Davey caught the ball that his dad had hit out to him and threw it back. The boy, who was fielding the balls that the outfielders threw in, handed it to Steve, Davey's dad, who was one of the coaches for their Little League team.
"Good catch Davey. Okay Robbie, your turn."
Steve threw the ball up and hit it once again, this time to one of the other boys, Robbie. The boy backed up as the ball sailed out to him. He got under it and caught it easily. Robbie smiled as he threw the ball back in. Steve continued working with the outfielders, for the rest of the practice. He would call out the name of one of the boys before he hit the ball. He varied his hits between high fly balls, to line drives to hard one or two hop grounders. He wanted to make sure that they were ready for opening day on Saturday. For most of these boys this was their last year in Little League. They would have to move to Junior League to continue playing and/or middle school teams.
Once Steve was satisfied that the boys were doing well, he called them in and congratulated them on doing well, before sending them out on some laps around the baseball field. Once everyone was finished with their laps, the manager, George Anders called all the players in and had them sit down in a semi circle in front of him and Steve Grant.
"Okay boys, we've done all we can as coaches to get you ready for opening day and you've all done well in working hard to get yourself ready. If you continue to make it out to practice and continue working as hard as you have the last few weeks, I think we will do well this year. Put it in."
All of the boys moved forward to put their hands in with the coaches, before giving a big cheer. The boys broke up and got on the bikes that they had ridden over to the ball park from home, while others went with their parents. Davey helped his dad gather some of the extra equipment together and loaded it in the back of the truck. They got in the truck and headed home.
"Dad, do you think we have a good team this year?"
"Yeah, I do Davey. You guys really looked good out there today. You're as good as any of the other teams, at least as far as I can see. As long as you keep practicing hard and give it your best, I think you guys can win."
Davey smiled at the compliment and nodded.
"Me too. I think we'll win."
Steve reached across the seat and tousled the boy's hair. A few minutes later they pulled into the driveway of their home. Once the truck was parked, they got out and Steve grabbed a couple of gear bags from the back, while Davey grabbed his gear bag and followed his dad into the house.
The next Saturday it was a pleasant late February day at Stearns Park. The Millikan High School Band was playing for the opening ceremonies for the Long Beach Little League's opening day. All of the teams were there from the youngest T-Ball teams to the Majors teams. Everyone's uniform was clean and bright as they lined up for their pictures that morning. In a short time, those same uniforms would look a bit different after the games got started. Davey's team, the Angels, were the second game of the day for the majors division. After all the pictures were taken, the games started.
The Angels were playing the Cubs. They went three up, three down in the first inning, but then jumped out to an early lead in the second inning with two runs. They kept the Cubs scoreless for three innings before the Cubs scored a three runs in the fourth inning on a three run home run that put them in the lead. Both teams were scoreless in the fifth inning, but the Angels were able to tie the game in the sixth, which meant that they had to go to extra innings. In the seventh inning, the Angels got a couple of people on base by the time Davey came up with only one out. He was able to get the count to three balls, one strike. On the next pitch, everything he had been taught said to wait it out, unless it was a fat pitch. It came in high and he couldn't help himself, he swung. There was a loud ding as his aluminum bat connected and the ball sailed to left field. The Cubs left fielder took off at the sound of the bat hitting the ball. He ran toward the outfield fence, the ball started to drop and he jumped up and snagged it out of the air, getting Davey out. He hit the fence kind of hard and fell back a little, this allowed the runners to tag up and advance a base. Davey's shoulders slumped as he reached first base, and saw that the outfielder had caught it. As he returned to the dugout, his dad gave him a sympathetic shoulder squeeze as he went by the first base coach, where Steve was standing.
"It was a great hit, Davey. Next time it'll be a homer."
Davey looked at his dad gratefully and nodded as he made his way to the dugout. Robbie was up next and ran the count to two and one, before hitting a line shot right between first and second base for a single to right field. The runner on third was able to score while the one on second advanced to third. The next batter struck out and it was the Cubs turn to come up as they were the home team. They had to score two runs to win. Their first batter walked as did the second batter. The Angels manager called time out and walked out to talk to Greg who was the pitcher. After a few moments, Greg handed him the ball and the manager called Tyler from center field to come in and warm up. The Angels supporters in the stands cheered for Greg as he made his way out to center field. After several warm up pitches, Tyler signaled that he was ready and the umpire yelled "Play ball!"
Tyler was facing the top of the order. The first batter, hit two fouls, one of which reached the fence, before the batter struck out on the next pitch. The next guy came up and ran the count to three and two. He connected with the next pitch sending it to left field, Davey ran forward as he saw the ball start to drop, he put on a small burst of speed and leaning forward caught it just above the ground for the final out. Angels won, four to three. His teammates cheered the catch and they all slapped gloves with him or slapped him on the back. His friend Jordan came up to him and put his arm across his shoulders as they walked back to the dugout. They gave a cheer for the Cubs, before lining up to congratulate the other team for a good game.
At school Davey, Jordan and his other friends from the team hung out together. During their lunch breaks, they usually played baseball whenever they could. Most of the time, the guys that they knew from the other teams in the league that were in the seventh grade played with them as well. So they got in some extra practice to go along with their regular practices. When they played their next game, the Angels won.
It was the following week that news came that changed things for Davey and his family. He and Tommy had practice on Thursday. Tommy played for the Red Sox in the Minor division. When they got home after practice, their mom, Melody, told them to get washed up and then get to work on the homework for a little while before dinner was ready. While the two boys went to wash up, Melody handed Steve an envelope. She had a concerned look on her face as she did so. He looked down and saw it was from the Department of the Navy. He glanced at her before turning it over and opening it. He took the papers out of it and opened them to read through them. When he finished and gave her a smile and kiss.
"Let's wait till after dinner to tell the boys."
Melody nodded and headed back into the kitchen to finish making dinner. Half an hour later she called for the boys to come to dinner. Steve followed a few moments later after he turned off the TV where he had been watching the news in the living room. During dinner he and the boys talked about their practices and their upcoming games.
"Are you boys done with your dinner?"
Both boys nodded and he smiled at them. He stood up and went to get the letter he had received from the Navy Department. He held it up for the boys to see.
"I got this today. My unit has been called up for active duty. That's what this letter is about. It's from the Navy Department and tells me that I have to report for duty at the end of the month."
"But, Dad, what about the season? Can't you tell them you've gotta coach us? Can't they get somebody else?"
Steve chuckled at his oldest.
"Sorry Davey. That's not how it works. When I finished my active duty and signed up to be part of the Marine Reserves, I made a promise that if the Marines needed me, then I would answer the call. It's my duty. You understand what it means to keep a promise don't you?"
The boys nodded solemnly.
"Well then, you understand that I have no choice. When you promise someone that you will do something, that means that no matter what, even if you don't like it, you have to follow through with your promise. People respect a man who keeps his word. Always remember that. A man is only as good as his word."
"I know, but Dad….It's just not fair. We got a good team this year, and it won't be the same if you're not here."
"I know Davey. It sucks. I know we have a good team this year and I really wanted to be here for the team, but I gotta go. My country has called and I'm duty bound to answer. Besides guys, this will be the last time. When I get back I will have my twenty in and I can retire. So when I get back it will be for good."
Davey hung his head down.
"I understand Dad. I do, but it does suck."
Steve got up and pulled Davey out of his chair and gave him a hug. Tommy got up and joined the hug. Melody got up from her seat and joined the hug. All of them were teary eyed when they broke the hug.
"Hey, let's not talk about this right now. I've got another couple of weeks before I have to report to Camp Pendleton. Let's make the best of it. We've got some games to win. But right now, do you have any homework to finish?"
They both nodded.
"Okay, then go get it done."
The boys headed back to their rooms to finish up their homework. When they were done they joined their parents to watch TV until it was time to for bed.
The next day at school he and Jordan were eating lunch together when Davey told him about his Dad's orders.
"Man, Davey, that does kinda suck."
"Yeah. I mean I understand why and I'm proud of him that he's doing it, but it still sucks. What if we get into the championship? I want him to be there if we do, you know. It's our last year in Little League and our team is good this year."
"Yeah, I know. I want him to be there too. He's pretty cool besides being a good coach. He doesn't yell, like some of the coaches for the other teams do. He listens to us."
"He told us he'll be back in September or October. He wasn't exactly sure, but he's pretty sure it will be by then."
"Well that's cool, I guess. Too bad he'll miss the season."
They finished up their lunch and went out to play some baseball with their other friends.
Another one of the parents started helping with coaching the team, since Steve was going to be gone and they wanted to make sure that they had another coach to take his place. The last game that he coached, the team won the game. Afterward, at a local pizza parlor, the team gave him a plaque with a baseball mounted on it that all the boys had signed. Steve was touched by the gesture and it was hung up in the den at home as soon as he could. The end of the month was on a Wednesday and Davey's parents took him and Tommy out of school to go with them to bring Steve down to Camp Pendleton to report for duty. They waited around with other family members while their husbands, sons and fathers, checked in. Once all the paperwork was taken care of, they were able to go get something to eat in the mess hall before Melody and the boys had to head back home.
The next game that they had, Davey's playing was off and it seemed to affect everyone on the team. They lost the game by one run. That evening, Steve called home to see how everything was going and Melody told him about the game. She handed the phone to Davey.
"Hey buddy, tough game today, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"You guess? What happened?"
"I don't know Dad. I guess I missed you being there."
"Yeah, I know bud. But you've gotta give it your best, always. Never do less than your best. That's how you can tell the difference between a champion and someone who never will be. You're part of a team. Sometimes all it takes is just one person to be off and it can affect the whole team. Just because I'm not there with the team, doesn't mean I'm not thinking about you guys. You can't go moping about. Get out there and play the way I know you can. At the next practice, you tell the guys what I said. You guys have a good team this year. Don't waste it by being unhappy about me not being there. I'm going to be looking forward to hearing how you guys do from now on. So do your best bud, Okay."
"Okay Dad. I'll tell the guys what you said. I promise we'll do better from now on. I'll make sure the team always gives it their best."
"That's what I want to hear bud. You going to be okay?"
"Yeah, Dad. I love you. Thanks."
"Love you too Davey, let me talk to Tommy."
Davey handed the phone to Tommy. After talking to his Dad, he started to feel a little better. He still missed his dad but they could at least talk on the phone and later, when his dad was in Afghanistan, he knew that they would still be able to stay in touch through Skype.
At the next practice Davey asked if he could speak to the team before they practiced. The manager nodded his agreement. Davey bit his lower lip as he got up in front of the team.
"I talked to my dad the other night after the game."
"Yay, Coach Steve."
Davey smiled at Robbie who had said that.
"He told me to tell you guys to always play your best. I know I was kind of sad about him not being here for the game and I'm sorry if I brought the rest of you down, too. I promise that I will always try my best, even if I do miss my dad."
The coach stepped over and clapped him on the back before turning to the team.
"Davey's right. I know we all miss Coach Steve, but you heard what he said. We need to still do our best. You all can still miss him not being here, but we'll make sure he knows how we're doing, okay guys? Alright, let's practice."
All of the boys cheered and the practice that followed was one of their best. At the next game they played real well, and they easily beat their opponent. It looked like they were the team to beat for this season. They continued winning the next couple of games just as easily.
Finally the day that Davey and his family had been worrying about arrived. Gunnery Sergeant Steve Grant and his unit were being deployed to Afghanistan. The family drove down to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego to see him off. All the families of the men from the unit were there. Finally it was time for them to go. Davey and his family crowded around their dad to say goodbye. All of them had tears in their eyes as they gave Steve a hug goodbye. Melody had her arms around her sons as they watched their dad get on the transport plane that was taking them to Afghanistan where the unit would begin its six month deployment. The three of them stood there watching the plane taxi and then fly away until they could no longer see the plane. It was a sad and worried family that drove back north to Long Beach. They stopped for hamburgers before going home. Once there, the boys went to their rooms. When it was time for bed, Tommy came into the Davey's room.
"Davey, can I stay with you tonight?"
Tommy got into bed with Davey and that's where Melody found them when she came to say goodnight. She came and gave each of them a kiss goodnight. After she left, Tommy cuddled up close to Davey.
"Dad'll be okay, right?"
"Of course he will."
With that Davey hugged Tommy close to him and the two brothers soon fell asleep.
At the next game, Davey was feeling down again, because he was worried, but all he had to do was think about what his dad had said and he made himself push the sad feeling down and concentrated on playing. Soon enough he found himself enjoying the game and having a good time. For the next couple of games he found that it was easier to focus on the game and enjoy playing, even though his dad wasn't there. The team was still doing well and winning nearly all their games so far.
After dinner one evening Melody called them to the dining room table. She had her laptop set up and when they entered the dining room she waved for the boys to join her. When they came around the table and stood beside her, they couldn't help but yell out loud.
On the computer screen was their dad smiling at them from inside a large tent.
"Hey guys. How're you doing?"
"Great Dad. How're you?"
"Doing fine guys. Man, it's so good to see you. How are your teams doing?"
"We're doing real good Dad. We've won almost every game."
"We're doing good too, Dad."
"That's great to hear, both of you."
"What about you, Dad? How's it going over there?"
"Not too bad. We're stationed on a base, can't tell you which one, but it's okay. We help the local civilians when we can, mostly with medical care. We haven't had any problems so far."
"That's good to hear honey."
They continued to catch up for a little while longer when they heard someone say something in the background and Steve turned around and nodded before turning back.
"Hey guys, I gotta go, another guy is waiting to call his family. I'll talk to you again. Love you all and miss you lots."
"We miss you too. Take care of yourself honey, and be safe."
"Bye guys, see you later."
Steve gave them a wave and broke the connection. The three of them were very happy after getting a chance to see and talk to Steve. He looked all right and it seemed like he was going to be okay, since he was stationed on a base.
For the next few weeks, they got to talk by email quite a bit, and once a week they could talk via Skype. This constant contact helped keep all of them happy and Davey didn't have too many days when he felt down about his dad not being there. His team kept winning, they had the best record in the league and Davey was up there among the players with the highest batting average. He didn't hit lots of home runs, but he did seem to get at least a hit in every game. He seemed to be able to find the empty spots in the defense to hit the ball to.
The regular Little League season was coming to an end. Davey could tell his dad really looked forward to their weekly Skype calls every week. Davey and Tommy would update him on how they were doing in Little League, occasionally they would admit to doing well in school as well, but a lot of the questions were about Little League. Everyone knew that the Angels were going to be in the championship game, they had by far the best record since they had lost very few games and the ones that they lost were close games.
The night before the championship game, Steve wished Davey luck. Tommy's team had not made it to the championship, but his team had done pretty good too, just not good enough to be in the championship game for Minors. Steve got lucky enough to have some extra time for this call and they were able to spend about twenty minutes talking. Finally the call came to an end.
"Have a good game tomorrow. I'll try to call you tomorrow after the game to see how you did. Do your best and tell the team, that my guys here are rooting for you guys to win."
Suddenly behind Steve a group of Marines unfurled a sheet of some cloth that read 'Good Luck Davey and the Angels'. Once they had it opened they started singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". The three of them in the U.S. were smiling as they listened to the Marines sing. When they finished, all of them yelled "Good Luck Davey". Steve turned around and waved at the guys from his unit.
The Marines in the background waved and there were shouts of "Good Luck", "Knock 'em dead" and other words like that. Davey waved to them. Steve turned back around.
"Well family, I've got to go, it was really great to talk to you, good luck Davey. Love you all."
"Love you Dad."
"Love you Honey. Be safe."
Steve ended the connection by blowing them a kiss and waving. On his side of the line, Steve looked at the empty Skype screen before getting up from the table. Outside he saw his men checking weapons and equipment. As he walked out into the compound, he put his helmet on and adjusted his vest before picking up his M16 from the front seat of his Humvee. He looked around at the men. The day before, Lieutenant Yates had told him that the platoon would be going on patrol between here at Camp Dwyer to Camp Leatherneck, where they would take part in an operation against one of the Taliban strongholds in the area. The platoon was gearing up to move out as Steve walked to his Humvee. He stopped for a moment to confer with Lieutenant Yates who had a map spread out on the hood of his Humvee.
Yates pointed to the map and traced a road on it.
"Gunny, this is the road we're going to take the platoon on. Any thoughts?"
Steve studied the map for a few moments before replying.
"That's as good as any, sir. There are some houses on top of some of the hills, we'll have to watch them for any fighters, but we've been up and down that road in the past. With standard precautions, it'll do."
"Okay Gunny, let's get 'em saddled up and ready to move."
"Aye, Aye, sir. Do you want me to take point?"
"Sure Gunny, if you want. I'll take drag and watch our ass."
The Lieutenant clapped Steve on the back as he began folding the map up and put it in his pouch. Steve started making his way through the platoon men.
"Okay everyone! Get your shit packed, we've got a patrol to do. Hurry up, we're burnin' daylight."
"Hey, Gunny! Why are you always saying that?"
"I'm surprised at you Marine. That's an old saying from a John Wayne movie."
"John Wayne? Who's he?"
"He was great actor. He did lots of Western and War Movies. I can't believe you don't know who he was. I swear when we get back, I'm going to request the DVD for 'Sands of Iwo Jima' and make you watch it."
Corporal Reeves just smiled and waved at Gunny Steve, before he jumped into the driver seat. Steve stood up just inside the front passenger compartment so he could see the unit members loading into their vehicles. The area was filled with the sound of engines starting up. Once he saw that everyone was loaded up and the machine gunners were in their positions on the Humvees that had a mounted MG's in the roof, he sat down in the seat and called the Lieutenant on the radio.
"L.T., we're loaded up and ready to go on your order."
"Move 'em out Gunny."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
He looked over to Reeves.
"Let's go Corp."
Reeves nodded and started forward. Behind them the others followed behind. They drove through the main gate of Camp Dwyer and out on patrol. Steve yelled up at the Marine in the MG position.
"You keep your eyes alert Private."
"Aye, Aye, Gunny."
They were driving towards an area of hills. On some of the hills nearby they could see buildings. The men in the top moved their eyes constantly to keep everything in sight. They were an hour out, when Private Jedson yelled down to Steve.
"Gunny, I thought I saw a flash from the building on that hill to the east."
Steve pulled his binoculars out and scanned the building. There were a couple of kids kicking a ball around. No adults could be seen. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. He picked up the radio mic.
"LT. My gunner reported a flash from the building on that hill east of us. I looked and saw just a couple of kids kicking a ball around."
"Thanks Gunny. We'll keep an eye out."
The other members of the platoon heard the exchange and the gunners in the other Humvee's scanned the area nearby more closely. The other NCO's with the platoon pulled out binoculars and scanned the land around them as well. The land seemed empty as they continued south.
They had driven another five miles when Steve's Humvee was enveloped in an explosion from the driver's side. In the Humvee, Private Jedson, was ejected from his position on the MG as it flew into the air and rolled over towards the right. He did not move when he landed. Those inside only saw a ball of fire and felt the force of the blast as the Humvee was rolled by the force of the IED.
Seconds later, RPG's began hitting all around the other Humvee's in the platoon. One of the other Humvee's was hit in the engine compartment and the men inside boiled out and took position nearby. While the platoon exited their vehicles and took positions to return from behind some berms on the side of the road, the remaining MG's opened up on the rocks where the RPG fire had originated from. There was answering fire from the fighters in the rocks. The machine gunners directed fire directly at any of the enemy that tried to take out more of them with RPG's. Several of the fighters who showed themselves were mowed down, causing them to miss with their shots or they were killed before they could fire. The enemy fighters started concentrating fire on the machine gunners. One of the gunners was hit and fell down inside the Humvee.
The rest of the platoon continued to fire at the enemy position. Luckily the fire was from one side otherwise they might have been in a tougher position. Lieutenant Yates was on the far side of his Humvee and directed the fire. He looked towards the front where the Gunny's Humvee was completely rolled over onto its top. There were some flames licking the underside and other parts of the Humvee. There didn't appear to be any movement around the Humvee, at least as far as he could see through the smoke and dust from the explosion. Yates shook his head with regret and turned his attention back to the firefight that he needed to deal with now. He'd worry about the Marines from the destroyed Humvee later.
As he looked back over the top of the Humvee to look the situation over, Yance felt something slam into his upper right shoulder, which knocked him down to the ground. He looked at his shoulder and saw that he was bleeding. Sergeant Stern and Petty Officer Ashland, the Navy corpsman, ran over to him to check him out. They helped him to sit with his back to the wheel, while the corpsman went to work putting a field dressing on the wound. The sergeant looked over the hood and kept his eye on the firefight while the corpsman worked.
"Sergeant. How's the situation look?"
"Sir, from the volume of fire, it appears that there are large numbers of fighters in the rocks, maybe…maybe, company strength. So they've got us outnumbered sir. We don't have much cover."
"We need to get out of here. Can you try to get some men to Gunny's Humvee and get them out of there and back with us so we can bug out of here. I know that it is partially blocking the road ahead. Go see if you can get them out of there and into one of the other Humvees."
"Aye, Aye, sir. I'll get some of the men and try to get to them."
At Yates' nod, Stern looked at the Marines nearby.
"Baker, Cruz! You're with me. The rest stay here and give us cover."
Stern glanced at the rocks where the enemy was partially concealed and then he turned and ran forward in a partially crouched position, Baker and Cruz followed right behind him. Stern moved up the line using the Humvees for cover, before dashing across the opening between them. He went past the other wrecked Humvee and saw that the Marines from that one seemed to be shaken and slightly wounded. The other corpsman was tending to them. None of them appeared badly wounded.
"Doc, these guys going to be okay?"
The corpsman nodded as he worked.
"Some shrapnel wounds, the driver and the front passenger are a little groggy since they were closer to the rocket hit, but they'll be okay."
Stern nodded and ran to the next Humvee. From there he could see Gunny's Humvee where it had been thrown by the explosion. He could see Private Jedson's body was off to the side of the road and was closer to the Humvee he was standing behind. He decided to do this in stages. They would try to get Jedson first and bring him back here then go for the others in the Humvee. After looking the situation over, he turned to the two Marines he'd brought with him.
"Baker, Cruz. We're going to try to retrieve our dead and wounded. I'm going to try for Jedson first. You two, and the others here, try to keep those ragheaded asshole's heads down and give me some cover. Once I get Jedson back here, we'll try to get the others out of the Humvee."
"Aye, Aye, Sarge."
Stern moved to the front of the Humvee before glancing back and nodded.
The Marines from that Humvee, along with Baker and Cruz, started firing at the enemy in the rocks. Stern ran the distance towards where Jedson lay. He went prone next to him and felt for a pulse. When he touched Jedson's neck, Jedson groaned. Stern shook him.
The more he shook him the more Jedson woke up and he started to move.
Jedson froze but opened his eyes and looked towards the sergeant's voice.
"What the hell happened, Sarge?"
"IED, took out your Humvee."
"Where are Gunny and the others?"
Stern glanced towards the partially burning Humvee before answering.
"I think they bought it. I've got to get you back with the others; we're too exposed out here. Can you get up?"
Jedson shook his head a couple of times to clear it and nodded.
"I think so, if you help me up."
Stern looked towards Baker, who was keeping an eye on him. Stern motioned towards the enemy and Baker nodded.
The Marines behind the Humvee jumped up and starting laying down fire. Stern jumped up, grabbed Jedson under the arm and pulled him up to his feet.
When he did Jedson screamed out, "FUCK!"
"C'mon Marine! Let's go!"
Stern quickly got Jedson's arm across his shoulders and half supported, half dragged Jedson towards the Humvee. He saw that Jedson was unable to use his right leg very much. He got him to the Humvee and leaned him against it.
"It feels like someone took a sledgehammer to my fucking knee Sarge."
"We'll get the corpsman to take a look at it. You'll be fine. Now, let me see if I can get Gunny and the others out of their Humvee and then we can get the fuck outta here. You guys get ready."
Stern looked at the distance and saw that there wasn't much cover, other than some low rocks. He turned back to Baker and started to say something, when a couple of rounds impacted the ground near his knee. He looked up and saw another twenty or so enemy fighters moving along rocks on their side of the road. They were now between two forces.
"SHIT! Get yourselves and Jedson in the Humvee. We're going to have to get out of here." He didn't wait to see that they did that before running to the next Humvee, where he gave covering fire for the corpsman while he got the wounded into the Humvee. Luckily there weren't too many firing from this side of the road and they were able to keep them back. He got back to the Lieutenant.
"I was able to get Jedson, he's going to be okay, but I can't get to Gunny's Humvee, there's just too much gunfire. I can't get close enough to get to them. There was no movement in the Humvee."
"Okay, we need to get out of here. We have several wounded and not enough cover. Use the M240s and the SMAWs to keep their heads down while we get the column turned around and head back to Camp Dwyer. We'll get a larger force, some air cover, and recover them."
"Aye, Aye, sir."
Sergeant Stern ran to his Humvee and relayed the orders to the rest of the platoon. In a short time, rockets from a couple of the SMAW's and the steady firing from the M240's kept the enemies heads down, while they finished loading up and getting the vehicles turned around. They were soon headed back to Camp Dwyer with some regretful looks behind them. There was fire obscuring the two damaged Humvees now and they could barely see either one very well.
That Saturday, the teams lined up before the Championship game for the National Anthem. The opponents were the Angels and the Cubs, the same two teams who had faced each other on opening day. When the music finished there was the age old cry.
Davey was in left field and his best friend Jordan was at first base, as usual. Davey's season had been among the best in the league. Tyler was pitching and he seemed to have the stuff today. The Cubs batters were scoreless in the first half of the game. The Angels had gotten one run in, the second from a walk for Jordan, fly out by Davey, and then Robbie hit a double that scored Jordan. By the fourth inning it was Angels 1, Cubs 0. Both pitchers seemed to be in control of the game when the Cubs batters came up in the top of the fourth. The first batter hit a single, but the second batter hit into a double play. The next guy up ran the count up a little and then hit a double. The next player got two strikes and then hit several foul balls. His timing was just a little behind the pitch, until he was able to get the timing right and hit it deep to right field. Robbie was able to get a jump on it, and was already heading back when the line drive was hit. He got it just before the fence and quickly threw it back in, but by that time the guy who was on second scored and it was a tie ball game. The next batter flied out, ending the inning. The score was still tied in the last inning of the game. The top of the sixth inning the Cubs came up and every time a batter got a piece of the ball, there was a collective gasp from the Angels spectators, but the Angels kept them from scoring, with some good defense along with a fine performance by Tyler as the pitcher, who kept the hits that they did get, down on the ground. The Angels were up and the manager called them together.
"Okay guys, this is it. We only need one run, that's it and we win this game and the championship. You guys have fought hard and you've held them. Now let's dig deep and win this."
The boys cheered and ran into the dugout. Once inside all of them turned their hats inside out as rally hats. The first player up went down on strikes. Jerry, the second baseman, got a hard hit single through the infield for a single. Brett, the shortstop, hit a long fly ball that was caught, but Jerry was able to advance to second after tagging up. George, the catcher, got the count to two and two, before striking out on a fastball. Tyler came up next and he now had a chance to win his own game. The Cubs pitcher either misread the sign, or he just had a mental break and the ball was a slow curve across the middle of the plate. Tyler swung and there was a solid ping from the aluminum bat as he launched the ball to deep left center. Both the center and left fielders ran for the ball, but it dropped between them and bounced against the fence. The center fielder picked it up and threw it in to the cutoff man. By that time, Jerry scored and Tyler was on second base with a stand up double. Angels won the championship game, 2 to 1. Their families in the stands stood and cheered.
The Cubs pitcher had a stricken look on his face, because he realized he had served up the wrong pitch. He had realized it almost as soon as he had pitched it, but he had hoped Tyler wouldn't get a hit. He walked back to his dugout after pulling his hat down so it covered his face. One of the coaches sat next to him in the dugout and comforted him for a few moments until he got his emotions under control. By the time it was time to line up and shake hands or bump fists, he was okay again. The Angels' manager and coaches told him he had pitched a good game. He was the one who made it hard for the Angels to win. He accepted their words and thanked them.
The League President brought out the trophy for the team and there were of course smaller trophies and neck ribbons for each of the boys on the team. They took a team picture with the trophy and a banner that proclaimed them the league champions. After the festivities were over, they all headed to a nearby pizza place to celebrate the win with all the families and friends. The next stop for the team was the district tournament.
Two days later Davey was at practice, Tommy was with him, when the phone rang, Melody answered it.
"Hello Mrs. Grant?"
"Yes, this is she."
"This is Colonel McNally of the US Marines."
The color drained from her face when she heard what he said. Her next words were a little faint as she dropped down onto the couch.
"Mrs. Grant, I'm sorry to tell you that your husband, Gunnery Sergeant Steven Grant is missing in action."
"Ma'am, his patrol was ambushed. His Humvee was hit by an IED and flipped over. They were outnumbered on both sides of the road and due to the amount of fire from enemy combatants; the rest of his patrol had to retreat until they could call in air support and return. By the time that they got back to the location, he and the other men from his Humvee were missing."
"So he could have been captured?"
"It is possible ma'am. We just don't know for certain. Reports from platoon members were that those in the Humvee were likely dead or at least severely wounded ma'am, so until we get more information we don't know their condition with any certainty."
"But they don't know that for certain?"
"No, ma'am, not for certain, that is why they are listed as missing."
"Thank you, Colonel."
"Yes, ma'am. We will let you know when we know more."
"Thank you. Goodbye."
She hung up the phone and just dropped the handset on the couch beside her. She put her head in her hands and cried. She prayed that Steve was okay and would come out of it alright to return to them safely. She washed her face and got dinner started.
During dinner, Davey sensed something was different about his mom, but his mom didn't say anything so he ignored it. The boys helped clean up the dinner dishes. Once they were done, she called to them.
"Boys, come into the living room for a moment before you go finish your homework."
Davey heard something in her tone of voice that worried him. She had them sit on either side of her on the couch.
"Boys, I got a call today. It…it seems you're dad is missing in action."
Davey's voice cracked when he said that.
"Davey. He's miss…."
Davey ran from the room. She heard his bedroom door slam closed. She comforted Tommy as he cried. He finally calmed down a little.
"He'll be okay, Tommy. You're Dad is always okay. He always comes home, you know that."
"You really think so?"
"Of course! He'll come home to us."
"Go work on your homework. I'm going to talk to your brother."
Tommy got up and went to his room. Melody followed him and went to Davey's door and knocked.
"Davey, can I come in?"
She waited and there was no answer, so she slowly opened the door and peeked in. Davey was lying face down with his face in the pillow. She went over to the bed and sat down, then placed her hand on his back and stroked it. He didn't move for a few moments before he turned around to face her. There were tear tracks on his face and his eyes were red. He sat up and held onto her.
"He's going to be alright mom, isn't he?"
"I hope so Davey. They told me that his platoon was ambushed and they were outnumbered by the bad guys and you're Dad's Humvee got hit and the rest of the platoon had to retreat for a little bit, when they came back, your Dad and the others in his Humvee were gone. So he is listed as missing. We'll have to pray that he's okay and they find him soon."
They sat that way for a little while until Davey sat back. She brushed the tear tracks from his cheeks.
"Go and wash your face honey, then get to work on your homework."
They both got up. She went into the living room to make some calls and let their parents and friends know what was going on. Davey washed his face and pulled his homework out when he got back into his room.
His friend Jordan noticed that Davey was subdued at school the next day, but whenever he asked him if everything was okay, Davey just answered "Yeah". Jordan wasn't convinced but he decided not to push it.
At Wednesday's practice the Manager pulled Davey to the side before practice and they sat down on a nearby bench.
"Davey, I heard about your Dad, and I'm sorry. If you need to talk to someone, I'd be glad to listen."
"You are a big part of this team and you really helped us get this far. I'd hate to continue forward without you, but if you don't feel like playing with all that is going on, I completely understand and I would not think bad of you if you felt you couldn't play."
"No, that's alright Coach. Dad wouldn't want me to quit. He'd want me to keep giving my best effort and help the team. Besides, I think playing will keep me from thinking about it too much. This is my last year in Little League and we have a great team. I want to be with the team and go as far as we can go. Maybe we can win it all and go to the World Series."
The coach chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder.
"From your mouth to God's ears Davey. Okay, just remember, everyone on the team liked Coach Steve, so you know we are there for you."
"I know, thanks Coach."
"Alright, let's get some practice done and get ready for the district tournament coming up."
Davey nodded and the two of them joined the rest of the team for practice. The team practiced every couple of days in getting ready for the upcoming tournament. A few days before the tournament it was Davey's thirteenth birthday. It wasn't a big party, only the baseball team, his mom and brother and their grandparents. His best friend Jordan was staying the night. Jordan's thirteenth birthday had been a couple of weeks before and Davey had spent the night with him.
Davey did a good job during the party of enjoying himself as much as he could, but in the back of his mind were thoughts of his dad, who was still missing. He missed having him here for his birthday that marked him as a teenager now. Actually, he just plain missed him. The team was doing real good and his dad was missing it all. After everyone but Jordan had left, the two of them went to his room to play some video games. Tommy soon joined them and they took turns playing. They eventually put the controllers away and watched TV from Davey's bed for a little while. Tommy eventually nodded off and Davey nudged him awake enough to get up and go to bed with a mumbled "Good night" as he trudged out the door and to his room. The two of them realized that they were feeling a little tired as well, so they turned off the TV. They took turns in the bathroom before they stripped down to their briefs and got into Davey's bed. They talked a little bit before they began to fall asleep.
Sometime during the night, a sound woke Jordan up. He blinked his eyes a little and looked around. He heard the sound again, but wasn't sure what it was. He glanced to his side where Davey was lying and he noticed that Davey's shoulders seemed to be shaking a little. Then he heard that sound again and he realized it was coming from Davey and it sounded like a whimper. Jordan turned on his side so that he was facing Davey's back and scooted forward. He reached out and gently laid his hand on Davey's shoulder. Davey jumped a little and turned around and looked over his shoulder.
"Sorry Jordie. I didn't mean to wake you."
Jordan saw the tears on Davey's face before he turned back around. That was all it took. Jordan closed the distance between the two of them and soon had his chest against Davey's back and one arm over him and around to hug him, the other snaked under his neck so that he could hold Davey close. He felt Davey wrap his arms around Jordan's arms and hug them to him. After a few moments, Davey turned around in Jordan's arms and buried his face in Jordan's neck before he let it all go and cried. Jordan just held him and rubbed his back as Davey cried against his neck.
"I miss my dad Jordie."
The two of them stayed that way for a little while until Jordan felt and heard Davey's breathing become regular. He carefully moved back a little so that he could look at Davey. Davey shifted a little so that he was lying on his side with his head resting on Jordan's chest and shoulder and his arm was across Jordan's chest in a light hug. Jordan looked at Davey and gently used the sheet to wipe the tears from his face. He tried to move so that he could make Davey more comfortable and lay his head on the pillow, but Davey made a small whining sound and hugged Jordan a little tighter for a moment, so Jordan stayed where he was. He watched Davey sleep for a little while. Then he did something he only dared to do when Davey couldn't hear him.
"I love you for real, Davey. Even if you don't love me that way, I still love you."
Jordan then leaned forward and kissed Davey on the cheek. When he did, Davey murmured something back that he wasn't sure he heard.
"Love you Jordie."
Jordan was a little in shock and he looked at Davey, but saw that he was still sleeping. In his mind he was asking himself, "Was that real? Did I really hear that?"
He watched Davey for several more minutes to see if he would murmur anything else, until he finally became too tired and fell back asleep.
In the morning both boys woke up at the same time. After they blinked their eyes a few times, they opened them and realized they were cuddled up together. Jordan didn't move and waited to see what Davey would do. Davey looked around a little and saw that he was lying partway on Jordan. The night before came back to him and he closed his eyes and just hugged Jordan for a few moments.
"Thanks Jordie, f…for last night."
"Anytime Davey, you're my best friend. I'll always be here for you."
Davey gave one more squeeze and then sat up to stretch a little bit before getting out of bed and heading to the bathroom. Jordan laid back and let out a sigh.
"Well, at least he didn't freak out."
He had a smile on his face, when he remembered those three words that Davey had murmured quietly to Jordan. He hoped that maybe, someday, he could hear them when Davey wasn't asleep. Until then, he realized he better get up or he was going to make a mess in the bed.
A few days later the district tournament started. Their school district had finished in late May and the tournament was going to be played from early to mid June. The winners of that would go to the Southern California Section Championship.
They were in the District 38 tournament. In the opening round their team from Long Beach Little League defeated Lakewood which kept them in the winner's bracket. In the semifinals they were against Hawaiian Gardens and although a good team, they were better and were able to defeat them in the Semifinal game. There was another team that was doing as well as them, the Greater Bellflower team. When it came time to play the winner's bracket final game, they were playing against them. The winner would continue on to play in the Championship game. The loser would have to go into the elimination bracket and win all of their games to get a chance to play in the Championship series.
The game was hard fought by both teams as the score remained close, but Long Beach, who was the visiting team, went into the last inning with a narrow one run lead. The lead off Bellflower player got a single, but was caught up in a double play to bring it to two outs. The next batter worked the count up to three and two, including one long fly ball down the left field line that just barely went foul, which allowed everyone on the Long Beach team to breathe a sigh of relief when it went just to the left of the pole. The batter connected on the three and two pitch and drove it between the left and center fielders. The center fielder caught it as it bounced off the fence and turned to throw it to the shortstop, who was able to hold the Bellflower player at second. The next batter got the count to one and two before hitting a solid line drive to right field that went just pass the second baseman's glove as he tried to reach for it. The right fielder was able to catch it on one bounce and quickly threw it in to hold the runners. There was a lot of cheering from the Bellflower spectators. They had a runner on 1st and 3rd base and two outs. Any hit would score a run, which would tie the game and keep them going. The batter came up and he watched as two balls went by followed by a strike. The next one was a curve and he took a swing at it. There was a solid ping as his metal bat hit the ball and it arrowed hard and straight at the pitcher. Tyler was pitching and he ducked, but at the same time he threw his glove up to protect his face. The glove smashed back into his cheek from the force of the line drive and he felt a weight in the glove. He turned it over so he could see and the ball was there. He had caught the line drive. There was a collective groan from the Bellflower side that was quickly drowned out by cheers from the Long Beach side as Tyler's teammates mobbed him. It had been close but now they were on their way to Championship game.
For the next couple of days they eagerly watched the elimination bracket teams play. Because they only had one loss, Bellflower was waiting to see which of the quarterfinal teams they would be playing in the elimination bracket final. Both Bellflower and Long Beach watched the game between Lakewood Village and West Long Beach. Lakewood Village soon showed their dominance and they defeated West Long Beach. Bellflower would play Lakewood Village to see who would be going to the Championship game.
By the third inning Lakewood Village was leading 4 - 2. In the bottom of the inning, Bellflower bats came alive and they hit through the order, when the inning was over it was 7 - 4 Bellflower. They held onto that lead, with Lakewood Village getting only one more run to make it 7 - 5 at the end of the game. It was going to be a rematch between Bellflower and Long Beach for the Championship.
The manager had the team over to his house for a barbeque. He gathered the boys together.
"Okay guys, tomorrow we play Bellflower again. We know they are a good team. But we also know that we are better. Greg will be our starting pitcher. Mark, I'm going to count on you to be ready to come in as relief pitcher, if I need you."
"I'll be ready Coach."
"Good. Remember we only have to beat them once to win, since they already have one loss. They have to beat us twice to win. So, even if we lose, we can still take them in the second game. You guys ready to win!"
A lot of people came out to see the Championship game. There were boys wearing their uniform shirts all throughout the stands as they watched the two teams warm up. The game was scoreless for the first two innings. In the top of the third, Robbie got a single and was moved to second by a single from Tyler. Greg hit into a double play, but Robbie was able to make it to 3rd. The shortstop made the choice to throw to 2nd instead of 3rd because he would have had to turn around to throw to 3rd. It was the right decision because they were able to get two outs. Davey came up and hit a line drive to center field which scored Robbie giving them a one run lead. The next batter flied out and the inning was over. Bellflower went three up, three down in the bottom of the inning. At the top of the fourth, Jordan connected with a homerun with two outs to give them another run. It was 2 - 0 as Bellflower came up. The first batter struck out, but then something happened to that team. They started making hits and Long Beach couldn't seem to stop their hitters. Halfway through the inning, the manager brought Mark in to relieve Greg. He was able to end the inning and stopped Bellflower, which ended the inning with five runs. It was now 5 - 2, Bellflower in the lead. The boys were disappointed in themselves, but the manager told them not to worry. It was only three runs down, they could get them back. It looked like they were on their way to doing that in the next inning. They started off with a couple of singles. The next two batters got out with a strike out and fly ball to left field. Jerry came up and was able to hit a long line drive that got the runner on second to score. The next batter struck out, it was now 5 - 3. Long Beach had closed the gap a little and they were in better spirits after they kept Bellflower scoreless in the bottom of the inning. The top of the sixth, it once again looked like they would move forward and got another run from a double by Tyler, which scored Jerry, with no outs. The Bellflower pitcher walked the next batter, but after that, there were no more hits from Long Beach and the game was over 5 - 4, Bellflower had won.
The team went to Wendy's after the game. The manager stood up and got their attention.
"I know we lost, but guys, you came back hard and we almost took it back. Our two teams are now tied with one loss each, which means that whoever wins tomorrow, will go to the Southern California Section Championship. You guys can win this. I know you can, because I saw that even after the third inning when Bellflower went ahead, you fought back and almost got those runs back. Well done. I'm proud of all of you. Make sure you get a good rest tonight, so you're ready to win it all tomorrow."
The boys cheered.
The next day, the usual June Gloom was in place, keeping things a little cooler in the morning as the teams came to the field to warm up before the 11am game. As game time approached the sun started to burn away the overcast until the sun was high in the sky. The Long Beach team was definitely fired up as they quickly got a run in the bottom of the first inning. They repeated it in the third inning with another run, all the while Tyler was keeping Bellflower scoreless. Long Beach got another run in the bottom of the fourth inning. In the fifth inning both teams scored, it was now 4 - 1 Long Beach, they only needed three outs and they would be the District Champions. The Bellflower team had their rally caps on and many of the spectators were on their feet cheering their boys on. Tyler was still pitching and he let them know that they would have to work for it as he quickly struck out the first batter. The next one got a single and Tyler walked the following batter so that Bellflower had runners on 1st and 2nd and only one out. A long fly ball to Andrew allowed the runners to advance with two outs. The next batter, after a ball and a strike, seemed to be getting his timing down as he hit four foul balls in a row. The next ball across the plate was hit hard and into left field. Davey kept backing up until he was against the fence. As the ball came down he jumped up a little and snagged it before it could go over. The game was over, Long Beach were the District 38 Champions. Next stop the Sectionals.
The Section 5 tournament turned out to be a breeze for Long Beach, their first two games were ended before the sixth inning, due to the mercy rule when they were leading by more than ten runs and their opponents could not score enough to bring the score to less than ten runs. They faced off against La Mirada for the Championship and were able to pull off a 1 - 0 win to be the Sectional Champions. They had a week off before they had to head to Cortez Park in West Covina for the Sub-Divisional Tournament. There were two Sub Divisions in Southern California. The winner of each Sub Division would play in the Divisional Championship game.
The team practiced a couple of times during that week off, but it was not an overly intense practice. The coaches led them through a good practice to make sure their fundamentals were still strong, but the boys were fluid and playing well together. Jordan and Davey spent a lot of time together at each other's houses, which included several sleepovers. Every morning when they woke up, they found that they had cuddled together during the night. Sometimes they were embarrassed when certain very awake parts of their anatomy were resting against the other person, which would cause them to spring apart and blush with murmured apologies. Jordan didn't mind at all, and Davey soon found that he enjoyed waking up cuddled next to Jordan too. Sometimes, when Jordan was at Davey's house, Tommy sometimes found his way into their nightly cuddle as well. The two boys became closer. Sometimes, Davey would feel real down, because there had still been no word about his dad and on those nights when Jordan was there, he was comforted by Jordan holding him close. It allowed him to get a good night's sleep without having nightmares about his dad.
In their Sub Division, Long Beach had a bad start and lost their first game, which sent them to the elimination bracket right away. That put them one loss away from going home. They had come too far to go home now and in the next game their bats came alive and their pitching and defense helped them to beat El Segundo in the quarterfinals 11 - 4 to move on. In the semifinal game against La Verne, the game was ended in the fourth inning with the score at 22 - 8. Meanwhile Conejo Valley was making its way through the winner's bracket. There was one final elimination bracket team to beat and that was Encino who had lost to Conejo Valley. This one was a much closer game, a pitcher's duel with Greg shutting them out and Long Beach getting one run in the fourth inning to win the game and move to the Championship Series. They were still one loss away from elimination. In the first game against Conejo Valley, the game was ended in the fifth inning with Long Beach ahead 16 - 5. In the final game Conejo Valley got ten runs, but they could not shut down the Long Beach bats and Long Beach became the Sub-Division Champions with a score of 16 - 10. They got a couple of days rest before they would meet Ocean View for the Division Championship.
In the first game, they started things off with a two run homer by Tyler. The next inning they piled on seven more runs, which included two 3 run homers. By the third inning they had increased their lead to 12 - 0. Ocean View had only one chance to get three runs so that the mercy rule didn't come into effect. An Ocean View player hit a home run and their team thought that maybe a rally was in the offing, but the Long Beach pitcher shut them down and the game was ended in the fourth inning. Long Beach had survived and the next game would be the deciding game.
At the final game Long Beach jumped to a 2 - 0 lead right away once again and it looked like their opponent, Encino, would get some scoring in the first inning as well. Their first two batters got on base with a single each, but Tyler held on and got the side out. In the next inning they continued with their strong bats, getting a total of fifteen hits. Tyler kept the Encino players shut down except for a run in the sixth inning to win the Division 11 - 1. Western Regional Tournament here they come.
They had about two weeks off before they had to head to San Bernardino for the Western Region Championship. The winner there would be on their way to Williamsport, PA, to play in the Little League World Series. There were several practices during that time for the team. The coaches worked on honing their skills, so that they would come into the Regional Tournament as the strongest team that they could be.
Davey and Jordan became closer still as well. They spent many nights at each other's house. A couple of days before they left for the tournament, Davey was spending the night at Jordan's house. They had gone to bed and were just lying there on their backs talking. It was all about the upcoming tournament. They were talking about maybe even going all the way and how cool it would be. There was a lull in the conversation. Davey turned on his side to look at Jordan.
"Jordie? Can I ask you a question?"
Jordan turned onto his side and propped his head up with his hand.
"Sure, Davey, anything."
"I….I've been thinking….about something."
"That could be dangerous."
Davey reached over and punched him in the chest.
"Shut up Dork."
They both giggled. Davey stopped first and got kind of a nervous look on his face.
"Jordie. Can I ask you something and you promise you won't get mad?"
"No, Jordie, you have to promise. You're my best friend and I don't want you to be mad at me or hate me. If you don't like the question, just say no and we'll forget I ever asked."
"Davey, I can't hate you. Yeah, I could be mad at you, but hate you, never."
Davey was silent then, just looking at Jordan. He was quiet for so long that Jordan started to become concerned. Just then he noticed that Davey's eyes started to fill with tears. Jordan put out a hand. Davey reached out and when their hands met, he intertwined his fingers with Jordan and let their joined hands lay on the bed between them.
"Go ahead Davey. I said you can ask me anything. I promise I won't get mad."
Davey didn't say anything, but instead he lifted their joined hands and gently pulled Jordan towards him. Jordan's heart started beating faster as he allowed Davey to pull him closer until they were just inches apart. Davey just gazed at Jordan a few more moments. Jordan could see there was worry in Davey's eyes. Jordan smiled encouragingly. Davey answered with a nervous smile.
"Jordie, I want to do something and I'm going to ask you a favor. Could you….close your eyes…just for a moment…and remember you said you wouldn't get mad."
"I remember. Okay, but you better not tickle me."
Jordan smiled and closed his eyes dutifully. Davey waited for a moment before moving closer. Jordan's heart started to beat faster when he felt Davey's breath on his face. His heart rate seemed to increase even more and then what he secretly hoped would happen, happened. He felt Davey's lips press gently against his for a few seconds and then withdraw. Jordan opened his eyes and a huge smile grew on his face. He looked at Davey and as Davey saw the smile on Jordan's face, the worry started to melt away. Jordan saw that there was still a question there, so he answered by leaning forward and kissing Davey back. When he pulled back, Davey had a huge answering grin. By mutual consent, both of them moved forward and wrapped their arms around each other.
"I was so scared Jordie."
"Me, too. I was afraid you'd hate me."
"Like you said, I could never hate you either. I….I love you, I think I always have."
"That's good because I've been in love with you since we were eleven."
"I think I just figured that out recently. Does this mean we're….fags?"
"I think gay is the better word. Usually when someone says fag, they don't mean that in a nice way."
"Yeah, I guess that's true. So do you think we're gay then?"
"Well, I think so. At least I think I am."
"I think I am too."
"Then I'm glad. Can I kiss you again before we go to sleep?"
The two boys kissed again and then cuddled up with smiles on their faces.
It was hot in San Bernardino when they arrived at the Western Region headquarters. All the state champion teams from the Western Region were there. The Long Beach team members and their families had rooms at the Days Inn hotel nearby. Everyone's uniform was clean for the opening ceremonies before the first game of the tournament. That evening the first game was between Utah and Arizona. Utah won 5 to 2. The Long Beach team retired to their hotel. Davey, Tommy and their Mom went up to their room so that the two boys could change to go swimming. Downstairs the pool area was filled with boys from the team. Jordan and Davey hung around together of course, even though there was really no chance for them to be alone, but they were happy enough to spend time together.
The next day was their first game of the Regionals. They were the last game of the day, so they put in some practice time to warm up for their later game. The two games before them were Nevada vs. Utah which Nevada won 8 - 3. The second game was Arizona vs. Hawaii, Arizona won 3 - 2. Then it was time for the Long Beach game, they were the Southern California team and they were playing against Northern California. The Long Beach bats spoke loud in the first inning with 6 runs. Northern California was scoreless until the bottom of the third when they finally got one run on the board. Long Beach added two more runs in the fourth inning. Both teams added a run in the fifth. Long Beach added one more in the sixth to win the game 10 - 2.
Day three had Long Beach playing Hawaii. This game turned out to be a harder game than they expected. Hawaii was a good team, but the Long Beach pitcher shut them out and they won 3 - 0.
They had the day off for day four and spent a lot of the time watching the other games and wandering around the complex having a good time. Later that afternoon, they played around in the pool at the hotel.
Day five, they were up again, this time they were against Arizona. Once again the Long Beach bats spoke loud very early on. They got six runs in the first inning and four in the second inning. At the same time they shut out the Arizona team. Arizona could not get on the board at all and the game was called in the fourth inning with the score of 10 - 0.
Day six was the last game before the semifinals. So far Long Beach had won all of the games and was a favorite to go to the championship game. They were playing against Nevada. Neither team could score in the first two innings, and there was the thought that perhaps this game would be a pitcher's duel, until the bottom of the fourth inning. Long Beach woke up and drove in four runs to put them ahead. In the top of the fourth, Nevada got on the board with two runs. In the bottom of the inning Long Beach matched their two runs and held a four point lead. In the fifth inning Long Beach, again, showed their batting prowess with five more runs. Nevada's last chance was the top of the sixth. To have a chance to stay in the game they had to get nine runs to tie it up and hold Long Beach. They started off well with a home run and rally caps were seen everywhere in the Nevada dugout, but that was the only run they could score. Long Beach kept the rest of the team from scoring and they were the winning team. They went into the semifinals with a record of four wins and no losses. They also allowed a total of only five runs getting there.
All the teams were given a day's rest before the semifinal games. The semifinal game for Long Beach was against Utah. For three innings they were both scoreless. In the top of the fourth inning Long Beach was able to get someone on base and Davey hit a two run homerun. Utah was still shut out. Long Beach added three more runs in the top of the sixth and continued to hold Utah scoreless, giving Greg a shut out win to advance to the championship game. The winner of the other semifinal game was the team from Northern California. It was going to be an all California championship game.
The final day of competition was another hot August day. Northern California jumped off to a small lead with one run in the bottom of the first. From that point on neither team could get anyone in scoring position and get them in to score. This was the first time that Long Beach was unable to score even one run for that many innings. Long Beach had one last chance in the top of the sixth. The Northern California pitcher had held them scoreless, and pretty much hitless, for five innings. At the beginning of the sixth inning Mark got a single for one of the few hits for Long Beach. George, the catcher, came up and with a count of two and one, connected with a solid ping of the metal bat, the ball traveled high and over the left field fence for a two run homerun. The Long Beach side cheered loudly, thinking they were on the way to another multi run rally, but the next two batters were put out. Now they had to keep the other team from scoring. Tyler was up to the challenge and he quickly got them out ending the game. The Long Beach side went wild. They were going to Williamsport as the Western Division champs.
The next few days were a little frantic as the players' families made travel and hotel arrangements for Williamsport. Davey and Jordan were together once again as much as possible, but they at least had the privacy to spend some time together, until they got to Williamsport and checked in to the baseball complex. They enjoyed the nights that they spent together. They kept it at the level of just kissing and cuddling, with very little more than that, at least not yet.
On the plane ride to Pennsylvania, Jordan and Davey made sure that they had seats next to each other. Like the rest of the team they were all practically bouncing in their seats because they were so jazzed about going to the World Series. At the airport they all piled into vans that would take them to the Little League Complex. As they neared the entrance, Davey started to get a little teary eyed as he thought about how much better it would have been if his dad could have been here. Jordan noticed and let his arm rest across Davey's shoulders. Luckily they were in the back of the van and no one else noticed. The two of them kept their voices low so no one else could hear what they said. It wasn't hard because of the excitement felt by the others in the van.
"I wish he was here, Jordie."
"I know Davey. There hasn't been any word?"
"No, nothing. Mom keeps checking with the Marines, but they haven't heard anything. It's harder to think of him being okay the longer it goes on without any news."
"Well, hang in there."
"I know. All we can do is keep giving it our best, like your dad said at the beginning of the season. Always give it our best."
"Yep, and that's what we'll do."
Davey wiped his eyes as they pulled into the complex. They parked and the boys got their bags out. They were met by a Little League representative who showed them to their rooms in the complex. There were a few other teams already there. The boys pointed out all the things they saw as they walked through the complex; the pool, the game room, the mess hall. The more they saw the more excited they became. It was a little chaotic as the various teams were trying to get settled into their dormitory rooms. This was going to be their home for the next several days as they enjoyed being a part of the Little League World Series.
Everyone was in uniform for opening day. The West Team was not slated to play that day, so they got a chance to walk around and see many of the sights around the complex. The concession stands, the pin trading, the museum and other things like that. They also watched parts of some of the games that were played on Day 1. Their first game would be on Day 2 of the series. One of the games they watched was the Japan vs. Caribbean. Japan trounced Caribbean 12 - 0. They showed their power as they hit strongly and ended up winning the game in four innings.
On the afternoon of Day 2, they lined up against the New England team. They used three pitchers in the game to keep the pitch count low, Tyler, Greg and Mark. Together the three of them pitched a 3 hit shutout. The team took awhile to get going, probably because of nerves combined with the good pitcher on the other team. The pitcher on the New England team had an asthma attack and had to come out of the game. The West team had already gotten some runs on the board, but after New England team's pitcher went out, they started getting more hits, six runs in the fifth inning to put the game almost out of reach without a huge rally on the part of New England. At the end of the game, West had won 11 - 0.
They didn't have to play again until Day 4, so they spent Day 3 wandering around some more and spending time in the communal game rooms or the pool. They did take the time to watch at least parts of some of the other games, mostly to get an idea what their upcoming opponents were like. Davey and Jordan always went everywhere together. They kept everything low key because there was really no privacy.
There next game was a night game against the Great Lakes team. Greg, who was the starting pitcher, let his nerves get to him and walked the first two batters before settling down and pitching an outstanding game. They showed their offensive skills once again, by hitting through the order in the 2nd inning for five runs and then they did it again in the 4th inning for five more runs. The game ended early due to the mercy rule.
The team had another day off, most of that was spent watching some of the other teams as they wanted to see how well those teams played, sizing up the competition. As they went around through the crowds, they were surprised by the many people who came up to them and asked them to autograph programs. It made them feel like they were major leaguers. From time to time some of them were even interviewed by sports reporters, who asked them about the two games that they had played so far. Davey spent part of the day with his mom and brother. That evening they went into Williamsport to have a steak dinner.
Day 7 was their next game. The team they were up against was the Northwest team. Like them, this team was undefeated. The pitchers for both teams were on their game that day. Greg was the starting pitcher for the West team and in the four innings that he pitched, he struck out eight of ten batters, and only gave up two hits. Mark took over when Greg was pulled out after his 50th pitch. When Mark came in as the relief pitcher, he was just as unhittable. In the two innings that he pitched, he threw seventeen strikes and one ball. The Northwest team backed their pitcher up as he had to survive several close calls until he was taken out at his 85th pitch after pitching a little over five innings. In the second inning the West team had the bases loaded, with one out. The opposing pitcher was able to strike Robbie out for the second out. When Jerry came up to bat, on the third pitch he threw it by the catcher, Mark was on third and immediately started for home. The catcher scrambled around and found the ball. He dove back toward the plate and tagged Mark out as he slid into home. In the fourth inning the West had runners on first and third when the Northwest pitcher got the third out with a strike out. In the sixth inning the West once again had the bases loaded with two outs. The catcher, Jason, drove a hard line drive right back at the pitcher who snagged it for the third out. The West kept Northwest from scoring for sixty-eight pitches between the two pitchers, but number sisty-nine was a perfect curveball that the batter hit for a home run to win the game for the Northwest team. They were on their way to US Championship game. The West team was headed towards the elimination bracket.
There was no rest for the West team as they had a game to play the next evening against the Mid Atlantic team who were the hometown favorites from nearby Clinton County. If either team lost they were done, so both teams knew the game was crucial for them. Tyler was the starting pitcher and he was on his game tonight. He struck out twelve of nineteen batters in the little over five innings he pitched before reaching his eighty-five pitch limit. He also got the first run for his team with a solo home run in the 3rd inning to put the West in front 1 - 0. In the 4th inning the West offense was able to double the score, when Davey hit a double while Brett was on base. That was all they needed to hold off the hometown favorites to win the game and go into the US Championship against the Northwest team that had beaten them the day before.
The next day was a day off for all the teams. The International Championship game was going to be Japan vs. Mexico that would be played right before the US Championship game. There were some interviews that day and one of them was a little tough especially for Davey. The reporters had found out about his father missing in Afghanistan. Because they were not in the habit of ambushing anyone, they had asked Davey and his family if they could talk about Steve during the interview, because he had helped get this team started at the beginning of the season. After talking about it, they agreed. Even though they knew it was coming, when the reporter got to that part of the interview it was still tough to get through. Orel Hershiser was interviewing them.
"Well guys, you guys started out with a bang and then ran into some tough teams and actually lost to the team that you are playing for the championship tomorrow. How do you think you're going to do tomorrow?"
They all looked at each other before smiling. Jordan was the one who spoke first.
"We're going to win of course."
"You sure? You lost to them before, they are a tough team."
"Yeah, they were tough, but I think we had won so many games up to that point, that we kind of expected to win. They knocked us down a notch and now we know that the game isn't going to be given to us. We know we're going against a tough team, but we're ready to win tomorrow."
The boys nodded and there were some hand slaps and a few small cheers in agreement. Orel smiled at their antics, before getting serious.
"I understand that you are missing one member of your team today."
The boys quieted down a little and got serious looks on their faces as well, several looked over at Davey.
"Yes sir. My…my father, Gunnery Sergeant Steve Grant. He's missing in action in Afghanistan. He was a coach on the team when the season started and helped get us on the road to the World Series."
Tyler spoke up next.
"Coach Grant is great. While he was over there in Afghanistan, he kept telling Davey to tell us to keep doing our best. He always said that he thought we were a great team and we didn't want to let him down, so we've kept doing our best."
"Well, I think so far we've seen that you are a real good team and you have done your best. Tomorrow you play for the US championship. I'd like to ask you, Davey, how you're holding up with your Dad still missing. How hard has it been to keep that energy up?"
Davey was silent for a moment and you could see that he had to work a little bit on holding his emotions in before answering. Jordan put his arm on his shoulders and Davey gave him a smile in thanks.
"It's been really hard, but I try to keep what he said about keeping on doing my best in my mind and I just try to do that."
"I bet it is. I can't imagine how you feel. However, from what we can see, you have taken his words to heart. Right now both you, and Jordan there, have one of the highest batting averages of the series, both of you hitting over .500. You don't hit many homeruns, but you have hit consistently and safely in every game and have a lot of RBI's to show for it as well. Do you think that is your father's influence even though he isn't here to share it with you?"
Davey blushed a little at the praise.
"Yes, sir. Ever since he went missing, I've tried to keep doing my best, like he asked me to do. He knew that I hated that he wasn't here to be with us, but he told my family, and I, and the whole team, that he had made a promise and had to fulfill it, that was why he was there. So, yeah, I hate that he's not here, we all do I guess and I hope he comes home soon, but he said that keeping your promise was the most important thing you can do."
All the members of the team were nodding their heads in agreement with what Davey had said.
"Well Davey, and the team from the West, I think all of America hopes that everything will turn out okay for you Davey, and we wish you guys the best of luck in the championship game tomorrow."
The interview was over and Orel came over to shake Davey's hand, then his mom and brother's hands as well and told them that they were in his prayers for Steve's safe return. They thanked him and everyone left to spend some time having fun at the complex.
The teams warmed up early in the day before making their way over to Lamade stadium to watch the International game. There were no runs in the first couple of innings, and then Japan scored in the 3rd and 4th inning with fourteen batters coming to the plate to get a 4 - 0 advantage. Mexico got one run in the bottom of the 4th and both teams scored once more each in the 5th inning. Mexico could not score again and Japan walked away with the International Championship 5 - 2.
The US Championship started. The West team had been a hard hitting team, scoring 41-6 through the Western Regional and 23-1 in the series so far. They had lost to the Northwest team they were facing. Greg was the starting pitcher and he appeared to be on today. By the top of the 2nd inning, the West was ahead 3 - 1, which included a homerun by Brett, the shortstop, which was his first homerun in all the championship games that they had played so far. Northwest got a run back in the bottom of the 2nd. That proved to be the closest that the Northwest team would get to them. Davey's team put two more runs on the board in the 4th, two in the 5th and four in the 6th inning, while the Northwest team could only muster one more run. Davey and Jordan each went three for four and Greg helped win his own game going two for four, including a two run double in the 4th. The final score was 11 - 2. They were moving on to the championship game against Japan.
After the game, they paraded around the field carrying the US Championship banner. Once out in the complex, people came up and asked all of them for their autograph. There was an interview by ESPN too, with Orel Hershiser as the interviewer once again. He congratulated them for winning the game and wished them luck in the game against Japan. The boys continued celebrating back in the dorm room. It took awhile for them to calm down enough to go to sleep.
Later that night, after they had finally gone to sleep, Jordan woke up for some reason. He looked over to the bed that was next to him in the corner and in the dim light coming through the window he saw that Davey was lying there with his back to him and Jordan could see that his shoulders were shaking a little and he thought he heard a whimper from Davey. He looked around to see if anyone else had heard anything, but no one seemed to be stirring in their beds. He carefully got out of bed and quickly padded over to Davey's bed and got in with him. Davey jumped a little and started to turn around to see who was there until he felt Jordan's arm go around him and hug him close.
"Are you okay?"
"I miss him Jordie. He should be here. Dad should be here. This is everything we hoped for and he's not here with us."
Jordan didn't really know what to say, so he just hugged Davey. Davey held on to his arm as he cried quietly.
"I'm scared Jordie. What if he never comes back, it's been months and we haven't heard anything. What…what if he's gone…..forever?"
"Don't think like that Davey. You're Dad is tough, he'll be okay. Maybe the government has been working on negotiating to get him back from whoever has him. Maybe there will be word about him when we get back home. You gotta keep positive."
"I know, but it's hard to. He should be here."
Davey started to cry again, Jordan just hugged him and did the best he could to comfort Davey. Eventually, he felt Davey's body relax and his breathing became regular. Jordan wanted to stay all night of course, but he knew that might not go over well with the rest of the team if they saw them. Once he was sure that Davey was completely asleep, he slowly extricated himself. Before he got back in his bed, he leaned down and kissed Davey lightly on the cheek. The next morning Davey and Jordan shared a smile as they got dressed for the game. Once they were ready to go, Davey stepped up close and whispered in Jordan's ear.
"Thanks Jordie. I love you."
Jordan blushed a little and quietly answered him
The two teams were powerhouse teams. Both had had a lot of runs coming into this game and that is what the crowd expected. What they got was a pitcher's duel. Tyler was pitching today and the Japan team's pitcher was just as good. Both teams were scoreless until the top of the third when a Japanese player got home on a wild throw to third base. The West team got an answering run in the bottom of the inning with a homerun by Jason, who was the starting catcher to tie the score. After that it settled into a battle as both sides did everything they could to keep their opponents from scoring. There was a lot of good defensive play on both sides. At the top of the 6th, Japan tried hard, but Tyler, who had pitched the entire game, kept them scoreless. When the West team came up in the bottom of the inning, it was looking like it was going to go into extra innings. Jerry walked to start the inning. Then an error by the Japan shortstop, on what should have been an easy double play, allowed him to advance forward a base. Jordan, who was up next, hit a long fly ball that was caught almost at the wall. Another walk and a single loaded the bases. Tyler came up and he hit a grounder that caused a force out at home plate. It was two out and Davey was up. The count went to 2 and 0 before the solid ping of an aluminum bat was heard and the crowd was on their feet as the ball sailed high and over the centerfield wall into the grassy hill beyond, a grand slam home run. All of the runners were jumping up and down as they circled the bases. The Japanese players just watched. A couple of the Japanese infielders even slapped Davey's hand as he circled the bases. He was surrounded by his teammates when he stepped on home plate. Jordan threw his arms around him and hugged him, both of them falling to the ground.
Out in the grass, beyond the centerfield wall, the boy who had been able to get the ball that Davey had hit was talking to his dad when someone came up behind him.
"Hey buddy, I'd like to buy that ball?"
Both the boy and his father turned to see who had spoken. They saw a man standing there with a gentle friendly smile. He had his wallet in his hand.
"Excuse me sir?"
"I was asking if you would allow me to buy that ball from you. I'll give you one hundred dollars for it."
Both the boy and his father looked at the man in shock.
"Are you serious, sir?"
"Yes, it would mean a lot to me."
The boy looked at the man for a few moments before holding the ball out to him.
"You can have it sir."
The man shook his head.
"No, son. I want to buy it."
He pulled a hundred dollar bill from his wallet and held it out. The boy's father started to shake his head, but he saw that the man was serious, so he looked at his son and nodded. The boy took the bill and handed the ball over to him. The man reached out and gently tousled the boy's hair before turning and walking toward the wall that separated the grassy hill and the field. The man and his son watched the man who had bought the ball walk to the wall and look at the field for a few moments as he watched the West team celebrate their win as World Series Champions. Then he did something that surprised everyone. He jumped over the wall and started across the outfield. It took a few moments before the people in the stands noticed the man. Slowly, as more and more people noticed him, the crowd started to grow silent.
The West team was still celebrating until they realized that the crowd noise had dropped off fairly quickly. They looked at the stands and saw that the people were all standing still, but they were not looking at the boys, they were looking towards the outfield. The boys stopped and turned to look at what everyone else was looking at. The boy's spread out, and as they spread out to see what everyone was looking at, they saw a man wearing a dark blue jacket with lighter blue pants with a red stripe down the side. On his head was perched a bright white cap and he was walking across the outfield towards them. He was limping a little and had a cane in his hand as he walked. Soon enough the stadium stood in stunned silence. On the ground Davey and Jordan stood up to see what was going on. The stadium was quiet enough that everyone was able to hear a boy's voice yell out.
Everyone in the stadium, and all those watching at home, watched as Davey tore across the field and vaulted into his father's arms when he was close enough to do so. Steve dropped the cane and braced himself on his good leg as he caught Davey. His hat was knocked off by the boy's arms as they flew around his neck. Davey wrapped his legs around his dad's waist and hung on for dear life as he buried his face in his dad's neck. Both of them were crying in happiness at being reunited. Within moments, the cheers started until the entire audience was on its feet and cheering. The rest of the West team started walking out to where the two were embracing. The Japanese team had been standing by their coaches being consoled. When Davey and his Dad were reunited, the manager said something to his team and they lined up along the base line and slowly bowed, giving honor to a warrior returned home.
From the loudspeakers came the words.
"AMERICA WELCOMES HOME GUNNERY SERGEANT STEVEN GRANT, A REAL AMERICAN HERO!"
In the distance a large, green, CH-53 helicopter with the Seal of the President of the United States lifted off and flew back east.