Changeup, Chapter 27

It was the top of the 9th. Last game of the season.

Two down. The runner on third inched down the line, ready to bolt for home.

Joe's knees ached, but the excitement kept his mind focused on the pitch.

He signaled low and in, and the pitcher complied.


Sharp grounder to short.

The runner's cleats kicked up dirt as he flew home. Joe jumped in front of the plate, waiting for the throw.

The ball slapped into his glove. The runner's cleats came up. Joe braced for impact.


Joe stood his ground, even as the breath was knocked from him.

He held the ball up for the umpire to see as the crowd cheered.

He took his time getting back to the dugout, catching his breath.

As he pulled the chest protector from over his head, he heard his coach call, "You're up, Joe. Do your thing."

He unclipped the shin guards and tossed them aside. He grabbed his bat and helmet and headed back to the plate.

It was a mighty swing, but a wimpy hit. The ball dribbled down the third base line.

Joe put his head down and ran like his butt was on fire.

He ran through the bag as the first baseman stretched for the throw. He wasn't sure whether he was safe or not, but then the crowd's roar let him know. He turned to grin at the first base coach, expecting a thumbs up. There was nothing but intensity on the first base coach's face as he pointed at second base with one arm and windmilled the other.

Joe was already running for second before he realized what had happened - the throw to first had gone wide and the ball was at the fence.

He slid into second, grinning and wheezing.

A moment later, he watched a long fly ball head to center field. He tagged up on second, and sprinted for third on the catch, easily making it on time.

Bottom of the ninth. Score still tied. One down.

Joe glanced to the dugout, raising an eyebrow at his coach.

His coach shook his head, slowly and firmly.

Joe knew he should play it safe.

Should wait for the hit.

Shouldn't risk everything on a hair-brained risky move.

But on the wind-up, his feet were already moving, as if they were in charge and he was not.

For a moment, he was terrified. But there was no turning back now, so he leaned forward, legs and arms pumping in a desperate effort.

He dove, arms stretched like Superman, stretching for the plate.

The catcher was blocking his way, but had taken the pitch too far in front of the plate after pushing the batter out of the way. Joe glimpsed the back 6 inches of the plate, exposed behind the catcher's shin guards.

The throw had beaten him, but he hadn't been tagged yet.

As he landed, he lunged. He felt the tag hit him hard on the head. He rolled away, momentum carrying him into the umpire's legs.

He lay there, tangled with the catcher and umpire, panting as the crowd's screams filled his ears.

Changeup, Chapter 26

Joe stared at the lights, bright as day above his head.

He was lying in the grass in center field. The team was on the road, and there had been no game tonight. Even empty, it was a sight to behold. He'd dreamed of standing on a big league field his whole life, and now he could do it whenever he wanted.

For the time being, anyway.

"Whatever's on your mind looks awfully heavy, Joe. Need some help carrying it?"

He hadn't heard or seen her coming, but her voice brought a small smile to his tense face.

She sat next to him, and he moved to place his head in her lap.

"I think it's over, Renee."

She frowned down at him.

"Huh. Not the way I pictured hearing that news."

Joe's eyes opened wide in terror.

"Not us! This." He waved at the lights.

He explained the situation.

"I could sell out, but they know I'm between a rock and a hard place, and I would be lucky to get pennies on the dollar. My dad's inheritance, wiped out in a little over a year. Betcha he'd be proud of me, huh?"

"I'm proud of you, Joe. You're doing things your way, and it's working. Otherwise, they wouldn't need to pull such shady shenanigans to beat you."

"Thanks. I could borrow the money, but how is going into debt honoring Dad's gift? I can't do that."

Joe sighed.

"What would you say if all this was gone?"

"I'd say you still owed me a hot dog."

She smiled.

"Look, Joe. I don't care if you're rich. You weren't when I met you. Riches haven't changed you, and I'd like to think your riches haven't changed how much I love you. We'll figure it out."

Joe relaxed. They stared at the lights in silence for a while, enjoying quiet company.

"Marry me?"

Changeup, Chapter 25

Joe stared at the letter. He had no idea what it meant.

He glanced over the top of it, and then gently let it fall from his fingers to the desk.

Ms. Primrose met his stare and raised an eyebrow.

"Ok, Annette. What does this even mean?"

"Ms. Primrose, thank you, and it means you have to come up with funding for a new stadium by the start of next season."

Joe coughed, and coffee splattered on the letter.

"What?!? Why?"

"New rule. Stadiums can't be more than 40 years old. Trying to maintain a big-league image, after all."

"How old is ours?"

"Kauffman Stadium is 41 years old."

"Then this isn't about the age of the stadium. Someone wants me out. What other stadiums are affected by this?"

"One. The Angels just announced a plan to build a new stadium. Most are unaffected because there's a grandfather clause for stadiums renovated since 2010."

"That's a relief! We just renovated."

"In 2009."

Joe's brow furrowed and his face flushed; his demeanor darkening uncharacteristically.

"Then it's not just someone, Ms. Primrose. They all want me out."

He crumpled the letter and threw it across the room.

Changeup, Chapter 24

"We have to stop him."

"He's changing everything."

"He doesn't care if his bottom line isn't going up."

"Doesn't he realize this is a business?"

"What are we going to do?"

"Well, I'm sure not losing to some kid!"

The room wasn't crowded, but the agitated chatter filled it just the same.

Mr. Simpson stood and cleared his throat. Silence filtered through the room.

"Gentlemen, thank you for meeting me today. Before we begin, I need to stress that this is not an officially sanctioned owners' meeting, and the commissioner knows nothing about what we're discussing today. Isn't that right, Mr. Commissioner?"

Everyone chuckled as the commissioner raised a glass from his table in the back.

"I'd like to invite Nathan Finnigan to tell us more about Joe, the new thorn in our side."

There were a few more chuckles, but Nathan didn't so much as smile as he stood.

He laid out the details much as he had the evening he had met privately with Mr. Simpson.

When he finished, Simpson spoke again. "Gentlemen, I have no problem accepting change, but I will not accept thinner margins and weaker bottom lines. If this is how he wants to play, then we need to figure out how to shut him out. Any ideas?"

No one spoke as they all stared at each other, scheming, and apparently coming up with nothing.

Eventually, someone spoke up. "What are his vulnerabilities, Nathan? Where's he weak?"

A smile finally cracked on Nathan's face.

"Cash. Joe's rich, but he's all in."

The smile spread from Nathan's face to every other one in the room.

Invisible Pizza Babies

I was picking up dinner at a local pizza joint the other night. I had called ahead and was picking up our order in the drive-thru.

The teenage girl who was running the window confirmed our order and reached to take my debit card. She froze as she looked in my back window, then squealed with delight.

Drive-thru Lady: Your baby is CUTE!

Me: Um...

DTL: Wait, where IS your baby?

Me: At home. Asleep.

DTL: But I see the car seat.

Me: Isn't it cute?

When she left to ring my card, I couldn't help laughing as I picked up my phone to pass the time.

She came back to the window, saw me on my phone, and said sheepishly, "You're posting that on Facebook, aren't you?"

"No", I said, as I posted it on Twitter. "Absolutely not."

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