“That makes sense,” I say as I stand next to him, watching the players interact with the kids. Autographs are signed, and teachers are taking pictures, and even a few of the players are snapping their own shots. It’s nice that they’re not on a time limit, but I’m antsy and want to get this event started. The nerves are starting to set in, and I want to make sure everything is perfect.
A few of the players make their way into the zoo, shaking hands with the staff as they pass by. I hear my name in the distance and turn to find an older gentleman walking toward me.
“Are you Ainsley Burke?”
“I am. Are you Cal Diamond? Mr. Stone said you’d be my point of contact today,” I reply as we shake hands.
“Thank you for having us.”
“It’s my pleasure.” We step off to the side and go over the plan of action for the day; he reiterates what I agreed to with Stone.
“I want to make sure the focus is on the children and not the end result with the media,” I tell Cal, who nods in agreement.
“Of course, that is why we’re here. Honestly, the guys could care less about the media today. They’re excited to be here and away from training.”
“That’s good to hear. We’re excited to be hosting them and especially for the children. They seemed very excited out in the parking lot.”
We exchange cell phone numbers, in case either of us needs to get in touch with the other, and I remind him that I always have my radio with me, and any one of the staff members can get in touch with me if I’m needed.
Today is going to be different from any other day. For one, the zoo is closed to the public. Two, everything is free, including one souvenir of each child’s choice. Three, we’re going to make sure the animals are outside for the children’s arrival so they can have optimum viewing pleasure. Hearing their laughter, seeing their faces light up when an animal, particular a giraffe, comes near, is worth the extra work we’re putting in today.
I stand at the entrance of the zoo, looking over the courtyard where everyone is gathering. The players are mingling with a few of the staff, taking pictures and chatting about who knows what. A sense of pride washes over me as I see so many happy faces. It’s important to me that today goes off without any issues and that it’s a success. I radio the different exhibits to make sure they’re ready, and all are eager to let the kids in.
The Boston Renegades will be the kids’ tour guides. The best way to handle this was to leave the responsibility up to the teachers about who their students went with. It’s honestly something I wouldn’t have be
en able to do, considering I don’t know any of the players. Well, except for one.
There was one that caught my eye when I was perusing the roster that was sent over by the organization. It was the way he looked at the camera for his photo, not cocky but self-assured. I found myself looking him up online, trying to figure out what my attraction was, and found very little. If he has a girlfriend, there’s no mention of her. If he’s been in trouble with the law, it’s not been stated. He seems to be a squeaky clean rookie, who was, by all accounts, a superstar in the minor leagues.
And while my interest is piqued, I remind myself that I don’t date athletes. I tried that once, and the failure was so epic that it’s something I’ll never forget.
His name is yelled, and it makes it easy to follow him. Our eyes meet, and even though I pretend I’m looking elsewhere now, he somehow knows I’m still staring at him. And if he didn’t, then he does now, because my cheeks are on fire and the only thing I can do to quell my embarrassment is run my hand over my ponytail in hopes that my arm is shielding me from him, but that doesn’t work because I smile automatically at the thought that he is watching me.
As much as I want to turn away, I don’t. I take in the way he interacts with his teammates, the laughing and carrying on, and wonder what it’s like to be so free. I haven’t laughed in months, not since my mother first got sick, and the most joy I have felt in a long time happened this morning.
I give the signal, and the gates open. The kids move in an orderly fashion, but even I can see they’re trying to get to their assigned player. Their chatter is refreshing as they tell their friends how excited they are, and the teachers seem relieved that they’re getting a break, more or less.
I feel a small tug on arm and look to find a little girl smiling back at me.
“Hi, what can do for you?” I ask, bending down so I’m at her eye level.
“Do you know if Jambo had her baby yet?”
I can’t help but smile and nod my head excitedly. “She did, earlier this morning. And Zookeeper Bruce is so excited to for you all to see, but remember, don’t tap or bang on the glass because you’ll scare Jambo and the baby.”
“I won’t,” she says, running off to meet with her group.
Standing back up, the groups gather and are ready to start their day. With one quick look around at all the smiles, I remind myself that I did this. I brought these groups together.
“Remember to use your maps today, and don’t forget to refill your water bottles along the pathway. Be mindful of the critters that you’ll meet during your journey, and pay special attention to any of the staff you see standing around; they might have someone special with them. And please make sure to visit the giraffes. Not only will you be able to feed them, but you’ll see Jambo’s new baby,” I proudly tell them. The last part is met with a loud cheer, and not only from the children. “The gates are officially open. Have fun!”
The groups start to move away slowly, and I once again find myself watching for one in particular. When he looks over his shoulder, I pretend I’m paying attention to everyone and not just him, but I think he sees right through me. From afar, I can gawk, maybe even fantasize when I’m feeling up to it, but the reality is that nothing will ever come of this. He’s not my type. And he already has two strikes against him—forgive the pun, but it’s true. He’s a baseball player, and they’re nothing but trouble.