the Fox Sports truck and held it, waiting to hand it out.

“We have a winner!” Dan announced. “What’s your name?” he asked a teenage girl in the third row.

“Erika,” she screamed.

“Okay, Erika, who is your question for?” She was breathing heavily from all the screaming she had been doing.

“Mark Rogers,” she said. My heart sank.

“What’s your question?”

“Well, first, I heard that you’re a singer,” she commented, “So I was wondering… could you sing a song?” Oh God. What song was I supposed to sing? The worker handed me the microphone and I grabbed it out of his hand. Mark DeRosa was giving me a meager look.

“Well, what song?” I asked the crowd. They all started yelling at the same time as Dan calmed them down.

“How about a sneak peek of a song you’re going to sing tomorrow?” He asked as I nodded, trying to look felicitous but knowing full well that it was failing. I was about to speak when Erika grabbed the microphone out of Dan’s hands.

“Wait!” She yelled, “First you have to take your hat off!” Did they know by the suspicious look in my eyes that I had changed my appearance? Dan nodded at me and I looked at Mark and Dallas, who both motioned for me to comply. I shrugged and slowly removed my hat, and when the crowd saw what I had done, they went wild. Reed, who was standing next to me, grabbed the hat out of my hands and threw it into the crowd.

“You don’t need it,” He said, all-knowingly. I weakly smiled. DeRosa quickly walked up to me.

“This is going to be televised and Nicole is going to be watching,” he said, “So make sure that you look perfectly fine, and if she wants you back as badly as you want her back, it’ll happen.” He said. I nodded and plastered a fake smile on my face. I could be confident.

Mark went back in line and I held the microphone up to my mouth. “Okay, guys,” I said, smiling happily at the camera, “How about… Chariot by Gavin DeGraw?” Everyone went wild again, cheering as I started to play the music in my mind, seeing as how there was no traveling band accompanying me everywhere I went.

I began to sing, but the only problem was that I didn’t know the song by heart, so after the first verse and chorus, I stopped. It seemed to be enough for the fans, who went fanatical afterward. Even the players were applauding. I just smiled, pretending to be happy for the camera. In reality, I was still the miserable wreck I came into today being.

“STRIKE!” DeRosa shouted, willing the ball to knock over all the pins. He was the best bowler at the party by far, and his team was beating ours by a lot.

Eight of the pins were knocked over, but his team still jumped up happily. I looked back to our lane and Marshall getting ready to take his shot.

“Come on, Sean, you beat him last year! You came in first!” Ryan Dempster yelled as DeRosa knocked over both of his remaining pins. They were winning by about fifty, so we technically had no chance whatsoever. Sean took the next shot confidently anyway.

He also knocked over eight, but ended up with a seven-ten split. We all groaned as he picked up his next ball. “Let’s go, Sean!” Dempster yelled. On the next lane, Ryan Theriot was taking his shot.

Sean let the ball roll down the lane, aimed at the pin on the right. It was a good shot, and he actually had a chance. It hit the back of the right pin and it went flying toward the one on the left, and…

Missed. No spare for that shot. Apparently Ryan had gotten four pins knocked over, a personal best for him in one shot, and was aiming to take his next. He threw it and actually managed to get a spare. They won in a landslide victory.

“And Mark DeRosa’s team takes the victory this year! Sorry, Sean Marshall’s team, you weren’t so lucky.” We took the loss well and made a joke out of it as we walked, defeated, off our lane.

“Well, it should have been a good match,” Dan Plesac, still the emcee, announced. “But the pro bowler won this year, after last year’s upset. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year.”

DeRosa motioned me to come over to lane 6, which was unoccupied, and I followed him over there. “What is it?”

“Tomorrow, during the concert, you have to look really confident. I have a feeling that she might take you back,” he said, “Because I can tell, just from the reaction to your new hairdo at the fan rally that the girls are all going to dig you. So all you have to do is sing well, too. Then she’s yours.” I nodded.

“That could work.” I said. I wondered what she was doing right now.

“Just remember, you’re confident. You know that everyone loves you and your just going to prove it to her. It’s going to work.”

“There’s just one thing missing from this scheme.” I said, “And that’s practice. Come on, we need to get this choreography down.” He nodded and we ran to get Ryan and Neal and start practicing for the concert. We also needed to get Dempster for the bass and Marquis for the drums so we could practice actually playing the music. We headed off in different directions to find the others.

“The starting National League lineup is, at pitcher, from the Chicago Cubs, Ryan Dempster!” The National League side of the crowd was going crazy. It was the day of the All Star Game and we were all in the dugout, waiting to be called and then waiting to have our concert. Ryan sprinted up the steps and onto the field. He waved to the NL side of the crowd and shook the hand of the director of Major League Baseball Andrew Levourne. We were all applauding in the dugout. The guy in charge of the PA system kept talking. “And catching for Ryan Dempster is starting catcher, from the Cincinnati Reds, Paul Bako!” Paul ran up the steps also, waved to the crowd and shook Levourne’s hand. Levourne was a young man for the responsibility of being in charge of the baseball league. He must have been middle to late thirties, the age of some players.

“Starting left fielder, from the Milwaukee Brewers is Ryan Braun!” Braun followed suit of the two people before and jogged up the stairs and shook Andrew’s hand. Next should be the right fielder. “Starting right fielder, from the Los Angeles Dodgers is Andre Ethier!” Ethier took off, too. I was sitting on the bench, still waiting. Ryan was showing Charlie Manuel, the Phillies’ manager, his doctor’s slip that enabled him to play, trying to prove that he could go in after about the fifth inning. Manuel simply nodded and Ryan sat back down on the bench by the secondary players.

“Next, our starting center fielder from the New York Mets is Ryan Church!” Church took his turn and went up the stairs. I could barely even see over the rail, and I started zoning out. I would pay attention when they got to the infielders, after second baseman. “Starting third baseman from the Chicago Cubs is Aramis Ramirez!” Ramirez, who had been sitting next to me silently, stood up and disappeared from view. I was nervous.

“Starting second baseman from the Philadelphia Phillies is Chase Utley!” It was starting to sound repetitive. “Starting first baseman from the Cardinals is Albert Pujols!” I sighed. I was next. I got ready to stand up, my legs shaking. I would have to sing in front of all these people?

“Starting shortstop from the Chicago Cubs is Mark Rogers!” I stood up anxiously. I barely heard him say my name. I adjusted my hat that I had to wear to be introduced, but DeRosa had commanded me that I had to take it off when I went to sing. I carefully trotted up the steps, making sure not to fall. I slowly jogged down the field and waved at the National League side, then went up to Andrew Levourne and shook his freezing cold hand. I fake smiled and took my spot next to Albert Pujols. I looked to the crowd and saw my mom and sisters sitting in their seats, way up high. I could barely see them, but in my heart I knew it was them. I looked around for Nicole. I couldn’t see her anywhere, but she had told me a while ago that she had tickets. Oh well. She didn’t need to be here.

“And our bullpen today consists of Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall for the Cubs, Shawn Balfour from the Rays and Aaron Cook from the Rockies.” Everyone applauded as the nine of us, me in the back, went and ran down the line, giving high fives to the American League team.

“The game is scheduled to start in a few hours, so first, the reason why a lot of you are probably here so early, I’m going to hand the microphone over to Mr. Mark Rogers to tell you more about what’s going on.” He gave me the microphone as I motioned for DeRosa, Theriot, Cotts, Marquis and Dempster to come onto the field as the other players all cleared out into their respective dugouts.

“Okay,” I announced, as my voice was propelled through the stadium. That made me really nervous. “So, Mark, Ryan, Neal, Jason, the other Ryan and I are having a little opening concert before we see some action. We have about… eleven songs to sing? Yeah, so, without further ado, let’s begin.” I set the microphone into the stand as Aramis, Sean and Alfonso carried the instruments out. Marquis set up his drum set and Dempster got out his bright red bass. Mark took out his blue electric guitar and stood by Dempster, showing off the red and blue of their guitars. Ryan took out his acoustic guitar and began to tune as I cleared my throat. “And please welcome Sean Marshall, who will be announcing for us.” Sean took the microphone meekly.

“Hey everyone,” Sean said as they all began to tune and Jason checked to make sure that his snare drum was on. “We’re going to have four singers featured today, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Neal Cotts, and mainly, the only guy on our team who’s actually a singer and has written songs that were actually played on the radio, Mark Rogers!” The crowd applauded madly, or at least the National League side. The American League side kind of sat back, a few of them applauded. “Which brings us to the first song, featuring Mark Rogers, Chariot by Gavin DeGraw originally, and Mark will also be playing the piano.” I took of my hat as the crowd cheered and then I cleared my throat and sat behind the piano and pressed a few keys while I spoke.

“If any of you were at or were watching the fan rally in Chicago yesterday, you will have heard a sneak peek of this song, so let’s start.” I pressed a few more keys and then started tapping my foot as everyone else started waiting impatiently for me to begin. I began to play the right notes as Marquis joined in a few notes later, followed by Ryan Dempster and finally Ryan Theriot. I started singing the first verse and when I was about to get to the chorus, DeRo finally got to play.

My backup singer was DeRosa in the chorus, and I tried to make it sound as much like Gavin as I could. Apparently it was working because everyone was really getting into it. I knew that the band sounded well off, like the exact same as Gavin DeGraw. I was playing piano, as he did in this song, and I really felt professional when the crowd started singing along.

Finally the song ended and I sat up as the crowd stood up, too, giving me a standing ovation. Sean picked up the microphone again and began to introduce the next song. I took my seat behind the piano again and stretched my fingers out, trying to remember to look confident.

“The next song is newer, and most of you probably know it. The new song by OAR, Shattered, or Turn the Car Around.” He sat back down on his little bench on the outskirts of where we were playing as I turned the microphone on.

“One, two, three, four,” I counted and started on the piano introduction. Marquis followed, followed by Dempster. DeRosa and Theriot were sitting on stools and waiting to come in. About ten measures in, DeRosa started playing quietly. Ryan didn’t play at all, so he had a microphone stand and was singing backup.

This song was tough to sing because of all the different tempos. It started off really fast where the words kind of ran together and it went to the chorus, which was slower.

In the second verse, I had to use the word darn instead of the swear, making a lot of the crowd laugh, but I knew they understood the consequences of my swearing in front of the audience.

I tried to do my best vibrato in the bridge, but it was short, and I was only good at my long vibratos. Nobody could really tell, though. I knew that my singing was very up to par.

After this song ended, I stood up again and set up my microphone stand as Marquis pulled Ryan’s toward him. He was backup this time. Cotts was sitting on the bench by Marshall, waiting for his feature. Marshall stood up to announce the next song.

“The next song is Drive by Incubus, also featuring Rogers, like many of these songs do.” He joked, “And not many people know this song, but we feel that it’s really upbeat, so we decided to perform it after all.” He took his seat back on the bench as I cleared my throat. The sun was setting outside as I skimmed the crowd once more. I still couldn’t spot Nicole in the gigantic crowd.

“Okay, let’s go.” I said, after positioning myself behind the stand. Ryan Theriot started off with a solo to begin it before Dempster joined in and Marquis did a cymbal roll. DeRosa was still sitting tight as I went to start singing.

This song was well within my voice range, seeing as how I had performed it many times. There wasn’t as much of an instrument feature in this song. It wasn’t as loud, and it was relaxing to me. I was going to need a drink after this, because I hadn’t sang anything in a while and my voice was getting sore.

DeRosa got a short solo in the bridge, but it was kind of boring. Marquis was doing a good job as backup, but in the end when all that happened was everyone said doo over and over, everyone got to join in. The audience sat back during the song. After it ended, I got a drink from my water bottle as Marshall introduced the next song.

“The next song… well, this song is a more romantic single by Mark Schultz, Fall in Love Again.” I swallowed nervously as I thought of Nicole. DeRosa was giving me a look from behind my back, I knew it, so I remembered his advice and smiled. DeRosa wasn’t playing in this song because it only featured acoustic guitar, so he was just sitting patiently as I halfheartedly sang and Neal played the few piano notes he knew in between the chorus and second verse. It wasn’t a good song to sing when you weren’t into it, because it was an awesome song, I just… wasn’t able to sing it.

Finally, it ended and I could breathe again as Sean stood up and took the microphone. I turned around and was greeted by DeRosa’s stern look. I took a deep breath and blew it out, signaling that I was ready to make it through at any cost.

“The next song is I Don’t Wanna Be by Gavin DeGraw also, performed by Mark Rogers.” I sat behind the piano again as Dempster got to sing backup with his bass. DeRosa started the song before I was ready as Marquis jumped in too, followed by Dempster’s low strumming on his bass. I breathed and started to sing. The next song would be a duet and I would be able to take some of the attention off of me.

I tried to impersonate Gavin again, and a lot of people knew this song, making it easier for me to relax because the audience was singing along. There wasn’t much piano in the song, just a few notes, but I played full force anyway. I was starting to get more comfortable.

The chorus came around and everyone started singing as loud as possible, even the American League side. Everyone was starting to enjoy it now. I sang louder, and the crowd went wilder. I got to the rap-ish part, which I’m not very good at, but I made the crowd sing along with my little wave-in hand motion. I didn’t need to pretend to be comfortable on stage – I was. Nicole would have to live looking at me with my new hair cut in which DeRosa was right – the girls really did seem to like it.

Even though the song was supposed to fade out, we ended full force as Sean introduced the next song. “Next we have our first duet; It’s Not My Time by Three Doors Down, performed by Mark Rogers and Mark DeRosa. Take it!” We both stood in front of the rest with two different stands as Theriot took DeRosa’s electric guitar and strummed a note in preparation. He nodded and pressed the strings four times.

“One, two, three, four…” He counted, signaling us to start. He started the guitar quietly and then got really loud as he strummed nonchalantly. Dempster had to make up for the loudness of his playing by playing the bass as loud as possible. Marquis was supposed to be soft, so he was doing fine. Eventually, when the words started, the music quieted down.

Everyone sang along with the chorus, therefore making everyone play loudly again, and then Ryan did an awesome job with his short guitar solo. I nodded my amazement.

A few people sang along with the verses too, which I enjoyed. Mark and I kept switching off, I sang the first verse and he sang the second, and we both sang the chorus, excepting the first line, and after the second chorus, Ryan had another difficult guitar solo that sounded more like a piano.

The crowd was really digging it when DeRosa did his spinning-and-singing move without looking and sounding like a dying rhinoceros. We didn’t have a lot of choreography, but enough to impress the crowd. In the last bridge, we switched off every line and it had a cool waterfall effect over the sound system. Everyone gave a standing ovation at the end, after the first duet. I knew that it was awesome.

Ryan handed Mark the guitar as he picked up the acoustic one again. I handed Sean DeRosa’s microphone and set up for the next song. “This next song is a little different genre than the rest have been so far, but it’s all good, right? So, enjoy Mark Rogers’ rendering of Stand by Rascal Flatts.” I nodded to him as he took his seat on the bench again.

“One, two, thee, four…” I said, holding up my fingers to signal DeRosa and Theriot’s entrances on the guitars. Dempster had a small part, playing A over and over. I started singing soon after, and Marquis joined in last. You couldn’t really hear the acoustic guitar, but the electric sounded really good. Ryan Theriot was my backup singer in this song, because being from the South (no offense), he had a country voice. It really wasn’t a bad thing.

A few people sang along, but not too many. Country wasn’t really the most popular genre, after all. The song felt really short, and before I knew it, I was in the bridge. DeRosa had his guitar solo as I had to my high-pitched wailing. It hurt my throat and I almost coughed in the middle, but I held it back enough to instead smile at the camera. That’ll show Nicole.

Nicole loved Rascal Flatts, I knew that, so I hoped that this song would really show her my mistake. I sang with renewed meaning, louder as DeRosa kept wailing on the electric guitar near the end and I had to do the high-pitched thing again. As soon as the song ended, I did a quick wave to the crowd and got a drink of water.

“The next song we’re going to perform is a duet, originally by Trapt, remade by Mark Rogers and Ryan Theriot. We have a quick story to tell with this song, though, don’t we? This became Ryan’s signature song after last season, when the catcher from the Brewers, Johnny Estrada, now… was he traded? Anyway, when there was a close play at home against him and Ryan, Theriot here was called safe, and Estrada took the liberty of giving him a face job with his fist,” he laughed, “And then the team decided that this should be Ryan’s song, which is why he’s also singing. Okay, guys, take it away!” I looked at Ryan as nicely as I good, and he looked semi-ready and relaxed.

“Come on, Ryan,” I said, putting my hand over the microphone, “It’s a funny song for your situation. People love it. You just have to sing. I have the first verse, remember?” He nodded and I signaled behind me to start the music.

I had the first verse, we switched lines in the chorus, and he sang the second, and then in the bridge, he sang the majority of it and I sang the overlapping part.

The first noise was DeRosa’s bursting electric guitar, eventually getting really quiet when I started singing. It was a complicated drum beat, and Marquis was holding up nicely.

The chorus came around and Ryan tried to look comfortable. He was totally believable. He actually had a good voice. He didn’t hit all the right notes, but he had a decent vibrato.

In time for the second verse, I backed off a little. It was my job to push him to new extremes. When he said ‘it’ instead of the S-word, the crowd burst out laughing. He laughed along, too, but kept going steadily.

In the next chorus, we started goofing off a bit with hand motions that were supposed to signify what was going on.

DeRosa had a cool guitar solo after that, when Ryan said ‘I know, I know all about’ four times and then I had the creepy whisper part. This was proving to be the crowd’s favorite song so far – it was a hilarious song to begin with, and we just tried to make it funnier. It worked because we got another standing ovation at the end.

“That was cool!” Marshall laughed into the microphone as he took the stage. I had a seat on the bench, because I actually wasn’t in the next song. Ryan took his seat on the left side of the drum set and picked up his guitar, even though he wasn’t playing, as DeRosa gave him a thumbs-up from the right side of the drum set.

“This next song is not a duet, but it also isn’t performed by Mark Rogers.” He faked a gasp as the crowed laughed. “This is another more new song, by Nickelback, Gotta Be Somebody, today performed by Neal Cotts.” Neal grabbed the microphone and said something to Sean, who just nodded. I sat back, ready to simply watch the action.

It started with everyone saying ‘ah’ a bunch of times in a creepy voice with DeRosa strumming a note, getting louder and louder. DeRosa was still playing that one note with Dempster now joining in when Neal started singing.

Marquis joined in finally and it sounded complete. I started listening to the words and I realized my regret again. It really had to do with my situation, where you have to hold on to who you got because they might be the one. I skimmed the crowd again. I thought I saw Nicole, but I wasn’t sure.

“There’s gotta be somebody for me out there!” Neal sang, and a pang of guilt sprang over me. “Is it that moment when I find the one that I’ll spend forever with?” My heart sank and I focused on the girl I thought was Nicole. I took a deep breath and sat back and quietly groaned. Sean was sitting next to me, confused.

“Are you okay?” He asked. I shook my head.

“No, but I think I’ll survive.” Marquis started singing the echo part in the bridge and I tried to get into it again. You never know when the camera would be on you. “This is so… surreal, you know?” He nodded confusedly.

“I guess. I’m not really performing, though.” I smiled.

“You’re a [heck] of an emcee, though.” The song ended so he just kind of laughed and said something to Neal as he got up to announce the next song. I took the other microphone back and placed it down next to the other one.

“The next song is a classic that everyone should know, You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi, and this is the penultimate song, everyone, only one left! This will be performed by Neal Cotts and Mark Rogers.” He kind of smiled slyly at us and walked toward the bench and took a seat as Marquis banged his drumsticks together to count us off.

I sang the introduction lines, Cotts sang the first verse, and I sang the first bridge, and then we both sang the chorus. Then we switched for the second half. It was going to be great, if I could find my center of tranquility again that I had when Ryan and I were singing Headstrong. I felt a heck of a lot better when I was performing duets.

It started with me shouting at the top of my lungs, and then everyone else kicked in at the same time, except Theriot. He was pretty much done for the rest of the concert. DeRosa had a cool vibrato guitar solo thing, and the crowd went crazy. He could play guitar almost as well as Jon Bon Jovi, one of the greatest guitar legends known.

Most of the crowd sang along with the chorus, and eventually I got comfortable again as DeRosa had another short little solo.

I sang the majority of the second verse, and since its Bon Jovi, I sang it as energetically as possible. Then DeRosa had a real guitar solo that was absolutely Bon Jovi, and surprisingly, it didn’t sound like he missed a note. He really was awesome at guitar.

We sang the chorus two more times, with the crowd really getting into it. The song eventually ended and everyone went wild. They also liked the duets, I thought. Everyone applauded as Marshall announced the last song.

“Now, this song is more for Cubs fans, but it’s still well known. The last song was leading up to it, because this song is another Bon Jovi classic, the Cubs song, Livin’ On a Prayer!” Some people booed, but a lot of them applauded and all the Cubs fans gave a standing ovation. “This will be performed, for the sake of its entirety, by Mark Rogers.” A few people laughed.

“One, two, three, four…” I counted, for the last time as I picked the microphone off the stand. This was a hard core rock song, and I needed to show that.

DeRosa started playing really quietly, just like the song, and got louder and louder until Marquis joined in and Dempster played an awesome bass beat. We had DeRosa using the voice box on the microphone as he played guitar that sounded awesome and morphed his voice into sounding like a guitar. The crowd, despite them not being Cubs fans, went crazy over it.

I did the little whisper thing before I started hard core singing. My voice didn’t sound like bon Jovi’s at all, but I still tried to make my voice young enough as DeRosa kept using the microphone attachment. It sounded cool. We put the most effort into this song because it was the finale and our club song.

When the chorus came, all the Cubs fans burst out singing along. It was cool, and I pointed to a group of girls near the front row who were wearing Cubs hats and singing along. They screamed as DeRosa had a cool high pitched measure long solo that made everyone go crazy again. Everyone who was in the band had a huge smile plastered on their face as they played with all their might. The crowd was going wild.

After the second chorus there was a long guitar solo that made everyone go fanatical. Even the non-Cubs fans had to sing along in the last chorus as I yelled as loud as I could to get my voice to go high enough.

The song faded out in the end, and when it was done, everyone gave a long standing ovation. I smiled at the camera, turned to the audience, and yelled, “Play ball!”

The National League was fielding first, so as I took my spot at shortstop, the crowd went wild for the start of the game. The winners of this match would win four out of seven home field advantages in the postseason; a feat that I hoped would matter to us.

The first batter for the American League was none other than Emil Brown from the Athletics, the guy I had collided with earlier in the season to bring Matt Murton into the game. Dempster did his usual windup, fiddling around his mitt and breathing in and out as Paul Bako called for the pitch. As you could have inferred, Brown swung and missed. The National League side went wild. Three more pitches, a ball and two strikes, and Brown was the first one out.

The next player up was third baseman from the White Sox Joe Crede. I got back into my ready position as Dempster went through his normal routine and Crede made contact that was sailing way over my head. I looked up to see it fly into the outfield as the American League team started going wild. Ryan Church, our starting center fielder, made a diving attempt as I held my breath. He came up, holding the ball high. The National League side stood up and mocked the other crowd whom sat down, disappointed. Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ stellar shortstop, was the next threat to us.

Derrek was probably the biggest threat on the whole American League team, so the coach, Charlie Manuel, told the infield to back off into the outfield grass. When I did so, Jeter, on the first pitch, bunted it to Ramirez, who with quick reflexes, ran and almost fumbled the throw but handled it, making it a close play. We looked at the umpire expectantly.

“OUT!” He called as we all cheered and ran into the dugout to start getting ready for our scoring half of the inning. Ryan Braun was leading off for us, followed by Paul Bako and then Ryan Church. I sat on the bench, seeing as how I was batting sixth, and watched as the American League team took the field, including none other than our new catcher Dioner Navarro, who was voted in before he got traded, making special circumstances. I leaned back and watched. I had three batters to watch before I would have to get my things on. I was condemned to the starter’s side, so I was away from a lot of the team, most of my friends, so I mostly hung by Aramis, even though he spoke only fractured English. After that concert, this didn’t seem that ominous anymore. I was calm, because this was something that I was used to. It also showed me that the fans really did like me as a rookie, which was a good sign.

Ryan Braun followed our usual demonstration and got on with a single to start the game. I was alone again when Ramirez had to get ready, seeing as how he was batting fourth. I looked longingly to the backup’s side of the bench. I heard lots of laughter.

“I think it’s a debatable topic,” Manny Ramirez was saying, “Right?” Ryan Zimmerman and James Loney laughed while Theriot, Paul Lo Duca and Dan Uggla looked offended. I figured that it had something to do with height.

“You know what, just shut up!” Dan Uggla yelled, “You know that there are people under six feet tall sitting right here!” Definitely about height. Ryan shook his head.

“Let them be immature and have their stupid faux pas. It’s not like I care.” Lo Duca nodded and the three of them starting having a side conversation while Manny Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and James Loney kept laughing and Soriano and DeRosa were just not paying attention while Paul Bako was up to bat.

Bako used to be on the Cubs, so now he was technically a veteran but had more time to play and increase his ability. He wasn’t the best slugger, but he hit as many homeruns as a slightly below average power hitter, nearing twenty a season, which was more than I had by a lot.

We desperately needed to get Ryan Braun home to get some early leadoff points, as the Cubs organization had gotten so good at doing recently. However, Paul Bako was no longer part of the Cubs organization, so he didn’t catch the drift, and as you could have guessed, he grounded out to the Red Sox’s Kevin Youkilis who made a relay throw to his teammate Dustin Pedroia to get the double play. So now, with two outs, Ryan Church, our center fielder, was up and Aramis on deck. Now the bases were empty and it would be harder to get a run in.

Ryan Church, on the Mets, was a stellar fielder but had a lot to gain on his batting ability, maybe my level. He was responsive when needed, but otherwise could only merely get on base, which could be helpful to tack on runs when a real slugger came up. Mitch Johnson, my enemy who had been elected to be the AL starter, was pitching mad fastballs right down the middle, which should have been easier to hit, but he was pitching them over a hundred miles per hour.

Ryan Church, knowing full well that we had two outs, immediately knew that he had to get some sort of contact to get us able to get ahead or an amazing hit, per se a homerun, to get us on the board. Johnson let go a slower curveball, a mistake seeing as how Church’s best hitting pitches were the curveballs. Ryan took a back-step and swung hard, knowing it was a do-or-die situation and wanting to be the hero.

He made contact and it hit the ground right behind shortstop Derek Jeter of the Yankees, and then rolled to center fielder Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, but he fumbled the grounder and it ended up rolling all the way to the wall. While Church wasn’t the best contact hitter, he sure had speed and ended up standing on third base with a rather simple triple, but it was awarded to him as a double and an error on Hamilton.

Now with two outs and a man on third, Ramirez was up and I had to get ready to bat. I walked over to the Yankee stadium visitors’ cubbies and got out my batting helmet, batting gloves and then walked over to the stairs and got my bat and watched Ramirez.

Ramirez hit it to third baseman Joe Crede, who made a quick relay throw while Church held back and waited until the ball had left his hands to take off to home, in case the throw missed. Aramis ran as fast as possible while Church ran home and touched home, but the throw beat Ramirez and the point didn’t count. The score was tied scoreless going into the top of the second inning.

As all the starters went to get their mitt on, I went back to the cubby and put my things away timidly. I would be up second next inning, after Andre Ethier of the LA Dodgers. My confidence that I was faking was starting to catch up with me after the concert as I slipped on my mitt and ran out of the dugout, the last one on the field. I took my spot at short between Aramis and Mark DeRosa’s enemy, Chase Utley. Mark’s two enemies were both at second, Utley and Dan Uggla, while DeRosa was playing backup right field after Ethier. We had four more innings to play before the backups went in for the starters.

The last one out for the AL last inning was Derek Jeter, so this inning Dustin Pedroia was up first, followed by right fielder Ichiro Suzuki and finally Dioner Navarro, technically now on the NL. Those three were hopefully going to be the only three up this inning.

Dempster, so far, was doing a great job, although it had only been an inning, but a hitless inning. I was hoping that he would be able to keep it up for the remainder of his five scheduled innings. However, Pedroia was one of the best second basemen and shortstops in the American League, and the Major Leagues for that matter. Although it was only his third major league year, he was very capable of hitting, both power and contact, and was a threat that I had hoped I wouldn’t have to face. In his first two seasons he hit ten homers altogether, eight in one and two in the other, but last season he had an astounding seventeen homeruns. He forced errors to many infielders with powerful ground balls, giving Theriot a good four out of his eleven last season, which is the most errors one person had made on any other player in major league baseball history.

Dempster against Pedroia was a very intense match, but unfortunately, Pedroia won with a hard-hit double to right fielder Andre Ethier. Ethier angrily threw the ball to me, the cutoff man, as Dustin stood on second, showing off. I was quite tempted to throw the ball at his head, but I resisted simply by rolling it around my palm before tossing it back to Dempster, who smiled at me knowingly. I grinned slyly back, showing him that I was ready to exert tons of power when I was up to bat. He just had to let me get to that point.

The next batter would be Ichiro Suzuki, right fielder for the Mariners, a short guy who had about as many homers in a season that I had currently. All he needed was a mere hit to get Pedroia off second and at least to third, maybe even home, and if that so happened, Suzuki could even end up with a multiple base hit due to his speed.

He got a hit on the first pitch that went right over Chase Utley’s head. Pedroia easily ran home as Ryan Braun at left field stumbled over to the ball and threw it to me as Suzuki got in with a double. Now we were losing one to nothing with no outs and our very own Dioner Navarro was batting.

It was weird again, seeing him back on the other team. I knew him better since he had gotten on our team, and I knew that he wasn’t a very good player, with about seven homeruns last season, but he also had about fifty runs batted in, so he might be able to get Suzuki home. I was on my toes, praying for a miracle, a double play maybe, to get us out of the half inning and get some runs in to tie and perhaps take the lead.

Navarro knew Dempster pretty well since he’s on our team now and therefore was able to hit him very easily. I hadn’t taken that into account when I was measuring him up. He popped a single into right to Ethier, who was still super mad and tossed it crossly back to me. He was so livid that he chucked the ball way over my head as I leapt to try to get it as it sailed away from me, and in the end Paul Bako ended up having to rip off his mask and try to get it as Navarro ran all the way to third. This would be a long four innings for Ethier.

So now we were down by two with no outs still as Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox astounding first baseman took the bat. I knew deep down that this wouldn’t end well. I was still on my toes and in my ready position as Dempster threw his first pitch, which was contacted and heading way over my head and obviously to the stands. I didn’t even have time to watch it before it landed in the hands of a fan in the bleachers, likely enough an American League fan. So as Navarro and Youkilis both trotted home, I was stuck biting my tongue, secretly wishing, no offense to Dempster, that I could be the one pitching because I had developed a confidence in myself after that concert and I felt that if I were pitching, I would have been able to get us out of this jam, probably with my skill of a riser or something else of that nature.

Dempster took off his hat and wiped his brow. I wished I could go there to say something, but only the catcher was allowed to unless all play was stopped, so I was stuck hanging tight in my spot by Aramis and DeRosa’s enemy. I looked in the dugout and saw DeRosa bitterly staring at Chase Utley while Soriano was saying something. I doubted DeRo even knew what he was saying, considering… he didn’t speak too much English.

Pump-up music started playing as Josh Hamilton took the bat. Every AL fan was probably a huge Hamilton fan after he set a record for the homeruns hit in the homerun derby first round with twenty eight in the first round, although Justin Morneau technically won, everyone knew deep down that Hamilton really deserved it. That made me nervous.

Hamilton was down, oh and two in the count, so I relaxed a bit, and apparently Dempster did too, because he let go an easy seventy mile per hour fastball right down the middle that Josh Hamilton crushed. I watched it go toward the stands, knowing that it would be close and praying that it wouldn’t go out of the park and be yet another All Star Game homerun for him.

Luckily for us, it bounced off the wall. Unluckily for us, that made it a triple as Ryan Church ran to the wall and had to run back halfway up the outfield to catch up with it as it rolled away. If Hamilton hadn’t stopped, it could have easily been an inside the park homerun.

I glared at Hamilton across the field from me, pointing into his dugout and to the crowd as my enemy was up to bat. DeRosa smiled at me in the dugout, knowingly, as none other than White Sox starting pitcher Mitch Johnson stepped up to bat.

“Ryan!” I shouted over the cheering crowd, trying to get Dempster to look at me. He turned abruptly as I signaled to him that he had to get Johnson out at all costs. He laughed at me and turned back to the game as I kind of chuckled to myself. I wasn’t kidding one bit.

Mitch was the classic pitcher. He swung at the first three pitches and got out, seeing as how they were all balls way out of the zone. He trudged angrily to the dugout, staring at me out of the corner of his eye as I grinned at Dempster and started cracking up as Emil Brown came up for the second time so far this game with only one out and Hamilton still in scoring position.

Dempster knew that he had to step it up a bit, seeing as how he had let in four runs in an inning, which was understandable because the American League was famous for hitting tons of homeruns but the National League was famous for getting lots of runs batted in off singles and such with few homers in the mix. Hopefully we could get those runs back.

We couldn’t allow Emil Brown to get contact of any sort, or else Hamilton would get home and increase the AL league to five. Dempster tried throwing skilled pitches and it apparently worked for the first three. Then Brown let loose a high fly ball to deep center, obviously a sac fly, so Church got it as Hamilton ran home, increasing the lead to five as we were all looking at each other thinking, is it time to put subs in yet?

Bako ran to Dempster and tried to calm him down. I could sympathize because there was no way to control a sac fly, and you always get charged with it anyway as a pitcher.

After a long discussion, Bako let Dempster go as Joe Crede came up to bat again. Dempster had to be confident with him, seeing as how he was having a horrible season. Surely enough, Bako’s talk must have worked, because with three pitches, Crede was out on strikes.

Now we were up to bat again, thankfully, and I knew that we desperately needed to get some runs in, because we were down by five. Ramirez was up last, so Andre Ethier was leading off and I was on-deck.

Yeah, and to make things worse, Ethier was having a really bad day, exhibit A being that he threw that ball over my head that charged him for a run or two. That sucks for not only him, but the team. And you could tell he was feeling it, because he hit it right to Mitch Johnson. That wasn’t a good sign.

So Ethier was out at first and I was up to bat against my enemy with DeRosa’s enemy up right after me. This game sounded great, right? And it was only the second inning!

I tried to get myself in the same sickly zone that I was in the last time I hit that major homerun, but then I though about Nicole again and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I tried to think about what DeRo said, where if you act great and do great, she might take you back. I looked to the crowd one last time and again I could have sworn that I saw her, on the upper deck, but you can’t be sure with the distance apart that I was from the person I thought was her.

I was busy daydreaming as the first pitch flew by. Strike one. I decided to focus all my energy on the next one and perhaps save the day, but I couldn’t. There was no way I was getting on base. The lights of Yankee Stadium were blinding me and the crowd was deafening me and my mind was killing me and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I saw Matt Sinatro standing on the first base line, the NL first base coach, and I knew that I needed to talk to him. I knew that I needed to get on base. I knew that something wasn’t right, because I see the lights and hear the crowd almost every day. I should be used to it.

My breathing was shallow but I knew it wasn’t an allergic reaction. I got dizzy and I decided that it was because I was too emotionally involved, letting my outside life get to me too much. I had to calm down. And just as I was thinking about calming down, a sharp pain spread from my wrist to my arm and to the rest of my left hand. At first I thought I was having a heart attack or something, but then I realized that I had gotten hit by a pitch. My hand was killing me, it must have hit right on the bone, because I was on the ground grasping it and trying to breathe. I was gasping for air as Navarro ran out from his spot to say something to Mitch Johnson and Charlie Manuel ran out of the dugout to my aid, as well as an athletic trainer.

“Are you okay?” Manuel asked. I looked up from the ground to see his face, see if it really looked painful because it sure felt that way and I didn’t exactly see myself get hit. When I looked up, my attention was averted to the digital scoreboard in the back and saw the stats of the last pitch. It had been a fastball clocked in at one hundred three miles per hour.

I yelled as loud as I could, not only because of the pain but because of my frustration and stress, not only because of my life but also because of these insane fastballs that kept affecting everything I do. The athletic trainer was grabbing my wrist and I screamed again. It hurt incredibly badly.

Sinatro was there now, but all the players had to stay in the dugout unless they wanted to get thrown out of the game. The athletic trainer said a few words to Sinatro and he left, and then came back seconds later with a wrist brace. He slipped it over my hand as the athletic trainer let go. I opened my eye wide enough to see the brace, and then groaned again. There was no way that I was going to be able to play with that thing on.

“Am I out of the game?” I asked wearily as Matt Sinatro helped me up and Navarro returned to his position. Manuel laughed.

“Are you kidding me? You think I’m going to let you play like this? You could be out for the season for all we know. That was a pretty rough hit.” After that remark, I was unable to breathe again.

“Are you serious?” I asked, dumbfounded, as a new wave of hatred for Mitch Johnson swept over me, taking me over completely. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I should have told Lou to take Ozzie Guillen’s offer. I should have moved to the White Sox and be a pitcher again. I should have done a lot of things. “God, I hate you, Johnson.” I muttered under my breath as Charlie Manuel and Matt Sinatro helped me up. Sinatro laughed, so I figured he must have heard me.

I walked down the dugout steps, meeting Ryan Theriot halfway, getting ready to run the bases for me. He smiled meekly, trying to be sympathetic but failing miserably. There was nothing happy about this. I couldn’t lose my… career because of my arch nemesis. I wouldn’t let it happen. I would show him.

“Dude, just sit down and relax!” Ryan Church exclaimed, obviously seeing my bent out of shape expression as I stared into space, making my death vows. “It’ll be alright. Remember Carlos Lee last season? He got hit right in the same place that you did. He was out for a few weeks. Now he’s better than ever.”

“Really? And that’s why I threw a no-hitter against him and his team and I’m not even a pitcher anymore? That seems really fine to me.” I responded sarcastically. He gaped at me.

“That was you? That’s awesome, man, that takes some serious skill. The Astros? They’re a tough team, you know. That’s major. I heard about it, but… really? Why aren’t you pitching any more?” I shrugged.

“Rich Harden came back.” He nodded.

“Makes sense. Well, if you can throw a no-hitter, I’m guessing that you should be out there pitching instead of him. He didn’t throw a no-hitter, did he?”

“Well, I do get to pitch when he isn’t… suitable.” I said as the athletic trainer came up behind me with some ice. He grabbed my wrist and I yelled in pain.

“DUDE, I did not see you there!” I gasped, and then laughed until he yanked the brace off. Then I yelled again. “Okay, okay, okay.” I breathed to calm down.

“It sure looks broken,” he said, examining the swollen and purple lump on my wrist. It made me feel sick. “We’re going to have to take you to the hospital after this game.” I groaned. “Don’t worry, there’s still hope that--”

“That I’ll play again?”

“It’s only this season in question, and at the most it would probably be about two weeks. It really isn’t that big a deal.”

“I am so going to kill Mitch Johnson.” I sighed as Ryan Theriot stole second. We were probably better off with him out there than me. He can actually steal bases and he’s actually fast.

Chase Utley was losing in the count, and sure enough, with one more pitch he was out on strikes. Now there were two outs and a man on second. Hopefully slugger Albert Pujols could get us on board.

He pushed it to a full count and then Ryan ran for third, except he was got by Mitch Johnson as he threw the ball to third. Now Ryan was in the middle of a rundown. “Come on, now he has to win, or else I will be so angry,” I said aloud to nobody in particular. “If Johnson’s team wins this rundown, Mitch will just think he’s so great.” Ryan Church was giving me weird looks. “Shut up.” I laughed.

Joe Crede threw it to Derek Jeter as Theriot turned around, and then Jeter threw to Johnson, covering third, then to Pedroia covering for Jeter at short, and it was all very planned out and carried out well. Pedroia to Crede, Crede to Jeter, Jeter to Johnson, and Johnson to Pedroia… it was one of the longest rundowns I had ever seen.

After a while, the crowd started quieting down on both sides and everyone lost interest. For the AL team, it was getting routine, throw and run and catch and throw, and for Theriot it was just always interesting, boring everyone else. It got to be so routine for the American League, however, that Jeter tossed a ball near the ground to Joe Crede. Crede bent down to get it as quick as possible as Ryan took a huge risk and broke for third. Crede came up with it and I was ready for Ryan to be tagged out to end the inning.

Until Ryan jumped over Crede as he was lunging! It was awesome, a little five foot ten guy (now) jumping over a six foot two guy! It was one of the strangest feats I had ever seen, but it was still a feat in itself. Crede lunged out for him one more time after being frozen, astonished for awhile that a little guy had just jumped over him, and Ryan at the last minute dove madly for third as Crede barely brushed his heel with the ball. I didn’t know whether or not he was safe, but he deserved to be.

Both sides on the crowd were cheering madly, the NL because of the amazing jump and the AL because of the close play. All eyes were on the third base umpire.

“SAFE!” He called, and the NL side cheered and mocked the AL side as Theriot stood up and celebrated to himself and the NL fans applauded him. Joe Crede secretly kicked some dirt at him, but Theriot didn’t notice.

Our dugout erupted in applause, and I clapped once and then remembered the hard way that I had hurt my wrist. It hurt crazily, so I stopped and Ryan Church laughed at me.

“You’re such a ditz,” He joked. I laughed too; I knew that I was stupid. Mitch Johnson took the mound again, ready to pitch again to Albert Pujols with the full count. The windup, the pitch… and Pujols was out on strikes. Call that a bad ending to a good story, right? The good news is that everyone was pumped up to go field.

Ryan was the last one in the dugout as he ran to get his things that nobody had brought for him. As he was walking down, I realized that his eye was bleeding. “Ryan, what happened to your eye?” He shrugged.

“I slid and dirt probably got in it or something,” he said, wiping the blood off his face, “It’s no big deal. It’s not like I’ve never hurt myself before.” He grabbed his stuff and ran up the dugout steps, leaving me alone on the bench except for the backup players on the other side. I didn’t want to go over there one bit, I was just going to sit here and… think. Even if it meant that I had to sit by Ryan Church again next half inning.

It was the top of the third and Derek Jeter was leading off against Dempster. The rest of the starters had until the fifth inning to make up for our loss and not let the other team gain more of a lead. I was secretly happy to be away, to get away from the stress. I needed a break, after all. But it was bittersweet, because while I didn’t have to play, every time my wrist touched something, it felt like it was getting stabbed with one hundred knives, despite the brace.

Derek Jeter grounded to Theriot, which you would think for sure would be an easy out, but his throw to first was way off mark. I sat there by myself, astonished that he had made such a simple error and added to his many this season and last. Now he was at about five as Jeter ran safely to first. Most players have five in the whole season.

“I’m sorry,” I could slightly hear Ryan say to Aramis while he was wiping his eye; “I got blood in it.” It sounded rather gross.

“Look, dude, don’t need to hear it. Just don’t let it happen again.” Ramirez was intimidating, and every time Theriot didn’t get the ball when it was even close to him, Ramirez let him have it, but if Ramirez made a mistake, Ryan said nothing. One of the reasons he developed his MDD was probably because he let people walk all over him, and he needed to develop confidence. I wondered what he was taught in his class, because apparently it hadn’t worked. He was the same self-conscious person that he had been before any of this had happened. I was almost positive that if the recent events hadn’t happened, Lou would trade Theriot in an instant. But now he feels guilty, so Ryan stays. At least Lou was nice enough to not mentally break him.

After Jeter, Dustin Pedroia was up again. And again, Pedroia hit a double past Ryan Braun in left to score Jeter and increase their lead to six. It was if the game was already over.

So now there were no outs, we were down by six and there was a man on second for right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. The AL had this won by far. Dempster was obviously giving up hope, but was still rather relentless in his pitching. The first out of the inning was when Suzuki flew out to my ‘buddy’ Ryan Church in center. We still had two more outs and a man on second to deal with.

Navarro, my real teammate, was up next. On the first pitch, Pedroia dashed to third, considering his speed. I guess they felt that they were so far ahead already that they could take chances. Fortunately for us, Paul Bako caught him in time to get him out – just barely though. It was a close call. Now there were two outs; it looked like this inning was going to be a lot shorter than last.

And sure enough, Dioner flew out to Andre Ethier to end the inning and bring us up to bat again. Leading off for us was Ryan Dempster.

They all ran into the dugout, celebrating the short inning with minimal damage. Except for Ryan. He was still beating himself up over his error. He sat back down with the subs, with DeRosa I guess, as Church took his seat again. “Aren’t you batting soon?” I asked dismally. He shrugged.

“Fourth this inning. I’ve got one batter to watch, the pitcher that’s screwing us over.”

“Shut up.”

“Defending your teammate? That doesn’t change anything. He’s still sucking up the field, and you defending him won’t change anything.” Dempster was already losing in his count, one ball two strikes.

“Why don’t you just start getting your stuff on now?” I said bitterly. I was starting to hate him more and more as this game went on. “Apparently he sucks so badly that his at-bat will be over soon.” And to make it discomfited, Dempster struck out. Ryan Church gave me a strange look as he stood up to get his batting things and Dempster strolled back into the dugout. I guess he knew that nobody expected much more from him. I quickly signaled for him to sit back down next to me before Ryan Church could sneak back in on the space. Church just sat on the end of the bench anyway as Ryan Braun was up to bat with one out.

On the first pitch, Braun went to hit, but at the last minute held his bat out to bunt. He laid it down perfectly along the third base line. By the time Joe Crede even touched the ball, he was safe at first thanks to his astounding speed. Paul Bako was up and Ryan Church was thankfully on deck.

Bako, being persistent, watched six pitches pass—four balls and two strikes. He got to walk to first and Braun to second as Ryan Church took the plate and my teammate Aramis Ramirez was on deck.

Ryan Church was good at intimidating pitchers, and he was for sure intimidating Mitch Johnson, him being the wus he truly is. Although he swung mindlessly at the first two pitches, he managed to let the next four pass for balls, although they were all right on the borderline. The fans were going crazy, the American League fans that they were strikes and the National League to swing at one. However, he did pull of the walk, miraculously, and Aramis Ramirez was up with the bases loaded.

I was nervous. That was a perfect way to state it bluntly. I was nervous, apprehensive, anxious and in pain because my wrist was swelling even worse than it had been. The athletic trainer was calling the doctor to schedule my appointment. I was fixated on the obviously nervous Mitch Johnson (I had to laugh at that) and the overly-confident looking Ramirez. I was twiddling my thumbs and muttering words under my breath as Dempster was standing with the majority of the other starters at the dugout fence cheering Aramis on and praying that he at least got a hit. If he got a homerun, we would only be down by two with a score of four to six. I didn’t want to expect too much, though, and jinx it.

The first pitch went by for strike one as it usually did. So he started behind in the count, but it really was no big deal. Pitch number two was a ball near Aramis’ arm. He had to pull it in to make sure that he didn’t get hit. I was so tense and stressed even though I wasn’t playing anymore. Andre Ethier, who was batting next, wasn’t warming up his arm, just staring hopelessly at Ramirez and praying like the rest of us.

The third pitch was a ball, also coming near his arm. It was obvious that Johnson was trying to hit him. If you can’t get him out, make him injured, right? Well, that’s called poor sportsmanship, but that pretty much definitely meant that was what Mitch was thinking. I could tell he was one for not playing fair. Aramis swung at the fourth pitch and fouled it back into the stands for a two and two count. It was getting down to the wire.

Thee fifth pitch was a ball way inside that Ramirez had to jump back to avoid. Mitch looked angry for some reason and snapped at Navarro when he threw the ball back. “Set up your [freaking] pitch where I tell you to set it up!” Mitch yelled. That was what assured me that he was a bad guy in general. He also wasn’t too good, because everyone knows that the catcher decides where to set up the pitch. Mitch was just snapping at him, swearing under his breath quite obviously and kicking dirt around. Navarro started flashing signs, making Johnson madder and madder.

“JUST HOLD OUT YOUR MITT AND I’LL THROW THE [freaking] BASEBALL WHEREVER I [freaking] WANT AND WE’LL BE MUCH BETTER OFF!” He shouted. I was cracking up with Dempster and the fans in the front rows who had heard Mitch. He was a rather comical character.

However, I stopped laughing when he threw the next pitch. Yeah, he threw it where he wanted. Apparently, he really wanted to throw it right at Aramis’ head, because that was just where it went. Aramis never suspected anything, either. It just hit him smack in the head and he passed out immediately, right over home plate. Everyone on both sides gasped and everyone in our dugout started talking smack to Mitch Johnson. Especially me. The umpire didn’t wait a split second to eject Johnson, who threw down his mitt on the pitcher’s mound and walked out of the stadium, leaving Aramis lying unconscious on the ground. I couldn’t bear to look at the scoreboard, I was too afraid to see if it was another one hundred three mile per hour fastball as I was sure it was. I was just paralyzed, watching Ramirez’s limp body. Charlie Manuel and the athletic trainer stormed out of the dugout immediately as Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano and Mark DeRosa ran up to Dempster and I, watching nervously as they inspected the sixth member of our party. DeRosa whistled.

“One hundred three miles per hour, that was.” He grimaced. I wanted to scream. “That’s rough.” I clenched my fist as I thought about how the same exact thing happened to my father. “His head snapped back pretty far.” He looked around at stopped at me. “Are you okay?”

“I… just need to sit.” I said wearily, sitting down on the bench. The others looked confusedly at one another before turning back to the action. They were trying to inspect Ramirez’s head to make sure that there wasn’t brain damage. The athletic trainer was saying something to the supervising doctor as Manuel was trying to inspect his neck. He was about to take off his helmet when Ryan yelled over the crowd to him.

“DON’T DO THAT!” he yelled, as Manuel backed away confusedly. The athletic trainer had turned around when he heard yelling from our dugout and ran precariously over to the scene, nearly tripping numerous times. He said something to Manuel, who nodded and started talking to the doctor himself as the athletic trainer took over the actual issue of Aramis. Ryan sighed and sat down next to me. I had seen everything happen, but I was still paralyzed, remembering jumping over the fence to my father that I didn’t know at all in reality. I remember that he had died from it. I remembered how upset I was. I wasn’t ready to lose a friend the same way. I was starting to despise the inhumane game of baseball, sadistic yet strangely addicting to all who play it or are a fan of it. I would even hate it less if it weren’t for these fastballs. They were ruining my life.

I heard a siren and that’s when I knew immediately that they had called an ambulance. It was miserable, exactly like that first day, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle this horrid memory. I put my head down in my hands and closed my eyes, trying to wash it all away. It was just getting more horrible.

“Mark, are you sure you’re okay?” DeRosa asked, “You’re like, really pale.” I groaned. “I think you need a doctor.”

“No, I—I’m just trying to—repress—a memory.” I sighed. DeRosa shook me and my eyes opened. I knew I probably looked like a wreck right now.

“Dude, I don’t think you’re okay. What is wrong with you?” The lights of the ambulance were shining up in the stadium as it started to rain slightly, worsening the mood.

“Just… my dad…” I said. I couldn’t bear it.

“Come on, man, just tell me what’s wrong!” He shouted. Others on the NL team were giving me strange looks now.

“This…” I said, motioning to the scene on the field, “This is exactly… how he… died.” I started to hyperventilate as I tried to calm myself down. It wasn’t working. The memories were just flashing back to me as I tried to suppress them unsuccessfully. I had to get out of here.

“Okay, Mark, we’re going into the clubhouse.” DeRosa said, yanking me out of my seat and pushing me down the stairs into the room with the extra supplies and water, etcetera, and sat me down on a bench as he went into the cooler and threw me a bottle of water. “Are you going to be okay?” I took a long drink and tried to breathe.

“I sure hope so,” I tried to say jokingly, but DeRosa wasn’t going to take that. He was pacing around with a harsh look on his face as I stared at the floor. “Look, I know what’s wrong, it’s happened before, and I’ll get over it.” He laughed.

“Yeah, if you say that, I’m never going to believe another word you say. Look, when memories like that come back at every little insignificance and do this to you, you have to see a doctor. That’s all there is to it. I’m only recommending this to help you, Mark. You’re just making it harder than it has to be.” I nodded.

“Maybe I’ll think about it. I really just need some time to myself.” I said. He nodded slowly and headed up the steps. As soon as I couldn’t hear him anymore, I threw the bottle at the wall as hard as possible. It split and water poured everywhere. I watched it sink into the carpeting as thoughts swarmed my head. Nothing was clear anymore. It was all just miserable. I didn’t think I would ever get over that traumatic experience.

I stared bitterly as the American League team and fans celebrated their ten-three victory. We had a two run homer by Soriano and an RBI by replacement third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. More than half the NL fans had already left the stadium, angry at the poor display that our team had shown. I wasn’t exactly part of that, seeing as how I only played for about two innings. The loss was still disheartening.

Our team was silently packing up and getting ready to leave. Aramis was in the hospital already, his situation still undeclared. I was heading to the same place so they could look at my wrist. This was pretty much a disaster week.

As I was leaving the stadium, I saw a cameraman and reporter trying to get someone to interview. I tried as hard as I could to avoid him by sidestepping and putting my head down, but before I knew it I had bumped into somebody. I looked up slowly to see Nicole gaping at me, and that’s when I remembered that she had never seen me with my new… look. I gaped right back at her when I saw her clutching the hand of another guy, tall, taller than me probably, with a threatening look on his face. He was pretty muscular and looked tough, with menacing eyes that bored down into you. “What do you want with my girl?” He asked as I stepped back.

“Nothing, man, just a coincidence. A happenstance, you know? No big deal. I didn’t mean anything…” I didn’t know why I was so afraid of this guy. He must have been a weightlifter, but anyway, he was a lot bigger than me.

“I’d hope so.” He sneered. I started backing away meekly. Before I knew it, I had bumped into somebody else. I looked up this time and saw the cameraman and reporter.

“It looks like we have a story.” She said slyly. I swallowed as the camera started rolling. “Hello, New York! And, hello America while I’m at it!” I was shocked. America? Everyone would hear it? I thought of my mom and sisters, my teammates who didn’t know, my step dad, and I died a little inside. “I’m here with the National League’s starting shortstop Mark Rogers! First question, Mark, what happened to your hand?” She asked, gesturing to the brace on my wrist.

“Oh.” I said slowly, “I got hit by a pitch. A fastball, actually. One hundred three miles per hour.” I said through gritted teeth. Now even the news anchors were paparazzo. She gave me a look like she wanted me to elaborate, but I said nothing.

“How is your teammate Aramis Ramirez doing?” She asked. I shrugged as my first response.

“We don’t know.” She looked like she was getting angry at me. Now I knew that, like all media, she would try to butcher me. When paparazzi don’t like the person they’re interviewing, that’s just what they do. Ask a personal question or something that they don’t want to answer until they crack. I wasn’t going to break, though.

“Who was that you were talking to?” She asked reticently. I smiled to myself. I saw it coming.

“An old friend.” She knew who it really was. I could tell.

“Haven’t you been sighted with that girl… in different times? Like, wasn’t she your… girlfriend or something?”

“Yes. So? Now she’s a friend.”

“Okay, Mark, who broke up with who?” She asked with a stupid peppy voice like she was Barbie gossiping to her friend what’s-her-name that nobody knew.

“It was mutual.” She looked astonished at my responses as she kept thinking about another question to ask.

“Well, that’s too bad. Now, can I ask you a question that a lot of fans have been asking about you?” Uh oh. This wouldn’t be good. “Is your name really Mark Rogers?” I gaped. How did she know? I didn’t know if she was playing me or not, so I was clueless. Maybe she didn’t know the truth. Maybe it was a wild guess. Maybe she did know and if I didn’t answer honestly, she was going to let me have it.

“No,” I said honestly as my mind was still wandering off, frantically searching for an answer. “It isn’t. My name is Markus Rogers.” I said confusedly, thinking that up at the last minute. While it was true, it still didn’t seem like she was satisfied.

“Well, Markus,” That made me angry. I hated my name. That’s why I went by Mark. “Can you explain this video that I found?” She stepped over to her van a few feet away and pulled out her laptop. She set up a video as I was sitting there nervously as the cameraman taped the screen. What could it be? Why was she doing this?

The video started playing. It was my father, batting against Alan McDunnel on the Cardinals. The pitch was thrown at his head. He fell over. It looked exactly like what happened to Aramis today. After a little while, my mom and I came running onto the field. She stopped the tape. “Isn’t that you, yelling out to your ‘father’, Alex Rushing?” I gritted my teeth again. I despised her. “So, I repeat, is your name really Mark Rogers?” I heard the crowd that was listening as this was going on stop to try to hear my answer. I felt the camera on my tormented face. I should have played along before.

“No.” My voice cracked. I had just gotten over with remembering his death again after what happened to Aramis. Now here it was again. “No, it isn’t. I think you all know the answer.” The camera zoomed onto the newswoman again as the crowd, shocked, started moving again. I felt utterly defeated.

“So there you have it. Markus Rushing.” I sighed as the camera was turned off. “Mark? Wait, can you hold on a second?” I had turned around already to see Nicole and her new boyfriend still standing there after listening to what had been going on.

“What do you want? You haven’t ruined me enough?” I groaned. She smiled, and I wondered why she was so happy.

“No. This was… my revenge in a way.” I gave her a strange look as the cameraman started packing up.

“Revenge for what? Are you the one I yelled at in the parking lot or something before?” I asked and she shook her head.

“Come on, Mark, you know me.” I looked at her. “I’m getting revenge for our childhood, when all you did was spite me.” I looked her in the eyes. She did look familiar for some reason. “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have but it’s my job. You know, I always had a crush on you in middle school and high school, and I got mad when you met… her,” She said, signaling to Nicole, “So it’s just my evil, sadistic nature to get back at you.” Now it was all ringing a bell.

“Alexandra?” I gaped. Alexandra Springz, Michael’s sister and my old friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in about four years. A lot had changed in four years, too. “Wow, you look great.”

“Thanks, I know.” She said. So maybe she was still the same conceited, girly person she was four years ago, but I could forgive her. It was actually nice to see a face I recognized. “So, does your wrist hurt?” I shrugged.

“I’m sorry, I’m just… amazed. So much has changed.” She grinned and ran up to me and hugged me, and I hugged her back. I knew that she still didn’t think of me as just a friend, but she would always be just a friend to me. I didn’t think of her in any other way.

“I was so surprised when I saw you! I had to interview you, but then I had to put on the same paparazzi act that I always do when Ben is around…” She said, signaling to the cameraman. “Don’t you see me on the news? Channel seven. I took the spot of that other lady… the one who reported on your father.” She grimaced. “Yeah, I’m so sorry I had to bring that up. It’s just my job, and I have two years of college to prove it. I still need someone to get tied down to, though.” She said. “My last boyfriend cheated on me a few… dozen times.” She smiled meekly.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “My whole… yeah; I think you know what’s been going on.” I said.


“Unfortunately for you, yes.” She said sympathetically, “But trust me, Mark, you’re going to find the right person someday. I know you well, and you always do the right thing in the end. I don’t know how long it will take, but I know you’re going to make it through.” She said honestly. I nodded my head. “I have to go, catch a flight and all, but if you ever feel like you need to… vent, I’d be honored if you chose to call me.” She said, walking toward her van as I watched her go. Maybe I would call her next time.

I walked back to my apartment after coming back from the hospital. They said I couldn’t play for a week, which was fine. There was no baseball for a week, either. It was the All Star Game break, which lasted about a week and a half, so I’d be better by the time the season started up again.

I was about to open my door when Nicole’s door opened next to mine and her ‘buff’ new boyfriend walked out. He glared at me as I was manically trying to shove my key in the door. It was too late; he had seen me and known who I was. It was all over now.

“Hey, man, can I ask you something?” I was still facing the door helplessly. I sighed and quickly turned to face him.

“Yes?” I asked nervously.

“How long did you guys go out for?” He solicited. I tried to think back but couldn’t remember.

“I’m not exactly sure.” I said. He laughed and started to walk away. “Wait! Why?” He turned back and walked toward me.

“For the past HOUR I’ve been listening to stories about you and her. I was curious to see if you felt the same way about her that she did about you. Apparently not. I think you need to know that you lost her and she wasn’t ready to give you up, and this really sucks for me because now I have a girlfriend who only talks about her ex and that isn’t really the best situation to be in.”

“You’re wrong, man. I felt so deeply about her you wouldn’t believe it. Maybe I didn’t know how long because time wasn’t time when I was with her. It didn’t matter. All I knew is that I was there and she was there and it was perfect when it was like that. Dates and times don’t matter. It’s the people you spend them with that do. And I don’t think I was ready to give her up, either.” He turned around quickly but stopped near the elevator.

“You’re too late.” He said, “And if I see you lay a hand on her in any way, you’re dead.” The elevator door opened and he walked inside, pressing the door close button and leaving me there, shocked.

I sidestepped away from my door and over to hers and knocked three times. I heard a lot of rustling before she opened the door wearily. “Mark, what are you doing here?”

With the same spontaneous head rush that I had gotten in assisting in the breakup, I grabbed her behind the ear and pulled her in and kissed her like I had any other day, long and hard, and she was surprisingly into it. After a moment, though, she pulled away and sighed.

“Look, Mark, you’re too late. You know that.” I nodded, “It’s over, and you’ve got to get that through your head.”

“I talked to your boyfriend.” I said, looking into her eyes longingly, “And he told me that you aren’t over me.” Right in front of me, she started to cry as she stared back into my eyes pensively.

“He’s right.” She said as a tear trickled down her face, “I do still love you. But it’s too late.”

“It’s not too late.” I said despondently, “It’s never too late.” She cried harder as she laid her head on my chest again and I held her. “I’ve seen a lot this year. I’ve done a lot this year. That’s the lesson I learned, and I think it applies very strongly.”

She pulled away from me and looked me in the eyes again. “My God, how did I ever even think to give you up?” I smiled at her and brought her in again to embrace her. However, almost right as it began; I was yanked away and shoved back into the wall, which crumbled a bit because of the impact. I was so dizzy and blacked out that at first I didn’t notice that I was being strangled, which was probably why I was so dizzy in the first place. I saw a hand, and then I saw the whole guy, Nicole’s new boyfriend, holding me against the wall with one hand. I knew I would be helpless in this battle.

“I told you not to touch her.” He said heatedly, “And you didn’t listen.” Nicole was screaming in the background as I was trying to get one breath in. This guy was really strong, so I figured he had to be a weightlifter. Funny, how I had time to assume that as I was slowly dying.

“NATHAN, STOP!” She shrieked. I was furiously trying to pull his arm off of me with both of mine, but it wasn’t working. I was just losing more and more breath. Finally, with one triumphant shove, his hand released me and I went crashing to the ground, struggling for breath and completely blacked out. I tried to speak, but it was more like just wheezing as this so called Nathan character laughed manically at me. I finally regained my vision and breath after a long while to see Nicole standing, terrified in the background.

“Look, I don’t want to fight with you, man, it’s just senseless.” I gasped. “Let’s just forget about this.”

“Nice try, but we all know that something isn’t settled.” He said, gesturing to Nicole, “The fact that I caught my girlfriend cheating on me with you.” There was pure hatred in his eyes. I tried to match his look, but I couldn’t.

“Look, man, I don’t think this is necessary.” I said calmly. I saw Nicole, terrified while she watched helplessly.

“Why don’t we let her pick?” He asked. I shook my head as I saw her terrified look.

“I love her, man. I can’t put her through that and I, for one, am shocked that you could.” He continued to glare at me. I’ve been playing in professional athletics long enough to know when a fight is going to break out and I felt one coming. “Let’s leave her out of this.”

“Good plan.” He said, and all of a sudden I was knocked back into the wall with alarming force. I saw his clenched fist and I felt my nose bleeding, so I got up and walked slowly back to him.

“Nice shot.” I said, “A cheap one, but a good one.” I saw his fist clench again, and I saw him ready to punch me again. I was ready this time.

As soon as I saw him start to swing, I ducked and his punch went right by me. While he was still in shock, I let one loose right at his face. He bent over, covering his face and I saw blood. “It isn’t fun, is it?” I said, bending over to his level, “So maybe we should just cut this out.”

Suddenly and out of nowhere, he kicked me and I was lurched into the wall again. This time, even more crumbled as I collapsed to the ground. Even though I was a professional athlete, he was a lot stronger than me and his blows did maybe twice as much damage as mine. He was definitely a force to be reckoned with.


“This has gone too far.” I said, stepping away from the wall, “Let’s just call it a truce.” He smirked at me.

“Can’t take anymore?” I wiped my face and saw blood smeared all over my hand. It was disgusting. I was looking down at my hand, until I got another smack in the face that sent me flying backward near Nicole. I looked up and saw her staring down at me miserably.

“Mark, please don’t do this.” She cried. I shook my head as I tried to stand up but couldn’t get the power.

“I don’t want to, Nicole, but I have to.” I had finally gotten to stand up as I looked at her, praying to myself that she would stop crying. Nathan, having seen my withdrawal from the fight, took the liberty of running up behind me.

“MARK!” She shrieked as I turned around just in time to see Nathan hurl me to the ground, headfirst. It really hurt, too, as I blanked out again. “Are you okay?” This time I couldn’t get up at all. I just lied on the ground, moaning helplessly as I held my face. I knew Nathan was standing triumphantly over me.

“I’m… done.” I said, breathing deeply, “I… can’t take any more.”

“If you’re going to go into a battle for something that supposedly means everything to you, you have to be driven to win. If you really loved her, I wouldn’t have won that. Come on, Nicole, let’s get out of here and celebrate.” He said. I saw him grab her hand and start leading her out of the hall against her will. I got into a kneeling position to watch them go, and then afterward I was paralyzed. My wrist was hurting more than anything and blood was dripping into the carpet.

“No, Nathan, let me go.” She said, pulling away from him. I looked up to see her confront him. “You’re… barbaric. Seeing you do that to a human being… I can’t believe I was with you in the first place.” She said angrily, pulling away ferociously. “I’m done with you.”

“You’re making a big mistake.” He said as Nicole was walking away, toward me. “He doesn’t love you like I do.” He infuriated me so much, but I couldn’t speak still. It was still hard to breathe. He walked angrily down the stairs as Nicole kneeled by me.

“Mark, are you okay?” She asked anxiously, holding me up straight and comforting me deeply. I tried to nod, but couldn’t get the strength. That was the first fistfight I had been in. To make it worse, I had lost. But to make it better, by losing, I had technically won, won what I was fighting for.

“I am now.” I managed to mutter as she pulled a tissue out of her pocket and started wiping blood off my face. I looked up at her and smiled as she helped me up off the ground and led me into her apartment.

“That was some fight,” She said, helping me sit down on her couch as she dampened a paper towel in the kitchen. “I hope I’ll be happy with the results.”

“I’ll make sure you are.” I consoled, “I swear you won’t regret this.” She sat down next to me and started wiping the blood off my face. “Thank goodness that there aren’t any games for another week.” I winced when she accidentally brushed my eye.

“I’m sorry. I’ll get you some ice for that.” She said. As she walked back toward the kitchen, I raised my hand to my eye and pressed it. It hurt badly, really badly, so I figured that it was probably bruised. “I just can’t believe he’d give you a bloody nose and a black eye. That isn’t like him.” I chuckled.

“It’s the dark side of him that I met,” I said. She handed me the ice as I put it over my eye and she sat down again.

“Who was that girl you were talking to earlier? The news anchor?” I groaned as I turned to face her.

“Don’t fret about that, please? She’s an old family friend. Look, I know you might be suspicious, but I fought for you, okay? She doesn’t mean anything to me. In that way, of course.” I added at the last minute. She nodded.

“Okay, okay, no need to get defensive.” She said. “I just had to make sure that you weren’t going to make another stupid move.”

“I’m never taking this,” I said, gesturing to the both of us, “For granted again.” She smiled and grabbed my free hand.

“I’m so sorry I put you through that,” She said honestly, “And I won’t take it for granted either.”

“No need to apologize.” I said calmly, “I’m the only one who should be.” The important thing was that this all felt right again.

I closed the door to my apartment, relieved that I had finally gotten away from my mom and sisters. I sighed and collapsed onto the couch. Now that it was the All-Star break, I had nothing to do. I was stuck with a black eye and sprained wrist and a mother who worried too much. I kind of missed baseball compared to this so far.

I threw my car keys on the table next to the couch and checked my answering machine. No new messages. I didn’t have any mail. The newspaper hadn’t come today. Seeing that the world clearly just wanted me to do nothing at all, I collapsed onto the couch and reached for the remote to the television. It wasn’t there. I sighed and leaned back. What was there to do?

I went into my bedroom and pulled our schedule for after the All Star Game out. We were playing the Cardinals again, then the Braves and then the Dodgers. But there was a week until that happened. I had to resolve my boredom now. I walked into the bathroom and examined myself. My hair was still short, my eye was still black and my wrist was still purple. Well, now I was bored again. I groaned as I walked back into the living area. I grabbed the first thing I saw, which happened to be the remote, but without realizing I hurled it at the wall. I sighed when I saw it break and collapsed onto the couch and turned on the radio instead.

Like all radio nowadays, every station I turned on had super loud hip-hop or rap music playing. I finally got to a nice pop rock station with a song I liked, and then found out that there was still nothing to do with music playing. I glanced across the room and saw my guitar sitting there, untouched since I had moved in. I shut off the radio and walked over to the wall and picked it up. I sat on the couch and strummed.

It sounded awful. After years of it not being played, it was really out of tune. Trying to waste time, I tuned it really slowly. Match the fifth fret of the lower string with the higher string and then they were tuned. Despite how easy it was, I made it take close to ten minutes just to spite my boredom. I strummed again and it sounded nice, flowing. I played a few chords to get used to the feel. My fingers weren’t callused yet; I didn’t play much guitar at all. I specialized in piano and… lead vocals, I guess. But I naturally had a musical sense, and so guitar came somewhat naturally to me. It was actually Alexis’ old guitar, bright blue and polished. She had given up music when she got into Stanford. She was brilliant and wanted to go into journalism, so Stanford was a clear cut option. When she had moved in, she saw that a still had potential and for my birthday gave me the guitar and a few guitar books. I still hadn’t really started learning.

I knew four chords – G, G7, C and C7. You couldn’t play a song with only those chords. When I realized this, I put the guitar back in the stand angrily. So maybe string instruments weren’t really my thing. I could play my keyboard, but it was shoved away in my closet and I was in too lazy of a mood to go and get it. I sat down in front of the television again but then remembered that I couldn’t turn it on because I had thrown the remote at the wall because of my sheer boredom. At least chucking the remote had been fun.
ONE DAY LATER

I rolled over in my bed and glanced at the clock. It was four o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t sleep at all, but I knew that if I got up, I would just be bored all over again. Now I hated the All Star Game break.

I decided to get up anyway. It was dark outside and I still felt tired, but I knew that it would be senseless to just lay awake in bed all day. I looked at my calendar. Oh, wow, nothing to do all break. Fun, isn’t that? When you were a kid in high school, not having school was awesome. As a professional athlete, not having games is not so awesome, especially when you don’t have a family. I glanced around my little apartment. Hey, I was an athlete. After this season, I was going to put all my money into buying a bigger house even if it meant having to move out of Chicago.

I soon realized that if it was boring during the day, it would be even more boring at four in the morning when nobody was awake. My sisters might be awake in Palm Springs, they were on break from school, but they were probably just getting home from their flight and I didn’t want to disturb them.

I walked into the kitchen and started making a pot of coffee as I flipped on the radio again and checked all the stations. Every one had either a commercial or a talk show on it. Finally, one station came on so I turned on the volume a little bit.

“Here’s a song that’s about a year old by a one hit wonder band – here’s Miss You by M.M.S.” I gasped. That was the song that I had written in my band in Palm Springz with Michael, Alexis, Alexandra and my sisters. M.M.S. was supposed to be an abbreviation for Mark and Michael, since we were the lead singers, and then Springz because he sang more than me. I sat down on the couch next to the radio and listened to my voice as I sang, the bass pounding away as Michael plucked the strings and the flow of chords on Alexis’ guitar, finished off with the pounding of Chelsea’s red drum set as Kelly and Alexandra hung back and sang backup. I had almost forgotten about my would-be career as a singer.

The song eventually ended and the same DJ came back on the air. “So that was the single by M.M.S. titled Miss You. Now, here’s something you maybe didn’t know; the lead singer of that band, Mark Rogers, is now a utility player on the Chicago Cubs. One of the backup singers, Alexandra Springz, is a newscaster. The other backup singer is a hairstylist. The drummer and guitarist, Chelsea Rogers and Alexis Springz, are roommates at Yale University and the bassist, Michael Springz, is the only band member pursuing his music career while he’s at college at LAU.” An older song started playing so I shut off the radio and walked back slowly to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. I sat at my too-large kitchen table alone and slowly sipped it, despite it being boiling hot. I wished that I hadn’t broken the remote so that I could flip on the television.

I reminisced again about our old band. We had gone nowhere and done nothing at school, yet went on to write a single that was played on one or two stations. Everyone in it had gone their different ways. There was a newscaster, a hairstylist, two students at Yale, a baseball player and one person that continued their promising career. We used to play concerts in the auditorium of our school, but really no one went. We would take song requests, but there really weren’t any. We were failures until we got out of high school. That single was as far as we got.

I started to wonder if I had made the right choice in life. I had chosen a painful, risky career that could be thankless for few fans and more enemies where you get emotionally attached to the club and the people, just to most likely get traded in the end, while I could have chosen something safer, knowing where I was and who I was with all the time, knowing, respecting and befriending the people in my band as we traveled all the same and got near the same amount of money. As I stared at the brace on my wrist, I started to regret making the choice I had made.

I sat in my seat by Nicole in the movie theater as we watched the newly released horror movie from Matt Reeves, director of Cloverfield. I was horribly disguised with simply a hat, but nobody recognized me so far. She was terrified, and I couldn’t say much better for myself. I hated horror movies, but Michael had recommended this movie to me. I saw that it was playing, so I asked Nicole if she wanted to go and she actually jumped on the idea.

It was at about the middle at a climax, and as you could have guessed, it was terrifying. I looked at the people around us in the crowded theater, and most of them didn’t look a whole lot better than we did. She quickly grabbed my arm as I turned to meet her gaze. “Mark, I’m really scared.” I laughed.

“Honestly, I am too. I’ve never been much for this kind of thing.” Come to think of it, I was starting to get kind of nauseous. “But that’s okay. It’s just a movie.” She grabbed my hand and smiled at me.

“Well sure, it is, but it’s still scary.” She said jokingly. I chuckled to myself and held her hand tightly. “I missed this while I was with Nathan.” She sighed. “He wouldn’t do anything with me.”

“I thought it was only for a day.”

“Still, he wasn’t even willing to talk to me at all. He just hid at home and ignored my calls. You’re actually… eager.”

“I can’t lie, I missed this too. I missed this a lot.” The people around us shrieked so I naturally assumed that I had missed something daunting, but I couldn’t pay attention to the movie anymore. “Did you see what happened?” I asked. She shook her head. I was about to say something but the guy next to me elbowed me so instead, I turned to face him. He looked young, maybe about eighteen. “Yeah?”

“You look familiar.” He said. I shrugged, but then he realized something. “You’re Mark Rogers!” He whispered. At least he was nice enough not to cause a commotion like in the lobby after the Juan Uribe game. I snickered.

“Please tell me that you know me because you’re a Cubs fan. Last time I got in deep with a Sox fan, it wasn’t very pretty.” He laughed.

“No, no, I’m a Cubs fan. Weird season so far, huh? I’m so sorry, I can’t get over this. It’s such a weird… coincidence.” I shrugged when Nicole tapped my shoulder.

“One second.” I said to the guy. I turned expectantly to Nicole. “He’s a fan.” I said, beckoning behind me as she nodded.

“I hope you’re enjoying your conversation, but could you please hurry it up? I don’t like this movie.” She fretted. I nodded and turned back to the guy next to me. “Look, man--”

“Come on, dude, and just kiss her already!” He chanted playfully. The people behind me and next to him laughed and the people in front of me I would guess were pretty irritated. “What are you waiting for?”

I turned to Nicole. “I’m done talking.” I said. She turned to me, about to say something, but I stopped her and leaned in and slowly and romantically kissed her firmly as the people around us stopped, suddenly roused up as they urged us on. Normally, I would find it embarrassing to be the center of attention of such a large group of people, but this year had changed me a lot. It seemed like almost nobody was watching the movie anymore.

I heard a few murmurs of people who had recognized me and a few from people who were annoyed and wanted to watch the movie, but I didn’t care. I had promised her that she wouldn’t regret picking me over Nathan, and I was going to prove to her that I keep my promises. I slowly pulled my lips from hers and stared into her eyes. “What’s wrong?” She asked.

“Absolutely nothing.” I said as I leaned back in and embraced her again until the crowd finally settled down.

“I missed this.” She said and I nodded, once again at a loss for words. It seemed like every time I was with her, I lost my breath in her sheer beauty.
THREE HOURS LATER

“Hey, Mark!” Ryan Dempster greeted me at the door to his house… or mansion, more likely. I smiled.

“Great idea for a party, Ryan.” I said. Dempster had invited the whole team to his house for an All-Star Game break party with our families.

“Nicole,” He greeted her politely. She smiled and laughed quietly as we walked inside. “Watch out upstairs; that’s where the kids are ‘playing’. My son is up there, so my wife is watching over them. She’ll be down soon, though. Everyone else is in the living room. Go join them; I’ll be right there.” I nodded and took Nicole’s hand and led her to the living room, which I figured would be in the direction of everyone’s voices.

“Well, speak of the devil.” DeRosa laughed as Nicole and I walked into the room. “Come on, Mark, have a seat.” There were a few empty seats left, so I took one next to DeRosa and his wife, Heidi, as Nicole sat down next to me.

“You guys were talking about me?” I asked as I got settled in. DeRosa laughed and pointed to Chad Gaudin.

“I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard the song that you claimed to have written. And I knew it was you right away. I could tell from your voice at the concert.”

“I heard that song on the radio too, but at four in the morning.” I commented. A lot of the players’ wives were looking at me, astonished. Nicole already knew, seeing as how I had told her when we met after I moved in. “It was a long time ago that I sang that last, you know.” Ryan Dempster finally strolled in and took his seat.

“Are you still talking about his song?” He asked. I groaned as everyone laughed. “I think he wants us to move onto a different topic.”

“Thank you, Ryan.” I said, sitting back a little bit and relaxing. “Let’s talk about somebody else behind their back now.” I joked. “Is Rich Harden here yet?” Everyone laughed.

“Unfortunately for you, I am.” Rich yelled out as his wife laughed even harder than most of us.

“Can I just put a question out there?” Ted Lilly called out, “Does anybody know how Aramis is?” We all looked around and nobody said anything.

“No.” Derrek threw out after a brief period of silence. “I don’t think we do. I know that I haven’t heard anything.” Everybody muttered their agreement.

“Hey, Mark, what happened to you after that happened? You just like, disappeared, man.” Soto asked to me. DeRosa gave him practically a death glare. “Or, you know… you don’t have to tell me.”

“I’d prefer not, Geo, sorry.” I said honestly, looking frantically around the circle of people. Nobody seemed to care that I didn’t answer.

“So, Nicole,” Kerry Wood offered, “I think that you’re the newest “member” of this organization. I’m curious; tell us what you think of Mark over there.”

“Come on, guys,” I said, “I don’t like being the center of attention here.” Nicole, next to me, laughed.

“That’s hard. I think that he’s a great guy in general and I love how he’s always there for me and he’s not timid in public.” She smiled at me. “And I definitely learned that today.” I smiled too and quickly pecked her lips and turned to everyone else, revived just like the people earlier today in the movie theater.

“Jeez, I can tell,” DeRosa joked. Everyone laughed, and I kind of half-heartedly laughed uncomfortably.

“Okay, somebody else, please?” I asked, feeling awkward with all the questions fired at or about me. “This is making me uneasy.”

“Well, you ask somebody a question then.” Chad Gaudin yelled out. I shrugged when I saw everyone stare at me expectantly.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have any question for anybody. I’m not very creative.” Everyone booed me again. “Okay, okay, so since you guys went all ‘personal’ on me, Brian Roberts,” I said as everyone turned their attention to the unsuspecting Roberts, “Where were you right after you were traded into the club? Why didn’t you ever show?”

“Oh, come on,” He groaned, “I’m not going to dignify that with a response, that’s too personal for me.” Everyone just let him be, they didn’t boo him like they booed me. It was actually somewhat disappointing.
ONE DAY LATER

“Hello?” I asked quietly into the telephone before pulling the phone away to cough. “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well.”

“Mark?” I wish I had caller ID so that I knew who it was. I was going to say something, but my voice got caught in my throat and I had to turn away and cough again. “Mark, it’s your mom.”

“Hey, Mom.” I responded as my voice cracked. “What’s going on?” I coughed again.

“You don’t sound too good,” She said. I didn’t dignify that with a response. “I just wanted to tell you that your sisters and I are coming over to St. Louis after the break to see one of your games. You got kind of… cut off in the All-Star Game, right?”

“What about Sean?” I asked with my rough voice, referring to my stepfather. She sighed.

“He’s going to be… working.” It all sounded suspicious to me. I knew that he just didn’t want to go, because I knew that he hated me. He had hated me ever since he found out that I was going into athletics as a career. Well, what sucks for him is that I hated him right back.

“Oh. Okay, well, that’s great. I’m excited.” I lied. I coughed again when I heard a knock on the door. “I’m sorry, Mom, but I have to go.”

“Okay, well, feel better and we’ll see you in… four days?”

“Right. Bye.” She said goodbye and I hung up the phone and walked to the door and opened it to see Nicole standing there. “Yeah?” I coughed yet again, making my throat feel scratchy and painful.

“These are thin walls, you know. I heard… that and thought that a cat was being strangled or something. I had to come in and check on you. What’s wrong with you?”

“You sound so straightforward,” I joked with my raspy voice, “My throat is a little sore. That’s it.”

“Let me see,” She said, sitting me down on the couch and motioning me to open my mouth. She looked into my throat and shook her head. “It’s white. It looks like strep.” I sighed.

“Well that’s great. Are you sure?”

“Of course not! This is me you’re talking to. I would go see the doctor if I were you.” I nodded unhappily; I had seen the doctor more this past year than I ever had previous to the season, and I was sick of it. I was becoming a regular visitor at the hospital, too. “Right now. They’ll know you well enough where you probably won’t even have to sign in. I bet they’re expecting you.” She laughed as she stood up. “I’ll be in my room. I’ll expect you back in… an hour?”

“Most likely more,” I said mutely, seeing as how I was now constantly losing my voice. I didn’t know how or when this happened, because I felt fine yesterday, and strep was most common in kids, almost extinct in adults. I guess I was just a weird happenstance, as usual.

I grabbed my keys and walked out the door behind Nicole. “Have fun,” She muttered, unlocking her door as I stepped into the elevator and pressed the lobby button. I got out on the main level and walked into the parking lot in the warm summer Chicago air. It was hardly windy and it was boiling hot out, much unlike winter, even though I haven’t really experienced it enough times to judge.

I got in my car and rolled down the windows before putting my key in the ignition and coughing again. It was becoming more and more painful each time, so I hoped the doctor would have a quick fix for it.

I had memorized this drive, it wasn’t very far away in the first place and I had to admit that I was there a lot, a lot of the time because of my own stupidity or because of stupid Mitch Johnson. Therefore, it seemed like I got there in no time. I parked and got back out into the heat. The parking lot was almost empty with practically only workers’ cars, so I figured that at least I wouldn’t have to wait long to get inside and get scheduled.

I walked up to the main counter and the receptionist recognized me right away, to my dismay and realization of how much I had actually been here. “Mark Rogers, right? For Dr. Davison?” She grinned as I nodded and she wrote my name down. “He’ll be right with you, just take a seat.” I nodded my acknowledgement and took a seat in the waiting area, simply twiddling my thumbs. I simply stared at the clock until the door opened and Dr. Davison stepped out.

“Mark, you’re here again?” He mocked playfully. I smiled meekly as I stood up and followed him into his office. “What brings you here today? Not your wrist again, surely?” I shook my head as he motioned for me to sit down. “Well?”

“My throat.” I managed to say despite the feeling of daggers in the back of my throat. “I think I might have strep.” He nodded and walked over to his desk and pulled out a few cotton balls.

“Well, then, basically all we’re going to do is give you the strep throat test. I’ll scrape this along the back of your throat and then you’ll know within five minutes. Sound good?” He asked. I nodded meekly, although it didn’t sound so good to me in reality. I didn’t want him shoving anything down my throat.

He put something on a cotton ball and put on his gloves and motioned for me to open my mouth. I did so and as the scraped the back of my throat, I got the most unpleasant feeling, more discomforting than I had imagined. Fortunately for me, like he said, it didn’t take long and eventually it was out and being tested on as I tried to swallow and get the horrid taste out of the back of my throat, but swallowing was too difficult. I would have to live with it.

“Positive.” He muttered from his desk. “It’s strep, you were right.” I sighed painfully as he kind of chuckled to himself. “I think that’s the first case I’ve had in an adult this year.”

“I’m hardly an adult,” I pointed out agonizingly, “I’m not even twenty one.” He nodded as he began to rifle through his drawers and pulled out some antibiotic.

“You’re going to have to take this three to five times a day for about ten days, okay? Then you should be okay.”

“What about baseball? That starts in four days.”

“If you feel up to it, go ahead. Pretty soon, though, you should be getting a fever so I’m not so sure that you will. Go home, get some rest and try not to infect anyone, okay? We don’t need an epidemic spreading around Chicago, now.” He chuckled as he cleaned up and I stood out and dismissed myself. I paid quickly at the front desk and eagerly left the office. Honestly, Dr. Davison was kind of uncanny to me.

I groaned bitterly and turned over and glanced at the clock. It was about two o’clock in the afternoon and Dr. Davison was right—I felt awful. I wanted to gag and I felt no power whatsoever to do anything but sleep. I knew that I was delirious but I had no family here to take care of me. If I needed something, I had to get up and get it. I hadn’t eaten since the day before, and it was starting to catch up with me, but I felt like anything I ate wouldn’t sit right.

The telephone rang next to me, the shrieking noise of the ringing deafening me. I felt as if I had a hangover or something, because every noise brought a searing pain into my head, which felt like it was about to explode. I mustered the strength to turn back over and grab the phone, but I felt so weak that I almost dropped it. “Hello?” I choked into the receiver.

“Oh jeez, Mark, are you sick?” It was Nicole on the other end, as I could have predicted. “Because you don’t sound good at all.”

“Strep and a fever.” I muttered half consciously. “I would call that sick.” She sighed on the other end.

“What is with you? All you do is get hurt and sick. Do you need me to come over?” I was about to respond and say no, but my voice wouldn’t work and I ended up coughing in the receiver. “Is that a yes? It’s okay, I live right next door.”

“That’s okay,” I tried to say, but it was so raspy that I couldn’t even understand what I was saying. “I’m fine.”

“I’m coming over.” She said. “Where’s your spare key?” I groaned, my way of telling her that I couldn’t talk. “I’ll find it, don’t worry.” I had given it to her last year when I went on vacation to California to see my parents. She had to get my mail and bring it inside every day, but I don’t think that she remembered that she had it. I hung up and turned over, and as soon as I did I felt myself drifting off again.

Almost as soon as I did, though, Nicole entered the room swiftly and sat on a chair next to the bed. I was too tired now to even open my eyes. “Mark, are you feeling okay? Do you need anything?” I slowly shook my head but I doubted that she could see. I felt her hand on my forehead before she quickly pulled away in disgust. “You’re burning hot. Definitely fever; have you taken your temperature yet?” Before I could even try to respond, she was rifling through my medicine cabinet searching. I was still trying to get the strength to open my eyes.

I finally got them open just enough to see her approach me again with the thermometer in her hand. She sat down on the bed next to me and eased my mouth open and placed it under my tongue. It tasted bitter and old, I didn’t think I had ever used it before, and she sighed loudly as she read it. “One hundred five degrees! That’s really high, bordering on… deadly.” She said emotionally, throwing the thermometer down on the table. “It’s just strep, how can you die from it?” I wanted to comfort her, but I couldn’t. I was losing consciousness again.

I was about to fall asleep again when the phone rang, shooting daggers into my brain again. I groaned and turned over, shaking from being so freezing cold as Nicole answered it as quickly as possible, seeing my pain.

“Hello? No, he’s not available… this is Nicole, his girlfriend… he’s sick, strep throat and a one hundred five degree fever… yes, he’s being treated… I doubt he’ll be back in time for the first game; sorry… can I take a message? Okay… oh, that’s too bad… do you know why?” Her tone changed drastically from a disappointed to serious, so I knew something was wrong. I didn’t even know who was on the phone, but half of the conversation was being drowned out by my narcolepsy. “Oh… okay, well that’s too bad. What about the other guy, from the minors? Oh, you did? Well, I hope he gets better in time. Okay. Bye.” She hung up and collapsed onto the chair.

“What was that?” I muttered quietly. I don’t know whether she had heard me, but she did answer the question.

“That was Lou. Ryan Theriot is out sick. It’s just as bad as yours, apparently, one oh five. They said it was hyperpyrexia, so… oh jeez. They said he got it from combining two different kinds of… antidepressants? I don’t know if you knew about that.” I realized that I hadn’t told her about his whole charade. “And in case you didn’t know, most cases of hyperpyrexia end in… death. And… he has the same temperature as you. So that might mean that you have it too.” She started crying as she collapsed onto the bed again, sobbing. “I don’t want you to die.” I knew it was emotional, but the sickness made me numb. I couldn’t process the information. All that I heard was that I might die. And that Ryan Theriot might die. I grabbed her hand feebly and shakily.

“How long?” I asked as she cried harder. She knew what I was asking, how long I would have to live.

“I don’t know.” She mouthed through the tears. I held her hand tighter as she cried harder. I still felt numb; shocked at the disease and the odds that I wouldn’t live through it, as well as the odds that two people on the same team had the same illness.
ONE DAY LATER

“Everyone get out of the way! This is a medical emergency here!” The nurse called as she wheeled my stretcher through the hospital hallways. The road was bumpy, but I was constantly falling asleep still. She finally halted and opened a door. “You’ll stay with your teammate.” She said as the doctor helped transition me from the stretcher to the hospital bed. The curtain was open and as I was lifted carefully into the air, I saw Ryan on the bed next to mine with a respirator hooked up, breathing for him as a tube carried fluids into his punctured arm. I knew that his condition was more serious, having actually done something medically incorrect to get him in this condition. I was just a medical oddity.

“Are you okay? Can you breathe? Or do you need a respirator too?” The nurse asked me. She leaned in closer to hear my response.

“No.” I muttered, “I can breathe.” I knew that my voice didn’t sound normal, and she nodded hurriedly and walked toward Ryan’s bed one more time and said a few words. He tried to nod but couldn’t move his head. The nurse undecidedly left the room as I turned to face Ryan.

“What happened to you?” I asked, even though I knew he wouldn’t be able to answer. I heard him simply croak and I knew that he couldn’t talk. I found it coincidental that the entire season, he was the one that was always injured all the time with me in a close second, and here we were, in the hospital together about to die from to circumstances that were completely unrelated. It was almost impossible, yet it was real.

“Ryan Theriot, your wife is here to see you.” The nurse called into the room sympathetically before his wife and son came into the room. She walked right past me, not that I could really tell, and kneeled down by Ryan’s hospital bed and grabbed his hand, crying.

“You’re going to make it.” She said, “I believe it. I love you, you know that, and I know you’ll pull through.” I took a good look at Ryan. I didn’t think he even noticed that Joannah was there; he was still looking at the ceiling, pale with bloodshot eyes as the respirator breathed for him. “Ryan, can you hear me? Ryan, please say something!” He said nothing, just stared at the ceiling blankly as Joannah called hysterically for the nurse.

The nurse came running in and starting taking a look at Ryan. “Dr. Johansson?” She called wildly into the hallway. The doctor, a nice young woman, came running into the room, following the suit of the nurse. Dr. Johansson took the same look and did the same tests as the nurse.

“I think he’s passing.” She said desolately as Joannah broke down, weeping uncontrollably.

“He can’t die… HE ISN’T DYING. After all the pain we all went through to keep him from committing suicide… he isn’t meant to die. He can’t die!” Dr. Johansson comforted her.

“No, don’t worry, he isn’t dying; he’s passing into a coma. We need to transfer him into advanced cardiac life support before he’s paralyzed into it. If we stop it now, he could only be unconscious for about three days.”

“PLEASE HURRY!” She yelled, crying and pleading as Houston, Ryan’s son was wandering around the room confusedly. I was still lying in my bed, half asleep and terrified for my friend.

Faster than I thought possible, the unconscious Ryan was transported onto a stretcher and wheeled out of the room as I listened and heard the nurse yelling again for people to get out of the way. I wondered if Nicole was here, seeing as how she had saved me by calling an ambulance when I did similar to what Ryan did.

“Mark Rogers, your girlfriend is here for you.” I sighed happily as Nicole ran into the room and grabbed my hand.

“I’m so glad you’re okay.” She said consolingly as she grabbed my hand. I smiled and mustered the strength to speak to her.

“Thanks to you.” I managed to mutter. I saw her start crying and immediately felt bad that I had to put her through all of this. “I’m sorry.” I concluded as she started crying harder.

“I know you’ll make it. You’re strong, Mark, you can do it. I know you can.” I nodded as she wiped her eyes. “No matter what happens, though, I love you, Mark. I honestly do.” I smiled meekly at her.

“I love you too,” I said quietly, raising my hand slowly and brushing her cheek slowly. “And I’m going to try with all my power to get better for you.” She was sobbing now as she grabbed my hand and held it.

“I know you will.” The nurse walked in and slowly ushered her away into the lobby as Dr. Johansson came back in.

“Touching.” She stated simply as she put some medication on my table. “You’re going to have to take this once an hour so you don’t end up like your friend.”

“How’s he doing?” I asked feebly. She sat down on a chair by my bed and sighed uncomfortably.

“I think we got him in time. He had already passed into a coma, but he’s on ACLS and should be back in here and recovering within three days. It’s not too serious, but I think this case should be a lesson to everyone out there that depression is more dangerous than you might think.” I nodded slowly. “Are you tired?” I barely even managed to nod as she stood up understandingly. “I’ll wake you up in an hour to take your medicine.” As she left the room I drifted off to sleep, dreaming about my family in California, everything that had happened in the past few days… and Nicole. I wasn’t lying when I told her that I loved her.
ONE DAY LATER

“How are you feeling, Mark?” Dr. Johansson asked nervously as she walked into my room and spooned out my liquid medication. She held it up to my mouth as I opened it slowly and swallowed the bitter and disgusting medicine. I meekly nodded.

“A little better.” I admitted, sitting back again and staring past the empty bed that used to be Ryan’s and gazing longingly out the window. “I think I’m on the mend. But I have a long way to go.” She nodded and flipped on a lamp.

“It’s important that as soon as you feel well at all, in any sense, that you alert me right away.” She said seriously, “As soon as possible, if you will. I don’t want to alarm you, so you’re going to have to tell me when you’re feeling well enough, okay?” I was confused, wanting to know what she was talking about but also not.

“I’m feeling okay now…” I said inaudibly. She shook her head despondently, and I was confused because she looked somewhat ashamed.

“It’s too soon.” She said mutely, alike me. My throat was feeling a lot better, but my stomach was still very queasy.

She stood up silently and walked out of the room quickly, leaving me curious in wondering what she was going to tell me. “Dr. Johansson,” I said quickly, while she was at the doorway.

“What is it, Mark?” She asked.

“Will you tell me tomorrow?” She sighed.

“I suppose.”

“Mark Rogers, you have visitors,” The nurse called. I was still waiting for Dr. Johansson to tell me the news; I was very curious.

“Okay,” I said nervously. I had no idea who would be coming to see me. I sure wasn’t expecting it to be my sisters, Chelsea and Kelly, walking through the door. I looked at the two of them and sensed that something was wrong. “What’s the matter?” I looked at the two of them and realized. “Where’s Mom?”

Chelsea started sobbing right away and Kelly tried to comfort her. It was her who had to explain. “Yesterday, she was driving up here and… and there was an accident.” That was all she could muster to say. So that was what Dr. Johansson didn’t want to tell me. That I was an orphan, that my mother was gone, that the only person I had left was my step dad… my hated step dad.

“But… how?” Was all I could manage to say. Chelsea was still crying uncontrollably and Kelly was on the verge of doing so, too.

“Mark…” She said, and then ran up to me and hugged me. I hugged her back, still in confused despair.

“Is it too late already?” I asked. I was starting to regret telling Dr. Johansson to tell me today.

“Yeah.” She said. Now Kelly was crying too. Chelsea was still standing in the corner and sobbing.

“Chelsea, come over here.” I said, waving her over tiredly. Today wasn’t going to be a good day. I had started off feeling worse than I had felt yesterday, and now this…

Chelsea came over and immediately hugged me. She was still bawling, and as I hugged her back, I had the epiphany. No more Mom to call me on the phone when she heard about my stories on the news. No more Mom to comfort me. No more Mom to tell me it was alright. No more Mom to share childhood memories. No more Mom to see my games… it was too hard to take.

That was when, for the first time in probably ten years, I let out my emotion. I cried freely, openly, into my dear sister who I hadn’t seen in such a long time that I had to see under these horrible circumstances. I held Chelsea tight as she cried harder and when Kelly saw that I was crying, she joined in the hysterics and joined us in a group hug.

The nurse came in again, this time with Michael, Alexis, Alexandra, Jenna and Nicole. Nicole was the first to run up to me and hug me tight. I had forgotten that I was ill; I didn’t realize it anymore, because now I was filled with a different numbness; tears and disbelief. I held her tightly, still openly crying, and she pulled away and kissed me like I always kissed her, long and hard but hers sympathetically. “I love you, Mark, and you just have to be strong.” I said. I kissed her back and she started crying too. “I am so sorry.” She stood up, still crying just because I was, and went over to pass condolences to Chelsea and Kelly as Alexandra ran up to hug me next. It was quick, and then she left to go hug Kelly and Chelsea. Alexis was already hanging by Chelsea, sobbing too. We were all like family, that the death of my mother affected everyone in this room, even the person I’d only respected for a matter of months.

Jenna Springz walked up to me next and patted me on the back. “You’ve been through a lot, Mark, and you really don’t deserve this. I know this is all stressful to you and this isn’t a good time for anything else to happen, but we’re all going to leave and let you recover, and until you do we won’t speak another word of this.” I nodded as she rounded everyone up again. Nicole ran over and kissed me one more time, to Alexandra’s obvious jealousy, before they all left the room and Dr. Johansson walked in.

“I’m sorry,” She said. Even she was crying, “I couldn’t bear to tell you yesterday, but you have to know. I am so sorry, Mark. I’m going to leave you alone for awhile, okay? In an hour you’ll take your medicine again, but besides that I’ll stay out of your way.” I nodded slowly as the feeling of sickness caught up with my feeling of despair. She left the room and closed the door, and right away I leaned for the bucket next to my bed and vomited. I felt queasy and discomforted again; a high and low fever apparently, because suddenly all I wanted to do was sleep again. Now my mind was numb too; I had forgotten about the entire incident that had just happen as I drifted off to sleep.
ONE DAY LATER

At seven o’clock at night, I woke up to Dr. Johansson’s coaxing me, telling me to wake up. I opened my eyes slowly, confused because I had taken my medication about half an hour ago. Or at least it felt like it was only half an hour ago. “Mark, you have your roommate back.” She said as the nurse brought Ryan in the room in a stretcher again. I hated the hospital, everyone being carted around because they couldn’t move themselves. It was a pitiful place.

They laid Ryan down on the bed and he muttered something wearily. The nurse said something to him and then she left, closing the curtain and nodding to Dr. Johansson. She sat back down on the same chair that she had sat on before and cleared her throat.

“So, I think I should educate you a little bit on his status.” She said glumly, “He might not make it. I’m just telling you now. Mixing antidepressants is… never a good idea, because this is what happens. He’s out of his coma, so either he’ll show signs of recovery tonight, or else… that’s pretty much it.” I nodded in disbelief. I was feeling a lot better, still miserable because of my mother, but it wasn’t quite sinking in yet. “His wife will probably be in here a lot, just so you’re aware.” I nodded somberly, thinking about how Joannah would react when she heard the news. “He has hematemesis, in short, so don’t be alarmed if… it goes wrong.” I had no clue what that was. “Hematemesis… that’s the vomiting of blood.” It was shocking to hear that. “If its significant blood loss, then it’s almost sure that he won’t survive. We’ll probably find out tonight.”

There was a knock on the door as the nurse stood there impatiently, holding up a clipboard. The nurse tending to Ryan opened the curtain nervously. Would it be Joannah already? “There are visitors for these two.”

“Bring them in.” Dr. Johansson said. She stood up glumly and gave me a warning look before leaving. I lied back in my hospital bed and stared at the wall as a lot of our teammates filed in the room, Dallas, DeRo, Mike, Jason, Ted and Rich Harden. They smiled meekly as DeRosa walked up to my side.

“I saw them saying something to Joannah, and she wasn’t handling it well. What’s going on?” I shook my head.

“It’s not… good, Mark, at all. I don’t think I’m in a position to tell you. You have to hear it from Joannah, Ryan or Dr. Johansson; because I don’t think you should hear it from me.” He nodded.

“I get it, don’t worry.” He said perceptively. “But can you just tell me… is it really that bad?” I sighed and nodded.

“The only thing that I’m going to tell you is that… it’s severe, possibly fatal. That’s all I’ll tell you, considering that’s too much already.”

“So life or death?” I meekly nodded as the realization hit him hard. “That’s tough. So Joannah knows?” I nodded.

Jason walked up to and pardoned Mark to join the others. “Look, man, I heard about what happened, and everyone in the club knows, and I’m really sorry; Lou told me to tell you that as soon as you’re recovered, you should take a free personal day. It’s fine by him. But Colorado is off limits,” He finished tentatively with a weak, phony laugh to top it off. “But I’m really sorry.” There was another knock on the door as Jason left to join the others who were standing by the door awkwardly.

“We have a visitor for Ryan Theriot.” She said plainly as the others and I held our breath as Joannah walked in somberly.

“He’s over there.” Dr. Johansson led her over to Ryan’s bedside and closed the curtain dramatically.

“Dr. Johansson?” I asked timidly, “Does Ryan even know?” She sat back down in her usual chair as Dallas, Mark, Mike, Jason, Ted and Rich Harden crowded around.

“Somewhat.” She breathed. “He knows about the hematemesis, but he doesn’t know about how deadly it can be.”

“This has been a rough season for him,” Ted joked awkwardly. Nobody laughed. I sighed.

“Figures that it happens as soon as I get here,” I said, “I feel responsible with my… horrible luck.” The thoughts of my mother came back to me as I rapidly tried to pull them out of my head unsuccessfully. I sighed loudly and closed my eyes for a second.

“Look, I think we should probably go,” Dallas said, “Leave Joannah with Ryan and not disturb Mark…”

“Probably a smart idea,” Rich said as they all said goodbye and walked out the door. Dr. Johansson was the last one to stand up.

“This could be a long night.” She said, “Just try to sleep and it will be over before you know it.”
FOUR HOURS LATER

I groaned and turned over in my bed and went to look at the clock when I remembered that I wasn’t in my room; I was in the hospital. I had gotten a nightmare and awoken when I heard loud screaming in the background. As I opened my eyes, rather than loud screaming, I heard frantic talking coming next to me from Dr. Johansson. I opened my eyes wider and looked next to me, trying to see Ryan, but the curtain was down. I just listened in on the conversation.

“Calm down, its okay.” Dr. Johansson said, “It’s completely natural. I know it’s scary, but we both knew it was going to happen.”

“No,” Ryan said, louder than Dr. Johansson, “It’s not natural; it’s not supposed to happen, MAKE IT STOP!” I had no idea what was going on, but it sounded like Ryan was being dysfunctional when he was sick.

“Dr. Johansson,” a nurse by the curtain said, “Do you want me to call for help?” I heard a lot of deep breathing from Dr. Johansson and Ryan trying not to scream. It seemed like he was in pain.

“It isn’t supposed to hurt, it’s not supposed to be painful,” he muttered. Dr. Johansson continued to coax him as the nurse shakily opened the curtain. She saw me, staring, and looking like a deer caught in the headlights, she turned back around.

“Doctor, his roommate is awake.” She said bitterly. Dr. Johansson walked up to her and said something quietly in her ear. The nurse closed the curtain again as Dr. Johansson walked up to me gently.

“Mark, we’re having a bit of an… incident over there, just don’t be alarmed. He got hit with the hematemesis and he was a little overly shocked, but we have an investigator coming over because… well, to be blunt, something isn’t right. It’s never supposed to be painful for a patient with his… disease. We need to make sure we diagnosed him correctly.”

“So you don’t know anymore if it’s as dire as or direr than it was before?” Dr. Johansson put her hand on my shoulder and sighed.

“Mark… after this… scene, it’s become clear to me that he may not make it past tomorrow.” This hit me hard. First I lose my mother, and now Ryan might die, too? Even after I worked so hard on saving his life earlier?

“Wow.” I said. She nodded, stood up and opened the curtain and signaled back to the nurse, who quickly left. I continued to listen to the ramblings on the other side of the room, but then I remembered my mother and I got upset again. I thought of my father and I couldn’t handle it. All I had left was Sean, and I wasn’t even related to him and he hated me. After this scenario, I was going to have to go and talk to him, too.

I remember the times I had with my mother, the good ones and the bad. I thought about that time that I had spent practicing in the basement that I could have spent with her. I hadn’t known my dad at all before he died; now I realized that I hardly knew my mom either. I didn’t know one thing about her, and to see where my career has gone because of all the time I sacrificed, I definitely wished that I had spent more time with her. Now it was too late.

A tear rolled down my cheek as I subconsciously brushed it away. I knew that I had to be tough. I knew that I would get over this; I just had to be a catalyst in the process. I sighed and closed my eyes, trying to channel all of the thoughts out of my miserable mind. I wondered when the investigator would come. I wondered if Ryan would make it. I wondered how Sean was taking this all. I wondered a lot of things that I knew would be answered in due time, but I didn’t want that time to ever come.

I woke up to see the curtain not pulled over Ryan’s bed. I saw the numerous towels scattered over the floor, and I had no doubt as to why they were there. I saw a little bit of blood on the floor, but I didn’t mind; I had seen blood before. There were a lot of things going on in the room, but the biggest thing that I noticed was that Ryan wasn’t there. His bed was empty, a mess, just like the floor. The room reeked of cleaning products that made me nauseous, along with my own fear.

There was a knock on the door as the doctor walked in. “Mark, its time to take your medication.”

“Where is he?” I said adamantly, “Where’s Ryan?” She sat down and spooned the liquid medicine into the spoon again as she opened my mouth for me and poured the bitter fluid down my throat irately yet protectively.

“Don’t worry, he’s fine.” She said, capping the bottle and placing it on the stand. “He’s… in intensive care.”

“And you call that fine?” She laughed half-heartedly and then silently left the room. “Wait, can’t you tell me what’s wrong?” She paused near the doorway.

“I would tell you, Mark,” She said slowly, “I would tell you if I knew.” I sat up confusedly as she turned toward me again.

“What about the investigator?” I asked frantically. I wasn’t ready to have another person gone forever. It was finally becoming a reality to me that my mother was gone, and I wasn’t going to let it happen to a friend of mine, also. “Didn’t he look at him?”

“Yes, but they couldn’t figure anything out. Then he went back into his sleep stage, the coma stage, so we moved him to intensive care. There’s nothing else to it, Mark, and when we do find out, I promise you’ll be one of the first to know, but our major priority right now is to find out what’s wrong, and then tell him and his wife. They need to know more than you do.”

I had an epiphany after that, thinking that it didn’t really matter nearly as much to me as it did to his family. I imagined Joannah fretting in the lobby with little Houston by her side, chattering away, unaware. His brothers Austin and Wesley, probably at home in Louisiana with Leanne and Georgia, worrying themselves back at home without a clue of what was going on. I imagined his parents, step-parents supposedly, back worrying about the man they cared for over so many years. And then there was me, pretty much just a random guy who got sick at the same time with almost the same illness. I realized that it wasn’t fair to the others who cared for him more and for longer. I decided to let it go now. I had my own issues to worry about.

“Okay. Thank you.” I said simply, allowing her to leave. She got up, somewhat astonished at the unusually short conversation that was in comparison to the length she imagined it being. She walked away immediately as I sat back, letting my eager thoughts drift to detrimental places.
ONE DAY LATER

“Okay, right in here,” Dr. Johansson instructed as Ryan was towed back into the room again. As they pulled him in, I got a look at his sickly, hackneyed face, his discolored skin, and noticed his shallow breathing. Without even needing anybody to explain, I knew that his recovery would be a miracle.

I gazed out the half-open window and saw the darkness outside and immediately knew that it was nighttime. I glanced into the hallway and saw Dr. Johansson on the telephone, no doubt talking to Joannah and telling her the condition of her husband. I felt extremely bad for Ryan, because this season was very adverse for him, having played very few games because of illness and injury. I had no doubt that my bad luck was probably getting him in those conditions.

I thought back on the season so far. Not really the playing, the games and such, but more of the happenstances unrelated to our sport. I remembered Ozzie Guillen, his words about the trade that didn’t happen about our shortstop who wasn’t doing anything for the team, who all he could manage to do is hurt himself. I laughed at myself when I remembered how I had thought he was talking about Dallas Hill, the minor leaguer who had come up in his place after he had hurt his foot again, for the second time after that Spring Training game. I remembered how frantic I had been that day, calling Lou manically after the talk to try to suede his opinion, just to later wish that it hadn’t been successful. I had done a lot of things this season that I can regret, but I was happy that I had chosen not to regret them. I had also done a lot of things this season that I was happy for, and therefore was contented that I had done them. All in all, I had minimal regret, and I knew that now I couldn’t really spoil that.

Dr. Johansson hung up the telephone and walked somberly back into the room. “I think we all know the situation at hand…” She muttered, signaling to the seemingly unconscious Ryan, “So his wife is… not taking it well.” I nodded from my bed as she took the medicine off the table again and spooned it out. “So if she comes here, I just want you to keep your mouth shut at all costs, okay?” She commanded, pouring the medicine down my throat angrily. I choked a bit as she put the cap back on and walked briskly out of the room.

By now I was feeling tons better, ready to get out of the hospital again, but I wasn’t allowed to leave until I was okayed, which I wasn’t yet, obviously. Yesterday I had felt okay also, but today I was even better. I had even told Dr. Johansson that I was okay, but she didn’t care. She was too worried about Ryan, and I understood why completely.

Corrupting thoughts reentered my head as I sat thinking. Lately, doing nothing but thinking was an extremely dangerous thing. It led to thoughts of my near-death experience, Ryan’s obvious lack of time left, and my departed mother. The negative thoughts swirled around my mind, making me want to crawl into a hole and die. It hurt to think now; it was painful to even breathe thinking about how any of those things could be my fault. It was killing me from the inside out, making me feel sick all over again. I lamented my losses and that was making me feel miserable and desperate. Now I realized why they were keeping me in this horrible place.
TWO DAYS LATER

The only word that could possibly be used to describe my mood when I woke up was uneasy. I knew something wasn’t right at the moment my eyes opened. Ryan’s hematemesis was acting up again, waking me up in the middle of the night to his bitter groaning in pain and the cleanup that unfortunately followed, along with him being guided out of the room to get ‘inspected’ because he was too weak to even stand up by himself. About five times a day, when his illness would spark, he would be taking into intensive care for about an hour because it hurt him so badly that he stopped breathing. They said it was an unprecedented illness and they weren’t sure how to cure it, or even where to start.

But the thing that made me especially uneasy upon waking up was the empty bed next to mine with clean white sheets, unlike the Ryan’s old ones which were stained red. The room was unusually clean, and nobody was saying anything to me, even when they noticed that I was awake. I had a horrible ulcer feeling in my stomach when I realized what it had to mean.

Dr. Johansson swiftly entered the room to see me, staring pensively at the other half of the room. “Mark, you’re awake.” She exclaimed. I turned my head to her gradually to meet her worried glance. “You probably noticed that your roommate is missing.”

“Probably.” I muttered. I wasn’t as much angry at her as I was angry at the world. I had sworn that I would not let two people I respected die in the same weak, yet here I am, staring that faulty promise in the face as reality set in. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. The loss of my mother was enough for me already. I couldn’t do this.

“I think that you should know he’s okay.” I looked at her, shocked at what she added in. I continued to stare at her confusedly as she broke into a relieved grin. “He’s fine. We transferred him into the recovery ward. The inspector found out what was wrong with him last night when he was taken into intensive care, and we performed the necessary surgery, so all the odds are pointing to his revitalization from the hyperpyrexia. In case you didn’t know, Mark, your survival was considered a phenomenon with minor hyperpyrexia. He had a major case as well as hematemesis and he survived, that’s an unmatched, extraordinary miracle. That’s one for the record books. I think that this whole experience should be a lesson to you.” I nodded.

“That’s for sure.”

“Well, we cleaned up this room so you could get out of here. You’ve been in here for too long, and I know you feel okay. How about you get up and I’ll fill out your chart?” I gazed up at her.

“I’ve been waiting to hear that for eight days.” I said, not even having to hesitate knowing how long I’ve been in this dreaded place.

“Are you going to need help?” She joked. She grabbed the clipboard from off the table and walked out of the room and toward the lobby. I shakily sat up, excited for the moment when I’d finally hit the ground, and when that did happen, it was rather enthralling. I breathed a sign of relief. Everyone was okay.

Almost everyone, anyway.
ONE DAY LATER

I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell to my father’s small house in Palm Springs, California. I had decided to come and see him on my personal day, not really for him but for my sisters.

There was a rustling inside as I wiped my brow. It was nearing one hundred degrees here in California, and you could tell. Finally, the door was swung open with a creak and I saw Kelly, standing inconsolably as she held the door open. “Mark, when did you get here?” She asked, wrapping her arms around me in a quick hug. She then led me into the dainty house and closed the door behind me. “Dad’s in the kitchen,” She said quietly.

I walked in front; my way of shielding her, seeing as how she knew how much Sean hated me. As I got to the kitchen, I saw Chelsea and Sean sitting at the table with a few open seats. I granted myself permission to take one of them as Kelly sat down next to me. “Hey Chelsea, Sean…” I greeted them awkwardly as their mournful faces turned toward my uncomfortable one. I didn’t feel welcome here, in Sean and my mother’s house, seeing as how I hadn’t been here in years and now Mom was gone and Sean hated me, and… it was discomfited in all honesty.
“Hi Mark,” Chelsea mumbled mutely. I nodded respectfully to her, acknowledging her like Sean had so far denied to do for me.

I sat there awkwardly, staring incompetently at Sean, waiting for him to reply to me. “Look, Sean, I know you’re upset, but I’d really appreciate it if you would even speak to me.” I felt more mature, experienced than him, like he was the child in this talk, because in all honesty, he was acting childish. “All I want is to be respected from you as I am from my sisters. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Sean looked up at me and, as if looking right past me, muttered, “Chelsea, Kelly, can you please leave the room for a few minutes?” I was stuck staring at my stepfather as my sisters darted out of the room. After the door was closed Sean stood up and started pacing around the kitchen. “What do you have to say for yourself?” He asked stubbornly.

“I don’t know what you want me to say to that,” I said adamantly in return, “I think I deserve a little respect for what I’ve been through recently and I don’t think you should talk to me like that.”

“I think you know full well what I’m talking about,” He said, stopping next to me and staring down at me. “I think we both know that this is your entire fault.” I was shocked at this remark, and glared up at him, standing up from my seat also.

“What’s that supposed to mean? It’s not my fault that she crashed! What is wrong with you?” He was glaring at me as I was glaring back; it was a showdown.

“If you had never landed yourself in the hospital, she would still be here, wouldn’t she? If you hadn’t almost killed yourself, she wouldn’t have freaked out and crashed, let alone be on the road in itself. I think it’s clear who’s really to blame.” I was astonished that he would say that to me, even though he hated me, but the more I thought about it, the more clearly I saw his reasoning. Maybe it was my fault after all; maybe I was to blame… Maybe the confidence that I had just regained before the All-Star Game was fading already…

“Look, I see where you’re coming from completely, I see why, but you can’t deny the fact that I didn’t make the actual crash happen. Maybe it was my fault she was in it, maybe not, but I’m not completely to blame.” I said that more to calm myself than to prove a point, and I knew it, and apparently Sean saw that he was getting to me.

“I want you out of this house.” He murmured. I stood there, next to him, still shocked, with my alarm growing with every word he said. “And that means now.” He said firmly, turning me around and pushing me toward the door. “And I never want to see you in this house again.” He pushed me into the family room, toward the front door and slammed the kitchen door behind me. Chelsea and Kelly were staring at me, astonished as I headed over to the door and opened it.

“Bye.” I said simplistically and left, desolately as I felt the need to collapse and break down. I got into my car and let me head drop despondently, until the horn honked. Then I sighed and sat up and wretchedly slammed my key into the ignition and pulled out, getting ready to drive to the airport earlier than expected.

I opened the door to the lobby and emerged into the familiar atmosphere of my locality, the familiar receptionist standing by the desk who greeted me quickly. “Well, finally, you’re back! We’ve missed you, Mark, people were starting to ask.” I grinned and headed over to the elevators.

“Same to you, Eliza.” I grinned, still discomfited from my visit and Sean’s attack on me. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the door close button and shut my eyes and took in the vibration of the elevator. It was soothing after what had happened in the past week or so.

I stepped out onto my floor and was about to open the door to my apartment when Nicole’s door opened. I turned around to see Nathan stroll out of the room with a felicitous smirk. I think he saw me, too, because I had nowhere to hide.

As I opened my door, he stepped into the elevator and as he left, I walked back into the hallway and shut my door behind me. I walked over to Nicole’s apartment door and knocked urgently.

She was shuffling around frantically inside. “I’ll be right there.” She said hurriedly as the footsteps grew closer. Finally she opened the door to see me standing in the hall. “Oh, Mark, come in!” She said in a cheery voice, beckoning me in. I shook my head.

“I saw Nathan in here, Nicole.” I said as she stared at me confusedly. She opened her mouth but couldn’t seem to find the words.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t give me this crap, Nicole; I don’t want to hear this. I saw him and I want an explanation.” She sighed.

“Look, Mark, it’s not what you think.” She said slowly, trying to find the words. I shook my head.

“I don’t want to hear this. This is bull, okay, so if you’re going to go with this whole ‘it’s not what you think it is’ cliché, then you might as well just give it up. I’m not going to stand for this.”

“Are you really going to do this again, Mark? Think about how poorly we both fared.”

“I told you, Nicole, I’m not taking this crap. I forgave you once, and this is my last straw. It’s over, Nicole, and don’t think I’m going to repent it this time.” I walked away, leaving her standing there in the dark of her apartment as I stuck my key in my door and opened it, then slammed it behind me. I was so angry I couldn’t see straight.

I collapsed onto the couch and turned on the radio. I needed a good death-metal song to soothe my mood. Unfortunately for me, it was You and Me by Lifehouse. This song was following me like the one hundred three mile per hour fastballs. My whole life was turning into a nightmare.

The music gave me a headache and the place smelled like beer and whiskey as the happy couples ran around like maniacs. About ten people from our team were meeting here, the ones of us that were especially stressed out recently. Rich, Koyie and Dallas Hill, Brian Roberts, Casey McGeehee, Micah Hoffpauir, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Dioner Navarro and I took a seat at en empty table as Brian Roberts called for a round of drinks. We all tried our best to not look like ourselves to avoid mobs of fans, but it appeared that everyone was too drunk already to notice. There was a table of girls not far from us who seemed to be eyeing a few of us, but I pretended not to notice.

Finally, the waitress came back with our round and Roberts passed the alcohol around. I got to it last, and I was about to refuse. “Come on, man,” Roberts said, “I know that you’re more stressed out than anyone else here. Let it go. Everyone your age is giving in, why do you have to be an exception?” He grabbed the last drink off the tray and placed it in front of me. I picked it up meekly as everyone at the table nodded slyly. For the first time in my life, I took a sip of the alcohol and choked on it a bit, it tasted bitter and gross.

“At least you tried it,” Roberts said, pulling it away, but I stopped him.

“I don’t like it, that doesn’t mean I don’t need it.” I said bitterly, picking it up and taking another sour sip. It slightly burned my tongue with the taste, but I felt obliged to calm my misery.

“Oh God, I feel like [crap].” I muttered to myself as I groaned, sitting up in my bed. It was six o’clock in the morning and I had no idea what was going on. My head was pounding and I was shaking all over, but I couldn’t remember a thing.

I got out of bed and pulled on a sweatshirt, realizing that I was back in my apartment. I went into the medicine cabinet and pulled out some painkillers, taking one or two more than I probably was supposed to, I was too out of it to know. I remembered going to the bar with some of the guys the night before… maybe they would know what was going on.

I picked up my telephone and dialed Micah Hoffpauir’s cell phone. When it started to ring I cringed from the loud, piercing noise in my ear. I reluctantly pulled the phone away from my ear until it finished ringing, and then collapsed back onto my bed as Micah answered. “Yeah?” He asked bitterly.

“Micah, do you know what the [heck] happened last night?” I asked, groaning as I got up and looked at my bright red eyes and messed up appearance in the mirror.

“Dude, you got so wasted last night.” He laughed, “I think you even beat Carlos out.” I groaned, ashamed at myself for giving into the intoxication in the first place.

“Did I do anything I’m going to regret? You should know that I don’t remember a thing that happened.” I heard him laugh tediously as my head started pounding from the sharp sound of his voice.

“What do you think? [Heck] yeah, man, you don’t go to a bar and get wasted and not do something you’ll regret.”

“Just tell me what I did.” I groaned.

“You are so going to freak.”

I was almost paralyzed as I sat in the dugout dismissively. Lou had learned of my mistake last night and I was paying the price for it; I was out for the rest of the series against the Dodgers, which was luckily only two more games, counting today’s, which I had no desire whatsoever to play in anyway.

Lou was having a problem today with the shortstop position, as usual. Ryan was still recovering and Dallas was, like me, getting punished, Ronny was, as you know, on the Orioles, so his only option was Mike Fontenot with DeRosa back at second. But then we needed a right fielder. Micah was being punished, also, so he was sitting next to me angrily. It wasn’t the first time he had done this.

So Soriano was our left fielder, Jim Edmonds in center and Reed Johnson in right. The rest of the lineup was pretty much the same, with Ted Lilly stepping in to pitch. Being at Wrigley again, we were fielding first as Tony Abreu took the plate to start the game.

Ted was fiery today, pitching near one hundred mile per hour pitches at a consistent rate, making Abreu sweat after just one at bat. Being down 0-2 in the count, he took a wild swing at a perfect curveball, Ted’s specialty, and was struck out on an easy three pitches. I was expecting the rest of the game to be pitched just as well.

Russell Martin, the catcher, didn’t usually let that happen, though. His hobby was getting on base and his career was slugging the baseball out of the park. It was something he did five days out of seven in his week.

I saw the menacing look in his eyes and felt the strongest desire to take everything back that I did yesterday, and to be in this game and to give him that look back. Mike was being too timid out in short, he didn’t look intimidating enough with his short build, and I wanted to get in there and show Martin who was boss. Better yet, I would want to be the pitcher and get in there and throw one hundred three mile per hour fastballs right down the middle of the plate, leaving him astonished and showing him that those fastballs are done haunting me.

Ted Lilly apparently attempted that job for me, because the next pitch, according to the scoreboard, was clocked in at one hundred three miles per hour, to my delight, but it wasn’t as unapproachable as I would have liked; Russell Martin smacked it far, toward the bleachers and I knew it was gone already. It was heading over to Reed in right, who had honestly no chance to jump up the wall and grab it. Yeah, I also would have liked to be playing outfield so I could steal that homer away from Martin.

So as Reed jumped, I was praying for a miracle, like that workout we had a week or two ago paying off in his leg strength and improving his vertical by about a foot. I also knew that it was impossible, but I could still hope.

And my hopes didn’t pay off, because Reed didn’t catch it. But there was a positive side to it, also; it wasn’t a home run. It bounced off the wall and got caught in the ivy. After digging for it for awhile Reed gave up and put his hands above his head, signaling to the first base line umpire that he couldn’t find it. They stopped Martin as he was rounding third and commanded him back to second with a ground rule double.

And the next one up was the Cub killer. Right fielder Andre Ethier, who the fans gave a scathing last season in the playoffs when all hope was lost. The fans took him as a joke, making puns and yelling them down to him, taking cheap stabs at him alone and his entire team and hometown. If the fans yelled at him again, I was afraid that he would blow and either get a grand slam or home run of some sort or start a dugout fight. After all the suspensions that Lou handed out, we were short on players.

I was considering telling Lou that I didn’t want to play for a longer while. I still had a lot to get over, after Nicole and my mother and Sean’s reaction to all of it, and I wasn’t ready to face the stressful sports life again. I needed more time off and we didn’t have any breaks any time soon after the All-Star-Game break that I spent in the hospital with the ironic twist of Ryan joining me. I was fed up with him, to be honest, sick of him only getting hurt and screwing this team over. So far, counting the games where he was playing, Dallas had more games and was performing better in them. I knew that he needed to shape up, and I was sure that everyone else knew, too. My head was still aching and I was dying for this game to be over so I could just go home and get a good dose of aspirin to calm my nerves.

It was the bottom of the ninth and we were losing by one with Mike Fontenot up to bat. Daryle Ward, the pinch-hitter, was on deck for the pitcher’s spot. Mike was in reality the first batter up in the inning.

Johnston, the pitcher, was pitching just like Ted had been at the beginning of the game. Ted had given up two runs, and we had gotten one on an RBI by Geovany.

I was praying that Mike could at least get on base and leave the actual slugging to Daryle Ward, who always hit one deep when we needed him to. Mike was a great contact hitter, too, so I felt pretty confident in him. He had to make an adaptation today, moving from second to the shortstop position, while shortstops are supposedly the best fielders on the team, even if ours may be an exception, but he managed to get away with only one error on the day. Not too bad.

However, if you counted striking out as an error also, then right as I was thinking about what a great day he was having, he made one of the biggest errors of the game. He struck out, making one out for Daryle Ward. He walked into the dugout miserably, took off his helmet and slammed it on the ground by my feet. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what because when he was on the defensive, he could get pretty rude, occasionally a master of the ‘on-purpose’ faux pas, something that I really wasn’t in the mood for today. I didn’t want anybody mentioning to me the idiot choice I had made last night.

So, to not mention it, Daryle Ward was on deck, and with one out, we were all praying for a miracle. After Daryle Ward we would transition back to the top of the order with Alfonso Soriano, another slugger. Then, assuming the best that he at least made it on base, Mark DeRosa would be taking over the second spot because Ryan Theriot was out, no duh. But one thing at a time, Daryle had to get on.

Johnston was pitching with ease on his face. It looked like he was having no problem at all with Fontenot, and Ward was going to be a piece of cake too. I doubted that he was even sweating beneath his cap.

I sat back and sighed. Lou sure had a way of making you regret your stupid choices. I was dying right now, praying that he would decide spontaneously to put me in to pinch hit. I really just wanted to get in there and slug one to try to redeem myself. I was so anxious to see what Daryle would pull off.

Johnston wound up his arm and let loose a good looking pitch, down the middle and mid-speed. Daryle was ready to slug it, too, so he shifted his weight and reared his arm back to swing. He let go a solid swing and was watching the horizon for the ball, as we all were in the dugout, praying that it would get us another point on the board.

After a split second of realization, I noticed that the ball wasn’t in the air. It was in the mitt of catcher Russell Martin. I took off my hat in a bout of fury and slammed it onto the ground and sighed, my head in my hands looking at the ground. I was so furious with myself. I really just wanted to get in the game.

“Rogers,” Lou called to me, and I was sure that he was putting me in the game. “I take it you’ve learned your lesson, right?” I nodded eagerly as Sori stepped up to bat.

“Yes, sir.” I said, ready to stand up and take the plate. He kind of laughed at my fervor toward getting in the game as he turned to watch Soriano take a last few swings.

“I can tell.” He said mockingly, then turned and walked to the end of the bench. I looked after him in disbelief. So he wasn’t going to put me in after all? What a jip.

Soriano, obviously nervous, swung at a pitch in the dirt to make the count 0-1. I sighed and tried to look over at Lou, showing him that I should have been in there instead. My attention was brought away, however, when Sori made contact, hitting the ball right back into the pitcher’s mitt. The Dodgers and fans screamed and raided the park, celebrating and standing up to cheer. Soriano took off his helmet and slammed it on the ground before walking angrily back into the dugout.

Well, Lou had accomplished one thing; making himself, Soriano and I look like dupes.

“I hate planes. They make me so groggy.” DeRosa said as he followed me out of the airport. “You would think that being an athlete, I would be used to it by now. I’m not.”

“Way to state the obvious.” I laughed, getting a better grip on my luggage handle and trudging along to the bus station. We were in the middle of the mob of red and blue that was our team. Traveling was something that you had to do often to be an athlete, blatantly enough. I hated planes, too, which most people probably did.

We were in New York, ready to play the New York Mets. I was able to play again, my bout of punishment was over (finally!) and I was excited for it. The Mets did have a lot of power players, though, like Jose Castillo, Carlos Beltran and Delgado, Ryan Church, and probably the biggest threat of all, their all-star pitcher that we would be facing in a few hours, Johan Santana. He was one of the best pitchers in all of the major leagues, and he was known for it. Everybody knew his name and everybody was afraid to play him. I wasn’t going to let him get to me. I was going to beat him out. I was going to set out to do it. And I knew I would be playing, because Ryan was still recuperating, just to be safe.

We were putting our ace up against theirs, with our Carlos Zambrano ready to face Santana. He was probably the most excited of anyone. He loved a challenge, what could I say, and he had been looking forward to this match-up for years.

We got on board the bus and as we started moving, Lou stood up and made an announcement. “I have the lineups in, and I’m happy to say that they’re pretty much back to normal. We have Mike back at second and Rogers back at short with DeRo in right, so this game should be easier than the rest because we’ll use to the lineup. Therefore, I want no excuses for losing. I don’t care if we are going against Johan Santana, we have Carlos in there to beat him out and I think we all should, if we don’t already have faith in him completely.” I nodded along with everyone else, tuning out his speech on focusing on imaging myself back at my spot. It’s been what, two and a half weeks? I was starting to doubt how ready I really was.

I remembered my argument with Nicole again. That always made me ablaze with anger that I was sure would increase my potential in a game. I saved my fury for the field as we ran over a pothole and I lurched forward a bit.

Lou’s phone rang and he answered in quickly and impolitely. A few grunts and a few sentences here and there and he was done.

“There’s an issue with the hotel. They don’t have enough rooms. You all have to get a roommate for a few days, unless you want to waste your own money on a different hotel.” That was all he said before sitting back down in his seat. I looked around at the people frantically talking to each other and trying to get a roommate. I don’t know who it was that everyone wanted to be in a room with, probably Dempster for comic relief, or maybe DeRosa. Either way, I was staying out. I didn’t care who my roommate was.

“Hey, man, are you cool with being in my room? I just kind of want to avoid this… hassle.” I turned around to see who was talking to me. It was DeRo.

“Sure. Why not?” I smiled awkwardly and leaned back again as we went over another pothole and I bumped my head again. I groaned and let my head drop back as Mark, next to me, started cracking up as if it was the funniest thing ever.
THREE HOURS LATER

“Rogers, what are you doing?” Lou shouted over the railing as I caught the throw from Mark DeRosa. I looked over at him questionably, wondering what I had done wrong. “Sorry, just testing to see how sharp your reflexes are. I need to make sure you aren’t intoxicated again.” When he said the word, it rolled off his tongue in a bout of spite and it made me cringe. He just had to bring it up again, right when I was trying to forgive myself for it again.

“I’m not, Lou, and I’m not going to be for a long while.” I grimaced as I tossed the ball halfheartedly back to DeRo, sighing. Mark was trying not to make eye contact, I couldn’t tell if he felt tense or if he thought the situation was hilarious.

“Good. Well, what are you waiting for? Get back to your warm up.” I halfway rolled my eyes, thinking about how obnoxious he was being and just wanting him to get out of my way and let me repent myself in peace.

“Well he’s giving you a hard time.” DeRosa said, with a little awkward laugh to go along with the discomfited statement. We were tossing the ball rather than throwing it, but in my fury and embarrassment, I chucked it as hard as I could back to Mark, who caught it off-guard and stumbled backward a little bit upon catching it. He lost his footing and collapsed onto the ground, laughing hysterically.

“Dude, chill out.” He said between laughs and gasps of air. “It’s not that big a deal.” He got back to his feet as I looked the other way, at the scoreboard at Shea Stadium.

“Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention I guess.” He brushed off his hands and chuckled to himself.

“No, really?”

“Jeez, you’re just hysterical, now aren’t you? I’m laughing so hard, so high pitched you can’t hear it. Give it up, Mark, you know I’m not in the mood.”

“Well, I can tell.” He said agreeably.

“Wow, you take these things seriously.” I said sarcastically.

“Wow, you’re cynical.”

“Well this is going nowhere.” I laughed. “Let’s just get back to doing whatever we’re supposed to be doing.”

“Jeez, that’s a great plan.” He joked, tossing the ball back to me slowly with almost no spin. I caught it meekly and rolled it around my palm for a bit before tossing it back.

“I really miss being a pitcher, you know?” I sighed, trying to think of a way to end the awkward silence.

“I don’t think that that’s your entire problem. I think you miss your girl.” He said all-knowingly.

“What do you mean?” I asked, confused. I don’t remember telling anyone about the incident besides the guys I went to the bar with.

“Are you kidding me, Rogers? I can tell when you’re going through something tough, and I can tell right now that you’re not right. And I know you and Nicole have been having problems lately, so don’t play dumb. I know what’s up.”

“Look, I have a right to be mad about that. She cheated on me with the same guy she went out with to make me mad. I know what she’s capable of pulling.” I groaned, dropping the baseball on the ground and staring at it blankly.

“You just can’t avoid it?”

“She’s like… addicting, I don’t know. She’s like nicotine. Addicting, always making you want more, but in the end it’s deadly.”

“Have you been thinking about that analogy or something? Because it seemed kind of planned out.” He chortled, obviously hoping out of good taste that I had.

“You really can see right through me.” I laughed as Lou called us into the dugout.

I was batting eighth, so I didn’t need to get ready right away in the top of the first inning. I just sat back and watched Soriano take the plate as Fontenot warmed up in the on-deck circle and Lee got his helmet and gloves on. I let my head drop back and took a few deep breaths, halfway between wanted to play and wanting this game to be over with.

Johan Santana was throwing bullets, figuratively of course, but he was throwing some seriously fast pitches. His fastball was dangerous and you could miss the turn of his breaking balls and curveballs if you simply blinked. I thought that I had seen the best when Carlos was on the mound when he was hot, but now I saw a whole new face to fear.

Soriano, as usual, didn’t respond well to the pressure of leading off against a threatening pitcher and struck out undeniably in three pitches. They were all clocked in at roughly mid nineties and above. It was a frightening sight and I was starting to dread going up to bat.

Little Mikey, as he was known by the fans, was up next. Fontenot looked downright scared, like the classic little naïve kid you saw on cartoons, who was afraid of everything and screwed up the simplest things. I think he felt that way too, because he hardly even pulled his bat back, merely watching the ball go from Santana’s hand to Brian Schneider’s mitt. He shook his head and stuck his foot into the dirt, twisting it and looking down on himself already.

The next pitch was a breaking ball, and apparently Fontenot blinked because he never even saw it break. It was clocked in at 105 miles per hour, the fastest I had ever seen a pitch, even faster than the haunting one hundred three. After he saw that one, he gave up and swung dully at the next pitch, way out side, and turned on his heel and walked back into the dugout, defeated.

Derrek Lee, our slugger, was up next. He put a confident sneer on his face and looked deeply into the eyes of Johan Santana, who looked right back at him menacingly. Lee swung big on the first pitch, which was way inside. I doubted that he even looked at the pitch because if he had, he would have more common sense than to swing at it. It was a really bad ball.

He shook out his arms and stepped out of the batters box and took a few practice swings, a few deep breaths, and finally stepped back in semi-confidently. Santana snuck a low fastball into the zone, which looked out to me and apparently everyone but the umpire.

We desperately needed to win this game. We were first in our division with a few games left, but the Brewers were only a game behind. We had to pull ahead and lower our ‘magic number’, because we technically don’t want any drama near the end of the season; a lot of our guys don’t react well to pressure, and its better to win by a lot than a little most of the time.

Lee watched the next one go by, an easy fastball, about eighty miles per hour. That might have just been a Santana changeup, I had no idea.

I grabbed my mitt for the first time in what seemed like ages and walked triumphantly up the dugout steps.

It was the third inning. That was all I could think about. It was only the third inning. It’s never too late to come back.

And while I would like to believe that, I didn’t.

We were losing, of course, with a score of ten to one. Zambrano couldn’t get his pitches in the strike zone without pitching them slow enough to hit a homer every time a batter was up. In three innings, they scored ten. We scored one off an error by none other than my best friend Ryan Church. I really hated Ryan Church since the ASG, so I was personally delighted to see that ball go right past his mitt and to see him chase it to the wall as Edmonds confidently ran home and DeRosa made it to third.

I had been up to bat once, and gotten a single, but got LOB, the abbreviation for left on base. Everything in baseball has to be abbreviated.

It was the third inning and everyone had pretty much given up. We were fielding again and Zambrano was still in as their top of the order came up, second baseman Jose Castillo. He had one homerun on the day. You probably could have guessed that.

I was pretty much just going through the motions at my shortstop position, going from ready position to playing position to relaxed position over and over while they got hit after hit after hit. I just wanted the game to be over, and I was sure that everyone else was too.

The first pitch was an attempt at a fastball that was slow enough to be a changeup. Castillo loved it, too, and reared back and hit it deep, way over the head of Jim Edmonds and out of the stadium altogether.

Castillo ran the bases as Carlos started going crazy. He was screaming his head off and rampaging around the pitcher’s mound, throwing off his hat and mitt and throwing them onto the ground in a bout of anger.

Soto came up from his catcher’s spot and ran up cautiously to Zambrano. They had an argument for a little while, I couldn’t quote it because it was too explicit, but it kept getting more and more heated.

“WHAT THE [frick] IS WRONG WITH YOU? YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO CALL FOR A PITCH? THIS IS BULL, DUDE, JUST BULL. YOU CALL YOURSELF A CATCHER? WHAT A JOKE.” Carlos yelled in Geo’s face. Geo didn’t want to take it either.

“I DON’T THINK THAT I’M THE PROBLEM HERE, DUDE, I THINK THAT IT’S THE PERSON WHO’S ACTUALLY THROWING THE PITCHES TWENTY MILES PER HOUR SLOWER THAN IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.”

“Well this is interesting,” Fontenot said, walking up to me as the umpire called time. We all started jogging up to the pitcher’s mound to try to calm them down. Castillo was off partying with his teammates and laughing.

I was so busy watching Jose Castillo and his team enviously that I didn’t see the violence break out. I just heard the crowd randomly burst out screaming and yelling and I knew that something had happened.

I whirled around to see Carlos, fist out, and Geo, bent over with a bloody nose. Mike and Derrek were pulling Carlos back and Aramis was aiding Geovany back into the dugout. I stood back as the outfielders ran in to help. The umpire ejected Carlos immediately and he walked stubbornly into the dugout, silently grabbed his things and started muttering as he walked out the clubhouse door without looking back. Geo was still in the training room.

“Switch please.” Lou shouted from the dugout and the umpire nodded to him as Lou marked down who he wanted to replace Carlos and Geovany and handed the paper to the ump. He nodded yes to Lou, who started yelling out.

“Jason, get in to pitch. Reed, get into right, Mark D. to short and Rogers, get on the extra catcher’s stuff. You’re going to catch for Jason.” I stood in disbelief. Why me? Dioner Navarro was perfectly fine on the bench. “Don’t look at me like that, just DO IT.”

I jogged into the dugout and started putting on the load of catcher’s apparatus. The knee protectors, the chest guard, the helmet… I was wearing so much stuff that I could hardly move. I finally grabbed the catcher’s mitt and fit it on my hand. It was huge compared to a fielder’s mitt and a completely different shape.

I stepped up and tried to walk, but found it quite difficult after what I was used to, lightweight and easy to move. I struggled up the steps and crouched down behind home plate, feeling like the Michelin man. I knew limited pitches, only knowing the basic ones that Lou taught everybody, fastball, curveball, changeup, slider and breaking ball. My fingers wouldn’t move correctly, they wouldn’t bend right at the right time and it took close to ten seconds to call for a fastball to the outside.

I was practically cringing as I anticipated the pitch, knowing full well that a fastball would be fast (no way, right?). At least I was catching for Jason, who wasn’t the best at throwing fastballs.

He did his windup and his pitch, a ball, and the batter, catcher Brian Schneider, didn’t swing. I caught the ball and the shock of the contact in my mitt went from my palm up my arm, kind of like when you hit your funny bone.

But I ignored the shock and the paralyzing of my left arm and tossed the ball back and called for a curveball, then braced myself as it came.

It was the eighth inning. The Mets were up to bat with a man on second and two outs. We had come back astonishingly in the seventh after the stretch, and the score was ten to eleven. All we needed to do was to hold them, avoid getting that guy on second into scoring position and then get them back next inning.

Carlos Delgado was the runner and first baseman, and he was a speedy dude. I knew that I had to stop third baseman David Wright from getting a hit and we would be good. I called for a curveball on the edge of the strike zone, and it was pitched as a ball. The ball hit my palm in an awkward place and a tingling sensation went up, when I realized that Delgado was running to third. I snapped out of my paralyzed trance and threw the ball immediately, but it was too late. Delgado was safe.

I was mentally defeated. I was so upset with myself that I wanted to walk out of the game altogether. I had let him get into scoring position.

The next pitch was a slider. I braced myself again, still unready for the pitch every time it came, and this time I missed it altogether. It rolled between my legs and I didn’t know where it was at first, and when I turned around to see it Delgado was already touching home. I had single handedly gave them a stronger lead. I was more devastated than ever.

It was the top of the ninth and we were down by three. They had strengthened their lead by two, because of me, I was sure, and it was our last chance to get the lead. There were two outs and two men on and I was batting, Edmonds and DeRosa the runners. I was nervous.

I had a full count and the moment was looming ahead, where I would have to take a deep breath and do what I supposedly to best; play baseball.

The moment came and I was everything but ready for it. I was still dreading it when it came. I tried to feel confident but I wasn’t. I tried to play well but I wouldn’t. I tried to get a hit…

And I couldn’t.

“Holy [crap].” Mark said, sitting up in his bed. “I don’t feel so hot, at all, for that matter.” I laughed a bit to myself about how dumb he sounded. Until I sat up, too, and felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that made me want to throw up.

“Oh jeez, I got it too.” I groaned, holding my stomach and collapsing onto the bed. “Come on, I was just sick, you have to do this to me again?” Mark tried to laugh but groaned instead.

“Who had this first and who passed it on to who? I want answers.” He said meekly. “What are we going to do if we’re both sick? We can’t get up to tell anyone we need help.”

I picked up my phone from next to me and flipped it open. “Who should I call?” I asked cynically. Just then, the phone shut off. Dead battery.

“That’s great; man, way to charge your phone.” I threw it on the ground and I thought I might have heard it break, but I didn’t really care. I wasn’t in the mood to care about anything.

We would just have to wait and see who noticed that we weren’t there. We were playing late today, at about seven, so they would find out eventually that we were gone. “What about your phone?” I asked. He shrugged.

“Too far away.” He collapsed again after sitting up briefly, and moaned painfully. “My throat is killing me.”

“My stomach is killing me.” I volunteered. He nodded his agreement.

“Well duh that’s the worst part.” He said. “Do you have any aspirin?” He asked senselessly.

“Of course, I just carry a bottle of painkillers around with me everywhere I go, all the time. That’s feasible.”

He stopped talking and I assumed that he fell asleep, and without thinking about it, I drifted off too.
THREE HOURS LATER

“Come on, guys, how late are you going to sleep?” There was a knock on the door as my eyes fluttered open. DeRosa was still sound asleep.

“Who is it?” I asked in a raspy tone. My voice wasn’t cooperating with me. I had lost it apparently, which really wasn’t a surprise.

“It’s Jason.” It was Marquis. Figures. He almost broke my hand yesterday and now here he was, waking me up.

“Jason, get Lou or O’Neal or someone, someone who can break down the door please.”

“Are you locked in or something dumb like that? I can so imagine you two doing that.” Jason laughed.

“No, Jason, we both feel like [crap] and we want to know what’s wrong. Get someone who knows what they’re doing please, and hurry.” There was a silent pause and then footsteps going down the hallway.

“What was that?” Mark asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. “Dude, I think I’m seriously sick or something because I still feel awful.”

“Same,” I concurred. My throat still hurt and it felt like I had twelve ulcers in my stomach at the same time, like there was a burning hole in my abdomen with a thousand knives stabbing into it. It was one of the most unpleasant feelings in the world.

“I’m falling asleep,” He stated, while yawning. It made me feel really tired all of a sudden.

“What time is it?” I asked, seeing as how the clock was over by him. I didn’t get an answer though, because eventually he was snoring again as the door opened. It was Mark O’Neal.

“I heard that we have two sick people in here, what’s going on? Rogers, weren’t you just sick?”

“That’s what I thought.” I said. “I didn’t think it was possible to get sick twice in such a small allotted time period. Ah well.” I said the last part sarcastically and then laughed to myself, but laughing just made the stabbing feeling worse. “I think I might have an ulcer or something.”

“What about sleeping beauty over there?” He asked drolly. I gave a polite smile and shrugged.

“How should I know? He’s sleeping, I can’t question him now; it’s like asking a dead man.” He laughed, but I didn’t see the humor in the statement. I just shrugged.

“I know I’m certified, so I see why you asked for me to come over here, but I’m a certified athletic trainer, I’m not a doctor and I don’t know anything about illness. So, I’m sorry, but I don’t think that I’ll be much of a help to you. But I know someone who would be.”
TWO HOURS LATER

“He’s going to be just fine. It seems like only a virus, he could even be up and playing by tomorrow.” Dr. Frederick, from a New York doctoral building, was checking in on us, first DeRosa.

“And the other one?” Mark O’Neal asked wearily. He had pulled a few phone calls and gotten Dr. Frederick as soon as possible. They both walked up to me and the doctor checked my eyes and nose and throat, just like a normal checkup. He asked me a few questions which were all-too easy to answer. I was hoping that we would have the same thing because we were in the same room, after all, and we got sick at the same time. In fact, I was sure that was the cause.

“Something’s odd here,” The doctor said, and that’s when I knew that something was not as good as I had imagined it. “He’s ill, yes, but he doesn’t have any symptoms alike his roommate, and it seems that there is no cause at all. But it’s impossible to just get sick out of nowhere.” I closed my eyes and breathed in slowly, just wanting to stop getting into these life-threatening situations. I inferred for myself that it was severe.

“Very true,” O’Neal said, “But all I’m really looking for is a diagnosis.” The doctor laughed, straightening up and looking away.

“That’s a given. I would say bring him into the medical center and we’ll take another look at him. If you would please come with me, we could schedule an appointment.” The two of them, the doctor and O’Neal, left the room talking as if everything was fine after all this dilemma. I had a sinking feeling like I knew that something wasn’t right. In fact, something was very wrong and I knew it, just because of the way they neglected to shed any information.
ONE DAY LATER

“Breathe in slowly, and it will be okay. We’re going to give you some anesthesia, and you won’t be able to feel a thing.” They began to drug me and my nerves faded… a little.

My biggest fear was going under the knife. I was terrified to get surgery, just like Ryan had been. I had subconsciously been twiddling my thumbs until the doctor told me to stop. He told me that I had been very brave, because I was supposedly in a lot of pain, and I was nervous as heck to go along with it.

They had taken me in late the last night and diagnosed me with appendicitis. So here I was now, being drugged so they could cure me before my appendix burst, which would have happened if they had gotten to me about an hour later. I had almost died, or so they said. That would be the second time in two weeks. Not really the thing you want to happen so often.

“Count backward from one hundred and take deep breaths, you’ll be alright. This is a standard procedure and it’s never been fatal before.” Yeah right. Like I would just trust them while they were manically trying to calm me down. It wasn’t going to work.

I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself that it would be fine. I took deep breaths, just like he said, and tried to ease my shoulders and relax. It wasn’t working. My breathing was shallow from anxiety and I wanted to get this over with and just be okay.

My nerves relaxed without me in charge, my body went numb as I went under a knockout spell. Everything disappeared; I was removed from reality as everything went dark and I couldn’t even tell if I was breathing anymore. I heard faint voices calling for medical supplies before I was completely out; and then I was gone.

“Shut up, I think he’s awake.” My eyes opened slowly when I heard the familiar voice. It was Dallas Hill.

“What?” I asked groggily.

“Yeah, Dallas, I think he just might be.” Mike joked, but nobody seemed to think it was funny, causing for an awkward silence.

“You’re awake.” Dallas concluded.

“I noticed.” I said, sitting up. My head hurt but my stomach felt better. A lot better. “Is there a nurse or someone?”

“Uh, yeah… do you want me to get her or something?” Geovany said, getting up from his chair in the corner. “’cause I can do that.”

“Umm… sure…” The entire room was awkward right now. I laughed meekly but then just collapsed back onto the bed. I was exhausted. Geovany stood up slowly and walked toward the door, shoving people out of his path. I had just noticed how many people were in that little room and it freaked me out a little… I started having a spaz attack.

“Did we already play today?”

“Uh… yeah…” Mark said. “Well, I didn’t, you know, but… they did…” This had to be the MOST awkward conversation ever.

“And how did you do…? Anyone?”

Everyone looked at each other. “I think we’re all a little tired.” Mike announced. “This might be why we lost.”

“How badly?”

“I think the final score was… ten to one…” Wow.

“That sucks.”

“Just a bit.” He said sarcastically. Just then, the nurse walked in and ordered everyone to leave.

“Let him breathe a bit, he needs to recover and he needs rest, not a party.” Mike laughed on his way out.

“That was a stupid party then.” They walked out the door and Dallas shut it behind him, leaving me alone with the nurse.

“How are you feeling?” She asked. I shrugged.

“Numb and groggy.”

“Well that’s expected.”

“Then why did you ask?” My hand flew up to my mouth at the huge faux pas I had just let loose. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. The drugs make people do strange things…” She said irritably. I guess I had gotten on her nerves… a lot… “Just get some rest and I’ll check back in soon, okay?” I simply nodded, still shocked, as she walked out of the room.
ONE DAY LATER

“So how long is the recovery process?” I asked blankly, staring at the wall as the nurse looked at my chart.

“You’re what, twenty? I would say after today you can go. No big deal.” I nodded at the good offer. I hated spending all this time in the hospital and I needed to escape, so the sooner the better.

“Okay.” I said simply. She laughed a bit.

“Not as sarcastic as yesterday?” She grinned. She was in a better mood, too, apparently.

“I can actually control what I’m saying now.” I grinned. She laughed too. She wrote something on my chart and then put it on the table near the door.

“Well, have fun and try to get better and I’ll check on you later.” These visits were getting more and more brief. But that was a good thing…

She walked out swiftly as I sat back in my hospital bed for the millionth time in my life. I closed my eyes and sighed. I was so sick of being in this place… or at least the general place… I just hated hospitals…
THREE DAYS LATER

It was my first game playing after getting my surgery and we were in Arizona playing the Diamondbacks, or the D-Backs. They swept us in 2007 in the first round of the playoffs and we beat them out in the regular season last year, but we still weren’t quite satisfied. Pitching today for us was Ryan Dempster against their 45 year old pitcher, the oldest in baseball, renowned Randy Johnson. This couldn’t be that hard, because he was… old… and we could probably hit off of him pretty easily…

And not only was I back but so was our starting shortstop! Ryan was back from recovery and rearing to play… he was so excited, with the energy of a little child again. It made me smile to see him, dying to get onto the field and start playing. It was hilarious.

The lineup was different today than usual, with Ryan taking the start at short, Mark moved back to second for the day while Mike got the day off and me in right field while our search for the ideal left fielder continued… and went nowhere.

I was batting fifth in the lineup, so I was on the bench when the game started. Soriano was leading off, as usual, but the batting order in whole was different. After Sori was DeRosa and then Lee and Ramirez, like usual, and then me, Edmonds, Soto, Theriot and finally the pitcher’s spot, always ninth.

Soriano was having a rough season, especially in batting. He was becoming more apathetic in his swing, just ignoring some perfect pitches and swinging at pitches in the dirt. It was becoming more and more painful to watch… but we didn’t have a replacement. So… it sounds rude… but we were stuck with him…

“I hate this.” I turned around to see who was talking. It was Ryan. “Not only am I stuck in the eighth spot, but I’m going to suck it up because I was out for about a month.” I laughed. “It isn’t really that funny, though, you know.”

“Yeah. I do. I’ve been through it myself. Often. But… I don’t know. I feel… off today… I have a bad feeling about all of this.”

“All of what?”

“I don’t know… I’m just having a premonition… that this game is really going to suck.”

“Well that’s scary.”

“You can say that again. I think I’m just stressed out again… you know what that can do to me.”

“You can say that again.”

We were losing in the fourth inning and Dempster wasn’t doing well at all. The sweat was pouring off his face but it didn’t look like he was trying at all. He couldn’t find the strike zone to save his life and he could only throw balls at changeup speed. That was a really bad sign for someone of his skill, someone as consistent as Ryan. It was disappointing.

I was squinting my eyes out in right field, trying to see how Dempster was doing. The sun was beating down and I was sweating, too, having gotten almost no balls hit to me, doing almost nothing for the entire game. I was trying to stifle a yawn when Connor Jackson, their first baseman, hit a line drive over DeRosa’s head. Therefore, with Mark being at second, the ball went to me. It was exciting. I was going to get to touch it.

I ran forward and scooped up the grounder eagerly, tossing it to Mark covering second while Jackson got in safe. I was happy despite, and walked back to my position happily after making the standard play. Jim was in center field, cracking up hysterically at my stupid contentment.

Next up was Randy Johnson, the pitcher. I couldn’t really see him from my distance, but I knew basically what he looked like; old and wrinkled. I was prepared for him to get out, relaxing a bit at my ready position.

But I didn’t get an out. The weird premonition came back as Soto called for the pitch. I stood up as Jim looked at me strangely.

“Dude, we’re in ready position.” He said, crouching down as Dempster did his windup. I shook my head and continued standing.

“I have a bad feeling about this.” I said shaking my head still. “I don’t know. Something doesn’t feel right.” I was staring at the sky and thinking when I heard an awkward yelping noise. Jim looked at me strangely.

“Dude, that was really creepy.” I looked at the infield and saw Ryan Dempster, crouching on the pitcher’s mound and grasping his shoulder in pain. We both started running in along with the infielders as Mark O’Neal came sprinting out to Dempster’s aid. I held my breath as I stood behind the rest of the circle, knowing full well that another injury was probably the last thing we needed. But, of course, when is it not?

“Okay, come into the training room and I’ll take a closer look at it. Are you okay for now?” O’Neal asked, helping Dempster into a standing position. Ryan nodded meekly, still clutching his shoulder, and followed O’Neal into the training room helplessly. Carlos Marmol came running onto the mound for relief as the umpire called the game back on. I sprinted over to right field again, still holding my breath. I had strange intuition.

“How are you doing, Demp?” I asked breathlessly as I entered the training room and grabbed a water bottle out of the refrigerator casually. “Are you okay?”

“Elbow strain.” He said. I nodded meekly. “But it feels decent, due to the circumstances and all… you know…”

“Totally.” I said. Then I thought about it. “Well, not in direct context, but I do pretty much know.” He laughed awkwardly as Mark O’Neal entered the room.

“Hey, Mark, how’s the game going?” I capped the water bottle, still trying to regain my breath. “Lots of running or something?”

I nodded. “Caught in a rundown. I won it, too, but then I was left on second.” He nodded, while opening drawers and grabbing tape.

“Exciting. What inning is it?” He asked mindlessly while taping up Dempster’s shoulder as Ryan cringed with pain.

“The game just ended.” I said cynically.

“Oh. Well, what was the score?”

“Twelve to nine. We had a major comeback in the eighth but we still couldn’t pull ahead.”

“You guys have to get over this losing streak. The Brewers aren’t far behind, you know? And we play them near the end of the regular season. I don’t want that match-up to be a competition for a spot in the playoffs.”

“We’re working on it. We’re just getting some of our starters out of the hospital,” I said jokingly, “But hey, Ryan, get better soon, okay? We’re going to make it to the playoffs and you’re going to be an important part for us to win it. Get better and stay healthy. I’ve got to get back upstairs.” Dempster nodded as O’Neal dismissed me passively.
ONE DAY LATER

“That was a great game, dude.” I said, tossing my bag onto the bed and laughing. I was holding my cell phone up to my ear and talking to Michael happily. “Did you see Mike hit that grand slam, or did you leave? Wasn’t it awesome? Perfect timing, too… you should have seen the look on Andruw’s face when he saw that little guy hit it out of the park… game winning, too… aw, that was great.” Yes, by deductive power you can probably tell that we were losing again, seven to four, in the ninth when Mike hit a grand slam to win it all. He looked thrilled, and we all were so happy for him… his first grand slam… and it won the game. It was just a great moment.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. “Hold on, man, there’s someone at the door.” I tossed the phone on the bed, still on, and walked slowly to the door, still wiping sweat off my brow. I paused with my hand on the knob, because it was cold and cooled down my hand. Finally, I opened the door expectantly.

Nicole was standing in the hallway. I still wasn’t over her cheating on me with Nathan… and I didn’t think that I was ready to forgive her. But then she did exactly what I did, reached out and kissed me, standing right there, for a long while. When it finally ended, she breathed in deeply. “I’m sorry. But I swear, it’s not what you think, and I can explain…” I cut her off.

“I don’t know.” I said. “So far, you know this hasn’t been working out right. I don’t know if I’m willing to risk it again…”

“Please, Mark, just one more try, and if you still don’t love me in the end, I won’t make you do anything again. I promise.”

“I don’t know if I can handle it again, Nicole.” I said discernibly. “Part of me wants to and part of me doesn’t. Sometimes I still don’t feel over the first time we broke up. Sometimes I’m still angry from that time you spent with Nathan. But sometimes, I feel like you’re the only one for me, and you have me confused, and I don’t think that I can spend my life confused. I need a clear path for once; I’m tired of all this deception. I need a truth.”

“I won’t give it up this time. I swear I’ll be one hundred percent honest and I won’t lie to you and I’ll be true. I swear to you. I will be completely loyal. I just know that I don’t want to be with anyone but you.”

“This is a lot to take all suddenly, you know.”

“Mark, you don’t know what I went through to be here. Come on, I flew out to Arizona for you. You have to at least consider giving me another chance.” I was taken aback by how badly she wanted me when she would give me up in a second for Nathan. It was so deceptive and confusing, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

I stood there in thought for a few seconds, thinking of the consequences of whatever I chose to do. I could just be disappointed again, or I could spend my life not knowing what could have happened if I had taken the chance…

“Let’s go for it.” I said, smiling, as she grinned at me and ran into my arms. I kissed her gently, getting used to the scene again. And then I realized that all this time, this was what I wanted.

“Dude, what is with you lately? You’ve been unusually peppy lately, that’s for sure.” Dempster said to me while O’Neal iced his shoulder. We were in the dugout, waiting for the game to start. We were back in Wrigley playing the Tampa Bay Rays who blew us out of the water last year (no pun intended), and we were vowing for revenge in the form of a sweep.

The regular season was winding down to a close, with only three more series to play after this one. However, we were scheduled to make it into the playoffs in the second to last one against the Brewers. We decided that we were going to beat them in three games and take the title and go to the playoffs and have our last series against the Rockies to be completely blown off, where we put in all of our minor leaguers to see who will fill the final postseason roster spots.

“Yeah, man, things are going great. We’ve won our last three games, I have my girl back and I’m completely energized… I’m ready.”

“That’s good. Who’s pitching in my place today?”

“Jon Lieber. Lou’s looking at him for a next season prospect. I think he can do pretty well.”

“Yeah. As long as we win, I’m happy.”

Lou walked into the dugout as I was shoving my mitt onto my hand, ready to go play left field. Soriano was getting a break today, because (no offense) he has been playing really badly lately. But because he didn’t want any more confusion, he kept the batting order the same as usual, but with me leading off, and I was totally and completely nervous for it. But at least we were fielding first, so I would have time to breathe before taking a few swings.

“What are you waiting for, Rogers? Get on the field!” Lou barked. I finished getting on my mitt and jogged toward the dugout steps.

“I was just going, Lou.” I said eagerly, trotting up the steps and into the warm Chicago air. I loved my hometown, better than any other park, with the best fans in the nation and the most history of a ballpark… it was idealistic to me to be back home. I loved Chicago, it kept my mind off my real home in Palm Springs… where Sean was probably still on a rampage about me…

I had been keeping my mind off of my mother to the best of my ability and it was working pretty well. However, I was only putting it off, not forgetting, and I knew that I would deal with it later. I was dreading it, sure, but it was fate and I would have to deal with it, and I accepted that fact.

I trotted out to left, one of the few positions that I had no experience in. I had played right, third in practice, second and short often, and first in practice, then catcher in that one ill-fated game, and pitcher… well, we all know that.

So, naturally, I was nervous for this entire game, playing left in spot of the supposed star player made me nervous of if the fans would accept it, and batting first was just nerve wracking for me. But I still went through the motions, getting into ready position as Jon Lieber, an unfamiliar face to me, took his windup and threw the ball to leadoff man and right fielder Gabe Gross. What kind of a name is Gross?

Besides the point. It wasn’t a very good pitch, but it being the first, Gross let it pass anyhow. I clapped my hand into my mitt and shuffled my feet around in the Wrigley Field grass that I hadn’t seen in so long. I saw Jim laughing at me from his spot in center.

“Nervous much?” He asked cynically. I nodded and laughed.

“It’s really that obvious?”

“Don’t worry, man, you’ll do fine, I’m sure. You can play right, so this can’t be much different.” I nodded, trying to act confident as I heard the baseball clunk off of the wooden bat in the distance. I snapped to attention to see that it was flying toward DeRosa in right.

I had never really noticed how long it took for the ball to get all the way into his mitt after it was hit… it could have taken about a minute just for it to travel through the air it had so much velocity. When you watch it on television it seems to take a split second to be caught. In reality, it took a lot longer.

As Mark caught it and threw it back to the infield, I looked into the stands at all of the cheering fans. I tried to read some of their signs as Akinori Iwamura, the second baseman whose name I couldn’t pronounce, came up to bat. He hadn’t been playing for long, and he wasn’t all too good. I was expecting this to be an easy out.

Iwamura struck out on four pitches from Lieber, making two outs for notorious center fielder BJ Upton. Upton was a force to be reckoned with, that was for sure, named MVP for the Rays three years in a row. And I had to be in a position that I wasn’t used to when I played him. Great.

On the first pitch Upton lifted the ball near the fence over to me. I started running toward the wall, but I momentarily lost the ball in the sun. I got freaked out, when I saw the little white speckle flying near the stands. I crashed into the wall and almost fell backward, but gained my balance just enough to make a mad leap into the air to try to steal it out of the stands. Upton was already rounding second.

I stuck my mitt up over the stands and prayed. Being tall had advantages, because I didn’t have to jump as high as someone like Reed might have to. I got in a good jump, with a lot of hang time, but I wasn’t in control any more. I just prayed that the ball would land in my mitt.

I could have sworn that I felt it hit my mitt. I had no idea whether it landed in it or not, because my velocity was drastically decreasing by the second. I banged my elbow hard against the wall and it sent a tingling vibration up my arm that scared me half to death, causing me to land awkwardly and collapse onto the ground, clutching my foot in pain. I heard gasps from the crowd as I sat up, shocked, still holding my foot as Edmonds ran over to my aid.

I looked back up at the stands to see one guy, standing up and clapping loudly. Nobody knew what he was clapping about. But the guy next to him whispered something in the next guy’s ear, and pretty soon, the entire left field bleacher was standing, and within time the entire stadium was giving me a standing ovation. I looked around, confusedly, when Edmonds tapped me on the shoulder.

“Look in your mitt,” He said, grinning and beckoning to the mitt I had dropped on the ground next to me to grasp my ankle. I let go with one hand and opened up my mitt to see a dirty white baseball. I had caught it. I had stolen away BJ Upton’s home run. It was one of the happiest moments this season.

While I was wallowing in my glory, Mark O’Neal ran up to me. “Nice catch.” He grinned. I smiled back at him, still too shocked to speak. “Are you okay?” I shrugged and looked into the stands one last time as everyone stopped clapping one by one. They all remained standing, however, and eventually I saw Nicole, still standing and clapping the hardest of anyone, even when people around her stopped. She looked like she was about to cry in joy, and she made me grin to myself.

“I sure will be.”

“You’re fine. Just sit out today and probably tomorrow and then you should be fine. It’s just shock; it’s not injured in any way, shape or form. You should definitely be back in by the next series.” I nodded happily to Mark O’Neal as he told me the news. “But despite this, it’s been an overall good day?”

“Sure, I mean, I never got to try out the leadoff spot or anything, but I did make an amazing play that some people, trained in that position, can’t make in their entire career, and I still have my girlfriend to back me up the entire way. I may have lost out on two games, sure, but this is still one of the best days of the season.”

“Why don’t you go upstairs and watch the game?” He recommended. I nodded my agreement and hobbled cautiously up the steps out of the training room and into the praise of my thrilled teammates. They were telling me, “Great play!” and “Amazing catch!” and things like that, but I tried to take it disciplined and reject the praise, probably making myself seem more self indulged. Whatever. I was happy, so what?

It was the third inning already, O’Neal had taken awhile to take a look at me, and we were winning two nothing. If my premonition was correct, this was going to be an amazing game.

We were batting now and Jon Lieber was up to bat. I was standing at the fence and looking into the field, seeing Henry Blanco catching for star pitcher Scott Kazmir. I felt guilty seeing Blanco on an opposing team, but it wasn’t in my power to change the lineup.

Kazmir wasn’t pitching his best game today, that was for sure, and Lieber was doing well under the pressure he had to endure. It already seemed like he was guaranteed a spot in the playoffs as a reliever, and I think personally that he deserved it. He seemed on top of the world; it wouldn’t have surprised me if he, as a pitcher, hit the ball out of the stadium.

He made weak contact instead on the second pitch, a dribbler between the shortstop and third baseman. Jason Bartlett, at short, covered second as Evan Longoria grabbed the ball and threw a line drive to the first baseman Carlos Pena. Pena was crowding first base, not allowing Lieber to pass as he waited for the ball. Lieber had his head down and was running at full speed, not knowing that Pena wasn’t moving.

In the dugout, we were all cheering him on, not caring that he was about to plow into the first baseman. As the ball arrived in his mitt, Jon Lieber crashed into Pena hard, falling backward with a yell. He was grasping his foot like I had been, but looking more in pain then I had been. I pounded on the dugout fence and started yelling as the hollow metal noise reverberated throughout the stadium. “Are you kidding me?” I screamed, then turned around and sat down on the dugout bleachers. “For one game, can we not have someone injured? Or two people? Please?”

“That doesn’t look promising.” Theriot said who was sitting next to me. “I mean, I’m on the team,” he said jokingly. It wasn’t funny this time. I stood back up awkwardly and went over to the fence to see O’Neal tending to Jon on the field. I was sick of the sight. Last season, Lieber was out due to elbow surgery, so this was his first season back in the game, and now he was injured again. This whole team was having cursed luck this season, but we were performing up to it. The season was almost over and we were in first in the NL Central, although the Brewers, as usual, weren’t far behind. I wasn’t sure off the top of my head, because I had been out so often, but I think they were about two and a half games behind, and we had three series left, which is nine games… so we couldn’t breathe freely yet.

O’Neal ran back into the dugout and into the training room to grab something. “Mark, what’s wrong with him?” Ted yelled, still shocked at the display.

“I think he tore his nerve. He can’t stand.” I shook my head disappointedly.

“Figures.” Ryan halfheartedly laughed from behind me. Everyone else seemed to agree.

“I missed this.” Nicole said to me as we sat on my couch, her hand resting in mine as I gazed into her eyes.

“Yeah.” I said, breathlessly, nodding my head. “It’s nice when everything is going hectic around the field, to be able to come here and just be calm… I love this.” She laughed and rested her head against my shoulder.

“I do too.” I smiled, but then that unsettled feeling came back to haunt me.

“You know… I just won’t feel right unless I know what was going on with you and Nathan that ‘wasn’t what I thought’.”

“Oh, jeez, you’re really going to bring that up right now?”

“Well, I mean, yeah… if you’ve really been lying to me all this time, I want to know before I get too deep into this again.”

She sighed a response. “Okay, it was nothing. He came over by himself, so I let him in, but I told him to leave when it got serious, I swear. Then he left, and that’s all that you saw. Nothing happened. I swear.” I let it sink in, not knowing if I was going to believe that or not.

“That’ll do for now.” I said, stroking her hair gently. She relaxed for a second, until she comprehended what I said. Then she sat up tensely.

“What do you mean, for now?” She ordered. I shrugged.

“I mean, I believe you right now. But that doesn’t mean that I will later. But at least right now, that’s good enough for me.”

“What is wrong with you, Mark? Why don’t you believe me?”

“Because, you’ve been known to lie to me sometimes, I think neither of us can deny that no matter how hard we try. I know you could be lying. I know that you know what I’m talking about.”

“Well maybe you should think about it some more. I’m sorry if I make you uncomfortable, Mark.” She said, standing up and walking toward the door.

“No, look, Nicole, I didn’t mean it that way.” But it was too late. She had opened the door and slammed it behind her. I heard footsteps in the hallway, and eventually, I knew that she was gone.
ONE DAY LATER

“Are you sure?” She asked me deeply as we stood in the hallway. I had on my jersey and warm-ups, about to leave to play the Tigers in our third to last series. We had swept the Rays, completely the opposite of what happened last season, where the Cubs fans brought the brooms to the third game.

“Completely. I’m sorry.” I had just gotten done telling Nicole that I was sorry for the poor display I had showed her yesterday, and that she was right and I was too quick to judge. “Are you coming to the series? It’s only two games this time.” She laughed.

“I would really love to, but it’s too late, I don’t have tickets. But I’m going to your series against the Brewers, and I’m going to be cheering you on with my Rogers jersey on. I promise you that one.” She laughed and grinned as I leaned in to kiss her goodbye. “Good luck.” She practically whispered.

“I think that the whole team will need it.” I laughed, pulling away from her and giving a quick wave as I slowly trotted toward the stairs. I was excited, able to play again by O’Neal’s orders. I didn’t know what position yet, but I was ready for anything. I had turned into a utility player, and I was fine with that.

I waved goodbye to the receptionist in the lobby and walked out toward my car in the parking lot. I put my key in the ignition as the car started with a loud scraping noise. I needed a new car at the end of the season too. Heck, I could replace everything.

The scenery changed drastically as I drove into Wrigleyville, the apartment complexes that meant that we were getting close to Wrigley Field. I loved Wrigleyville, because everyone was a Cubs fan, with red and blue flags hanging from their doors and signs all over their yards. It seemed like the sun was brighter around these parts.

I lived about half an hour from the stadium, which was a pretty good deal. However, on game days, with tons of traffic from fans wanting to get there early to meet the players, it took more like an hour. I had the radio turned on loud, but not on the same rap music station that most people listened to. I was listening to the pop rock station, the only one I could stand most of the time.

After about an hour of road rage, I pulled into my spot in the players’ parking lot. To my surprise, there weren’t many fans looking madly for signatures, so after signing about two baseballs I entered the stadium. I breathed in the air again, the last time this regular season that we would be playing at Wrigley, and to my dismay, it was a two game series. After this we went on to play the Brewers in Milwaukee, most likely for the division title, and then the Rockies in Colorado. Then it would be the postseason. So counting the game I was going into, we had eight games left until the postseason.

“Rogers!” Someone yelled as I entered the stadium. It was Lou. He beckoned me into the dugout as I made my way past my teammates, greeting me while they did their usual jogging around the field.

“Yeah?” I asked, trotting down the steps and into the dugout. Lou sighed anxiously.

“I’m dreading these next eight games. We’re tight against the Brewers, one of our starting pitchers is injured and our replacement is on the outs too. I made a decision. Today you’re going to play left again, but then from tomorrow until the rest of the season, you’re going into the third starter’s spot again. Even if Dempster gets better, we’re going to preserve him until the postseason and put him in the bullpen. Are you up for that?”

I was overwhelmed with excitement. I loved to pitch. “Yes. Definitely.” He laughed at my readiness and then dismissed me onto the field to warm up with the rest of the team.

“Let’s go, guys, let’s kill them.” Reed said as he, Mark and I trotted into the outfield. Jim had the day off today, and therefore we were the outfielders.

“I’m ready to do that.” Mark joked as we all separated into our spots. It wasn’t all too sunny today; a storm was expected to come at night. I was very eager to pitch again, even though I wouldn’t pitch until game three against the Brewers. That would be the next time I would even play. But I didn’t care. It was worth it, just to be able to pitch for even one more game this season.

“We did it last season, guys, it’s far from impossible.” Reed said. “Just remember the energy we had last season.”

“And add to it.” I finished with a meek smile. DeRosa laughed calmly as he turned away and ran straight to right. I broke off, too, running to left as Reed just continued jogging forward to center field. I was ready this time, having experience of about ten minutes in left, and I was eager to add onto it once again. I also had another chance to bat first in the lineup, and I wasn’t going to give it up this time.

The first batter was a second baseman, whose name I couldn’t say again… Placido Polanco. He had been playing for eleven years, but this was the first time in a long while that this team was playing the Tigers, so I was still clueless on what to expect of him.

Ted Lilly was back on the mound and ready to go again as Polanco stepped up to the plate. I was eager to get back at that left field wall after last time I was out there, so I was dying to get a ball hit to me that I could field and not get injured on.

Polanco swung on the first pitch and missed, not used to Ted Lilly’s fiery curveballs. He regained himself and took a deep breath, or so I guessed, I couldn’t really see, and stepped out of the batter’s box and took a few practice swings.

I tried to see the look on Polanco’s face, but it was too far away to see from the outfield. It would have been even harder if it was sunny out, sure, but the one thing I loved about playing infield that I didn’t get from playing outfield is that you could see the pitcher and the pitches being called so much better; out here you couldn’t really see them at all.

I shuffled around as Polanco swung and missed on the next pitch, also. I took a deep breath and relaxed as the next pitch was being called. I tried to read the signs but I couldn’t, but it turned out to be a changeup that was swung on way early for an out on three pitches. What a great way to start the game.

So Placido Polanco walked back into the visiting dugout dejectedly as center fielder Curtis Granderson stepped up. He hadn’t been playing for as long, only about five seasons, but I still didn’t know a thing about the guy. I was a rookie, which added to the fact that I didn’t know squat about this team. Therefore… I was clueless about all the players.

I did know that Granderson hit 22 homers last season. That was enough to tell me that I should be ready to jump over that wall again and steal it, without injuring myself yet again.

Granderson hit a pop fly on the first pitch right to me. I took about two steps forward and shielded my eyes from the weak sun, positioning myself right under the ball and catching it easily in my mitt. I grabbed it and rolled it in my palm before tossing it to Mike at second, just for fun, like all ballplayers love to do for some reason.

Miguel Cabrera… well, you couldn’t really turn on the television without hearing about this guy during baseball season. He’s been playing for six seasons, but last season… 37 homeruns. More than Granderson. Cabrera was downright frightening for someone like me, a rookie who was playing way out of position, who hurt himself last time against a strong hitter. I was practically praying as I got into my ready position.

Strike one, watched it go down the plate like he was supposed to do. I breathed freely for a moment, then got down and prayed again. Strike two. I was beginning to relax a lot now.

Or maybe I relaxed too much. He hit a line drive right between Ramirez and Theriot, and man, that thing had power behind it. It kept going straight at an increasingly fast speed, right at my face. I fell backward at the last minute and stuck my mitt up as I collapsed onto the ground in shock. I held my breath as I felt an impact in my mitt and I knew that I had caught it. I sat up and saw the ball in my mitt, then started cracking up laughing in the middle of the field as Reed, also laughing hysterically, jogged up also.

“Nice catch.”

“I know,” I joked, “Very skillful. I’m just great like that, to duck out of the way and catch it like that.” He helped me up, still laughing, as everyone else finally calmed down, too. Everyone was laughing hysterically at my play, and I smiled. At least I had caught it.

I jogged back into the dugout and put my mitt in my cubby and pulled out my batting equipment instead. I pulled on my batting gloves and shoved the helmet on my head, then grabbed my bat and tried to breathe. Soriano, on the bench, was laughing at me.

“It’s not that big a deal,” he said with his strong accent. I laughed at myself and went up the three steps into the huge area of Wrigley. I stepped into the batter’s box and met up with Theriot, who was batting second, as usual. We exchanged a few words of good luck before I was called out to the plate.

I dug my bat in the dirt a little bit as I tried to breathe. I took a practice swing or two and turned to face pitcher Kenny Rogers. He was a veteran left hander, and when I say veteran, I mean that he’s been playing for 20 years. That’s a lot. Almost as many as Randy Johnson. That could mean one of two things; either he knew everything about the game and had enough experience to get a rookie like me out in three pitches, or he was burned out and had no chance against me. It honestly could have been either. All I knew is that one of us had to serious upper hand. I was praying it was me.

Rogers threw the first pitch, so fast that I could barely see it. That made me scared. Until I looked up at the scoreboard, that is, when I saw that it was clocked in at only eighty miles an hour. It was a changeup. That was a good sign that it was just my paranoia acting up.

It was called for a strike, as was the next pitch, a fastball right on the corner. I tightened my grip on the bat and took a few practice swings before stepping back into the action. I was ready for this next pitch. So ready.

I was so nervous that I actually closed my eyes and swung at the pitch blindly. Miraculously, just like last time I did that stupid move, I hit it, making solid contact. I opened my eyes, amazed, as I saw that I had actually hit a high-flying ball to center field. I ran to first as I watched it fly to Curtis Granderson. It was going further than I had ever imagined it would, and when I saw Granderson try to jump over the fence, I knew that it was actually a homerun, assuming that he wouldn’t catch it.

He came up empty as the crowd stood and cheered, just like they had after I had caught it, but this time everyone knew why. I pumped my fist into the air happily as I ran the bases for the eighth time this season, and that was when I remembered why I had gotten into this as a career anyway.

The tension was on. It was the bottom of the ninth and the game was tied at 5. Reed Johnson was on third, Mike Fontenot at first and I was on deck as Daryle Ward, the pinch-hitter, was up to bat with one out. As I warmed up, nervous as heck, I vaguely saw what Mike Quade was instructing Reed to do; run on any wild pitch or anything hit past the infield, or else hold back and see where it goes. For the past seasons, Daryle was inconsistent in every time but pressure situations. Every time he was up when the game was close, he would, in short, hit a homerun. It was a pretty awesome feat, really.

But, the game was really on now. It was time for him to do his normal domination bit and hit it out of the park for a two run homer. Then I wouldn’t have to bat and I could breathe… finally.

There was a full count and it seemed like even the crowd was holding their breath. It was a very intense moment, and I was at a loss for breath, dying to see it over and us to have won it. But first I had to see it play out.

The next pitch was fouled off. I saw Quade quickly change the sign, because there was only one out, we had one to waste; run on EVERYTHING. That increased my chances of having to bat. I was dying. I was muttering to Daryle under my breath, begging him to get a run in so I wouldn’t have to with two outs. It was torture.

He popped the next pitch up to short center field. Reed started sprinting in toward the plate and I was frozen, watching Ramon Santiago call Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco and catching the ball firmly in his mitt and threw a line drive to catcher Dusty Ryan. I was holding my breath; it would be a close play.

Reed started his dive when I realized something was terribly wrong. Right by home plate, right in the sliding zone, was Daryle Ward’s bat. And Johnson was going to slide right over it and possibly break his back, whilst it was too late for me to get it out of the way.

He slid and with a gross noise, did his slide right over the bat. I heard a crack and new that it was his back. I cringed as he last minute reached out and tapped the plate, winning the game for us, seeing as how Ryan was too freaked out to tag him. I was frozen still, afraid to see if he was alright.

Mark O’Neal sprinted up the stairs as quickly as possible as I got out of his way, storming back into the dugout where my teammates stood, also shocked and scared to death as Reed moaned and rolled over. I grimaced. It was my job to move the bat out of the way.

“Come on, Mark, what are you talking about? It wasn’t your fault.” I sat on my couch with Nicole running about behind me. I was still paralyzed from the game, shocked at how I had broken Reed’s back. That’s right, it was broken, he would be out for the rest of the season and odds were that he might not be back until in the middle of next season. I felt terrible. “Your team has been all about great recoveries this season. At this rate, he’ll be back in by the end of the week,” she joked. It wasn’t funny.

“This is traumatizing. I just cost my teammate what could theoretically be his entire career. I feel awful. I wish that I could have just moved the [darn] bat and then everything would be fine for once on the team.”

“Just relax. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yeah? What makes you say that? Where’s your proof that it wasn’t? Whose fault was it? See, you have nothing to say.” She truly was at a loss for words, so I turned away from her, still defeated. “I wish I could turn back the clock and change it.”

“Come on, you’ll get over this. Reed will be fine, things like this happen. It’s baseball, for God’s sakes, you see people get injured all the time. It happens. And this is just one common case. Reed isn’t angry with you, right?”

“Not yet.”

“It’ll all be okay.” She turned my head toward her and gave me a small kiss. “You get over this, now, and I have to go; when I get back, you’d better be eager and ready to… do whatever it is your going to do.”

“Play the Brewers?”

“No, drive me down to Milwaukee with you so that I can see the game and watch you play, fine and mellow.”

“Right.” I smiled, as she closed the door with a little wave. I had promised to drive Nicole down to Milwaukee tonight so we could get enough sleep for the eleven o’clock game tomorrow. The rest of the guys were driving, too, but leaving an hour or two after we were. Hopefully it wouldn’t be a long drive.
ONE DAY LATER

“Are you ready? It’s time for the big game.” Nicole smiled at me as I frantically pulled on my jersey and tucked it in.

“I can’t believe it. This game is for the division title. Whichever team wins two of the three wins the NL Central… wow, I don’t think we can stand up for this kind of pressure. I mean, I’m not going to be playing until game three, but the team as a whole might crumble.”

“No, you won’t, and you have me cheering you on from the stands to help. It’ll all be okay. Just tell yourself that. You guys are going to give it your all and its going to be enough. Trust me.

I smiled meekly. “You’re right. It is.” But I didn’t quite believe it yet.
ONE DAY LATER

“LET’S GO OUT THERE AND BEAT THEM.” Lou slammed his fist on the table, making all of the guys jump. It was game two of the series against the Brewers, and they had creamed us yesterday, eight to zero. Not a single run. It was painful to recall. “They just wanted it more then we did yesterday. Now they have a one-up on us. We need to win this one and the next one, and then we’ll be in the playoffs. But if they win one of the next to games, we’re off. We’re so close to clinching, guys, and it would be a shame to lose now, when we’ve been beating them the entire season. But, I guess if you can’t take the heat, you don’t deserve to be on this team anyway, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs, because they sure brought out all they have. They showed that they want the spot. We have to show that we want it, too. Are you with me?”

“Yeah.” Everyone said tiredly. Lou, angry and unsatisfied with the response, started muttering under his breath and walked angrily out of the room. What a great way to set the mood.
ONE DAY LATER

“LET’S GO, GUYS, WE GOT THIS.” DeRosa screamed from the bleachers. “LET’S ANNIHILATE THEM.”

I gulped as I stood alone on the pitcher’s mound in the bottom of the first inning in game three, and we hadn’t gotten any hits in the first inning against Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets.. Ray Durham, the second baseman, was up first for the Brewers. Dioner Navarro was catching for me, and I didn’t know some of his signs, the ones that he still had from when he was on the Rays. I tried to breathe, but it was becoming more and more difficult.

We had won yesterday to even the series at two. We were both one game away from clinching the NL Central, and it was mostly in my hands. I was sweating before I even pitched the first ball to Durham.

I did my windup and threw the ball. It was way off target. I grimaced and shook out my arms, which were twitching like crazy with anticipation. Navarro motioned for me to keep it down more. No, really?

The next pitch was down and away. I almost shivered despite the unnatural warmth of Wisconsin. I was so nervous for this game, and I knew that if the last pitch was off-target, this one would be just awful.

I focused on the left lower corner of the imaginary zone and tried to place the pitch perfectly with my mind, but as I threw it, it drifted right into the middle of the strike zone. Durham swung and made solid contact as it went flying toward minor league call-up Micah Hoffpauir in right field. It wasn’t hit deep, although it was hit well, and Micah had no problem whatsoever catching it. It was actually relieving to me, because his being a minor leaguer… not that it really made a difference because he’s been called up so many times.

So I breathed easy for awhile as former Cub Jason Kendall stepped up to the plate. Kendall was hardy, looked rough and played rough, but didn’t get as many homers as some of the guys one the team, which is why we traded him in the first place.

First pitch slider. Every pitcher on our team had a specialty. Fastballs were Ryan’s, curveballs Ted’s, 2-seamers Jason’s, sinkers Carlos’, and sliders both Rich’s and mine. We could all pitch all of them, but we all specialized. Navarro knew that, and he knew that I hadn’t pitched in a long time, so I was undoubtedly sure that the majority of the pitches he would call would be sliders for me. I could also throw a pretty good slider, but with those, either it worked perfectly or it didn’t work at all.

I threw the pitch finally, my best pitch so far, which wasn’t really saying anything about the accuracy, but it was watched and called for a strike. No ball and two strike count with two outs, a changeup was called, and a changeup, I could pitch easily. Just throw it how I felt like throwing it right now; slowly.

Windup and the pitch, and it was fouled off for strike two. The count was oh and two now, and I was close to getting Jason Kendall out. I was down one riser.

Which means, theoretically, that Navarro called for a riser; just to clarify that, and I was sure ready to pitch one, perfect and get him out on strikes. Windup and the pitch, and watched it go straight down the middle; thee strikes, you’re out.

Russell Branyan was the third and hopefully last batter of the inning. The third baseman was experienced and good, to be blunt, and I really wanted to get him out to end the inning successfully, with no hits, like every pitcher obviously wanted to do.

However, odds of that looked dim as he hit the first pitch to short center field. Reed, the fastest guy on the team, might have had a chance. But Jim didn’t, and Ryan and Mike were both fast, too, but they didn’t bother calling each other off of it. Jim made a diving attempt at the last minute and failed, the ball bouncing off the grass, to my horror, as Mike quickly scooped it up and threw it to Derrek at first. But Branyan was already safe.

So with a runner on first and two outs, shortstop JJ Hardy stepped up to the plate. This guy… I knew practically nothing about. I just trusted Dioner to do the thinking while he called the pitches.

Now with a runner on first, my anxiety was growing tremendously. I hated it when this happened, because then you were stuck watching the catcher give signals, but being distracted by the batter trying to divert your attention while the runner on first might very well be about to steal. It was nerve-wracking.

I did a fake-out to first, but Branyan wasn’t stealing and got back onto the base safely, while the crowd started booing at me. Navarro took a quick glance at first, and then nodded, motioning me to throw it there again. I stood there confusedly, not knowing why he wanted me to. Branyan wasn’t stealing.

Or at least that was what my premature rookie mind was telling me. I decided to trust the veteran and I threw it to first anyway, and sure enough, Branyan was stealing. He didn’t even bother with a rundown, just allowed Mike to tag him out and end the inning. As I ran into the dugout, I stopped Navarro. “Dude, how did you know that he was going to steal?”

“I have my ways,” he said slyly, walking down the steps as I stood there for a moment, dumbfounded.

It was the top of the third inning with two outs and we were being blown out again. They had no runs but six hits and we had no runs and no hits. I was the third batter in the inning in the pitcher’s nine hole.

Dioner Navarro was the first batter in the inning. I sat on the steps, watching, as Mike took his warm up swings. I was twiddling my thumbs, thinking about how somehow, we’ve got to get this game together. Our entire postseason appearance depended on it.

My attention was turned toward the game as I heard the ball smack the bat. I looked up and saw it heading into deep center field, but not deep enough to be a homerun. It bounced off the warning track as Corey Hart fumbled around for it in the grass. He finally came up with it and tossed it to Ray Durham seconds late as Navarro got in with a double.

Mike was next, as Quade signaled a bunt-and-run play, which would appear as a sac-bunt but Mike was too fast for it. Even if he did get out, Navarro would be on third, but Mike was too fast to get out. Or at least I was hopeful.

I was too distracted to pay close attention at all to the game. I stood in the on-deck circle, pretending to warm up, while Ben Sheets threw a pitch and at the last minute Mike laid down a perfect bunt and ran at top speed. Jason Kendall quickly scooped up the ball and did a quick relay throw to first baseman Prince Fielder, but it was too late; Mike was safe, and I was up next.

Sheets was feeling the pressure, you could cut the tension with a knife. He threw a quick pitch as I stared him down, and it ended up way outside the strike zone, by my ankles. He breathed in deeply as Kendall gave him the ball back.

He rolled it around in his mitt as I continued to stare at him. He finally nodded to his catcher and then threw another awful pitch, way outside. I knew then that they were trying to walk me. However, Sheets was an amazing pitcher and he was still throwing fireballs, near 100 miles per hour.

It started to lightly drizzle as the next pitch was called for; and when it came, it was way over Kendall’s head. He reached up and grabbed it, then motioned for Sheets to keep it down lower. I breathed in and tightened my grasp as I got a horrible feeling about the next pitch, and so far my premonitions were proving to be true; I was nervous.

There was rainwater in my eye so I tried to blink it out. My vision started to get worse as it was clouded up with the drizzling, and I was about to call a time out when I heard a thud. I stopped breathing for a second as I stopped and tried to figure out what the noise was. It wasn’t thunder… it wasn’t… well, anything I could think of…

Then it all became too real. I screamed in pain as I collapsed onto the ground. My head was throbbing like no other and I was still yelling in pain and holding my head as the rain got heavier. It hurt like getting shot in the brain one hundred times, and that was when I realized that I had just gotten hit in the head with a pitch. I felt like I was going to pass out, and I knew that I was about to.

I heard screams come from the stands and I heard the umpire eject Sheets. I heard Mark O’Neal and the entire coaching staff approach me and try to talk to me, but I was paralyzed. With every second the hurting got worse and that’s when I learned how my dad felt… before he died. The setting was the same, on a rainy early morning game when so much was at stake.

My head started throbbing and I screamed again, and for a second I thought I had deafened myself because I couldn’t hear a thing. Then all of a sudden everything was back, the yells and screams and Sheets being led out of the stadium, yelling to me that he was so sorry and whatnot. The pain was still getting worse as everything started to fade like you’ve heard about.

“Dear God, Mark, don’t do this to me.” Lou yelled. He kneeled down and turned me over so he could see my eyes. I think I was crying, but I wasn’t sure. Everything was so surreal.

“Lou, the ambulance is coming.” He nodded away Lester Strode, the bullpen coach, as he shook me a little more.

“Don’t do this to me, Mark, stay awake, stay alive, please…” I tried to talk, I tried to breathe, but I couldn’t get a thing out. The last thing I saw before fading out completely was the scoreboard and the pitch speedometer – reading one hundred three miles per hour.
THE NEXT WEEK

I heard people drifting in and out of my room constantly, opening the doors with visitors coming, but I never had enough strength to open my eyes.

“I don’t think he’s going to make it,” the doctor told a nurse nearby. There was no way I could be laying on my deathbed right now; it was too… impossible.

I heard somewhere in the mix of players shuffling in and out, coaches and family, I heard them all sit down next to me and whisper things in my ear, thinking I couldn’t hear, that I was just brain dead, I heard that we had beaten the Brewers and made it to the playoffs; but apparently I would be dead before I saw the day.

The frustration involved in not being able to open your eyes, and people coming in and out as if it was surely the end for you, saying goodbyes and thinking morbidly to themselves that I couldn’t even hear a word they said. They were wrong. I could hear it all, I could hear their voices and tell who was speaking to me and who was saying what. I just couldn’t open my eyes to see it.

Then I heard the doctor say, “If he doesn’t show signs of improvement by tomorrow, we might as well just pull the plug.” I wanted to tell them that I was fine, that I wasn’t having issues comprehending, or hearing, or listening, I could do all that well. That’s all they needed from me early on. They didn’t need for me to open my eyes, or move, or speak, that all came later. But they couldn’t read my thoughts and they couldn’t tell.

One week went by in a haze. We had creamed the Rockies, even with our backups playing, so now we had a week and a half until the playoffs, and I was begging myself, although halfway unconscious, to show improvement so I could live to see the day. So I could live to see us in the playoffs. But it was unlikely. It was near impossible. Whatever I gave them could not be enough to convince them that I was very much alive inside this hell that was dawned on me. I had no way to show them and no way to convince them. It was in their hands, as the week flew by in a dream.

The doctor entered my room and I knew something had to be done. I had to show him that I was okay. It was judgment time for me, if I didn’t show him now that I was fine then I wouldn’t get another chance. I used everything in my power to get my eye open, even the tiniest bit, as the doctor looked me over, indefinitely observing for any movement of any sort. My mind was numbing as I willed myself harder and harder to just move.

“Looks like a bit of improvement. Better keep him on life support. We might be able to bring him back still. Tomorrow we’ll move him into intensive care.” I stopped pushing myself and just felt myself breathe for a second. I thanked God, praying in my mind that I would be able to make it, that I would be able to see us win, and I prayed extra hard that maybe I would get to play again, hopefully this season in the playoffs. But I was still at the stage where I surviving was a miracle.

The duration of the week seemed shorter than any other week I had ever lived through. The doctors must have been in and out of there frequently, and the times when I was awake through my closed eyes, they had interesting things to say about my condition. That it was looking more and more promising that tomorrow would come, and each day tomorrow was there for me. I never once heard them say again that it was impossible. I knew it wasn’t impossible.

Although most of my time was spent in mind-numbing sleep, the hours spent awake were more stressful than one could imagine, the people coming in and out and speaking to me, I was just dying to respond, when people I knew cried over me, I wanted to cry, too. But in a paralyzed body, I couldn’t control a thing. It was torturous, day in and day out having no control over what you do. And some days, in my dreams, I never woke up…

“Miraculous.” I laughed. I was sitting in my apartment, Nicole next to me, clutching my arm, as I read the daily newspaper front page. “Mark Rogers’ recovery was deemed the most miraculous recovery in the history of the MLB, he was about to die, etcetera… and here I am now.” I concluded, rolling up the paper and throwing it at the wall. I put my arm around Nicole and grinned. “Here today and getting ready to play the Braves in the playoffs.” I had already missed the first two games of the playoffs against the Braves; we were up in the series 2-0, and we needed three to win. And I had recovered well enough to play. It truly was a miracle.

I kissed her longingly. “And there’s nobody I’d rather have there than my girl.” She smiled up at me, laughing.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Thank you for surviving.” She joked sarcastically.

“Why, you’re welcome,” I joked in return. “It’s my priority to make you happy, and to live.” She punched me in the shoulder.

“Just watch out, miracle boy, because Lou might be in a hurry to take you out of the game if you don’t play well.”

“I’m fully ready,” I said, grabbing my coat and pulling it on. It was October now, a week in, and the air was crisp as the leaves were falling outside. “I’m more ready than I’ve ever been.”
FOUR HOURS LATER

“AND IT’S A MIRACLE! THE MAN WHO HAS BEEN IN THE HOSPITAL FOR A WEEK WITH A SEVERE CONCUSSION JUST WON THE GAME FOR HIS TEAM.” I was laying on the ground, screaming as everyone piled on top of me. Josh Anderson, the Braves’ right fielder, took off his mitt and slammed it onto the ground in defeat. I put my hands in the air and yelled at the top of my lungs. We had been down by three in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and I hit a grand slam to win it and sweep the Braves out of the playoffs. DeRosa was cheering louder than anyone, gleeful to defeat his old team.

“SCREW YOU, CHIPPER JONES.” He joked to his old pal from Atlanta. The third baseman out of characteristically grinned at Mark and waved.

“Nice job, guys, you earned that one.” Mark gave him thumbs up and continued to celebrate with us. I felt on top of the world, and I loved it.

“AND THE CUBS ARE ON THEIR WAY TO LA TO PLAY THE DODGERS IN THE NLCS, THE LAST ROUND BEFORE THE FATED WORLD SERIES MATCH! GOOD LUCK, BOYS, AND NICE JOB, MARK.” The announcer concluded. I grinned up at the press box and waved meekly, even though I knew they couldn’t see me.

There was still a long road ahead of us. Henry Blanco and the Rays were out of it already, along with Jose Reyes and the Mets. We would be competing for a spot in the World Series with the Dodgers, and the second spot was a battle between the White Sox and the Yankees. A cross-town World Series would be fun, sure; just as long as we won it.
ONE DAY LATER

“L.A., BABY!” Mike yelled as Soriano stepped up to the plate. “THIS IS IT, GUYS; LET’S GET ‘EM.” Mike had the day off today and I was playing second for him, Hoffpauir again in right. The rest of the lineup was the same, with Zambrano pitching against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game. Mike was good-spirited, cheering unlike I would be if I had found out that I wasn’t playing. Sitting out was torture for me.

“PAY ‘EM BACK, LET’S DESTROY THEM!” DeRosa said cynically of Mike, who took it good-heartedly.

“Wow, guys, that is just… great…” I commented. I had no other way to put it. “That’s interesting, really.”

“Wow. Great comeback.” Said Mark. I laughed and paused, sitting through the awkward silence.

“So… let’s go Soriano!” Mike yelled, laughing. Mark laughed also. Alfonso dug his toe into the ground and started his routine, getting all low and swinging the bat around, waiting for Hiroki Kiroda, the pitcher, to throw in the first ball. He looked ready and confident, although Kiroda did also.

I looked away for a second, and then heard the umpire yell, “Strike one!” Kiroda had an insane fastball, after all.

The crowd was cheering wildly for the home team, the Dodgers, of course, but as usual, you could see glimpses of Cubs fans in the stands, the loyal fans, the ones who love us even in California.

Before I knew it, after dazing out about the fans, there was a full count on Soriano. The windup and the pitch… struck him out. Alfonso had an… obnoxious tendency to swing at the worst pitches.

Which brought up Ryan Theriot in the two-hole. I was nervous for this game, who wouldn’t be nervous in the playoffs? I was sure that even ‘the man’ Carlos Zambrano was shaking right now, wherever he was in the dugout. I couldn’t move my eyes away from the field. The nerves were killing me. I wasn’t up until the eighth spot, so I had way too much time to kill and nothing to fill it with.

“Dude,” said Mike, “You look like you’re getting tortured or something.” I looked at him out of the corner or my eye.

“I am.” I responded. “With anticipation.”

Top of the ninth inning. Top of the ninth freaking inning. The score? 0-0. We had been threatening numerous times. But never a run. Some guy would always end up getting a stupid popup or a double play when we needed runs. But never.

The Dodgers? It’s as if they weren’t even playing. They had made numerous errors and had barely gotten five hits. But no. We still can’t beat them with our zero errors and fifteen or so hits. And nobody could explain why.

“Let’s go, guys, we need some runs here!” Mike yelled, always enthusiastically, from the dugout as I stepped to the plate. It was time to turn this around.

I was the first batter of the inning and reliever Cory Wade was pitching. He had come off a rough game a few days ago; giving up a game tying run in the eighth inning, and his team couldn’t pull it off and lost. Either he was still dwelling on the loss, or he was ready to make up for it. Either way… well… I was going to give him a run for the money.

“Batter up!” The umpire yelled. I stepped up to the plate and looked at Wade, tried to read his expression. Yeah, that guy was out there to prove himself today. He was going to be playing well, I knew it, but I wouldn’t let it stop me. Hey, I had won the game for us yesterday; it’s very possible.

Don’t swing at the first pitch. Mike Quade’s voice was ringing in my ear. Everything vital to the game was slipping through my head like a sieve. I forgot the rules of the game; only the will to win stayed with me.

First pitch was a strike, of course, because I didn’t swing. It was a perfect pitch, slow-ish and down the middle of the plate, but I restrained and took the strike.

And now it was up to chance on whether or not I would swing. I had to examine the pitch in the stressful millisecond that it took to get out of Wade’s hand an into the catcher Russell Martin’s mitt.

The pitch was thrown and in that split second I decided that it wasn’t a good pitch. As Martin caught it, it turned out that I was right. One ball, one strike.

Next pitch; ball. Two and one. I knew that I had to get on base or at least make contact to give my team hope. We needed to get at least one run so the Dodgers didn’t beat us to it.

I swung hopefully at the next pitch and fouled it into the stands. Some stupid Dodgers fan caught it and threw it back, trying to make a mockery joke of the Cubs fans at Wrigley. He was just a jerk. I wasn’t in the mood for immaturity. I was in the mood for runs.

Two and two. I sensed Russell Martin behind me, I was so intent on the game that I thought I had ESP and could read his fingers, knew what pitch he was throwing. Of course, I could not.

Next pitch; ball. Full count. The apprehension was killing me. The next pitch looked slow and down the middle; perfect for the batter. I leaned my foot back and swung; of course, it was a changeup and I ended up seconds in front of the pitch. Strike three. Batter out.

I stormed into the dugout, put my bat away and slammed my helmet into the ground. When I need to bring up the morale, I strike out. I was so angry.

Mike Fontenot was the pinch-hitter Lou brought in for Carlos Marmol, in relief for Carlos Zambrano. Mike was good at getting on base, alike Ryan Theriot, but also alike Ryan, didn’t do so well in intense situations.

DeRosa was still on the bench. He got up and sat next to me. “Let it go, Mark. You’re doing a [heck] of a lot better than most of these guys, still. Alfonso will swing at a pitch that landed in the dirt first. Ryan can only hit into double plays when the team needs him. At least you made it look like you were going to get something good.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I looked up to see Mike walking dejectedly back into the dugout already. Soriano was back up; it was like a curse of unreliable hitters.

Wade threw the first pitch, and I saw Alfonso tense up. Don’t swing, Soriano, don’t swing… I commanded him in my mind. I saw him bring his bat back. Never swing at a first pitch. I shook my head as he brought the bat around.

And made contact. A good sounding, solid contact. I looked up to watch where the ball went. I knew immediately that it wouldn’t be a home run; I didn’t care, either.

It landed in the gap between Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones! A solid single for Soriano! I was really excited… until I realized who was up next.

Ryan Theriot, double play master. And I had already gotten an out. It was as if we were doomed. Everyone was shouting at him from the dugout. I stood up and yelled at them as loudly as I could.

“HEY, guys, give him a break! He doesn’t work well under pressure, well, stop pressuring him!” There was silence and then I sat back down. The dugout remained silent.

I sighed and looked back at the game. Ryan looked totally timid and scared. Still, I said nothing.

Full count. Wade was just jumping up his pitch count, so many unnecessary pitches. The last pitch looked right on the edge of the zone; I couldn’t tell if it was in or out; but Ryan didn’t swing.

And he pulled off a walk. Men on first and second for slugger Derrek Lee. It looked like things were finally turning around.

We just needed a hit. A single hit. And we could maybe get a run.

The first pitch was hit; a line drive to the same spot Soriano had hit it in to get a single. It was rolling; Ramirez was a slow guy and couldn’t get to it. Soriano, with his speed, was rounding third as we all stood up and cheered. Theriot was getting to third as Lee got to second. An RBI double and we were ahead, 1-0.

And following our classic order, Ramirez was the next batter up. Mr. Clutch. Everyone was excited, on their feet, yelling out to the field. Wade looked nervous, but there was nobody warming up in the bullpen. He was going to have to face the threat.

He threw a wild pitch past Martin, who got up and had to start running for it as Theriot took the opportunity to run home and score. 2-0 us, Ramirez still up. The Dodgers manager looked furious at Wade but looked as if he was going to keep him in to battle it out himself.

But to our dismay (and Wade’s joy), Ramirez grounded out to third baseman Tony Abreu. With two outs, Micah Hoffpauir was up, minor league call-up. Not promising. But Wade looked really pleased.

And as expected, Micah flew out to right fielder Andre Ethier to end the inning. For what I hoped was the last time this game, I grabbed my mitt and headed out to second base.
ONE DAY LATER

“Keep it up, guys.” I yelled from the dugout. I was off today, along with starter Ryan Theriot. After Kerry Wood shut the Dodgers out in the ninth inning yesterday, Lou had gained hope and put in some secondary players, like little Mike Fontenot. Today we had Soto playing catcher (Navarro played yesterday), Kosuke in right, Mike at short, DeRo back at second and Johnson in center. Everything else was pretty much the same, with Ted Lilly pitching.

The Dodgers lineup was pretty much the same, also. The only difference was the starting pitcher, with Chad Billingsley pitching. It was still Ramirez, Jones and Ethier across the backfield with Abreu, Angel Berroa, Jeff Kent and James Loney in the infield, Russell Martin catching.

The thing I hated the most was probably sitting out and watching the game. I always wanted to play. But after that head injury and then two games in a row, I needed a day off.

“And there you go! Cubs win five in a row!” Although we had some secondary people playing, we had managed to pull off another 2-0 win against the Dodgers, off of a home run by DeRosa in the fifth and a shutout 3-hitter by Ted Lilly. We were moving on to game 3 with one game left to win before being announced a spot in the World Series.

We were flying back out to Chicago to host the Dodgers in game 3 in a best-of-five series, hopefully to sweep them as we swept the Braves in the NLDS.

Going into the locker room, the whole team was pumped. Yelling, saying how we wanted to reverse the effect of last season; sweep them like they swept us. Now we would be at home, so we had home field advantage, too. We seemed inexorable.

Clayton Kershaw would be pitching tomorrow against Ryan Dempster. I would play left field and give Alfonso the day off, and Mike would sit again as Ryan T. would play short. A pretty standard lineup, Geo catching again.

The entire team was pumped. The tables had turned on the Dodgers, and in the playoffs altogether. We would rather die than lose now. It was now or never.
ONE DAY LATER

“It’s down to the wire here. It’s the ninth inning, the Dodgers batting. The Cubs are up by one, but the bases are loaded for Manny Ramirez. This could be trouble.”

I saw the sweat pouring off of Carlos Marmol’s face as Geovany gave him the signs. I was in left, shaking as I watched. I was very nervous; as I saw Jim was, too. Carlos began his windup; I paused before getting into my ready position. I just wanted to get out of this.

The pitch was thrown and Ramirez made contact, lofting it over Theriot and DeRosa’s heads. They were backpedaling, but not nearly fast enough. Even though the ball was clearly not mine, I started to run for it. It would at least be Jim’s. But no effort was being made.

I was making fast speed before I decided that it was go-time. I lurched forward and made a diving attempt for the [infield] ball. I hit the ground hard and the wind got knocked out of me. I sat up painfully and grabbed my head, which felt as if it were spinning out of control. Jim, Ryan and Mark ran up to me. I thought it was to see if I was okay. Until I heard, “Nice catch, man!”

Through my dizzy spell, I looked into my mitt and saw the white glimpse of the baseball. Free of dirt; it had never hit the ground. It was a fly-out. We won the game with no damage whatsoever.

Eventually the whole team was running up to me. Carlos helped me up shakily as I remained gasping for air. I saw Mark O’Neal come out to check on me, but I pushed him away and told him I was fine.

So we had swept the Dodgers in the NLCS. And therefore earned (more than earned) our spot in the World Series.

Everyone in the stands was screaming. The whole team was screaming. “COME ON GUYS!” I heard someone shout above the noise. “LET’S JUST SWEEP THE YANKEES OUT OF THE WORLD SERIES!” There was a loud cheer from the field and the stands as this comment was made.

Reporters were filing in as lights were flashing and music was playing. It was a magical moment. It was almost as if we had already won the World Series.

We were all excited but none of us wanted to face the paparazzi still, so we all hid in the locker rooms and didn’t allow them access. Hey; it worked.

“Alright guys. This is amazing. But we have to set some things straight.” Mike got our attention. “We are NOT going to give this up. It’s been a hundred years. A hundred one years. And we are SWEEPING all of these teams. There is no way we are going to lose in the World Series. The Yankees, they’ve already lost in the playoffs. We haven’t. We have to go out there and show them that we want it more, and just totally own them. Even if it gets tough… keep going. Be relentless. We need this. We HAVE this. Just go in there with ALL the momentum.”

“Right on.” Dioner mocked. Mike gave him a cold glance; it looked as if they didn’t get along.

“Mike’s right.” Derrek contributed. “They haven’t done anything for anyone. We have fans that have been waiting their whole lives. We can do this, guys.”

“Just keep focus.” I added. “Don’t take your mind off the goal. We’re going to beat them; if we keep the right mindset, [heck], we can just sweep them.”

“Right. Focus, mindset and desire. We’ll win, guys.” Aramis concluded. Everyone let out a loud cheer.

“101 years. Let’s just go and kill them.” DeRo finished off. We all grinned with energy. We were ready to take them on.
ONE DAY LATER

“LET’S GO!” Mike shouted from the dugout as we took our spot on the field. Xavier Nady was the first batter for the Yankees.

The lights of Wrigley were still on for the night game. The first three games of the series were held at Wrigley; the rest in New York.

I was playing right field today for Kosuke, with Jim next to me. The game had just been called on as Carlos Zambrano threw out his last practice pitch.

“Play ball!” The umpire yelled as Geo threw the ball back to Carlos and Nady took the plate.

The first ball was a strike. The next ball, a slider, was swung on and missed; the next one was hit, a grounder to Ramirez, making the first out.

As Nady headed back to the dugout, Ivan Rodriguez took the plate. Rodriguez played catcher on the “Yanks”, and was a pretty good hitter.

And during his at-bat, he hit a fly ball to Jim in center. He hardly had to take a step, and that made two outs for renowned shortstop Derek Jeter, ominous threat and stellar ballplayer.

Jeter had been on the AL team in the All-Star Game. I remembered being terrified of him, despite the fact that he was only a normal person, just like me. But he was good. Really good.

He hit the ball in the gap between me and Jim, but Edmonds called me off and took it as I started jogging to the dugout for our turn to bat. I was up eighth in the order, preceding only the pitcher, Zambrano.

Soriano was leading us off in the bottom of the first, followed by Theriot and Lee; the usual batting order.

The aura in the dugout was incredible. The energy level was high and everybody had the focus, mindset and desire; they carried it in their stride. The cheering was loud and ominous to the visitors, the feeling you got looking at the people talking on the bench was just… confidence. We all knew that we were going to win.

Bottom of the third. The game is tied at one. I’m the first one up. I’m oh for one so far and wanting to turn that around. Nobody on, no outs… I’m the first batter of the inning.

Phil Hughes is the pitcher on the Yankees. This was Hughes’ fourth season, and he was an amateur to below average pitcher. Combining his first three seasons, he had eight altogether wins and nine altogether losses.

Hughes threw the first pitch; it blew by me, a high speed fastball. And I was intimidated surely.

I stepped out of the box and took a deep breath. My thoughts were spinning furiously in my head. This is it. The World Series; it’s all or nothing. I started sweating just with anticipation. My breathing grew deeper as did my nerves, and I was practically shaking near home plate.

I felt so pressured, the fans were screaming louder than my ears could bear. My teammates, in the dugout, screaming, cheering, encouraging; but it didn’t sound encouraging.

The pitch; I swung on and missed. It was awfully far away from the plate, but anxiety got to me as I wiped off my hands, staring down Hughes futilely.

The next pitch could have hit me. But I felt encouraged to swing at the low and inside slider. I was hating myself as I took the third strike and started trudging dejectedly back to the dugout. Now the pitcher, Carlos, was up to bat.

And after my weak, senseless at-bat, Carlos goes up and on the second pitch, knocks one into the stands. The pitcher. And here I am, having moved on, grown up from that position, moving onto ‘bigger and better’ things; playing the field; batting more than once in every five games; feeling good about myself and my hitting ability.

Just to get shown up by the pitcher. It’s ironic how you see what you could have been; if I had stuck with pitching, and then a homerun or extra base hit wouldn’t be near expected. It would be a miracle; but instead, as a position player, it is expected that you get up there and perform. Maybe I wasn’t meant for this. Maybe I was meant to be where I had trained at for the “good” years of my life. I had wasted valuable time for this game…

I was going crazy and I knew it. I was supposed to be happy for Zambrano, as he jogged victoriously around the bases. But here I was, ripping at the seams, tearing myself apart…

It was too much. Maybe I couldn’t handle the pressure of being on a championship team. Couldn’t handle going to the World Series. Couldn’t handle the game of baseball at all as much as I thought I could.

I was disrupted from my thoughts with a simple pat on the back from Lou. I looked up at him as he struggled for the words to say to me.

“You’re young and… inexperienced.” He got out. “We don’t expect you to go out there and blast all the pitches out of the park. We just want you to play how you know how to play, to do what you’ve been doing this whole season. That’s what got you here; so surely that’s what can help you win. It’s your assets, Rogers, physical assets that strive to help win the game. But if you’re not mentally checked into this, those possessions, the things you have in your playing archive, then you just can’t strive in this game. And I don’t know if you have faith that you can pull this out, but I’ll tell you one thing; I do. And I’m not a guy who likes to be disappointed. But I know that I won’t have to be. You can play your worst game of the season yet and I won’t care. I wouldn’t be thrilled with you, no, but I’d still be happy. Because you’d have showed me that even when the pressure is put on, you’ll go out there and just play. If you make ten errors or none, just playing through the pressure is a blatant sign of a good athlete. And I know that you are a good athlete, Mark. I just hope that you do, too.”

I looked out onto the field as Soriano took the plate. Not paying attention, not caring about a word he was saying, I nodded meekly and continued to mull in my own disregard.

Alfonso was very inconsistent at the plate. Sometimes he could hit pitches out of the park like there was no tomorrow. Other times, well, he would do what I just did and swing at a pitch in the dirt. And the second option was usually what he did when he was pressured.

But now the score was two to one in the third with one out. Not a pressure situation, right? Well, keep in mind that it’s the World Series. It’s always a pressure situation.

And, as expected, the pressure got to Sori as it had apparently gotten to me. Three pitches and three strikes. With two outs, Ryan Theriot came up to bat.

Well, to be blunt in his “player review”, Ryan still led the team in errors. But that had been true since he started the club.

Theriot swung on the first pitch and made contact, but not solid. Not solid enough, I should say. He ended up with a fly-out to Nady in right to end the inning. And with that, the Yankees got their chance to make up for Carlos’ home run.

The seventh inning and the score is still one to two. Every time I looked up into the stands I swore I could see a fan yawning.

I got a single in the fifth inning, but it was still a dismal day at the plate for me. As Soto returned to the dugout after a lame ground out to all-star Derek Jeter, I took the plate again with one out in one of the most boring games of the playoffs. Of ANY playoffs.

Yet here’s a shocker; Mike Quade signaled for me to do a fake bunt and run. I was not nearly the fastest guy on the team. Leave that to Edmonds, Theriot and Fontenot. Nor, even having been a pitcher, was I the best bunter.

I decided to give it a try anyway, but I put pressure on myself as usual; I knew that if I didn’t get it right the first try they’d be onto me and the second try would be a bust. I had to get it this time to get it to work perfectly.

And just like the well-oiled machine in my mind, on the first try, the bunt was laid down perfectly. Now it was a test of speed. I thought back to that first day of weightlifting and conditioning (oh, the pain) and tried to enforce everything I had into that one sprint to first. I heard Trammell’s voice resounding in my head as I heard my feet crunch the dirt with every step I took, my eyes straight ahead as I saw Jason Giambi staring ahead toward A-Rod, waiting for the throw. It felt like I was so close, yet so far. It was the World Series. I had to remember what Lou said. I had to give it my all.

Just one step away from first and what happens? I trip over my feet and end up doing a face plant in the dirt. I heard the ball slap leather and I knew Giambi had caught it. What shocked me was the umpire yelling “safe”.

I looked up from my embarrassed turmoil and saw my hand, more like my mere finger, outstretched and barely touching the bag. But it was enough. I was safe. I, shocked, stood up slowly and walked clumsily toward first and waited eagerly for the next batter…

I was shaking at my position in the outfield as Wood did his job. It was the ninth inning with two outs against Justin Christian, the left fielder. This one out would proclaim that we win the first game…

Strike three! We won the first game of the World Series! We all charged to the pitcher’s mound as Kerry stood there in shock. Even though it was only the first game… it was amazing.

We ran into the dugout celebrating for awhile, and after Lou finished his little speech we all went back to the hotel where the first thing anyone did was crack open some champagne. Of course, having learned my lesson about alcohol, I hung back and merely talked to the people around me. Nicole was still in Chicago, awaiting game 4… when it came.

The night seemed to fly by as did the days left in the season. It was almost a shame, watching the days go by, because next year’s team, well, it wouldn’t be the same. I’d heard some talk about replacing Ryan and Mark and Ozzie still wasn’t giving up on getting me back to the Sox. However, I would do anything in my power to stay on this team; the White Sox just weren’t as special to me anymore.

“Game two, eh?” I heard a voice behind me say. I turned abruptly to see Ryan Dempster, grinning at me with a bottle of beer in his hand. “You excited, kiddo?” I looked down and chuckled to myself.

“We’ll see about that one.” I said unconfidently. Ryan slapped me on the back before turning around.

“Don’t worry, you’ll do great.” He said. I wondered why he was implying this today and not yesterday, when the pressure was really on. But then suddenly I got a phone call. My bet was that it was Nicole, but as I looked on the caller ID, I realized that I was mistaken.

“Lou?” I asked as I answered the phone. The party in the background was loud and I couldn’t hear what my manager was saying. “Hold on, I’ve got to get somewhere quieter.”

I opened the door and slipped into the hallway. “Okay, shoot.” I said expectantly as Lou sighed on the other end.

“Kid, know that I trust you and that I have faith in you, okay? But this isn’t just another pep talk.” I sat down with my back against the wall.

“Okay…” I said. I could still hear the party going on across the thin walls. “So what is it?”

“It’s about tomorrow’s lineup.” He breathed. “I’m having some issues with Rich and I don’t want to sore out Carlos and Ryan.”

“You mean the pitching lineup?”

“Yeah, that one. The rotation. We’ve been having issues all season and I’m lost right now.”

“You don’t want me to… pitch, tomorrow, do you?” I asked astounded as he laughed on the other end.

“Actually, yes, I do. You’re our little secret weapon. I—” I cut him off, still wallowing in disbelief.

“Lou, I’m not a pitcher. Why not Sean?”

“Because, Mark, you’ve got more talent than Sean, [darn] it. And you need to confidence.” I said nothing. “You’ve got a weapon in that arm that’s unprecedented in baseball history. I need you to change your pitch style constantly. We’re adding another signal for Geo, and it’s going to be a tool, it really is.”

“I could get hurt, Lou. It’s dangerous.”

“But the difference between us is that I believe in you. You’re going in that game tomorrow and you’re pitching and I’m not taking you out until it’s good and time. Got it?”

“No, I… I can’t Lou.” I stuttered.

“If you say that to me ever again, you are off this team, you hear? Good luck tomorrow, kid. Get out there.” He hung up and I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it, my mouth agape, as if it was the one fooling with me and not Piniella.

I didn’t know what to say.

I sat on the bench as if traumatized, waiting for warm-ups to be over. I had gotten my fill earlier and now I was sitting out, shaking and fearful, waiting for the umpire to call us onto the field. It was almost mortifying.

“Players on the field!” The umpire yelled and a took a deep breath before getting on my pitcher’s mitt and heading toward the stairs. It was a playoff game. It counted.

“You’ll do great, kid.” Lou said, patting me on the back as I nodded meekly as I took my spot on the field. As the first batter, Xavier Nady, took the plate, my hand was already shaking uncontrollably. It was almost like vertigo, staring down Soto. Like there was a vortex separating me from the other fielders. The tunnel vision focused me to Geo alone as he called for the pitch.

Overhand, fastball inside. My specialty was definitely not in the fastballs… Either way, with a deep breath, a windup, and a pitch, the first ball was thrown over the plate for a strike on Nady. I relaxed a bit as the next pitch was called for.

By the end of the strikeout at-bat, I was feeling a lot less stressed. Nady was a tough competition and I got him out. Hey, I’m the one who threw a no-hitter against the Astros in the preseason. I can do this.

But I nearly did a double take when I saw Ivan Rodriguez up to bat. He wasn’t frightening in himself, but this guy was a master of the overhand pitches. It was time to unleash the power of the sidearm and get rid of the surprise. The first pitch would be pure confusion; maybe terror.

Sidewinders’ windup; natural for Arizona triple A. As I threw the pitch, Rodriguez looked confused for sure, as the strike was called, I saw that his mouth was agape, as was everyone in the bullpen and sideline; the coaches; the fans. All shocked at a pitcher who could pitch not one but two ways. They haven’t seen the third yet. That was for later in the game.

It built up a lot of confidence that I could make people fear me like that.

Bottom of the sixth. It was evident that I wouldn’t have much longer to play. Pitchers rarely made it to the bottom of the seventh; let alone the eighth, despite a starters’ stamina.

So as Robinson Cano took the plate, Soto signaled for me to unleash the grand finale; the underarm, Vasquez pitch. Rare to the major leagues; but so was a guy like me. And I knew it.

Maybe it was a mistake. I had taken into account when Lou told me the news right off that maybe three different pitches in one game could… hurt. When I threw that pitch, I pulled a Mark Prior/Rich Harden; I could practically feel the muscles in my shoulder pulling apart. I grabbed it in immense pain as Cano swung and flew out to right. It was throbbing like no other. Yet I had never had shoulder problems before.

“O’Neal, please?” I heard a faint voice (Derrek Lee’s, to be exact) calling to the athletic trainer. O’Neal ran onto the field and kneeled down as I had previously done.

“Are you alright, Mark?” He asked, removing my hand from my shoulder and examining it.

“Yeah, uh… no.” I said. “I can’t play. But don’t tell me that I’m out for the next few games, please, tell me I can play.”

“That depends, are you ambidextrous?” He asked. I looked at the ground when realization spread over me.

“No.” I muttered meekly. He kind of laughed quietly as if it were a joke or something. I was about to retort when he spoke instead.

“Well that’s fine. You should be up and ready by game four anyway.” He stood up and held out his hand to assist me.

“You’ll be the death of me, you know that?” I laughed. “So it’s all good?”

“Sure.” He said. “You’re done today, of course, and tomorrow it’s unlikely. But a kid like you, you should be up and running by game four. And hopefully that will be the finale…”

That made me remember that so far, we were undefeated in the postseason… unbelievable.

He led me down to the trainer’s room while Cotts took my place on the mound. The score was 4-1 us. He sat me down on the familiar bench and got some ice out of the freezer. “All the times you’ve come in here to help me, Mark, it’s a shame when it’s you needing help.” He said philosophically. I nodded my solemn, silent agreement as I tried to focus away from the pain in my arm.

“So uh. How do I take care of this?” I asked, motioning to my arm. He slapped the bag of ice on it and the frigid cubes stung on my skin.

“Ice it three to five times a day for twenty minutes each time. No more, no less.” He said prevalently. He took out a clipboard from behind the bench and wrote something down apathetically.

“Am I supposed to… leave?” I asked, starting to get up from the bench, clutching the freezing bag of ice to my shoulder as it turned red in front of my eyes.

“No, I want you to stay here. Mark, I need to talk to you about you’re… nervous issues.” He said. I sat back down and leaned back.

“What do you mean?”

“Your Nervio. It was very… intense, wouldn’t you say? Tell me, are you feeling better from it?” He asked as he reached into the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water, tossing it to me.

“Yeah, it’s better, I resolved quite a few of the issues…”

“And the rest?”

“More of premonition,” I cringed, thinking about my sickness and my mother in the accident. I can’t believe I had let my mind wander from that horridness.

“Premonition?”

“I’d rather not explain.”

“Mark, you are a very colorful character. A lot of the time when I diagnose people with stress, they don’t really know that they’re stressed. They come to me saying they’ve been having sleeping issues or loss of appetite and then when I tell them why they think about their lives and wonder why they’re stressed anyway. You, on the other hand, show it deeply in your emotion and appearance. I want to know why you’re different from them.”

I stared at him blankly for a moment, rubbing the bottle in between my hands. “Well, Mark, I’ve been through a lot.”

“I knew that. It was quite obvious to tell from looking at your medical records and all…”

“The way I portray emotions in general is a bit of an oddity. Ask my stepfather.” I shuddered with the thought of Sean. “In general, I’m horrible with dealing with stress. It might be my worst quality. I let things get to me.”

“Really? Because, Mark, I think that you handle pressure very well. I think the problem is that you get down on yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

“When one bad thing happens, you torment yourself in your mind. You pressure yourself way too much and when things don’t go right, you let yourself have it. You think you need to be perfect but you don’t.”

“Where’s this going?”

“Mark, you had Nervio. But it was self-inflicted. You’re main issue is lack of confidence. And I know, I had it too and I hate to hear of it. You’re young and talented and you have such a future. You work hard all the time and you never give up on anyone. Don’t give up on yourself.”

“Mark, I don’t get where this is going…”

“I was just like you growing up. I just want you to know. It’s okay. You’re allowed to make mistakes. I just wanted you to know.” I said nothing, just stared at him blankly. “You can go now, Mark.”

I sat up with the ice on my red shoulder. Realizing that my hand was numb from clutching it the entire time, I took it off and threw it in the trash, grabbed the bottle of water and jogged up the stairs to watch the thrilling conclusion.

In the ninth inning we pulled ahead greatly with a grand slam by Sori, a double by Theriot and a homer to knock him in by DeRosa. We won the game awesomely with a score of ten to one.

The team decided to have another party that night to signify going into the third game but I broke off from the bunch and went into my separate hotel room. I threw my bag on the floor and plugged my cell into the charger. I then collapsed onto my bed, threw my hat at the wall and closed my eyes, breathing in and out. I felt way too stressed out again.

But I still had no idea what O’Neal was talking about. It came out of nowhere. But the words were reverberating in my mind as if they were waiting to be deciphered. Maybe that’s what I was going to do tonight…

As I was about to recite his speech in my mind, my cell rang. It was Nicole. I grabbed it shakily and answered it as my voice cracked. “Hello?”

“Are you okay?” She asked worriedly. I laughed a little to myself at that one.

“Yeah, I’m fine. They say tomorrow I’ll sit out and then I’ll be good to go.” She seemed to breathe a sign of relief.

“Good, I don’t want my star right fielder being hurt for the championship.” She said rather flirtatiously. “Mark, I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“Yeah, I’m great.” I lied. Sweat was pouring down my forehead now and my hand was shaking worse. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” She said hurriedly, “I’m fine. Just… sorting things out, you know?” I nodded even though she couldn’t see me.

“I know exactly what you mean.” I thought of her alone in her apartment, probably just sitting on the couch wanting someone to talk to. “Nicole, I’m sorry you couldn’t stay.”

“I am too. I really miss you.” She said honestly. I laughed a fake laugh, an awkward one.

“It’s only been a day.” I said, despite feeling the same way she did.

“I know. It’s just been a long day.” She sounded kind of depressed on the other end of the line.

“Nicole, I miss you too. More than anything.” She said nothing on the other end. “Even if it has only been a day; it’s been a day apart from you.”

“You don’t have to go all philosophical on me now…”

“No, Nicole, honestly, I think that I do love you. I think I’m sure of that now more than ever.” She was silent. “It’s hard for me to say this after what happened last time. But when every second you spend away from a person is enough to make you miss them with all your heart, well, I think that’s love.”

“Oh, Mark.” She sighed heavily. “I love you too, but this is so improper. Over the phone like this.”

“Well, if this is my living, you have to get used to that.” I said, half mockingly and have seriously. “I’ll see you on Thursday.”

“Yeah. Bye Mark.” She said.

“Bye.” I muttered. The phone clicked off as I set it down on the table again. How odd. Randomly calling me just to see if I was alright? The injury wasn’t that bad. And having the same… apathetic voice in her tone again. It really brought me down.

I decided not to think about it any longer and went back to thinking about what O’Neal had said to me…
ONE DAY LATER

“Go, go, GO!” I yelled, my face pressed up against the fence separating the dugout from the field. I was urging Mike to run to first safely after his bunt and run attempt. It was a close play at first and the umpire looked indecisive. “Come on, TIE GOES TO RUNNER!” I screamed. My voice was about to give out just from yelling for two innings.

The Yankees were winning for the first time the entire series, five to zero. But we were far from giving up hope.

“OUT!” The umpire screamed as I slapped the fence and took a spot next to Jim on the bench.

“Totally off.” He said, crossing his arms. I nodded my agreement and then started biting at my fingernails.

“This game frustrates me so much.” I said quietly. Jim laughed and then looked at me.

“You’ve been acting a little different lately.” He noticed. I lowered my hand and looked him in the eye.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve just been acting so stressed. You’re eyes are bright red, that’s the first thing I noticed. Did you get enough sleep last night?”

“Not even close.” I said, and as if perfect timing, I felt a yawn coming on. “So what?”

“Well, you’ve been acting just so much more… irate lately. I don’t know. So much more irritable. You’re threatening some guys on the team.”

“You’re point being?” I snapped, and then immediately regretted it. He backed off a little, putting his hands out defensively.

“Just thought I’d mention it to you in case you didn’t notice, or in case you cared; which I guess you don’t.” He got up and walked to the end of the bench and sat by Daryle Ward. I felt awful for snapping at him. But that was the only time I had done that in a while.

Why was everyone being so offensive with me lately? I didn’t notice any change in the way I’ve been acting, but first O’Neal, and Nicole was acting different by me, and now Jim… what was I doing wrong?

Ted Lilly was batting with two outs and nobody on. It was rather dismal. Although I was having a tough time focusing on the game as is with all these thoughts swirling through my mind. With one swing and a pop fly to center field, I let my head fall back as I stared at the dugout ceiling. Why was I acting differently without me even noticing?

I hardly watched my team at all during the third inning. I hung back in the dugout silently as people walked past me dismissively. I just stared out into the field, spacing out and not paying attention. Nobody cared to ask me why.

“Snap out of it.” DeRosa clapped in my face after returning from his at-bat. I hadn’t even noticed. I blinked and jumped an inch or two in the air as he laughed and sat down. “Man, what the [heck] is wrong with you?”

“I honestly don’t know.” I muttered, crossing my arms and avoiding DeRo’s gaze. “I have no idea.”

“You’ve been snapping at everyone lately. What’s up?”

“Just stress, I guess.”

“Ah, well, so I’ve heard. But you never usually let that stuff get to you…” His voice drifted off as he watched Ryan bat. “This team doesn’t need another downer, though. We really need someone to encourage. Not dispirit. Sometimes you’ve got to let your personal matters be and forget about yourself. This is about the team. Not individuals.” He said, gesturing out to the players on the field. “We’re all in this together.”

I didn’t say anything, and after awhile Mark stood up and started to leave. “Wait.” I said, and he stopped in his tracks and turned around.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve been hearing all of these… criticisms and advice and remarks from a lot of people in the clubhouse lately. I was just wondering why.”

“Why everyone’s trying to help you out?”

“No, why everyone’s figured that I’ve been acting differently. I don’t feel any different.”

“You’ve been acting abysmal to the team, Mark.” He said sternly. “You openly show that you don’t care about us. You go off and get drunk? That’s not like you. You sit on the bus in the caravan and not say a word? Not like you. Snapping at everyone, at doctors, you’ve totally lost your sense of humor. I don’t know what happened either. You’re just not the same.”

I thought about it. My temperance, affability, sense of humor, it all came from my mother. It was as if by losing my mom I lost everything she had given me.

“Thanks.” I said to Mark as he gave me an odd look and turned around again before leaving. “Thanks.” I said again to nobody.

My mother’s death had been downplayed in my life. I didn’t realize how much it had really affected me until after everyone else did.

In the seventh inning, the score was seven zero. And of course, we were still losing. I was still wallowing in self pity in my little corner on the bench, just waiting impatiently for the game to be over. And then it hit me.

The third game of the freaking World Series. I was on a team that was in the third game of the World Series. And that was ahead in the series. And that had swept the other two teams in the playoffs. I never could have even dreamed this up.

Now, the field seemed larger. The air smelled different. I had a whole new perspective on what was going on around me. How could I have forgotten?

DeRo was right. There were times when you could let everything get to you. And there were times when you just had to forget your troubles and contribute to the team. I couldn’t feel sorry for myself any longer. I had to help.

Soriano let a ball fly to the right field corner and although high and deep, it was definitely not going out of the park. He ran half-heartedly across the field and back toward the dugout as soon as Nady caught it.

He entered the dugout dismally, but as he walked by me I muttered a “nice try.” He looked over his shoulder as he walked by and I smiled at him. He looked confused and the situation was rather hilarious to me.

Everyone in the dugout was silent as if all hope was lost. Everyone in the stands were excited; we were in New York, after all, and the Yanks were winning for once. But I believed; we still definitely had a chance.

Mike stood next at the plate as he did his batting warm-up. The ball was pitched and he reared back and swung, grounding out to third baseman Alex Rodriguez – notorious A-Rod.

The Yankees all started running back to the dugout as the seventh inning stretch began. Lou was walking around the dugout as all the players sat on the bench, looking at him as he paced angrily.

“What are you DOING?” He yelled. “WHY are we losing?” Nobody said anything. “I’m going to wait until somebody says SOMETHING.” I looked across the bench. Everyone was looking at their feet. So I knew I had to step up.

“I think we’ve all given up.” I contributed. Lou nodded.

“Continue.” I didn’t know what else I was supposed to say, so I nodded as I struggled for words.

“I think we’ve lost the hope that we can win this game as individuals and as a team. We’re letting the pressure get to us and as soon as we find ourselves in this kind of slump we just give up. We’ve stopped trying.”

“It’s time to rally.” Jim added judiciously. Everyone nodded their agreement and I felt glad to actually contribute.


“So we’re going to go out there, and Sean, you’re going to go in and pitch, and until you come back out of the game you’re not letting them get a single run in, okay?” Sean looked up at Lou and nodded weakly.

“When we bat, I want you to get on base and rally your hearts out. It isn’t over until the last out is called. It’s not over.” He said adamantly as everyone nodded along. “Get out there and defend like there’s no tomorrow.” Everyone got up from the bench, newly energized. “And tomorrow we’ll go through this again. Come on. It’s for the title we’ve been fighting for all season. We won’t give up.”

Everyone ran onto the field, yelling enthusiastically and smiling from ear to ear. I grinned just watching everyone so excited.

It wasn’t over.

The ninth inning and the score is one to seven. We got a point in the eighth inning off an RBI by Daryle Ward, pinch-hitting, and now we are up to bat with seven runs to go if we wanted to win.

Mark DeRosa leads off the inning with a double to the left field corner. I’m in the dugout with the rest of the team, pressed up against the fence and yelling to Derrek, who’s up next.

Lee lifts the second pitch of the at-bat into the air and sails it toward center. Brett Gardner, Yankees center fielder, is approaching the wall and jumps it, but doesn’t catch it. However, the ball doesn’t exit the field anyway, but bounces off the wall. Ground rule double, DeRosa’s in anyway. Now the score is two to seven.

We get even more riled up as Mark reenters the dugout. Everyone’s slapping him high fives and watching Aramis up next. Lee is taking a short leadoff off second and isn’t the fastest runner; definitely not stealing.

Ramirez makes lame contact as the ball rolls between Jeter and Cano for a mere single. Lee, running his heart out, makes it to third. No outs.

Jim is up next. He swings at the first pitch and makes great contact, tucking it away in the left field corner, but being so fast, it ends up as a triple, scoring Lee and Ramirez both. Four to seven, and the Yankees are getting scared.

Geovany is the next one up with Jim on third. He feels comfortable and swings at the first two pitches; two strikes. The next one he lets go and it looks way outside- but called for strike three. Soto looked really angry but decided not to let it get to him. I was a little proud of him as he walked back to the dugout after achieving really nothing.

Ryan Theriot is up next and lifts a familiar ball to right field, and it looks like it’s going to drop for a single as usual, but out of nowhere Nady makes a diving attempt and comes up with the ball in his mitt. Jim tries to run back to third madly to avoid getting out and manages to tag in time. The look on Theriot’s face was hilarious; I wondered how long it would take to get his jaw off the floor.

Mike Fontenot is in the eight-hole with two outs and Jim still on third, as we were still down by three. This game felt strangely like the actual fourth game of the World Series, the way we took is so seriously; even though it was only the third and we were up two games.

Mike made contact into short center for a single, but Quade didn’t let Jim go home; Gardner was fast and we had one out left. So with a man on first and third, we needed a pinch hitter.

“Rogers, how’s your arm?” Lou demanded. I shrugged.

“Fine.”

“Go in and hit.” He handed me a bat and gloves as I took it whole-heartedly; normally I would be nervous. Today I was excited. I put my batting helmet on and ran up the dugout steps. I bet everyone was shocked to see me after yesterday. And you know that I loved to make people confused.

I looked that pitcher right in the eye, so focused I couldn’t remember his name nor mine. I was feeling more confident than I had all season. The first pitch, although looking like a blur, looked good to me so I swung, and the contact it made was so powerful it made me stagger. However, it didn’t have the height I would have liked.

First base looked so far away, and I saw that the ball was tucked way in the right field corner. I put all of my energy into running. I rounded first and went to second, and by the time I was at second Nady was just starting the throw. I risked it all and ran to third. Mike and Jim were already home, and I dove into third as the ball arrived. I regretted my choice when I realized how close the play was; it was up to the umpire.

After a moment of deliberation, it was judgment time. “SAFE!” he called, and I smiled so large, the Cubs fans cheering and standing as Jim and Mike entered the dugout. Now we were down by one.

Quade was whispering in my ear. “Don’t move a muscle until the ball is hit, okay?” I nodded and took the shortest leadoff possible so that I could still have a chance.

Soriano was up next and he looked nervous. That was a bad sign. The pitcher, whose name I still couldn’t come up with, looked him in the eyes and knew that he had the clear advantage and was going to make the most of it.

In two pitches, there were two strikes, and I knew Soriano was fretting. I willed the pitcher to mess up or for Alfonso to do great in some way, but in my heart I knew it was unlikely.

The third pitch went way over Ivan Rodriguez’s head! Without thinking, I took off mindlessly from third as Quade yelled at me. “WHAT THE [heck] ARE YOU DOING?”

I had home plate focused in my vision and I knew Rodriguez had the ball by now. I did a mad dive and I knew that I had started it too early; I saw dust rise around me and I didn’t even know if I was on the base. I made out a figure in black that I figured was the umpire, and I felt a mitt on my bare arm. When the dust cleared, I saw that my hand was clearly on home plate. Now it was a question of who had gotten there first.

I held my breath and waited for the verdict. “SAFE!” He called, and I got up quickly and pumped my fists. I had taken the risk and it had paid off. The game was tied!

I ran into the dugout with all the energy I could muster as my team was celebrating. I felt great.

“CUBS WIN!” I heard the announcer yell over the radio in our dugout. I was too busy running up the steps into the mob of people by home plate as Mark DeRosa jogged home after his winning solo-home run in the tenth inning. Eight to one, and we were victorious yet again! It felt so great! We were up by three and tomorrow was a new day; in Chicago, no less. Game four in our friendly confines and if we won, we would have swept every team we faced in the World Series! That’s only been accomplished once in the history of the sport!

The whole team was radiating with energy after we left the field, got in all of our different cars and pulled out onto the road, and still, as everyone arrived at the airport for our flight back home, everyone was super pumped.

We hopped right onto our private jet back to Chicago and talked excitedly for the long fly home.

“Okay, guys, we’ve got to bring that tomorrow.” Mike said, breathing heavily still.

“No, we’ve got to bring that and then more.” Derrek laughed. Although that was a given, we all nodded our heads in agreement.

“We have totally got this. Let’s sweep them.” Jason joined. That brought a wave of enthusiastic yells until Ted stood up and calmed everyone down.

“Hold it, hold it, hold it. Let’s not get cocky, guys.” Everyone stopped their talking and looked at Ted. “We can be happy with what we’ve done and all, but it’s not over. We still have to win this one last game, okay? Let’s just remember to fight ‘til the end. We haven’t won yet, guys. Let’s not think that we have.”

“Okay.” Sean said, putting his hand in the air. “We won’t. But for tonight, let’s just remember what we have done and feel great for just tonight. Look ahead and get a LOT of sleep guys; we can party tomorrow.” Ted gave him a glance. “Or whenever it’s over.” Everyone cheered again and I was sure by then that the pilot was getting angry with us for being so loud.

“I don’t know about you guys,” said Mark DeRosa jokingly, “But I could fall asleep right now.”

“Same here.” Geo said, putting his finger in the air. “Let’s talk quietly and let the rest of us siesta for a bit, eh?” he stated in his strong Mexican accent. A few people laughed and a few people mumbled sarcastically.

“Yeah, better not to piss off the pilot anyway…” Ryan Dempster joked, looking lightheartedly at the cockpit as if the pilot could really hear us talking at a normal volume.

We all returned to our seats as the little party in the hallway concluded. Geovany was actually sleeping already and DeRosa looked like he was trying. I laughed as I buckled my seatbelt and let my head drift back… come to think of it I was pretty tired…

The plane landed and the jolt of the wheels hitting the ground woke me up after having slept the entire ride. The first thing I did after I got off the plane was to take my phone out of my bag and check for any missed calls; I had expected that Nicole would have called me after the game.

However, I had no new calls, no new messages. She hadn’t made any effort whatsoever to contact me. I guess that was because I could always just go and knock on her door and she’d be there to start asking me questions.

I got my luggage from the carousel and said goodbye to my teammates as I went to get my car. I passed by Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot on the way, loading up their things to go to their apartment not too far from mine. I found my old rundown car and pushed my suitcase into the trunk, put the car in drive, and I was off.

It was almost midnight by the time I got to my apartment building. I went into the owner’s lot and yanked my stuff back out of the trunk, my eyes drooping. I was exhausted.

I opened the door and saw Eliza, still working at the rental counter. “Well, you’re finally back. How was the big apple?” she asked curiously.

“Stressful, doubtful and exhausting. I need some sleep.” She nodded.

“Go right ahead. I expect nothing less.” She laughed. I grinned, haggard, and pushed the up button for the elevator. I was NOT about to go lifting my luggage up the elevator. I still felt nauseous from the plane.

The lights were off when I got to my floor, and figuring that they were off for a reason, I stumbled around the hallway blindly. As soon as I tripped on my own feet though, just inches from my door, the lights clicked on. “Mark?”

I looked up, my eyes adjusting to the light. “Nicole?”

“Well you’re home late.” She said, stepping over to me and helping me up. “Tired, I presume.” She gestured to my awful posture.

“Very.” I laughed, trying to focus my eyes to the brightness.

“Go to bed then.” She laughed, grabbing the keys from my hand and putting them in my door. “Get rested for tomorrow. What time’s the game?”

“Noon.” I said, stretching out my back. “You’re going to be there?”

“First row above the dugout, as always.” She said, grabbing my bag and tossing it in my room for me. “Thanks for that, again.”

“No problem, only a hundred bucks out of a million.” I grinned, winking at her. “I’m a baseball player, I can afford it.” She stood there, laughing and looking me over for a second. There was silence except for the buzzing of the old, cheap light above us.

“Well,” She said awkwardly, clearing her voice, “You’d better get some rest.” I nodded.

“Yeah, I guess I should. Goodnight.” I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, goodnight.” She said as I closed my door behind me. I turned on the light and looked across the room.

Right on the table, where I had left it. The box. It made me smile and it brought a tear to my eye.

Tomorrow would be the day.

I slapped my alarm to shut it off as I rolled over in my bed, groaning. Seven a.m.? What was I thinking?

Then I remembered. The game started in five hours! How in the world did I forget that?

That means that I had to be there in four hours so I had to leave in three hours. Three hours to get ready for the biggest day of my life? Well, it seemed like the biggest day right now.

I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth, put in my contacts and washed my face. I stared at my tired face in the mirror. Today was the day.

As if I were short on time, which in all honestly I really was not, I practically threw on my jersey and threw my mitt and bat in my bag. I threw my phone in there too while I was at it.

I was about to put my bag next to the door so I could grab it on my way out when I saw the box on the table. I ran over and put it in the front pocked.

Today was the day.

There was a knock on the door and I opened it to see Nicole’s smiling face. “Just making sure you woke up on time. Don’t want you to sleep in today.” I kissed her good morning and invited her inside.

“So am I driving you today?” I asked her as I handed her a cup of coffee. “It would seem almost pointless not to.”

“I’m going out for breakfast with one of my friends,” she said, choking a bit on the drink, “I was going to drive myself.”

“I can pick you up.” I offered, taking a sip myself. She nodded.

“That’d be great.” She smiled. Now everything seemed normal again between us. She checked her watch. “Yeah, I’ve got thirty minutes. I’ll she if she’ll give me a ride there so I don’t have to leave my car.”

She took her phone out of her pocked and excused herself to go into the guest room and make the call, shutting the door behind her. I just stared after her, drinking my coffee. I couldn’t avert my gaze from the closed door. It seemed pointless.

After a few minutes, it opened and I blinked, almost making my contact fall out of my dried up eye.

“Yeah, she’s picking me up.” She said. “Okay, I’d better go get ready and all…” she said. I thought she looked beautiful already. “See you soon, okay?”

“Eleven sharp.” I said. “See you there.”

“Okay bye.” She said, leaving the room and closing the door.

Today was the day.

After the hour long car ride, I lead Nicole to the VIP entrance and said goodbye. Jason walked up behind me and as I turned back around, I ran into him, which scared the crap out of me. “Ready to sweep the World Series?” He said, half jokingly. I sheepishly smiled and nodded.

“Let’s hope.” I laughed tentatively. Deep in my heart, my gut feeling, told me that today would be the day. We would win. We would sweep the competition in the World Series. Part of me just knew it.

“Let’s go.” I waved goodbye to Nicole one last time and followed Jason into the clubhouse. We were apparently the last to arrive and everyone else was in a huddle.

“Okay, I was just about to go over the lineup.” Lou said as everyone looked at us. I squeezed in between Mark and Mike and looked around the circle. The minor leaguers had shown up today. They were gone yesterday for some reason.

“I decided that I was going to play who I wanted based on how hard all of you worked this season. If I think you deserve a spot, I’ll give you a spot.” He said. Nobody said a word. I looked around the huddle and saw a lot of nervous faces.

“For pitcher,” he said, eyeing the starters all scattered about, “I chose the person who hasn’t had all the best opportunities but who I know never gave up and I know that even when times get tough, he’ll just try harder. Ted, you’re pitching today.” Everyone applauded as Lilly looked around the circle, shocked. Zambrano looked rather angry.

“For catcher, I chose someone who came with us later, but adapted into the team and never gave less than his best when he was on the field.” I looked expectantly at Dioner Navarro. “Koyie Hill.” Everyone was shocked. Navarro and Geo looked especially angry. Hill, the triple-A minor leaguer, looked the most surprised out of anyone. Lou nodded to him and cleared his throat to move on.

“Left field,” he announced, looking at his records, “I chose the person who has not only been consistently working overtime to be the best, but who’s very good to prove it, a leader in home runs that will hopefully play out in this game. Soriano,” he stated, and everyone kind of muttered while they applauded. It was rather expected.

“Center field. I chose the one who was always playing in the shadow, who never got his time to shine, but who stood on the sidelines and cheered his heart out, who worked his hardest nonetheless. I’m giving you your chance to shine, Jim.” I applauded loudly. It was good for him, he really did deserve it. Jim nodded thankfully as Lou moved on.

“Right field.” This was my new number one position. I had no doubt that he was going to say me. “I chose the person, who’s had his ups and downs this season for sure, but who’s always managed to pull through and be a strong asset to this team, a man I respect greatly. Mark.” He said. Everyone waited a second. “DeRosa.” He added slyly. I was personally shocked. That was my number one position. Would I even play today?

“First base.” He said, moving on, “Well, with no competition, Derrek, I would like to award you the spot. But even if there was competition, you’d still get it. You’ve had family problems, health problems, but you’ve worked through it and stayed tough all year. I don’t know that I could live up to you.” Everyone applauded meekly once again. I was still in shock.

“Second;” he said, “This was a tough choice. I had a lot of outstanding candidates and it was hard to pick just one.” Maybe it was me? “I thought about who I felt worked the hardest through and through, who never stopped even when times got tough. Who improved a lot and developed confidence to prove it. Dallas, you deserve this spot.” Another wave of shock ran across the group. Dallas Hill? And where was I in all of this?

“Short; now, let me tell you, this was maybe an even tougher choice.” I was doomed. If I wasn’t at short, I wouldn’t play; Aramis owned third, but Ryan or Mike owned short. “I had a lot of things to consider, but after a lot of thinking, it was obvious. The one guy who’s probably been through the most this season, and he pulled through more than I ever could have hoped. It was the best I could do to give him this spot; but I don’t think it says enough. Ryan, it’s yours, and I’ll tell you from the bottom of my heart, I’m proud of you.” The smile on Theriot’s face was big as could be, and even though I knew that I wouldn’t be playing today, I felt really proud of him, too.

“Third.” He stated, taking a deep breath. “I don’t know how to phrase this. I’m not looking for skill per se. I need someone who tries their hardest no matter what. But above all, I need someone with a good attitude.” I laughed to myself. What a lame speech. Ramirez had a horrible attitude around everyone but Lou. He was such a faker. “This person always underestimates themselves and I want to show them that they can do it by giving them this spot. Mark Rogers.” I looked up at him in more shock than when he announced that the minor leaguers would play. Everyone else looked surprised, too, and Ramirez just looked angry. “Mark, I need to prove to you that you can do this. And I figure that I would do that by putting you in an unfamiliar position when time called for someone to step it up. You can do it and I just need you to see that.” I nodded, my mouth dry and my expression I knew must have been hilarious at that point. I think my mouth must have been hanging open with surprise. “And to add to that confidence that you need to build, Mark; you’re batting cleanup.” I think my brain went numb at that point. I couldn’t say a word. I was frozen there in shock until Mark slapped me in the back and I lurched forward.

“Yes sir.” I muttered, stammering my words. “I can do that.” A few people laughed and I was still trying to get it through my head. I think that I just made an enemy for life with Ramirez. Lou nodded and tapped me on the shoulder as he posted the lineup on the clubhouse wall. I was batting fourth for sure.

“Nice job man,” Jason said to me, shoving me forward, “You totally deserve it.” It was kind of awkward because he didn’t get to play, but I think we both knew he wouldn’t.

“Thanks…” I said exhaustedly as I kept trying to take deep breaths. I was already nervous; now I was really nervous. Maybe my premonition was wrong…

The speech he had given was starting to cut into our warm up time so we all grabbed our stuff and headed onto the field to warm up our arms. Mark and I started tossing back and forth in silence. I think we were both more nervous than excited.

“Part of me wishes that I would sit out today,” Mark confessed, “So that for whatever happens, I could say that I wasn’t a catalyst. Or, if it doesn’t turn out right, it wouldn’t be my fault.”

“What if it does turn out right?” I asked, throwing the ball harder and then backing up a few feet.

“Then I would want to be in, of course, but it’s just a lot of pressure. It’s like we have to win today, you know? Sweep the playoffs? Sweep the World Series against the only other team in history who’s swept the playoffs? It’s too much.”

“Yeah, but I’ve got that feeling that it’s going to happen. I really do. Today’s the day, Mark, we’ve just got to believe it and know it in our heads.” He nodded.

“I can try,” he laughed, throwing it awkwardly and side-armed. I lunged out and grabbed it as Lou called us back into the dugout.

“Okay, I’m pulling you out of batting practice today.” He announced. A few people cheered, a few people groaned, and a few people just looked totally confused; me being one of them. “Today is a different day, guys, and you have nine innings to swing. You don’t need to strain yourself now.” Nobody said a word as Lou cleared his throat. “Go get on the field. The game starts in a few minutes.”

Shocked, I grabbed my mitt and ran onto the field, going confusedly to my spot at third. I looked into the stands at the people by the third base dugout, all with looks of confusion on their faces as they saw me, Koyie and Dallas take the field. I looked at the people, Cubs fans, in the front row seats by third. I meekly waved at them as one girl started freaking out. She turned around to say something to the person behind her and I saw the number 11 on her shirt – Rogers. It made me really glow with excitement. I was ready to start this thing.

The Demon Xavier Nady was up to bat first. That guy had been torturous to us all season and I wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine. I willed Ted to strike him out in my mind.

After a few warm up swings, Ted threw the first heater into the mitt of Koyie Hill. Strike one; the overexcited fans started going mad already. I laughed from my position.

“LOOK HERE ROGERS!” I heard a fan yell from the second level seats by third. At first I thought it was a heckler from New York but I looked up and saw a guy leaning over the railing. “YOU’RE MY HERO!” He yelled. I couldn’t tell if it was sarcastic or not, but surely enough, he also had a Rogers shirt on.

I waved to him, grinning. Next inning I would have to throw the warm up ball to him… maybe I’d sign it later.

I wasn’t paying attention, thinking about all of my fans, gloating to myself that all of a sudden I looked as Nady was swinging. He missed; that was apparently strike three as he headed into the dugout.

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, a rather outspoken player, was up next. He looked totally intimidated as Ted stared him down; it was actually a rather hilarious sight. He frantically swung at the first pitch, a ball way outside, barely handled by Koyie. He was practically shaking as he prepared for the next pitch. I had never seen someone so freaked out.

Next pitched was whizzed past him for a strike. I don’t think he even saw it as it crossed the plate into Hill’s mitt. I was grinning, wanting to give Ted a nice round of applause for these heaters, but the game forbade me to do so, yet.

The final pitch of the at bat was one that he again frantically swung on and missed; seeing as how it hit the dirt before going into Hill’s mitt. Three strikes and two outs in the inning. Now’s where it got harder…

All star and AL MVP Derek Jeter was up to bat. Although getting into his older stages in his career, this guy was still amazing. Ted had his work cut out for him now.

Part of me was just dying to be in Lilly’s spot, pitching. The other half knew that I wasn’t meant to be there. I wouldn’t exactly call it being ‘torn’; more like second guessing myself yet again.

I looked in the dugout and saw Lou looking out onto the field, his arms crossed and looking bored and somewhat angry; as usual. I saw my ‘friend’ Aramis Ramirez chatting off to Carlos Zambrano; both probably more angry than they’ve ever been. Oh well. Ramirez had a bad attitude and he had it coming.

Derek Jeter hit a line drive just in between me and Ryan. Without even a second to think, I dove out to the left and did a short barrel roll, looked in my mitt and saw the glimpse of white inside it as the fans went wild. Jeter threw his bat onto the ground as we all jogged into the dugout.

They had put Phil Hughes in to pitch again, which was good for us because he might still be sore or something from the last time.

I was fourth up in the inning so I got to watch as Soriano, Theriot and Lee took their at-bats first. I would be cleanup.

Soriano, in my opinion, didn’t deserve the spot. He was a slacker and he’d been letting down a lot lately; I knew that the only reason he had gotten to that spot was because they didn’t have anyone else suitable, in Lou’s eyes. I just hoped it wouldn’t hurt our chances.

Sori swung hopefully at the first pitch and made light contact, to Hughes’ dismay. The fans cheered wildly as he jogged to first as the ball was thrown in. I grabbed my batting helmet and went to stand on the steps as Theriot took the plate.

He watched the first pitch for a strike and then prepared for the next one; pulled out his bat at the last minute and laid down an expert bunt and run. However, Rodriguez was just a little faster than Ryan as he got the ball and chucked it to first hurriedly. Soriano advanced to second as Ryan was marked down for a sacrifice bunt.

I took the on-deck circle as Lee took the plate. He got the signal from Quade to get Soriano to third, so he flew the first pitch up to Brett Gardner in center for a sacrifice fly. Alfonso reached third safely, so I took the plate with DeRosa coming in to bat behind me. With two outs, I was extremely nervous. I knew it was only the first inning and there would be many an opportunity to score, but it always seemed like right here, right now was important. The screaming fans muddled my hearing as I tried to focus in on Hughes. I just needed solid contact. Just a single. That was it.

I watched the first pitch go by, a strike. I relaxed and breathed deeply. I could do this.

The next pitch looked off so I let it go. I was mistaken and it was tallied down for strike two. I breathed again. He would try to get me out this time. I just told myself that no matter what, don’t swing. Odds are he’d throw a ball. Having been a pitcher before, I had inklings toward what they were thinking.

I watched the next pitch and sure enough, one and two count. I just had to make a squeeze play…

The next one looked fairly decent, judging by the mere glimpse I got of it, so I swung and made pretty good contact. I watched it sail, low but far. I ran as hard as I possibly could as I saw Gardner making a lunge for it; he missed so Soriano ran home. The throw came in to Robinson Cano, the cutoff man, as I was running for second, so I slid and prayed at probably the same time. The call was made; safe. One nothing Cubs in the first inning. Now DeRosa was up with two outs in the first inning. It was nice to at least have a small lead.

The fans took it as much more, though. As I stood up and slapped the dirt off my pinstriped pants, they went wild cheering. I laughed as the little melody for the next batter came up. “Next up is number seven, right fielder Mark DeRosa!” The announcer called. The fans continued to cheer as I began my small leadoff. The signal from Quade to me was clear as ever; run on anything and everything.

My vision was minimizing with the stress, pressure and exhilaration being placed on everyone today. DeRosa was an adamant guy, though, if adamant could explain it. He never let things get to him. He always knew what was what but truly didn’t care about whatever the outcome was.

I was ready to make my break for third when I saw Mark eyeing the third pitch of the 1-1 count fondly. With a swing, he aired it to the outfield, so I ran without looking back. I was rounding third when I saw everyone going into the dugout. I just stood there, shrugged, turned and walked back into the dugout. We had gotten one run in.

I grabbed my mitt in earnest and walked onto the field quickly, eager to get the game going. It would only last a few hours and then we would know; I wanted to make the wait as short as possible. Today was the day, today had to be the day. I knew it in my heart, today felt right. It had to happen today and today only.

Lilly took the mound at about the same time I arrived at my position at third. Notorious A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez, was up to bat next. Lilly tried to stare him down again with his face that never seemed to smile, but Rodriguez didn’t look intimidated. He let the first pitch go, which was normal but most people had been disobeying in this game, for a ball. Ted figured that he’d go with the flow and swing first, so the count was 1-0.

The next pitch he threw straight down the middle. I think everyone on the field must have grimaced when they saw Rodriguez eye it like he did; like he knew he could blast it out of the park. A step and a swing; I watched the ball fly toward the outfield.

Jim Edmonds in center was backpedaling to the wall as he tried to track down the ball and keep his eyes out of the sun. He was moving quickly and not looking behind him; eventually he crashed into the wall. The impact was so hard that he fell over. But the most funny, ironic thing happened. He just lied there on the ground for a second and the ball that A-Rod hit landed right in his mitt on the warning track. As the umpire called it out, Rodriquez threw his helmet onto the ground and I think everyone else on the field and in the stands died laughing. There was meek cheering, drowned out by the hysteria of it all.

Robinson Cano came up to bat nonchalantly as if nothing had happened and his teammate didn’t just get cheated out of an extra base hit. Ted was still laughing as he threw the first pitch to Cano. He let it go by for strike one. It was very humorous, as Koyie Hill went to throw the pitch back to Ted, he saw Ted laughing and started laughing himself. While everyone else had moved on, those two were still laughing their heads off. Ted calmed down for just a second to pitch the next one, and Cano hit a pop fly to DeRosa to make the second out.

Left fielder Justin Christian came up to the plate next, the third batter and hopefully last batter of the inning. After the usual first pitch strike, he let the next one go by for a ball; one to one count. The next pitch was also a ball as he watched it go; and the fourth pitch he finally swung on and singled into left as Soriano jogged up to it and threw it casually to Lee. That was their first base runner of the game. Hey, it was only the second inning.

So now the fourth batter of the inning came up, first baseman Jason Giambi. Giambi… didn’t have his face out there. I didn’t know much about him because I didn’t recall ever having him be playing prior to this series. I didn’t know whether to play up or back because he was almost a new face.

He followed suit of his teammates and swung wildly at the first pitch, making weak contact as the ball came closer and closer to my right hand. I weakly put my hand out and caught it with little impact; I headed back to the dugout to watch and see if I would miraculously get a bat in the inning.

Jim Edmonds, with his hilarious catch, was up first in the inning. I think that out of the three outfielders Lou put out there, Jim deserved it the most. He was a good friend, a good teammate and a good player, but got underestimated very often.

He followed normality and let the first pitch go by. Strike one. This game was odd when it came to first pitches; half the time they swung, half the time they didn’t. It made it difficult for the catchers to predict the pitch.

Jim also let the second pitch go. And the third. They were both balls, so he was up with a 2-1 count. He liked the third one though, and swung at the splitter that sank at the exact wrong moment. His bat narrowly missed the ball, it could have even been a foul tip, but either way the count was 2-2. This was probably the most dramatic at-bat so far in the game. That said a lot about the game so far.

The pitch came before he was ready on the fifth ball and he swung with some mad hope that he’d hit it. Of course, you could probably judge that he didn’t. He was the first retired batter of the inning and my chances of batting were slimmer.

Next up were the two hills, Koyie and then Dallas. Watching Koyie slip on his batting gloves was rather disgusting… he had gotten into that table saw accident a year or two ago and severed three and a half of his fingers; his hand was now deranged and rather gross to look at.

But his gloves were on and he was ready to swing away, and I was ready to watch; when was I not? But Koyie had never been in an extreme pressure situation, he was only just a minor leaguer, along with Dallas. So I didn’t expect too much, but I knew that they could pull something off…

I don’t think that Hughes really cared who was batting because he rarely conferred with Ivan Rodriguez about the pitches and he used the same kind of approach for every batter he faced. That made him a lot easier to hit; aside from the fact that he threw strong heaters.

Koyie also let the first pitch go but swung at the second and missed. With two strikes, he swung and popped out to Nady. It was a quick three pitch at-bat to bring up Dallas. Ah, well. We had seven more innings to get a good run going… I kept trying to stay as optimistic as possible.

Dallas Hill I would consider to be a little more experienced than Koyie Hill because he had at least spent more time in the Majors this season. Dallas was pretty confident, too, and Koyie lacked that just a bit.

Dallas broke apart and swung on the first pitch, and right away lined out to Giambi at first to end the inning. I grabbed my mitt which was sitting next to me and jogged back onto the field. Maybe I would get to bat next inning.

Center fielder Brett Gardner led off the inning, followed by Hughes and then back to the beginning with Nady. The game seemed to be going by so quickly, even considering that it was only the third inning. I wondered to myself where the first two went.

Gardner singled right away through Dallas and Lee to get on first while I was still thinking about what had been going on. I snapped out of it. Time to get in action.

The pitcher was up next, a usually easy out. I expected a bunt so I jumped the gun greatly. As soon as Ted threw the pitch I took off running down the line and sure enough, Hughes bunted down the third base line. I was faster than some, so I got there right away and actually managed to turn a double play, a frantic throw to Theriot who threw it wildly back to Lee. Hughes was rather slow so the play was extremely close, and the umpire ruled him out. I breathed a sign of relief as the fans cheered loudly yet again. Nady came back up and the stands quieted. He was expecting something this time.

He again swung at the first pitch and made hard contact on a ball that went straight back at Lilly’s head. At the last possible second, Ted threw his hand up and fell backward as he caught it with a huge impact. He definitely had the wind knocked out of him as Nady cursed and threw his bat over to the bat boy. He should have gotten thrown out. Ah, well.

On my way into the dugout I helped Ted off the ground as he brushed himself off. “You okay?” I asked casually. He nodded.

“Just a little shaken.” He laughed. “Nah, I’m fine.”

“Good,” I joked, “We need you to go hit one out of the park right now.” We both laughed.

“Alright, I’ll try for you, Mark.” He joked, running down the stairs and putting on his helmet and gloves. “To you I owe everything.” He mocked. I laughed as he headed up the stairs to take his at bat. That was unlikely.

He took signal to let the first pitch go but then the next one he swung at. I was in shock when I heard the solid sound it made off the bat. I was in more shock when I realized that it was going far. I stood up at the same time as everyone in the dugout and leaned against the rail. Lou even stood up in shock. Hughes’ mitt was already on the ground and Ted wasn’t even running. He was just staring after the ball as it headed straight for the center field stands.

I heard the radio announcers screaming in the background from the portable on the wall. I could hardly see I was in so much shock. Until I heard them yell “GONE!” and saw the crowd stand on their feet and scream. Ted finally started running, pumping his fist excitedly as I pushed to the front of the dugout, waiting for him to return. When he came back, I was the first person to give him a high five.

“Wow.” I stated, laughing hysterically. “Just wow.” I had never seen him smile that much. It was just… unexpected.

Now Soriano was up to try to top that hit. I sat on the bench next to Ted, still laughing. Now the score was 2-0 and we were still up in the bottom of the third.

“Way to wait until the potential last game of the season to hit your first homer.” I joked, knocking him around. He was still gleaming as Soriano flew out to Gardner to make the first out. That meant I had to get ready.

I didn’t get to see Theriot’s at-bat because I was getting my things on. All I know is that I turned around and he was on first. I guess that was another of his classic singles… that meant that Lee was up and I was on deck. Still one out.

Lee flew out deep to advance Theriot to second as I took the plate, DeRosa behind me yet again. This was a crazy game already, thinking about Ted’s homer. I wondered how it would play out in the long run.

I already felt on top of the world as I looked at Hughes, disappointed in himself clearly. I looked at Quade, but he was busy signaling to Sinatro and Theriot. I guess Ryan was going to steal. I was trying to decipher what they were saying until I saw Hughes going into his windup. Surprised and not ready, I swung quickly because the pitch looked good from the small look I got on it. I made slow contact and hit a single into right. Not bad.

DeRosa was up with two outs, like the first inning all over again. This time though, he was stubborn and fixated on not swinging. He let every single pitch go by. Hughes was so dazed he didn’t pick up on the fact that he wasn’t swinging and ended up walking him in five pitches, 4-1. Now the bases were loaded for Edmonds and he was in a predicament.

I was praying to get at least one run knocked in from this position as Jim took the plate. He looked very patient as he inhaled and exhaled, swinging his bat back and forth as a warm up. That’s why it was shocking to me that he swung at the first pitch and made strong contact. The ball flew to the wall for a ground rule double, scoring Ryan and I both to make the score 4-0. It was close to a grand slam; just a bit short.

I made my way into the dugout, giving my teammates high fives as I took my equipment off. I looked back and saw the runners returning to the dugout. I guess Koyie had gotten out.

Things were looking good as I took the field. We had a four to zero lead in the fourth inning, and we had the other team scared out of their minds by the looks of it. We were sitting high and letting them fight their way through the muddy underworld. Well, that was a horrible metaphor. But I hope you got the picture. We were winning and that was all there was to it right now.

The crowd continued to applaud as we took the field and I was feeling really good about myself and the team.

Ivan Rodriguez was leading off the fourth for the Yanks and he was in real deep because I think Ted was feeling good right now. I think he was ready to throw some major heaters his way; I was sure that it would be a quick inning.

I think Rodriguez knew this too because he didn’t even bother swinging as Ted threw three super fast curveballs his way. He just took them consecutively, got the out and handed the duty over to Derek Jeter to see what he could make of it.

However, Ted still had the upper hand in confidence against Jeter and was still throwing manically fast. He threw one at a hundred miles and hour and I was about to yell out to him that he was being monstrous until I heard the crack of wood on rubber and saw the ball fly out to the stands. It seemed to go a lot quicker than Lilly’s homer.

Thankfully a Cubs fan caught it and threw it back, making everyone around him cheer. The ball rolled over to me so I chucked it back to the umpire who tossed it into a nearby bucket and threw the next ball to Lilly as Jeter pranced back to his teammates in the dugout. So the score was 4-1. Whatever.

A-Rod was up next and Lilly had a lot of spite to hand out to him. Ted was a major participant in the fight against steroid use so Rodriguez was an enemy to him. He threw a nice splitter to start off the at-bat, which Rodriguez fouled off into the stands for a strike. The next pitch was a blur of a fastball which he also fouled off, but in the opposite direction this time. And, just to blow him out, Ted threw one way outside to the left, but A-Rod, feeling pressured, swung anyway. Two outs.

Robinson Cano was up next. For some reason I kind of hated that guy. He never did anything to me, just played the game and maybe got a few outs on me or something, I don’t know. But just the way he held himself as a person gave me absolutely no respect for him.

The second baseman swung weakly at the first two pitches for two strikes and watched the last one go by for three. That ended the first half of the inning and now we were up to bat, starting at Dallas Hill.

As I sat in the dugout watching, the thought passed my mind again. We were going on as if it were any game. It’s the World Series! This is so huge, how could I keep forgetting?

Distracted in my thinking, I didn’t even noticed when DeRosa sat down with a bottle of water that he handed to me. I didn’t notice until he was holding it in front of my face that he was even there. “Dude, you seem kind of spaced out.”

“I am.” I laughed. “It’s the World Series, you know that?” He gave me a weird look as I turned to face him.

“Uh, yeah, I do.” He said awkwardly. I took the water from him with no more than a murmur.

“I just keep forgetting is all.” I said. I shrugged as he laughed at me.

“You are so out of it, aren’t you?” He asked sarcastically.

“I am.” I confessed. “I’m just nervous I guess. It’s a little overwhelming, you know.”

“No duh,” he laughed as Dallas grounded out. “Jeez, it seems like only the top half of the order can get on.” He sighed, watching as Ted went up to bat, getting a standing ovation from the crowd.

“And Ted.” I added, laughing as he hit a single down second base. He was 2-2 already today.

“True,” DeRosa laughed. “So how’s third base treating you?” He asked awkwardly.

“Uneventful,” I laughed, “I’ve had maybe one ball hit to me and one runner on. Exciting, I know. How’s right field?”

“Oh it’s… great…” he said cynically, taking a sip of water. Soriano flew out to Nady to make the second out and bring up Ryan Theriot. There was an awkward silence between Mark and I as we merely sat there and watched. Ted looked scared to stand on first since he was so inexperienced there; he rarely got on base for sure.

My helmet was sitting next to me, ready to go, in the event that both Ryan and Derrek got on base. However, I knew it was unlikely as soon as Theriot grounded out to Cano at second to get the out. Well, okay, it wasn’t unlikely. It was impossible.

For the fifth time, I grabbed my mitt and jogged onto the field. The game was halfway over and the anxiety was finally getting to me.

With the game halfway over and the Yankees losing 4-1, they must have known that it was now or never. I expected a hard core rally this inning. Left fielder Justin Christian was up first. I looked at Ted; it would probably be his last inning pitching. He had to go out in a blaze of glory. I looked to the bullpen and saw Neal Cotts and Sean Marshall warming up. That surprised me; usually Marmol would be warming up. Maybe he was closing today?

Christian hit a pop single to right field as DeRosa jogged up and threw it in to Lee at first. Was this the beginning of the rally?

Giambi came up to bat next and again, I didn’t know what to do. This game was so overwhelming that I didn’t know what he had gotten last time at bat. I forgot if he had gotten on base or not, of struck out or hit a home run, I had no clue. Well, he didn’t get a home run. So should I play in? The sweat was pouring off my forehead with stress and anxiety despite the chilly autumn air. The fans were still making scenes all over the place. Hey, at least we were home in Wrigley.

Giambi popped it into the outfield, right between Soriano and Edmonds. It was more toward Soriano, but he was a slacker and Jim got to it first. He caught it and threw a cannon to Dallas at short, the cutoff man, who frantically tried to tag out Christian, since the throw was off mark. However, it was a very close play and the umpire called Christian safe. Dallas kept his cool as he threw the ball back in, and I admired him for that; I knew that if Aramis was in instead of me, something would have erupted.

So with Giambi retired, Gardner came to bat with one out and a man on second. I knew Gardner was fast because he was an outfielder; that didn’t tell me much. So I followed suit and backed up along with the rest of the infield, playing into the outfield grass. Gardner, however, popped it up down the foul line. I could tell that it was fair and I ran and dove to try to get the ball into my mitt. I was just a second late and landed on top of the ball with an impact that knocked the breath out of me. I sat up and picked up the ball to see that Christian was running to third. I threw the ball to Theriot as he was running up but Christian dove into Ryan and knocked him over; safe. Ryan got up shakily and threw the ball back in as I got up and jogged slowly back to third.

“You okay?” I breathed, my ribcage still aching. He nodded.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I was surprised to see that Phil Hughes was batting again. I guess he would be going through the inning…

I moved in to level with Christian as he took his leadoff. Hughes signaled bunt, obviously down the first base line as a sacrifice, so Koyie put his left foot forward as if ready to run. I did too, ready to cover home if I needed to. The fans went silent for a moment, as if this squeeze play was judgment time.

Lilly threw the pitch and Hughes bunted it nicely as Christian took off running. I was right behind him, and this is when I found out that his quickness did make a difference.

Koyie Hill was in closest range of the ball so I ran home, which was very dangerous because in a collision at the plate, I wasn’t covered at all and very prone. But I would have all off season to recover. Koyie grabbed the ball, turned, and threw it home without even looking to see if I was there. I heard the people in the dugout yelling for me to watch out as I lunged and grabbed the ball. Christian and I collided at the plate, I don’t know who touched it first, but I went flying forward and I flipped over onto my face when I landed. I was numb for a second, and then I felt a little pain, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I sat up and told Mark O’Neal to stay in the dugout; I was fine. The umpire ruled Christian safe, which pissed me off, but I decided to just let it go and not get ejected.

I ran to third and a few fans cheered, the ones right on the baseline. I couldn’t smile. I realized that we weren’t as safe as I thought we were; although we were still up by two, they could still come back. It was only the fifth inning. There was still only one out, we hadn’t gotten Hughes at first, and now Nady was up again.

However, remember how pitchers are horrible base runners. Ted knew this too, from experience now, and went to “check” on Hughes on first, knowing that he would be slow and unable to get back to first since he was taking a larger, naïve leadoff. The throw was quick and Lee was ready, bent down and tagged Hughes; and just like that, he was out. Like it was no big deal, he went and waltzed back into the dugout while a few fans started laughing hysterically.

Now Nady was up with two outs. I was ready for him, ready to stop him at all costs. He got himself into a 2-2 count and felt the pressure; swung at the next pitch and lined it right to my face. I stuck my mitt up in front of me and heard the rubber ball slap into my hand; three outs. I tossed the ball to the fan who had yelled that I was their hero, and ran into the dugout while I thought they might have just passed out of excitement. I just laughed to myself.

I got into the dugout, threw my mitt and hat onto the bench, got my gloves out of my pocket and slipped them on as Hughes threw his warm up pitches. I went to the cubbies and grabbed my batting hat and shoved it on my head, the rubber inside it muting my hearing, as I grabbed my bat and a weighted bat to go into the on-deck circle.

I swung around the weighted bat in preparation as Lee batted against worn out Hughes. I knew for sure that this had to be his last inning. I looked at the scoreboard at Wrigley, no times or scores showing on it but the ones in our game… nobody else was playing, of course. I looked at the place where it faintly listed pitch speed; the numbers had to be plugged in automatically after each pitch. I felt badly for the guy who had to do that for a living.

Lee grounded out to Jeter to make the first out as I approached the plate, feeling rather confident. I looked to Quade for the sign; just swing it out. No tricks, no gigs, just hit it. Get on base. I nodded at the complex sign he needed to just tell me that. I stared down Hughes, looked at the sweat dripping down his forehead, and laughed that I probably incorporated a lot of it.

I let the first pitch go by for a ball. The way Hughes was shaking, I had a feeling that a lot of his pitches were going to be off right now.

The next pitch was way inside, almost hitting me as I jumped back to get out of the way, for another ball. Maybe he was trying to walk me. I grinned. Maybe I wouldn’t let that happen.

The next pitch looked decent, so I cheated in a bit, so little that I was probably the only one who could tell, and made strong contact. Not home run contact, but enough for it to line drive into the wall and get lost in the ivy. I laughed at Hughes’ disappointed face as I took second with a ground rule double.

DeRosa was up next as I took my lead off second. Hughes threw the ball to Robinson Cano to check on me, but I was back in time. Hey, I wasn’t stealing.

DeRosa singled down the middle of Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but it being so close to second, I didn’t run. With a man on first and second, Edmonds was up.

Edmonds let the first pitch go by; strike one. I had to run on anything that was hit so that Jim could get on; I lengthened my leadoff by a step. Jim hit it to Jeter as I had taken off running; the quick step on second and then throw to Giambi at first got DeRosa and Jim both out to make a double play and end the inning. Well, I hadn’t gotten out… if that was really optimistic.

I took of my helmet and gloves while standing on the field, shoved my gloves in my back pocket and handed the helmet to a bat boy as Ryan came out holding both his mitt and mine, alone with my hat. I said thanks as I slid them on and scraped the dirt around on third. I welcomed the beginning of the sixth inning with pure exhaustion. If I had an opportunity to lie down right now, I would probably fall asleep right on the field. You would think that the opportunity to play in the World Series would have you pretty pumped up…

Lilly was pitching again, probably just because it would be easier to sub him out next inning since he was guaranteed an at-bat. Although he was playing superbly today, he had to get taken out sometime.

Ivan Rodriguez was up again, followed by Derek Jeter and then Alex Rodriguez. Ivan was glistening with sweat from the weight and heat enforced from the catcher’s gear. The fact that I could see that from third really told you something.

I had a lot of respect for Koyie and Dallas both, coming into this game straight from the minors and being able to play as well as they were. Koyie was calling pitches really well and Dallas was just, well, he wasn’t messing up. Then again, everyone on the team was having a pretty good day.

Ted was probably pretty tired, he usually only lasted to the fifth inning mark, so this was one of the longer games he played. Rodriguez had been having an up and down season, and I could tell that he was pretty exhausted today too, during this at bat. He swung randomly at the first three pitches, all clearly bad, to get the first out for his team. He was pretty pale and I guess he must not have been feeling very well. Anyway, that was good for us as Derek Jeter took the plate. He was the biggest challenge of the day, having gotten the initial home run. I wanted him to be held for an out.

I impatiently waited as he let the first few pitches go by to get himself deep into a count, 2-2. He still hadn’t swung. Ted threw the next pitch a strike, hoping that Jeter again would not swing, but he did and made weak contact, only flying out to Soriano who did his small hop and catch that he always did.

We were feeling high and mighty as the other Rodriguez came up, A-Rod. Alex was definitely a bigger threat than Ivan, not only because he didn’t tire as easily. But that guy always put up a fight, whether he was using steroids or not.

Lilly gave up a meatball to him and then regretted it when he heard the contact it made. The ball was sailing out to right field and I was ready to drop down onto my knees and pray for DeRosa to catch it. I was just pleading with nothingness. To imagine how Ted must have felt…

DeRosa decided at the last minute that it was worth a leaping attempt. He jumped and propelled himself up the wall, sticking his mitt into the stands. The fans weren’t going to blow it like Bartman and backed up to give DeRosa room. It was days like this when you appreciated the workout days and the jump training…

Nobody knew what had happened when DeRosa landed again, but when those fans in the front started cheering I figured that DeRosa had caught it. I saw the huge smile on his face all the way from my position at third as he pulled the ball out of his mitt. Alex Rodriguez threw his bat onto the ground and threw his helmet over to the batboy as the umpire yelled at him to stop it.

“Oh, what the [heck],” A-Rod yelled to him, “Give me the fine! I’m a freaking baseball player, I can handle it!” He went into the dugout and got his mitt as I laughed and went into the dugout to sit and watch as The Hills and a pinch hitter bat in the inning. I probably wouldn’t get a chance to join them.

I got out the water that Mark had gotten and took a long sip, trying still to calm my nerves. How did we ever get here? I let my head fall back as I poured some of the water onto my face. I looked up at the scoreboard because I realized that I had no clue what the score was. 4-2; Jeter had gotten a home run and Christian had plowed me over at home to get the second run. They were catching up.

Koyie Hill wasn’t exactly struggling today, he just couldn’t get on base. His fielding performance was… average, no more, no less. There wasn’t much to say about him today, that was that.

I watched out of the corner of my eye as I looked down and across the dugout to see who was where. I saw DeRosa and Edmonds talking in the back, Theriot and Fontenot, the Cajun Connection, laughing about something, Lou was having a conversation with Ramirez, Aramis was probably pissed about me taking his spot but I could really care less right now. I gave up and decided to just focus on the game.

Hill grounded out to Cano to bring up… Dallas Hill. I couldn’t say much more about Dallas than I could for Koyie. Dallas I had more respect for I guess, because not only was he in the minors but he was a rookie in the minors, too. This was a lot of pressure to put on someone so young… although, come to think of it, he was a year older than me. I guess I was the one here having unfair pressure on them.

Dallas hit a slow grounder to Alex Rodriguez and ran his heart out trying to get to first. He made the DeRo error, though, of trying to dive into first. It doesn’t work like you’d expect it to; it really just slows you down. While the play was still close, it could have been closer, as Dallas was called out for the naïve mistake. Oh, well.

Now Daryle Ward took the plate as the pinch hitter and I was praying for something to happen. I didn’t have a whole lot of trust in Ward, though, he was one of the guys who pretty much stood there and hoped to get walked. That wouldn’t cut it right here.

But, you know, that’s just what he did. He sat through four pitches; a ball and then three strikes. After the first few pitches, it was kind of obvious what he was doing. With the pressure on and the momentum on the other side, it was really time to get moving. I grabbed my mitt and ran onto the field for the beginning of the seventh inning with the score still 4-2; it might be a long seventh inning stretch this time around.

Robinson Cano, the guy that I hated for no reason, was leading off as he took his practice swings while our new pitcher, Neal Cotts, took the mound. The ball was thrown in to Lee so we could start warming up in the infield, as we tossed back and forth; Derrek to Ryan, Ryan to me, me to Dallas, Dallas to Derrek, Derrek to Ryan, Ryan to me, me to Derrek, Derrek to Dallas… it was repetitive and boring. We all just wanted to get the game going in all honesty. It was close and we wanted to stop them while we were still ahead, and warming up our arms slowly and insipidly wasn’t getting us very motivated.

Finally it was time for Cano to take the plate against Neal. I wanted this win more than anything today, because today felt right. If that meant getting the ball and running around the bases in pursuit of Cano trying to tag him out while everyone laughed at me for the next hour and a half, which would never happen, I know, but if that’s what it took then I swear I would do that and then more to get this win today. I would do anything.

However, I knew that the Yankees would too, and that was demonstrated at the start of the inning with a pop single to left. I watched it hit the ground despicably as Cano jogged over simply to first. I really just wanted to punch him in the face right about now.

Next up was Justin Christian. I was starting to hate on him, too, ever since he ran me over and got that run. He shouldn’t have been safe, and I knew it, even if I had no proof. He didn’t deserve it.

And just as well as I hated Cano, Christian hit the ball deep into the left field corner. Soriano was a weakness and that was apparently sticking out like a sore thumb. He gave no effort as both runners circled the bases.

He threw it in with just about no effort at all to me as Christian started to dive into third. Cano had already scored, I couldn’t help that, but here was me, face to face with Christian yet again. I lunged out for him as he dove in, his cleat hitting me in the leg and making me topple over in surprise. I sat on the ground, watching in disgust as I saw Christian stand up on top of third base, clapping to himself; and then the umpire called him out. I had tagged him, apparently by him cleating me, and that resulted in an out, so there was one out and only one run let in.

Now the score was 4-3 in the seventh with one out and Jason Giambi was up. Now I was pumped up, ready to get him out at all costs. I didn’t feel strongly about Giambi at all- maybe that was a good sign, based on the hits the people I hated have been getting.

He stature was actually very normal, you could tell that he wasn’t full of himself and that he was an honest fellow, just a normal guy with abnormal talents. A lot like me, I guess. That didn’t mean that I would go easy on him.

He hit it into shallow left and instead of letting Soriano go after it and let it drop, I decided to pursue it myself. I called it as loud as I could to get Soriano off of it and then lost it in the sun a few seconds after. Being short on time, I had to locate it quickly, and at the last second before it hit the ground, I made a frantic sun-blind dive for it. A quick barrel roll and I was up with it for the second out. I smiled as I threw it into Neal and the crowd applauded. There was nothing better than this feeling.

Brett Gardner was eighth in the batting order and I really just wanted him out. I didn’t care how, just so long as it happened.

He made the strangest contact on the ball that I had seen in a while. He popped it straight up, not even on a bunt attempt, right up to Neal Cotts. Lost in the sun for awhile, Neal tracked it down as Gardner ran forcefully in case Neal dropped it. I watched him expectantly, and saw as the ball came down into his mitt perfectly. We had gotten out of the inning with only a bit of damage.

Now it was time for the much hated seventh inning stretch, where the fans sang and the guest host spoke and we all got locked in the office while Lou went on tangents. Today though, as we all filed in and he turned off the radio, he was unusually silent. It took him awhile before he spoke at all.

“This club—” he started before pausing again, “This club has got so much potential. More than I’ve seen in all my years playing, all my years managing. We have the power, the ability, and the heart to win it all this year. We believe that we can, that’s for sure. I just don’t see why we’re not showing it.” Everybody looked at each other as Lou waited for someone to speak up. No one did. “We came out strong, guys, we really did. We made them fear us, but most of all, we made them respect us. They know we’re the better team. But they’re not going to just stop fighting and wait for us to beat them. They’re going to play until the very end. I suggest that we do, too.” Still, there was silence in the room. “We have the ability and we’re in the position right now to sweep the playoffs. That’s only been done once before. While we have that opportunity… why give it up? Why aren’t we seizing it today so we can go home and remember this… all of this… this season, this playoff series, this team… so we can remember it fondly and look back and say hey, this was us, this was what we accomplished, and bring that savvy back next season and beat everyone out again. We can do this, guys, I’ve never felt so confident in one team any more than I feel confidence in you, right here, right now. We have the power, the strength, the will and the team. Let’s not give it up for anything. Let’s play until the very end and force them to respect us. Because right now, they’ve got the momentum and we’ve got nothing. Let’s get it back.”

Now there were yells of approval and motivation going throughout the room. This was the environment I wanted to be in, and this was how I wanted to go into the stretch in the last game of the World Series. Because it would, in all reality, so God help me, be the last game of the World Series.

We ran into the dugout and prepared to bat in the bottom of the seventh. Soriano was leading off the inning and all we needed right now was just one hit to get the flow of things going at a higher pace. It was right here, right now, and Alfonso was the first one to go out there and prove it to us.

But apparently he had the wrong idea in mind. To me, proving that we have the will wasn’t swinging at a pitch in the dirt like he did. He hit it on the bounce, actually, and looked around, stunned, and then got ready to swing again as the new pitcher, A.J. Burnett, caught it on the fly. The umpire ruled it a fair hit, not a foul or foul tip, and it counted for an out. Soriano clearly wanted to protest, but Quade silenced him through signals, I guess. Either way, Soriano angrily returned to the dugout and I grabbed my things, hoping to get an at-bat. Ryan Theriot was the next one up.

He looked driven and confident, more than I think I’ve ever seen him. He looked ready to smash the ball out of the park if he had the strength; although that was a big if. It seemed good enough for him, however, to hit the second pitch for a single to right field. That brought up Lee and moved me to the on-deck circle.

Lee was told to ensue a sacrifice fly, which I thought was strange because he had a lot more ability than that, but Derrek agreed and on the second pitch also, he hit one deep to center. Gardner was struggling to find it in the sun, you could tell, and when it came down, it bounced off his mitt and hit the ground. Theriot ran to second safely as Lee got to first as the error was charged to Brett Gardner. That meant I was up.

I looked at the new pitcher in the eye. His gaze was harder that Hughes’ had been, surely, and it actually intimidated me quite a bit. But I wasn’t going to let him phase me. All I needed was one hit off of him and I would be clear cut from then on out.

The first pitch was a clear ball, so I let it pass. Hey, maybe he’d try to walk me; maybe I’d actually let him this time. So I let the next pitch pass, too, but that one was charged as a strike. That’s when I knew that we were both fully in this single at-bat.

So the next pitch I decided was good enough and popped it into short center for a single. That loaded the bases for Mark DeRosa.

DeRosa was the one guy I would put up in this situation. He was deemed the leader in grand slams this season and last, so I obviously had full faith that he could get something in. With one out, it was very likely, too.

However, the look on DeRosa’s face looked defeated, as if he had already gotten out. Burnett was probably getting a kick out of this, knowing that this guy would be an easy out. The first two pitches were strikes, and that’s when Mark knew he had to step it up. So he swung at the next pitch and grounded to Derek Jeter. I tried to slide in under him but that clearly didn’t work; I was tagged out and with a quick relay throw to Giambi, so was DeRosa. We didn’t get a single run in and the inning was over. Now we moved to the eighth and the Yanks were still gaining on us with a score of 4-3.

The game was cutting down and it seemed like it had just started, and now, we had two innings left and the Yankees were catching up fast. We had to pull away quickly; but that all started with holding them down to what they’re at. The pitcher’s spot was up first, so naturally a pinch-hitter went in. It was a guy named Pete Josten, a rookie whom I had never heard of. I got my fielding equipment as fast as I possibly could, and jogged onto the field, half excitedly and half anxiously…

Josten was a really little guy, probably about Mike’s height, around five foot six or seven. Looking at him, he wasn’t really intimidating at all, but looks tell you really nothing. For all I knew, he could be hitting a 900 with 20 homers. I just don’t know.

And if I don’t know, that means that Neal Cotts doesn’t, either. But the guy who knew Pete Josten the best was… you guessed it, Pete Josten. He knew what pitch he was looking for and apparently he got the pitch he was looking for because before I could blink, he was rounding the bases as fans yelled angrily. So the score was tied.

It seemed surreal for a moment. It was tied. They had come back and now, as the rookie Josten hit home plate and gave a high five to his teammate, it really hit me. They were still coming back.

I shook myself out of it and tried to focus as Nady came up to bat yet again. Now there was a guy on this team that I hated more than Cano. Josten.

But I had to focus right here and right now on Xavier Nady. This guy was still waiting to prove himself today. I, again, wasn’t about to go and let him. We were so close to the title, yet proverbially, so far. It was time for action.

Neal watched in disgust as Nady hit it line deep into left field and Soriano jogged after it. Lou, with an angry look on his face as he watched Nady running to me at third and sliding in safely, picked up the phone and called the bullpen. He hung up the phone in a bout of distaste and headed onto the field. I knew I was supposed to go and join the meeting at the pitcher’s mound, but Lee and I stayed put and watched as Lou dismissed Neal quickly and let Sean Marshall come on to pitch. As everyone walked slowly back to their positions and Ivan Rodriguez came up to bat, Sean threw his mere eight warm up pitches. They seemed to go by quickly as Koyie threw the final one back. I had been lost in my thoughts, looking into the stands impatiently, to even notice that Rodriguez had stepped up to the plate until I heard the umpire yell strike one really loud. Then I snapped back into it.

Rodriguez hadn’t been performing well this game yet… hopefully he wouldn’t have to prove himself like Nady. He swung and made contact into short left and I called off Ryan as loud as I possibly could, and although it hurt my voice very badly, it was worth it to hear the slap of rubber on leather and generating the out. With one away, it was Derek Jeter’s turn to try to get Nady home. Adamantly, I thought to myself that I wouldn’t let it happen.

I realized as Marshall threw the first strike how repetitive the game of baseball truly is. The same nine people coming up to bat time and time again, the first pitch strike every time, the constant getting on base one third of the time on average. It was repetitive and sometimes, well, boring. I always hated watching baseball. But when you were playing… well, it wasn’t so boring.

Like how it wasn’t boring when Jeter popped it out to center, making Jim move and for a second, it looked like it would surely drop for a single and get Nady home. Edmonds was determined, though, that’s what I liked about him, that he never gave up. He made a mad dive and came up with the ball in his mitt for the first out and then threw it immediately to home as Nady tagged and started running. The throw was perfectly on line and Koyie grabbed it and tagged the runner seconds before he tagged first. A double play to end the inning, thanks to Edmonds, and it was our turn to do some damage and try to pull back ahead.

I congratulated Jim as he caught up with me on our way back to the dugout. He just kind of smiled breathlessly as he went to get his things on; he was the first batter for us in the bottom of the eighth. We only had two more chances to get some runs. And we were far from safe as is.

As I said, Jim was due up, as well as the two Hills. The bottom half of the order was proving to be the weak part, which could cause a problem. The top half was doing pretty well, but just about everyone on the end was going oh for whatever. That needed to change here and now.

I watched fixedly as Burnett got ready to pitch his second inning. I was about ready to get on my knees and pray for Edmonds to make something of this at-bat, I was ready to do anything. I just needed to win today. I had to.

I couldn’t take my eyes away as Edmonds stepped up to the plate, ready to bat. I couldn’t take my eyes away from Burnett, getting the sign from Rodriguez on what pitch to throw. They wanted it just as badly as I did.

The first pitch to Edmonds was a strike, as usual in the repetitiveness. I was listening to the radio by my ear, and that’s when I knew what I needed. I had a sudden urge for… music. Something to calm me, or pump me up, or just… inspire me. I needed music. That would help me in my nerves.

As if on cue, Bon Jovi started blasting through the loudspeakers. They never played music during an at-bat. It was like fate.

As the music drifted and lulled me, I continued to watch as Edmonds hit it… hard. The contact was solid and almost thick, and he just had to stand and watch as it flew. He should definitely have been running, but he couldn’t move. I couldn’t either.

I couldn’t stop watching until I heard the announcers in my ear yelling “HOME RUN!” I jumped up from my seat and applauded hysterically as Jim rounded the bases triumphantly. That was what we needed.

Everyone in the dugout was ecstatic as Edmonds reentered, as Burnett got the ball back from Rodriguez angrily and Koyie Hill took the plate. I wanted to see him top that. I just wanted to see us pull ahead by ten runs and totally blow them out. But it would never be that easy.

That became extravagantly evident as Koyie grounded out to Burnett, the pitcher, and got out at first. He entered the dugout dejectedly as Dallas took the plate and Ramirez, who hated me now, took the on-deck circle as the pinch hitter for Sean.

“Nice try,” I smiled awkwardly at Koyie as he took off his batting gloves and threw them on the bench, revealing his convoluted hands.

“Whatever,” he muttered. “I guess I’m done batting today.” I couldn’t tell if he was angry, upset or sarcastic. Either way, I was still just happy that we had the lead.

Dallas swung and, well, missed, but made contact that had the same effect as a bunt down third. He started running frantically to first after realizing that it was in play, and as Rodriguez ran to get it, he got hold and then slipped. It was a lucky break. Dallas got on first safe, without a hit but a charged error on Rodriguez. He got up, embarrassed, as I thought that it should have been a hit.

Now Soriano was on deck as Ramirez took the plate. I hoped that Lou didn’t intend to keep him in the game after he batted. I wanted to play until the end. However, I had a lot of faith in Ramirez this at-bat, seeing as how he had made himself notorious as “Mr. Clutch” Aramis Ramirez. Now could be considered a clutch situation.

That’s why I jumped the second I heard him make contact on the pitch, got onto my feet and pressed against the fence. It was a grounder to Jeter and I knew the inning was over. Jeter stepped boringly on second and made a quick relay to Giambi to get Aramis out. Double play, and now it was their turn to make something of Edmond’s home run offensively. We entered the ninth inning, do or die time. It was time to put an end to this.

“Come on, guys, one two three inning!” I yelled as I took my spot on the field and breathed in, out, in and out. It was the ninth inning of the World Series, finally, and we were winning. “Let’s just get them out and win!” The fans sitting immediately next to me started cheering.

“Yeah, way to be a motivator!” One of them yelled awkwardly. The others laughed hysterically.

“I try…” I joked, grinning at them as I caught the throw from Dallas in our warm up. I threw it back to Theriot as Kerry Wood took the mound against A-Rod. I was rearing to go. That was all there was to it.

“Play ball!” The umpire yelled, and before I could even comprehend it, the first pitch was thrown. Slider strike, no swing, of course. I looked down at the ground for a moment between the pitches and saw the sweat drip off the brim of my hat. I was surprisingly warm and I was very worked up; that caused for a lot of sweat.

“Strike two!” The second pitch was a curveball to the outside corner. Kerry breathed in deeply as Koyie returned the ball to him. Every strike was one strike closer…

“Strike three!” There went the third pitch, splitter swung on and missed. Rodriguez threw his bat again, and started yelling to nobody in particular.

“Don’t even start, I’m already getting a freaking fine. I don’t care any more.” I laughed at his poor sportsmanship as once again, Robinson Cano came up to bat. I smiled to myself. Easy out.

The first pitch was swung on and missed. That was a break from the repetitive game. Not a good one, but it was what it was.

The next pitch was swung on awkwardly as he popped it to DeRosa in right. Mark smiled as he positioned himself underneath it. “Can of corn!” He yelled happily as the ball came down into his mitt. Two gone. We were one out away from sweeping the World Series.

My heart was pounding in my chest and my breathing was shallow. The fans sat in complete silence, ready to burst as soon as the last out was gotten. Justin Christian stepped up to the plate under pressure, and I knew that nobody could do well under the kind of pressure he was under. We were about to win the World Series.

“STRIKE!” The umpire yelled. The fans cheered manically as I tensed up. This was it.

“STRIKE TWO!” I didn’t even see the pitch before it was called. Kerry was sweating more than me and this was his first inning pitching. He got the call from Koyie, did his windup and the pitch…

I heard the split of a broken bat and I looked into the air and tracked down the white sphere sailing into the outfield. I smiled. They’d catch it. I was about ready to throw down my mitt and storm into the center of the field when all of a sudden I heard, “ITS OUTTA HERE!”

I looked to the stands in disgust to see a fan holding the ball. He looked at it despicably, a Cubs fan clearly, and chucked the ball back into the field with all his might as Christian ran the bases. You have got to be kidding me.

My mitt would have to stay on for another out. We would have to bat again. We would have to prove ourselves again in our offense, we would have to make it work, they weren’t going to lay down and die. We had to make it happen ourselves.

Christian got a humongous round of applause when he reached the dugout as I looked after him angrily. I wanted to pound his face in.

“IT’S UP, IT’S UP!” was the immediate last thing I heard, followed by my seeing Kerry point upward to the sky. I looked up expectantly and saw the little white ball sailing through the sun as Edmonds positioned himself. With one single pitch, Christian had put his team back in the game. And just one pitch later, we were up to bat again. It was really time to make something happen now. We had been granted a gift, a golden opportunity to come back. We were just as much in this as we ever were. The score was tied at five and it was our chance to bat and pull ahead. It was our momentum. This game was still in close reach.

Soriano, Theriot and Lee lead off the inning. Then me. I wanted to bat, but I didn’t want to bat. I didn’t want the pressure, but I wanted the success. I was honestly torn.

I just sat on the bench, paralyzed watching as Soriano was up, Theriot on deck and Lee just sitting on the steps with an identical expression to mine. We had to win this. It was now or never. Now that we were here, so close, just winning didn’t seem like enough. It seemed like we either had to sweep it or it just wasn’t good enough. We had to make it happen here and now.

I was glued to my seat as I watched Justin Mitler take the mound with a sense of permanence after he finished his last warm-up pitch. It was time to go.

Soriano was up first. In my opinion, he belonged on the bottom of the order because he wasn’t playing up to his potential lately. But it was too late to change now. My hands were shaking as I sat there, fidgeting about on the bench. The aura of everyone around me was exactly the same.

The first pitch was a strike that Soriano let by, the usual. I held my breath and awaited the next pitch eagerly.

The slider to the outside was called for a ball, one and one count. I didn’t like deep counts, I just wanted the pressure to be off. I exhaled and breathed in again, holding it in with anticipation. Strike two, a ball right off the corner. It could have honestly gone either way.

Mitler wiped his brow and stared at Rodriguez as he called for the pitch. I saw him nod, and windup and the pitch… clearly a ball. It hit the dirt and bounced up. But you all know Soriano. He swung at the terrible pitch and was called for strike three. He was one of the people who never did well in pressure situations. One out.

Ryan was up next and I had to get my batting things on. I was choking on fear as I sat on the dugout steps, waiting. Just sitting there and waiting. How much dependence did I have on Ryan? I believed in him an adequate amount, I’d say. Seeing as how he was leading the team in average, I had to believe that he could get something done.

First pitch strike yet again. I was clasping my hands together, my batting gloves sliding against each other as the sweat continued dripping off my forehead despite the air conditioned dugout. I was ready to get down and pray again.

Second pitch was a ball to the inside, making Ryan jump back in shock. My legs started shaking now. I was a mess. I just wanted it to be over, the pressure to be off. We couldn’t give them another chance. We had to end it now.

The third pitch he swung at and made contact, dropping in low to right for a single. I felt like jumping up and screaming as if we had won. It was exciting just to get a runner on. I saw Sinatro congratulate him and then it became too real. I was on deck. Lee was up and I was next. One out, man on first in the bottom of the ninth inning of the World Series. It was our chance and nobody else’s.

I swung my bat back and forth mindlessly while I watched Mitler as he freaked out. He was under a lot of pressure and I remembered why when I looked at Quade for a second. Lee was going to sacrifice fly. That meant that there would be two outs and a man on second. It was up to me. Was this the pressure Lou wanted me under to prove to myself that I could do it?

I just stared ahead in a haze thinking until the white ball penetrated my vision. It was a pop fly to left, just as Lee was signaled. Theriot tagged when Christian caught it and ran to second safely. Two outs, man on second. I was up.

I grabbed the bat and tried to pull the weights off it so I could take my swing. My hands were shaking so badly that Mark DeRosa had to help me slide them off. He handed it to me as I wiped my hands off on my pinstripes. I was more nervous than I had ever been.

“You’ve got this,” Mark said honestly, putting his hand on my shoulder. “We both know you can.” I nodded, trying to swallow the fear that was coming to me. I adjusted my batting gloves and made the long walk up to the plate.

I looked at Mitler as the situation grew more real than it ever had. I adjusted my bat onto my shoulder to get my batting stance right, and watched earnestly as he was told what to pitch. I just watched him as he looked at Rodriguez. I could hardly move. I was shaking and sweating so badly… it was a nightmare.

I saw the windup and then it was almost as if I forgot to watch the pitch. All I know was I must have blinked before the umpire yelled “STRIKE ONE!” I shook out my hands. It was time.

I looked at the crowd as Mitler readjusted. They were once again silent, waiting to see if I could pull something off. “STRIKE TWO!” I was jerked back to reality as the ball was thrown back to Mitler. I called for time and stepped out of the batters’ box as everyone relaxed. I pretended to readjust my batting gloves as I looked at the stands again. I spotted Nicole, talking to Joannah Theriot, and my breath got caught in my throat for a second. “PLAY BALL!” The umpire screamed. I had to get back in the batters’ box.

This was not a position I wanted to be in, with two outs and two strikes. Mitler was having the clear advantage over me. But we just had to win this…

I focused completely on Mitler as he pitched the ball. I decided at the last minute to risk it, and I swung as hard as I possibly could. It was now or never. I was surprised just to feel the contact that I made on the ball.

I started jogging to first, not letting my sights off the ball. It was still going outward. I rounded first and ran for second, turning my head to watch it. I looked ahead for just a moment and all of a sudden the crowd in the stands erupted. It was the loudest sound I had ever heard. For a second I had no idea what just happened until I took a look around me, at the outfield, a fan in the bleachers holding up the ball I had just hit triumphantly. I had just hit a home run. We had just won the World Series.

The smile on my face was bigger than I thought possible as I rounded third into the huge pile of players in front of me, my team, Ryan Theriot having already scored, just waiting for me to jump into their mob. I touched home and leaped in the air as everyone fell on top of me. We had just won the World Series. I felt on top of the world.

I didn’t bother trying to listen to the radio. I just sat on the ground celebrating as everyone brought out champagne and T-shirts for the World Series championships. It didn’t seem real.

I gazed up at the scoreboard for a brief moment, drenched in sweat and I paused for a second when I read it. Final score was 5-4. The last pitch, the pitch speed was… that’s right. 103 miles per hour. I froze, staring at the scoreboard. It didn’t seem real. I had defeated that curse.

There were replays of the homerun on the televisions hanging over the stands everywhere as Go Cubs Go started playing. It seemed louder than ever. We all grabbed a bottle of champagne and popped it, running across the field and spraying it all over the place as Mitler threw his mitt to the ground and simply exited the stadium. I laughed at him as all of the fans cheered nonstop. Everyone was going hysterical, screaming everywhere we ran. I saw the fan who had caught my home run ball screaming probably louder than everyone as I waved up to him. I’d find him and sign it later, no charge. I just felt great… better than words could say.

I knew it was time to make my move. As the song wound down, I wanted to get going before anybody had the chance to leave the stadium. I ran down into the clubhouse and rummaged through drawers upon drawers of useless things. I finally found what I was looking for; a detrimental microphone, cordless, perfect for my purposes. I ran out of the clubhouse more excited than I had ever been in my life.

I stood right on the pitcher’s mound, clicked on the microphone and cleared my throat. Within seconds everyone quieted down and turned to look at me. “Hello, everyone.” I said awkwardly, laughing a bit to myself. “This is where I started the season.” I stated, motioning down to the hill beneath me. “I ended up playing at every position on the field at some point or another. In case you didn’t realize, it’s been a long and crazy season.” Everyone laughed, hanging on my every word. “And now I’m sure you’re probably wondering why I’m standing here in front of you today.” Silence overcame everyone as they waited for me to elaborate. “I’m here to tell you how I got here. Don’t leave yet, it’s a pretty good story.” A few people laughed as I cleared my throat again.

“I’m here today because I don’t know what I want.” I stated simply, as everyone got confused, glazed over looks on their faces. “I’m here because I thought I knew what I wanted. It turns out that I was wrong; I was doing what someone else wanted.” Still, there was nothing. Even my teammates had stopped celebrating to listen to me. “My father, as I’m sure you’ve heard, was Alex Rushing. This,” I motioned to everything around me, “This was his dream. He never got his dream. So I wanted to get it for him. And I soon realized, when I got put on this team instead of the White Sox, that it might not happen.” I paused again. “But now, on this team, in this game, this is all I could want. I realized that I can’t live in someone else’s shadow. I can’t live someone else’s dream. This season, this entire time, I thought I was playing for him. I was wrong, and it took me this long to figure that out. I’m really in this for… myself.

“You can’t live someone else’s dream. You can’t base everything on someone else. Sometimes, it is about you. Right here, this wasn’t about my father. This was what he wanted, sure, but this was for me. This wasn’t his dream after all. It was mine.” I wiped my brow for a moment. I didn’t want them to get impatient with me. “But somehow, I still feel empty.” I turned around and faced the people behind home plate and spoke to them for a while.

“There’s just one piece missing from this dream I have in my mind. Without this little part, it’s just any other person’s dream. But this dream, my dream, it’s special. There’s one thing I need to make my life complete.” I paused, found Nicole in the audience, and smiled. In one shaky step, I reached my hand into my pocket casually and breathed deeply. “Just one more piece.” I fingered the box in my pocket, pulled it out and got down on my one knee, facing Nicole, my eyes tearing up myself. “I need the only girl I’d ever want to spend it with.”

The audience started applauding loudly as I opened the box and revealed the ring inside. “Nicole.” I stated, wiping my eyes with the microphone still in my hand. “Nicole, all I need to have everything I could ever ask for… all I need is you.” There was more clapping and cheering going on as my teammates started screaming for me, too. “Nicole, will you marry me?” The question resounded through off my tongue, reverberated through my mind. I thought about the words over and over again. She was the one. I knew it.

She stood up and walked down the steps, and the guards opened the door for her as she walked onto the field to meet me at the pitcher’s mound. She took my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, as she cried harder than I was, “Yes. Of course, Mark. Of course.” I stood up, put the ring on her finger, and kissed her like I never had before. Everyone cheered more loudly than I could ever imagine possible. I looked her in the eye and smiled. It really was everything I wanted.

It all started one day, when I was four, in Palm Springs, California. I was a confused little kid who grew into a confused teenager and a confused adult. I never knew what I wanted or what anyone wanted for me.

All that confusion ended one day when I was twenty, when I figured out my dream and I got every piece of it together. The end of that confusion led to another beginning. And the day the confusion ended, the good years of my life began.



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