Ginny sat with ice tied to her left shoulder, a bruised cheek, and tape on her right hand. Her hair was in disarray and dirt, clay, and grass clung to her pants, stuck on her cleats. She focused on the ground as Dougie and Oscar fought in GM’s office. It was colorful as always.
“We can’t afford to get fined right now! Baker, Duarte, and Jackson could get suspensions, we are within sniffing distance of division series--”
“Some candy ass piece of shit headhunter lobbed that ball like a club and you’re in here whining about fucking fines and suspensions?”
“Hey, look, pissing matches are all part of the sport, but so is winning. I want to win. We can’t win with Baker, Duarte, and Jackson cooling their asses in purgatory.”
“I don’t need some front office prick pulling my balls to get results five minutes after my pitcher gets beaned and elbowed in the face.”
“What’d you just call me?”
“Read it: front--”
“I’ll pay the fines, take the suspension. It’s fine,” Ginny stood up. She looked between Dougie and Oscar. They both averted their eyes.
“If you’ll excuse me.”
Ginny walked out into a subdued clubhouse. Candice, a reporter, approached.
“Not today,” Ginny said, moving to her locker.
“Just a quick Q&A?”
Ginny winced as she reached to untie her shoes. She caught Blip frowning at her, arms crossed, the picture of fraternal worry.
“Thirty seconds,” Ginny answered. She turned towards the camera.
“Why’d you charge the mound?”
“Taylor seemed to have trouble seeing, so I wanted to recommend a good opthamologist.”
Candice nodded to her cheek. “Is it true you were elbowed in the fracas?”
“In the fracas? Sounds like a party,” Ginny smiled, “I guess, don’t know. I was too busy checking on Taylor.”
“One more,” Candice huddled close to Ginny, “any comment on Mike Lawson coming back to San Diego?”
Mike Lawson. Mike Lawson. Mike Lawson. Ginny bounced a tennis ball off a wall. She played sevens like that, where the ball was her hand and the wall was his face and the actions were what she’d do to that smug, perpetually shadowed face. Mike Fucking Lawson. Back to San Diego. Any comment? Ginny caught the ball and exhaled. Fucking A, did her comment have to be the sound of a baby pig with asthma? Did she have to look like a lost doe in the woods? Of course he’d be watching. It was his job now, wait, before, to comment on baseball, on pitches and stats and attitude and who owes what to whom. Whatever. Ginny switched hands and played, but only made it to four.
The phone rang. Already bored, Ginny picked up without screening the call.
“Baker,” she answered.
“Lawson,” Mike said, in a loose imitation of her voice.
Five years evaporated and she was back in the Omni, on her bed, being derided for her vocal fry.
Ginny hung up. The phone buzzed five seconds later, then didn’t. Ginny shoved it between the seat cushions and went for a swim. She floated, thinking of him. Mike Lawson. He remembered their little thing. Baker. Lawson. It induced the same warmth in her chest. Memories flooded her senses, his laugh, the taste of his mouth, the feel of his beard on her stomach. But it wasn’t all roses and great sex. She hated how her mind went there. What mattered was the ending, and the ending left her crippled.
It was dusk by the time she came back in. Ginny was halfway through a plate of chicken nachos and thoroughly immersed in Y: The Last Man when the couch vibrated.
She fished out the phone. Same number. Somewhere between stepping out of the pool and grating cheese Ginny resolved to not be too bothered by Mike Lawson, to think of his return as some kind of Herculean feat she’d have to weather in order to conquer…something. The past? She wasn’t clear on that part.
“Why do you still have my number?”
That question seemed to knock him off guard. Ginny munched on a nacho.
“I never got around to deleting it.”
“Well, now that you’re coaching, you’ll have to de-clutter your life. Start with me.”
Ginny pressed end, turned off her phone, and got back to Toyota and Agent 355 kicking the shit out of each other.
Baker had a nondisplaced metacarpal fracture and tendonitis of the shoulder. The spectre of the torn UCL made it seem worse than it was. Mike leaned in the doorway as Gia went over the specifics. In general, there were signs of overexertion. It would be best for her to take a break. Dougie and Oscar looked to Mike.
“Anybody we can bring up?” Dougie asked.
Mike gave a few names, then left. He wandered from the front office to the field. They were going to put her on the DL for sixty days. She was twenty-eight years old, the only female in the league, and the official reason would read exhaustion. The talking dicks would salivate venom once they heard.
The field was empty. Mike climbed into the stands. Even though his knees protested, he walked the rows, from the bottom of one section to the top. He didn’t notice the sweat. He had new worries as the pitching coach, worries that turned him contemplative and kept him trapped in a closet-sized office for hours reviewing tape and writing notes like he was that guy in Good Will Hunting, but Baker took the lion’s share of it.
Like today. He woke up restless and nearly sliced his neck open thinking about how she would react to a three-game suspension, and how he should react to her reaction. He had no idea what to do except what he wanted to do, which was call her, see her face, hear her laugh, lean against her, tease her, flirt with her, fall asleep with her, you know, the regular things a guy who virtually firebombed a potential end-all-be-all relationship wanted after five years of dead silence.
Mike sat in a nosebleed section behind center field. The sky put on a great sunset show, the breeze was warm, quiet closed around him. The floodlights clicked on. Mike blinked a few times, then leaned forward when Baker appeared, arm in a sling. She went straight to the mound, walked in a circle, poked the dirt, bent, popped up, wiped her hand on her pants. Mike watched her jog the diamond, then do a flat run from the mound to the outfield wall. She disappeared for a second, then she was skipping backwards to third base, then home. Woman was a beast. A smile worked his mouth.
Baker looked out at the stands from home base. Mike froze. Her face was a smudge, but her eyes pinned him. Mike pulled out his phone.
“Hey,” he said.
“You pick my replacement already?” Baker asked.
“Offered a few names.”
“Stewart needs more development. He’s too raw, but he’s going to be something spectacular. Fratelli is solid, so is Goines,” Baker said after a short pause.
Mike stayed silent. She had a good eye for talent, and was far more magnanimous than two-thirds of the guys in her position, himself included, but he also knew her. She’d push herself twice as hard, rush through therapy, and end up tearing something, then hide it, because that was Ginny Baker, uber-overachiever.
"Looking at sixty days, Baker. You ready for that?”
“It won’t be, but thanks for the concern.”
Mike stood. “I am concerned. You haven’t slowed down since the UCL. Take this time to--”
“Listen, I know you’re practicing being supportive and everything, but save it for the rookies and the blank slates coming in,” Baker twisted away, “we both know it doesn't mean shit.”
Mike thought he had mellowed over the years, but the set of her shoulders, the way her voice wrung dry in his ear tossed him clear back to that first summer when every follicle of hair was a spitting fuse and the air tasted of heated metal.
“Fine, you’re right, this trite supportive shit isn’t my thing. Here’s some truth,” Mike started down the steps, “you’re twenty-eight years old. Before you know it, you’ll be thirty-five and considered a veteran. Your shoulder will feel like ground meat on good days, flaming shit on bad days, and you’ll have more of the latter. You’ll start thinking exit strategies, but you’ve been too busy playing this sport and killing yourself to have devoted the time, too focused on clay composition and being an Ace, too busy fending off better, younger, faster, hungrier guys. You won’t ever win against baseball. You will fail. And you’ll wake up one day, your shoulder in tatters, back stiff, looking like stale jerky, alone, and wondering what fucking detour is this.”
Mike reached the railing. Baker returned to the mound. She glared at him, jaw clenched. “No detour, Baker. Life. Rife with regret and pain management. You aren’t invincible. Start giving a damn about yourself. You think all of this,” Mike threw out an arm, “will go to hell without you? Keep thinking that, and you’ll end up a washed-up fool.”
Pain slid all over her face and dimmed her eyes. Mike swallowed the urge to add some mitigating statement about not wanting to hurt her. He already did, nothing to be done about that ship, but he wouldn’t leave her alone to hurt herself.
“You done?” Baker asked. Her voice was thick.
“No.” Mike couldn’t stop his tongue. “I fucked up. I’ll own it. I wanted to protect you. No, Ginny, hear me out,” he said when she dropped the phone from her ear.
The dial tone buzzed and Baker started walking away. It was now or now.
“I’m here now, so hate me. Make me miserable. Katy Perry on an endless loop.”
Baker whipped around. Mike coughed. “You can tear me a new asshole too, any time, day or night, for as long as you need it,” he continued. “If you don’t need me at all, that’s fine too. Don’t need me. But I’m gonna call you, leave you crap messages, irritate the shit out of you so you hate me even more.”
Baker held up her phone. “Why?” she asked when he answered.
“Because,” Mike sighed, “because I’m an old man and I worry.”
She stared at him for a long minute. “Don’t nag,” she said.
“Don’t be stupid.”
Baker hung up and stalked off, but not before Mike caught a rather mild eyeroll. It was akin to sunlight after being in the dark cold.
The organization banned Ginny from using the facilities. Dougie only wanted her at Petco if she attended games, and even then it was discouraged. Rest, everyone cooed. Take it easy. Listen to the therapists (physical and mental). Read, go to the beach, catch-up on shows, do a podcast, curate some lists, on and on and on, all aboard the advice train.
The first full day of exile happened to fall when Calomina, from the maid service, came to clean. Ginny followed her from the driveway to the half-bath until Calomina gave up and made Ginny her assistant for the day, lugging buckets, dusting high places, changing the blinds. They were done by lunch, Ginny’s treat, and then she was alone again, in a spotless house. She called Cara and caught another lucky break: wine cruise. Ginny got home late, tanned and toasted and tired enough to answer Lawson’s call on the second ring instead of the fifth.
“So what did you do today?”
“I cleaned the gutters, did a few dozen laps over at the Y and, because the kids were just egging me, whupped their asses on the ropes course. Topped it off with being the honorary coxswain for the UC-San Diego row team.”
Mike snorted. “Coxswain. Sounds like fancy English for dick sweat.”
“Ha,” Ginny laughed, “cock stain.” She pulled the covers around her. “I didn’t even think of it.”
“What did you really do?”
“How about I email you a report, save us both time?”
“I might as well read a refrigerator manual.”
“The Samsung 123XYZ is killer. Bestseller. Float you my copy.”
Mike made a noise Ginny once classified as a hybrid of a grin and a chuckle. A gruckle. Horrible name, wonderful sound.
“It’s weird,” Ginny said, absently.
“How easy it is. It’s like...like stepping into the same stream, even though you can’t.”
“Baker,” Mike paused, “are you on something?”
“I’m just saying. Whoever said that is a liar. And a pessimist.”
“You are on something,” Mike said.
Ginny closed an eye. “I’m fine. Tired. Don’t call anymore. Talk to you. Night.”
Mike tossed his keys somewhere and sank into the couch, in the dark, for fifteen minutes. It had been a long, stressful, irritating day. Two injuries, Goines apparently had some weird phobia about screwballs, and everyone, every single one of them, played like they had never seen a baseball, let alone heard of it. His back outperformed his knees today and he gobbled down aspirin like a bag of skittles. In short, Mike Lawson felt every day of his forty-one years.
He kicked off his shoes and turned onto his side, giving up on doing anything other than mild wallowing, when his butt cheek vibrated.
Mike answered without looking. “Yeah?”
“Guess what’s on.”
“On? I don’t know,” he turned onto his back, “Justin Bieber being inducted into the Pop Hall of Fame?”
“Wrong. I’ll give you a hint. Listen.”
Ginny hummed something that closely resembled a kettle going off. He couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh, come on. It’s not that terrible.”
“It has always been that terrible.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why I’m a baseball player, not an international pop star. Now, can you guess? We’ve missed the first half-hour already.”
Mike sat up, turned on the television, and keyed in the title. “You know we can rewind, right?”
“I know, but I don’t wanna. Are you watching?”
Mike was watching. He listened to her crunching popcorn and slurping, if he had to guess, Goose Island. He sank into her sniffling laughter and mild snorts. Mike missed her, all of a sudden, with a sharpness that made his world shift.
“Shit day, huh?” Ginny asked. A commercial for VR sunglasses assaulted his eyes.
“Caked shit kind of day,” Mike replied.
“What’s going on with Palomar? It’s like his arm is stuck on crap.”
“I know, guy moves like he’s swimming in molasses. Actually, everybody moved like they had two bad knees and a hernia. I mean, how do we lose against the Mariners? The team has been at the bottom of the league for two years now. How?”
“Well, for starters, we’re missing Yoshima bad in center field, and we all know Connie’s in a slump. Nerves are tight, and we’re close to postseason.”
“Don’t be so fucking modest. We’re missing you and Duarte and Jackson.”
Ginny couldn’t keep the smile from her voice. “Aw, so you finally admit you’re sweet on Duarte?”
“No, just threw him in there to distract you from my true love -- Jackson’s switch hitting.”
By the time the credits zoomed past, the day’s game wasn’t a blight on the face of baseball, just a bad game. Ginny was doing her best Mike Myers-as-a-Jazz-poet impression and Mike was wheezing from laughter. They were back.