Changeup, Chapter 11

Joe stared vacantly at the pitcher's mound.

He had no idea what the score was. Wasn't even paying attention to who was in the field and who was batting.

He'd come to the game out of habit, mostly. The ballpark always took his mind off things, but not today.

He hadn't even realized he'd brought the glove, but there it was on his hand. Still smelled of the oil Dad rubbed into it twice a year. Floppy with age, but sustained with care.

It was the most valuable item in his dusty box of treasures.

The crack of the bat didn't snap him out of his brooding, but the excited jabbers of those around him did. He looked up to see a foul ball hurtling at him. He only had time to stand up halfway before he instinctively snatched it out of the sky.

A few folks clapped, as they always did, but Joe didn't notice. Didn't even smile as he fell back into his seat.

"Nice catch!"

Renee plopped into the seat next to him.

"Howdy, stranger."

It was only a little, but now Joe smiled.

"Gotcha something", he said. He held the ball up to Renee.

"Aw, you shouldn't have." She grabbed the ball, gently brushing his hand with hers, then tossed it in the air and caught it. "I'll bet you have a hundred of these."

"Actually, I've never caught one before. Been to more games than I can count at more parks than I remember, and this is the first one."

"And yet you gave it up so easily?"

He grinned, a little wider this time.

"I could use the company, and I was afraid you wouldn't stay otherwise. Had to bribe you."

"An excellent bribe, Joe. A hot dog just might seal the deal."


They laughed as they ate, ketchup smearing on chins and innings passing far too quickly.

Joe told her about his dad. Learning to throw. Mustering the courage to catch. Learning strategy as they drank a Slurpee and watched the Saturday afternoon game on TV once the weeds were pulled and the grass cut.

Renee recounted similar stories. Daddy-daughter dates at this very ballpark. She remembered asking her daddy why the batter struck out when he'd managed to foul off a pitch and learning that's how bunts worked with two strikes.

Joe recalled watching Kirk Gibson limp around the bases in the 88 World Series, pumping his fist after his game-winning home run. "You just saw history, Son", Dad had said.

Once, Renee had impressed a group of old men with her baseball knowledge. She was only 6, but was yelling louder than they were after a particularly bad squeeze play. The batter had tipped the bunt straight up, easily letting the catcher make a double play and dashing her team's hope of a tying run.

"BAT up, BALL down on a bunt!" she'd screamed.

The old guys loved it so much she'd spent the rest of the game chatting with them and hollering at the umps.

Joe and Renee hardly looked up until the 7th inning stretch. They sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the top of their lungs.

As they sat back down, foolish grins on their faces, Renee picked up the glove.

"Was this your dad's?"

Joe nodded. His grin was gone.

Renee instantly realized.

"I'm so sorry, Joe. How long has he been gone?"

"Two weeks."

She said nothing. Just put her arm around his shoulder while he stared into left field.