Baseball players are a superstitious bunch. They eat the same meal every game day, have slump buster t-shirts and lucky underwear. Ginny never had any of those things. She had a routine, but it changed based on where she was, who she was playing and many other factors. She was never one to believe in silly rituals, until she nearly ended her career.
Coming back after Tommy John’s surgery wasn’t easy, but Ginny was determined. She had every thing to gain and nothing to lose. She pushed herself harder than she ever had.
Blip and Ev were great. Even though they were going through some things, they let her move in with them. They got her to her doctors’ appointments. Gabe and Marcus even put themselves in charge of cheering Aunt Ginny up.
Ginny for her part was a buffer and go between in the worst of their disagreements. She understood both sides of their fight, Evelyn needed independence, and Blip wanted more family and stability. She didn’t pick a side. Eventually, Blip saw that their family would be stronger with a happy mother, and supported Evelyn in the restaurant. Ginny watched the boys a lot while they were scouting locations, checking out equipment, and interviewing chefs.
The week before spring training Ginny was called in by Oscar. He and Al wanted to watch her pitch. She had been checked out by the team doctor and cleared, but they wanted to see if she still had ‘it’.
She barely slept the night before. This was her last shot. She had come so close. She couldn’t fail. She took an uber to Petco arriving an hour early for her meeting. The halls were empty, eerily so. She put on her headphones but couldn’t settle on a song. She needed something to calm her nerves, but what?
Walking onto the field again was hard. Her mind flickered to the day of her injury. She was so damn cocky about that no hitter. She remembered the crowd would hush as she set to pitch, then erupt in cheers with each strike and out.
“Baker?” Al called from down the tunnel. “I thought we were meeting in my office.”
“We were. I was just looking around,” she sighed, walking toward him.
“It’s going to be ok, Baker. I’ve seen you in the practice cages. This is just a formality. We wouldn’t have held on to you, if we didn’t know you were something else.”
Ginny laughed politely. She didn’t feel like it was a sure thing. She fidgeted nervously with her father’s necklace. When they got to Al’s office, Oscar was waiting.
“Who’s ready to pitch?” Oscar asked with an excitement which she felt was both fake and forced. She pasted on her own fake and forced smile.
The practicing space was as empty as the rest of the stadium, except Mike.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Al thought it would be good to have someone to pitch too,” he answered as if they had seen each other the day before. Ginny nodded. It would be nice to have a catcher, but she wasn’t sure if Mike was the right choice. He hadn’t been around since the Padre’s season finished in October. Rumor had it he was shacking up with his wife in LA again. She honestly hadn’t been sure if he would come back at all after the whole trade debacle, then her injury and Livan bumping him to first base.
Oscar cleared his throat reminding Ginny and Mike to get into position. Ginny took a deep breath to center herself, then set and threw a wild pitch over his head. Mike gave her a look, but she shook him off. He lobbed the ball back to her, and she rolled it in her hand a moment. Echoes of her father’s voice bounced around in her head, along with pictures of other great pitchers throwing perfect strikes.
Shaking out her arms, she ran her lip over her teeth, set and threw a perfect fastball. The Slider, curve and screwball that followed were equally perfect. After about 20 strikes, Oscar clapped.
“Welcome back to the team, Ginny. You fly out to Peoria in 6 days.”
Al patted her shoulder. “See, kid. What did I tell ya? I’d put my money on you any day.”
She laughed sincerely that time. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Skip.”
“Anytime, Baker. Now go home and pack your bags.”
Ginny turned to Mike finally. “You really came all this way just for this?”
“My house is only a twenty-minute drive, and Livan is in Miami doing, well I don’t want to know what, so yeah. I drove all this way.”
“I thought you were in LA, you dork.”
Mike looked a bit uncomfortable but hid it quickly. “Do you want to grab a drink or something?”
“I wish I could, but I promised I’d be home in time to watch the boys so Ev and Blip could have one last date night. You could come over if you want. We are ordering sushi and watching Finding Dory.”
“That is messed up, Baker.”
“So, you don’t want to come?”
“No, I definitely want to come.”
Two weeks later they were in the practice cage again, this time in Arizona. Mike watched as Ginny fiddled with her necklace before she walked to her spot. When she ran her teeth over her lip for the sixteenth time before throwing, he kept the ball.
“Why do you keep doing that? You’re going to chew your face off if you’re not careful, Hannibal.”
“What?” she asked without a hit of artifice.
“Every time you pitch lately you run your teeth over your upper lip before you set.”
“Alright, creeper,” she rolled her eyes, but when she set again, she noticed that she did exactly what he said. Not only that, her lip was actually sore. He quirked an eyebrow. She ignored him and threw the ball, but this time it went wonky and he had to chase it.
The next pitch, she focused on her training. She just needed to throw the ball just like she had a million times before, but again it went wild. Ginny bit her lip, then groaned.
“It’s fine, Rookie. I was ready to call it a night about a half hour ago. I need a beer and some inferno wings ASAP. You in?”
“Not tonight. I think I just need some rest.”
“If you say so,” he shrugged. As he walked by, he tossed her a pack of gum. It was sweetmint, her favorite.
Over the next few days she put in a stick of gum before practice every day. Eventually, she stopped herself from chewing her lip. The gum lost it’s flavor by the end and her jaw was a bit sore, but she was throwing strikes, so she didn’t complain.
Mike stocked her locker with a case of gum at some point. He was happy to see her channeling her stress better, but he still kept an eye out. She started purposefully stepping over the foul line, but that was normal. A lot of pitchers had a thing with the foul line. At least she wasn’t jumping on it.
He noticed she messed with her necklace too. Mike wondered if it was new. From that guy she had started dating at the end of last season. He didn’t ask. It wasn’t his business. Even if things had crashed and burned with Rachel again, that didn’t open the door for anything with Ginny. She had said she didn’t want to talk about it and he could respect that.
She also started wearing the same hat every game day. She would fidget with it in the dugout and tap the back as she stepped over the foul line.
When he saw her putting pine tar on her batting helmet, though, he had to say something. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” she tilted her jaw up, sass painted on every feature.
“It looks like you are being ridiculous and making more work for someone,” he answered honestly.
“I don’t give you shit for sleeping with Erica, do I?”
“I don’t sleep with my bat, and how did you even know about her name?”
“You talk in your sleep on the bus, and I know you sleep with her, because she sme… you know what, that doesn’t matter. If I want to put a little tar on my helmet, what do you care?”
“I care because it’s not you. You aren’t this superstitious person. You have skill, why not rely on that?”
“Because my ‘skill’ put me in the hospital!”
“Yeah, well. It could have been worse, and besides, if I hadn’t said you should they probably wouldn’t have let you play that day.”
“Don’t get a big head, Lawson. I wanted to play, so I did. They tried to pull me, but I refused. Now, I think a little extra caution is a good thing. It was a lesson on not getting to full of myself. I’m not bigger than the game.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to step over the foul line.”
“I got hurt because I said it,” she whispered.
Mike’s heart sank. “That’s not how it works. You got hurt because of the immense strain this game puts on a human body and a perfect storm of other contributing factors. Things happen, Baker. You just gotta react and keep going. Also, if your trying to bless something I would try your glove. We both know your batting isn’t what got you here.”
Ginny stuck out her tongue at him and slathered some pine tar on his helmet. “Fine, you take my luck and I’ll take this.” She snatched a sock from his cubby, replacing it with one of her own.
For the rest of the season they each played with one of the other’s socks. The fact that they won the world series that year was purely coincidental, or at least that is what they told anyone who noticed.