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Lawson Doesn't Have Answers
San Diego Times
February 3rd, 2017

SAN DIEGO, California—San Diego Padres’ Mike Lawson turns 38 in November, but if age is something on his mind, he doesn’t sound like it.

“I still enjoy playing baseball,” Lawson said when asked if retirement is on the table for him after a devastating knee injury that had him carted off the field in September. “This is what I have wanted to do since I was a kid. This is worth it. Even with going through physical therapy and having a reduced training schedule over the years, I’m not letting myself stand in the way of starting for the Padres again. I’m the captain.”

As the face of the Padres through painful first round exits, failure after failure to qualify for the playoffs, Lawson’s tenure in San Diego has not been devoid of controversy.

While mulling over retirement must have been in the back of Lawson’s mind throughout the past decade--a decade that saw him in and out of games with a reoccurring knee and back issues and multiple concussions--the Padres’ management needs to find out what to do with Lawson and Cuban catcher Livan Duarte.

While the question becomes when—not if—Lawson’s knees will force him into retirement, he remains hopeful.

“I feel good, I’m getting better and better every day,” Lawson said.

 

//

 

Mike plans on waiting out the chase of the headache pounding in his left temple with black coffee.

He trades in his glass case for a three bedroom condo a few blocks away from the stadium. By some stretch of a miracle, his real estate agent finds a buyer. In the new place, his bedroom overlooks the stadium, but it doesn’t look the same anymore. Retirement hasn’t called his name, but it’s knocking. He’s still on the active roster, but those are conversations that need to be had.

With a sigh, he finishes his coffee and pads over to his daughter’s room.

“You up?”

Peyton’s hair is pulled into a bun, but she’s still in her pajamas as she flips through her phone.

“Mhm,” she says, only looking up at him for a split-second.

“You know,” he says as he runs a hand over his beard. “This could be really helpful.”

Confidence isn’t something most Padres fans think he lacks, but he’s finding it hard to conceal the worry on his face.

Peyton lets out a breath before she purses her lips. It’s not a coincidence that the day her dad decides it’s time to see a family therapist that Rachel comes in the picture.

“What do you think?” Peyton asks.

She doesn’t want to go, but she also knows that her dad isn’t going to see a therapist himself unless he thinks it’s for her sake.

“It’s up…” he starts, but stops before letting out a sigh. “Peyton, everyone thinks we should go…even Al.”

“Then let’s go.”

 

//

 

The therapist doesn’t ask the questions he’s expecting them to. Peyton’s mother is never brought up, his divorce is never mentioned, and his knee brace is never even glanced at. They talk. They just…have a conversation for two hours.

The guy—who barely looks older than Mike himself--engages with Peyton like they’re old friends while Mike feels like the third wheel he is when the Sanders used to invite him over for dinner.

“With your father’s career, do you ever wish he had a normal job?”

Mike crosses his arms as he glares at the guy. He hates how pretentious they make the guy look. He looks like he’s from San Francisco. “She doesn’t have to answer that.”

“Mike, do you ever wish you had a normal job?”

Peyton frowns. What kind of question is that?

“I thought the questions were mostly for my daughter?”

“They are,” he says as he pushes his glasses further up. “This is.”

He ignores the back pain and hunger sitting in, because even though he pushed a fruit smoothie in Peyton’s hands before they left, he’s running on caffeine and a protein bar.

“This is all he’s ever wanted to do…and ever done so,” she says as he shrugs.

Mike glances at the clock. “Peyton has tutoring in an hour and traffic’s bad so we should probably be heading out.”

Peyton seems to tense, but gives a soft smile and a curt nod at the therapist.

“Of course, will I see you next week?”

“Sure,” Peyton answers for him.

“Mr. Lawson, may I speak with you for a moment? Just have a few papers to sign.” He knows what she’s doing, but if he tries to get away with pretending otherwise he risks Peyton figuring it out.

“Yeah, uh, sure,” he stammers before turning to the kid. “Peyton, I’ll just be a minute.”

“So what did you want to say to me? That Peyton should have a better guardian? Maybe not someone with 65 year old knees and an article about how many women he’s dated? ”

“Mr. Lawson…when you made this appointment, I didn’t think you’d show. Most parents just drop their children off. But you came—early, too--and didn’t take the out until 2 hours.”

Mike crosses his arms. “Peyton does have tutoring today.”

“That’s not what I was saying.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“That’s not what a bad parent does, does he? Take his daughter to an appointment like this?”

“You’re the only person who seems to think I don’t fit in that category.”

 

//

 

“What advice can that guy give you about life? He’s like, fresh out of college,” Mike grumbles as he turns onto the highway.

Peyton puts her sunglasses on top of her head. “Pretty sure he’s your age.”

Mike scoffs. “No, he’s not. He’s like…twenty-five years old.”

Peyton rolls her eyes. She wonders if everyone over the age of twenty-five just assumes someone younger than them is fresh out of college.

“His degree says he graduated from Stanford as an undergrad in 2002.”

She watches her dad’s eyebrows furrow. “Fuck, he looks young.”

She shrugs. “Maybe you just look old.”

“Yeah, because I’ve actually had real life experiences unlike that hipster.”

“Dad, you played in the MLB for all your life. I’d barely call that real life,” Peyton retorts, but immediately regrets it.

Mike can’t help but pick up on the past tense.

“Shit, I’m sorry that was a stupid thing to say,” she stammers out. A deadbeat dad and a conwoman for a mother doesn’t spell sheltered in any way.

“You’re not wrong,” Mike says, a little too harsher than she intended for it to come off.

 

//

 

“Did you just buy the cheapest wine you could find?”

“Can’t taste it if you’re too drunk to focus on the taste. Besides, you just moved into your new apartment,” Cara says with a laugh. Her hair is curlier than when they first met. She had been wake boarding before they met up. “So is he retiring?”

“Who?” Ginny asks even though she knows who.

“Your captain. Wasn’t he carted off at the end of the last season?”

“Y-yeah, uh, he was,” Ginny stammers as she hoists the grocery bag higher on her hip. She can’t remember the last time she went grocery shopping.

“He gonna come back?” Cara asks. She doesn’t look at Ginny as the garage elevator opens.

“That’s the plan,” Ginny says. “Hasn’t said anything otherwise.”

“So do you get to see the junk?”

Ginny almost drops her bag. “What?”

If she had a dollar for each time someone asked her that, she would be making more than Blip and Sonny combined, but the question catches her off guard.

Cara laughs. “You heard what I said…do they like, put you in a different locker room?”

“They do, but it’s not like…”

She’s cut off when the elevator opens on the lobby floor.

“I doubt he was even from San Francisco—oh, Ginny.”

Her eyes dart up to see her captain and his daughter.

“Oh, h-hey,” Mike says. The words sound terse. He’s barely even looking at her when he says them.

“W-what are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” Mike asks. He reaches out to punch their floor key, but freezes when he sees it’s already been punched. Fuck.

“She just moved in two days ago,” Cara says, almost sounding smug.

Of course you do, he thinks.

“Cool, which apartment?” Peyton chirps.

Kill me.

“315.”

“You’re right across the hall from us.”

Mike doesn’t even bother to let Ginny off first when the elevator opens.

“You’re welcome to join us for the housewarming party,” Cara says, but Mike’s already halfway down the hall.

“Thanks, but Peyton has a project to finish up. Her classmate’s coming over,” Mike says as he fishes around in his pocket for his keys.

 

//

 

“You coming down to San Diego this weekend?”

“Can’t. Got clearance for the piece on JJ Watt,” Rachel says. Her voice is going in and out so Mike assumes she’s driving.

Mike doesn’t try to disguise his sigh as he leans back against the headboard of his bed.“Want me and Peyton to come up to LA? I have a rehab appointment on Saturday, but we could get brunch before you ship out—”

“Maybe not week. I can come down Thursday night for the weekend.”

He rubs his finger around the rim of his water bottle.

“I’m heading to an appointment, but I’ll text you tomorrow,” he says as he stands up. He tries to ignore the pain in his knees as he gets out of bed.

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

He pads down the hallway to the kitchen.

It’s past nine so he figures he knows Peyton will be up. With her spring break approaching, she’s been up scrambling to cram. Despite what she says, he knows she’s been falling asleep after eleven most nights, especially on the weekend. Even if she’s opened up to him in the past few months, the sounds of footsteps pattering down the hallway to the kitchen at one in the morning tell him she’s not getting the right amount of sleep a teenager should be getting.

“Hey, Peyton. It’s past nine. Jackson should be heading back to his floor,” he begins as he knocks on his daughter’s bedroom door. “Did you two actually get any work done or did you spend the past hour playing FIFA?”

“Just a second!” Peyton replies.

“Didn’t I tell you not to lock your door when you have boys over?”

“Yeah, you did,” Peyton says as she whips the door open. “Calm down. Jackson left while you were on the phone with Rachel.”

He would have believed it if the boy didn’t wander out of her bathroom with only a towel on.

“Hey, Peyton. Is…how fucked am if I accidently confused this sugar foot scrub of yours for shower soap?” Jackson asks with a worried expression on his face as he glares at the label on the foot scrub.

 

//

 

“So you two are dating.”

"No." "Yes."

Mike watches as Jackson’s eyes bulge as Peyton’s glares at him.

"Which is it?" Mike barks out.

"Kind of?” Jackson stammers out. He’s managed to remember how to put pants on, but doesn’t have the peace of mind to find his sweatshirt.

"Well, we haven’t made it Facebook official yet…”

Mike rolls his eyes as he tries to hold in a sigh. This is what his life is like now. It’s just great. It’s fucking great. He deserves this.

"You know what 'sort of dating' means, Mr. Addison?"

The boy’s eyes dart to the floor.

"It means on and off, casual, no commitment, friends-with-benefits kind of dating, the sort of dating that my kid is sure as hell going to get hurt in so I'm gonna ask you again…are the two of you dating?"

“Yes, sir.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Three months.” “Two weeks.”

Peyton sighs as she crosses her arms. She has her sweatpants on from her old high school back in Chicago. They’re ratty and a size too large, but she wears them more often than she did when she first got to San Diego.

“At least have the decency to get your stories fucking straight if you’re going to lie to me like that.”

“Mike…”

“Sir.”

“S-sir, we were gonna tell you,” Jackson stammers out.

“Dad, I…” Peyton starts.

Even though she’s lived with her father for half a year, the notion of names never struck her until recently. Early on in their relationship, she avoided calling him anything, let alone “dad”. When he called her by her name, it felt too foreign. When he called her “Pey,” it felt too personal. When he called her “kiddo” it felt ever worse.

“Peyton, stop,” he says through gritted teeth. “Just…wait, you’re wearing Jackson’s shirt, aren’t you?”

Jackson grabs his phone and keys from the coffee table in front of him. “It might be a good idea for me to head home. It’s late and I, uh, have practice tomorrow.”

“Smartest thing you’ve ever said to me,” Mike says as he crosses his arms. Peyton doesn’t even look at him as he heads out the door.

“I was gonna tell you…eventually.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell me you were dating that kid?” He asks as he sits down.

“Because you just looked like you were five seconds away from murdering him,” she says as she crosses her arms.

“I need a drink,” he says. He rubs his face; his eyes feel dry as it is and now he has a headache to deal with.

“I thought you were on your pain meds still?”

He doesn’t even try to hide the groan he lets out as his knees protest. “I walked in on my daughter on our teenage neighbor’s lap, this situation warrants alcohol.”

“Why do you have a problem with me dating him? You love Jackson. You hang out with his dad, you’ve invited him over to watch the Chargers each weekend. He respects you. Why else would you willingly watch the Chargers?”

That’s what his weekends consist of now. Hoping his ex-wife comes over and if not, hanging out with his daughter and their neighbor’s teenage son. He doesn’t know if that is more pathetic than the state of his knees right now.

“I have every single problem when you date someone like him, have him over unsupervised, and walk in on him as he tries to defile my daughter.”

Peyton snorts. “Did you just use the word defile?”

“I’m not playing around, Peyton. What if he took advantage of you? Do you even know where to get condoms?”

“Can we not have this talk at 11 PM?”

Can we not have this discussion sober, Mike wants to say, but holds his tongue.

“Fine,” Mike relents. “You should sleep before your old man has a heart attack.”

“You are not having a heart attack,” Peyton says before glancing down at his slightly more pronounced stomach. “It's probably indigestion… did you have pizza again for dinner?”

Mike rolls his eyes as he shoves his hands in his jean pockets. “Go to sleep.”

“You do realize that Jackson is my only actual friend right now, right? Because of you. Do you realize how hard it is to make friends when your dad plays for the Padres?”

Their eyes meet, and it makes her heart stop for a second, like Peyton is recognizing this man she’s supposed to share half her blood for the first time, and suddenly seeing that small part of herself that is half Mike’s. It's a glimmer—the same look of determination—and maybe she's imagining it, but it's there, for sure.

“Just don’t let yourself get hurt, okay?”

Peyton nods as she bites down on her lip. “I won’t.”

 

//

 

“How long did you know, Baker?”

After two beers and a call to a locksmith, he makes his way across the hall. It’s not his best decision, but it’s not his worst.

“What?” Ginny rasps out.

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know—it’s not like she told Rachel. She tells you everything. She’s texting you all the time!”

Ginny scoffs under her breath. “Peyton texts me maybe once a week, Mike.”

Mike fights the urge to roll his eyes. He sees his daughter’s phone bill and knows it’s much more than that.

“How long have you known that she had a boyfriend?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I…” he starts, but shakes his head. This is ridiculous, he shouldn’t be here.

“So how’d you find out?”

“Walked in on them.”

“Having sex?”

“No! God, no. Don’t even mention that word in the same sentence as my daughter.”

“Who’s the boy?” Ginny asks as she leans back and crosses her arms.

“He lives in the apartment above us. His dad’s a single dad, his parents are divorced.”

“And he’s her age?”

“Yeah, he was born in 2000,” Mike says. “He used to play junior hockey in Michigan before he snapped his ankle. He was projected to be a pretty high draft pick. Year out from his draft date when he got injured.”

Ginny rubs a hand on her face. “Poor kid.”

“I don’t mind the kid…”

“But you mind him dating Peyton.” Ginny snorts before she can cover up her laugh with a cough.

“It sure as hell wasn’t funny to me, Baker.”

“You didn’t think your daughter--who’s turning seventeen years old in two months--isn’t having sex?”

“Okay, yeah, I shouldn’t have come…” Mike says as he turns on his heel. “Have a good night, Baker.”

He doesn’t want to think about how this is the first conversation they have had since September.

Chapter Text

Padres' Livan Duarte Won't Report to Spring Training
San Diego Times Febuary 11th, 2017

SAN DIEGO, California--While the Padres have made some good adjustments this offseason, the team is at a crossroads. After a decade of squandered chances, fans are wondering if new ownership is going to rebuild. While the pitching staff has garnered attention in the past season, they lack depth with an aging core. Cuban catcher Livan Duarte could inject some youth into the team, but reports out of Los Angeles leave the Padres brass wondering how committed to training he is. Couple that with playing in the NL West – a division that featured three playoff teams last season – and the Padres’ 2018 playoff hopes are fading before the season starting.

 

//

 

“How was your week?” Mike asks Rachel as he sits down. They're at the sushi place they went to for their first Valentine's Day. There's no sentimentality. The lighting of the place is already making his head throb and he’s been there for all of two minutes.

“Good, good.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it down to San Diego last week,” Rachel says as she slinks her arms around Mike. He’s definitely softer than he was before the injury, but still strong. “Have you murdered Peyton’s boyfriend yet?”

“Not yet,” he says as he flicks open the drink menu.

“Who is it again?”

“Addison’s boy.”

“As in Jonathan Addison from the Anaheim Ducks?”

“Yeah,” Mike replies. “Remember I told you he moved into the apartment above us? His son’s named Jackson. He goes to school with Peyton.”

“Jackson Addison?”

Mike scoffs as he raises his eyebrows. “I know.”

“Didn’t he play junior hockey?”

“Went high in the junior drafts,” Mike says as he starts scanning the restaurant for a waiter.

“And you didn’t assume those two were dating?”

“Peyton thinks he’s an idiot…well,” he says with a shrug. “She thought he was an idiot, I guess.”

“Peyton’s smart.”

“It’s not her that I’m worried about,” he says as he pries open an edamame.

She slapped at his chest with the drink menu. "Mike, she’ll be fine. She needs room to grow, you can’t hover like this. Why do you think I told her she should wait until she thought it was serious, but she—"

"You knew before me?"

She paused, turning her eyes away, mouth agape. "I…" She sighed. "I… might've walked in on them while they were… spending time alone.”

Mike turned to face her, his eyes wide and searching hers. "Did you walk in on them having sex?”

"I-I…they weren’t exactly having sex.”

"Were they wearing clothing?"

“Mike…”

“Are you two ready to order?” The waiter asks. Mike doesn’t know whether to be thankful or to curse the college student out.

“Yeah, I’ll have a scotch.”

“I’m sorry, but we only have Japanese imports, sir.”

“Then whatever’s the strongest drink you have.”

 

//

 

“Why are you sitting on the floor?”

“Oh, I’m just waiting for my dad. I came back from a friend’s, but my dad’s having dinner with Rachel and I lost my key.”

“Did you come back early?”

Peyton nods. “Was working on an essay. I don’t know why every Starbucks around here closes early so I’ve been chilling here.”

“Come on in, if you want,”

Mike should be back soon, but she still goes in.

“How’s school going?” Ginny asks as she hands Peyton a water bottle.

Peyton shrugs. “Good.”

I’m failing chemistry, literature, and gym, she wants to say, but instead she picks at the pillows on the couch.

Ginny raises her eyebrow at her. “So the kids are that bad?”

“They’re all assholes,” she says with a shrug. “I never want to see any more Anthropologie clothes in my life after this.”

The apartment looks pre-furnished—whether that is by a designer or the Design House of Evelyn Sanders, she doesn’t know. It doesn’t feel like what Ginny Baker’s place would look like, it looks more like hotel furnishing.

“How’s your dad?”

The question snaps her out of her trance.

“Not the best.”

She doesn’t why she strays away from the company line, but the words spring off her tongue.

“That bad?”

“He’s probably done,” she says as she fiddles with the pillow’s tassel. “Doesn’t think he is, but I don’t know what to tell him.”

She doesn’t want her dad to not be able to walk without pain by the time he’s fifty years old.

Her phone interupts her thoughts when the Peanuts' parents blares across Ginny's apartment. She had assigned the ringtone to Mike's number as a joke.

“Hey...”

“--Where the hell are you?”

“I’m in the room next door.”

“With who?” she can hear Mike practically shout from the phone.

“I’ll be out in a second.”

Peyton stumbles off the couch and over to the door.

“Who are you with?”

“Ginny,” she says with all the casual nature a seventeen year old can muster.

“Who?”

Either Mike’s had too much to drink or has developed a hearing problem.

“Ginny. Ginny Baker? First female athlete to play in men’s professional league. You know…your teammate?” Peyton says as she pokes her head out the door.

Ginny tilts her head up at her captain. “Hey.”

“O-oh, Baker,” Mike stammers, phone still pressed to his ear.

“Sorry, I was gonna text you where I was but my phone died.”

“Can you not scare me like this? I’m too old for this,” he says as he hugs her before looking at Ginny. He nods in her direction before mumbling a quiet “thanks.”

Ginny crosses her arms as she chews on the side of her cheek. “You should probably get your essay done, Peyton.”

“What essay? You said you finished all your homework over the weekend.”

“Forgot about it,” she says as she shrugs.

Mike runs a hand through his hair. It’s only for a split second, but it strikes Ginny how old he looks.

“Head to bed. I’ll wake you up in the morning so you can finish your homework before we go to Al’s. I don’t want you to pull an all-nighter.”

 

//

 

“Are you teaching my boys how to play poker?” Blip asks.

“No, of course not,” Peyton says as she glances at the twins. “I’m teaching them a watered-down version.”

“Peyton, they’re eight.”

“And a half,” Peyton says as she rolls her eyes.

 

//

 

Al raises his eyebrows. “Wait, we was showering in her room?”

Mike grunts in reply as Al laughs.

“Have you talked to her yet?” Al asks once the laughs putter out, figuring they need a change of subject. Mike’s got his gaze fixed on the bottom of his beer so he doesn’t see Al gesture toward Ginny.

“About sex?” Mike asks as he gets up to grab another beer. If he’s going to have this conversation, he needs more beer to do it.

Al frowns. “With Baker?”

Mike almost drops his beer. His eyes dart around to locate Ginny and his teammates who are mostly hauled outside, watching the grill. “Wait, what?”

“I asked you if you had talked to Baker lately.”

Mike feels his face go pale. “Oh.”

“Why? D’you think I was asking about you giving Peyton The Talk?”

Mike can feel his blood pressure spike. “Neither are things I want to think about, Al.”

Especially the first, he thinks.

“Don’t like the boy?”

“He lives in our building. I’m friends with his dad. He goes to school with Peyton so he has have been over a few times,” Mike says. “Just don’t like him dating Peyton.”

“You seen Livan lately?” Sonny asks as he plops down on the couch. Part of Mike has to fight to keep in his sigh of relief. Thank god that conversation was over.

“Ask Page Six,” Blip says as he rolls his eyes. “He can’t go out every night like that.”

Mike shrugs. “86 Mets did it.”

Sonny frowns. “So did you in your rookie year, Mike.”

“Well, the 86 Mets didn’t have Twitter to capture it.”

“He’s showing up at practice.”

“How functional is he?” Blip asks as he sits down on the couch with a plate of steak kabobs.

“From what I heard from my buddy in LA, he’s running on 80%,” Al says.

“If he gave 5% more he’d be on a path to Cooperstown, mark my words.”

Sonny raises his eyebrows. “You think he’s going to listen to me?”

Mike scoffs. “You think he’s going to listen to me?”

“You still have a voice in this room, Mike,” Blip says, words long and drawn out like he’s tired of having to convince himself of it, tired of having to tell the media it. They’ve all been running with the lie for weeks—he’s expected back at the end of the All-Star break, give or take a few.

The truth was, spring training was just a formality. Show up for the press, do what he could to give off the impression that a comeback was possible…that he wanted to come back in the first place.

He told himself he was fine with that. Half of his career has been ac act in itself. He told himself that he didn’t care either, but he hated how much he was lying.

Chapter Text

@katienolan (04/11/2017): If you traveled back in time to the future and someone told you that in 2016, the Padres would have a future hall of fame catcher, a female pitcher, and Donald Trump was president, would that person think you're on drugs?

 

//

 

“So how was your offseason, Mami?”

“Can you not call me that?” Ginny asks. The hotel lighting already makes her head pound, her catcher’s voice isn’t doing anything to help that.

“Never had a problem with it until now. Is that billionaire you’re dating jealous?” Livan asks as he hoists his duffel bag on his shoulder.

“That’s not my point,” she says, voice stronger than the pounding in her head. “You can’t call me that in public. Sends the wrong message.”

“Relax, Mami. I’m not hitting on you.”

That doesn’t matter, she wants to scream. None of that has ever mattered.

“The concierge doesn’t know that.”

He either knows how his words sounded or he doesn’t care. Ginny knows that the Cuban catcher is not an idiot. He can see things, but most of the time he doesn’t care. He doesn’t have to care. He has the talent to silence his critics even if they tend to scream louder as of late, but he doesn’t live in the fishbowl she does.

She punches the tenth floor button with more force than she should.

“Does it matter what she thinks?”

“You know the answer to that,” she says as she steps out of the elevator.

“People say things about me all the time. I don’t care,” he says as she continues to stare a hole in the elevator floor. “Baker, there’s going to be a rumour that you’re dating one of us eventually. Twitter already thinks you’re having an affair with Sanders.”

Better they think she’s having an affair with Blip than Mike, she thinks.

“You know that’s not true,” she says as she pulls her keycard out of her pocket.

“I know,” he says as his brow furrows into a frown. “What are you doing? This is my room.”

“What are you talking about? The concierge gave me this room,” she said as she grabbed his keycard. Same code, same number.

“Then I guess we’re roommates for tonight. Mami.”

 

//

 

“I’ll fall," Peyton says as she glances down at the ice.

“You won’t.”

“I didn’t grow up playing hockey like you did. We didn’t have textbooks that weren’t falling apart let alone insurance to cover ice rinks.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I’ll fall and crack my head open,” Peyton says as she puts on shaky foot on the ice.

Jackson plops the goalie mask on her. “Better?”

“I look like a Power Ranger,” she says as she tries not to gag from the smell. How do people focus in this? “Where’d you even get this? You were a defenseman, not a goalie.”

Her tongue hitches on the past tense of the sentence. The scars on his left ankle are enough to tell the story. She didn’t need to look up the video of his injury in World Juniors to know his career was over once his ankle bent like that against the boards.

Jackson doesn’t even flinch. She doesn’t know if he didn’t pick up on her words or if he’s shoving them away. “My buddy had a practice here an hour ago. Usually leaves it in his locker and never locks it,” he says as he shrugs.

Peyton rolls her eyes. Suburbanites.

“You look cute when you're frustrated.”

She smirks. “Remind me why I’m dating you?”

Jackson just laughs as he leans against the boards.

 

//

 

“You’re thinking too much.”

“You’ve been thinking too little if this offseason has taught us anything,” she says as she unzips her duffle. “I’m not the one who just spent the offseason on Page Six.”

“Whatever I did in the offseason isn’t any of your business.”

“Just like your dating life is mine?”

“You know what I’m talking about. It’s not a coincidence that the athletes who get shit for “enjoying themselves too much” are brown?”

“I don’t think you need to lecture me on that.”

Livan smirks. “New Balance sneakers? Really? The night of your Nike party?”

Ginny crosses her arms. “Hypocrite or not, Mike has a point.”

“I don’t think Lawson has a right to lecture me given what he’s done off the field in his career,” Livan says as he begins to unpack his suitcase. His movements are strong but languid, almost like he’s setting up to go at bat.

“Where was the media when Lawson was sleeping with everyone in San Diego after his divorce? No one says anything about Bryant when he shows up too hungover to play or when Matt Harvey misses practice for the same reason,” He says as he plops a stack of pants into the hotel’s drawer.

“That’s different…”

Livan shakes his head. He pulls out a pair of sweats from his suitcase, only for a pink thong to fall out. “Is it?”

Ginny blinks. “Is it?”

 

//

 

“The least you can do is buy me hot chocolate after that,” Peyton jokes as she pulls her skate off. Knotting those skates wasn’t the best thing to do if she considered long-term planning, if the last ten minutes it took her to undo the knot were any indication.

“We can get ice cream on the way home,” he says as he sits down, not without some discomfort, to take off her second skate. He’s freshly showered with a towel still hanging around his neck.

“Now you’re talking.”

“If your dad is at dinner with Rachel later, want to head over to my buddy’s house? He doesn’t live too far from here, and he’s having a few of my teammates over.”

Peyton bites down on her lip. She’s not dressed for a party, but she also knows that Jackson hasn’t seen any of his teammates since he got injured a year ago.

She shrugs. “Yeah, sure.”

His former teammates don’t come down to San Diego as often as they should, even if Jackson doesn’t admit he misses them. Maybe he misses the sport, not the boys he grew up with.

 

//

 

The game ends with the box score blaring an ugly eleven to one. She’s barely out of the second inning when she gets pulled.

After two hours of staking out the press, only to find them waiting outside the clubhouse, Ginny tumbles into her bed. Livan is nowhere to be found even though he didn’t start. The Padres’ travel team might have finally sorted him into a separate room, but there’s an equal chance he’s probably out.

Ginny: Hey just got in. can you get rid of the thong? are you using it as like…a hipster decoration or something?

Livan: Im starting a collection

Ginny: Arent you dating someone?

Livan: Not anymore

Ginny: Shit. Sorry

Livan: Its ok.. you didn’t know

 

//

 

“How bored are you that we’re watching a fucking Padres game?” The guy—Peyton thinks his name is Chad—asks Jackson as he flips to the game.

“They’re playing against deGrom and the Mets,” Jackson says as he flicks the remote onto the coffee table. The plastic rings off the finer glass, but for a boy whose parents make enough to put him in a sport that costs five figures to play every year, potentially breaking a thousand dollar coffee table doesn’t worry him, Peyton figures.

“Oh, a shitty managed team against another shitty managed team,” the other guy says. He’s lanky—almost too lanky to be playing the level of Junior Hockey Jackson was playing—so she assumes he’s Jackson’s former goaltender. He’s said all of five words in the last hour, preferring to sit back and play FIFA on the TV on the other side of the room.

“Who would win in a pitching duel? Matt Harvey with a UCL tear or Baker?” Connor jokes.

She watches as Jackson rolls his eyes. He plops down on the couch next to her, but she can tell that he’s pissed off. His cheeks are flushed.

“She’s a gimmick,” Chad says through a laugh.

“Connor…” She hears Jackson warn.

“Just because she has a vagina, she’s a gimmick?”

“Yeah,” he says as he leans forward. “Padres can’t give away tickets and have no shot at making the playoffs. She puts butts in the seats.”

Peyton smirks. “Well, she’s a gimmick that has a better career win percentage than Matt Harvey right now.”

“Yeah, my grandmother could have better stats than Matt Harvey right now. He’s blown out his arms twice and sucks ass,” he says as he takes a swig of his beer. “Have you watched any baseball recently?”

She smirks at the accusation because he’s either got his head far enough up his ass to say that when her father is the captain of the Padres or Jackson hasn’t told him who her dad is.

“I’m just saying that…”

“I know what you’re gonna say,” Connor says as he leans forward.

“I know that…”

“I know what you’re gonna say,”

“Are you sure? Since you needed a hockey scholarship to barely get into UND.”

Chad—she thinks that’s his name—almost spits out his beer as he tried to stifle a laugh.

Jackson wastes no time in changing the subject. She can feel his grip around her waist tighten. She doesn’t know if that’s from his anxiety or anger, but her blood pressure isn’t any better.

“Alright, boys. We’re gonna ship out,” Jackson says as he stands up.

 

//

 

“You know the only reason I signed here was that Arguella agreed not to let me sit behind Lawson?” Livan asks as he tosses a knit ball up in the air. The motion is methodical, which describes absolutely nothing in her life as of late. Even the sound of the sack hitting Livan’s hand stresses her out.

“Was that not always the plan? I thought you were a depth signing.”

“And you thought Mike wasn’t going to okay a trade with the Cubs?”

“He okayed the trade to the Cubs to win a World Series…his daughter is from there, too.”

Livan scoffs.“You don’t think me taking his job was the main reason?”

“I think he cares about what his daughter wants.”

“Seriously? You think that? I don’t think he gives a shit about his kid.”

“That’s not true.”

“Then why do we never see her around the ballpark?”

“He probably doesn’t want her photographed.”

 

//

 

“Hey,” Mike says as his daughter shuffles into the kitchen. She plops her backpack down with a little more force than he’s used to seeing.

“Hey,” she mumbles as she shoves her hands in her pockets. “How was your dinner?”

“Fine,” he mumbles. “We went to some…French place? I think? Hell if I know. All those four star restaurants Rachel uses for networking serve bird food portions of food. You want a quesadilla?”

Peyton shrugs. “Sure.”

“Do you feel ready for your test?” Mike asks as he flips the quesadilla over with his fingers

She shrugs. “I guess.”

Mike switches the pan off. “So were you studying in a brewery?”

Peyton’s eyes widen before she lets out a sigh. “Okay, I went skating with Jackson and then we went to his friend’s house. They were drinking, but I wasn’t drinking. Neither was he”

“Peyton, contrary to popular belief, I’m not an idiot. You can’t lie to me like that.”

“I’m not lying. I told you, I didn’t drink,” she says as she fiddles with her sleeve.

“Look, I don’t want to argue about this, but you lied about where you were going.”

“You said I could date Jackson as long as all the dates were in public, in a cold place where we wouldn’t want to take our clothes off.”

Mike’s brows furrow as he tilts his head. “Wait, I said that?”

“You said it after you had like, five beers the next day,” Peyton says as she rolls her eyes. “That’s not hypocritical at all.”

Mike sighs. He doesn’t have many options other than to change the subject. “I’m heading to the doctor’s tomorrow.”

She nods as she stares down at her hands. Her tongue feels like lead when she speaks. “Want me to go with you?”

“It’s fine, it’s just a check up appointment,” he says as he rubs his hand over his beard. “It’ll be fine, Peyton.”

“Are you sure?”

Mike nods. “Yeah, you have school.”

“I could get out early. I only have gym and art after lunch. It fits in with your appointment.”

“It’s fine.”

She wants to tell him to quit just right then and there. Part of her thinks it would be easier to watch him face retirement head on than deal with the thought of yet another doctor’s appointment with bad news.

She takes a deep breath. “You don’t have to lie to yourself, you know?”

Chapter Text

Face of a Franchise
By Joelle Fransen

With the exception of calling up Ginny Baker, the Padres have spent the last several years speaking in whispers, losing fans in dropping attendance numbers, and wallowing in a small budget. They have no World Series trophy; a playoff drought that is almost nearing a decade; or a farm system pipped with prospects. There was only a fourth straight season of 70-something wins. With all that in mind, there is no reason for Lawson to push his body in the short-term when he must be thinking of the long-term consequences.

But athletes do not think beyond individual days. They try to squeeze every ounce out of their bodies until there isn’t an ounce left. Lawson is 37 and has been dealing with who knows how much pain, but he says he isn’t ready to give up. And it’s more telling that even with Cuban star Livan Duarte, the Padres need Mike Lawson to be the face of the franchise. With Baker’s star dwindling after an 0-3 start to the season, Lawson has stuck with the Padres when they were pulling in attendance numbers barely past 5,000.

The Padres still need Lawson, the question becomes if he feels like he still needs them.

//

 

“Injuries, aches, and pains are part of the deal. I signed up for this, Peyton."

That’s not what I’m saying, she thinks. She feels like the answer is obvious. That playing through pain is easier than coming to terms with the fact that you don’t have a ring, but the other alternative sticks out farther in her mind. She knows it’s not likely or even logical, but part of her wonders if the real reason he wants to return to baseball so it means less time for him to have to figure out how the hell to be a dad. One more season of a baseball means he’ll only have her at his house for one more year until she ships off to college.

It’s her anxiety talking, she knows that. Hell, it’s not even logical, because her father is standing right in front of her, offering to make her a quesadilla without a spatula because he’s always worrying about if she’s eating enough.

It’s really stupid, when she thinks about it, but most decisions don’t make sense when she thinks about it.

He sighs as he pushes the quesadilla in her direction. She picks it up, but feels the word spill out of her mouth before she takes a bite.

“I’ll be fine,” he says as takes a seat next to her.

“What’s fine for you? Needing ten minutes to be able to finally get out of bed in the morning is fine? Not needing double knee replacements until only after you decide to retire on your own terms?”

“Peyton, it’s late. You should sleep.”

“You know you’re kind of the only person I have left, right? I’d prefer to have you in one piece when it’s all said and done.”

“I’ll text you once I come out of the doctor’s, okay?” he offers. He watches her eyes soften.

She nods as she swallows.

He doesn’t know if his words will help or make the situation worse, which is really just the summary of his past year, but it seems to bring her some peace. Maybe not peace, but less anxiety. He wonders if those are synonymous with her after the year she’s had.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come to the doctor’s with you? It wouldn’t be a big deal if I missed class. It’s not like I’m trying to get out of class to miss a test or something. You can email my teachers to make sure,” she says as she crosses her arms and hunches over the counter. She looks smaller than normal.

“Never said you were,” he said as he rubs her back. “Things’ll work out.”

Peyton takes a bite of her quesadilla. All of a sudden, it doesn’t look so appetizing anymore.

“I’m sorry the trade to the Cubs fell through,” she mumbles.

“What do you mean? That’s nowhere near your fault.”

“But I’m the reason you asked for it in the first place,” she says as she pulls the sleeves of her hoodie over her hands like she always does when she’s anxious.

And if the trade had gone through, you would have a ring, a sense of peace, and slightly less fucked up knees, she wants to say, but holds her tongue.

 

//

 

He ignores Rachel’s call after his doctor appointment.

 

//

 

“Lawson?”

A glance at Baker tells him they’re on the eight floor of their building. Thirty-three floors more to go. He can keep it together for more than twenty seconds. He’ll be fine.

“O-oh, hey.”

It’s the first time since the start of Spring Training that she gets a good luck at him. He always looked slightly older than he was, but nearly two decades of Major League Baseball will do that to a person.

“Hey,” she stammers at her catcher when the elevator opens to reveal him. He’s wearing sweats and a t-shirt that looks like it was from his rookie season.

Mike doesn’t crack a joke, he doesn’t even look up at her, he just shoves his hands further into his pockets.

“Mike…”

“It’s fine,” he says as he shoves his hands into his pockets. He doesn’t know how tense the words sound when they stumble off his tongue.

“Hey…”

He wastes no time in unlocking his door, but Ginny puts a hand on his shoulder. He flinches, wasting no time in bypassing her and walking over to the window overlooking Petco.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“What do you think?” Mike replies with a small laugh at the end. His voice isn't harsh or angry. It's just devastated, and somehow that's the worst of it.

“Okay,” Ginny says with an equally defeated nod as she sits down on the couch overlooking the window.

He never took a good look at Petco from above. The view from their new apartment overlooks Petco. He let Peyton have the bedroom overlooking the stadium. He refused to admit it then, but he didn’t want a reminder of how that part of his life would most likely gone in the coming months.

Mike collects places, places that his mother dragged him to, he has played in a variety of places that never seem the same when he comes back for another away game in another season. They’re only connected by the smell of various stadiums, but they feel the same. He found a certain familiarity in the ritual of boarding passes and baggage claim but the rest of it is new as she navigates unfamiliar roads, he lets himself think about life without baseball.

Maybe he’s just getting old, but the details seem to blend together.

“I’m telling Oscar tomorrow after I meet with the team doctor,” he finally says. His breath is a little shakier than he wants it to be.

“You’re not gonna see that specialist?”

“I just saw a specialist and he told me my career was basically over. No point in getting a third opinion,” he says with a sigh.

There will be press conferences and press releases, but those have always been easy.

“I don’t know how to explain to my kid that I thought being able to play half a fucking season was worth risking not being able to walk without difficulty when I’m older.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Mike,” she says. The usage of his first name barely registers in his ears. It’s the first time she has called him that since Broadner’s.

“She…she knows that’s what I’ve been doing. And the worst fucking part is that it just confirms everything that she’s thought about me. That I don’t care about her, that she’s a distraction,” he says as he rubs his hands across his face.

“She doesn’t think that, Mike,” she says as she sits down next to him on the couch.

“She doesn’t need to think that, Baker. That’s been all but proven to her,” he says as he tries to focus on the television set in front of him. ESPN is showing highlights of the Sharks game last night. He’s never met any of the players on that team, but it’s almost overwhelming about how jealous he feels of the rookies on that team who had a whole career to look forward to.

He’s jealous of Ginny, but he doesn’t know if it’s for that reason.

“Mike, don’t say that,” she says as she places a hand on his thigh. He flinches, but doesn’t move away.

“I’ll say it because it’s true, Gin. It’s not like I’m one to lie to you.”

Ginny’s eyebrows shoot up. “Lie to me? Then what’s the last few months been for us? You haven’t been lying about your feelings for me? Lying about whatever this is?”

“I…you…you can’t risk your career like this.”

He doesn’t mention that he’s in a relationship with Rachel, he doesn’t mention how bad the optics of dating the first female pitcher in the MLB would look like for him.

“Mike…”

She knows perfectly well that she might not be exactly rational at the moment, that maybe right now she doesn't have a grasp on what's true, what's real, what's the wave of emotion they've been riding for the last year.

“Ginny, what’re we doing?” Mike growls.

“I don’t know,” she finally says, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth.

She lets out a sigh. She shouldn't have started this, not here and not now. And maybe it really is none of her business. Maybe she really does have no claim over the part of his life that doesn't revolve around the ballpark. But then again, maybe, she's done feeling that sick dread every time her phone beeps and tired of lying awake at night wondering if he's okay. “I'm just worried about you.”

Mike sighs. “You don’t have to be.”

“There isn’t anything to talk about, Baker. This wasn’t ever going to work out,” he says as he crosses his arms.

“Ginny, whatever we are, whatever the hell this is…please just stay away from my kid and I. I can’t fuck this up.”

Since Broadner’s, their situation was always a ticking time bomb. He couldn’t stay her teammate without ruining it all. He had a habit of doing that: fucking things up.

Ginny frowns. “Stay away from your kid? You realize Peyton has been the one texting me, right?”

“Dad?” He hears Peyton plop her backpack down in the hallway.

Ginny watches as Mike curses under his breath.

“Oh…hey, Ginny,” Peyton says as she wanders into the room. “What are you guys…?

Chapter Text

“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of a man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.” --Roger Kahn

“How was school?” He asks as he shoves his hands in his pockets.

Peyton shrugs. “Fine. Got you tacos.”

“T-thanks,” Mike says as he picks at a blister on his hand.

“I got you four and then Jackson ate the other three since he skipped lunch…” she says, trailing off.

God, I sound like an idiot, she thinks. Her dad probably got told his knee barely has any cartilage left and she’s saying a single fucking taco is an appropriate consolation prize.

“You okay?” She asks as she pads over to the couch. She gave up asking “how’d it go?” weeks ago.

He nods. “Fine.”

He can’t tell her right now. He can’t.

“How much of that did you hear?” He asks.

“Hear what?” She asks as she coils her earbuds around her phone. God bless teenagers, he thinks. She had her headphones in, there’s no way she would have heard.

“Just…just what Ginny and I were talking about.”

“Not much,” she says with a shrug. “Why?”

“Livan might be traded,” he lies.

“Why? Because of the Silicon Valley dude? You guys have no catching depth.”

Mike shrugs. “They can get a good haul for him from the Yankees.”

Peyton picks out a shrimp from her taco. “That’s who is in on him?”

Mike shrugs. Why not? It’s his own fake trade rumour.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

Fuck, here it comes. His mind swirls with how he can spin this. Out of all the parenting articles he read, there wasn’t one on how to tell your teenage daughter that he almost kissed her favorite athlete outside a bar before he was about to get traded. Articles on how to tell your daughter you’re getting a divorce, you’re getting married? Why don’t they have one for telling your daughter you have feelings for your star pitcher?

“Could I get on birth control?”

Holy fuck.

“Wait, what?”

Peyton stands up from her chair. “Look, just hear me out. Don’t freak out.”

Mike frowns. “I’m not freaking out.”

“You turned white as a sheet just now.”

“My teenage daughter just asked me for birth control.”

“The pharmacist said I’d need your consent to get it,” she replies as she crosses her arms. “I mean, would you rather have me tell you I’m pregnant?”

Mike sighs as he considers putting vodka in his coffee. “Fine. I’ll get it for you.”

 

//

 

“Do you think Peyton knows?”

Ginny groans. “Probably.”

“Mike knows how to pull words out of his ass…”

“Great choice of phrasing, Ev.”

Evelyn rolls her eyes. “I’m just saying maybe he figured out a way to explain what she did hear? She might not know the real story.”

“What even is the real story?”

“That’s for you to tell, not me.”

“This would never work. I was stupid to even think to kiss him in the first place.”

She rubs a hand across her face when she sees her phone light up.

mami?

Who is this?

es Livan

Did you get a new number?

no se. this isn my phone.

where even are you?

No se. somewhere.

“Livan,” Ginny says through gritted teeth. She looks over at Evelyn.

“Can you track a number to find its location?” Ginny asks. She figures it’s worth a shot asking even if it is a question for Eliot.

“If the phone has its geographical location not blocked,” she says as he takes the phone out of her hands.

“How do you…?”

“You don’t think I’ve done this to Blip’s phone before?”

 

//

 

“I don’t have time for this, Livan,” she says as she sneaks past the bouncer.

“Thanks,” she motions over to the bartender. She drops two bills on the table. Hopefullly it’s enough to keep this quiet.

“Come on,” Ginny says as she turns Livan around on the barstool. He sits up, but slumps against her.

“Never picked you to be a cuddly drunk,” Ginny says as she tries to heave him up. “Both of us will bust our ass if you don’t start walking, Duarte.”

“Adios,” Livan says as he waves to the bartender.

“Hey, man…your tab.”

Ginny rolls her eyes as she hands the bartender a fifty. “I got it.”

“Gracias!”

 

//

Chapter Text

"Do you remember who you were before the world told you who to be?"

“Have you talked to Ginny yet?” Peyton asks as she scrolls through her phone. She doesn’t even look up at Mike as she types out a text.

“Oscar’s handling it,” Mike says as he searches for his car keys in the bowl sitting on the kitchen island.

“I’m getting a ride to school, Dad. You don’t have to drive me,” Peyton says as she hops off her stool and grabs an old piece of pizza from the fridge.

“Are you sure? It’s not a problem,” he says as he rubs a hand over his beard.

“I’m fine,” Peyton says with a shrug. “Jackson’s driving me.”

“Do you want me to make you a salad?” Rachel asks as she peers over her laptop from where she’s seated at the dining room table.

“No thanks,” Peyton says as she hoists her backpack over her shoulder and props their front door open with her hip. “Jackson’s downstairs so I should probably get going”

Rachel shoots Mike a look as Peyton shuts the door.

“Do you really let her eat like that normally?” Rachel asks.

Mike doesn’t even look up from where he’s slicing an avocado. “Do you think I send my kid to school with Gatorade and a bag of chips? Her diet is fine, Rach.”

Rachel crosses her arms. “You let her drink coffee, Mike.”

“Rachel, you drink more coffee than I do and you’re half my size. Peyton’s fine.”

With a yawn, he staggers for the living room, the chill of the floor beneath his bare feet making him shiver even with the sweltering heat outside.

Loneliness had followed him his entire life. It was nothing new. They were on pretty good terms, actually. Once Mike woke up, the ache faded to something dull, manageable, an ever present background hum he could drown out with work, friends, or sex. Well, the sex part was less than usual with Rachel nowadays.

“Since when are you in a relationship with Sanders by the way?” Rachel asks with a sly smile.

“Hm?” Mike asks as puts a hand against his lower back. His back pops, but at this point he’s used to it.

“I read the article by Rosenthal, Mike. Those anonymous quotes are from you,” Rachel says as she crosses her arms.

Mike feels his heart jump into his throat. “Ro…Rosenthal said he wouldn’t use my name.”

“He didn’t, but I know you,” Rachel says as she takes out her phone and reads off the article. “A veteran player, who spoke to me under the condition of anonymity, said “no one would question this if she was a guy. Livan being out at night? Maybe. But if they’re fucking each other that doesn’t become a topic. Who knows if two male teammates who are in the same position aren’t having sex with each other?”

“What was I supposed to say, Rachel? I’m not allowed to defend my rookie?” Mike snaps, a little too quickly and with a little reserve. He doesn’t know if she’s noticed how his glance lingered at Ginny for a little longer than what could be passed off as just teammates.

Rachel frowns. “Let her agent and PR handle it.”

“Wait, you don’t have a segment about this already written?” Mike scoffs. “You asked her to come on your show and comment on a case that has nothing to do with her when she had barely been here for a fucking week. This isn’t up your alley?”

“I have to head out,” she snaps, but with the same cold smile that he’s seen too much toward the end of their marriage.

 

//

 

@sandersblips: It was Evers who gave thought quote.
@sansaworldseries Sanders probably put that quote out himself…
@pitypartyatpetco Probably Voorhies.
@eadorks Why are we assuming an MLB player has the personality to say something like that even under annoymoity?

 

//

 

“Beer?”

“Sure,” Mike says with a sigh and a shrug. He wanted something stronger, but it’s barely noon. “How’d you know?”

“You’re wearing a flannel and boots and you don’t live in San Francisco. You look like a beer kind of guy,” the brunette bartender says as she slides the glass over to him. “Rough day?”

“Could be a hell of a lot better,” Mike grumbles. His eyes drift over to ESPN where his rookie and replacement were on the screen.

“Would you want a menu?” The bartender asks.

“Oh, um, sure,” he says as he snaps his attention away from the screen.

“First time the Padres are on national news it’s because of this?” The bartender says as she cocks her toward the TV.

“It’s not true,” Mike grumbles.

“What? Do you work for the team?” The bartender laughs.

Mike shrugs. Barely.

“Not exactly,” he says as he thumbs over the menu. “But I know she’s better than that.” He shouldn’t have brought it up, but the words come out of like vomit.

“What’s your name?” He asks in order to break the awkward pause.

“Cara,” the bartender says. Part of her looks like she wants to brace for the inevitable flirting, but the other half seems shocked he had the decency to ask for her name.

“Michael,” he says. He’s learned enough by now that using his full name throws casual fans off enough that he doesn’t get recognized.

He’s flipping through his email when Blip’s number pops up on the screen. He mulls over answering it, but rejects the call.

“Do you work around here?” The bartender—Cara, he’s pretty sure, he’s honestly too tired to remember—asks.

“In between jobs right now,” Mike replies. It’s not exactly the truth, but it’s not a lie either.

Mike isn't stupid. Impulsive, arrogant, and prideful to a fault, sure—he'll admit to those any day—but he can see the reality of the situation. His knees are shot and he knows it and feels it more and more everyday. Even if he did make it back, he's not going to start.

“Have you worked here long?” Mike asks her. The conversation is enough to distract him from the news reports swarming TMZ about Ginny.

“I bounce around,” she says with a shrug and a smile. “Started here about three months ago?”

Mike smiles at the way she says three months ago like nothing’s constant for her. After years in San Diego and seven years into his 30s, he forgot what it’s like to shuffle around.

 

//

 

The cool air from after the rain welcomes itself in the living room as Mike opens the patio door. He wanders over to the couch as he stretches out on the couch. He reaches for the black plush blanket that has been strewn across the end of the couch. Petco’s lights are the only thing that illuminates the apartment in addition to the TV and the soft shine of his phone.

He’s about to drift to sleep when he hears a knock on the door. Peyton should be coming back from the movie with her friends soon.

“Hey,” Peyton says as he opens the door. “Brought stir fry.”

“I thought I mentioned we were going to dinner with Rachel for dinner?” Mike asks.

“She’s at the Lakers game to cover it for the playoffs,” Peyton says with a shrug. “She didn’t text you?”

“Guess a coworker must have called off,” he says, but his voice tells a different story.

“Are you two okay right now?” Peyton asks as she opens her takeout box and sticks her chopsticks right in.

“We’re fine,” he says as Peyton shoves the rest of the empty containers in the trash.

“By the way, I invited Jackson over for dinner tonight since his dad is working late.”

“Okay,” Mike says as he steals one of the dumplings. Peyton begins to open her mouth like she’s expecting to have to fight, but Mike doesn’t fight it. A part of him wishes that Peyton told him earlier, but he also doesn’t want the kid eating a microwaved dinner alone. God knows he did too much of that as a kid.

“Hey, can I ask a question?”

“Shoot,” he says as he grabs a beer from the fridge.

“Is Ginny gay?”

He almost chokes on his beer. “Peyton, just because she plays ball and is a girl doesn’t mean she’s gay.”

“Well, I didn’t say that…”

Mike snorts. “Just trust me on this, kid.”

He can see how much it deflates her so he backs off. “Why do you ask?”

Peyton shrugs. “I saw her with some brunette girl in the hallway. They seemed really...close. Could have just been wine drunk, though.”

He’s never been more happy to hear his daughter’s idiot boyfriend knock on the door.

“I’ll get it,” he says as he begins making his way to the door. He’d give just about anything to stop the current conversation.

“Hey, Mike.”

Strike one.

His eyebrows shoot up. “Did you just call me Mike?”

“Mr. Lawson,” Jackson stammers out as he slips off his shoes in the hallway.

“Better,” Mike says through gritted teeth as the teenager steps inside.

Whether it’s to annoy him or if Jackson was just too lazy to care, Jackson leaves his sandals outside the door. His week has dissolved into shit quickly enough that he’s lost the energy to argue so with a grunt, Mike bends down to pick them up.

“It’s not like I’ve never gone to Victoria’s Secret, Cara...” He hears Ginny say as he snags the sandals up from the floor. He doesn’t know who it’s directed to, but he knows that he’s the only person in this hallway. Ignoring the pain in his back, he ducks back until his apartment, but not before he glances at the brunette coming out of Ginny’s apartment.

Aw, fuck.

When Mike recognizes the brunette bartender from his lunch earlier today, he doesn’t know what to do other than to laugh or wonder why his life is like this.

“Everything okay, Dad?”

He nods in his daughter’s direction as he shuts the door. His composure is cracked only enough for his cheeks to go pink, but that could easily be blamed on the humidity.

Chapter Text

“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” --Jim Bouton

Her most prominent memory from high school--the one that sticks out like a thorn--is not of her state championship, not of her first day of high school, or not of her childhood home. It’s the smell of the hospital waiting room she sat in for two hours after the accident until her mother was able to drive up to the town where her high school team was playing.

Ginny never did the hospital visits. The Padres usually had Blip or Salvi go--maybe Mike would tag along--but they never once asked her. The hospital staff knew enough about The Accident--which easily would have been the most interesting thing about her narrative if not for the fact that she had a vagina--to not to press the Padres as to why she hasn’t made the rounds with her teammates.

She knows it’s for the kids, which is the only reason she volunteers to go, but it doesn’t keep her from making her body feel like it’s pulsing with anxiety. What’s worse is that she knows how this looks. That Ginny Baker was too busy promoting her image with Nike to pay a stop to the hospital. The media will conveniently forget the fact that she saw her father die in front of her because her turning up for an event like this a week after she was seen leaving a bar with her Cuban catcher can only boil down to nothing more than a PR stunt.

Blip’s playing Yugioh with a 5th grader when she makes her way down the hall.

“Who’s your favorite princess?” She hears the little girl ask her captain. He’s got his knee brace--newly painted with stickers--outstrechted on the bed as the kid paints his nails.

He chews on the bottom of his lip before answering. “Cinderella, I guess.”

“But she’s boring. She doesn’t even do anything,” the little girl whines as Mike laughs.

“Who’s yours then?”

“Mulan. She’s got a sword and fights people.”

“Do you think my teammate over there would beat her in a fight?” Ginny asks as she leans against the doorframe.

Mike watches as the little girl drops her nail brush on the blindingly white bedsheet. “Ginny Baker?”

“Told you she’d stop by in a bit,” Mike says through a grin. If there’s one thing Ginny has learned about Mike in the last year is that he knows how to put on a smile for the cameras.

Ginny bites down on her lip before painting on a smile. “What’s your name?”

“Kaya,” the kid mumbles as she fiddles with her blanket.  

“I told Baker about you seeing you the last time I stopped by. She was excited to stop by, say hi. Right, Baker?” He asks.

Ginny nods with a smile in the way that she’s been trained.

“Hi, Kaya. How old are you?”

“I’m five,” she whispers, a little more confidently this time.

“How long have you been a Padres fan?”

“For six years.”

Mike snorts. “You’re really dedicated then.”


//


She can’t figure out if she’s being punished or laughed at by God, but by some higher power, she’s driven back to Petco in a town car with Mike. They let the driver talk to Mike about the Chargers, but her gaze is trained on her phone the entire time.“Are you doing anything for Mother’s Day, Ms. Baker?”

She doesn’t even realize what the question was until she saw Mike’s jaw tense.

“Her mom’s on the East Coast, Rob. We’re actually back at the hospital that day” Mike answers for her.

The driver takes that as his cue to end the conversation.

“Thanks,” she mumbles to him once they arrive at Petco.

“It’s not a problem,” he says with a tense shrug. “I get it.”

She bites down on her lip. As a high schooler, she read every article she could find about Mike, but not one of them mentioned his parents.

Hell, Ginny forgot Mike had a mom. He’s the kind of person that seems like he was born an adult. Like he’d never been a ten-year-old little league player or an awkward teenager. He seems like the kind of person that’s just born with too much confidence matched with a hardened shell on his back.

“You spoke to Al yet?” She asks. It’s not an easier topic, but anything is better than the one they were on.

Mike shrugs like it’s nothing. “Need to talk to Oscar first.”

She feels her “What does that mean? So you’re really done?”

“We all knew that when I went down, Baker,” he says before letting out a pained sigh. He’s thought about what he was going to say to the team for months, but words are falling short for him. “Apparently everyone but you.”

“Then why did you try to come back?” She asks even though she knows the answer.

“It’s the same thing you would have done--hell, anyone of the guys in this clubhouse would have, Ginny.”

She gets it. In a way.

“Are you okay, Mike?” She asks, but not without caution. The way she says his name feels like she’s stepping on glass. Like she’s asking for permission to say it.

“What is it to you? We made it clear that we shouldn’t keep...keep doing whatever this is, Ginny.”


“I’m not...this isn’t what that was back at Broadner’s. I just...just I need to know that you’re okay,” she starts as he starts walking toward the clubhouse entrance.

“Keep your voice down. You’re already in enough shit as it is,” he snaps.

“Mike. I’m just trying to help,” she snaps back.

“You’re twenty-fucking-three years old, Baker. You have your entire career in front of you,” he says, voice a little more strained than he intends.

“I know that I haven’t been in the show for more than a year, but I do know that ever since I was kid, baseball had been my life.”

She watches as Mike’s grip on the clubhouse entrance loosens.

“Baseball had always come first for me, you know? It had been my family, really. But at the same time, the first time I really loved baseball? Well...at least loved it without fear...was when I blew out my ankle in junior high. I had rehab and everything, but a part of me like being injured? Because I could escape the pressure.”

She doesn’t know why she says it. A part of her knows the real reason is that it’s out of jealousy, but the other part of her wants to think he’ll get it.

“Look, I-I gotta meet with Oscar,” Mike musters out. “I’ll see you around.”


//


“Mike,” Oscar says as he stands up. Mike didn’t pick fights with people, but he always felt uneasy by how put together Oscar looked every time they met for lunch. The meetings were never a good sign--no one ever wanted to be called to the principal’s office--yet he was in control in this situation. He was bringing the bad news to Oscar, not the other way around.

“I take it you made friends at the hospital?” Oscar asks, glancing down at his player’s hot pink nails and Mulan sticker on his knee brace.

“What? You’re hoping that the media getting a photo of me with my nails painted that it’ll create a distraction?”

“I wasn’t asking that,” Oscar replies as he sips his coffee. “Necessarily.”

“I don’t think that’s the kind of press that the MLB wants...coffee, please?” Mike asks the waiter as he pours them water.

“How’s Peyton?” Oscar asks once the waiter scuffles back to the bar that’s serving too many mimosas for noon on a Tuesday.

Mike wants to ask how’s your team, but figures his future job prospects aren’t bright enough to take a hit like that.

“Fine,” he says as he sits down. “How’s Daniella?”

“Fine,” he says, diverting the subject just as quickly as he started it. “Look, Mike. I’ll just cut to the chase. Al said you had thoughts of retiring.”

"I’ve gone to three specialty doctors. You knew that was always on the table, Oscar,” he says as the waiter drops off their coffee. He feels like he’s going to need something stronger than coffee to get through this conversation.


“I was playing with borrowed time as it is. A fresh start might be what we need," Mike starts, but with less conviction than he wanted to have.

He watches as Oscar blinks. "You said 'we'. Did you tell me because you want me to talk you out of it?"

Five minutes ago, Mike would have said no.

"I don't know. Maybe."

Oscar leans back. "Mike, you should do what's best for you. I wouldn’t tell any player any different. But this clubhouse won't be the same without you, and you should know that too."

"Oscar," Mike started, but only to realise that he didn't know what came next. The hurt he expected didn't come. Instead, a sense of numbness took its place. He had spent years trying to repress his emotions, trying to learn how to not crack under pressure and this was nothing new.

“I’ll stay on the DL. I’ll do what you need me to do to cut down the bottom line, but I’m done. I was playing on borrowed time as it is.”

//

“Your mom called,” Eliot says. “Is she coming out for Mother’s…I’ll take that look as a no.”

“She didn’t call last year, let alone visit,” she mumbles as she slings her backpack over her shoulder. “Why do the MLB insist on using me for their Mother’s Day promotion?”

“Because you’re a girl and their one way of marketing to women is through pink jerseys and shoes,” Eliot says through a gulp of coffee.

“At least we have an off day on Mother’s Day so the worst will be over by then,” she says as they climb into the towncar.

“Straight home, Ms. Baker?” The driver asks.

The words take a minute to register because they’re at home. They’re at Petco.

For years, he thought he had discovered the magical algorithm for getting through life without any help from anybody. He’d always seem to find a way for it to work out, more than the year when he lived in motels more than he had friends at school, even when it finally hit him that his mom stole from him, when Rachel left...

“You going to be okay to go to school Monday with Mother’s Day?” He starts, but cuts himself off.

Peyton, who’s made herself comfortable on the couch with her homework, looks up
“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Peyton…” he starts, but stops, knowing full well that she’s deflecting and that his daughter took after him more than he thought. “Just...tell me if you’re not feeling up for school Monday and I’ll let you stay home.”

He wishes his kid didn’t have to be as strong as she was.


//


He gets the text at a quarter past two.

I know things have been shit between us and i know that but i need you to come over. Please.

You ok?

He waits for her reply as he
takes the opportunity to move out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

anxiety.

Watch your breathing. ill be over.

He stands in front of the door for a few moments (seconds? minutes? hours?) while his mind plays tricks on him. When he blinks, for a moment he swears they’re back at Petco. The sun blinds his eyes from the corners, fans cheer, but when he blinks again it’s gone, replaced by the hallway’s recycled air.

He eyes the doorknob, fist closed and resting against it.

He honestly has no idea if he's knocked when Ginny opens the door. He tries to remember if he did, tries to remember anything, but all he can feel is his blood pumping through his veins.

“Mike…” she says through a shaky breath. His eyes focus on his rookie standing in the door frame, silhouetted against the hall light, a loose, grey tank top and Nike shorts hugging her body. He watches as he sees her hands start to reach for him, but then stops. She's not sure he wants to be touched right now anyway, not sure what he really wants.

So Mike does what he’s always known how to do--talk.

“Hey, you’re okay, Ginny. You’re okay.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t apologize for this,” he says as she lets him in. She looks more terrified than she did in her debut, which scares him shitless.

For a minute, he forgets where he is and who’s with him, so he presses her face into his chest the way he did with Rachel when she hugs him. Mike’s shaking hands remind him that it’s his teammate, not his wife, that’s with him now, so he pulls away and rubs a hand up on down her shoulder.

“Do you start tomorrow?” He asks, instantly regretting it. That should be the least of her concerns.

“I..I can’t.”

“We’ll call Al. Tell him you’re sick.”

“Mike, I can’t…”

Mike’s left without words. He looks at his pitcher, tears silently streaming down her face.

“Baker, you wouldn’t be the first person to call in for this,” he musters out.

“My ERA’s 5.12 right now…”

“So is fucking Sonny’s. You can afford to sit this one out,” he says as he rubs his hand up and down her arm. He’s seen her look like this before. When life sucks her dry. But not like this.

“I just…”

“Just try to breathe normally, okay?”

The panic goes away in what feels like fucking hours, but his phone tells him it’s only been twelve minutes. He grabs a blanket that’s sprawled across the living room chair that looks like it belongs in a showroom than a home.

“You cold?”

“How’d you know what to do?” She mumbles as she accepts the blanket.

“Peyton’s had this happen a few times,” he says through a grunt as he lowers himself back down on the floor. He doesn’t want to say that it’s happened to him a few times, too. “Maybe more than a few times. It’s happened mostly at night so I think she’s hidden a few of them.”

He watches as his pitcher nods.

“Baker...” he starts, using her last name like a shield against the fact that they’re still teammates--Mike’s fucked up knee or not--yet their thighs are a mere inches apart.

“I’m sorry I made you come down here,” she mumbles.

“It’s fine.”

They sit like that for another few minutes, Mike looking out through her window at the pier’s lights glistening in the dark as she rests her head on his shoulder.

“You know how you said the first time you really enjoyed baseball was when you got injured? I started playing baseball because it was a way for me to make friends when my mom and I shipped out from town to town,” he starts before letting out a heavy sigh. “But as I got older, my mom started working as a bartender so her Saturdays were Monday nights. I had to deal with the aftermath of her benders so I’d take care of her mess and then go to practice the next Tuesday morning.”

“You felt like you could control it,” Ginny mumbles into his shoulder.

Mike raises his eyebrows as he gives her a tired, small nod. “Yeah, I guess.”

He wonders if he really likes playing baseball. Or if it’s just been a part of him for so long he doesn’t know what to do without it.

“I’ll stay here if you need me to,” he says as he leans forward a bit. It’s the first time he’s gotten a good look at her in months beyond their quick, awkward glances in the hallway.

“You should get back,” she says as she leans back against her couch. On the mound, she was usually stone-faced and her pitches had few tells. Now, though, she looked like she was bone-tired.

“You sure, Baker?”

She nods slowly.

“Aw, fuck,” he says as he fishes in the pockets of his sweatpants. He says a silent prayer as he checks again, but his keys are nowhere to be found.

“You forgot your keys, didn’t you?” Ginny asks as she raises her eyebrows.

Mike sits up a bit. Ginny grimaces as his back creaks.

“Looks like I’m the mess tonight.”

“I’m sorry you had to come over here,” she says as she stands up, albeit a little more shakily than she initially intended it to be. “Is Rachel…?”

“She’s in LA,” he replies without thinking. He’s slightly taken aback by the question, but then he realizes that she was more concerned about what it would look like if Rachel woke up with him missing from their bed, not their relationship status.

“You can stay here if you want,” she says, voice barely above a whisper.

“I’ll take the couch,” he says without hesitation. It’s not his best idea to stay, but he can’t call Peyton since the last thing he wants to do is wake up his daughter at this hour in the morning.

“Your back…”

“I’m practically retired, Baker. My back is always gonna be fucked,” he says. She can’t help but notice the use of her last name. This is still a business relationship, nothing more, nothing less.

“Are you sure?” She asks.


//


“How’d you lock yourself out?” Peyton asks the minute she opens the door. The tension in shoulders ease up when Mike realizes she’s still got smudged eyeliner on so Mike figures she most likely just woke up.

“Forgot my keys taking out the trash,” he says as he rubs the back of his neck. That couch was not kind to him. “Do you want a ride to school or is Jackson…?”

“Jackson’s driving me.”

“Of course he is,” Mike says under his breath as he makes his way over to the kitchen to fish out some oatmeal.

“Did you eat yet?” He asks.

“A little.”

“Coffee’s not food.”

Peyton blinks. “Then no.”

Mike tries not to sigh. Al told him half of parenting was just trying to keep his daughter semi-functional throughout the day, but still.

“Are you sure you’re okay with going to school today?” He asks. His daughter’s a teenager so he’s more concerned if she doesn’t take the out he’s giving her.

He watches as Peyton nods while scratching at her jawline. “I’m fine, Dad.”

He rubs his hands over his face before sluggishly pulling a coffee mug out of the cupboards.

He watches Peyton flip through her phone as she sips her coffee.

“Hey, Dad?”

“Did you ever think about having kids? With Rachel?”

Mike nearly chokes on his oatmeal, but he recovers enough to muster out. “Why? D’you hear something on Twitter?”

“No, I was just wondering,” she says with a shrug.

“Um,” he starts. “Not that much. In the beginning, maybe. She didn’t want to take maternity leave so it was never really the right time for us so we never got around to it,” he says, regretting each word as it comes out of his mouth. Leave it to him to make fatherhood sound casual.



“But did you want kids?”

He feels like his grip is going to break the handle of the coffee mug. Regardless of how many on the mounds speeches he’s made in high pressure situations, he doesn’t know how to tell your newly acquired kid that you couldn’t imagine having one. “We were both young when we got married. Neither of us were that established so I didn’t want kids at the time, but thought maybe later on...do you want fruit?”

The teenager blinks at him like she’s still balancing it on the scale of painfully true or complete bullshit.

“Why do you ask?” He asks as he hands her a bowl of grapes.

“I was just curious, that’s all,” she replies as she goes back to looking at her phone. Mike knows that she could have probably gotten this information from Al when she plays poker with him on off-days, but she chose to ask him.

“Rachel didn’t…”

“What? Say anything to me about her possibly being pregnant? No, I was just asking to ask.”

It’s been over a year since Peyton’s mother died--four holidays have passed and one birthday--but he knows that it never hits you all at once. He wants to tell her it’ll be okay, but he knows by now that those words aren’t worth anything in this scenario.

“You should get your stuff packed for school. Jackson will be here soon.”

 

Chapter Text

“I had discovered after the game that loyalty, at least in sporting terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with.” --Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

With sixteen years in The Show, Mike feels like he’s perfected the art of lying by now. So much so that she doesn’t always know when he’s telling the truth.

“Your night free tonight?” Blip asks as he stares back at Mike in the doorframe. His hands are shoved in his pockets, but his face is stoic.

“How’d you get in?” Mike asks. Letting Blip into his home has always felt easy even if it’s been Blip opening his home to Mike. Whether it’s letting Mike crash after a mauling by the Dodgers or after Mike walked in on his wife cheating on him with a pediatric surgeon--there’s been a comfort to it up until the end of the season.

“Evelyn knows your doorman from visiting Ginny,” he says with a shrug. “Said I was going to visit Ginny so he just let me go up.”

Mike thinks ahead. He’s always had a tendency to sprint into seemingly trivial decisions, but he focuses on the future more than what’s probably healthy. Every season, obsessing over how they can get ahead in Spring Training, plotting how to make playoffs, sketching a plan to bring his team to October for once.

“Beer?” He asks his outfielder. His shoulders feel too tight for him to be talking to someone he considered his closest friend.

Blip shrugs as he accepts the beer. “How have you been holding up?”

“Oscar already tell you that I’m done?”

Blip sits forward as he raises his eyebrows. “No, but Ginny did.”

Of course, Mike thinks. He doesn’t respond other than nod.

“You have to step in, Mike,” Blip continues as he sits down.

“That’s ironic coming from you,” he says as he takes a sip of his water. They hadn’t spoken to each other since Mike’s knee blew out. He had heard from Sonny that Evelyn and him were going through a rough patch. He didn’t press for details, but a part of him that he hated felt like it was a long time coming.

“Things didn’t end the way you wanted them,” Blip continues. “You signed in San Diego when you didn’t have to. You could’ve gone to the Dodgers or the Giants or the Mariners, but you chose to stay here.”

Probably at the expense of my marriage, Mike wants to say, but holds his tongue given the amount of nights Blip’s spent on his living room couch in the offseason.

“I shouldn’t have said your head wasn’t in it. You’ve been a better soldier than most of the guys on the team,” Blip says as he leans back against the barstool.

“You were right for saying everything you did. I-I shouldn’t have left with things undone like that.”

“I get that you wanted Peyton to be back at her old school. Hell, I would’ve done the same with my boys,” he says before peering down at the label on his beer can.

Mike takes another swig of his beer. He doesn’t want to lie, but he knows that it’s a matter of time before Blip realizes that Peyton being from Chicago wasn’t the only reason he asked for the trade.

Mike clears his throat as he stands up. “Look, sorry to cut this short, but Peyton’s at a friend’s studying and I need to pick her up soon.”

Blip nods as he flicks his phone on. He knows Mike isn’t one to turn down a drink, but this isn’t 2015 anymore.

“It’s fine, man,” he says with a nod. “See you at the gala tomorrow night?”

Mike runs a hand through his beard before giving Blip a nod.

 

//

 

“They win today?”

“Nah, they lost 6 to 1. I just always buy them pizza,” Jackson says with a shrug.

“Who’s that?” A blonde, chubby cheeked boy--who can’t be more than eight--asks Jackson.

“Clayton, go over and put your skate guard are. Can’t have them laying around like that,” he says. The kid wastes no time in putting his skate guards away and scuffles back over to his teammates.

“How long have you been coaching?” Peyton asks as she feels goosebumps appear across her arms. She should have brought a jacket. What the hell has San Diego done to her if she can’t stand in an ice rink for more than five minutes?

“Since I got injured,” Jackson says as he pushes the kid’s helmets into a pile with his skate. Peyton can see that one of his skate laces is fully untied, but it doesn’t seem to be giving him any problems.

“Do you think my dad would do something like this?”

“I guess? He knows how to get people’s attention. He’d probably accidentally curse at a kid,” Jackson says as he tosses her a puck that she promptly throws back at him.

“I’m feeling churros...you know a place we can we get that around here?” Peyton asks as she puts her feet up on the lower rung of the bench. She steals a glance at the cars parked in the rink’s lot. Yeah, no one would know where to get authentic Mexican food around here. Maybe not for another 10 miles.

“Hey, can we wait a bit before we hit the road? I wanted to talk to you about something,” he says as he climbs over the boards.

“About…?”

“Look,” he says as he bends down to unlace his skates. “My buddy lives near Adam Carwell--”

Peyton breathes out as the knot in her stomach loosens. “Carwell? The Kings’ center?”

“Yeah,” he says as he plops down on the bench. “Look, my buddy’s his next door neighbor and he texted me last night that he saw Carwell with Rachel.”

Peyton bites down on her lip. “She covers the Kings sometimes.”

“You know that’s not what I meant,” he says as he sits down next to her. “My buddy said they were kissing.”

“Do you have proof?”

“He didn’t get the chance to take a photo, but he’s never even met you or your dad. Why would he lie about this? Why the hell would I lie about this?”

“I’m just...” she says as she sits down on the bench.

“Hey,” he starts as he sits down next to her. “I’d hold off on telling your dad about this.”

“Why not? Wait until someone breaks the news on Twitter? There could have been other people who saw them together.”

“This is just going to get worse if you confront Rachel the second you get home,” he says as he rubs circles on her palm.

“Jackson…”

“Peyton, I was in your dad’s shoes a year ago when I blew out my ankle. An injury like that is something that takes time to get over,” he says as he cranes his neck to look over at the opening door. “And this isn’t going to help him.”

“Can you just get us home please?” Peyton asks as she picks up her phone from the bench next to her.

 

//

 

“Somehow the Mets had a dildo in one of their lockers yet you’re still trending on Twitter,” Evelyn says as she shuts her laptop.

“Great,” Ginny mumbles as the bartender does a doubletake at his boss when he picks up on that last sentence. She hasn’t been in a restaurant in such a long time that the emptiness of the place before opening feels more welcoming than anything has in a long time.

“The San Diego media isn’t the same as the New York media. It’ll blow over soon enough,” she says as she pulls out her phone. “Any run ins with Mike?”

Ginny watches as a droplet falls down the side of her glass before taking a deep breath. They had agreed to not talk about what happened at Broadner’s, but that gag order seemed to be something Evelyn felt like she could revoke at the drop of a dime. “I saw him yesterday, but that was just a coincidence.”

Evelyn raises her eyebrows. “I wasn’t gonna say it wasn’t.”

“What happened happened, Ev. You think I’d risk that now after what’s happened?”

As she watches the busboy stock glasses, she sees Evelyn flinch out of the corner of her eye.

“G-Ginny...have you seen this?”

Chapter Text

Rare June rain, warm and mild, patters on the patio door. It’s past noon and the streets are quiet behind them. There's a pot of cold brew on the small table and a plate of lemon scones that Mike has been eyeing every minute or so for the past quarter hour. He's already had two.

“Hey, you want to go to this fundraiser tonight?”

“I thought you were going with Rachel,” Peyton says.

“ESPN has her heading to Georgia tomorrow for work so she had to take a raincheck on the fundraiser,” Mike says as he dries his hands on the navy blue dishcloth.

Peyton wants to ask her dad why he thinks Rachel’s employer just sprang a spontaneous trip on her like they hadn’t known the NCAA football season was coming up in a matter of weeks, but holds her tongue.

“Alright.”

“O-okay,” Mike says, sounding a little surprised. “We’d need to hit the road by five at the latest.”

“That’s fine,” Peyton says as she starts shuffling around her backpack. She avoids the Padres’ executive suites and fundraisers like they’re plagues, but she knows how it could look if Rachel isn’t there and the press gets wind of that.

“I promised Jackson I’d get coffee with him. Is that—“

Mike shrugs. His shoulders fall before the frown on his face does like he always does when he’s lying. “Yeah, that’s fine. Just be back before 3.”

 

//

 

“Hey,” Peyton says, just barely managing to get the word out. “Can we talk?”

Jackson’s fingers slacken around the door knob. Without breaking the strange silence between them he steps to one side to allow Peyton to enter, he fixes his mouth into what he hopes is at least not a frown.

“Fuck, I forgot we said we’d get breakfast,” Jackson mumbles as he closes the door. His hair is rumbled on one side and he’s wearing the crewneck he normally sleeps in.

“It’s fine. I got us coffee,” Peyton says as she places the tray down on the entryway console. “It started to rain.”

“Do you need a dry hoodie or do you have some clean ones left in your luggage?” Jackson says as he glances back over at her before turning to his dresser.

Peyton nods as she sheds her own jean jacket and hangs it up in Jackson’s bathroom. She’d worn it open and the rain had soaked through the front of her shirt.

“Thanks.” Peyton fumbles with the USHL warm up hoodie he hands her.

"Keep it,” Jackson says as he crosses his arms over his stomach while he adds self-consciously, "Not like I can fit in them anymore."

She thinks back to what Jackson told her about playing in the USHL—how he blew out his ankle during the playoffs. He had to spend the night alone in the hospital with his billet family while his dad was off doing commentary for NBC and his mother was out in Sierra Leone working for Doctors Without Borders.

“Look…I, um, I wanted to apologize for being a jerk…for doubting you when you told me about Rachel,” she says as she pulls out a box of old fashioned donuts. She wishes there was a manual for apologizing to guys. She can’t get him flowers so donuts are the next best options, she hopes.

“I probably shouldn’t eat that,” Jackson says as he sits down on the side of his bed. She vaguely remembers Jackson’s dad telling him that he should eat better last month, but she dismissed it at the time as a harmless nag.

“Did your dad head out already?” Peyton asks although judging by the leftover takeout containers on Jackson’s desk, the answer is yes.

“Flew out to cover the Stanley Cup Finals. Game one’s on Friday in Pittsburgh.”

“Oh,” she says as she sits on the edge of the ottoman and resists the wave of comfort she feels just being here. She feels like she doesn’t deserve it. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Jackson says a little too quickly. “Is your dad home?”

“Yeah, the Padres have a charity thing tonight so I’m going with him,” she says as she slowly pushes one of the takeout containers closer to the wall with her foot.

“So I’m guessing you didn’t tell him about Carwell and Rachel?”

“Not yet,” she says as she pulls the sleeves of her hoodie over her hands.

“Look, I just…after what my dad put my mom through during the divorce, I don’t know if I would have told her if I was the only one who knew my dad cheated on her. And after I blew out my ankle last year—“

I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle being told that if I was in my mom’s position, Peyton knows he must be thinking.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I-I didn’t realize…”

Jackson shrugs. “You should probably get ready for the charity thing. Traffic’s always bad this weekend.”

 

//

 

“You always clean up well, Al,” Mike says as he hands a drink to his manager.

“I’m only wearing a suit so I don’t get fined,” Al laughs. “Speaking of fines, you have to admit dick pics of Livan aren’t the worse the thing Padres has dealt with the past year in terms of media attention.”

Mike raises an eyebrow. “It’s not the worst even though it’s the night before the largest fundraiser of the year? For a children’s charity?”

Al shrugs. “It could always be worse. We could be the Mets.”

Mike groans as he hears his knee crack when he sits down on the marble bench. He can’t even remember what the name of this banquet hall is even though he and Peyton just arrived ten minutes ago.

“It could always be worse but this is a special kind of hell.”

There's lots of good days and then there's bad days; this is a shit day. This is a "the meds aren't enough" day. A day when he woke up, checked all the points of pain in his body only to find that his tendons were burning. Last week, he could move around without his joints cracking but this morning it took him half an hour to get up from bed.

Al snorts. “That’s not hell—that’s hilarious.”

Mike’s eyebrows raise as he drinks whatever the hell Al ordered for him. Fuck, that’s strong, he thinks.

“Peyton didn’t bring that boy she’s dating? I thought I saw her when you came in.”

“She said she needed to go to the bathroom. What did you tell the bartender to put in this, Al?”

“Figured you’d need it.”

Chapter Text

Ginny rushes to the last stall, slamming the door with as much force as she can. She twists the lock in place, tugs at it a couple of times to make sure the door won’t betray her before falling back against the cold tile. She knows she shouldn’t hate being here--it’s a fucking charity night for sick children--but after what happened at the Nike party, she feels like she’s suffocating.

“Ginny?” She hears someone call out. She peers at the person’s shoes--they remind her of Evelyn’s shoes but that’s definitely not Evelyn.

“It’s Peyton.”

Ginny lets out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding in.

“Are you okay?” Peyton asks after a few beats.

“I’m fine.”

“Here,” Peyton says as she rolls a bottle of water underneath the bathroom stall door. “If you need it.”

“Thanks,” Ginny mumbles. She doesn’t want to cry in front of a teenager, but that doesn’t seem like it’s a feasible goal right now.

“Can I like, do anything? I can stand outside and keep people from coming in? If you want?”

“My cell phone doesn't work in here,” Ginny starts. “If you can grab Evelyn...”

“Sure, I can grab her.”

 

//

 

The warm, champagne glow of the lights glides across the fine-finished mahogany double doors as they’re opened. Womens' dresses glisten as much as the overhanging crystal chandeliers. Men in suits sway softly, conversing softly over the jazz band off in the corner.

“Where’s Peyton? I thought I saw her come in?” Blips asks as he takes a sip of his drink.

“She’s here,” Mike assures, a bit too quickly so he leans back against the wall. “Somewhere.”

“You have no idea where she is, don’t you?”

“She’s a teenager, not five. I didn’t lose her. She said she needed to go to the bathroom. Probably texting her boyfriend or something,” Mike grumbles as he sets his drink down next to Blip.

“Is he here?”

“No,” Mike grumbles. “Thank God.”

“How’s that been going?”

Mike laughs. “You think she tells me that?”

“Who’s the kid?”

“You know Addison from the Ducks? He was a blue liner from when they won the Cup?”

Blip raises his eyebrows. “Does it look like a do? I grew up in Oakland.”

Mike takes another swig of his drink. “Fair point.”

“Oscar told Livan to stay home?”

“That’s the one good decision our PR team has made this month,” Blip says as he stares at the bottom of his drink. “Did you see the Deadspin article?”

Mike shrugs. He wishes he hadn’t. “Deadspin can do better. If they’re going to rank dick size they might as well include retired players.”

“Is that the only way you can win against Livan nowadays? Expanding the criteria?”

“Thanks, Blip...oh, hey,” Mike says, switching topics as soon as he spots the director of the hospital. He plasters on a fake smile and elbows Blip who almost spills his drink.

“Mike. How are you?” She asks.

“Never been better, Jeanine. How are your twins? They’re what, three this year?””

“Six.”

“Oh,” Mike says as he hands her a glass of wine. “You’ve met Blip before, right?”

“About two years ago, I believe,” the woman says as she matches Blip’s fake smile.

“What was that function for again?”

“Pediatric cancer.”

Only reason Oscar agreed to let us go to that function the night before a home game was that he needed the good PR because he almost traded for someone with a DUI, Mike thinks.

“Hey, I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you know where Evelyn is?” Peyton asks Blip.

“She should be on the patio. She stepped outside to talk to Sonny’s wife,” Blip says as he puts his drink down.

“Thanks,” Peyton says as she takes off toward the patio.

“So how are you enjoying your first season with the team?” Peyton hears the development director ask Blip.

“This is my, um, third season, ma’am.”

 

//

 

“Mike, do you know where Ginny is?” Oscar asks. His expression is still in that fake smile of his but Mike can hear the frustration in his voice.

“Haven’t seen her since I came in,” Mike replies as he puts his glass down. Great, now he has managed to lose two people. “Probably in the bathroom?”

“I wouldn’t be asking you if I thought she was in the bathroom,” Oscar says through a calm but thin, plastered smile.

“What asshole do you need her to smooze? I can talk to them while you look.”

“The Padres told the development director that she’d do a speech.”

Mike feels like he knows where this is going. “Want me to start thinking of one?”

Oscar’s voice is even, but Mike can sense what he’s really trying to say. “If you’re up for it.”

So in other words: do it right now.

 

//

 

“Evelyn?”

Peyton watches as the blonde woman speaking to Evelyn glares at her. They had been discussing a bathroom renovation that was “needlessly delayed due to worker safety concerns” so Peyton
doesn’t feel too bad about disrupting the other blonde WAG’s conversation.

“I’m sorry but can I borrow Evelyn for a second? It’s an emergency.”

“What’s up?” Evelyn asks once they’re out of earshot. “Thanks for getting me out of that conversation. I need to find a nicer way of telling that woman to shut the hell up.”

“Tell me when you figure it out,” Peyton says as she ducks into the linen closet. “Ginny asked me to come get you.”

Evelyn sounds more concerned than she expected. “Is everything okay?”

“Not entirely sure about that. She’s in the bathroom,” Peyton says as she checks for people down the hallway leading up to the bathroom. “Sounded like she was having a panic attack but I’m not sure.”

“I can check on her. Can you do me a favor and get some ice cubes and a napkin for us? Find Elliot and ask her if he has Ginny’s makeup bag, too.”

Peyton nods. “Got it.”

 

//

 

“Hey, have you seen Ginny?” Her dad asks her as Peyton digs out some ice from the ice bucket near the hallway leading up to the kitchen. One of the busboys notices her but stares blankly, shrugs and walks away.

Peyton bites down on her lip before nodding. “Yeah, she’s with Evelyn in the bathroom.”

“They’ve been in there for half an hour?” Mike asks. He knows women take a long time getting ready but that’s a bit much.

“Food poisoning,” Peyton says with a shrug. That’s the best lie she can come up with on short notice.

“Shit, I’ll tell Oscar,” Mike says. He immediately regrets having that third glass of wine. “She’s supposed to speak once they start the reception.”

“When’s that?”

Mike puts his glass down on the table. “In ten minutes.”

 

//

 

“We have a bit of an issue. I’m gonna have to do the speech. Ginny’s got food poisoning.”

Oscar’s face falls. “You call that “a bit of an issue”?”

Mike scoffs. “You said that deciding to retire was a “setback in my recovery from a knee injury” so yeah. Bit of an issue is the language I’d use.”

“Mike.”

“I can do the speech. Who’s doing the introduction tonight?” Mike asks, silently praying it’s not someone’s he’s slept with.

Oscar shrugs dismissively. “The weather girl from Fox. Why do you ask?”

“Diane Henderson?”

Fuck, slept with her a few years ago, Mike thinks. This is gonna be a long night.

 

//

 

“Is it Mike?” She hears Evelyn ask through the bathroom door. She had stayed outside while Evelyn went in, but didn’t realize the walls were this thin.

Why would it be…? Peyton wonders.

“Not exactly…” Ginny replies.

“Is….” Evelyn's voice is faint, whispering where it used to dominate the air. Through the crack in the bathroom door, Peyton can see the tips of her shoes bend down just before the bathroom door as if she knows that it’s a line she is debating to cross.

“Is there anything I can do?” Evelyn asks. She may not cross the line, but she leans against it, dropping her head against the door.

“I….I d-don’t know.”

Silence coats the air when she hears her father’s footsteps coming down the hall. How long has she been standing here? She heard her dad speaking earlier at the banquet so it must have been at least ten minutes. She figures she should have come back to the table, but didn’t want to draw attention by taking her seat when he spoke.

“Everything okay?” He asks her as she gives a quick nod. “Ready to head out? You have your flight tomorrow.”

“It’s in the evening. I should be fine,” Peyton says with a small frown. She makes sure the bathroom door is shut and walks further down the hallway, silently praying Evelyn doesn’t hear.

“Still,” he says, a bit too gruffly. He really doesn’t want to have to make small talk. Oscar can handle the donors for the rest of the night.

 

//

 

“Can I come in?” Mike asks as soon as Ginny opens her apartment door. She's changed out of her dress, but her makeup and hair remain in tact. He tries to focus on the entryway table in the background of her apartment.

Ginny nods. She glances at her phone. It’s well past midnight but Mike is still in his dress pants and tie.

“You okay? Peyton said you felt sick.” Mike asks but the question feels pointless. A bathroom breakdown and improvised speech tell a different story he doesn’t need spelled out for him.

He watches as Ginny nods. “It’s fine.”

“Was it Livan?”

Ginny rolls her eyes. “No...that’s not...what does it matter to you anyway? You gonna beat him up? You barely can stand up with your knee.”

Mike sighs as he sits down on Ginny’s couch. The pain wasn’t horrendous, but most days he felt too old. On days when he stayed in bed deep into the afternoon for lack of motivation to rise, he felt too old. It was an odd dichotomy considering he was the youngest parent at Peyton’s school. Well, oldest excluding the 20 something, Instagram models turned stepmothers.

“Is there anyone you can talk to? The Padres have services…” Mike asks.

Ginny scoffs. “You don’t think that’s another strike against me?”

“I’ve used therapists before. Well, not used. I use them now. Al suggested going earlier in the year with everything with my injury and well, the kid thing,” Mike says. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to saying “my kid.” Maybe once Peyton has kids of her own the words won’t seem too foreign.

“Our caveman of a manager suggested you go to therapy?”

“Believe it or not, yeah.”

“It’s not that simple. You have an excuse to go. You just got a teenager dropped at your door and a blown out knee not too much later.”

“No one has better reasons than anyone else.”

Ginny bites down on her lip. “But they have more consequences than others.”

“Jesus, Ginny. They won’t blame you for not wanting to go to a charity gala on the anniversary of your father’s death. This shit isn’t in your contract or a Nike deal. You aren’t required to go, Ginny,” he says and feels his face flush when her first name slips out.

“You should head back. Peyton will wonder where you are.”

Mike sighs. “Just promise me you’ll call if you need anything, okay?”

 

//

 

“Hey, can I come in?” Mike asks. He lightly knocks on the door even though Peyton knows their unsaid rule has always been that Peyton leaves her door and so does he.

“You feeling okay?” He asks as he leans against her wall.

“I’m fine,” she says as she sits up a bit. It hit 85 today yet Peyton’s got her hands buried into her pullover’s front pocket. He doesn’t think he’s seen Peyton wear his fleece pullover since they were in Chicago over the holidays.

“I made some quesadillas if you want some. Those galas feed you bird food but don’t have a problem giving their guests enough booze to put a horse to sleep,” Mike says.

He’s pretty sure making breakfast for your child at 1 PM is not great parenting, but it’ll have to do. He feels useless--that after a year of having custody of his kid that the best he can do when comforting her is offer her bar food.

“Did Jackson upset you?” He asks.

Peyton shakes her head.

“You feeling okay for your flight tonight?” He asks as he sits down. He knows Peyton gets anxious while flying. “I can always reschedule the flight if you’re not up for it. There’s no penalty or anything…”

“Rachel’s cheating on you,” Peyton says before she realizes what she’s just said. “Jackson’s friend saw her with some guy who plays for the Sharks. Carwell, I think?”

“Did you see them?” He asks. He watches her face. It’s blank except for her nostrils which are flared a bit with anger.

She squirms at her dad’s stutter, because the man is never this unsure of what to say and it makes her heart skip a beat, because she needs somebody to be sure of how to deal with everything the shit that’s hitting the fan right now.

“Last week or so. H-he wasn’t really clear about the timing…”

“ESPN has her cover hockey sometimes.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

He feels like he should be angry, but he feels like he was told something he already should have known. “Who told you this?”

“Jackson’s friend from hockey. You..why would he have a reason to lie about this?” Peyton stutters.

She can feel her heart speed up. She had doubts about Jackson’s friend’s credibility before, but he had never even met her or her dad. He has no reason to lie about something as specific as this. Carwell’s a fourth line center, not Aaron Rodgers. It’s a pretty shitty player to use if he’s going to lie about this? There’s no headline name if he wanted to get this to make a splash on Twitter.

“You should pack. Your flight’s in three hours and traffic’ll be shit.”

Chapter Text

Mike sits on the edge of his bed with his biggest bag packed in front of him, a backpack beside him and the slow feel of dread that grew for the better part of the afternoon. He hears the door click open. Rachel stands there, her jacket in one hand and the usual frown she wears at the end of the day. It goes rigid when she takes a look at the bag and at Mike.

“What are you doing?” Rachel asks.

He swallows before speaking, aware suddenly he hasn't done much eating or drinking in the last 8 or so hours. “I talked to Jonathan Addison across the hall the other day. He mentioned you were doing a story on the Ducks?”

Rachel turns around as she puts her keys on the hallway table. “We had to head up to Anaheim a few weeks ago.”

“He said Adam Carwell mentioned you. Did you see him when you were there?”

“Mike, it wasn’t like that…”

“It wasn’t like that?” Mike’s voice hitches for the first time in the conversation. He stands up. “Are you joking? I haven’t had a concussion in a while, Rachel.”

He grabs the bag on the floor, swinging his backpack on his shoulder and double checking his cell phone was in his pocket.

“You have one week to get out of my apartment and two days to send anything of Peyton’s clothes that are at the house in LA.”

The elevator is maybe twenty steps from his bedroom, but he is surprised when he makes it to the parking garage before frustrated tears started.

 

//

 

Mike figures there are half a dozen places he could go to that night. People he knows who would take him in with little questions (Sonny), people who would take him in with a lot of questions (Blip), and maybe even people who he could just lie to (Anderson). But he isn’t in the mood for people, so he checks into the hotel by the arena, even if every fiber of his being hated hotels by this point in his career.

When he gets to the room, he dumps his keycard onto the desk with his keys clattering against the wood with the sound of his phone hitting the wall seconds later.

He could get wasted, but instead, he turns on the TV and switches to Law and Order reruns while he picks his cell phone off the ground. The screen is cracked but still functional.

He’s about to run the shower when his phone buzzes and Ginny’s name pops up.

“Mike?”

“Baker?”

“Are you okay? I heard shouting when I was in the hallway earlier?” Ginny asks.

“’s fine,” Mike grumbles as he leans back against the headboard.

“Were you guys fighting about your rehab?”

“Well, I’d have to be trying to actually rehab from this injury for us to be fighting about that,” Mike mumbles, rubbing at his face with the hem of his shirt.

“I thought--”

“Rachel cheated on me.”

There’s a silence on the other line.

“Again,” Mike says as he picks at the callous on his thumb.

“You guys…”

“She cheated the first time,” Mike mumbles. He knows he sounds bitter. But there’s such a short step from how he feels to breaking down, he needs his anger.

“...I was going to say looked happy,” Ginny says.

Mike scoffs. “Yeah, that was mostly Oscar’s doing for the last few seasons.”

“Glad to know the incompetence from the front office hasn’t stopped.”

Mike huffs. “Between them shutting you down without your input and the Cubs trade falling through? Yeah, banner year down in San Diego for butting into their players’ persona lives..”

“Why did you stay?” Ginny asks after a pause.

“With Rachel?” Mike asks. He scrubs his hands through his hair and drags them over his face.

“No, with the Padres. You could have signed elsewhere. The Dodgers offered you more, you could have--”

Sometimes he feels cheated that all he can remember of his peak years are panic attacks, crushing depression, and a battery of stats.

Mike sighs when he thinks back to his rookie year. He wanted to be a good captain, wanted to give the kids what he didn't get to have as a kid--restore a sense of family in a game where business ultimately wins out.

“I wanted to stay. Even if I had to take a hometown discount to do it.”

“The Padres don’t ever have their stars stay. They just buy them after their prime for cheap.”

Mike huffs. He does not have time for this, not now. “Are you calling me old again? I’m practically retired so I don’t think ”

“I’m saying you were the exception to the rule.”

There’s a pause on the other line. “I had a house down here. It was just easier to stay than to test the market and become a Free Agent.”

He doesn’t tell her that he stayed because his first two seasons in San Diego marked the longest time he stayed in one place. Between the furniture left on the curb, the last minute subleases, and
tears in his mom’s car, a lack of will to win was never a disqualifying factor especially in exchange for stability.

“Are you at your apartment?”

“I’m at the Omni.” He tries to ignore how thick his voice sounds, the way his throat is getting tighter and tighter the longer he sits here, the more the reality of what’s happening sinks in.

Ginny sighs. After renting, she’s avoided the Omni Hotel at all costs. Even her driver avoids it out of caution, superstition, the anxiety it brings out when she thinks about the stability of her job is next to nothing.

“Do you want me to come by?”

“No,” Mike grunts out, a little too gruffly. He can feel his hands start to shake.

“Are you--”

“I’m sure, Ginny,” he forces out as he feels his palms start to sweat. “Look, I have a, um, flight to catch t-tomorrow so I’m, um, gonna have to call it a night.”

“Mike--”

“I’m sorry, I just…I can’t do thi- I’m just really tired. I think I’m going to just go to sleep. I’m, uh, sorry for bothering you.” He ends the call before Ginny has the chance to respond.

Chapter Text

“Ginny, can I speak to you for a bit?” Oscar asks as he pokes his head out of the visiting manager’s office. He looks out of place--thousand dollar suit in Wrigley’s visiting team’s clubhouse that feels older than both of them combined. The Cubs seemed to update everything in Wrigleyville except the visiting team’s facilities.

“Would you be interested in doing an interview with Chelsea for Father’s Day?”

Ginny frowns. “About what?”

“About, well...” Oscar starts as he gestures to the blank white board awkwardly.

With her debut in late May last year, the Padres and every other media outlet had forgotten it was an election year let alone Father’s Day. She should have figured they were going to ask her to participate in an interview for a Father’s Day fluff piece.

Ginny doesn’t mean to frown, but it etches across her brow before she can stop it.

“We can always--” Oscar starts.

“Ask Blip,” she says, a bit too quickly. She can feel her breathing tick up as her palms sweat.

“Right, that’s what we had planned,” Oscar says as he straightens his back. “That’s all I wanted to discuss.”

 

//

 

Mike,

I’m sorry to ask you on such short notice, but would you want to work with our PR team for a Father’s Day feature? Let me know before we wrap up our series in Chicago.

Thanks,
Oscar Arguella
San Diego Padres
100 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101

Mike resists the urge to throw his phone against the wall when Oscar’s email notification pops up when he checks his phone the next morning. It’s either the vodka or the thought of giving an interview for some puff piece that will try to paint him as a good father.

Waking up to anything else would have been better than that request. He would much rather be talking about details of his official retirement press conference than spew out whatever the PR team wanted him to say for fucking Father’s Day.

He almost tosses his phone out the window when he realizes it’s Al.

“Mike,” Al says the minute Mike picks up.

“Al? Everything fine? The sun’s barely up,” Mike says as he rubs a hand over his face. He prays his voice isn’t as rough as it sounds.

“It’s ten here in Chicago and I’m doing fine. You’re not judging by the voicemail you left me last night.”

“Fuck,” Mike mumbles once Al is on mute. He barely remembers to take himself off mute before responding, “I take it you heard what happened?”

He either left it in the voicemail like he did last time or Ginny asked about him.

“Your voicemail said as much. Where are you and Peyton?”

“I’m at the Omni. Peyton’s back in Chicago,” he says as he sits up before realizing that was a bad idea. “She’s visiting a friend for his birthday--had it planned for weeks prior to this.”

“How’d she take it?” Al asks.

Oh, that’s something he must not have revealed in the voicemail.

“She hasn’t replied to any of my texts other than to say she got to Chicago in one piece.”

“You want me to talk to her? Our flight got in early. I usually grab a bite to eat at this Thai place near Wrigley. If she’s in Chicago, I can just take her out for lunch,” Al asks.

Mike sighs. “I’m flying down there in a few hours, but sure.”

He at least remembers ordering tickets to Chicago last night about five beers in. He figures that’s the one good parenting decision he’s made this month--well, minus the alcohol.

“I got Peyton for now. Take care of yourself,” he says before Mike can protest, another question catches Mike off guard. “Did Oscar bother you about the Father’s Day thing yet?”

Mike groans. “Yeah, woke up to that email this morning.”

“They asked Baker, too.”

Mike leans back as he runs a hand through his hair. “Christ, did Oscar consult the PR team on that request because they would have told him to fuck off?”

“Guess they didn’t want to wait more than a year to tell that sob story,” Al says as he leans back in his office chair.

Mike sighs. “I’ll do it instead. That’ll satisfy them.”

“Baker said no to Oscar. You don’t have to say yes to him if you don’t want to.”

Mike looks over at his rumpled up jacket that’s barely hanging onto the desk chair.

“It’s fine. I’ll talk to you when I land at O’hare.”

 

//

 

“When are they formally announcing it?” Jose asks as he sits down on the slide and begins to unlace his rollerskates.

“Announcing what?” Peyton asks as she sits down next to her friend. The lace burns against her fingers as she unties the laces around her ankles.

“Your dad’s retirement?”

Peyton bites down on her lip as she opens her backpack.

Peyton sighs when she sees the White Sox’s ballpark in the background. She can see Comiskey across the highway just a few blocks down from the playground they’ve taken up residence. While she knows the trade to the Cubs falling through was not her fault, she can’t help but feel like it was. If she hadn’t been there, maybe her dad would have never okayed the trade and would have escaped being the disappointment.

Peyton says as her wrist guard snaps into place. “Probably right after US Weekly publishes how Rachel cheated on him.”

“Wait, what?”

“She cheated on him again with one of the Anaheim Ducks.”

Jose laughs.

“I’m not joking,” Peyton says as she watches her friend’s face fall.

“What? Fuck, I thought you were kidding. The Ducks are a real team? I thought they were a movie,” Jose says as he stands up. “How do you know? Twitter?”

“Jackson told me.”

“And you haven’t told your dad yet?”

“I did.”

Jose frowns. “How’d he take it?”

Peyton feels her face flush in embarrassment. “Well, I told him last night.”

Jose tosses a wristguard at Peyton. “You just told him that and flew to the other side of the country?”

Peyton shrugs although she feels her heart rate steadily spiking. “He said it was fine if I flew down here. I checked with him!”

“And you believed him?”

Peyton’s phone buzzes, she has three texts from Al signed like they were emails in typical 60-year-old fashion.

Meet me at Cozy’s Noodles at 11 AM --Al.

“What’s up?” Jose asks.

“Al just texted me. He wants to go to lunch before the Padres play tomorrow afternoon.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Not sure.”

 

//

 

“How have you been?” Peyton asks as she sits down on the patio. The Thai place only opened five minutes ago and a Tuesday at 10:30 AM isn’t a popular time for anyone--even the most dedicated baseball fans.

“I should be asking you that,” Al says as he hands her a menu. “You eat meat, right? No one convinced you at school to go vegan?”

“No,” Peyton says with a small smile as she takes the menu.

“Good, kid,” Al says as he nudges a plate of potstickers in her direction. “I’m assuming you’ve been here before?”

There seems to be a different Chicago around every street corner, behind every bar, and within every apartment, two-flat, cottage, or bungalow. She recognizes the city, but it feels different. The early summer wind was colder in a way that bites at her skin in a way that she forgot since being in San Diego. She wonders if this is how it will always feel, returning to a home that is erasing itself more and more every time.

Peyton nods. “Walked by it a few times.”

“Weird place. Only Thai restaurant that’s baseball themed and has a toy collection in the country.”

They eat in silence for a few minutes while Peyton fiddles with the corner of the napkin. The restaurant walls are adorned with toy robots and bobble heads of the Chicago Cubs.

“Excited to be back home for a bit? You’re almost done with the school year,” Al asks.

Peyton bites down on her lip as she nods, but she knows it’s a lie. She shouldn’t even be in Chicago given what news she just delivered to her dad back in San Diego.

“You know I was born in Orland Park?”

Peyton frowns as she pokes at one of the potstickers. “Seriously? I thought you were from San Francisco.”

“Well, I moved there when I was 9 with my mother after my dad died. Took a bit for me to consider San Francisco home, though. Not that San Diego is any more or any less home either.”

“I’m guessing you didn’t want me to grab lunch with you to check if I became vegan?” Peyton asks as she focuses her attention on the Joe Maddon bobblehead that’s sitting next to a pink toy robot.

“Well, no,” he says as he looks over his shoulder to see if the hostess is gone.

“I wanted to see how you were doing,” Al starts as he puts down his fork. “You’ll be a Junior next year. You’ll be starting to apply to college, no?”

Peyton stares at the water forming underneath her glass of water. She wants to focus on anything other than college right now.

“Do you have any schools in mind yet?” Al asks.

“Um, mostly like...UIC or Loyola.”

“Loyola in Chicago or Loyola Marymount?”

She feels a wave of anxiety wash over her as she takes a sip of water.

“Chicago,” Peyton says as she places the glass back down on the mosaic table. Out of the corner of her eye, looks over at the hostess stand where there are a collection of photos of the owner’s kids--school photos through the years, at the 2016 World Series parade, at the restaurant with customers, and the customer’s own kids as well.

“Well, regardless if you stay on the West Coast or come back to Chicago, I’m sure your dad will be proud of you,” Al says as he fishes out a piece of mushroom from his soup.
Peyton feels sick. She didn’t tell her dad that he was being cheated on for a week so proud went out the window a while ago.

“Are you going to the game? Or are you too much of a Bridgeport native to be caught at Wrigley? Some of the other wives made the trip and are sitting in the rooftops if you don’t want to sit in the stands,” Al says through a mouthful of Pad Thai.

Peyton nods, but hesitates to respond. She’s about to say she was bringing her friend Jose, but Al always says “friend” like an accusation when she brings any boy up like he isn’t aware that she is dating their neighbor’s son. She’s sure Mike told Al within five minutes of finding out about that. Regardless of what the press says, Peyton knows that Al and her dad’s relationship goes beyond clubhouse crises. It’s closer to father and son than the Padres like to admit.

Peyton shrugs as she looks out the window. “I might go. Depends on what my friend wants to do.”

“Is your friend a boyfriend of yours?”

Peyton bites down on her lip. “Jose doesn’t play for that team, Al.”

Al glances at the drink menu. “Is he a Sox fan too?”

“No, he’s gay.”

“Oh, well. That’s fine. Boystown is three blocks from here--you two could head over there after the game,” Al says as he gestures north. “Could have mentioned that earlier. Saved me the anxiety attack.”

 

//

 

By some miracle the Padres have never seen in San Diego, there is no one to see him hunch over the toilet once he slams the door of his hotel room. He barely made it through the plane ride to Chicago from San Diego, but when he shuts the door, his brain has enough of holding back the anxiety that it's been keeping at bay since the plane began boarding. He tries again to take a deep breath. When he exhales it’s slow and wavering, but there’s still a slight hitch to his breathing. He keeps taking slow breaths as his hands shake when he hears a knock on the door.

“Gimmie a second,” he mutters. He doesn’t want to deal with housekeeping right now.

“Mike?”

“Al?” Mike asks as he turns the bathroom faucet up a bit. He knows it’s a lost cause since his face will tell the story, but he hopes that the sound of the water might cover up the sound of his ragged breaths.

“How’d you know what room I was in?” Mike mumbles. He knows he mentioned to Al what time his plane was scheduled to land, but he knows for a fact he didn’t give him the hotel room.

Al laughs. “The 2009 season. You almost threatened to test free agency if I didn’t have you all stay at this specific room at the Drake because of your superstitions.”

Mike shuts the bathroom faucet off now that his breathing has become less ragged. The line of his shoulders relaxes and he can feel the tension leaving his body with every deep breath he takes.

“Mike?”

“I’m fine,” Mike’s voice is scratchy so he clears it and stands upright. He’s still slightly pale; the tremor in his hands is barely perceptible but it’s there.

“I talked to Peyton. She seems to be handling it okay.”

Mike crosses his arms. “What’s your definition of “handling it”?”

“The same way you do--by essentially downplaying it for an hour over food. I didn’t bring up Rachel--played dumb. I did ask her about college though. Said she’s thinking of Loyola and UIC.”

Mike feels the tension headache coming back. He can’t figure out if it’s due to the hangover or the six cups of coffee he had on the plane. He just wants a drink--or three--or anything but the stale hotel air.

“I’ll text her tomorrow--take her out for dinner. I don’t want to interrupt her time with her friend--she barely gets to see her Chicago friends as it is.”

Al nods. “Want to get some fresh air? The rooftop bar is open.”

Mike nods as he grabs his wallet and shoves it into his pocket. By some miracle, he remembers to grab his keycard.Al shuts the door as Mike steps out into the hallway.

“The PR team is making me send in photos of my grandkids for their Father’s Day crap. I should just start including the roster since half of the upcoming draft class are young enough to potentially be my grandkids.”

“Thanks for saying the one thing that hasn’t made me feel old this week,” Mike grumbles as he presses the elevator button.

“You’re not that old,” Al says. “Weren’t you saying that you’re the youngest parent out of Peyton’s high school class? That’s one less thing to have a midlife crisis over.”

Chapter Text

Oscar,
When do you need me to sit down for the interview? Who do you have doing it?
Let me know,
Mike

Mike sighs as he puts his phone down on the water stained bar. The bar is eerily quiet, but Mike considers it a blessing in disguise. It makes sense--the Sox have an off day, which combined with the fact that it’s a weeknight, means he’s the only patron left in the bar.

“Miguel, is that Peyton with Jose in that photo?” Mike asks Jose’s dad as he puts the last slice of pizza down.

Mike watches as Miguel nods. “Yeah, her and Jose’s class went to a field trip at Wrigley.”

He likes Jose’s dad. They had met during the holidays when he took Peyton back to Chicago for winter break and promptly froze his ass off while Miguel laughed at him for complaining about 39 degree weather.

“They have field trips to Wrigley? For what class?”

Miguel nods as he plucks the photo of the wall and hands the photo to Mike. The dust and oil splatter from the kitchen window have caked on the inner parts of the frame.

“For their math class. Back when they sucked, the Cubs would give tickets to middle school kids during day games to fill seats. I used to chaperon a lot since the bar’s not open in the morning.”

“So they were teaching them about how to measure how much the Cubs sucked?” Mike says as he hands the photo back.

“Pretty much. Took them to a game against the Padres once at Wrigley.”

Mike settles his eyes on the label of the beer he’s drinking. He tries not to think about the spring road trips to Chicago--how those field trips are how Peyton probably met him in person for the first time and he didn’t even realize it.

“I’m heading downstairs to take stock. Peyton and Jose should be in soon. He just texted to say they’re on the Red Line.”

Mike nods as he looks at the photos that line the walls of the hallway leading up to the bathroom. Some are of Jose throughout the years and his cousins, but most are of childhood zoo trips, birthdays, and holidays. It shouldn’t make Mike as upset as he feels right now.

“Dad?”

“Hey,” Mike says as he watches as Peyton frown at Jose.

“Hey,” Peyton says as she hoists her backpack over her shoulder. Jose gives her a quick nod and a small wave as he ducks into the kitchen.

“I got on an early flight. How was your night?,” Mike asks.

“I’m fine,” Peyton says as she settles onto the barstool. It takes a couple of tries for any sound to make it past her throat.

“Pizza?” Mike asks as he motions to the half eaten pan. “Jose’s dad told me your class used to go on fieldtrips to Wrigley.”

'Peyton gives a small nod. She remembers going to the Crosstown Classic and seeing Jim Thome. He played horribly that day--it was a nice night at the ballpark--but there was definitely something off-putting about witnessing Thome going through a rough patch. She remembers there was a pit in her stomach, like the things she had come to count on were leaving her and there wasn’t much she could do about it. No one likes to be introduced to or reminded of fallibility, especially when it comes to a sport that’s more like an escape.

“Look, I wanted to make sure you were okay with, well... everything,” Mike says as he rumples his napkin into his fist. He feels like an idiot--of course his kid isn’t okay.

“I’m fine,” Peyton says as she picks at her nail. The 17 year old was giving him a blank look, but Mike knew better. He'd pretended to be emotionless too many times as a child to not recognize the blank face sitting across from him.

“I shouldn’t have questioned you like that. You were right,” Mike says as he leans forward against the bar. He almost says it almost too methodically. If Peyton picks up on it, she doesn’t say anything.

“Rachel admitted to it. Movers are coming tomorrow,” he says as Peyton tucks her hands underneath her thighs. He knows this isn’t easy for Peyton, but maybe it isn’t as hard as he thinks. She’s gotten used to people moving in and out of her life.

“Are you and Jose still going to the game tomorrow? Al gave us access to one of the suites if you want to go,” Mike asks. He knows Ginny is starting tomorrow and as much as Peyotn hates Wrigley Field, she’ll go for a Ginny Baker start.

“Yes!” Jose shouts from the kitchen.

 

//

 

Peyton bolts out of the hotel room the next morning faster than he’s ever seen her get up for school. He barely hears the door click shut, but she is semi-responsible when she leaves a note that says she’s hanging out with friends from high school but will meet him near Wrigley. He had stayed up at night debating if they should even go to Wrigley, but Peyton wants to see Ginny, Jose wants to heckle the Cubs, and Mike knows he needs anything to distract him--and her--from the news they received this week.

When Mike turns up at Wrigley the next morning, there aren’t too many fans as the security guard waves him through the player’s entrance. He walks up the concourse slowly as he takes in the sights.
As he looks behind the left-field bleachers to the corner of Waveland and Kenmore Avenues, a familiar sight remains: the Ballhawks scattered around the intersection with gloves and lawn chairs, eyes cast toward the top of the wall in hopes that they’ll be the first to spot a freshly smacked home-run ball sailing over.

“Water--three bucks for Padres fans! 1 dollar for Cubs fans!” Mike hears the Ballhawks shout from the corner of Waveland. He’s seen them for the past 16 seasons of his career, it’s a sight as comforting as the ivy.

“Mike?” Ginny says as he rounds the corner. She’s got her Nike bag in her left hand, a Starbucks cup in the right.

“Baker,” Mike nods as he shoves his hands in his pockets. That’s not nearly comforting.

“How are you?”

Mike scrubs a hand across his face. “Sorry, I promised Oscar I’d sit down with PR this morning.”

“Oh,” Ginny says as she looks down at the floor. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. They just asked me to do an interview for Father’s Day, it’s nothing to do with Rachel.”

Ginny frowns. “They asked you to do that too?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it. I’ll handle it,” Mike says as he feels his blood pressure spike at the confused look on Ginny’s face. “They’re waiting on me, so.”

“Mike--”

“Sorry, I have to run. I’ll see you later.”

 

//

 

“Mike,” Oscar says, barely looking up from his laptop as the office door clicks behind him. “How are you?”

“Why the hell did you ask Ginny to do that interview?”

Oscar clicks his pen against the desk. “She pitched a shutout. Why wouldn’t she talk to reporters?”

Mike crosses his arms as he frowns. “No, you thought it was appropriate to ask your star pitcher to do an interview about her late father for a fluff piece for Father’s Day?”

“I spoke to Jen. She okayed it. She said she thought it would be fine given the amount of time’s that passed.”

Mike scoffs. “I didn’t realize seeing your dad die in front of you had an expiration date.”

He thinks back to what Peyton’s therapist had told him. Grief doesn't go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath.

“I can do it instead if Jen needs a quote,” Mike offers.

Oscar frowns as he puts his pen down. “You’ve never sat down for one of these. We’ve asked since you were a rookie and you’ve always said no.”

“I showed up to all the charity events you’ve asked me to go to every season, Oscar. I’d like to think you can cut me some slack on this.”

Oscar sighs as he leans back in his chair. “Mike, we can have Sonny and Blip take the lead on this. If you decide to do the interview, take a breath before you sit down with Jen. You’ve been through a lot
this week. We don’t need the piece up now--it can wait until you get back to San Diego.”

Mike nods as he crosses his arms. He looks over at the field. The Nuveen Investments sign overlooking the bleachers is new.

“Al notified me that you and Rachel broke up. I’ll notify Jen, if you’re comfortable.”

“Just wanted to get it out there so you aren’t blindsighted,” Mike says. “Again.”

 

//

 

After the Cubs score four runs in 6th, Mike calls it a night. Traffic will be brutal on the drive if they wait until the end, he figures. Hunger wins out because when they hightail it out of there, Mike makes a stop for takeout all before the 7th Inning Stretch.

“You okay?” Mike asks as he looks at Peyton who is staring out the car window.

“Why would someone put macaroni in a grilled cheese sandwich?” Peyton asks, completely dodging the question. Al has Cheesie’s ranked in the top 5 of comfort food places after a loss, but Mike thinks
that’s only because the owner is from San Francisco like Al. There’s a bit of bias there.

“Because Cheesie’s is a block away from Depaul University. Half those kids were hungover when we went to grab our order,” Mike says as he wipes the grease off his fingers. “You okay?”

Peyton wipes the cheese off the side of her mouth with her sleeve. “Yeah, why?”

Something isn’t right; he can feel it in his stomach. And in his knee, but that’s more from the impending rain.

“You filibustered a solid five minutes on different types of grilled cheeses for the last mile of Lakeshore Drive, Peyton. What’s on your mind?”

“Are you mad at me?”

Mike frowns. “What? You know what happened with Rachel wasn’t your fault.”

“No...about the Cubs trade,” Peyton mumbles. While she knows the trade to the Cubs falling through was not her fault, she can’t help but feel like it was. If she hadn’t been there, maybe her dad would
have never okayed the trade and would have escaped being the disappointment.

Mike frowns. “That trade falling through was on Oscar and the Cubs’ ownership. It didn’t have anything to do with you.”

Peyton sighs. “I know that, I just…”

Today was the first game they’ve watched together--Mike skipped the Padres’ home opener for a doctor’s appointment and she had an exam. Today, she could barely focus on the game with her dad
sitting next to her. She didn’t think it was possible for her to feel more nervous during a game that he wasn’t playing in, but seeing how defeated her dad looked in the stands was brutal.

“Look, Peyton. I just...I don’t want you to feel guilty about this,” he says with a frustrated sigh. He knows it’s not enough to say. In his 37 years, he hasn’t been this bad with words since he was the new kid in 6th grade back in Poway. He picked the worst time to be tongue-tied.