“They’re a bunch of snot farmers,” Kidd says as he joins us.
“Excuse me?” I choke as I try to hold back a chuckle while Singleton is bent over laughing.
Kidd shakes his head before nodding to the third base side.
“They’ve been whining to the local press about being in second place. They’re all fart munchers.”
“Where do you even come up with these words?” I ask. I’ve been the subject of a one-liner from him many times but haven’t had the balls to ask him where he gets them.
“He’s a damn toddler, in case you haven’t noticed,” Bryce Mackenzie adds. He motions for us to start stretching, and I follow his lead. Despite my rising batting average, I’m still a rookie and look up to these guys—even Davenport, who is actually younger than I am.
“My life at home was shit,” Kidd says when he catches up to us. “I needed a way to cope so I started making jokes. It was easier to brush off the bullshit from my dad.”
“Sorry, man. I didn’t mean to open any wounds.”
“No worries, we all have that parent.”
I know all too well what it’s like to have an overbearing father. Thankfully, mine is watching games from the comfort of his beach house and leaving me alone, although I do miss him. But having him a thousand miles away affords me a life outside of baseball. He doesn’t get to bitch at me for staying out late or hitting a few clubs every now and again.
“My parents are awesome.”
Kidd and I both push Davenport away when he says that. We’ve all heard about how amazing and supportive his parents are, not to mention his hot-ass wife. It’s funny, though, when he fucks up, because she gets on him worse than Diamond does. We all joke that Daisy needs to be on staff to keep us on the straight and narrow.
By the time we reach the warning track, the twenty-five-man team is in a row doing calisthenics. We laugh, joke, and razz each other no differently than what I’d imagine brothers would do.
We break off and start warming up with our groups. The infielders take grounders while the outfielders work on catching pop flies in the sun. After about an hour of this, we drag our asses back into the dugout to get the game underway.
As our names are announced, we step out and wave to the crowd before disappearing under our awning again. Diamond barks out for us to drink water and stay hydrated throughout the game before he sits back down in the corner where there’s some shade.
“You okay, Skipper?” I ask, but he waves me off before telling me to get my ass out into center. I do as he says, jogging out after the National Anthem is played and some local kid yells for us to “play ball.”
The first pitch is sent, and the crack of the bat has everyone yelling. I turn and run, watching over my shoulder as the ball sails toward me. My cleats touch the warning track, and I know I only have a few feet before the wall and I become close friends. The ball is high, and at the last moment I jump up, never taking my eyes off the ball, and squeeze my glove when I feel the hard rubber hit it.
When I land, the ball bobbles out of my mitt, but my other hand is there to snag it, and Kidd and Meyers are next to me, waiting to see if the ball drops. I raise my arm up high, and the umpire, who has come out to center field, signals an out. The crowd roars, and the guys slap me on the back.
“Good thing you caught that you tit twister,” Kidd says as he jogs back to his position in left field.
“What the fuck, Kidd?”
He starts laughing and says something that I can’t make out.
Tadashi gets the last two outs to end the inning. Justin Shaw is pitching for the O’s today, who happens to be Davenport’s old teammate from college.
Kayden Cross is up to bat first and singles to right, barely beating out the throw. First base coach Shawn Smith is riding his ass about running harder, and I agree. When there’s a chance you’re going to be thrown out, you run your ass off.
Preston Meyers is up next and takes the first three pitches as balls. There’s no way he’s swinging at the next pitch, regardless if it’s a meatball or not. We all watch as Shaw delivers the pitch for ball four, and Meyers flips his bat toward our dugout as he jogs to first.
“Hit away, Davenport,” Diamond bellows from the dugout. He’s still sitting in the shade and sweating profusely. I’m not sure if we should be worried about him or not, but it doesn’t seem normal for a man who is resting.
Ethan steps into the batter’s box and stares at his former college teammate. Right now, in this moment, they’re enemies, but once the game is over, they’ll be friends again.
“Swing the damn bat,” Daisy Davenport yells from behind the dugout. We turn and look at her, only to be given the stink-eye.
Davenport swings at the next pitch and sends it sailing toward the left field line. Cross and Meyers are running their asses off, and both score easily while Ethan is sliding into third untouched.
“Bring him home, Branch,” multiple people in the crowd yell. When Branch steps up to the plate, I move into the on-deck circle and start my warm-up. I time my swing with Shaw’s pitch, trying to get an idea for what he’s throwing. This is my first time facing him, so the element of surprise is on both of us. Of course, it’s always hit or miss and just depends on if it’s going to be your day or the pitcher’s. Right now, we’re in his head so I’m banking on it being my day.
* * *