The Field of Love
The boys dressed and headed out to the field to warm-up. Brent was already warming up on the side-lines, in the pitcher's bullpen. As Sammy and Tony started throwing to loosen up their arms, Andy Collins walked over.
"Hi, Sammy." Andy said as he reached out to bump fists with him.
Sammy didn't know Andy even knew his name. Andy, like himself, had been pretty much a loner since his mother died a few years ago. Except for Roger Banks, as far as Sammy knew, Andy kept to himself. Wherever Andy was, Roger wasn't far behind. He thought he had heard someone say Andy was on the team last year, but because of some illness, Andy couldn't play this year.
"Hi." Sammy said shyly.
"I heard you had a really good game the other day. I wish I was playing this year. I'm Andy by the way."
"Yes, I know. I'm Sammy." He said. He was glad Tony chose that moment to return the ball to him, because he was embarrassed he had just told Andy who he was, when Andy already knew his name. After throwing the ball back to Tony, he asked, "How come you aren't playing this year?"
Andy laughed. "I have leukemia."
"Oh man, I'm so sorry." Sammy said turning to Andy. "I didn't know."
"It's cool, dude. I don't run around telling many people, but you and I seem to be on the same wave length, y'know?"
"I think so." Sammy said, not really sure where Andy was heading.
"I know I wasn't at the game last week, but several people told me how well you played and about the crap that happened afterwards with Tony's brother." Andy shook his head in disgust. "I'm sorry I couldn't be at the game last week, but I had chemo Wednesday, and I don't do too well after a treatment."
"It's cool. I understand." Sammy said. He had no idea what people with leukemia went through or what chemo was, but it didn't sound good.
Andy smiled. "I'm just helping Coach Parker this year, and hopefully I can play again next year; so I feel like I'm still a member of this team. Y'know what I mean?"
"Yes. To be honest with you, I didn't even know you played on the team. I've seen you play during the summer leagues, but I never paid any attention who was on the school teams." Andy seemed like a good guy, and if he remembered right, he recalled his father saying Andy's dad was thinking about running for governor. He was beginning to like Andy. "I hope you can play next year. It's too bad you can't this year, we could use you."
Andy laughed. "You keep hitting homers and being a vacuum cleaner at shortstop, you guys will do alright without me."
At that moment, Brent walked by them and mumbled under his breath, but loud enough for both Andy and Sammy to hear, "half-breed", then walked on towards the dugout.
Andy turned to Brent and called out, "Hey Brent, what the hell was that about?"
"You need to stay out of it Collins." Brent responded.
"I don't think so. Either you're part of the team or you need to take a walk, Sloan." Andy glared, his eyes became cold and hard, his nostrils begun to flare, and the rising anger could be heard in his tone.
Sammy didn't want Andy fighting with Brent, because if he was as sick as he thought he was, nothing good could come from it. "It's okay, Andy. I never care what assholes have to say. They always smell and nothing but shit comes from them."
Andy glanced at Sammy and couldn't contain his laughter. "Oh my God. Did Sammy Day just make a funny?" Andy was laughing so hard he had to grab ahold of Sammy's shoulders to keep from falling on the ground.
"Hey Andy, what's up" Roger Banks said, as he and Joey Adams walked up.
Those cold hard eyes of Andy's a moment ago, now sparkled and gleamed as he saw Roger and Joey. Still trembling from trying to suppress his laughter, Andy explained what Sammy had said. Roger howled at it and Joey smiled, as Brent turned and walked away.
Andy gestured to Roger. "Sammy, I'd like you to meet my best friend, Roger Banks, who howls like a hyena." Andy snickered and then walked over to Joey and took his hand. " And this beautiful blond, is my boyfriend, Joey Adams, soon to be Roger's brother."
Sammy's mouth flew open and stared incredulously at the two of them. It wasn't he didn't believe Andy, he just couldn't wrap his head around the fact Andy was so open about his relationship with Joey. Then he became suspicious. Had they heard the rumors? Were they trying to play him?
Narrowing his eyes, Sammy asked, "Is this a trick? Or some sick joke?"
"Nope. We're for real. Joey and I have been dating since August. You mean you hadn't heard?" Andy said, sensing Sammy's unease.
Sammy's posture relaxed some at that. He hadn't heard anything about it, but then who would have told him? He shook his head. "Naw, rumors don't usually make it to me."
"You warmed-up already?" Tony asked as he ran up to the guys. "Hey Andy. Hi Roger, Joey." Tony smiled at them.
"Hiya, Tony." Roger said, but kept his eyes on Sammy and his reaction to Andy.
"Hi Tony. How you feeling?" Andy asked.
"I'm great, thanks." Tony said and then glanced at Sammy who was still studying Andy and Joey.
"I heard what happened. If you ever need someone to talk to, you can always talk to me or Joey." Andy nodded in Joey's direction.
"Thanks, Andy. I may take you up on that sometime." Tony said. He was a little surprised at the offer, but coming from Andy, he knew he meant it.
"Well, we'll let you two get back to warming-up. I just wanted to let you both know, you aren't alone." Andy paused and glanced at Joey who nodded to him. "One more thing, good friends are hard to come by, and I think you both would make good friends."
After the boys bumped fists, Sammy watched Andy, Joey, and Roger walk towards the bleachers. At the gate, they split-up, Roger and Joey took a seat on the bleachers, and Andy walked over to Coach Parker. Andy and Coach Parker spoke quietly and then Andy pointed to the dug-out where Brent sat. Sammy couldn't hear what was being said, but he had a good idea when Coach Parker shook his head and looked over at the dug-out.
While Jenkins took infield, Coach Parker spoke to his team. "I want you to stick to the fundamentals and we'll be fine. See the ball, hit the ball. See the ball, catch the ball. Watch your base coaches when running the bases." The coach paused, then asked, "Does anyone need me to go over the signs again?" He waited and seeing no one needed him to go over them again, he continued. "Good, that's out of the way. I hope none of you tell me later you missed or didn't understand the sign. We're a team guys. There's fifteen of us, including Andy here." He motioned to Andy standing beside him. "It's unfortunate Andy can't play this year, but we're looking forward to his return next year." Most of the team had a positive response, ranging from, 'you got that right' to a few 'yeahs'. "My point is, we are a team, and as the saying goes, there's no 'I' in team. No one person can win the game. It takes everyone pitching in and supporting one another." The coach paused and looked directly at Brent. "I don't care how good you think you are, you will support one another or you are off the team. And before you start, I don't give a damn what your daddy has to say about it. My word is final. Got it?"
Most of the team answered with a loud, "yes sir", but not everyone. Brent was simmering. He knew Andy must have told the coach what he had said to Sammy. It was going to be harder now to get Tony and Sammy off the team with Andy butting his nose in. He'll have to get a few friends from the football team to take care of his problem for him.
Brent was on his game this afternoon, as he struck out the side, all three batters striking out. He felt like he had something to prove to everyone. He had always felt like he was the best player the Cougars had. Even though he was only a sophomore, the coach had him at clean-up in the line-up. 'That alone said he was the best player, right?' Brent thought to himself. 'I'll show that half-breed and his faggy boyfriend who's the man on this team.'
The first batter up for the Cougars was Taylor Eagleton. He drove the first pitch back up the middle, causing the Cavaliers' pitcher to duck out of its way, as the ball streaked like a bullet fired from a gun right at his head. It was enough to shake the Cavaliers' pitcher, who was now pitching from the stretch, as his next two pitches sailed way outside the strike zone. One pitch went completely over the catcher and umpire's heads, but the ball hit the concrete backstop so hard it bounced right back to the catcher, holding Taylor on first. the second pitch bounced a foot in front of the plate. Nate Bell, surprised to be in the top of the line-up again today, after getting an out all four times the last game, wasn't too confident to begin with, and then to have a shaky pitcher on the mound, made it worse. He decided a walk would be a good game plan this time up.
Coach Parker sensed the pitcher's trouble finding the strike zone, and to Nate's relief, gave his batter the take sign, so he wouldn't swing at the next pitch. The pitch was closer to the zone, but high and inside, forcing Nate to jump back out of the batters box to keep from getting hit. With the count three balls and no strikes, the coach had Nate take the next pitch and signaled he wanted Taylor to stay close to the base and not take any chances of getting himself picked-off first. Before the next pitch, the Cavaliers' catcher called time and went out to settle down his pitcher.
Andy, the first base coach, walked over to Taylor. "You get the coach's sign?"
"Yup." Taylor said "Play it safe."
"Good hit by the way." Andy smiled.
"Thanks. It scared me at first." Seeing Andy's questioning look, Taylor added, "I thought I had killed the pitcher." He laughed.
By this time, the Cavalier's coach was out at the mound to talk to his pitcher and catcher. Coach Parker called Nate and Sammy over to him at the third base coach's box. "Nate, I don't want you to even fake a bunt on this next pitch. In fact, take the next two pitches, even if either or both are strikes. After that, you're on your own. Sammy, if Nate walks, and I think he will, look for your pitch until you get two strikes on you, if you have to. I want you to drive the ball. This guy doesn't have much of a fastball and he has no control over his off speed pitches."
"Yes sir." Both boys answered.
Sammy went back to the on deck circle to take some more practice swings, as he waited his turn to bat and Nate took his place in the batter box. Nate took the next pitch as instructed. It was a fastball at the knees and just made enough of the plate for a call strike, bringing the count to three balls and one strike. The strike pumped-up the pitcher and on the following pitch, he overthrew the ball, releasing it too soon, and it ended up high and outside, ball four.
With two men on base, first and second, Sammy slowly walked to the plate while he kept an eye on the coach run through the signs. Coach Parker gave Sammy the hit away sign, just as he had told him earlier during the time out. He asked the umpire for time as he set himself in the batter box. He focused in on the pitcher as he took a couple of practice swings.
The pitcher nodded to the catcher, accepting the pitch call. Sammy caught the catcher, back behind the plate, sliding to the outside corner of the plate, as he gave the pitcher a target to throw at. The kids in the stands who decided to stay for the game, after being released early from classes, began to stomp their feet in sync on the metallic stands, creating a lot of noise for the pitcher to deal with. Sammy tuned it all out and centered in on the pitcher.
Remembering the catcher setting up on the outside corner of the plate, Sammy was looking for a fastball in that location and decided to go with the pitch and drive it to right field. From the stretch, the pitcher checked the runner, and then quickly faked a throw to second, causing both runners to retreat back to their bases.
Calling time, Sammy stepped out of the batter box and took a couple of swings, then took his stance back in the box. Again, he noticed the catcher had scooted to the outside corner of the plate. The pitcher received the pitch call from the catcher. From the stretch, the pitcher eyed the runners, then threw a fastball that appeared headed right for the catcher's mitt, but Sammy was looking for that pitch and before it popped into the mitt, he swung and connected. By going with the pitch, he drove the ball deep between the center and right fielders, all the way to the fence.
Sammy was out of the batter box in a flash, with the wind blowing in his face, reminding him of his morning runs. He saw the ball bounce between the two outfielders, but even with the play in front of him, he still looked towards Andy in the coaches box, who had his arm in a windmill motion sending Sammy on to second base. He rounded first and felt so free running the bases. He loved this game. He never felt better than he did at this moment running the bases. When he was half way between first and second he picked up the sight of Coach Parker waving him on to third. He looked down as his right foot caught the inside corner of second base, turned on the afterburners, and headed for third base. As he was halfway to third he saw the coach motion for him to slide. As he neared third, he dove head-first towards the bag, just beating the tag. Excited over the hit and the adrenalin rush from running, Sammy was quick to his feet. The triple scored both runners giving the Cougars a two to nothing lead.
Coach Parker was there in an instant. "Awesome hit, Sammy!" Coach Parker exclaimed, as he slapped Sammy on the butt.
Smiling from ear to ear, Sammy said, "Thanks, Coach."
After Sammy dusted off the front of his uniform, he happened to glance up into the stands and saw his father standing and clapping. Billy Day, once he knew his son had seen him, gestured to him by bringing his index and middle fingers of his right hand to his lips, kissing them, and then placing his right hand over his heart. It was something Billy and Sammy used to tell one another; it was a kiss to a loved one. Sammy returned the gesture and grinned.
Just as Sammy begun to turn away from his father, he noticed someone two rows in front of Billy. The boy was clapping just as enthusiastically as Sammy's dad. Mike was all smiles and when he noticed Sammy looking at him, he pumped his arms into the air and shouted, "Thunder." Sammy's smile broadened, if possible, and he tipped his cap in Mike's direction.
Brent next flew out to deep center field, trying to pull an outside pitch. The sacrifice fly allowed Sammy to score standing up, bring the score in the Cougars favor, three to nothing. The Cavalier's pitcher settled down after Sammy's hit and started throwing strikes, causing the game to turn into a pitcher's duel for the rest of the game. The final score was four to one in favor of the Cougars, with each team only scoring a run apiece, after the first inning.
Sammy added another hit and a stolen base in two more at bats, going two for three for the game. Brent did hit a double in the fifth inning, and end up going one for three. Tony never got to play, as the doctors wanted him to wait a week before participating in a game, but he was one of Sammy's biggest fans. However, there was another fan in the stands who cheered as loudly for Sammy as Tony did, Mike. Sammy dearly cherished the support of both boys. He just wasn't sure what he felt for either of them. Friends for sure, but was there more?