BREAKING: MIKE LAWSON TRADED TO CHICAGO CUBS
Nov 5, 2015 - In a shocking offseason move, the veteran catcher waived his no-trade clause…
Padres and San Diego say goodbye to hometown hero
Nov 5, 2015 - Padres GM, Oscar Arguella, confirms the trade of Mike Lawson to Chicago in return for...
Mike leaned his elbows on the table, tipping forward toward the microphone as he indicated for the next question. He still hadn’t learned all the names of the Chicago sports reporters, and was in the process of working out who he wanted to take questions from, and who to give careful answers to. The never-ending camera flashes were pretty familiar.
“Mike, can we get a comment on the Padres calling up Ginny Baker to start tomorrow?”
“Well, it’s definitely a game changer for the sport. I’m looking forward to seeing how she does, even if I won’t get to watch the game live.”
“Really, Mike, nothing else you can give us?”
“I’m not exactly in the know about the ins and outs of the Padres any more. And while I saw some tape of her pitch a while back, I don’t really know much more about her, or the call up, than anyone else.”
“Come on, you haven’t heard anything from your former teammates or coaches about her?”
“I think these are questions you should be asking the Padres. Now does anyone want to talk about my two home runs today?”
There was nothing quite like entering a new clubhouse. Ginny was used to the silence, and the stares. She was here—she had arrived at the majors—and that gave her all the confidence she needed to walk in with her head held high. The entourage only helped a little.
Her eyes did a quick scan of the room, taking in who was gawking at her and who was glaring. She had to hold back the tiniest bit of disappointment that Mike Lawson wasn’t here. For as long as she’d dreamed about getting called up, the dream had always included getting to play with Mike Lawson. Being in the Padres farm system had kept that dream alive, because there was always that chance that it could happen. When he’d been traded to Chicago, she knew she had to give up on that dream, but apparently there was enough of it left to muster up some sadness that her perfect fantasy wouldn’t come true.
“Ginny Baker, get your big ol’ bubble butt over here and give me a hug!”
Thank god for Blip, and his strong hugs. “Hey, Captain. I hear you’re the boss around here now. Does it help that I have an in?”
Blip flicked the rim of her cap, raising his voice to address the team. “Alright, everybody, Ginny and I played almost a year together in Texas, about three, four years ago. Whatever you’re thinking, I promise she’s the real deal.” He nodded over her shoulder to Al and the management. “Did they show you where you’re set up?”
“Okay, you go do that, and get ready. I’ll introduce you around to the team when you’re done.”
Ginny stared at the television, flipping from one sports channel to another. Every single one of them focused on her disastrous start. She couldn’t really blame them; it was the worst start she’d ever had, and probably one of the worst she’d ever seen, by any pitcher. And she’d blown it. Her one big chance. There was no way in hell they were going to let her try again, and after all the hype, this would be the media story that would follow her forever.
“—and in reaction from other clubhouses, a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times overheard a conversation with former Padres catcher, Mike Lawson and one of his new teammates. Here’s the clip:
“Couldn’t even make it out of the first inning! That just tells me that she’s not a gamer. No one who’s really ready for the bigs walks out of the game after ten pitches. She’s just a gimmick.”
“You’ve got to wonder if that’s the case, if the Padres were just looking for a way to fill seats. They definitely got their sellout crowd today—”
Ginny fumbled for the remote with shaking hands. She could feel her breathing coming in sharp gasps. Of all the people…
A flurry of knocks, followed by the door opening announced Evelyn’s arrival.
“Okay, we are not going to mope around, we are drinking Bloody Marys, and you are telling me all the locker room scoop...oh honey,” Evelyn dropped her bag, and perched on the couch, pulling Ginny to her. “Deep breaths.”
“Of all the people,” she hated that it came out sounding so much like a sob.
“Mike Fucking Lawson thinks I’m a gimmick. I’m going to show him, Evelyn. I’m going to make that bastard eat his own words.”
Evelyn’s eyes widened. “Okay, here’s the plan, because I am absolutely for you taking all the haters down. First, you are going to grab us some glasses so we can pour some drinks. And I am going to call my husband just to check that he isn’t arranging for a hit man to take Mike out.”
“Next, you and I are going to have an inspiring chat about channeling this anger to good use, and then, hopefully we’ll have time for some gossip about who on the team you’ve managed to see naked so far. I really hope you’ve seen Stubbs because the WAGs have a bet on whether or not he actually got a tattoo during Spring Training.”
“A gimmick? Not a gamer? I can’t believe you, asshole.”
“Hello to you too, Blip.” Mike sighed into his phone, leaning back on his couch.
“Don’t ‘hello’ me! Are you serious! You’ve been playing for 15 years and you didn’t think that maybe reporters could hear you when you make stupid comments to teammates in public!”
Mike pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to hold off a headache. “I know. I—”
“And you were married to a sports reporter! Of all the stupid things—”
“I know, Blip. I shouldn’t have said it. And I definitely shouldn’t have said it where a reporter could hear.”
“Damn right, you shouldn’t have.” Mike could hear him pacing back and forth through the phone. “You disrespected this team, Mike. I know you don’t care about us anymore, and that you left us for Chicago, but—”
“Hey, that’s not fair. I gave my life to the Padres, Blip, you know that.” It still hurt, his choice. And it seemed to hurt more, not less, as the season went on. Didn’t matter how well the Cubs were doing, Chicago didn’t feel like home. He had traded an empty house in San Diego, with a team he loved, but knew had no chance of winning, for an equally empty condo in Chicago, and an unfamiliar team that was still considered a long shot, despite their win record.
“And then you turned your back, and left me in charge. And now you’ve given me a whole other issue to deal with.” Blip breathed out hard. “You know, I always wanted Ginny to get called up. She’s the real deal, Mike, no matter what you think. Her start...my heart just broke for her. She deserves the chance to show everyone what she’s got. She deserves to play in the majors. And whenever I thought about her being called up, I always imagined you’d be her catcher.”
“No, seriously, Mike. You’re a cranky asshole, but you’re the best. I wanted her to have a chance to work with you. I thought you could help her grow as a pitcher. Bessner’s fine, but he’s not as observant as you; not as good at guiding rookie pitchers. But now, I’m just so angry at you! I thought you’d be able to see past the fact that she was a woman, and see her as a player.”
“I’m issuing an apology.”
“You damn well better! She’s getting another start. I want her to prove you wrong. But god, Mike, she’s going to be so hurt by this. She still carries your rookie card, you know. Or maybe not any more—”
“I can’t talk to you. It’s making me so furious. Make it a good apology.”
Mike kept the phone to his ear for several breaths after Blip had hung up. His first conversation any of his ex-teammates since they’d played against each other in May. Of course it was because he’d messed up. He always managed to ruin things that weren’t about baseball. And now he’d maybe ruined baseball for a rookie pitcher after her first start.
Mike stared down at the note cards with his apology, re-reading his written scrawl and wishing he could do this off the cuff instead. He’d asked for time to speak to the press before the game, and had been told it was already arranged, and that they would have demanded he give an apology whether he asked to do one or not.
He took a sip of water as the media wrangler explained that he would be reading a prepared statement and not taking any questions.
“I’d like to apologize for my comments the other day. It was completely inappropriate to have been discussing another player with a teammate in front of the press, especially a player I do not know and have no right to comment on. I regret that these unfortunate remarks were made public.
“I would also like to apologize for the content of my comments, they were disrespectful to Ginny Baker, and to the Padres organization. I’ve seen the tapes, I know she can pitch, and I have complete faith in the Padres scouts and coaching staff, and know that they can know major league worthy talent when they see it. I’m eager to see her next start, and for her to prove how unfounded my comments were.”
“Oh, I’ll prove him wrong alright.” Ginny paced her change room, reminding herself that hitting something could lead to a broken hand and then she’d never get the chance. She took two deep breaths, and settled her shoulders back.
“Ginny,” Blip poked his head in her open door. “Ignore Lawson’s apology, and the way it could be taken as a non-apology. He really does mean it, I think. He tends to do better when he isn’t scripted.”
“I’m not going to ignore it. I am going to make him realize how wrong he was.”
“Well, alright then. It’s game time, let’s go.”
“Hey, Ginny?” Eliot looked up from the pile of gifts he was arranging on the table in her suite. He’d spent the morning handling all the congratulations for her win over social media, and now was preparing for some photos of all the presents she’d received since last night.
“You might want to look at this one. I mean, I know you’ll look through all of these eventually, but, um…” He handed over a bottle of champagne and a card.
Congratulations on your first major league win. Here’s something to help you celebrate. Sorry that I made things harder for you.
Ginny’s hand clenched so tight that it crumpled half the card. She tossed it in the wastepaper basket by the couch. “You can have that bottle, Eliot.”
“Yeah, you deserve a reward for dealing with all the craziness of the last few days.”
“Thanks! I’m just going to grab the next batch of gifts, take some photos and then I’ll be out of your hair for the day.”
If Eliot noticed that the card was missing from the wastepaper basket when he got back, he didn’t say anything.
The crumpled note took the place of Mike Lawson’s rookie card in the zippered pocket of her game bag.
She spent a long time staring at the rookie card, trying to decide whether to rip it up, and worrying if not carrying it would bring her bad luck. Ginny was never a superstitious player, but she had carried that rookie card since before she was scouted. It had once meant so much to her, and she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it. Instead, she tucked it away in her closet, under an old pair of leggings that she never wore anymore.
Now, instead of looking at Mike Lawson’s young, clean shaven face and hoping she could play like him, she looked at his signature and brief note and reminded herself how much she wanted to rub it in his face in how wrong he was. She wanted to be the best player, and a better role model than him, and she was ready to prove to him and the world how much of a gamer she could be.
Ginny Baker seemed to be everywhere Mike looked. Every sports channel covered her actions, her interview on Kimmel went viral and was all anyone could talk about for days. Analysts spent hours pouring over her every move, way more time than they usually spent on a rookie pitcher.
All Mike could think about was that if it was this bad in Chicago, it must be at least ten times worse back home in San Diego. He was blown away by the amount of poise and determination she was showing now that he had a better sense of how intensely she was been scrutinized. He regretted his idiotic comments more and more, especially knowing that it added more media pressure to an already crazy situation.
He started taping her games. He hadn’t watched the Padres after the trade, finding it too hard to watch his team win and lose without him. There were too many reminders of players he knew, that he didn’t talk to as much as he wanted to, or at all any more. The first game he watched he almost called the direct dugout phone line to tell Buck to tell Bessner to call for more outside fastballs from Evers.
But Ginny Baker? He could watch her. Sometimes it drove him crazy. He would watch her shake Bessner off, or take charge of mound conferences. Mike would itch to be there in Bessner’s place, to tell her to take a breath, and throw a damn fastball for once. She was good, he was coming to realize, with the potential to be truly great. She had all the skills, but just needed some guidance.
He thought a lot about how Blip had wanted him to guide her. Some days, usually the days when he felt out of place in the Cubs clubhouse, and wished he’d never agreed to the damn trade, he’d think about being her catcher. He thinks it would be a challenge, but would be a worthy legacy. He thinks maybe never getting a World Series ring might sting less if he got to be part of the legend of Ginny Baker. And the more he watches her, the more sure he is that she will be a legend.
Mike’s off day actually coincides with Baker’s start, so he gets to watch it live. He’s not liking the tension coming from both dugouts, and how Buck can’t seem to rein everybody in without Al. He keeps fiddling with the label on his beer, shredding tiny pieces off to litter the carpet beneath his couch.
His breathing stops for a good couple of seconds when she beans Falcone in the top of the fifth. He has to let all the air hiss out slowly through gritted teeth.
When Falcone is switched out for Mount in the top of the fifth, Mike actually yells “Oh, come on!” at the screen. Then starts a mix of prayers and curses under his breath as Buck actually keeps Ginny in to bat. He doesn’t know if he can watch, but he can’t look away.
It’s probably a bad sign that Ginny getting tossed after the fight makes him relieved. The girl’s got guts, he’ll give her that. But he doesn’t think his heart can take watching her and his old team. He’s going to have to stop recording the games.
He gets named to the All Star team, as a reserve to Posey, but still. It’s a bit of a surprise, actually, for the first time in a long time. He’d kind of figured that Padres fans might not vote for him because he’d defected to another team, and he didn’t think he’d earned enough of a fan base in Chicago to get votes. In some ways, he’s almost disappointed, because he wanted all of his All Star games to be with the Padres.
But it looks like Mike gets to go home, and play in his stadium, if only for one night.
He calls Blip when he lands. They haven’t talked since that last phone call, and he wants to take some time to mend fences while he’s here.
“Hey, seeing as we’re both in town for the next few days, wanna get a drink and catch up? I feel bad about how we left things off—”
“Yeah, we probably should, but I can’t tonight.” Blip paused for a moment. “Look, Mike, I need you to promise me you aren’t going to screw this up.”
“Screw what up? The All Star game? Because I got to tell you, the inning or two I catch aren’t going to make that much of a difference—”
“Ginny, Mike, Ginny. Don’t insult her again, don’t half-ass an apology. Take her seriously as a player.”
“I do!” Mike yelled, holding his hand up in apology to his cab driver, and continuing in a softer voice. “I do. I’ve watched her play, Blip. You were right. And it wasn’t a half-assed apology! It was just...scripted.” The cab pulls up to his home and Mike hands a few bills over before getting out. “Is Baker in staying in town for the break? Because I will definitely apologize in person, if that’s the case.”
“Haven’t you heard? She’s playing.”
Ginny can’t help but be relieved that the All Star game is at Petco. She isn’t sure that she would have made the team if it had been somewhere else, but even so, it helps to have her own change room, and familiar crew, and Blip, even if everything else is so surreal. Although, having to travel to a different city to play would have made avoiding her mother a little easier.
The crowd is ramping up outside, ready to watch the Home Run Derby. She makes her way out to the field, trying to spot Blip in the mess of brown and orange. Ginny spots his head above the crowd and is most of the way to him when she realizes who he’s talking to.
“Ginny Baker, in the flesh,” he’s got a bit of a sheepish smile, and his hand is offered out to shake.
She ignores the hand, watching him finally pull it back to scratch the back of his neck. “Lawson.”
“Look, I wanted to say sorry again, in person this time, for that whole leaked comment. It was totally inappropriate, and completely unjustified.”
“Okay. So, do you have time to talk hitters for tomorrow? Because given the way these games play out, we’re most likely going to be battery mates for an inning, or part of one.”
“Part of one?” Ginny folds her arms over her chest. “Really, you don’t think I can make it through an inning?”
“No, that’s not what I meant, just that All Star games are all about making sure that every player who got voted in gets a chance to play.” Mike considers her, and looks at Blip. “Do you have time?”
“Not right now.” She shakes her head. “I have to talk to Blip about some stuff, and you know, try to enjoy this whole experience.”
“Alright, Rookie, I’ll give you a pass this time, because I’m still trying to apologize. But let me know if you change your mind, or if you have time tomorrow.” Mike heads over to the group of Cubs players standing a few feet over, his shoulders shrugged up toward his ears.
“Don’t ‘Ginny’ me. I have to worry about dinner with my mom tonight, and feeling like a fraud for playing in the All Star game when other people on the team didn’t make it. I don’t have the time, or the energy to give Lawson absolution.”
“Okay,” Blip nudged her shoulder with his as they turned to watch Cano knock one out of the park. “But I think you should give him a chance. He’s pretty great once you get past the prickly exterior. Just don’t tell him I said that.”
They don’t talk before the game.
During the line up announcement, the San Diego crowd greets Mike Lawson with a standing ovation and loud cheers, despite having changed teams. Ginny has to admit as a (former) fan, that it tugs on the heartstrings, seeing him smile and wave his cap to the crowd on the big screen.
They can’t talk during the first half of the game because she’s in the bullpen.
She spends most of her time trying to watch hitters, American League hitters, who she doesn’t know and figure out how they hit. The rest of her time is spent chatting to pitching coaches, and the occasional veteran closer, and cheering for Blip when he’s at bat.
She gets the call in the sixth and jogs out to the mound to warm up, and finds herself facing Mike instead of Buster Posey. He was right.
Mike calls for her full roster of pitches in her two minute warm up, nodding each time she gets one in the strike zone. His eyes are narrowed like he’s trying to puzzle her out.
Salvador Perez is the first batter in the inning. He smashes her first pitch deep into left field for a home run. Ginny has to use a glove to cover her mouth as she swears.
Mike is strolling up to the mound. Strolling. As if he doesn’t have a care in the world, and as if she hadn’t just give up a single pitch home run in the All Star game.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Woah, keep the cursing behind the glove there, Baker. There are children watching.” He’s staring at her again, his eyes intense and searching. “You’re really tense.”
“It’s the All Star game.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t really count for much of anything.” He shrugs. “Home field advantage in the World Series won’t impact most of the players here.”
“It might impact you,” she points out.
“Yeah, well, you don’t see me being this worried about it. But you’re tense about something else. I can see from how you’re holding your shoulders, and you’re not getting the same height on your leg kick.”
Ginny just stares at him.
“I’ve watched your games.”
“Apparently,” Ginny says. “Apparently, you’re a little obsessed with me.”
Mike smirks. “Apparently, you have my rookie card. But seriously, here’s my take: we are going to throw a fastball first to Donaldson, then follow it up with screwballs. Then for Machado we’re going for a combo of screwballs and curves. And we’ll hit Trout with a fastball, followed by curve, followed by screwgie. Got it?”
“You do know my fastball tops out at 87, and my curve has less control than my screwball?”
“Mike, hurry it up!” The home plate umpire yells from halfway to the mound.
“Admit it, buddy, you missed me and my long chats!” Mike yells back before turning to her. “He’s always so impatient. But I do know, about your pitches. That’s what a good catcher does, and you need to trust your catcher, trust me, to make the right calls. Try to limit waving me off to if you’re finding certain pitches painful or uncomfortable to throw. Got it?”
“Okay, let’s do this.”
His plan works annoyingly well, as she strikes out Donaldson, Machado sends a pop fly into Blip’s waiting hands, and Trout lines out to Rizzo. Suddenly, the inning is over and they’re walking out to the dugout, and she knows the next pitcher will be called out for the seventh. Her All Star pitching experience is done.
“Good job, Baker,” Mike catches up to her at the dugout steps and slaps her on the ass. Her gait freezes for half a second before she makes her way down to throw her mitt in her cubby.
“Seriously?” She hisses. “I’m not here for you to show off in front of the boys, or get your jollies slapping the girl in the ass.”
“Woah, Baker,” his hands are up in the air. “I’m an ass slapper, it’s what I do. I don’t discriminate.” He clears his throat and looks down briefly, before staring her in the eye. “Look, I’m sorry. It really is just habit. It’s not a singling you out thing. But I will try harder not to do it again.” He almost said ‘next time,’ but then realized that was unlikely to happen. “It was a great inning, Rookie. You should be proud.”
“Except for that home run.”
“Well, yeah, that’ll probably bounce off a satellite tonight and land some time next week—”
“You are not a nice teammate!” She says through a horsey laugh.
“Never said I was a nice teammate, but I am a good one.” Mike grins at her.
“Mike, how was it working with Ginny Baker? I was a little surprised they paired you two together after that whole issue when she was called up?”
“If we can stop talking about those comments now, that would be great. Look, I’ve apologized to her and to everyone else about those comments, and I think she’s proved to any doubters that I was unbelievably stupid and wrong to say those things. That girl—that woman, is a serious gamer, and willing to take pressures thrown at her that no other rookie player ever has to deal with. She has handled everything, even my jackassery, with grace and determination. I was also surprised that they paired us together, but was thrilled with the opportunity. Her game and pitches are fascinating, and I’ve been hoping for the chance to see them up close.”
“Can we talk about the home run she gave up to Perez, and the chat you had after? She seemed to turn it around after that.”
“That home run...baseball is incredibly humbling, you know. Great hitters miss seven out of ten at bats. So yeah, she left one over the plate and a great hitter got a hold of it. And now, people will use that to say that she didn’t deserve to be here in the first place. But they couldn’t be more wrong, and I hope she proved that in the rest of the inning. And as for the chat...I’ve never caught for her before, there’s always an adjustment period. It was probably my bad call that led to Perez’s home run, so we needed to talk strategy and see that we were on the same page. I think we got there pretty quick.”
“One final question before we let you go. We’ve just gotten word that the Padres have signed Cuban defector Livan Duarte, any comment on how you think he’ll fit into your old role of your old team?”
It wasn’t until that moment that Mike realized he’d kind of been hoping the Padres would want to take him back after this season, for another year or two. When he’d first moved to Chicago he’d hoped it would rejuvenate his love of the sport, but it just reminded him of how much his love for the sport is tied to San Diego. Now, with Duarte coming on, his hope was gone.
“I think it’s an interesting choice. I’ve heard lots of good buzz about him, and can’t wait to see him play.”
Her phone dinged with a text from Evelyn. Did you see Mike’s post game interview? Sounds like someone has a crush…
Ginny rolled her eyes. Just because you want me to provide you with single life sex stories, does not mean you should throw me at Mike Lawson!
Do it, Ginny. I think I’m the only person in San Diego who hasn’t seen Mike’s junk. I need to know if the carpet matches the face.
Sometimes Evelyn was just too much. Ask your husband. They seem close.
You’re no fun. But also, that’s kink list item 37. I just have to work up to asking Blip. (Mike, I’m sure, will say yes.)
Ginny tossed her phone on her night stand, and leaned back against the pillows. She hit play, and watched Lawson’s post game interview again. For the ninth time. And reliving the inning through the clips shown in the interview. She didn’t know what to make of him now. How he could be such an ass, but also surprisingly sweet when push came to shove. And he made her a better player; that hurt the most to admit, but it was true. She couldn’t decide if it was simply her determination to prove him wrong magnified by him being so close, but she had to admit it probably was to do with his pitch calls, and his frustrating ability to read her.
Her phone dinged again. Ginny frowned when she saw an unknown number. It’s Mike. Blip gave me your number. Just wanted to say, I really enjoyed playing with you today, Baker. And if you ever want to talk hitters, I’m around. I know Bessner isn't always the best at it. Just, you know, none of the Cubs hitters.
She stared at the phone for a long time.
Or, you could block this number if you think that’s best.
Her fingers hesitated over the screen. It was a good inning, Lawson. And thanks for the offer.
She doesn’t take him up on it. Mike figures he made the offer, he should wait for her to ask him about a hitter, or initiate a text, but nothing happens. He finds himself taking notes on her starts, little details he hadn’t noticed the first time he watched them. He thinks he’s figured out the limitations of her fastball, and its best uses. The screwball is a thing of beauty.
He spends more time studying her tape than the tapes of the Cubs’ pitchers who he’s still trying to learn inside out. It’s a relief that the trade deadline brings him Padres pitchers so he doesn’t have to learn someone else new. Butch is there all of five minutes, just enough to remind him of home, and his old team dynamic, before he’s taken away again. The Cubs end up with Tommy, not Mike’s favourite of the Padres’ starters in terms of how they got on, but a consistent pitcher whose repertoire he knows well.
And the trade causes Ginny to make contact: Hey. Can you tell Tommy I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye? And that I wish I’d had more time to talk to his family today?
Sure. I’ll let him know when I see him tomorrow. Want a text back with his response? Or want me to give him your number?
Thanks, and yes to both.
Hey Baker, you okay? I saw the video.
You saw it? Did Al send it to you?
Al? It’s on youtube! Next time I play pickup basketball, I’m going to take style tips from you.
There’s another video?
No. Not on youtube, no. But it just...wasn’t a good night.
Same. I drunk dialed my ex-wife last night. Heard all about her new fiancé and how I ruin everything.
Are YOU doing okay?
Good as I can be, Baker, you?
About the same, but maybe getting better.
Do you have a cutter? I keep playing that pitch but I can’t figure out if you were just really inside on your fastball, or if you have another pitch.
His phone rang in his hands, and he picked up right away.
“You’re watching my tape?”
“I told you Baker, I watch your games.” He settled back against the corner of the couch, tucking his feet up on the cushions and resting his beer bottle against his thigh. “Now tell me about the cutter.”
“I’ve been working on it, but it’s not quite ready. I don’t think I can throw it for a strike yet.”
“But Duarte asked for it anyway?”
“Yeah, he knew the guy. Something about him trying to be a hero.”
Mike hummed. “Not sure what I think of that, but it worked. Risky choice though. But that seems to be Duarte’s move, high risk and big payoff for him, not too much caring about his team.”
“Not a fan? Blip doesn’t like him much either.”
“I can tell, he’s getting that pinched look between his eyebrows. And I know Al is pissed.” Mike cleared his throat. “You should stick with Bessner, at least until Duarte has more experience. It’s not always a good idea to stick a rookie pitcher and rookie catcher together. But you should also tell Bessner to call for your fastball more.”
“I’ll pass that along,” Ginny was laughing. “Not a fan of any of my catchers?”
“I don’t know, there was one. A handsome guy you played with in the All Star Game?”
“How can you tell with that thing growing out of his face?”
“You love the beard!”
“I do not.”
“Maybe a little?”
“You’ll learn.” Mike paused, trying to figure out how to phrase the next thing. “So, I think I ought to thank you.”
“Oh?” The laughter stopped and her voice sounded like ice.
“Thanks to you, I had a great reminder of home today. It’s been so long since I saw Evers naked ass.” He grinned. “I bought one copy for me and one for Tommy. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve covered you up with a Padres sticker. I’m going to put it up in my cubby, and whenever I miss San Diego, I’ll look at it, and remember how much I hate Salvi cutting his toenails in the shower, and I won’t be homesick again.”
That horsey laugh was back. “He cuts his toenails in the shower? Who does that?”
“Hey, it’s not as bad as the time Stubbs decided manscaping was the way—”
“Nope, don’t want to know.”
“Hey, tell me something about Chicago. Something not baseball related.” He could hear rustling on her end, as she got comfortable. “Do you have a place to go enjoy, or a favourite restaurant? Are you just trying hard to not get fat off of deep dish?”
“There isn’t much to tell. I only moved out here when the season started, and I’m on the road so much that I don’t get to see it—”
“So San Diego is still home?”
“Okay, tell me something about San Diego.”
“The best tacos are from a food truck that tends to park a few blocks from City Hall. The come with a side of cilantro-lime rice, and—”
“I hate cilantro. It tastes like soap and....”
“Are you really on Rain Delay? In San Diego?”
“Hello to you too, Mike.”
She could practically hear his eyes roll. “Hiya Baker, how are you? Long time no talk. A whole 14 hours since we hung up last night. Anything big happen since then? Like a rainstorm in San Diego?”
“I’m sorry, do I have to tell you everything?”
“Yes, yes you do. Begin with your earliest memory and we’ll go from there, or you could jump to the part with the rain delay.”
Ginny was trying very hard not to giggle. “What do you want me to say, it’s raining.”
“Do I have to prompt this whole thing? You were pitching well, do you get to go back out?”
“If it’s less than 45 minutes,” She paced the hallway, keeping her arms loose.
“Makes sense.” There was a long pause. “Is...uh...anything happening to fill the time, or are you just keeping warm.”
“—Is this about kangaroo court? Really?”
“Yes, I need to know that it happened. That Blip kept the tradition alive.”
“Well, he tried—”
“Tried? How hard is it to screw up?”
“I think the issue was more the content of the complaints.” Ginny ducked into her change room to whisper. “Most were about Livan. It got a little heated once he realized that all the complaints were about him.”
“That bad, huh? Well, it’s nice to know I’m missed.”
“You sound so smug right now.”
“I didn’t so much mean as a catcher, but as presiding kangaroo court judge, jury and executioner. But I’ll take catcher too.”
“You really miss it, huh?” Ginny sat in her chair, zipping her jacket up to keep her arm warm. “The Padres, San Diego.”
“Yeah, both. It’s nice to know it’s not totally one sided.” Mike paused to open the fridge and grab a beer. “So, I’m going to be in San Diego next week.”
“I am, in fact, aware of our game schedule. Including my Tuesday start against the Cubs.”
“Right, so I was hoping since my team missed me, and I missed them, that we could all meet up when I’m in town.”
“I’m sure Blip and the team would love that. They might even let you bring out some of your new buddies to play.”
“Ha ha, Baker,” Mike pried the cap off the top of his beer. “I tell you what. If you can strike me out in your start, I’ll buy your drinks for the night.”
“Oh, you are so on.”
“Before I let you go, if you’re going back out, start with your fastball for the first pitch…”
Despite all his smack talk, and her years of fantasizing about Mike Lawson catching for her when she finally got called up, it wasn’t until this moment that she realized she had never imagined pitching to him as a hitter. This seems like a major oversight on her part, because she’s so under-prepared.
Ginny spent so much of her life watching him play, and she always wanted him to get a hit whenever he was at bat. But now, staring toward him in the batter’s box, she’s not sure how to hope that he wouldn’t.
Then he smirks at her as he takes his stance, and there it is. She’s ready to prove him wrong. So what if he’s studied her pitching more than most of the Padres pitching staff, it doesn’t mean she can’t show him some new tricks.
The first pitch is a cutter, low and away, Mike swings and just catches the ball, fouling it up into the crowd behind first base. Strike one.
Then a fastball which just misses the inside corner. One ball - one strike.
She throws a screwball right over the plate and watches him swing and miss. She can’t hold herself back from making a face at him. One ball - two strikes.
Mike’s eyes narrow, his intensity entirely focused on her. Bessner calls for a curveball, but she shakes him off, nodding at his second set of signs. Another screwball, high and away, has Mike chasing without making contact. A swinging strike for strike three, and she’s done it. She faced Mike Lawson at the plate, and won.
He gives her a nod as he heads back to the visitor’s dugout, a site just as strange to her as seeing him play in this ballpark with that wrong uniform on.
“I believe I owe you this,” Mike appears at her side, and passes a beer bottle to her waiting fingers, clinking his own bottle against the neck of hers before taking a drink.
Ginny plays with the label. “So we’re ignoring the fact that you got a home run off me in the sixth, and that your team won the game 5 to 3?”
“Yep. A deal’s a deal, Baker, you struck me out.” He grins at her, taking the stool to her left. “Besides, the rest of it’s not as much of a surprise. I’m a pretty great hitter, especially after seeing a couple of at bats against a pitcher. And I think you should know by now, that the Cubs are playing pretty well this year.”
She looks over her shoulder at the collection of tables pulled together, most of the Padres, and some of the Cubs, scattered around sharing pitchers of beer. “You’re not hanging out with them? They’ve missed you.”
“Not as much as I’d like them to.” He shook his head. “It’s pretty surprising to find out you’re not as irreplaceable as you think, Baker. And I hung out with them last night, when someone refused to come out because she has some rule about drinking the night before a start.”
“You don’t think it’s a good rule?”
“Oh, it’s very sensible, especially if you have to worry about pitching to me the next day.” Ginny scrunches her nose at him. “But I was kind of hoping you’d come out anyway so we could talk in person, instead of over the phone. I’ll take tonight though. Just so you know, I wasn’t the only one disappointed. My teammates want to meet you. And the Padres new guy, Robles? He definitely missed you. I think he has a crush—”
She punches him in the arm. “No, he does not. And I don’t date ballplayers.”
“Yeah, you don’t think this one is a good one?”
“No, it makes sense.” He knocks his shoulder against hers. “You’ve got enough on your plate, and get enough crap from players and the media, I can see not wanting to get into the media shitstorm that would stir up. Unless, the guy was special, and you knew it was worth the risk.”
“Now, c’mon. Rizzo’s been dying to meet you.” He takes her elbow to guide her to the table, letting go with a squeeze as the Padres cheer their arrival.
“Lawson, I need some advice.”
He has to blink a few times, and peer at his phone screen to confirm he’s not imagining the voice. “Skip?”
“Not your Skip, any more, Mike.”
“Sorry, Al, what can I do for you?” He puts him on speaker, and turns back to his breakfast on the stove, reducing the heat under the pan of egg whites.
“Blip says you’ve been watching her tapes.”
His hand stops stirring for half a second. “Ginny’s?”
“Yeah, I’m telling you this in confidence, because Bessner and Duarte can’t answer this for me. I need to know if you think she’s reached her limit.”
“Her limit? She’s well under pitch count. Her velocity hasn’t dropped. Oscar wants you to take her out after that last game? She deserves the chance to prove herself after that.”
“Okay, you and I agree on that.”
Mike can hear the creak of Al’s chair as he leans back. He suddenly knows, without seeing it, what look is on Al’s face. “What else?”
“The stats whiz kid says her rpms are dropping, and that with how much she uses her screwball compared to any other screwball pitcher we should give her a higher pitch count. Blip says that this is about the point in the season they played together where she fizzled out—”
“That was four years ago.”
“I know. The new guy, Charlie, wants her to play at least one more game because of the sell out crowd, Oscar wants to end her season now. Buck says he’ll go with whatever I decide—”
“What does Ginny say?”
“ Ginny , says that she’s still got stuff in the tank, and that women’s ligaments are different from men’s so we shouldn’t be trying to analyse her stats based on male players.”
“She may be right about that—”
“But we have no way of knowing.”
“Right. Limited innings?”
“Yeah, that’s my thought too.” Al sighs. “You know, you could do this, Mike. You’ve got a good eye for players, and for clubhouse dynamics.”
“You want me to manage a team? Al, be serious.”
“Maybe not right away, but maybe start as a pitching coach, or batting coach. You’d be a good manager, Mike. Just the right amount of curmudgeon to grump at players, the press and umpires, but enough of a softie when you need to be.” Al snorts down the line. “And I’d pay big bucks to see you get tossed from a game. Think about it.”
Mike closes his eyes, and presses both hands to his forehead.
He lets the eggs go cold.
“You talked to Skip about my start?” She hissed.
“Hey, he called me. Did he tell you I said you should play?”
“Yeah. Limited innings?” She entered her change room and shut the door, leaning back against the frame.
“It’s probably for the best. Screwballers are uncommon, and female baseball players at this level are pretty rare. There’s you...and that other female major leaguer? They don’t have enough data to properly track the stats.”
“If you start talking to me about Christy Mathewson, or other famous screwballers from history, but can’t remember Peanut Johnson, I will break into your house and burn all your Ken Burns DVDs, Old Man.”
“You don’t know where I live.” He chuckles. “Look, Rookie, they want to keep you healthy so you can play next year.”
“You think that’s happening?”
“Definitely. They might even move you up to fourth starter, maybe third.”
Ginny bit her lip to contain her smile. “Really?”
“What am I supposed to do with all that free time?”
“Take up competitive horseshoe tossing. Or read a book. Hang out with friends. Slip into the clubhouse and prank Buck. Whatever you want to do.”
“I just fired my agent, kicked my brother out for stealing from me, and may be on the outs with Blip and Evelyn because Will screwed them over too. Might not have too many friends to hang out with”
“God, Ginny—” he sighs. “I have to go out there and play right now. But we will talk about this. Tonight? We can debrief your last start.”
“Yeah, go, have a good game.”
“Your girl’s having an interesting game,” Rizzo sidles up to him in the dugout at the bottom of the eighth. “She’s through six.”
“What? She’s on limited innings.” He squints at the scoreboard in the outfield and sees the line of zeros and feels his heart clench. No one’s pulling her out of that.
He’s distracted during the ninth, and makes some bad pitch calls. Too focused on the possibilities of Ginny getting hurt, or Ginny actually making Padres history, and him not being there to see it.
The locker room television is tuned into the Padres game, with most of the players keeping their eye on the screen as they change out of their uniforms. Tommy pulls his chair up next to Mike and they watch together.
Watching her pitch when she’s on fire, really is a thing of beauty. And the Padres stepping up their defense to keep the no hitter alive makes him wish he was there to contribute.
It’s probably a good thing that the camera didn’t actually capture her dropping to the ground in the final out of the eighth. Mike doesn’t think his heart could take it. As it is, the collective gasp of the crowd, and the Cubs in the locker room turned into a buzzing in Mike’s ears.
It took until spots started blooming in his field of vision to realize he hadn’t taken a breath since she fell. He clenched his fists, and dropped his head down toward his knees.
“How did you possibly arrange this?”
“Oh, thank god.”
“Seriously, Mike, this package is crazy. It seems to have every baseball movie ever made, and the weirdest assortment of books I’ve ever seen—”
“We’ve never talked about books, I don’t know what you like to read.”
“ The Sheikh's Virgin Bride ?”
“Is that what she picked? I just told my housekeeper to get a variety, I didn’t actually give title suggestions.”
“Horseshoes, and a bottle of silly string?”
“Oh, that one’s lame. I told her something for a prank, in case you wanted to pull one on Buck. You’re going to have to step up beyond silly string, though, Baker.”
“All packed up in a box with ‘Pick up your damn phone’ written on it in big block letters.”
“Do you know how many times I’ve called you since yesterday?”
“Yeah,” her reply was quiet. She used her left arm to push herself up higher against the pillows, her right arm strapped tight across her chest.
“Ginny? That’s a first.”
“ Ginny , how’re you feeling?”
“Like I’ve ruined the one thing I’ve ever tried to do. The only thing I’ve ever focused on my entire life.”
She heard a sharp intake of breath down the line. “It’s that bad? Isn’t there a specialist? I will call my guy in from New York to take a look, Ginny, you should have a second opinion.”
“No, no, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I need surgery and rehab, and they think I’ll be back for next season.”
“Holy shit, Ginny, you can’t do that to me—”
“There’s just the possibility that it won’t get back to normal levels, and maybe I’ll be doomed to being that minor league girl who got half a season in the bigs.”
“Nah, you’ll make it. You’ve got what it takes.”
“There was something else in the box.” She picks up the object, her fingers running over the jagged edge. “Do I want to know what this key opens, Mike?”
“It’s just a suggestion, and you don’t have to take me up on it, but—”
“Mike,” her voice was a warning.
“It’sthekeytomyhouse.” The words ran together in a single breath. “In case you want somewhere to stay that isn’t a hotel, and that isn’t overlooking Petco the whole time you’re rehabbing. My housekeeper cooks, and the pantry is always fully stocked. It has tons of room, and a pool if swimming helps your arm. I don’t mind if you have nurses come in, or other staff—”
“Won’t that look strange?”
“I used to sublet it to Padres players when I lived in L.A. I had an apartment to stay in between games. So it’s not totally out of left field.”
“Evelyn told me to stay with them, but they seem off, and I don’t want to impose.”
“Like I said, Ginny, it’s just a suggestion, but really, I would be happy to do this for you. The only rule is that the Sanders twins are not allowed to use the pool table.”
“That’s okay, Aunt Ginny can’t hustle them with her arm in a sling.”
“Look, I’ve got to get out to the field. But think about it, okay?” He paused. “You’ll pick up if I call you later?”
“Yeah, Mike, I’ll pick up.” She hung up the phone and stared at the key in her hand, flipping it between her fingers.
“You got a dog? How did I not know I needed a no pets rule?”
“ I didn’t get a dog. Skip got me a dog.” Ginny held up the tablet so Mike could see brown furred head asleep in her lap. Mike had insisted on facetiming since the injury, because he wanted to see how her injury was healing with his own two eyes. She liked how much it let her see what he was really feeling, those little microexpressions told her so much more than his words did.
“Does Skip know that you’ll be off on the road for most of the year, and that you can’t take the dog with you? Or that the Omni doesn’t allow pets?”
“Skip seems to think you’ll help. He told me the dog’s name is Obi, and that you’d like that.” She played with the dog’s floppy ears as she eyed the creases in Mike’s forehead. “Why does Skip think you’ll help?”
Mike sighed and scrubbed a hand through his beard. “I was going to tell you.”
“Tell me what, Mike.”
“This is it. I’m out after the post season.”
“Mike, you have a couple more years. More if you took a trade to the American League to DH—”
“It’s not what I want. Ginny, I’ve made up my mind. It’s not as fun for me, any more. And I miss San Diego, and the Padres, more than I thought I would.” He looked away from the screen as he cleared his throat. “It’s kind of already a done deal.”
“I’ve told management. They’re letting me out of my contract. They’ve even arranged a special trade back for a day so I can retire a Padre. This is it, Ginny, by November I won’t be a ballplayer any more.”
“Not a ballplayer, huh?” She couldn’t look away from his intense stare, or help but notice the deep pink flush that tinted his ears.
“Yeah, if that, you know, changes anything.”
“Do you want me to move out?”
“Wait, what? Ginny!” He was spluttering.
“You’re coming back to San Diego. You didn’t exactly sign up for a roommate, and a dog. And if, you know, we take advantage of your career change, that kind of skips a couple steps.”
“Look, Ginny, I’m going to be blunt here. I don’t want you to move out. I want you to stay. And I want the dog to stay. If we started dating—” he grinned at her sharp gasp. “It’s not like we haven’t moved past most of the early dating stuff anyway. What am I supposed to do, take you to dinner and ask about your career, or your family, or your favourite foods. We’ve covered all that, and more. We’ve talked about things that I haven’t talked about to anybody except my ex-wife—”
“We haven’t talked about her,” Ginny grumbled.
“No, but we can, if you want. I want to share things with you. And we’re basically in a relationship anyway, just long distance and without explicit sharing of feelings.”
“But we’ve only spent a couple days together in person, and I have no idea if you snore, or if I’ll want to kill you for leaving your dirty laundry on the floor, and you don’t know if you’ll want to kill me for the way I hum when I work out, or—” Her breathing was getting faster and shallower.
“Just breathe. You don’t have to know right now. I’m just floating the idea. You’ll have time to think about it, and time to say no, if that’s what you decide.” He watched her face, waiting for the pinched expression to relax as her breathing evened out. “But I have two things to add to help you make your choice, are you ready to hear them?” He waited for her to nod before continuing. “Okay, first is that the Padres want to hire me as a pitching coach, but I’m assuming this won’t be a problem for them if Al has bought us a dog to share. I’m just not sure if it will be a problem for you, and you need to make that decision.”
“Second, is that I’m totally in love with you Ginny Baker, and it’s only been four months. So keep that in mind.” He ended the call.
Somewhere during the rain delay, in game 7 of the World Series, Ginny comes to a realization: that she is completely gone on Mike Lawson. Her heart is pounding and her breath is coming fast. She suddenly knows that the anxiety is entirely to do with the game, and how damn badly she wants the win for him, but the thought that she’s in love with him makes him feel calm.
She has never wanted to call him more, even though she knows he doesn’t have his phone on him now.
It’s probably a good thing that she decided to stay home to watch this, curled up with Obi on the couch and clutching a pillow tightly to her chest. And this is definitely home.
There are tears in her eyes and she lets out a hoarse cry as Bryant fields the final out. The Cubs actually did it. Mike got his ring.
“Ginny, did you see?” he shouts into the phone, she can barely hear him over the cheering. She’s scanning the mass of celebrating players on the television, and finally spots him in the corner, ski goggles on, champagne dripping off his beard, and his phone clutched to his ear.
“I did see. Obi’s gone into hiding because I was screaming too loud. Congratulations, Mike.”
“Thanks, I’m just...I did it. I won a World Series.”
“You did. We should celebrate.”
“Oh we should, should we? Any big plans?”
“Well, my doctor just cleared me for more strenuous physical exercise. So, if you’re up for it—”
The flirting tone drops from his voice and it takes on a low intensity instead. “Gin, don’t tease me. I can’t just—”
“I’m not teasing. I’m kind of totally in love with you too.” She’s surprised at how easily it comes out, and her dimples pop as she watches Mike’s reaction on screen. He looks kind of like someone clubbed him hard over the head, but his grin is downright predatory.
“Gin, I love you. And I should be home in a day or two. We’re doing this?”
“We’re doing this. Now go celebrate, old man, you just won a World Series.”