Changeup, Chapter 3

Joe thought a bit about the lottery on the ride home.  He could do whatever he wanted with that much money.  He could get married.  He could retire.  He could be someone!

But beneath the grandiose and selfish thoughts was a little nagging doubt.  He knew money wouldn't fix his life or make him happy.  He'd never been a greedy man, and he didn't intend to start.  He was mature enough to understand these things, but the little doubt wasn't pestering him about greed.  It was informing him he had no plan.  Even if he won, he didn't have a plan.

This had been Joe's problem his whole life.  He didn't know what he wanted or where he was going.  He wanted to succeed, but didn't know at what.  He wanted to provide for someone, but hadn't found who.  So even if he won, it wouldn't matter.  Not until he figured a few things out.

It was all useless pondering, of course.  He knew that.  He'd never been lucky before, and that wouldn't change now.

He was abruptly jerked out of his daydream by the sight of a car pulled off the shoulder of the highway with its emergency lights flashing.  An old man was struggling to pull the spare tire out of the trunk of his old green Nissan Sentra.

Joe immediately put his flashers on and pulled to a stop behind the man.  He cut his engine and stepped out of his truck.

"Let me get that for you, Sir."  Joe easily pulled the tire from the trunk with a single large hand.

"Thanks, son", sighed the man.  "Ain't as easy as it used to be."

"Where you headed?", Joe asked as he carried the tire around the side of the Sentra.  He leaned the tire against the passenger door and squatted down to remove the flat.

"Daughter's house.  In town a ways.  She dotes on me now her ma's gone."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Don't be.  Hurts more to watch 'em suffer than to let 'em go."

Joe didn't respond.  What was there to say?  He fought with the lug nuts on the flat.  He threw his weight on the tire iron, and the bolt finally gave.  It cost him the skin on his right knuckles, but it gave.  He winced, but moved on to the next bolt.

"You look like a catcher down there."

Joe chuckled.  "Guess I do.  Played catcher for fifteen years."

"That's a thankless position.  How'd you end up getting stuck there?  You must have quite the arm."

"Nope, just the only one who wasn't afraid of the ball.  Never did understand why all the other guys was so scared of it.  They put so much gear on you, you almost can't get hurt if you try."

"Now you're selling yourself short, son.  Takes more'n not being afraid to play catcher.  You gotta see the whole field and call the plays a'fore they happen.  Ever'one credits the pitcher, but he takes his lead from the catcher.  Folks forget that."

Joe nodded silently.  The man knew his stuff.

He finished tightening the bolts on the spare, then grabbed the car jack in one hand, and the flat tire in the other.  He placed each carefully in the back and closed the trunk.

Joe wiped his hands on his already dirty jeans and offered one to the man.

"You're all set, Sir."

"Thank you kindly, son."  The man grabbed Joe's hand and shook it vigorously.  "How much do I owe you?"

"Not a thing!"

"Well, your folks did all right.  What's your name, son?"

"Joe.  Yours?"

"Jim.  Pleased to meet you.  If I can't give you nothin' for your trouble, then I can treat you to a ball game and a hot dog, can't I?  The locals are playin' the Tigers tomorrow."

Joe hesitated.  He hadn't been to a game in a while.

"Don't let me down, Joe."

"All right Jim, you got yourself a deal.  Meet you tomorrow at the ticket counter.  Thanks!"

Each man headed off to his own destination with a casual wave.

Joe was in a much more pleasant mood on the way home.  He always looked forward to the games.

He parked the truck out front and let himself in to the old house he was renting.  He tossed his keys on the counter.  Sure would be nice to have a garage.  Someday, someday.

He pulled his frozen pizza from the microwave and carried it into the living room, holding a beer in his free hand.  He set them down on the coffee table, pulled the tab on the beer, and leaned back with a long sigh.

He flipped through the channels, shooting down five of the six options he had.  Finally - a ball game!

He watched the Rangers chase the Yankees for a bit.  The announcers were analyzing the latest trade and mega contracts.  Joe mumbled a bit at them.  He couldn't keep up with who was on what team anymore, and some of these men made more money than some countries.

He watched in amazement as the latest star watched three strikes sail past him.  The bat never left his shoulder.  On the third called strike, the man became enraged at the injustice of it all.  He tossed his bat and started in on the umpire.  The ump, used to this sort of abuse, stood his ground.  The player started kicking up dirt and foaming at the mouth.  The ump tossed him out, to great cheers from the crowd.

Joe flipped the channel, disgusted.

The lotto drawing came on, and little numbered ping pong balls began dropping down the chutes.  Joe, with only a passing casual interest, fished his ticket out of his pocket.

A moment later, those little ping pong balls held his interest fully.

What happens next?