Dean Duffyby Randy Powell
Dean Duffy's brilliant baseball career ended before he graduated from high school. Even though his pitching arm has gone bad, his coach and lifelong mentor hasn't given up on him. But does Dean want another chance? An ALA Best Book for Young Adults. 176 pp. Ages 12 and up. Pub: 3/98.
- San Val, Incorporated
- Publication date:
- Age Range:
- 12 - 17 Years
Read an Excerpt
By Randy Powell
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1995 Randy Powell
All rights reserved.
MY TEN-YEAR "CAREER" as a baseball player ended in May of my senior year. It was the last game of the season, a home game, eighty-six degrees, dust swirling around the infield. At the bottom of the ninth, we trailed 3-13, which was the same as our win-loss record that season. I was at bat with two outs, nobody on base, and only three spectators left in the stands.
The pooped pitcher was throwing me fastballs right down the middle. I kept fouling them off, pitch after pitch. The count stayed I ball and 2 strikes. It was my 77th at-bat of the season. I was 4 for 76 for a batting average of .052, which was why the opposing pitcher was throwing me chest-high fastballs.
I knew this was the last at-bat of my life, and I pretty much just wanted to get it over with. But I wasn't quite ready to commit suicide. I still had my hitter's savvy, and it told me the next pitch was going to be a changeup.
And sure enough, along comes this big fat lazy moonball. I cocked my bat, waited for the ball to float its way to me, and I swung for all I was worth. And missed. I turned and looked in disbelief at the ump, who nodded and raised his mask and said quietly, "It's over, Dean."
And so it was. The end of baseball and the end of a dream I had devoted my life to since I was seven years old. As I walked to the dugout, I held my head up and did not drag my bat.
A few days later, another lifelong career ended: school.
Our graduation ceremony was held at the Seattle Center Arena, followed by an all-night dance in the Alki Room of the Seattle Center, music provided by a heavy-metal band called Flex. Throughout the night, I said goodbye to my classmates, and the next day my parents, three kid sisters, and I moved from our house in a north Seattle suburb to a dilapidated wreck of a farmhouse on San Juan Island in northern Puget Sound, four hours away from Seattle.
It was on a gorgeous piece of greenery, with broad pastures, horses, a sweeping eastward view of the sound, a fresh stream running along the back boundary. My folks had quit their jobs and sunk their life savings into it and planned to renovate the house, turning it into a bed-and-breakfast. For the past twenty-seven years, Dad had been the head maintenance man at the Nimbus Creek Golf and Country Club, and Mom had held various cleaning jobs. Now they were going to make their living catering to Seattle yuppies who wanted a weekend getaway.
I wasn't sure what I'd be doing afterward, but that house was my summer job, and I threw myself into it. My dad and I worked fourteen hours a day seven days a week. My three sisters fed the horses, and my mother fed us.
I spent more time on the roof and ladder than on solid ground. Day after day, the sun beat down on me. It was just what I needed: hammering, patching, scraping, painting, sweating. My skin turned brown; my dark hair grew down over my shoulders: I looked like Tarzan or Conan the Barbarian.
The work had its own rhythm and pace. It didn't quite compare to shooting strikes past a batter or ripping a base hit into the opposite field with a runner in scoring position, but it was satisfying in its own way.
Baseball, that nightmare, was behind me, and I needed to look ahead to what I'd do next. College, of course, was the most likely prospect. Although I'd been accepted to the University of Washington in Seattle, I wouldn't be able to attend until I could find a way to pay for it, which meant filling out every financial-aid form I could get my hands on, along with finding a job and saving some money. I knew I should have been preparing sooner, but right up to the spring of my senior year I'd had good reason to believe I'd be offered a baseball scholarship somewhere. This was no delusion, believe me. But in the end it had all fizzled out.
I worked straight through summer, on into September, one of the hottest and driest on record. There hadn't been a drop of rain in the Pacific Northwest since early May.
One Friday afternoon toward the end of September, I finished painting the exterior of that gigantic house. Two coats' worth. I climbed down the ladder and walked around "Duffy Inn," admiring my work.
The four guest rooms were still three months from being ready for guests, but reservations were already trickling in. After this weekend, they'd be coming in faster, because Pacific magazine was sending a crew out to do a "Before and After" feature on our place. My folks were going to get some free publicity.
I figured it would be a good weekend for me to get away, go back and visit my old neighborhood just north of Seattle. I could stay with Jack and Shilo Trant in nearby Nimbus Creek. I hadn't talked to them for two weeks or seen them since graduation, and I missed them more than any friends my own age. I had known them since I was seven, when I had become friends with their son, Van. Van and I had stayed halfhearted friends, while Jack Trant and I had grown close. It was Jack who'd discovered my talent for baseball, and for the past ten years he had been my coach, trainer, mentor, and second father.
That Friday afternoon, after I finished looking over my paint job, I stood at the kitchen counter, studying the ferry schedule, when the phone rang.
"Duffy Inn," I said.
"Hey there, Dean Duffy. You sound more like your old man every day."
I smiled. It was Jack Trant.
"How's painting?" he asked.
"Finished," I said. "A few hours ago. The whole mess."
"No kidding. Way to go, pardner. What're you up to now?"
"Looking at the ferry schedule."
"I was thinking I might call you and invite myself over for the weekend."
"Don't bother. You're invited."
"Don't thank me. It's that wife of mine. She misses your homely kisser."
My smile broadened. "I miss hers, too."
"There's a couple of things I want to talk to you about," Jack said. "Not now, when you get here. Let's just say they have to do with your future."
"I'm open for suggestions," I said.
"Good. And dust off your golf clubs and bring. 'em along. There's a man I want you to meet. Dick Drago."
"An old friend of mine. Fraternity brother. He's just passing through town tomorrow. We have a tee-off time for one o'clock. Me, Dick, Shilo ... and we need a fourth. How about you?"
I wasn't sure I had heard right. "The fourth? In your foursome?"
"Think you can handle that?" he said.
"Playing? Not caddying?"
He laughed. "I said bring your clubs. That means playing, not caddying."
"Who's Dick Drago?"
"I told you, an old friend. Can you be here by eleven?"
"Easy. The first ferry leaves at six."
As usual, Jack hung up without saying goodbye. I pressed my palms on the cool surface of the newly installed kitchen counter, then folded the ferry schedule and stuck it inside my wallet.CHAPTER 2
EARLY SATURDAY MORNING I drove my '63 Volvo onto the eastbound ferry, which took ninety minutes to go from San Juan Island to Anacortes on the mainland. From there, it was a two-hour drive to Seattle.
The evening before, when I had told my parents about Jack's golf invitation and about how Jack wanted to talk about my future, my mom had given my dad an I-told-you-so look. "See?" she'd said. "Jack hasn't given up on him. Just because the baseball didn't work out, Jack Trant is not going to leave Dean high and dry." Then Mom had turned to me. "Who's this Dick Drago?"
I'd shrugged. "No idea."
I had one stop to make: my old house. It was in a suburb twenty miles north of the Seattle city limits but still considered part of greater Seattle. I drove through the old neighborhood and pulled up in front of my house. I sat looking at it with the motor idling.
A tricycle had been left in the driveway and a toy fire engine on the first step of the porch. The lawn needed a mow.
I looked up at my old bedroom window, not sure what I hoped to see. My ghost, maybe. The ghost of that Dean Duffy who used to stand at his bedroom window, fingering and fingering the seams of a baseball, pounding the ball repeatedly into his glove.
I'd had an unhittable fastball and a natural batting swing from the time I was seven years old. That was the year Jack Trant had taken me to my first Little League tryout. When the coaches saw my physical size and throwing speed, they weren't about to let me pitch to seven-year-olds; they made me turn out with the ten-year-olds.
I had met Jack a few months before that. His son Van and I were in the same first-grade class, and I had gone over to Van's house a few times. Also, Jack had been a member of the Nimbus Creek Golf and Country Club for almost as long as my dad had worked there, and they knew each other well.
Jack was a celebrity. He had played baseball at the University of Washington in the early 1960s and had pitched eight good seasons in the big leagues before retiring at his peak. Now he owned a medium-sized construction company, but spent most of his time on the golf course, or as a booster for the UW, helping his old alma mater recruit high school athletes. He loved all sports, but especially golf, fishing, baseball, and football — in that order. Four or five times a year he was a guest on one of the local radio sports talk shows. Occasionally he gave gruff motivational talks to school or church groups.
By ninth grade I had reached six foot three; by tenth, six-four. That was as tall as I got, but it was tall enough to make college recruiters and pro scouts take me very seriously when I was a mere sophomore. Especially with Jack Trant coaching me.
Jack had always said I had the kind of talent that needed a minimum of coaching. I had the dedication to match the talent. Ninth grade, my last year of junior high, I was brought up to hit and pitch for the high school varsity. A ninth-grader mowing down upperclassmen with split-fingered fastballs, forkballs, off-speed change-ups, sliders, wicked curves. Then stepping up to the plate and slugging the ball to all fields.
My sophomore year, Jack arranged for the University of Washington to give me a card that was like a key to the campus. It was purple with a gold R on it that stood for Recruit. What a huge part of my life that card was for a year or so. I still carry it around in my wallet, even though it expired a long time ago.
Spring of my sophomore year, the major leagues came to see me. The scouts sat in the bleachers taking notes; I always knew when they were there. That spring I struck out ten batters per game, hit .587, was the only sophomore in the state chosen to the Seattle Times High School All-State Team.
But then it all changed. The dream died, and I was still trying to figure out why.
A face appeared in the upstairs window. Not Dean Duffy's ghost but the new owner of the house, not pleased at the sight of a long-haired kid in a beat-up Volvo staring at his home.
I shifted into first and drove away.
Five minutes later I was entering Nimbus Creek, where Jack and Shilo lived. Nimbus Creek was two miles north of my neighborhood, which was why Van Trant and I had gone to all the same schools, including Nimbus Creek High. But socially our neighborhoods were very far apart. Nimbus Creek was really a kind of small town with its own chic shops and strip malls. I guess you'd call it a "community." The entrance to the residential area had a cascading man-made waterfall, an island of flowers, and a cheerful sign that said Welcome to Nimbus Creek — Speed Limit 20 MPH — Slow — Children at Play. Every fifty feet or so were speed bumps and brightly painted crosswalks with signs reading Caution — Golfers Crossing. One of the best private golf courses in the state, Nimbus Creek Golf and Country Club wound its way through a maze of cul de sacs. More than half the houses in Nimbus Creek were built right on the golf course.
Although it wasn't a town, Nimbus Creek had its own police force: two unmarked sky-blue police cars, usually parked at the doughnut shop or lurking behind bushes to catch speeders.
I drove into the Trants' cul de sac and parked in their upward-sloped driveway. I left my keys in the ignition and my clubs in the trunk. I rang the doorbell.
Jack opened the door. "Good man, you're early. Got your clubs?"
We shook hands. Jack spent a large part of his life shaking hands. He always squeezed my hand as hard as he could — either to test my grip or his.
Jack was fifty years old. He was a couple of inches taller than I, and a whole lot burlier. The past few years, his stomach had started to hang over his belt. Too many steaks on the barbecue and beers at the club.
His arms were like trees. He could drive a golf ball 360 yards. Shilo could drive one about half that far but was less likely to hook or slice it, which was why she beat Jack more often than he cared to admit.
"Let's talk before Drago gets here," Jack said, heading toward the kitchen.
"You going to tell me who he is?" I said.
Jack kept walking. "Didn't I already?"
Shilo joined us. "Dean, my goodness, you're so tanned! You look like — like mocha."
Shilo's voice was soft and slightly hoarse. Call it sexy. A voice dirty old men pay to hear when they call 900 numbers.
She opened her arms wide and gave me a hug.
She was holding a can of Pledge and a beige rag that I recognized as the long-sleeved shirt Van had bought one summer afternoon at the Pike Place Market. Shilo had evidently been polishing everything wooden in sight. She was wearing a jogging outfit the same color as the Nimbus Creek police cars.
Beautiful, broad-shouldered, athletic, Shilo was Jack's second wife, fifteen years younger than Jack. She had become his housekeeper a couple of years after his first wife, Van's mother, had left for good.
If Jack had always been my ideal father, Shilo had always been my ideal mother. She never raised her voice, never nagged. In addition to golf, she shot a great game of pool, was involved in school and charity and community stuff, knew all the checkers at the supermarket on a first-name basis, and always made sure to ask me how my parents were doing. She could even remember the names and current ages of my three sisters, which was more than I could do.
She and another woman, an older friend of hers, owned a little boutique that dealt exclusively in tennis outfits for junior misses. Her friend's name was Champagne. They called their shop Champagne and Shilo. Mothers paid ludicrous prices for designer tennis dresses for their little tennis bimbos.
Air-conditioning was blowing through vents in the floor, and New Age music was being piped through built-in ceiling speakers. The house was as pleasant as one of Shilo's hugs.
We sat down at the kitchen table. As sunshine streamed into the kitchen, golfers passed by outside. The Trants' house was on the seventeenth fairway. Occasionally a golf ball would come rolling right up their back yard and under the deck, and a golfer would slink up there to retrieve it. A two-stroke penalty.
I used to caddy at this golf course. Every morning of every summer for seven years. It was about the only thing I ever did regularly that wasn't baseball-related. I was a good caddy and made decent money in tips. When Jack played he'd always reserve me for himself or for one of his VIP friends. Then he'd brag to them about me, about what kind of future I had as a baseball star and how I'd always been like a son to him. Since it came from Jack Trant it carried some weight, and those big-shot friends of his would treat me more like Jack's son than like a caddy, and slap me on the back and give me a huge tip and say, only half jokingly, "Remember me when you're famous, kid."
The golf course brought back a lot of good memories, and one of the best of those was Stewart Pitts. Pitts had caddied here for three summers — sixth through eighth grade. We'd been classmates since fourth grade but had never actually been friends until those summers. On Monday mornings, caddies were allowed to play free, and Pitts and I would play eighteen, sometimes thirty-six holes together. On rainy days, we were often the only ones out on the course. We didn't say much and never saw each other outside the golf course, but we seemed to really enjoy each other's company. Pitts had a way of making me feel that life was very simple and easy, something you could cruise right through, nothing to get worked up about.
Excerpted from Dean Duffy by Randy Powell. Copyright © 1995 Randy Powell. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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