I’d dreamed of this day, for how long I couldn’t even remember. I knew I was a boy, maybe seven, watching the New York Yankees play against… who was it? I couldn’t recall, but I remembered the excitement that soared through my grandfather’s living room that afternoon.
My pops, grandfather, and I were all rooting them on. The way my pops screamed at the TV, you would have thought he was right there in the action, hoping to get their attention as he yelled for them to run! When they won, he grabbed me by the waist and lifted me high in the air.
“You’re a man now, my boy!” he shouted, then gave me a sip of his beer. It was bitter and almost made me sick to swallow, but I did, because I was a man. After that day, I knew I would one day be a man like the ones wearing the blue striped uniforms. I was going to be a major league baseball player. I was certain of it.
Right now, I felt more like a pussy because my damn hands trembled as I took my first steps towards the pitching mound of the gleaming new stadium, sweat streaming down my face in rivers.
That was okay. Rookie nerves. That was me — a rookie. For the newest and most badass team in the Majors.
I made it!
“Welcome to the New York Beasts,” a man with a sun-crinkled face and large potbelly greeted me. “I’m Coach Griffin.” I extended my hand, hoping that it wasn’t covered in sweat from my anxiety and greeted my new coach. “I’ve heard great things about you.”
“Thank you, sir, it’s a pleasure to be here,” I said, trying to keep the awe from my voice.
Last year, I’d been thrilled to find myself in the minors straight out of college and had worked my ass off to deserve a spot on a team. Then, out of nowhere, I got the call that I’d be a replacement pitcher for the Beasts. One of their starters was in an accident that ended his career, and they wanted me to replace him.
And now I was standing on the mound where I would pitch for New York’s newest team. It wasn’t the Yankees, but I knew my pops would be proud nonetheless.
“Let’s introduce you to your team,” Coach Griffin suggested with a pat on my back and a nod towards the dugout and the locker room beyond.
“Listen up, fellas!” Coach Griffin yelled into the chaotic locker room that was larger than most people’s entire home. The main portion was a gigantic oval featuring six-feet wide lockers surrounding the perimeter. Each locker boasted a massaging leather chair and recessed television and sound system with personal headphones to keep the noise to a minimum. There were doors leading to bathrooms, a state-of-the-art weight room, as well as areas for physical therapy and recovery. The clubhouse also featured a high-tech theater with enough seating for the entire team to review post-game analysis. I’d never seen anything like it.
The men didn’t seem to notice or pay attention, so Coach pulled out his whistle and gave it a long, hard blow. “I want you to meet your new starting pitcher.”
The men calmed, and the room became eerily quiet as their eyes fell upon me. They all began walking toward the central meeting area. I looked around, somewhat intimidated to meet the group directly in the eye, but with so many in various stages of undress, looking down put me in a very uncomfortable position as well.
“This is Calvin Malone,” Coach announced, again patting me on the back.
There was a round of handshakes and head nods, then the men went back to their lockers, getting ready for practice. Coach led me to the locker with Calvin Malone engraved at the top, pointing out the stacks of practice gear and cleats. My days of washing my own uniform were over.
“You’re gonna do fine, Calvin. Just keep your chin up, your nose clean, and your eye on the ball, kid,” Coach Griffin said with encouragement. “Practice starts in twenty minutes!” I watched as he exited the locker room.
“So, you’re the new star pitcher?” a voice sounded from behind me. I turned, instantly recognizing Ace Newman, star shortstop and power hitter. His leathered skin didn’t take away from his rugged good looks, and the small goatee that dangled from his chin as he chomped on his gum only seemed to add to his powerful presence.
“Yep, I’m Calvin Malone,” I introduced myself, extending my hand to shake his.
“I got that, kid,” he said as he glanced down at my hand that now was left awkwardly extended between us. “Where’d ya come from?”
“Indiana,” I replied, yanking my hand back and shoving my fists into my pockets.
“No shit, that’s written all over your corn-fed face,” he said, half-laughing as he spoke. “I meant what team?”
“Well, I graduated from the Red Hawks last year and was all set to play triple A for the Beasts, but got the call to come here before I even played my first game.”
“Whooweeee, so you’re practically a college drafted starting pitcher, you must have one helluva arm on ya.” Sarcasm oozed from Ace’s lips as easily as his drawl. He leaned over, spit his gum into the trash can by my feet and then grinned. “Stick with me, kid. I’ll show ya the ropes around here.”
I was psyched that Ace Newman was a fellow Beast. A notorious player, he had a short fuse and loud temper. He spent plenty of time screaming in the umpires’ face, throwing bats against the fence, and even threatening other players. He was a wild card, but one of the best players in the league. I knew very little about the owner, Rhett Hamilton, and had yet to meet him, but if he had the money to score Ace Newman, and the balls to try and control him, then he must be a pretty powerful player himself.
The whistle sounded from outside the locker room door, and Coach poked his head inside just long enough to yell, “Let’s go!”
“Good to have you on the team,” Marty Peters said as he walked by. He was a first baseman from Atlanta. Not the most impressive player, but there were rumors of a bad breakup that led to his falling stats last season.
“Thank you, glad to be here,” I replied and then followed the rest of the team — my team — onto the field.
It was surreal walking back to the mound, this time with players I’d watched for years. Ace picked up a bat and headed to home plate. “Show me what you got, kid,” he shouted.
My palms were sweating as I picked up the ball next to my feet, then stretched out my arm and shoulder, loosening up the tight muscles. I continued to stretch as I waited for the catcher to suit up. Ace pounded his bat into the dirt, kicked a clearing for his feet and pushed dust over the plate as he waited for me to wind up my pitch.
“You ready, hot stuff?” he yelled.
I nodded. “Ready.”
Was I ready?