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The Littlest Padre

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Mike scans the clubhouse common area for Ginny, and frowns when he doesn’t see her. Tommy’s approach distracts him. The pitcher has sprouted his own beard, and expanded a few inches since Mike’s retirement. Mike smirks. “You trying to take my look, Tommy?”

“Every team needs a worn out SOB who thinks he’s still the hottest shit going.” He looks startled, his eyebrows almost reaching his hairline. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to cuss in front of Rookie Jr.”

Sixteen-month-old Matilda “Tillie” Baker-Lawson, looks up at the sound of her nickname, and grins at Tommy. He smiles back, squeezes her chubby cheeks. “You’re pretty as new money. You know that? And lucky as H-E-L-L you didn’t end up looking like your daddy.”

She laughs at his attention, holding onto his calloused hand as she kicks her tiny white Converse against Mike’s now slim stomach. He kisses the top of her head. “Tell Tommy you look just like your daddy. His eyes are just going bad cause he’s old.”

Tillie looks up at her daddy, the unquestionable love of her life, and grins, nodding at whatever he said. It’s a habit he taught her, agreeing with him unquestioningly, mostly because he thinks it’s funny to have conversations with her like she understands whatever he says. He adjusts the sling she's in. It was a gift from Evelyn, a black wrap sling meant for Ginny that found immediately useful in his new career as daddy extraordinaire. “Tell Tommy what we saw outside today, Jr.”

“Balloon!” she coos in her tiny voice. She gets her soft-spoken nature from her mother, and though Mike loves how much she reminds him of Ginny, it’s become a task to keep up with her in the house when she quietly toddles away. She's also shorter than he thought his and Ginny's baby would be, finding surprisingly small spaces to hide in around the house.

Tommy laughs, calls Blip over. “Tell Blip what you just told me, Rookie Jr.”

Tillie grins, aware she’s done something good, and because she loves Blip dearly just like Ginny. “Balloon!”

“Balloon? That’s such a big word little girl!” he cheers and Tillie claps, clearly pleased with herself.

“Who said balloon?” Mike turns at the sound of her voice and grins. He thinks it’s crazy that he still feels like he does, like it’s the first time she’s ever smiled at him, even after two years of marriage and a baby. Tillie lights up at the sight of her mother, both of their grins bordered by dimples. Ginny lifts her out of the sling and covers her face in kisses. “Did you say balloon?”

“Balloon,” the baby laughs.

“That’s right! Is Daddy gonna buy you a balloon?” Ginny runs her fingers through the baby’s dark loose curls. The little girl is her carbon copy except her eyes. They’re not blue-green like her father’s, instead meeting her parents halfway with a golden hazel hue. And there's something inherently Mike-ish in her spirit. The baby fears nothing and no one. Ginny smirks at her husband, and Mike smiles at her wedding ring on a thin chain around her neck because she refuses to wear the three carat princess cut diamond on her hand while she plays. “He should have bought you a hat since he didn’t do your hair.”

Mike snorts. “You knew better than to leave me with that task, Gin. Me and Jr. like to live wild.”

Ginny smirks harder, shaking her head. “One puff. That’s all I asked for, old man.”

Mike rolls his eyes. “Look I learned what critter patterns are to match her clothes. What more do you want from me?”

Blip laughs. “I never thought I’d see the day Mike Lawson traded beer for baby formula.”

Mike laughs as he takes the baby back to put her in the sling. Tillie laughs as she waves at her mother, playing peek-a-boo. “I’m a natural born father, Blip. Isn’t that right, Jr.?”

Tillie looks up at her father and nods. Mike grins and kisses her forehead. “Who’s the best daddy in the world?”

“Papa!” Tillie replies eagerly, kicking her little feet.

Ginny laughs as she leans over to kiss her baby girl. “But who do you love most?”

“Mama!” She reaches out her chubby arms for more kisses and Ginny covers her face.

“And who’s gonna win today?” she asks.

“Padres win! Padres win!” It’s the only complete sentence she knows, having learned it from mimicking an announcer on ESPN.

The clubhouse erupts in cheers, everyone gathering around to watch Tillie clap and kick her feet, still chanting “Padres win!” They all join in and the baby squeals with delight, making her parents laugh.

“Alright boys. Line up to rub the baby,” Mike calls as he takes her out of the sling and hold her out.

It’s tradition, started almost two years before when Ginny made her first post-baby appearance in the clubhouse. She was fuller in the face and hips, but still the lithe rookie who’d stormed the clubhouse and worked her way into everyone’s heart. Even those who maybe didn’t like her, respected her drive, remembering how she stubbornly showed up to the gym every day until she was five months along. No one would be pitcher to her catcher regardless to her putting on the gear, afraid they’d miss and Mike would kill them with his bare hands. They wouldn’t let her bat in the cages, or pitch either. All she could do was walk on the treadmill, her practice t-shirt tight on her paunch, getting yelled at every time she reached a jog or went near the weights.

The sunny Saturday afternoon that she reappeared among them, a tiny brown bundle in her arms, wrapped in a little blue blanket, they had expected a boy (the news had only said she’d delivered a healthy baby). But wrapped in the blanket was a little girl in a tiny Padres jersey with her uncle Blip’s number on it and a tiny blue bow headband holding her wispy curls. Mike stood beside her, grinning proudly.

He had wanted a boy, couldn't imagine what he'd do with a little girl even though Ginny reminded him every day that she was a living example that little girls didn't have to have Barbies and bows. Since they couldn't agree on a name, they decided to play it by ear, to see what they got in the delivery room and name it accordingly. And Mike thought he respected Ginny after watching her pitch five innings with a broken index finger that was now permanently crooked from her refusal of medical attention beyond taping it up, but watching her give birth left him in awe. She breathed her way through all 18 hours, never complaining beyond a flippant remark about the baby having Mike's head when she was crowning. And he'd prayed the whole time for a little him--a smarter, better, faster him. He was already planning for little league, could already see him holding a trophy, taking his team to state. When the doctor announced that they had a girl, all his dreams changed. He was instantly smitten, wrapped around her tiny finger and promising her the world before she'd opened her eyes fully. He was fully prepared to play Barbies and have tea parties and anything else. Little Matilda Grace, named after his mother, needed only ask and he'd high jump the moon.

Ginny was almost reduced to tears as they offered her the sincerest congratulations. Blip, having taken Mike’s captain spot, lead them out onto the field, stopping to give the baby’s head a rub. Everyone followed suit. The Padres beat the Giants 12-3 in the sixth and a tradition was born. Mike and Ginny, superstitious ballplayers themselves, never missed a Saturday. So far the Padres were undefeated with a good chance of making it to October.

Everyone takes their turn, running their hand over Tillie’s curly head. The baby laughs, loving the attention, excitedly chirping “bye” as they leave. Ginny stays to be last and she gives the baby one last kiss. “You gonna cheer loud for mama?”

The baby nods, still grinning, and Ginny turns her eyes to her husband. “You gonna cheer loud for me too, old man?”

Mike shrugs. “Don’t know yet. You know I always wanted to be a Yankee.”

"Did you bring healthy snacks? She shit bricks last week when you gave her those nachos."

Mike nods but quirks his eyebrows at his wife. "Don't blame me for that. She got lactose intolerance from you, rookie."

Ginny laughs as she puts on her hat, pulls her ponytail out the back. Mike smirks. “I hate kissing you when you wear that thing. It’s like kissing Tommy.”

Ginny quirks her eyebrows. “How do you know what it’s like to kiss Tommy?”

“There were no girls on the team when I started out. We had to make do.” She laughs and Mike pulls her in for a kiss, sandwiching the baby between them. She laughs and tries to wrap her arms around her mother, thinking they’re hugging. She gives the baby’s head its traditional rub and Mike flicks the brim of her hat. “Blow ‘em away, rookie.”

She smiles. “You got it, captain.”

His cheeks redden. He still loves when she calls him that. Tillie waves at her mother’s back. “Bye Mama!”

Ginny stops in the doorway and waves at her two favorite people in the world. They’re already in the stands, right above home plate like always, when she takes the mound. She smiles at them, takes off her hat to wave, and they’re immediately on the jumbotron, cheering and waving back. Mike points at the baby’s outfit and sticks his tongue out at his wife, and Ginny only realizes what he’s done when he turns the baby around to show her the back of the white jersey. He’s broken their stalemate on who’s number Tillie would wear, slipped it by her under the baby’s little pink jacket to shield her from the windy day. There, in tiny blue letters, are her name and number. He turns her back around and she waves her little hand, shouting “Padres win!” Ginny wonders how it is she can hear her tiny voice over the crowd’s pandemonium, guessing it’s one of those mom things.

Hours later it’s the crowd shouting “Padres win!” Tillie has lost the battle with her afternoon nap, slumped in the sling, her hat pulled over her face to shield it from the sun. Ginny’s pitched a no-hitter, her first of the season, and the first since she’s been back, and to say it feels good is to say water is wet. She lets the team jostle her onto their shoulders, grins as they chant her name and carry her back to the clubhouse.

A no-hitter pales in comparison to the sight that’s waiting for her. Mike is sitting on a folding chair, Tillie still sleeping in his arms. He looks down at the baby, expecting the raucous to wake her, but she sleeps on, truly her mother's child. He recalls a particular night toward the end of Ginny's pregnancy. She'd slept through a thunderstorm loud enough to rattle  their apartment's windows, not even knowing it rained when she woke the next morning. He smiles at her as they let her down and she walks over to him. “A no-hitter against the Yankees? My rookie’s officially a hot shot.”

Ginny laughs, no longer shy about being giddy with him. “Can you believe it, babe?”

 “Only cause it’s you, Gin.” Mike smiles. “Want us to wait here for you?”

Ginny shakes her head. “Nah. I can shower at home.”

She takes off her cap and changes out of her cleats, bidding the team goodnight. Mike takes her hand as they left the clubhouse. Ginny gives it a squeeze as they walk to their waiting car. “So did I blow you away, Lawson?”

“Every day, Baker. Every day.”

Chapter Text

Mike is still awake, side effect of having a heavily pregnant wife snoring beside him, when Tillie's cries drift through the baby monitor. He tries to slide out of bed, but Ginny's voice stops him. "Leave her alone. She has to learn."

They had agreed to teach Tillie to self-soothe, something she desperately needed to learn just a few months shy of her second birthday, and Mike was on board until bedtime rolled around and he wasn't allowed to rock her to sleep after her bath. The baby was a bit confused, but sleepy enough not to miss the ritual, promptly dozing off after Mike put her in her pajamas and gave her her last bottle.

Ginny isn't confident in her husband's willpower. (She had nearly succumbed to tears herself when Tillie was weaning.) It hurt her like hell too, hearing her baby crying, but they're expecting another baby in a matter of weeks and they need Tillie to grow up just a little.

She takes to self-soothing  quickly, her cries becoming louder when neither of them comes. Mike looks at his wife, her belly bobbing rhythmically as she sleeps. "Gin, listen to that. Something's wrong with her."

"You've spoiled her rotten," Ginny murmurs sleepily, rolling onto her side. Tillie's cries go up another octave and she almost gets out of bed, but if she breaks, they'll never accomplish anything. After a few minutes, the volume lowers, replaced by fading whimpers. "See? She's learning to calm herself down."

"Or she's quietly suffocating because her blanket's covering her face."

"She can post selfies. I doubt a blanket got the best of her," Ginny replies.

He looks over her shoulder at the baby monitor's display. Tillie is lying in her crib, seemingly asleep again. An hour passes before Tillie wakes up again. She wails "Mama" and Mike smirks at the speed with which his wife heaves her belly out of bed and waddles to the nursery. He turns over, looks at the monitor's screen, watches Ginny carry the baby around, bouncing her gently. "Did you have a bad dream? Hmm?"

"Want Papa." Mike's already out of bed, headed for the nursery.

Ginny raises her eyebrows at his speed, and at the way Tillie nearly jumps from her arms to get to him. "What's the matter, Jr.?"

The baby holds up her bare left foot. "You lost your sock? Papa'll find it for you."

"But you didn't spoil her rotten?" Ginny teases as she waddles to Tillie's ladybug bathroom.

"Her foot's cold." He finds the sock under her crib and puts it back on her foot, smiling at his baby girl in her yellow polka dot onesie. "Ready to go back to bed?"

"Wan' play," she replies.

Mike smiles, thinking they might if Ginny were out of town, but he shakes his head. "Not play, Jr. It's time for bed. We gotta go back to sleep, okay?"

Tillie nods. "Okay, Papa."

Ginny watches from the doorway as Mike walks her around the room, bouncing her gently. She smiles as he sings to her, thinking she's never seen Mike Lawson so whipped. "God gave me you for the ups and downs/ God gave me you for the days of doubt/ And for when I think I've lost my way/ There are no words here to left to say it's true/ God gave me you..."

Tillie's eyes, now as brown as her mother's, fall closed. Mike sings a few more lines, waiting until she's completley out before he puts her back in the crib and tucks her Disney princess blanket around her. Ginny bumps him with her belly to pull himaway from the crib and they go back to bed. 

She smirks at the rhythmic kicking in her belly, then turns to her husband. "Now you woke the other one up."

Isaac Michael Baker-Lawson, seven weeks away from his debut, was more active than Tillie had ever been. Ginny cherishes the few hours he's asleep, or at least immobile. Mike laughs, leans over to her belly. "It's bedtime for you, Jr."

Ginny wrinkles her nose at him. "You can't call them both Jr."

"I don't wanna call him Isaac. Forgive me."

Since Mike named Tillie, it was only fair that Ginny got to name the second baby. She chose Isaac, Hebrew for "he laughs" to commemorate Mike's reaction to finding out they having another baby. She shakes her head at her husband. "Well we're not gonna call him Mike."

She refuses to call him Mike. Not because she hates the name, but because Mike named their dog, a corgi prone to snoring, Mike Jr., and she refuses to name their baby after a dog. Mike laughs. "It's not gonna confuse the dog, Gin."

"It might. Plus I don't want my baby to be named after a dog."

"Our baby will be named after a hall of famer, rookie."

Ginny yawns, snuggles closer to him. Mike pushes her head away. "Self-soothe. Go to bed by yourself."

Ginny lookes up at him and pouts. "That's mean. You cuddled Jr."

Mike can't help smiling. "Don't make the pouty face, Gin. I hate the pouty face."

Ginny keeps it up, struggling not to smile, and Mike finally pulls her to him. He kisses her forehead, rubs her belly. Ginny kisses his chin, nuzzles his neatly trimmed hair. "I love you, old man."

He pokes her stomach, laughs at the kick that responds. "There's your old man."

Chapter Text

Mike smiles at Tillie as she splashes in the tub, laughing every time a clump of suds flies up. "Look Papa!"

"Yeah those are bubbles," he replies, applying shampoo to her dark curls.

“Bubbles!” She splashes again, laughing when she wets the front of Mike’s shirt.

"Okay we've gotta wash your hair. What do we do?"

Tillie covers her eyes to keep the shampoo out and Mike works it into a lather then uses a pitcher of warm water to rinse it. "All done!"

"All done!" Tillie parrots, uncovering her eyes and throwing her hands up. She stands up in the tub and Mike opens the drain before he wraps her in a towel and lifts her out. He sets her on the counter, shrouding her tiny body in her duck towel. He grabs another towel to dry her hair then finds a comb and detangler in the drawer. "Sing Papa!"

Mike smiles as he sprays her hair. "My cherie amour/ Lovely as a summer day/ My cherie amour/ Distant as the milky way/ My cherie amour/ Pretty little one that I adore/ You're the only one my heart beats for/ How I wish that you were mine..."

He combs through her damp curls, still singing as he twists it into two little French braids (the guys can’t believe Mike can comb hair but Mike’s proud) on her head and dries her off. "What's it time for?"

"Toofbwush!"

"That's right." Mike brushes her eight teeth with her ladybug toothbrush, singing "Free Fallin'," Tillie's favorite song. When he's finished, she spits in the sink then turns to the mirror to inspect her tiny white teeth.

"Now what?"

"Jammies!" Tillie replies as Mike sets her on her feet. She runs to her bedroom, leaving her towel behind. Mike laughs at her pale bare bottom and stubby legs. His mother likes to tease that she's just like he was as a little boy, a proud nudist. He covers her in sweet-scented baby lotion and puts on her ladybug-patterned diaper then her yellow bunny onesie.

"You want the hood on?" he asks as he zips the onesie and picks her up. Tillie nods and Mike pulls the hood on her head. The sight of the flopping ears surrounding her pudgy face never fails to make him smile. Tillie yawns and lays her head on Mike's shoulder as he walks over to Ginny's rocking chair. His heavily pregnant wife is asleep down the hall, ready to keep him awake half the night with her snoring. Mike grabs Tillie's bottle out of the warmer (Ginny says she's too old to be rocked to sleep with a bottle, but this is undoubtedly his favorite part of their bedtime routine and he won’t stop until Tillie’s ready). She cuddles close and takes the bottle. It doesn't take long for her eyes to get heavy as she drinks her warm soy milk (she's lactose intolerant like Ginny). "Ready for night night, Jr.?"

She nods and he rocks the chair slowly. "I set out on a narrow way/ Many years ago/ Hoping I would find true love/ Along the broken road/ But I got lost a time or two/ Wiped my brow/ And kept pushing through/ I couldn't see how every sign/ Pointed straight to you/ Every long lost dream/ Led me to where you are/ Others who broke my heart/ They were like northern stars/ Pointing on my way/ Into your loving arms/ This much I know is true/ That God blessed the broken road/ That led me straight to you...

You know Mama and Papa danced to that song at our wedding. And your mama smiled so big. You see, Papa can't dance. He's not as bad as your uncle Tommy but he's not too good. So, before Mama and Papa got married, Papa took some lessons to surprise Mama. And her smile almost fell off her face when I twirled her around on the dance floor. I don't think I've seen her that happy again until you were born. And Mama and Papa have done some amazing things—Papa will show you our World Series rings tomorrow—but you and your brother are the best ever."

He smiles as she begins to snore softly, just like her mother. He waits a few minutes, rocking her slowly and snapping a few pictures, before he puts her in her crib and turns on the baby monitor. He turns on her sleepy time tape (a recording of Mike and Ginny reading Goodnight Moon that Ginny made as a solution to their self-soothing conundrum) then turns off the lights and leaves the room. He jumps when he bumps into Ginny's beach ball belly in the darkness. She grins at him in the darkness. "What are you doing up?"

He's surprised by her mashing her belly between them and pressing a kiss to his lips, scratching his beard. "You are the best papa in the world."

"Then you should reward me with some waffles," he replies with a smile.

Ginny smirks. "I'm the one who's pregnant. You should be cooking for me."

"Okay so we don't have to eat. There's other stuff to do." He grins devilishly.

"Let's see what happens after the waffles," Ginny teases as they head for the stairs.

Chapter Text

Ginny rolls her eyes at Mike's frown. "She has a master’s in early childhood development and a master’s in child psychology. There's literally nothing wrong with her Mike!"

Mike defiantly ignores her gaze and looks at Tillie as she eats green beans with her fingers. "Jr., do you like Mrs. Evans?"

Tillie looks up at him and shakes her head. Mike turns to Ginny with a triumphant look. "That's exactly what's wrong with her."

"Of course she doesn’t like her. She only wants to be with you because you've spoiled her rotten." Ginny can't believe her husband, and looking down at three-month-old Isaac, she wonders what annoyances birthing his twin will cause her.

Mike shrugs. "We'll just find somebody else, Gin. It's not that big of a deal."

Ginny smirks at him. "You already fired her, didn't you?"

Mike nods and she sighs, looking from him to Tillie and back. "It'll be fine. This town is full of qualified nannies."

"Well what are we supposed to do about tomorrow? You know the day you start work and I have two doctor’s appointments? You know how she is at the doctor." Tillie has an inexplicable hatred for the doctor's office. Ginny suspects there are too many other children.

Mike shrugs. "I'll take her with me."

"And how well is that gonna go?"

"I take her places all the time."

"Not work."

Mike shrugs as he cleans Tillie's face with a wipe. "I think we'll be okay. Won't we, Jr.?"

Tillie nods, drinks her juice, and Mike smiles, runs his hands through her curls. "That's right. You and Papa are going to work!"

"Work!" she parrots with a smile, clapping her little hands.

Ginny only smirks and shakes her head, deciding to let her husband figure this one out on his own. "Whatever."

X

Ginny's up mixing green smoothies when Mike comes downstairs in his dark suit, Tillie in her carrier. She's wearing a denim overalls and a red long-sleeved shirt that matches his tie, and kicking her squeaking shoes together. Mike has pulled her hair into a bun atop her head and decorated it with a red bow. She smiles at his "work dad" aesthetic and he grins at her. "How do we look?"

"Like you'll be out of a job by tomorrow," she replies as she pours his smoothie into his bottle. Isaac gurgles softly in the sling attached to Ginny's body.

Mike shakes his head. "Nah. Me and Jr. will have our own show by tomorrow."

Tillie nods and Ginny shakes her head as she walks over to lift her out of the sling. The little girl grins at her baby brother, reaching down to stroke his downy soft brown hair. "What do you want for breakfast?"

"Cuties!" Ginny sets her in her high chair and grabs a tiny orange to peel for her. She breaks it into slices then puts the plate in front of the toddler who promptly stuffs her face. Ginny pours Cheerios in a bowl and puts it beside the plate. Tillie grabs a handful and stuffs them in her mouth.

Mike takes his smoothie and drinks it, smiling at Ginny as she does the same, leaning back on the counter. He walks over and wraps his arm around her waist, pulling her close. "What are they doing to my boy today?"

"Check-ups for both of us."

Mike smiles, kisses her neck. "You're really moving up in the world, rookie. I hear your husband's a big-time sports anchor."

ESPN had been after Mike since he retired but he had put them off until Tillie got bigger. He'd done a few guest spots here and there, but nothing permanent (his number one job was being the best papa ever). Now with another baby and Ginny on the DL list again, he decided it was time to get back to work.

Ginny grins at her husband, scratches his beard. "Well he's been playing baseball since they invented it so he might as well put that knowledge to use."

Mike laughs, tweaks her nose. "So what's for dinner tonight?"

Before Isaac's birth, Ginny committed herself to becoming a better cook. Mike was delighted, and thankful as his culinary skills were only marginally better than hers. But Ginny quickly passed him by with the help of Food Network. She smiles. "Beef stew and cornbread."

Mike grins. "Making a joke about you being barefoot in the kitchen is a bad idea, right?"

"Probably the worst ever."

They finish their smoothies and Mike takes Tillie from her high chair. "Let's give Mama kisses so we can go."

Ginny covers her baby's face in kisses. "Who loves you?"

"You do!" Tillie exclaims.

"And who loves me?"

"I do!"

Ginny smiles and gives her a final kiss. "That's right. Be good for Papa, okay?"

"Okay!"

Ginny grabs Mike's tie, pulls him in for a kiss. "You be good too."

Mike smiles, bites her bottom lip. "Always, rookie."

He leans down and kisses Isaac's forehead. "Be good for Mama, okay?"

Ginny smiles at the baby's hand reaching out for his father. "I think that's a yes."

Mike leaves the house with Tillie and Ginny loads the dishwasher, using the other to bounce Isaac. "We should get some ice cream after the doctor, shouldn't we?"

The baby smiles, looking so much like Mike, and she laughs.

X

The scruffy director's eyebrows raise at the sight of Tillie. Mike gives him a challenging look. "Problem?"

"You didn't mention the baby," he replies.

Mike shrugs. "First of all, she's beyond cute. And I think it's really modern, a working parent. Big gruff baseball player trades in cleats and clubhouses for diapers and playdates? I bet the moms'll get a kick out of it."

A producer joins them and nods, then calls an intern. "Make sure you tweet something so the moms tune in. This baby thing might be gold."

"Might be?" Mike smiles then looks down at Tillie. "Tell Mr. Scott what we're gonna talk about today, Jr."

"Baseball!" Tillie replies, grinning at her father.

Mr. Scott laughs. "That's good. Let's give it a shot."

Mike sits at the anchor table and pulls out his questions list. An intern brings him a mug of coffee, and a bottle of apple Snapple for Tillie. Another brings over paper and crayons. Mike smiles. "Look what you got, Jr. What do you say?"

"Thank you!" Tillie grins at the intern then quickly turns her attention to the crayons.

"Draw something for Mama," Mike instructs as the director climbs into his seat and focuses the camera on them. So far, the only thing she can make that’s recognizable are misshapen circles that Mike insists are baseballs.

"Okay so just give A Rod the intro. He doesn't know about the baby so roll with it,” the director instructs.

X

Mike's met A Rod a few times, and played him a few more. He's not sure what the hype is about (he personally finds the Yankees overrated), but he thinks batter's a nice guy mostly. And they've got something to talk about, both newly retired patriarchs of their teams. He laughs when the New Yorker goes in for a hug but stops short at the sight of Tillie hanging from his chest in the carrier, smiling as she waves.

"Somebody should have told me it was Take Your Daughter to Work day! I'd have brought my girls!" he jokes as they shake hands.

Mike laughs. "How do you leave the house without them? This one's my best friend."

"And lucky as hell she didn't end up with your ugly mug." They laugh as they sit down and the batter smiles at Tillie, offers his hand. "Hi, I'm Alex. Who are you?"

"Jr.!" she answers.

Mike explains, "Her name's Tillie but I call her Rookie Jr. because she's her mother's twin."

"That she is," he agrees. Mike smirks. (He's caught A Rod making eyes at Ginny a few times when she's pitched to him.)

Mike smiles, gestures to the set. "So can we hope to see you behind one of these desks any time soon?"

A Rod shakes his head. "Nah. I'm trying to go the Mike Lawson route, find some gorgeous twenty-something to marry me so I can do the Mr. Mom thing for a little while before I start over."

Mike laughs. "Afternoon naps, homemade snacks, going to the playground every day. It's a good life, I'll tell you that."

"Good? You got a ring your last season, made it into the Hall of Fame, and married the prettiest player in the league. Well, prettiest now that I'm retired." He laughs. "Now you're an ESPN sports anchor? You should write a book, Lawson."

Mike laughs. "Kinda got my hands full with potty training but we'll see."

"Here!" Tillie thrusts a crayon at A Rod and he takes it.

"Oh it's green! That's my favorite color!"

Tillie holds up a blue crayon. "Blue!"

Mike smiles down at her. "Tell A Rod what blue is for."

"Padres!"

By the time they wrap the interview, a gaggle of producers has gathered to watch, mumbling about the unintentional gold they've struck.

"So I hear you got yourself a boy this time," A Rod comments as they walk around the desk.

Mike nods, pulls out his phone to show him a picture of Isaac. "He’s short but sturdy. Gin calls him Bear. Look at those thighs and tell me he's not a catcher."

A Rod looks at the picture and nods. "Long arms. Might have a designated hitter on your hands."

Mike laughs. "Over Ginny's dead body. One of them's gotta be a pitcher and Tillie's definitely the hitter in the family. She’s little but she’s hell with a bat."

A Rod looks to where Tillie is watching an intern cut up her chicken fingers. The woman gives her the plate and asks, "Want something else?"

 "Want cuties," she replies, picking up pieces of chicken with both hands.

"Cuties? Okay." The intern scurries away in search of Cuties and Mike smirks, shakes his head at A Rod.

"I think being on-air talent is going to her head."

A Rod shakes his head. "Nah. Little girls are just like that. Both of mine were born with gold spoons in their mouths."

"Want juice!" the tot says to no one in particular, and Mike watches as two interns hop on the task. Another squats beside her with a tablet that Tillie points to. "Dora!"

The intern turns on Dora for her and Tillie moves into the young woman's lap to watch, balancing the plate on her knee.

"She runs a tight ship. I'll give her that," A Rod comments with a smile.

X

"So how'd it go?" Ginny's curled up on the couch, Isaac attached to her left breast. Tillie's passed out amongst her toys on the floor, her mouth red with fruit punch.

Mike grins. "We were a certified hit. They want me to bring her back next week for this catcher’s round table thing."

He pulls out his phone, shows her Tillie and A Rod coloring and Ginny laughs as she switches Isaac to her right breast. She shakes her head. "That girl's gonna have the whole league in tutus and ribbons by the time you're finished."

Mike smiles at his little girl, snoring like her mother. She had demanded ice cream from an intern and immediately gotten a popsicle. Another had allowed her to have the dregs of their iced coffee when she took the cup and asked, "Mine?" The day's sugar had culminated in her bouncing off the walls until she collapsed during an episode of Max and Ruby. "She's already running the show at the station."

As if she knows she's being talked about, Tillie sits up and looks at her parents. She shuffles to her feet and walks to Ginny with her arms up. "Mama..."

Ginny smiles and hands Isaac over to Mike to burp him. She fixes her tank top then picks Tillie up. "What's that matter?"

Tillie yawns. "Want night night."

Ginny's eyebrows raise. Tillie almost never wants her for night night. That's strictly Mike's job. "You want Mama to put you to bed?"

Tillie nods, lays her head on her mother's shoulder and yawns again. Ginny grins at her husband. "Looks like you've been replaced."

Mike smirks, shakes his head as he pats Isaac's back. "She's just jealous cause Mini Mike is breastfeeding."

Ginny nods as she stands. Tillie hadn’t weaned easily but she’d grudgingly taken to her bottle and now her prized sippy cup. Still, the sight of Isaac breastfeeding has raised a territorial nature in the toddler. "Probably."

He smiles as Ginny carries her up the stairs, asking her if she'd had fun with papa to which she replied a sleepy "yeah." Isaac let out a little burp and a little spit up that Mike wiped off with his gray burping cloth. "Let's go take a bath, Mini Mike."

He carries the baby to the kitchen and runs warm water in the sink because he doesn't have the knees to squat and bathe him in Tillie's old baby tub. It's a simple enough task since one of his hands spans half the baby's body and Isaac is too sleepy to squirm much, even when Mike rinses him off. When he's done, he carries him upstairs and covers him in sweet scented baby lotion. "You know, everybody says you look like me, but you look like your mama too. You've got her nose, anyway."

The baby blinks and yawns, blowing a spit bubble that makes him smile. Mike laughs. "That's a neat trick, little man. And don't you be jealous that I hang out with Jr. so much. As soon as you can hold up your own head, we'll have some man time."

He rolls his eyes at the baby's pretentious cloth diaper as he sticks the liner inside it. "I think Huggies are just fine, myself, but your mama thinks you need cloth diapers because you got diaper rash one time. It was really our fault because we fell asleep for the first time in like three weeks and didn't know you were wet but she insists it was the diaper so here we are."

Isaac yawns as Mike carries him to the rocking chair in the corner of his olive-green nursery. "Now I know you're used to your mama singing to you but I'm the voice of this family."

"Another summer day/ Has come and gone away/ In Paris and Rome/ But I wanna go home/ Maybe surrounded by/ A million people I/ Still feel so alone/ I wanna go home/ Oh, I miss you, you know/ And I've been keeping—"

Ginny's appearance in the doorway interrupts him. She smirks at Tillie. "She tried to breastfeed and I wouldn't let her so I've been dumped."

Mike smiles as he walks over. They exchange children and Mike kisses Tillie's forehead. "We're too old for baby milk, aren't we, Jr.? Let's get your bottle, okay?"

She nods and lays her head on his shoulder as they leave Isaac's nursery, headed for her ladybug room. Ginny shakes her head, thinking the bottle isn't a great alternative to breastfeeding. She smiles at Isaac, obviously sleepy but still hanging on. "I knew Papa couldn't put you to sleep. You were waiting for Mama, weren't you?"

She can hear Mike singing through the baby monitor and smiles, reminding herself to tweet about her macho husband singing Disney show tunes before she went to bed. "Tale as old as time/ True as it can be/ Barely even friends/ Then somebody bends/ Unexpectedly/ Just as little change/ Small to say the least/ Both a little scared/ Neither one prepared/ Beauty and the beast..."

She sets the chair rocking and cradles Isaac close to press her lips to his forehead. "Ever just the same/ Ever a surprise/ Tale as old as time/ Tune as old as song/ Bittersweet and strange/ Finding you can change/ Learning you were wrong/ Certain as the sun/ Rising in the east/ Tale as old as time/ Song as old as rhyme/ Beauty and the beast..."

Isaac's blue eyes fall closed and she rocks him a little longer before she puts him in his crib. She and Mike meet in their bedroom doorway and she grins at him. "I wonder how the clubhouse is gonna feel about you singing Beauty and the Beast."

"I think they beat that joke to death after our wedding." He smiles as he takes her in his arms and dances her around before their bed.

Ginny smiles, wraps her arms around his neck. "Tale as old as time/ True as it can be/ Barely even friends/ Then somebody bends/ Unexpectedly/ Just as little change/ Small to say the least/ Both a little scared/ Neither one prepared/ Beauty and the beast..."

Mike smiles, kisses her nose. "That's definitely us. You were awful when we first met."

Ginny laughs, scoffs, "I was awful? You sure about that, Mr. I-Slap-Asses?"

Mike laughs too. "I did slap asses before you. It just became a lot more frequent after you."

"I'm not surprised."

Mike's hand slide to her waist then lower and he smiles against her mouth. "Well if you've got an advantage..."

"And what advantages do you have tonight, captain?"

"You mouthed off to me this morning, rookie."

"And what did I earn?"

Mike grins as he picks her up, wraps her legs around his waist, and carries her to their bed. "A sleepless night sounds like a good punishment."

Chapter Text

Mike smiles as he bounces Isaac in his arms, cooing “wee” at his clone each time he raises the baby over his head. Isaac laughs, revealing his toothless gums. “Okay now that you’re in a good mood, let’s get this dirty diaper off.”

He lays the little boy on the changing table and unsnaps his “Future Padre” onesie then takes off his cloth diaper and removes the soiled liner. Isaac reaches for his father’s face, coos, “Appa appa appa.”

Mike’s eyes widen as he stares at his one-year-old baby boy. “What did you say? Did you say Papa? You did!”

He picks the half-naked baby up off the changing table and almost sprints down the hall to his and Ginny’s room. Ginny and Tillie are on the bed, Tillie contently flipping through her flash cards and repeating the names of objects to herself while Ginny snores softly, the pump still attached to her right breast. “Gin wake up! Isaac talked!”

Ginny starts awake, staring at her husband with wide eyes, “He what?”

Ginny’s attention is immediately on the baby as he touches his father’s salt and pepper beard. Both he and Isaac are two days’ shy of their shared milestone birthday, the big 1 for Isaac and the bigger 40 for Mike. “Isaac! Did you talk? Tell Mama what you said!”

“Tell Mama what you said, Mini Mike,” Mike pleads. The baby looks from one of them to the other as Mike hands him over.

Ginny’s eyebrows quirk at his bare bottom but she’s too concerned with the matter at hand to inquire about his missing diaper. “Tell Mama! Please tell Mama!”

He grins at his mother’s attention, reaching for a hanging curl. Ginny’s eyes move from him to his father. “What did he say?”

“He said Appa!” His eyes bulge when Ginny’s expression doesn’t morph into one of delight. “Appa as in Papa, Gin!”

“Or appa as in a random baby noise because he’s a baby, Mike.” She settles back against the pillows, resumes her pumping as Isaac crawls off her lap to get to his sister who shows him a flash card and explains, “Baseball, Isaac.”

“No he was looking at me and he said, ‘Appa’. He was trying to say Papa.”

“Or he was just making noise because you were talking to him.”

Mike’s expression becomes indignant. “I’ll have you know that Appa is a South Korean term of endearment for your father. South Korean, as in Asian like his Indonesian father.”

Ginny smirks. “I’ll have you know that although South Korea and Indonesia are both Asian countries, they are not in fact the same one. And where would our baby have gotten information about South Korean pet names?”

Mike rolls his eyes and walks over to the bed. “Give me my boy. We don’t need this.”

He picks the baby up and smiles at his chubby face. “Come on. Let’s go play on the swing where we won’t be judged.”

Tillie looks up at the mention of the swings and puts down her flash cards then slides off the bed. She chirps, “Swing! Swing!”

Mike grins as he picks her up and settles her on his other hip. He kisses her chubby cheek. “That’s right, Jr. Always pick your Papa’s side.”

Ginny snorts. “She’s using you for playtime, old man.”

Mike looks from one child to the other. “See how Mama slanders us? We don’t need this.”

Ginny laughs as she switches her pump from one breast to the other. “What you need are jackets before you go outside, old man!”

“Got it!” he replies as they go down the hall.

X

Two Days Later

Mike blinks awake at the feeling of something on his chest. When he opens his eyes, he’s nose to nose with Isaac who grins his toothless smile and coos, “Appa!”

Mike sits up and looks at Ginny. “See he did it again!”

Ginny rolls her eyes as she picks the baby up and set down Mike’s breakfast tray. She kisses Isaac’s cheek. “I thought we agreed you would say Mama first, Bear?”

Tillie squirms out of her mother’s arms, crawls to sit beside Mike and grins at him. “Happy Birthday Papa!”

Mike grins, kisses her forehead. “Thank you, Jr.”

Ginny walks over and scratches his beard as she kisses him. “Happy birthday, old man. You know, every year that title gets more and more fitting.”

Mike laughs, bites her bottom lip. “Don’t start with me on my birthday, rookie.”

“Hush and eat your food,” she replies.

Mike looks down at his plate with dubious eyes. “Did you cook?”

Ginny laughs. “I’m a way better cook than I used to be.”

Digging into her pancakes, Mike nods. Tillie reaches onto the plate and takes a strip of bacon. She smiles as she eats it. Mike grins at her chewing. “Is that good?”

Tillie nods and Ginny smiles, says, “Tell Papa what you did today.”

“I helped!” she exclaims, still eating.

“You did? No wonder this is so good,” Mike replies. Ginny sets Isaac on the bed too and he scrambles onto his knees, his mouth open for a spoonful of grits.

“While you’ve got the minis occupied, I’m gonna go wash my hair,” Ginny says before heading to the bathroom. In the bathroom, she calls, “I hope you’ve got your clothes ready for the party, old man.”

“It’s my birthday. I shouldn’t be lifting a finger,” Mike calls back.

Ginny pokes her head out of the bathroom doorway. “If you get them bathed, I’ll get them dressed.”

“That’s not a fair trade off.”

“Okay so pick one.”

“Pick me!” Tillie exclaims, throwing her arms up.

Mike laughs. “Now how can I say no to that?”

X

Mike sits obediently still, watching as Tillie polishes his nails the same glittery shade of gold as her own. Her little brow is furrowed like her mother’s when she’s pitching, her tiny hands working diligently and painstakingly slowly as she polishes his fingernails. She’s gotten through his right hand with minimal mistakes, cooing, “pretty” as she finished his pinky finger.

Ginny frowns at Mike when she enters the dining room, Tillie sitting atop it with his left hand in her lap. “Nail polish?”

Tillie’s gaze never leaves her father’s hand. Mike looks at his wife and frowns back. “What about it?”

“Why did you wait until you were both dressed to do this?”

“Last minute decision,” he replies with a shrug as Tillie finishes his left hand.

“All done!” she cries, handing him the nail polish bottle. “Pretty!”

Mike takes it from her and shows Ginny his right hand as Tillie blows on the left one. “Not bad, huh?”

Ginny smiles. “Very pretty, old man. Now go dry them with the blow dryer so we can get ready to go.”

Mike stands and Ginny lifts Tillie off the table and settles her on her hip. “You look so pretty! Did Papa braid your hair?”

Tillie nods then points to her dress. “I got new dress!”

“I know,” Ginny replies, smoothing the mulberry dress’s tulle skirt. “Mama got a new dress too.”

“I wanna see!”

“Okay,” Ginny laughs. “Let’s go put it on, okay?”

“Okay!” They go to Ginny’s room and she sets Tillie on the bed beside a sleeping Isaac, dressed in an “It’s My Birthday!” t-shirt that matches Mike’s. “Mama we see Pop Pop?”

“Yeah we’ll see Pop Pop,” Ginny replies as she takes her own mulberry dress out of the closet. She never thought she’d see the day where she was buying coordinated outfits for 4 during breaks at practice, and she definitely never thought Al would turn out to be the best grandpa in the world but the former skipper had taken to the job like a duck to water. “Pop Pop and uncle Oscar are gonna be at Papa’s birthday party.”

“Cake!” Tillie exclaims, bouncing on the bed.

“We’re gonna have cake in a little while,” Ginny assures. “Why don’t you go in the closet and get Papa’s present.”

Tillie slides off the bed and goes into her parents’ closet, reappearing a moment later dragging the large giftbox in her tiny arms. Ginny picks it up and sets it on the bed. “Now go find Papa and tell him it’s time to go.”

Tillie bounds out of the room, shouting, “Papa!”

Ginny goes over to the bed and scoops up the baby, smiling when he yawns awake. “Hi precious. Are you ready for your birthday?”

“Appa,” he replies and Ginny smirks.

“Oh great. He broke you too. Now I’ve gotta have another one.” She picks up the giftbox then heads downstairs, stopping at the bottom of the stairs to smirk at Mike filming Tillie as she twirls in her dress.

“That is top of the line Gap Kids apparel,” he says to the camera as he squats to get closer. “And note the matching nails. My princess has taste.”

Ginny laughs and Mike realizes he’s not alone, turning the camera on her. “And there’s my first girl. Come on and twirl for the camera, Baker. Show everybody what I turned down Chicago for.”

Ginny laughs but spins for the camera. “You’re ridiculous, old man.”

Mike laughs as he walks over to aim his camera at Isaac. “And here’s my boy. Tell everybody who I am, birthday boy.”

Isaac grins at the camera then turns to look at his father. “Appa!”

Mike gives Ginny a smug smile then looks back at the camera. “See, Gin thought his first word would be Mama but the Baker-Lawson babies just love their Papa.”

“That’s because their papa spoils them rotten,” Ginny replies.

Mike laughs as he ends the video then scoops Tillie up. “Let’s go get some cake, Jr.”

“Cake!” Tillie whoops as they head out the door.

X

Ginny smiles as they enter the clubhouse common room. Mike nudges her as he looks around at the blue and gold decorations. “Evelyn?”

Ginny nods. “All you have to say is party and she transforms.”

“Pop Pop!” Tillie exclaims and Mike sets her down before she can squirm away. The toddler takes off into Al’s outstretched arms and he scoops her up, pops kisses on her cheeks.

“There’s my favorite girl!” he whoops, swinging her around. “And oohwee look at this dress!”

“I pretty, Pop Pop,” she replied with a grin.

“Yes you are, sugar beet!”

Tillie laughs, runs her fingers through his silver beard. “Isaac talked!”

“He did? What did he say?”

“Papa!”

“Let’s see if we can make him say Pop Pop!” Al replies as they walk over to Mike and Ginny. Al smiles at Mike. “Happy birthday, skip!”

Mike laughs and accepts Al’s hug. “You’ll always be skip to me, old man, but thanks.”

“Now my sugar beet says my boy said Papa. That true?”

Mike grins as he nods. “He sure did, didn’t he, Gin?”

Ginny smirks. “He said Appa, Al. Not Papa.”

Al laughs. “Close enough. Natasha used to call me Dabby.”

“The boys called me Blip forever because Evy does,” Blip says as he joins them. He immediately takes Isaac and makes raspberries on his cheeks. “Look at my main man all dressed up!”

Ginny laughs. “And he got his first pair of big boy shoes because he’s toddling now.”

Blip smiles as he lifts Isaac’s foot to look at his little white hard-bottomed shoes. “Look at these, big man! Let’s go show Aunt Evy!”

Isaac waves as Blip carries him away. Ginny looks at Mike with a grin. “We’re officially baby free, old man. What should we do?”

“Eat before we have to share,” he replies instantly.

Ginny laughs as they head for the food table.

X

Ginny grins as she stands, a glass of sparkling cider in hand.

“Now a lot of nice things have been said about my husband here today, and I’m here to make a rebuttal.” Mike smirks at the way she smiles at the laughter that ripples through the room. “But seriously, Mike, if anyone had told me four years ago when I met you and you proved why you should never meet your heroes that I was meeting the love of my life, I wouldn’t have believed them for a minute. But because God has quite the sense of humor, it was true. And you drive me crazy—man do you drive me crazy—”

“Hey, keep it PG there’s kids here,” he interrupts, nudging her hip.

Ginny smacks his shoulder and laughs. “You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me—so far because one of us is still young enough to remarry—”

“Wrap it up, Shecky,” he interrupts again with a smile.

Ginny laughs harder. “That reference is older than you, old man. And before I’m interrupted again, happy birthday. Sometimes I love you.”

Mike laughs as he stands and wraps an arm around her waist to kiss her. “Sometimes I love you too. Not right now, but sometimes.”

Ginny laughs as she sits down, giving him the floor. “Now I promised Gin I wouldn’t give a speech but we all knew that was a lie. First to my Padres. As someone who’s never had much family to speak of, you guys are the best thing that ever happened to me. Al’s my dad. Blip’s my brother. The rest of you are mooching relatives I only try to see on holidays. But seriously, here’s to another decade of brotherhood. To the WAGs, specifically the ones who had to work under Evelyn to put this party together, I’m sorry and you have gift bags in the back for your pain and suffering. And last, and definitely least, to my former rookie, and occasional love of my life—”

Tillie appears at his side, her arms outstretched to be picked up. Mike smiles as he squats to lift her in his arms and balance her on his right hip. She points at his cake. “Cake, Papa!”

“I know. We’re gonna get some in a minute, okay?”

“’Kay,” she replies, laying her head on his shoulder.

Mike kisses her forehead then looks down at Ginny. “Gin, you’re one of the best things to ever happen to me—top five at least—and sometimes I can’t believe I have all this because of you. There was a time when I was this lonely man rattling around an empty house, completely resigned to growing old—”

Older,” Ginny snickers.

Mike smirks at her and continues, “There was a time when I thought I was just destined to be alone. Then I met this bouncy little pain in the ass and everything changed. You taught me how to love selflessly and without apology, and what it feels like to be loved just as hard. You’ve made me the father or my dreams when I thought I only had fun uncle potential and thank you doesn’t really cut it for that. And I love you doesn’t come close to how I feel about you, but it’s all I can say. So it’s my birthday but here’s to you.”

Everyone raises their glasses and Ginny stands to wrap her arms around Mike’s midsection, laughing when Tillie intercepted their kiss.

X

By the time presents come around, Isaac is stretched across his mother’s lap, his face dirty with frosting. Tillie lays across Evelyn in much the same state. The twins flank their father, blinking slowly as they crashed from their sugar high. Mike sits with his present from Ginny and the kids on his lap. He grins as he rips the wrapping paper off, his smile widening when he saw it. It’s a large portrait of Ginny and the kids from a trip to the beach, laughing as they sat around his sand-buried body. The frame is covered in little handprints in assorted colors and in the corner, Ginny had painted “We love you to the moon and back, old man”. He holds it up to show everyone. “Now this is gonna be tough to beat.”

He gets a framed jersey from Oscar and Natasha. “I know you’ve already got one of these, Mike, but this one is extra special since we’re officially retiring your number.”

Mike’s eye widen. “What?”

Oscar nodded, grinning. “You’re the Padres’ last number 36, Lawson. No one will ever do that number the kind of justice you did it.”

His cheeks warmed with blush as the team applauds him. Al comes to stand beside him and places a box in his hands. “Now I remember when you were a little pain in the ass rookie—my rookie—and I just knew you’d burn out because you were going so hard. But you held on for 12 years and made me the proudest mentor in the world. And I never got my own boy, but you’ve given me enough headaches to be grateful for that. Now you’ve given me the cutest grandkids in the world and become the best skipper I could ever think of passing the torch to. So, when you look at what I got you, always know your old man’s proud of you.”

Mike tears open the package and opens the box. He pulls out the worn Padres cap and looks up at Al. “Is this…your hat?”

Al nods. “Same one I’ve been wearing since I met you. Now that you’re the skip, you’ve gotta keep the tradition going.”

A little sniffle to his left makes him look at Ginny and he smiles at her glassy eyes, reaches over to wipe her right cheek then looks back at Al. “I’d cry too but she’ll swear I’m stealing her thunder.”

Mike puts the hat on and Natasha snaps his picture before Evelyn passes him a large box. “This is from the WAGs. It’s just a little something to commemorate your brief stint as one of us.”

Mike’s eyebrows quirk as he opens the box and pulls out a Padres jersey. He smirks at Evelyn. “I’ve got a couple of these, you know.”

Evelyn returns the gesture. “Turn it over.”

He turns it over and he and Ginny both laugh at the name on the back: Mr. Ginny Baker. Evelyn explains, “We’re wearing them every game until we make it to the Series again.”

Mike smiles as he looks at his wife who scrunches her nose up at him. “You’ve always wanted to be Mr. Ginny Baker, old man.”

He laughs. “That I have.”

He’s surprised when she sets another box in his lap, her grin positively giddy. He jokingly picks it up and puts it to his ear then says, “Well it’s not ticking.”

He opens it and smiles at the digital camera. Ginny takes it from him, tells him, “Read the card.”

Mike pulls the handmade card out of the box, smiles at Ginny’s loopy handwriting: “For Baby Baker-Lawson #3! Shoot ‘til you drop, old man! Love, Gin” He looks at her with a questioning smile. “What? What?”

Ginny nods, bouncing in her seat. “Eight weeks!”

The room erupts in cheers and Salvamini claps Mike on the back. “Why don’t you keep it in your pants for a while, Skip? We need our pitcher!”

Livan laughs as he walks over to hug Ginny. He smiles at Mike. “Don’t bench me, but this baby’s mine, Skip.”

Mike laughs as he stands to hug him. “Eh, our kids are brown. I don’t think anybody’ll notice.”

Al turns to Natasha and Oscar. “They’re up three to nothing, Nattie.”

Natasha laughs. “Soon enough, dad.”

Ginny smirks at her husband as the guys file through giving him high fives and pats on the back. “So I’m pregnant but everybody congratulates you? That’s nice.”

“I’m the skip, rookie,” he replies with a shrug and a smile.

Chapter Text

Mike looks at his wife as he holds up a baby. “This is Libby, right?”

Ginny looks up from braiding Tillie’s hair. “That’s Belle, babe.”

Mike turns the baby around and looks over her soft brown face, grinning back at her dimpled smile. “How do you tell them apart?”

“Libby’s fatter,” she replies.

Mike bends and lifts Libby out of the playpen then considers the twins side by side. Libby is indeed fatter than her twin, but not so much so that he would readily pick it up. He looks back at his wife. “There’s gotta be a better way than that.”

Ginny smirks. “Doesn’t it worry you that they’re six months old and you can’t tell them apart yet?”

He shakes his head. “For one, they’re identical. And for another, Blip and Ev still mix Marcus and Gabe up and they’re like 11.”

She finishes Tillie’s hair and the little girl immediately picks up a mirror to examine herself. She turns to grin at her mother. “I’m so pretty, Mama!”

“Yes you are,” Ginny replies, tweaking her daughter’s nose.

“Can I hold a baby?” she asks.

“Can you go wake Isaac up first?”

“Okay!” She skips away, her little white Keds thudding on the carpeted floor as she runs to the couch to wake a napping Isaac. Ginny smiles at her helping her baby brother off the couch and replacing his pacifier before taking his hand to lead him to her.

“There’s my sleepy boy,” Ginny coos as she picks him up and settles him on her lap. “Are you hungry?”

He gives a sleepy nod, spits out his pacifier. “Want Appa.”

Ginny smirks. “Of course you do. Go on. Go to your twin.”

He slips off her lap and walks over to his father, lifting his arms to be picked up. Mike smiles at his clone. “Hang on, bud.”

He walks over and places a baby, Belle he thinks, in Ginny’s arms then sets Libby down on Tillie’s lap. Tillie immediately takes a soft brush out of her hairbow box and brushes her sister’s hair, whispering, “gentle, gentle,” as she does. Ginny smiles. “Good, Jr. Good gentle hands.”

Tillie looks up and smiles proudly. Ginny pulls down her tank top’s left side and unsnaps her nursing bra to feed Belle, who latches on quickly. She took to nursing faster than her sister, but both are eager eaters now. Ginny smiles at her baby, the quieter of the two. “Hi my sweet girl. You’re hungry, aren’t you?”

Mike re-enters the room, Isaac eating half a grilled cheese sandwich on his hip. “Jr. you ready for lunch?”

She nods and he gives her the other half of the sandwich then goes back to the kitchen and gets the plate with the other sandwiches on it, eventually sitting beside Ginny on the loveseat. Isaac slips off his lap to sit beside his older sister and Mike picks up the other twin, standing her up on his legs.

“Hey Belle!”

“That’s Libby,” Ginny corrects.

Mike smiles and shrugs, bouncing the baby. “You don’t know the difference, do you?”

“Yes she does,” Ginny answers. “Libby!”

The baby turns to look at her mother and gives a toothless grin then looks back at her father who shrugs. “Papa’s gonna buy you something with your name on it.”

“You can’t put collars on them, old man.”

Mike shakes his head, pulls a face at his wife. “Not collars. Those little name necklaces girls wear. You know, the little gold ones.”

“Oh. I never got one of those. Didn’t need any jewelry on the field.”

Mike smiles, reaches over to tweak her nose. “Papa’ll buy you one too.”

Ginny smirks. “You’re not my Papa, old man.”

“That’s not what you said last night,” he argues with a grin.

 “Oh shut up.” Ginny laughs then looks down at Belle. “Are you finished? Hmm?”

She sits her up then looks at Mike. “Switch.”

They switch babies and she settles Libby on her other breast. Mike finds a burping cloth on the back of the couch then lays Belle across his shoulder. “Alright Thing One, let it rip.”

“Mama, I wanna go school,” Tillie announces, immediately getting her parents’ attention.

“You’re not old enough for school yet, Jr.,” Mike replies.

“She can go to school,” Ginny assures then looks back at Tillie. “Why do you wanna go to school?”

“Declan goes school,” she explains.

“Declan’s four though,” Mike tells Ginny.

“She’s almost 4, and preschools take kids younger than Isaac. And it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for her to go so she can learn some stuff before she starts real school.”

Mike shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Gin.”

Ginny smirks. “You’ve just got separation anxiety, old man.”

“No I don’t. I just think she’s better at home with you or at the clubhouse with me.”

“She’s never even here with me unless you’re here so don’t give me that. Besides, I’m going back to work at the beginning of the year and we can’t take them all to work. You don’t want her to grow up.”

“She’s plenty grown up. She knows her letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. And she can write. She doesn’t need to go to school.” He shrugs. “And we can take them all to the club. We can get a nanny.”

“We can’t strap a nanny with four kids under 5. That’s just cruel. Besides, she needs to go to socialize with people her own age, and get used to going to school before kindergarten. And she doesn’t have to go every day. Declan only goes three days a week while Melina’s at work.” Mike gives her a noncommittal frown and Ginny smirks, looks down at Tillie. “Do you wanna go to school with Declan, Jr.?”

Tillie nods, her mouth full of sandwich, and Ginny looks at her husband again. “Are you really gonna tell her no? Cause if you are, I wanna see you do it. Look her in the face and tell her she can’t go to school, Papa.”

Mike rolls his eyes at his wife. “That is so unfair.”

He looks down at Tillie and momentarily curses his love of her deep brown eyes. “Okay, Jr. Mama and Papa will look for a school for you.”

“She wants to go to school with Declan. We’ll just enroll her wherever he goes.”

Mike shakes his head. “She’s not going to school with the mini Casanova.”

“Okay, once again, tell her no. Tell her she can’t go to school with her best friend,” Ginny replies.

Before Mike answers, Belle lets out a tiny belch and Mike grins at her.

“Good job, Thing One.” He turns back to his wife. “You’re the worst.”

“I just think it would be good for to start school with someone she knows. That way, she’ll already have a friend.”

Mike mulls it over, rocking Belle as her eyes close, then finally says, “Okay. But just for three days.”

Ginny grins at her daughter. “You’re going to school, Jr.!”

The tot lets out a delighted squeal, clapping her little hands. Ginny looks at Mike. “On the days she goes to school, you should take Isaac to the club with you because he is not a fan of spending time with the twins.”

Mike snorts. “He’s just jealous.”

Ginny nods. “I know. He was watching them sleep in the swing yesterday and he had the meanest little frown on his face. Then he mumbled, ‘No babies.’ I think it might have been a threat.”

Mike laughs. “Well you know how Bear is about his mama, Gin.”

They switch babies again and Ginny fixes her top, bounces Belle as Mike burps Libby. “We’ve gotta be in LA by noon tomorrow.”

Mike nods. “I know. Charlie’s lending us his plane.”

Ginny raises her eyebrows at him. “It’s a three-hour drive.”

“Tell me how much fun it’ll be cooping our four kids under 5 up in a car for three hours, Gin.”

“Point taken,” she replies.

“Plus he owes me a few favors. He’s letting us use it for your birthday weekend too.”

Ginny gives him a wide-eyed grin. “Where are we going for my birthday?”

“Some really romantic guy booked a villa in Santa Barbara for the weekend. Two days of wine, sun, and sand, and two nights of dinner, dancing, and fully protected s-e-x with a baseball hall of famer. You could not be more lucky, rookie,” he replies with a grin.

Ginny smiles so hard Mike thinks it might fall off her face. “And what are we gonna do with the brood?”

“Their godmothers have graciously agreed to watch them. Ev, Nattie, and the boys are gonna be here Friday morning to take over until Sunday afternoon when we get back.”

“Do they know?” Ginny asks with a knowing smile.

Mike smiles back. “They have no idea. Ev is convinced she’s ready though.”

“Four kids with four babysitters seems like a good divide.”

“Assuming all the babysitters make it out alive,” Mike replies. “But they’re gonna take them to the game on Saturday so they’ll have some WAG backup, plus Pop Pop’s gonna be there.”

Ginny nods then reminds her husband, “They’ve gotta get them ready for that, though, and ready for bed after.”

Mike snickers. “I was told not to underestimate them.”

Ginny laughs. “They’ll absolutely be fine then.”

X

The Next Day

Ginny fastened the twins in their carriers. “Okay, checklist before we go: Bottles?”

“Ten,” Mike replies after counting them in the giant black So Young diaper bag, a gift from Evelyn and Blip.

“Diapers?”

“Forty,” he calls back.

“Wipes?”

“Whole box.”

“Burping cloths?”

“Check.”

“Changes of clothes?”

“Check.”

“Snacks?”

“Apple slices, orange slices, chips, and gummies.”

“Cough syrup, ear drops, nose spray, and Jr.’s inhaler?”

Mike finds the medicine bag under the diapers. “Check. I still say that Declan kid gave her asthma.”

“He can’t give her asthma, old man,” Ginny replies with a smirk.

“He kissed her,” Mike mutters as he zips the bag and puts it on his shoulder, vividly recalling Tillie’s first playdate with Salvamini’s youngest son.

X

"Don't touch my daughter…" Mike mutters as he watches three-year-old Declan, the spitting image of his father down to the rosy cheeks, helps Tillie stack blocks on the living room floor.

“Mike they’re playing.” Ginny smiles at the children.  

“He’s just like his father.” Mike’s admitted to his jealousy at Sal’s schoolboy crush on Ginny, and he’s alarmed to see that it’s apparently hereditary.

"He’s–” Ginny stops her argument when Declan leans over, plops a tiny kiss on Tillie’s mouth. She laughs and pulls out her phone to take their picture. "Declan, do it again! Do it again!”

The little boy doesn’t have to be coaxed very much and leans over to kiss Tillie again. She laughs and goes for another kiss. Ginny quickly snaps a few pictures and Mike scowls. “Alright that’s enough.”

He pushes off the couch, heads for the kitchen, “Sal come get your kid!”

Sal hurries to the kitchen doorway. “What’s wrong? Is he wheezing?”

“He’s kissing my daughter,” Mike huffs.

“Oh yeah he does that.” Sal grins proudly. “He’s his daddy’s boy.”

Ginny laughs as she walks over. “It’s fine, Sal. She likes it.”

“That’s not fine!” Mike’s face is beet red as he cranes his neck to see Declan as he leans over to kiss Tillie a third time. “He’s still at it!”

Sal laughs as he goes over to the kids. “Dec, you like Tillie?”

He nods. “Tillie’s my friend.”

Tillie nods, replies, "Declan my friend too."

“That’s good. No more kisses until it’s time to go though, okay?”

The little boy nods, his white blonde curls bouncing. “No more kisses.”

"No more kisses," Tillie echoes.

Sal plops a kiss on his forehead, smooths his curls back, then goes back to Mike and Ginny. He grins. “Problem solved.”

“We’ll see,” Mike mutters.

Ginny laughs. “You gotta lighten up old man.”

X

He goes to the living room and picks up Isaac. “Remember where we’re going, Mini Mike?”

“Plane!” the little boy whoops.

Tillie jumps off the couch, bounces to the door in her new white Converse. “Plane! Plane! Plane!”

“That’s right,” Mike says with a smile as he sets Isaac on the floor beside her then grabs their jackets from the coat rack. Tillie takes her gray hooded toggle jacket from him, proud to put it on and button it herself. Mike helps Isaac into his little blue pea coat and buttons it, plopping a beanie over the little bun on the crown of his head, watching as Ginny shrouds the babies in their yellow crochet blankets, gifts from the Salvamini brood. Ginny pulls on her leather jacket, the women’s version of the jacket she’d bought him for Christmas to replace his prized but worn out one.

She puts on her sunglasses then picks up a carrier in each hand. “Ready?”

Mike nods, picks Isaac up again and takes Tillie’s hand as they leave the house.

x

Tillie fastens her own seatbelt then looks up at her mother with a grin. “I did it!”

“Did you? Let me see?” Ginny leans across the plane separating their facing seats to check the fastened seatbelt. “You did Jr.! Good job!”

She leans over and fastens Isaac into his seat too then replaces the dozing toddler’s pacifier. Ginny had imagined they’d be constantly at war like she and Will were as kids, but Tillie and Isaac are the best of friends, and Tillie dotes on her baby brother. Ginny smiles at them then looks to her husband. “Did you remember the earmuffs?”

“Got ‘em,” he replies, pulling them out of the diaper bag. He outfits each child with a pair then gives Tillie her iPad. “I’ll sit with Mini Mike.”

The little boy doesn’t rouse when Mike unbuckles him and picks him up, or when Mike puts him in the kangaroo carrier. By the time they take off, three of the four children are asleep. Tillie being the only one to hold out. Half an hour into the flight, she loses the battle with her afternoon nap, however, slumping over onto her father.

Mike looks over at his wife and grins. “They’re gonna rip that set apart.”

Ginny nods then yawns, reclining her own chair. “We probably could have taken the car anyway if they were all gonna sleep.”

Mike shrugs. “If we’d stuffed them in a car, they would have bounced off the walls to spite us.”

“True,” Ginny yawns again, glancing over at the babies who are asleep in their carriers, their heads tilted toward each other. Ginny was surprised they’d fallen asleep without being able to touch as she and Mike had had to hunt down a crib large enough for two because they refuse to sleep without the other nearby.

“You look like you could use a nap too, rookie,” Mike remarks, watching her shift around in the seat. “You know there’s a bed in the back.”

Ginny nods, sleepily walks to the back and collapses on the bed after kicking off her trainers. A few minutes later, Isaac sleepily toddles in, whining, “Mama.”

“Come on, Bear,” she replies and he crawls onto the bed, climbing onto her chest. He presses his face into her neck, taking a clump of curls in his hand for security. Tillie comes a few minutes later and crawls up beside her mother, kicking off her shoes and pulling the covers up to her chin. They’re already asleep when Mike joins them, a sleeping baby in each arm. They’re a snoring pile when the flight attendant comes to wake them for landing forty-five minutes later.

X

Ginny smiles as she shakes Jimmy Fallon’s hand. “It’s so nice to meet you!”

“Same here,” Jimmy replies with a grin. “I was hoping to meet the kids before we go on.”

“Oh sure. They’re destroying your green room.” Ginny hooks her thumb over her shoulder, smiling because she can hear Tillie’s laugh, so much like her own.

“I’m sure much worse has been done to it by much older,” Jimmy replies as she follows her down the hall to the green room.

Tillie immediately runs over when they enter the room. “Mama come meet Twitch!”

“Okay,” Ginny replies, allowing Tillie to take her over to the tall man sitting cross-legged on the floor. She knows he’s scheduled to be interviewed after her.

“Hi,” Ginny greets, reaching out to shake his hand, smiling at his painted fingernails. “I see you and Jr. have made friends.”

He laughs as he shakes her hand. “This is actually a really nice color.”

Tillie plops beside him on the floor and takes his other large hand in her tiny ones to start on his nails. Ginny turns to Jimmy. “This is Tillie. We call her Jr.”

Isaac looks up from the iPad and runs over to his mother, lifting his arms to be picked up. Ginny smiles as she settles him on her hip. “This is Isaac. I call him Bear. Say hi, Bear.”

Isaac grins, reaches for Jimmy’s tie. “Hi!”

Jimmy smiles, leans over so he can grab his gold necktie. “He’s a dead ringer for Mike.”

“That he is,” Mike replies as he enters the room, a twin under each arm. He looks at Ginny. “What’d they eat? Their shit was orange.”

“Sweet potatoes,” Ginny replies as he walks over. “Jimmy, that’s Libby on the left, and Belle on the right.”

“Whoa! May I?” She reaches for the babies and Mike settles one in each of her arms. “Oh this is perfect.”

“You’re welcome to take them home for the night,” Mike jokes.

“I bet your wife would get a kick out of that,” Ginny adds with a laugh.

“Believe it or not, babies that I have no explanation for having wouldn’t be the strangest thing I’ve ever brought home.”

Mike laughs. “I went to cover a game in D.C. once before the kids were born. Got home and Gin had a box of kittens. Apparently this guy was giving them away on a freeway off-ramp so she just took the whole box, like we could just keep seven kittens.”

Ginny laughs. “I didn’t want them to grow up separate.”

Jimmy laughs too. “My wife went to New York for fashion week and came back with a duck. I got home from doing a standup show and it was in a box under a lamp on our nightstand. Her excuse? She thought it was a chick because apparently that would have been somehow different. Turned out to be an interesting pet though.”

 Ginny nods. “Tillie wants a duck because of Wonderpets.”

“I hate that show,” Mike mutters.

Ginny nods again. “That duck is obnoxious.”

“So do you guys just watch cartoons now?”

“We haven’t seen a movie that wasn’t G-rated in four years,” Mike replies.

“Or eaten food that requires forks for that matter,” Ginny adds.

“Everyone I know with kids survives off cereal and McNuggets.”

“I love McNuggets,” Mike answers.

Ginny laughs, shakes her head. “I don’t.”

X

“So, first question, what on earth do you do with all those kids?” Jimmy asks with a grin as a photo of the family appears on the screen behind them. Ginny turns to look at it and laughs at the capture from her Instagram. Mike is asleep in his easy chair, the twins asleep on his chest. Tillie sits on the arm of the chair, feeding Isaac crackers though he’s far more interested in covering his face in Ginny’s pilfered lipstick.

“This is pretty much what we do,” she replies with a laugh. “We’ve been talking about getting a nanny but we haven’t found anyone we hate quite that much.”

“You know what, I don’t have anything going on. I’ll take a crack at it.”

Ginny laughs, shakes her head. “You’re our friend and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Jimmy nods then looks around her. “Speaking of kids, we’ve got a runner.”

Ginny turns and grins at Isaac toddling onto the set, his arms outstretched. “Mama! Mama!”

Ginny meets him halfway, settling him on her hip and kissing his forehead as she carries him back. The audience immediately steals his attention and he grins at all the cooing women, waving and chirping, “Hi! Hi! Hi!”

Ginny smiles, shaking her head, tells Jimmy, “He’s his father’s child.”

 Jimmy nods. “I can see it.”

“What’s wrong Bear?” she asks, catching his attention again.

“Fall down,” he answers, showing her his tiny right hand which she guesses he hurt during the fall.

“Did you hurt your hand? Let Mama kiss it.” She kisses the heel of his right hand until he laughs then offers the left. “You hurt that one too?”

She kisses his hand a few times then looks at Jimmy who asks, “So is he a future Padre?”

 “We don’t know yet. He broke his papa’s heart a few days ago when he picked out a football at the toy store so we’re not sure what he’ll be.” Ginny shrugs, laughing as Isaac resumes waving at the crowd. “Maybe he’ll be a model.”

“He should come back and host sometime,” Jimmy jokes.

“He’d never leave,” she replies with a smile then asks Isaac, “Where’s your papa?”

Isaac points to the wings where Mike is watching, one of the twins strapped to his chest. “Appa!”

The crowd whoops as Mike walks onto the stage, grinning and waving as he swaggers in the way that only he can. Tillie holds his left hand, waving too as she hurries to Ginny. She climbs onto the couch and crosses her ankles.

Mike shakes Jimmy’s hand, the men exchanging greetings, before Jimmy gestures for Mike to take a seat. Ginny takes Libby out of the back sling and hands her to him as he sits down, Tillie crawling onto Ginny’s other knee to make room.

“You guys must have big furniture,” Jimmy comments.

Ginny laughs, shakes her head. “We’ve got a sectional couch but they still sit on us.”

“That’s kids,” he replies. “Like when you’re eating and they have a full plate but still want your food.”

“That’s Bear,” Mike answers, reaching over to smooth Isaac’s riotous curls where they’ve pulled loose from his little bun.

“So who rules the roost?”

Both Mike and Ginny point to Tillie who smiles at the attention. Ginny answers, “She picks dinner. She picks the movie. She decides what’s for snack time.”

“Sounds like my Isabella,” Jimmy answers.

Ginny nods. “Now this is our baseball player. She’s hell with a bat.”

“She’s her papa’s girl,” Mike agrees.

“That she is,” Ginny replies.

 Jimmy nods. “So I know the world—myself included—is wondering when we’ll have Ginny Baker back on the mound.”

“I’ll be back in April,” she replies, grinning at the audience’s thunderous applause.

“And how does it feel? Being the MLB’s first working mother?”

Ginny tilts her head, chooses her words. “You know, it’s interesting. I work with almost nothing but working fathers and no one ever wonders how they’ll balance their home life. I don’t even think the term ‘working father’ exists.”

Jimmy nods. “It’s very interesting to watch that double standard play out. When my wife was pregnant, she worked all the way up until the end—she’s in PR—and everyone was so curious as to why she was still there. You know, ‘Aren’t you tired?’ ‘Shouldn’t you be getting ready to hang it up?’ And when she went back after her six weeks off, people were aghast. As if she’d left the baby home alone or something.”

Mike shakes his head. “We’ve gotta change the conversation around mothers with jobs, or at the very least include fathers in it. I’m retired and it didn’t even occur to anyone that I would stay home with our kids, as if they’re not my kids. People still think it’s odd. When I’m out with the kids, people ask if I’m babysitting. Like, fathers don’t babysit. Uncles and grandpas babysit. I’m doing an equal share of the work.”

Jimmy opens his mouth to ask a question but applause drown him out. When they die down, he asks, “I think it has a lot to do with some very old ideas we have about women, that being mothers and general caretakers is still a woman’s ultimate calling.”

Ginny nods. “It’s absolutely that. I love being a mother. I can’t think of anything that’s made me as happy as holding each one of my children for the first time. But that love didn’t change who I am, which is a baseball player. There was a time when I didn’t believe the motherhood life was for me, but I’ve always known the baseball life was for me. And despite what the guys on ESPN would like to say about it, the two are not mutually exclusive. My children don’t love me any less because I have to train, and my team doesn’t value me any less if I have to stop working out to pump breastmilk.”

“I think that’s a good place to end,” Jimmy replies after the thunderous applause drown out.

Later on the plane, Mike grins as he and Ginny lay under their snoring pile of children. “Y’know Baker, a couple of fairly doable interns—they were at least sixes—were telling me they’re very jealous that you’ve got such a feminist husband. Apparently they’d kill to have a man like me.”

“I hope you gave them your number because I’m tired of you,” she replies with a teasing grin.

“Hey I turned 3 pregnancies into 4 kids. I’m a motherf—” he glances down at the sleeping kids then whispers, “motherfucking vagician.”

“Vagic—” Ginny snorts a laugh, quickly getting the pun. “Shut up, old man.”