"Hey, Tim!" shouts a reporter. "How you feeling?"
"Feeling good!" Tim calls, and keeps walking.
He does, right? How could he not? Spring training, bounce in his step, fresh glove on his hand, cactuses all over the place. He loves this time of year. The spring is full of promises. Okay, sure, sometimes promises aren't kept. Sometimes you're cruising along on hope and youth and then the bottom just fucking falls out on you, but—
Sanchez slaps Tim on the back as he walks toward the bullpen. "How you feeling?"
"Good!" chirps Tim and grins until his jaw clicks.
Sanchez smiles back. "What happened to your face, man?"
"What?" Tim touches his face, trying to figure it out. Does he have a nosebleed?
"That thing." Sanchez gestures at his own general nasal region, which has Tim checking again for blood. "You know, the moss stuff. It's growing on your face."
"My moustache?" Tim brushes that, carefully, trying to dislodge any weird stuff that's gotten caught in it.
"No, I think it—" Sanchez leans in, peering at him. "Okay, wait, okay. I see. That's a really shitty moustache."
Tim tries to kick him in the shin, and Sanchez flees to his side of the bullpen. Tim contemplates tossing his brand-new glove at him, but he doesn't want to scuff it up.
Let Sanchez go. Tim just focuses on clearing his mind, letting the last couple seasons wash off of him. This year's going to be different. This year he's going to be back. He sets the glove down and stretches, touching his toes, popping his shoulder. He leans forward, kicking his right leg back and stretching his arms out for balance.
"Hey," says Buster, and Tim nearly falls over.
"Hi," says Tim, carefully recovering his balance. "How's it going?"
"It's going good." Buster doesn't bother to hide his grin. "I'm glad to get back to the field. What about you?"
"Good, good." Tim swings his arms a little. "You know me. I'm always good."
Buster nods. "Listen, are you planning to work tonight?"
Tim glances around, but the reporters are at a safe distance, distracted by the intensity of Bumgarner's spring beard. "Depends. You got something for me to work on?"
Buster shrugs. "They got me a new catcher's mask, kneepads. There's a couple bats I've never used. I think Bochy's actually taking up an equipment collection for you."
Tim sighs. "In that case I'm probably working every night this week."
Buster slaps him on the back and heads off to the other side of the bullpen. "By the way," he calls over his shoulder. "You've got something on your face."
"Go fuck yourself," says Tim, which is a great time for the pitching coach to show up.
"It's the great Posey-Lincecum feud." Righetti settles a hand on Tim's shoulder. "Starting up on day one, huh? Am I pairing you with Sanchez for bullpen?"
"I'm not feuding with Buster," says Tim. "I don't feud."
"You're always feuding with somebody, Timmy." Righetti smirks. "Usually yourself."
Tim shakes his head. "I'm at peace with the world and myself. I love all of my teammates. I'm feeling good."
Righetti peers at him and then shrugs. "That'd be a nice change." He sets off for the bullpen, propelling Tim in front of him.
Tim likes the sound of a ball thumping into the catcher's glove. Most satisfying sound in the world.
He's feeling it today. Bullpen went great, he was changing it up, trying some stuff, everyone looked happy. Spring training is full of promises.
"Hey, Timmy?" Bochy catches Tim in the locker room, still wearing his uniform. "What are you up to tonight? Got any plans?"
"Buster said you had some stuff for me to work on," says Tim.
"Well, only if you have time," says Bochy. "I didn't want to assume, but if you didn't mind staying a little late—"
Tim doesn't mind, because getting the gear fixed up is important and it needs to get done sooner or later. He doesn't like it when Bochy dances around the subject, though, making it seem like this is all up to what Tim wants and not what the team needs.
"It's fine." Tim tries to turn gritted teeth into a smile. "I can stick around."
Tim waves goodbye as most of the team heads out of the locker room for early dinner, filing out until it's just Tim, the equipment manager Murph, and some of the non-roster hopefuls that have been pressed into service carrying stuff. Tim digs his old black hat out of his locker and sits down, trying to arrange himself into a lotus position. He gives up, as usual, and just ends up cross-legged.
He closes his eyes and feels for it.
"What's he doing?" hisses a kid. Tim can't remember any of their names yet. Well, except Brett.
"Be quiet and you'll see something fun," says Murph. "Tim, you ready?"
"Give me a second," mutters Tim. He breathes in, out, smells fresh grass and dirt and leather. Hears the thump thump thump of baseballs hitting gloves. The swish of a bat through the air. Feels the thrum of anticipation from the crowd, all of it flowing up from the floor of the clubhouse, collecting into him. His muscles burn a little, the stretch of a workout after a long winter break.
"Okay," says Tim at last. "Give me something."
They hand him a bat and Tim gives it good contact, a smooth swing. Takes a glove and gives it a deep pocket to grab balls and keep them from slipping away. He casts strength on helmets, protection on shin-guards and sureness on batting gloves. It's mechanical, after a little while, as Tim remembers the rhythm of it. Take the equipment, feel what it wants to do, make it better at its purpose.
It's nice to be so good at something you don't even have to think about it.
They hand him a cleat and Tim cracks his eyes open. "What am I supposed to do with one shoe?"
Brett gives him that weird baby-Bochy smile. "Pagan wants to be really sure that he won't slip."
Which, fine, no one likes being injured. Tim doesn't blame Pagan for wanting a little extra insurance. But—"I really should have both shoes. This is just going to make him lop-sided."
"He said he doesn't trust magic by a guy with a glued-on moustache," says Brett, half-hesitant, half-gleeful, "but he figured he could risk one shoe."
"I'm not shaving," says Tim. "And I'm going to curse the spikes off of this thing unless someone gets me the other—"
Murph hands him the other shoe, hand over his face to hide his smile.
Tim keeps his eyes open as he gives the cleats grip and surety and speed. The light flares up around his hands, orange and warm, sinking into the spikes.
As it leaves him, Tim suddenly becomes aware of his body. His knees and back ache, his mouth is dry, his head is buzzing. Who needs alcohol when you can get hungover all on your own?
"Time to call it a night." Tim leans back, resting his head against the cool metal of the lockers. "Where are we at, Murph?"
"Got through all of the bats, most of the gloves." Murph thinks about it. "Some personal stuff left. Buster and Hector's gear."
"I'll need a whole night just for those," says Tim. "But I think I can get everything done over the next couple days." He holds out a hand and one of the newbies grabs it and hauls him up. Jose? Kyle? Tim will learn their names if they get added to the roster. Probably.
"Good work," says Murph. "I ain't seen anyone work that fast and well since... Willie Mays, I guess."
"You probably say that to all the witches," says Tim, but he can't help grinning.
"We're gonna get a drink," says maybe-Kyle, while Murph bustles away and the newbies start to gather their stuff. "You want to come? Tell us about how to make it in the big leagues?"
Tim looks at his fresh, open face and feels an overwhelming urge to shake him. "Nah," he says, lets his smile linger to take the sting out of it. "Magic is pretty draining, sorry." And it's true. In the end Tim's too worn out to even drive, and Murph gives him a ride to the hotel instead. Tim collapses into his bed, tosses his old hat on the nightstand, and dreams of pitches thumping into a catcher's glove.
The next morning Tim is sore from his head to his toes. It takes him twenty minutes to get from bed to shower, and he's almost late to the training facility because he forgot his car wasn't at the hotel. He's trying to figure out the bus schedule when probably-Kyle spots him and offers a ride in his beat-up mini-Cooper. Tim crams himself in among fast food wrappers and dirty jerseys, and manages to answer about fifty questions about the 2012 World Series without thinking about his answers at all.
He doesn't feel any better on the field. His pitches won't come out right, and Righetti is trying to get Tim to fix something subtle in his mechanics that Tim absolutely cannot figure out.
"Okay, never mind." Righetti is getting exasperated. "We'll have to work on it tomorrow, your head's not here today."
"I'll get it," says Tim. "I'm just tired, you know? Explain it to me again."
"There's only so many ways I can explain it," says Righetti, but he starts miming the motion like he's a stretched-out and stiffer version of Tim. "Right here, where your foot comes up—"
Tim tries to follow the motion, but his eyes keep drifting out of focus. "Got it," he says anyway, following along with his own mimed pitch. Righetti sighs as Tim apparently mangles the lesson.
Tim's going to say something regrettable in a second. He can feel it building up, and he doesn't want to feud with Righetti but it would be really satisfying to start swearing at someone right now.
"So how're we doing over here?" Bochy strolls up and Tim swallows whatever he was going to say. "Rags? Timmy?"
"We'll get somewhere," says Righetti. "Eventually."
"Good, good." Bochy pats Tim on the arm. "Good to hear. Listen, Timmy, Murph says you wore yourself out last night being a team player."
Righetti raises his eyebrows. That's Bochy's favorite euphemism for magic. He used to call it 'special shit,' but he had to stop when a reporter heard him and assumed he was either talking about steroids or weed.
"Being a team player is important," says Bochy. "I'm not going to deny that. Obviously not. But you gotta set your limits, right? You can always say 'you know what, Boch, that's about enough for me. I can't do any more tonight.' Right?"
"Right." Tim's fingers itch to get back to pitching.
"Preferably before you fall asleep on the field." Bochy pats Tim's arm again. "Breaks, that's what you need. You had a break yet?"
"No," says Righetti.
"In a minute," says Tim. "I think I'm getting the hang of it."
Bochy nods, smiling, and lets Tim go. As he wanders off to chat with the potential rookies, Tim moves through his wind-up for the fiftieth time, trying to get his foot where Righetti wants it. An invisible ball soars across the plate.
"Better?" asks Tim.
Righetti makes a face. "We'll try it with a catcher next, get a better idea of where the ball ends up. After you sit down for fifteen minutes."
Tim chokes off those regrettable words again and walks off, shaking his knee out as he goes. Sanchez is over in the stands, lying uncomfortably across a couple seats. Tim sits down next to him, peering at his puffy closed eyes and stubbly face. "Long night?"
"I made lot of mistakes last night." Sanchez cracks an eye open. "I was trying to show the new guys good time, when they finally showed up. Heard you kept them busy."
Tim laughs. "Sure, they had to carry a bunch of stuff. I'm gonna do your gear tonight, I think."
Sanchez gives him a thumbs up. "Lot of work for one little pitcher."
"You're, like, an inch taller than I am." Tim leans back in his seat.
"I don't believe you." Sanchez gives Tim an assessing look. "You're, what, five-eight? Five-seven?"
Tim doesn't dignify that with a response. He feels like he's falling asleep with his eyes open, staring up at the blue sky.
"Tired little pitcher," says Sanchez. "You need an assistant."
A crow flies over the field, and Tim tracks it without moving his head. "If you see any loose witches, let me know."
"You miss having Zito around?" asks Sanchez.
Tim shrugs. Yeah, a little, but it's not like Zito would have helped with the equipment. That's not the way his magic ran. "What about you?"
"Dunno." Sanchez pushes himself to his feet. "I liked catching Zito, but I like catching you more. You think I'll get to do that again this season?"
"Depends what Bochy thinks, I don't know." Tim considers. "You know, Rags saw Buster making fun of my moustache and now he thinks we're fighting. Maybe if you say some nice things about it they'll make us a battery."
A shadow falls across Tim's face, and he's looking right up into Sanchez. Who, okay, is probably a couple inches taller and at least fifty pounds heavier. And he's got some serious ink on his hands and arms that Tim doesn't remember from last year.
"You've got something on your knuckles," says Tim. Sanchez doesn't even look.
"It's a beautiful moustache." Sanchez settles his hat back on his head. "You could be on TV, with a moustache like that."
"I am on TV," says Tim. "Is that a dragon on your arm?"
"Yeah, but I mean real TV." Sanchez grins. "Like America's Most Wanted."
"Okay, you're fired," says Tim. "I'm only pitching to the new guy. Kyle."
"You mean Andrew?" Sanchez holds out a hand and pulls Tim to his feet. "Come on, you can help practice my pitch framing, maybe I can rescue some of your balls from the dirt."
Tim walks across the field behind Sanchez, stiffness easing with every step. Righetti glances at them and nods, but he's working with Brett now. That's fine. Tim could use a few minutes alone to figure himself out.
The wind-up still feels wrong the first time, only okay the second. The third time feels good, though, and almost every time after that, as Tim's pitches thump into Sanchez's glove.