This may be the slowest serial ever. If you don’t remember Chapter One – which was months ago – you’ll find it here.
There is no such thing as an uncomplicated ballplayer.
He wasn’t sure how long it’d been. How long since his brain would flicker as he tried to recall a word, a name, a something else.
“Normal aging,” the doc said. “Nothing to worry about.” But that was years ago – 10, maybe more. It was just annoying then. A lost name here or there. It was more than that now.
He would be talking to someone he knew. Someone he knew he knew and suddenly his mind would go numb – the person would keep talking but he wouldn’t catch a word. Instead, he’d be consumed by the realization that he no longer knew the person’s name.
The name he knew he knew.
He would start through the alphabet, like thumbing the pages of an old phone book.
Allan. Bill. Cameron. Danny.
Danny? Is it Danny?
The name would usually come to him. But, not always. It made him wonder – is this how it ends, everything just goes blank?
His hands trembled a little now, too. And, when they did he would lace and squeeze his fingers together or hold his wrist tight with his other hand, or rub his palms as though washing them with air. Little things that no one would notice and that would slow the tremors that came more often now.
Pam. Patti. Polly. Penny.
Maybe it was because Peach was a little girl, so when she stood next to her grandfather her eyes were closer to his hands than to his eyes. Or, maybe it was because she wasn’t trying not to notice, which was what her mother and the others would do.
They’d pretend not to see, but Peach didn’t.
“Grampa, why’s your hand shaking?”
He paused for a moment just to make sure. Pam, Patti, Polly, Penny …
“I don’t know, Peach.”
She smiled, turned, and ran up the stairs. She clattered around and quickly ran back down. She was holding her grandfather’s baseball glove – now her glove – with a ball shoved into its worn pocket.
“I know, Grampa. You miss baseball.”
She took the ball in one hand and held the glove out to him with the other. He smiled. Not because she was right, even though she was. But, because Peach, his littlest grandchild, his only granddaughter, loved baseball almost as much as he did.
Little Peach with her golden hair and freckles. His perfect Little Peach.
The kids called her Pete. Or, Pete The Girl, which they’d slur into one long made-up word, Petedagirl, which often sounded more like Pizzagirl.
“Put it on,” Peach insisted, still holding it out to him.
“It’s your glove now, Peach.”
“I want you to wear it.”
How can you argue with the sweetest kid that ever was? He reached out and slid his fingers into the old glove. It felt snug, a little stiff, a little warm. His left hand, still shaking, spread inside. His fingers, misshapen and thicker now, overgrown with arthritis, remembered everything. The shaking stopped.
Just like that. Probably the warmth of the leather, he thought. Or, something else.
Maybe the glove still had some magic in it. Magic only he and Peach could understand.
She held out the baseball now, old and yellowing. He took it and thwumped it into the glove.
“The Orioles won today, Grampa, did you know that?”
“I didn’t. The game hasn’t aired yet.”
Thwump. Thwump. It felt good, each thwump of the baseball he could tell was easing the arthritic ache in his fingers.
“I was there. Rufus Rodriguez hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth. A walk-off!”
She danced a little bit as she said it and shot her arms into the air.
Then she said it a little louder. “A walk-off, Grampa!”
“Good. They needed that win.”
“A walk-off just like yours! Like the home run you hit in Game Five of the World Series off of Sam Frasier. A 3-2 count and you hit a three-run walk-off home run. And, Frasier was the best closer in baseball. But, he wasn’t better than you!”
He liked it when Peach would recite his statistics or remember the details of a story about a long-ago game that he had told her.
Frasier. That was his name. Goddamn, Sam Frasier with a stupid cut fastball that would dart inside so hard and quick it would jackknife right-handers like him out of the box at least once an at-bat.
But, this time, the ball didn’t cut. It stayed true, right over the plate. A mistake. And, when Tom Mason’s bat collided with Sam Frasier’s mistake it sounded like gunpowder exploding.
Tom Mason might not remember names anymore. But, he remembered at-bats.
And, there was no doubt that day. He dropped his bat, jogged toward first, watching the ball the entire way as it sailed past the warning track and over the bleachers. Frasier and his outfielders didn’t move, except to turn their heads and watch it go.
The crowd was so loud that people heard the roar blocks away.
It was the roar for him and his three-run walk-off home run that won Game 5 of a World Series no one outside of Baltimore thought the Orioles deserved to be playing in. They would win Game 6. Game 7, too.
But, that was a long time ago. Back when tens of thousands crowded into the games – elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, cheek to jowl – jammed snug into seats, pressed tight on bleacher benches, and crammed next to each other on standing-room-only walkways – making everything noisy and messy and electric. The old days.
“I wish you could have seen it, Peach. It was a beauty.”
“That ball never came down, did it, Grampa?”
“Over the bleachers, Peach. Over the bleachers.”
He cupped the ball in his right hand, swung his arm back as if to throw and then slowly stretched his hand forward until he lightly touched the ball on Peach’s head. “Over the bleachers.”
Tom tucked the baseball back into the pocket of the glove and pressed his palm hard around it.
“Tell me about the game today, Peach. Everything you remember.”
And, she did, repeating the things that Smelly could hear from inside the park, all the details, although she knew that Smelly often made things up just to keep the kids interested.
Her grandfather would want to know who was hitting well and who was not.
He would want to know that Sandy Portman, the Orioles reliable – but aging – starter went nine full innings. And, he would want to know how Portman did against Red Sox slugger David “Sandwich” Johnson, who had fouled off what seemed like a million pitches before Portman struck him out in the ninth.
She told him everything.
And, Tom Mason smiled at his beloved granddaughter Peach, the one the kids called Pete The Girl.
And, then he told her about the time he fouled 10 straight pitches off of a brash 20-year-old phenom with a beyond-filthy fastball. The phenom who was unstoppable for a season until he blew out his shoulder at 21. The phenom whose name just escaped him. Stark. Stanton. Stafford. Something.
He wouldn’t tell her all the stories, of course. The errors. The injuries and mistakes. The lost season. For Tom Mason, baseball was a crap shoot of memories – from MVP to circus clown loser and almost back again. Almost. Some memories he wished would disappear along with the names. But, those were the ones that never faded.
Those stories weren’t for his Peach.
For Peach, he would tell only the stories that would make her love the game as much as he did.
Peach loved when her Grampa talked baseball with her. No one else wanted to hear Tom Mason’s stories for the millionth time.
Peach did. She always would.