Changeup, Chapter 14

Joe stared at the computer screen.

It was one thing to imagine a sudden windfall. The fancy houses and fast cars, parties and carefree living. It was quite another thing to handle the brass tacks and decide what to really do with it.

He knew most folks with sudden money blew through it in the blink of an eye. He'd been entrusted with too much to want to throw it all away.

He researched lottery winners. Very few could still be thought of us 'winners'. One went bankrupt, got divorced and ended up living in the woods behind the mansion he used to own.

He searched for 'how to spend a fortune'. Basically every article could be summed up with the word 'Carefully'.

Joe sighed and closed the laptop lid. He set the laptop on his coffee table, stood and stretched.

It had been three weeks since he'd gone to a ball game. He'd been focusing on handling the stock certificates. He was burnt out on money matters. Time to relax.

He picked up the phone and dialed Renee.

"Of course I'll go to a ball game with you," she replied. "But I'm worried."

He frowned. "What for?"

"Are we just baseball buddies, Joe?"

He was glad to be on the phone, since his face was now quite red. "I...uh...I'll pick you up in an hour", he stammered.

Driving over, he changed his mind. They'd gone to the minor league games a couple times now. Money wasn't an issue - why not a big league game?

He was whistling as he walked her back to the truck and opened her door.

When he turned toward downtown Kansas City, she finally asked, "Okay, Joe. What do you have up your sleeve?"

"We're seeing the Royals tonight!"

Parking was $10. Joe had never understood paying for parking. It was like buying a ticket for his truck, who didn't care for ball games all that much.

"Got any seats by the third base dugout left?", Joe asked the attendant behind the counter.

"Sure do. That'll be $61", came the response from the microphone.

"We can sit somewhere else," Renee said. "I don't need to sit up close for $60."

"$61," the microphone corrected.

"It's okay," Joe replied. He figured it would take some time before he stopped feeling sticker shock every time he bought something.

"Per ticket", the microphone added.

Joe grinned a grin he did not feel and slid his card under the glass.

"Joe, I don't want you thinking you have to impress me all the time. We can have fun anywhere."

"I appreciate that, but today's special. We're celebrating!"

"Oh? What's the occasion?"

"New opportunities! Fresh starts! Hot dogs!"

$20 later, they each had a beer and a hot dog.

They watched as the Royals took on the White Sox in a pitcher's duel.

"What are you going to do now, Joe?", Renee asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you've been out of work for a while, and it's been a little over a month since...", her voice trailed off, tainted with uncertainty.

"Since Dad", Joe finished. "Well, to be honest, I haven't decided yet. I've mostly been dealing with paperwork and taking care of Mom."

"But you can't do that forever."

"No, I can't. I'm just not sure what's on deck for me."

Their conversation was cut short by a spray of soda and a howl of frustration. A man in the aisle behind them had tripped while returning to his seat. The meal he was trying to bring his family was scattered everywhere.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"

"It's okay", Joe said. "Here, let us help you clean up."

The man was beet red with anger and embarrassment. His wife was seething.

"I can't believe you did that! Now what are we going to do? Can't afford to buy anything else, and the kids are hungry!"

Joe handed her the rest of his napkins and headed back towards the concessions area for more. After drying himself up a bit, he bought more hot dogs and a couple large sodas.

"Here you go", Joe said as he distributed the food to the grumpy family.

There was a chorus of surprised "Thank you!"s. That seemed to cheer them up, Joe thought.

After he sat back down, the man and his wife began chatting with Joe and Renee.

"Everything's just so expensive these days. I remember when I was a boy, I could see the Yankees play the Dodgers for $2. And a hot dog was a quarter!"

"These days, we can either buy the 'cheap' seats and sit so far up we can't tell what's going on, or we have to pay through the nose to sit here. So we can only afford to go to one game a year."

They commiserated for several innings, telling of favorite players and games.

Joe glanced around the stadium. It wasn't even half full.

What had happened to it? The game he loved. It had no spirit anymore. It was nothing but a machine.

For a moment, Joe felt depressed.

Then a sudden play on the field; the Royal's runner rounding third and charging for home. The crowd on its feet.

And the boy behind him, screaming with unfettered excitement, jumping in anticipation, followed by furious fists of victory.

And Joe knew what he was going to do next.