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Out Of My LeagueA Rookie's Survival in the Bigs
By DIRK HAYHURST
CITADEL PRESS BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Dirk Hayhurst
All right reserved.
Chapter One"It's dead, Dirk," she said, without even so much as a concerned look from the wheel as we drove. "You're just going to have to deal with it."
I dealt with her tactfully delivered news by letting my head fall into the passenger side window glass with a disparaging thunk. What the hell was I going to do for transportation now?
"Cars do that, honey, they just die," she added.
"Remind me to never leave you with a puppy," I said.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, it's a car. There are others out there."
"That car and I had memories!"
"I don't know what you want me tell you." She accelerated our currently living car onto the freeway as she spoke, heading south from the Akron-Canton Airport. "Your dad thought it was the fuel injectors or something. I think it just rusted through and croaked. Either way it would have cost more than what you paid for it to fix. Your dad sold it for scrap already."
"You sold my car!"
"It was dead! And your grandma said she could smell leaking gas. She demanded we remove it from her house, called every day until we did. Said it was going to blow up and kill her."
"Was it leaking gas?" I could envision my deranged grandmother crawling beneath my car punching holes in the gas tank to spite me. She doubled as my landlord during the off-season and used some Gestapo-style tactics to get me to do her bidding, threatening me with everything from eviction to prosecution. I wouldn't put it past her to practice sabotage.
"I don't know, that's what she said. We didn't check," said my mother.
"How could you not check?" I threw my hands up at the injustice.
"It doesn't matter! It's gone now. Dad got $150, since the tires were still good."
"My poor car ..." I imagined it being obediently led to a dark scrap yard someplace, getting patted on the hood one last time, then rolled into a vicious crushing machine while a fat man with a cigar laughed and counted out a wad of money with my grandma. "You let it die," I said to my mother. "I asked you to keep it safe for me and you got it killed. You're a car murderer!"
Mom, taking her eyes from the road to look at me for the first time in our conversation, simply said, "I'm glad you're home, sweetheart. Now shut up."
When I got off the plane that brought me home from the 2007 Double A championship season, it was as if the whole thing never happened. There was no ticker-tape parade. No flashbulbs or requests for autographs. No screaming fans, endorsement deals, or bonus paychecks. The big leagues didn't call and request my immediate promotion, and I wasn't mentioned on ESPN. There was just Mom, waiting impatiently for me in her car so she could taxi me home before she was late for work.
One may wonder how the elation that comes with jumping onto a pile of screaming teammates and uncorking fountains of Champagne to celebrate ultimate victory can fade away so quickly. That's because minor league championships are great, but they are still minor league. Once all the champagne is sprayed, the pictures are taken, and everyone's had a chance to make out with the trophy, it doesn't mean much. I was part of an event I could always be proud of, and Lord knows, winning feels a whole lot better than losing, but in the grand scheme of the minor league economy, my name in a record book was just that. I was still going to be living the next six months on my grandma's floor, looking for another source of income, getting ready for a new season while wondering what being a Double A champion really meant.
Such is the lot of a career minor league baseball player, because, even at its best, minor league baseball struggles to translate into a better quality of real-world life. Sure, there are wonderful moments like winning, the thrill of competition, and the joy of watching teammates twenty beers deep get really emotional about how much they love you at a championship party. You get to put on the jersey, lace up the spikes, and listen to John Fogerty croon out "Centerfield" all summer long. But the season always ends, for better or for worse, and that's when you find yourself face-to-face with a reality that tells you your car is pushing up daisies and your dad only got $150 for its tires.
Life seems so blissful when all you have to do is focus on the next pitch—assuming that next pitch doesn't get hit over the fence. When you are on field, living in the moment, it's easy to think all that matters is the here and now. Yet, when the pitching is done, the truth is revealed: league title or total defeat, the clock is always ticking, waiting for you to break into the big time or settle up the debt you made trying to get there. I had showered three times since my San Antonio Missions brethren and I celebrated our championship by soaking one another in cheap Champagne, but nothing got me clean like the cold, sobering splash of reality my mom gave me on the car ride home from the airport.
"So, do you think you're guaranteed a place on the team for next year?"
"I don't know, Mom." There was no way to know that.
"You don't think the championship made you more important to the club?"
"I don't know." Or that.
"Didn't they tell you what their plans are for you?"
"No." Or that.
"Did they tell you they couldn't have done it without you?"
"Well, what did they tell you?"
"Good job, we're proud of you. See you next year."
My mom paused in her onslaught of prying questions for a moment and then declared, "Well, that sucks."
"I thought it was all pretty cool until we started talking about it, actually."
"Oh. My. God. You are so depressing. You'd think you'd be happier after winning a championship. "
I caught myself before I could object to my mom's logic. Telling her she was doing that thing she does where she inadvertently sucks the pride from a situation wasn't going to work now since it hadn't worked during any of the other years I tried explaining it to her, so I said, "I'm just telling you what I know, Mom."
"This is why I read the Internet sites, you know. You never tell me anything."
"Whatever." I rolled my eyes.
"Fine, let's talk about something else then." My mom took a highway exit for the area of Canton where my grandma's house was located. "What are you going to do for a job?"
"I just got off the plane, Mom." And I was beginning to wonder if I could get back on it.
"I know, but you'll need a job if you want to get a car."
"I realize that."
"I suppose you can borrow your grandmother's car until you get one."
I deflated with a long, exasperated exhale at the thought of patrolling the streets in my grandmother's ark-like car-asaurous. It was a monster of steel and chrome that devoured economy parking like Tic Tacs and swilled down fuel like minor leaguers on cheap booze.
"Who do you have to impress? No one knows you're back," said my mom, noting my disgust.
"I have a date tomorrow."
"A girl!" she squealed. Meddling in the events of my baseball life was only secondary pleasure to the joy she took from meddling in my love life. "How is that even possible?"
"Thank you for being so confident in your son."
"I mean, how did you meet one from around here during the season? You've been gone all year."
"On eHarmony," I said.
"Oh, a technological romance." She nodded her head as if she thought this was what all the kids were doing these days. "What's her name?"
"Does she know you're a baseball player?"
"Did you tell her you sleep at your grandmother's yet?" My mom giggled.
"What do you think she'll say when you do?"
"I don't know."
"Is she a nice girl, I mean, not a stalker or something?"
"No, Mom, she's not a stalker."
"Where are you taking her out to?"
"I don't know yet."
"Well, if you need my advice, I'm always here." She smiled at me to let me know my questions were always welcome, though I knew I never had to ask her any to get her answers. "You can ask anything, honey, you know that. Even sex-related questions. I know you say you aren't having it, but you can still ask me if you're curious."
"Okay, Mom. That's enough."
"I think it would really help you relax if you did. You are so high-strung. Does Bonnie know how high-strung you are?"
"That's enough, now." I started humming something to tune her out.
"Has she had sex, or is she a religious type like you?"
"Okay, Mom, time for another subject change. How's Dad doing?"
My mom shut up at this. The glee of sucking details from me like some social vampire dissipated. "Don't ask," she said, looking back to the road.
"Why? What's wrong? I thought things were going well at home."
She said nothing.
Concerned, I turned to her, "Brak isn't drinking again, is he?"
"No, your brother kept his promise," said my mom. She looked like me trying to answer her questions.
"Then what is it?"
"We're here," she said, and spun the wheel.
My mom pulled the car into the driveway of my grandma's house and parked under the canopy of trees close to the garage. The leaves were turning in the autumn weather and had littered the driveway with reds and yellows. My grandma was vainly raking them up with a metal-fingered rake that scratched across the pavement of the drive. When we exited the car, I made my way over to my grandma and offered to hug her, which she accepted. It was a nice moment—maybe I was wrong to suspect her of punching holes in my deceased car's gas tank after all? When we finished our embrace, however, she thrust her rake at me and said, "Finish gathering up these leaves. When you're done, those stupid neighbors' dogs shit in my backyard again. The shovel is in the shed." Then she walked into the house.
"Well," said my mom. "Welcome home."
"Thanks." I said, holding the rake, which smelled faintly like gas.
"It's a place to live," said my mom with a shrug. "If you need anything, call me."
"I need a lot of things," I mumbled.
I unloaded my luggage, told my mom I loved her, then watched her pull out of the drive and make for work. I was home, if you could call it that, and I had a lot to figure out. I needed a job, transportation, a place to train, the name of a nice restaurant, and the courage to ask my grandmother if I could borrow her car. Yet, before all that could happen, I needed to finish raking the leaves from the driveway, then go shovel some dog shit.
Chapter TwoWomen are the best way to ruin a perfectly good career, or so the baseball lifers are fond of saying. Women have a way of changing your priorities, pulling your mind from the field of play and placing it into confusion. After a woman enters the equation, they say, the next thing a player knows he's quit the game to hold her purse and fetch her lattes—or, in my case, clean lattes off his pants.
Though Bonnie would say her most vivid memory of our first date was when she saw me for the first time after months of chatting via an eHarmony matchup, mine was when she spilled hot coffee on my lap. Aside from forgetting how to grip cups, she was so nervous to meet me she nearly forgot who she was. She kept shoveling gum in her mouth for fear of bad breath and forgot where she parked. She was a train wreck, which ironically, I found incredibly attractive. I made her nervous, she confessed, because I was handsome. This flattering sincerity made the clumsiness easy to forget. That, and she was left-handed, which for the sake of any possible future baseball-playing Hayhurst progeny deserved at least one more chance.
The second date was much better than the first. That was when we discovered our chemistry. The real Bonnie came out, and she was a sweet and genuine woman with energy and charisma and all the other things I never would have suspected from a girl who couldn't remember where her car was in a lot that held only twenty. And she was beautiful. I don't know why I wasn't stunned by this on the first date, maybe it was because I was preoccupied with collateral damage, but I couldn't miss it the second time around. She wore a yellow sundress with beads and bangles and sandals. Her brown hair was still light from the summer sun, and her face had the slightest hint of freckles around soft brown eyes. She brought a guitar with her and taught me how to play a few chords, interlacing her fingers with my own across the fret board.
With everything we did, she had fun, like a child who treated life as an adventure. Being with her was addictive, and when she left me that night, I was sad to see her go.
In time, we were meeting nearly every night we could see each other. She lived in Cleveland and I in Canton, which presented logistical bridges that only love could cross. Love and a crap job working at a local Circuit City, that is. I couldn't drive my grandma's car forever, not with the way it swilled fuel. The dating economy demanded I make some investments if I wanted to keep up the relationship. I took the little minor league savings I had accrued, bought a used Corolla, and committed myself to working at Circuit City for the holiday season. It wasn't the most common thing to see a pro athlete do, but it was the only way I could keep the car gassed up, and dates paid for.
Ironically, of all the things that Bonnie liked about me, baseball wasn't one of them. It was a bonus, she said, like icing on a six-foot-two, dark-haired, blue-eyed, likes-long-walks-on-the-beach cake. We shared the same faith, which was big because she was worried about getting matched with an Internet-spawned psychopathic killing machine. I told her that, historically speaking, there have been several psychos who believed in Jesus, but she told me if I gave her any trouble she'd kick me in the crotch and run—she told me it was what Jesus would do.
Though not the key pillar of our relationship at first, whenever the question came up of how things would get paid for, or why I never invited Bonnie over to my residence, or why I worked at Circuit City, the line always traced back to the same point: baseball. As things got more serious, the role baseball played in my life became more apparent to her, and to me. Everything I did, I did with the game in mind. It was my first love and it was a commitment I had to honor, hoping that Bonnie would understand. She did, or at least she did her best to look the part. She supported me and encouraged me, but people have a much easier time understanding stuff when you're right next to them explaining it. In two months' time I'd be gone, out chasing the dream of playing in the big leagues while Bonnie would still be here waiting on me. If it wasn't for the fact that it was so wonderful, I'd say it was unfortunate that Bonnie and I liked each other so much because no matter how good things were right now, there was no way she was going to avoid pain by being my girlfriend, or I by being her boyfriend.
Dating a baseball player is much more complicated than dating your average Joe, and dating me was more complicated still. I had baggage in the shape of a crazy old woman and a family with a past history of violence and alcohol abuse. Bonnie hadn't met any of them yet, but that was what today was supposed to be about: lunch with Grandma and coffee with my parents. I had resisted the idea of her meeting my family for as long as I could, but I knew, even from the short time we were with each other, that Bonnie and I would be heading toward bigger decisions. We didn't have a lot of time together, so she deserved to know what was ahead of her before committing to a year of holding her breath on her dreams while I chased mine.
The first major obstacle in front of any kind of relationship Bonnie and I might have was currently passed out in her recliner, head lolling sideways, dentures roaming freely about her gaping mouth while she sucked air. This was Bonnie's first official encounter with the eldest woman in my family, the same woman I called landlord, and it started to the soothing sound of a ninety-year-old with sleep apnea gasping for air, only to find it, then fart.
The television next to my grandma was tuned to Judge Judy with the volume cranked into the upper ranges. Still, Grandma snored away. There are only two types of show my grandma watches: programs that document stupid young people, and news about stupid young people being shot. To emphasize this point, in Grandma's hands lay a newspaper open to the obituary section. She enjoys seeing whom she's outlasted, crossing their name off a death list she keeps next to the framed family portrait, wherein some of her "less desirables" have been cut from the scene. Most days she watches Jerry Springer while reading her collection of Bible walk-throughs concerning the Apocalypse. She doesn't make it through the Bible or the programming before she falls asleep. For her, there is something irresistibly relaxing about watching sinners fight over trailer park politics while she reads God's comforting promises of roasting them in hell—her own variation on the modern bedtime story.
Excerpted from Out Of My League by DIRK HAYHURST Copyright © 2012 by Dirk Hayhurst. Excerpted by permission of CITADEL PRESS BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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