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Susan DiPlacido

Going Yard

"I'm going for the cap tip, bro," I tell Ortiz.

"You ain't doin' shit," he says.

"I am. I'm doing it." I look out the side of the dugout and make sure she's in her seat. She is.

Ortiz takes a look, then Roberts. He whistles and licks his lips. Even Halloway glances over and nods in agreement. But he gets all Halloway on us and says, "She sure does look like an incredibly sweet lady."

"Shut the fuck up, Halloway," Roberts snaps. "Sweet my ass. She looks like an incredibly fuckable lady. I know it, you know it, why don't you just admit it and save us all the bullshit."

But Halloway's Halloway, you know, so he don't get jacked about it or nothing, he knows when to shut up and back off, so Roberts turns to me. "It's lame, she'll think you're an ass."

"Nah. It's classic, she'll eat it up."

"You'll never pull it off. It's gay."

"I'm smooth. It's suave. It'll work. You," I stick my finger in his chest, "you were gonna do it in the first inning and you missed your shot."

"Yeah, well, first you gotta hit the dinger, amigo." Roberts does this. Not-so-subtle cracks about my not-quite-whiteness.

"In the bag, Ese." I nod to left-center. "Right there. Consider it done."

"Whooo!" Ortiz jumps on that. "Listen to Superman here, callin' his shot!"

"Doesn't matter," Roberts shakes his head and takes another look. "Hit your dinger, tip your cap, she's still gonna be going extra innings with me before this home stand's over."

It's a perfect day. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, the air is warm, and there's a whiff of a breeze blowing out to left-centerfield. That's my sweet spot, my favorite place to go yard. Cause when I hit the ball there I get that awesome feeling all up through my arms. Not a tingle. Nah, you get that tingle when you jank a slider foul on a cold day. When I catch the ball out front, before it starts to break, and I pull it a little with good bat speed, I know it's gone before I even finish my swing. Just that split second connection as the momentum changes.

I take my time walking up to the plate. Not obnoxious, you know, I don't pull that shit. But slow enough. Cause I know this lefty on the mound, I've owned him for a couple months now. He's got nasty stuff, but he's too young and the more I hit him the more pissed off he gets cause his pride fucks with him. Huh, like I should talk about that. Anyhow, it does fuck with him, his pride. He could probably make me look like an ass if he'd stick with his junk; hard-breaking slider, looping curve, good off-speed pitch. But ever since I took him downtown back in April to bust up his shut-out, he's had something to prove. So he just keeps pumping the fastballs to me and I just keep watching my slugging average reap the rewards.

He's glaring at me but I fight off a smirk and look right past him to make sure she's still sitting there as I take my practice swings. She is. Just beyond the home dugout, second row, clapping as the PA announces me. "Centerfielder Miguel Rodriguez." Does it get any better than this?

It does get better. It gets better once I step in and the southpaw pumps a fat, flat fastball right into my wheelhouse. Step, swing, shift, and SMACK.

I don't watch it, I know it's gone. I mean, that was fun, but I ain't a prick, you know? Though as I'm rounding first I do glance up at her. I've had it planned since we started this home stand. All's she's gotta do is turn back to me instead of watching the outfield. She turns as I'm hitting second. She's looking right at me, and I know it's my moment, so I go for it. A slight nod of my head, and I reach up and tip my cap to her. So smooth, so classic. I even wink. She smiles.

That's when I stumble. Fuckin' gopher holes in the goddamn baselines! I lose balance and the hand I was suavely gesturing with crashes down on my helmet and it teeters forward, blinding me, but I get my footing back and start to hit stride only to crash into something that sends me sprawling flat on my back. Fuckin' shortstop in the goddamn baseline!

Dust flies, my helmet rolls off, and I can hear it. Laughing. That fuckin' lefty on the mound is laughing, so's their second baseman. And so is, I'm sure, everyone in the stands. Even her.

I get untangled from the shortstop and pick up my helmet as he curses me out. Don't dare to dust myself off, definitely don't dare to look back up. I just watch the ground, finish the jog, and slink back to the dugout. And then take the ribbing that comes instead of high fives.

"Hey! Rodriguez! Now that's what I call a round TRIPPER!"

"Well Slick, if she didn't notice you before, I'm betting she'll remember that."

"What the hell, dude? She got you so tangled up you tried to tango with the shortstop!"

"Rico Suav-AY! Cheer up hermano, look on the bright side," Ortiz says and pats my shoulder.

"Yeah, and what's that?" I ask as I stack my helmet and grab some pine.

"The bright side, Jackass, is that we're not in the show. Cause if we were we'd be watching that replay on the Jumbotron right now!" Ortiz laughs so hard his eyes water. Adding, "And shit, think of the SportsCenter clip you don't have to deal with!"

The Skip walks in front of me and stops. He takes a long look and spits out some sunflower shells. From behind him, Roberts that shit says it: "Fourth inning phenom strikes again."

Skip shakes his head again, spits more shells. "Looks like even the fourth inning is taking an ugly turn for you there, Rodriguez." A pause. Straight-faced, "Or maybe it's just that turn around second that's ugly."

"Skip, listen, I -- " But he cuts me off with a glare and walks away.

Five innings later, things are worse. We're down by one and I'm due up fourth. If there's such a thing as tiny mercies, we'll just go down one-two-three. I hope it.

But that's just my pride fucking with me.

Once Roberts doubles I know it's over. I don't have to wait for Ortiz to sacrifice him over and Jones to fly out too shallow to score Roberts to know it's going to be up to me. Roberts stranded on third, we're down by one, there's two out, and I'm up.

It's on me now.

The Fourth Inning Phenom.

That's what they've taken to calling me here in this town, this team. Why? Simple. Cause I never come through in the clutch. Early innings or blowout games, stand back and let me play. But late innings, close games, end of season, or any pressure situation you can think of, I choke.

I swallow thickly right now, feel it already building up.

The Choke. It feels inside just how it sounds. The pressure gets thicker and tighter and stuffier until it's suffocating and there's no other option.

I don't look over my shoulder as I move to the plate, I don't scan the crowd as I take my practice hacks before stepping in. I don't look at the meat on the mound, I don't look at the scoreboard, and I don't even wish for good luck. All's I do is think, "Please don't let me fuck this up."

The possibilities unravel in my mind. There's no Jumbotron, but it will make the evening's local news, me and my last swing, maybe even a crack about how I've done it, or NOT done it -- again. The names: Mr. May, Fourth-Inning-Phenom, the don't-go-to-guy, Heimlich, Anti-Clutch. Choker. The Skip'll shake his head and turn his back. Ortiz'll call me Michael just like the fuckers did in little-league. And high school. And A-ball. Fuck. The main office will be informed. Again. I won't get called up. Again. Years'll pass and I'll keep wallowing in the dirt and crabgrass of the minor leagues and I'll never get my call-up bonus and I'll eventually be released and no one will pick me up the next year and I'll be stuck with no fucking job, no fucking money, no fucking respect, and I'm no longer even a "prospect", I'll just be washed-up before I even got started and I'll get some shit fuckin job at Auto Zone or some shit and be stuck selling windshield wipers and "clutches" and it'll probably be in the last town I played in and for a couple years people will make ironic jokes and women'll wonder if I choke in the sack as bad as I do on the field and I'll be getting fat and old and not getting laid, certainly not by the hot chick in the second row because she's seen me pull this shit before and she'll know I'm a bona-fide loser and --

"STRIKE!" the ump behind me shouts.

I missed the fucking pitch. I grind the bat between my fists and stay frozen in the box. Shit. Concentrate. Concentrate, Miguel. Focus. Just focus, baby. You don't have to go yard, that's too much pressure. Just don't fuck up. Do. Not. Fuck. Up. (Again.) Take it easy. Eee-zee. Just put wood on the bat. That's fuckin stupid, the bat IS wood, put wood on the ball, that's all. Don't swing for the fences, just make contact. Contact.


"FUCK!" I wheel and hiss it at Blue. He's not amused. "Just! Shit, man!"

Teeth grinding, praying to not look like an ass, just once, just this once to not be the asshole, I go for my last cut. But the ball's way low and I hold up, pull it back.

But I don't pull back quick enough.

"STRIIIIKE!" Blue shouts. I don't even bother to turn around and argue, cause once again, it's over. I'm out, game's over, Roberts is stranded, and we lose.

Skip glares, heads shake in disgust, and Ortiz walks by me and whispers it. "Nice job, Mikey."

"Name's Miguel."

"Not after that pathetic showing it's not. That shit was whiter than white. Was damn near clear it was so white."

I can't even slink out from the locker room. It's Wednesday. Day game. Post- game autograph day. Fans got free fuckin programs or some shit. It's not like it's a big crowd. Never is. We're not exactly Barry Bonds here, you know. Some of us never will be. But one of us is right on course to being another Bill Buckner or Mitch Williams. No, not even that. Just a minor league parody of choke-artists.

The sun's beating down like a spotlight as the gaggle of kids draws around. I swear I pick out at least one father steering his kid away from me. I don't need to imagine the kind of shit he says about me. Imagination isn't needed when I heard it filtering down from the stands as I walked off. Guys grabbing their throats and coughing. "You suck Rodriguez!" littered throughout the curses. All-American entertainment. You know.

I scribble my name a few times and pat the kids on the head and tell them how bad chewing and smoking is as I fight off a nic fit myself. The worst is when they give me the sad-eyes. Pity. If they're young enough, they ain't mad at me like the other fans. They just feel sorry for me. They've seen me hit homers and think I just had a bad at-bat. They'll learn.

Another program gets thrust in my face and there's already thick red writing over my picture. Probably Roberts, the shit. But no. It's a name. And phone number. Looking up, I see her. The hot chick from the second row is smiling at me.

"Hi," she says, looking hot.

"Uh, yeah," I answer as I scrawl my name and pass it back to her, praying I don't choke.

"Oh," she says, smile fading.

I'm choking.

"OH!" It hits me late and I have to yank the booklet back away from her, fumbling my pen as I do.

"Stay," she tells me and motions so we don't clunk skulls as she bends down to pick it up for me. I get a nice peek down her shirt as she does. Very nice. Roberts and Ortiz would kill for it, they've been on about her since April, same as me. She looks up as she rises, catches me leering. She smiles and hands me the pen. Nodding, "Rough day, huh?"

I clear my throat and answer, "Getting better."

Ortiz passes behind me, whispering, "Do NOT fuck this up until at LEAST rounding second, Michael."

My face goes hot and I know she heard him cause she asks, "Michael? I thought your name was Miguel."

"Yeah, sorry. It is. He's uh, he's just being a -- it's his way of making fun."

"That's how you guys have fun, huh? I was thinking maybe you'd want to have a beer or something, we could have"

I think I nod.

"Yes?" she asks.



"Yes. Now," I take hold of her elbow and lead her off the field.

Her saying, "I figured you'd need a couple drinks to be able to watch the highlights on the news tonight."

I look to see if she's mocking me, but I don't think she is.

"I liked the cap tip," she says.

"You did huh?"

"I mean, that was for me, right? Or am I making an ass out of myself here?"

"Yeah," I nod, face hot again.

"Yeah?" she stops walking.

"NO! I mean, yeah, it was for you. And no. No, you're definitely not making an ass of yourself."

"Phew. Good," she nods and elbows me in the side. "I'd hate for the both of us to look like asses on the same day."

It's later that evening as we're tucked in a nearby tavern and she's looking up at the screen as SportsCenter shows the wrap-up of yesterday's Yankee's game and I'm getting anxious to get her alone that it happens. I realize that she's watching intently, and even that does nothing to stop the pulse in my dick. Yankees fan or not, I'm gonna really enjoy fucking this chick. And she says, "Clemens got denied on 300 again."

"That's a downer, huh?" I lean in closer to her.

"Pfft. Not even."

"You, uh, you're not a Yankees fan?"

"NO!" she says. I mean, she shouts it. And a surge of wolfish lust rolls through me. Leaning closer, close enough to smell the sun on her skin, I just nod. She says, "I mean, I'll admit, I respect Torre. But no matter what I just can't abide the DH."

I wanna devour her on the spot. But now I also want to fuck her not just once, but several times.

Testing, I go for it. I run my finger along her forearm. She straightens her back and turns to look at me and I can feel the spark from her. "So, uh, you liked the cap tip, huh?"

A slow, sexy smile. "Very much."

"You know, Roberts was gonna go for it first."

One eyebrow goes up. "Really? The first baseman? If he went yard first?"

"Yeah. You could be sitting here with him right now."

And she says, "I wouldn't be sitting here with him right now even if he had." That's when I realize I'm not just gonna fuck this girl. I'm gonna date her.

Yesterday in the top of the seventh I got hold of a hanging curve and hit a grand slam. Now it's the top of the eighth, tie game, Halloway on first.

And I'm praying I don't swallow the olive. Count's two and one, my throat's thick, and I can't even see the outfield wall. All I can see is the byline in the paper tomorrow and Marina reading it just as we roll back into town. And when we climb off the bus, if she's there, she'll smell that waitress from last night all over me. Or maybe she won't. Or maybe she knows what to expect. It's only been a lousy couple weeks with her, you know. There's been no words or promises, not even suggestions. But I know. I just know that she didn't go out scouring bars looking to get laid. And I know she probably realizes that it's just what we do. Me and Ortiz and Roberts and lots of others. Halloway's married. And a dork. Of course he don't fuck around. So's Roberts. Married, that is. He ain't a dork so much as a dick, and he fucks around plenty. But I'm no saint Holloway.

And even if she knows, she'd probably let it go without saying anything, that seems to be her way. Or if I'd get seized by guilt and 'fess up or if told the truth if she asked she'd say, "It's alright." And maybe it would have been, if she hadn't read the game re-cap. But then, maybe later that night, laying in the dark, she'll think about it. And it'll start to sink in to her that I'm a habitual choker.

If I can just NOT fuck this up right now, Marina'll never read about it and she won't put it together as quickly. Just NOT fuck this up, man.

I swing, weakly. A grounder, to short. Double-play ball.

After the game, on the bus home, Skip calls Roberts to the back. I know what it's about. Roberts was 7 for 15 with 8 ribies this trip and first-base in the bigs pulled his hamstring. He's going up.

When we pull in home Roberts don't even bother looking at any of us. He just stalks off in the dark night, packs his shit and he's gone. His replacement'll be here tomorrow, then in a couple weeks the big leaguer with the hamstring will do a two week rehab rotation down here. Ortiz jaws a little. "Hope the new meat ain't a Snow White, we're damn near hemorrhaging the blood here."

"Roberts was white," I remind him.

He looks me up and down and says, "But he was good."

Marina's there to meet me. That gets the catcalls. She stops the ribbing cold by leaning in, reaching up, and laying a really good one on me. It's after she slips me tongue and gets me wired for her that she whispers in my ear, "That oughta shut 'em up." She's right. The jealous toys gawk another couple seconds then turn and scatter. I realize I didn't grab her ass in front of them all, and that's how I know she's now my girlfriend and that there might not be any more waitresses for a while.

Later, in her bed, after I don't choke, I tell her about Roberts. "He won't last," she says. "He can't handle breaking pitches at all. And he needs a snow shovel to field. I bet his shins are all banged up. Besides," she grins, "his teammates might kill him."

And that's the second that I know I picked a damn good girlfriend.

It's the major leaguer's last day, and, to tell the truth, he's alright. Ortiz don't like him, but I do. The park's been packed to capacity since he's been here, the fans eat him up, he don't treat us like the lower-class we are. He took the whole team out for dinner twice. What's not to like?

The fans climb all over his shit and he just smiles and takes it the way they mean it. Me? My jaw would clench and I 'd wanna crack skulls. He can't even swing and miss just once without the hecklers freaking out, let alone when he strikes out. Then he stands around and signs tons of autographs for the folks who were just busting his balls. He says it's his job, and he likes his job just fine.

I'm watching from the outfield with Marina. Took a fastball on the back of the hand yesterday. It's cool, nothing's broke, it's just tender. Plus it got me off the hook. We were down by three with two on, no outs in the ninth. I went yard on the pitcher last week on the road. So he meant to brush me back. Or something. I wasn't relishing the thought of looking like a loser in front the big leaguer anyhow. He'd've gone back and talked about the fourth-inning-phenom if I sucked out again. So on the brushback, I took one for the team, and myself. The big leaguer doubled me home. Today was supposed to be Ortiz's day off to chart pitches with tomorrow's starter, Halloway, but Skip had me do it instead since he DL'd me for three days with this hand. But it's dollar day; buck beers, buck hot dogs, buck bleacher seats. I know Marina likes to hit those dollar beers pretty good, so fifth inning I found her and grabbed a seat next to her out here instead of her usual place in the second row. I don't think Skip'll notice. And Halloway's simple, but it don't take Einstein to watch a radar gun and keep a count.

I'm watching her sloppily lick salt from fries off her fingers in the top of the 8th when I hear the CRACK. I look up, find it, and see it's coming right for me. You like that? Even on a day off the ball finds me. Reflex, I stand up for it, but Marina pushes me down right away. Shouting, "I got it! I got it!" Raising her arms, swaying a bit cause she's pretty lit up, everyone around us reaching and clamoring for it or ducking from it too. There's no sound of the ball hitting the stands from her missing it, I don't hear anyone else yelling that they got it, but she plops right down and her hands are empty. I'm looking around, so's everyone else, then I hear her. Soft, simple, "Ow."

"What?" I ask her. "It hit you?"

"Ow," she leans forward and grimaces.

"Where?" People around us are going nuts looking for the ball.

Finally, she reaches under her arm and brings it out. From her armpit. I don't believe it.

"You, you caught it with your armpit?"

I could just die. My girlfriend caught a homer in her fuckin armpit, man.

Before she can answer me the chants start. They've seen the ball in her hand now and other team's shortstop is rounding first and it spreads fast. "Throw it back, throw it back! Throw it BACK!"

So Marina, god love her, she stands back up and doesn't even hesitate, she wings that ball all the way to shallow center and starts laughing. Everyone around us is laughing, the chant stopped now, they're high-fiving her and shit, astounded mostly about how she caught the damn thing in the first place. "You see that? In her armpit! Shit had to hurt man!" They're cracking up, and so's she. Playing it up, encouraging it. Suddenly she's the queen of our section.

So that's pretty much when I know that someday I'm gonna marry this one.

Going home that night we stop for gas. She's pumping, I'm done paying, and this Caddy rolls up on the other side. The guy gets out, looks at us and says, "Hey, I know you."

It's one of my better moments. I know it's just small-town minor league shit, but it still makes me feel pretty cool in front of my girl. He goes, "You're that lady who caught the baseball in her armpit tonight! That was so cool!"

"Yeah!" she laughs with him. "I threw it back too!"

"I saw that!"

"Were you there?"

"No, huh uh, it was on the news!"

That night, after I give her an ice bag for her pit and put one on my hand, I see it on the late news. My girl on the highlight reel, looking like the most glorious ass. Me sitting next to her, not even on the field.

It's spreading now. I'm still keeping my average up, early innings are fine at the plate. But I just fanned on a pitch in the dirt and stranded Ortiz last inning. Now I'm in the field, the bases are loaded and I catch myself thinking, "Don't hit that fuckin ball to me."

This is all new for out here. My chest is tight and legs are heavy, and there's nothing I've ever loved more than chasing down the flies and throwing to the plate. But I can see the potential disaster now. Instead of gunning him down at home, I could overthrow and let two extra runs score. Then I'd be sunk and really branded. I'd be a lifetime minor-leaguer who's a major-league fuck up. I'm so busy worrying I get a late jump when OF FUCKIN COURSE the ball is popped to me. Luckily I shag it down, and as I spin and remind myself not to overthrow because I'm shallow enough to blow off the cut-off, I pull back and fire. Oh, it's a good hard throw, alright. I drill it into the grass about two feet in front of me. Ortiz is laughing so hard he can't even come over to pick it up and re-throw.

In the dugout he says, "Boy, you really screwed the pooch out there, Michael."

"Miguel!" I shout and throw my glove at him.

He ducks and laughs. "Ahh, Mikey."

"You know, just cause I fucked up one play that don't mean I'm not Puerto Rican no more, Ortiz! It don't make me fuckin not Latino!"

"Yeah, don't exactly make you Roberto Fuckin Clemente neither, Ese."

Halloway pats my shoulder. Pity. The bastard.

Roberts comes back to the clubhouse that night. We all knew he was coming back. I guess he didn't wanna wait 'til tomorrow to take the abuse he knew he'd have to suffer with this not-so-heroic return. He bagled in the show. Believe that shit? His new name's Ohfer. As in '0 for' 36. 2 errors.

I think about that while I'm at Marina's place. Maybe it's better to not even go up there, you know. To never stand on those perfect fields with all those eyes on you with the potential for big money and SportsCenter highlights. Maybe having a taste of all that would make the fall that much harder. Marina's getting frustrated now, I can feel the amped heat of her skin as she keeps kissing and rubbing against me. It should feel good, but --

"Baby," I push her up, try to slow her down. "It's, I'm not...not now, ok?"

She gets off me and sits up, looking dejected. I squeeze my eyes shut. Her asking, "What's wrong, Miguel?"

"It's just -- nothing."

"You getting sick of me?"


Naturally, she won't leave it alone. Naturally, I get defensive, but I cave. Me snapping, "I've got a lot on my mind, alright?"

I know she's horny and really just wants me to get it up and get on with it cause she's rubbing really low on my stomach, but she's a sport. Coaxing, "Tell me about it."

So I do. "I might never make it to the bigs." I sneak a peek up at her face.

She shrugs. "Maybe not. But you should go. I think you'll go. Word has it they wanna dump Washington and his big salary."

"Doesn't mean they'll call ME up. Look. If I don't go I won't get my call-up bonus."

She shrugs again, "So what? How much is that?"

"Three million."

Her hand stops rubbing my tummy and she asks, "Say that again?"

I sigh. "Three million dollars."

"Oh my god," she lays back down on top of me. "That's the sexiest thing I've ever heard."

I laugh. "You're an asshole."

"I'm serious!"

"That's why you're an asshole," I'm still laughing. "What's sexy? Me having three million bucks or you spending it?"

"Both," she answers before kissing me with lots of tongue. "Do you know what sort of hot, freaky chicks you could get with that kind of cash?"

"I've already got a hot freak, you freak."

She purrs it. "You could get another one too." Reaching down, she strokes me. "I'm not here for the money, you know that, right?"

"I know." I nod, because I do.

Still stroking, breathing hot in my ear. "But imagine the chicks who would be. You could get like, a Jennifer Lopez knock-off." She bites my neck. "And still have me. Imagine that, the both of us. Together."

That does it. The spark ignites right away, her stroking feels good, but I know what'll feel better. I can tell it's good for her too, cause she just keeps oohing and cooing, moving against me and calling my name. "Miguel, Miguel."

I don't have to worry about choking today because I just all out suck. I couldn't hit a bull elephant in the ass with a bass fiddle. As an added bonus, I get caught stealing.

The Skip spits some sunflower seeds and tells me to see him in his office before I leave.


I take a seat and he goes, "I'm sure you've heard the trade rumors about Washington."

I nod.

"Nothing's finalized. But they want to get some prospects for him while unloading payroll." I just shift in my seat and avoid looking him in the face. He adds, "Pitching prospects."

"Uh uh," I nod.

"Do you understand what I'm telling you, Rodriguez?"

"Uh, not really, sir."

He folds his arms and stares at me. "What I'm trying to tell you, without sending you into a panic, is that you have a shot here, son. Scouts will be here. Tomorrow. Watching you. Don't fuck this up, kid."

I lose it. I mean, I freak. "WHY? Why the fuck are you TELLING ME?"

"I'm telling you so you won't choke, asshole!"

"But that's what'll make me choke!"

"Yeah," he nods. "And that's exactly what you'd better get fixed in that skull of yours."

At least I know Marina'll comfort me. It may not be the most manly thing ever, but she'll hold me and stroke my neck, play with my hair and maybe even give me a mercy blow-job to soothe me. So I tell her about this disturbing turn of events with Washington and the scouts and how horrible this is.

She says, "You really need to get over yourself."

"What?" I start panicking.

"Miguel. This isn't a war. No one's going to die for fuck's sake. It's baseball!"

"Are you...have you been listening to anything I've told you? Have you even watched me play this year? Have you? I'm THIRTY-ONE, baby! If I don't go now I'm never going!"

"You're great!" she yells at me. "You'll go up! And then you'll stay up there!"

"No I fuckin won't! I know they're watching like hawks now, I'm gonna choke!"

"So don't choke," she says.

"'Scuse me?"

"I said, don't choke. You put too much pressure on yourself. You don't have to be going yard and diving for balls every inning!"

"I like hitting homers! I like diving! I'm good at it!"

"Alright, so then do it, baby."

"I can't when I choke," I sigh. She doesn't get it. She just doesn't get it. Worse, she doesn't even have sympathy for me. None. That's when I realize she's not what I thought. I slump, head in my hands. Defeated. It's over, all of it. It's all gone before I ever even had it.

"Miguel. Your job is to play baseball. Do you get that?"

I just sigh.

"Look at me," Marina says. I do. She's staring at me, eyes soft again. Kneeling in front of me, she leans in and kisses me. "You get paid to play baseball. Which you love. Don't you understand? And right now, things can only get better. You're a ballplayer, Miguel. A good one. Some people are never that lucky."

Beyond her, the light glints off her trinkets on the shelf. Not trinkets -- trophies. I'd seen them before, I even checked some of them out. They look a lot like the ones I keep in my parents' house. Some short, some pretty damn big. Except on the figures holding bats on hers, the figures all have ponytails.

"Do you really expect me to feel sorry for you?" she asks. "I was being called 'Pits' and 'Right Guard of Right Field' for THREE weeks, you ass!"

It's a split second momentum change. But I get tingles.

Turns out, she is exactly what I thought. Ok, maybe even a little better. But maybe it's me that's different. And luckily, hopefully, a little bit better.

The scout's here, Skip pointed him out. Halloway's had a good eight innings, maybe he'll get some good out of this too if he keeps his shit together for the ninth, you know. It's a shutout game, the other kid's throwing heat up there. Aspirin tablets to most guys. He walked me in the first, I doubled off him in the fifth, but no one was on.

Now it's crunch time.

Before leaving the on deck circle, I turn around and check the dugout. Skip's so tight I can see the veins in his neck even from here. Ortiz can't look at me. Roberts, fuckin Ohfer, is smirking. Halloway gives me a double thumbs up but I can see the tension dripping off him along with his sweat. He's a nice guy even if he is such a fuckin dork. I look past the dugout to the stands and there she is, still a hot chick in the second row. And when they call my name, she claps and hoots. And smiles. She don't look worried, she don't look tense. Because she's not. She's just out watching a ballgame on a perfect day.

And I'm playing in it.

I turn away to take my practice swings, brush those filthy images of her and J Lo -- together -- out of my head. Phat rides and perfectly manicured fields flit by, and I can almost hear Chris Berman saying it, "Backbackback... GONE!"

But that's for later.

Right now, I just dig in, keep my eye on the ball, and swing as hard as I can.

©2004 by Susan DiPlacido
Susan DiPlacido's first novel, 24/7, will be published in early 2005. Her second novel, Trattoria, has also been sold and is awaiting a publication date. This is her first foray into short stories. See more of her work at her Web site.

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