Game 7 of the 2020 World Series arrives on a cold, blustery day in late October. Every game so far has been a nail-biter and tonight’s final showdown promises to be no different. Inside the clubhouse, everyone kneels in a circle, hats in their hands as Carlos leads them in prayer.
Michael doesn’t pray. Instead, he takes the opportunity to look at each and every one of his teammates, to commit this moment to memory for the rest of his life. Danny kneels next to him, hand clasped tightly on his shoulder. It would be a lie to say he’s waited for this moment his whole life, but that’s certainly true for many of the men in this room, and he intends to make damn sure all their dreams come true. Because he loves them, so much.
After the collective amen, everyone claps and puts their hats back on, heading out to the field one last time. He stands at the threshold of the door, giving each of his teammates an encouraging butt slap and kind words. Danny brings up the rear and gets a hug, several tears, and a thank you that comes out as I love you.
‘Hear that?’ Danny motions towards the roar of the crowd, the packed stadium on their feet and stomping. ‘That’s just your family section.’
‘Shut up.’ The entire team has been ragging him about needing almost two rows dedicated to the people who love him.
‘Half the Roswell population is up there. That’s gotta feel nice. I’m definitely looking forward to awkwardly hanging out with Max after the game.’ He smacks Michael on the back once more before heading into the dugout.
Eleven tickets. That’s how many he’d had to ask for. Danny had only needed three. When Isobel had told him how many people were flying out from New Mexico (Yes, Michael. Even old man Sanders, although he expects you to pay for his plane ticket.), he’d spent three hours trying to convince her to tell them thanks but no thanks. But Isobel is impossible once she’s dug her heels in and wouldn’t budge. He’d at least convinced her to let him pay for everyone’s travel expenses to which she had happily agreed with no further argument. That was the first eight tickets.
And then, Alex had asked for three tickets. The very Alex who should be in Denver right now performing to thousands of adoring fans. But he’d postponed the show and hopped on a plane to Atlanta with Cam and Frank. He also wouldn’t listen to Michael’s pleas for him to reconsider. In the past month, he’s come to realize just how similar Alex and Isobel are and how much that should probably frighten him.
He hasn’t seen Alex since they’d said goodbye. They’ve talked every day. Often in the morning and then again late at night. Sometimes they get to spend hours talking about anything and everything, no detail too small to relay. Other times it’s a quick update, a rushed I miss you, and a promise to speak again soon. And Michael’s pretty sure they’ve turned phone sex into an art form.
It’s weird. How they can be separated by thousands of miles and still feel so connected, even long after the bond had worn off. And true to his word, Michael hasn’t kept Alex buried in some dark closet. He answers his phone no matter where he is and doesn’t bother hiding the stupid grin or the excessive outpour of emotion every time he hears Alex’s voice. The team has been great, ribbing him the same way they mock the guys with girlfriends or wives. The worst that’s happened is a couple of the usual suspects walking out of the room quietly, maybe a scowl or two. But if that’s the worst thing, Michael knows he’s really fucking lucky.
When he steps onto the field, he allows himself one lingering glance up into the stadium. Everyone is too far away to be anything more than half-recognizable blurs, but they’re all on their feet, waving and cheering, and it puts a grin on his face, the same one on each of his teammates’ faces as they ready themselves to win a championship.
Once Danny steps onto the mound and throws the first pitch, the crowd disappears, and Michael’s attention stays focused on the game. The whole team knows Danny’s out for redemption after losing game two. He’d allowed three earned runs which had been one run too many. And no matter how many of the guys tried to convince him that it wasn’t his fault, that the team should have produced more runs and provided more insurance, he simply refused to listen, situating the pressure of the entire series -- the entire season -- on his shoulders.
The first four innings amount to a single home run for Carlos and not much else. Michael walks and strikes out. In the top of the seventh, Tampa Bay ties the game, both teams now with a single home run apiece. Dres takes Danny out of the game, and Atlanta gives him a standing ovation on his way into the dugout. Michael hates that no matter what happens, he won’t get the win. But he also won’t get the loss which helps balance things out.
Michael walks steps into the batter’s box in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and no one on base. The crowd noise roars loud enough to register as a small earthquake on the Richter scale. But whereas that’s helped rile him up in the past, this time he remains calm. His whole body relaxes and his wrists loosen, hands griping the bat not without intention exactly, but released from the suspense of uncertainty. Almost like his body’s come to its own conclusion about how things should end.
He doesn’t fight it. Squaring his hips, he glances at the sign from Marvin, their third-base coach. Not that he needs to. He knows he’s swinging at the first pitch no matter what. And his gut tells him that’s all it will take.
It’s not that the Tampa Bay closer lacks talent or can’t get the job done. It’s just that the end is near, and Michael’s going out a winner. No harm, no foul, nothing personal.
The home run ends up being the longest he hits in his career. Soaring an epic 492 feet, another star in the night. Michael takes his trip around the bases, heart pounding hard, and even though the game’s not over, the dugout empties anyway. Beating him half to ruin as he crosses home plate.
He does and he doesn’t know this will be the last time.
The celebration continues into the dugout where Danny holds him tight, and Michael suspects Danny also knows that this game is different. And not just because they’re about to win their first World Series.
What happens next is a blur. The eighth ends on a ground out and the three outs in the top of the ninth are barely a memory. Just something they know happened. A paragraph in a book written with their collective blood, sweat, and tears.
Tampa Bay disappears from the field and Atlanta takes over. Banners are strung up everywhere, flags are flown. T-shirts and baseball caps are passed around and reporters with cameras flood the chaos. Soon, families join the circus, children running circles around their fathers and wives draped in their husbands’ arms. Confetti and fireworks and blaring music appear from out of nowhere.
Michael searches for Alex.
He’s somewhere behind home plate, fairly high up since Michael’d needed so many seats. Weaving out of the on-field celebration, he makes his way in the general direction of his family. Isobel’s blonde hair is the first thing he notices, followed by a trail of people he hasn’t seen in so long tears immediately burn his eyes. Max smiles down at him and Michael has never wanted to hug someone so badly.
Before he can catch sight of Alex, someone steps in front of him, blocking everyone else from view. Michael focuses on the face in front of him and frowns, sure he must be mistaken.
Michael blinks in disbelief. Becks looks good. Older, the hair at his temples graying. The edges of his face sharper, but the overall effect somehow softer. He’s dressed in khakis and a peacoat. Not at all the Becks with torn jeans and threadbare t-shirts.
‘Becks. What are you doing here?’ His heart pounds furiously against his ribcage.
‘I wanted to be here when you won it all. And I’m not just talking about baseball.’ Becks turns his head slightly, indicating the person behind him. Michael tilts his head and sees Alex waiting, patient and curious. The rumors about them have been swirling in gossip magazines for weeks now. He’s surprised Becks even noticed. Or that he would care. ‘I’m sorry, Guerin. For everything. You deserve all of this. And more.’
‘Okay.’ It’s not an eloquent response, but Michael’s entire thought process is on the fritz. He’s not sure how he’s supposed to feel. On the one hand, he’s glad Becks seems happy enough. On the other hand, he’s annoyed that he’s inserted himself into this moment -- his and Alex’s moment. ‘Well, thanks for coming, I guess.’
What else is there to say?
Without another word, Becks nods and turns, disappearing into the crowd filing out of the stadium. Michael doesn’t bother watching him walk away, just hones in on the face he’s been so desperate to see these four long weeks.
It’s almost surreal, seeing Alex now. Smile lighting up his face. He looks like a mirage, too good to be true. And then suddenly, he’s right there. An oasis close enough to touch, to drink. And Michael has to clench his fists and bite his tongue to keep from reaching out.
‘Was that Becks?’
Alex nods, concerned. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m perfect.’ And that’s almost true.
Unclenching his fists, he does exactly what he wants to do and grabs fistfuls of Alex’s sweater, slowly pulling him as close as possible until they are both plastered against the waist-high wall that circles the stadium. Michael slides his arms around Alex’s back and hugs him hard, breathing deep. ‘I’ve missed you.’
There are moments in everyone’s life when a decision must be made. A decision that seems so easy but will alter the course of your life.
Michael Guerin, with Alex warm and gorgeous in his arms, faces one of those moments now. His next move holds the weight of every rippling, cascading moment that will follow.
Even so, it’s an easy decision.
Dragging his lips up the column of Alex’s neck, he doesn’t hesitate to press their mouths together in a kiss he’s been dreaming about every night since Alex’s bus had turned the corner. They both moan on contact, swallowing each other’s need and tucking it away for safekeeping until they are alone and able to remember one another without the audience.
The wall separating them quickly becomes a nuisance, and Michael half-drags him onto the other side before pinning Alex with his hips and deepening the kiss. That’s when he hears the first camera. Soon there are more, reporters shouting at them, the flashing bulbs adding heat to their already hot, sweaty skin.
Maybe they should stop, but it’s too late now. It’s been too late since the first magazine has published the first blip of gossip. Too late since he’d entered that room and shook Alex’s hand. Maybe they’ll take a detour there on the way out of the stadium, reacquaint themselves with their beginning. The thought brings a smile to his face which he presses into Alex’s lips.
He’s not in the closet, hasn’t been for a decade. He’s just kept his queerness out of sight and out of mind, to protect the delicate sensibilities of baseball, and he’s so beyond done with all of that. And Alex isn’t closeted either, so this is just two people who love each other enjoying that love like every other man on the field is doing behind them. Fuck the reporters. Fuck the news stories tomorrow. Fuck the fallout, whatever it may be.
Within seconds, Frank and Cam are at their side. Followed in short order by everyone Michael loves. Danny and Lena wrapping their arms around him and Alex in a protective shield. Max and Liz, Arturo and Rosa, Isobel and Kyle and Maria. Sanders with a sharp clap on Michael’s back and a terse you done good kid.
Soon, almost his entire team joins the pile. Everyone laughing and shouting and bouncing with excitement. Burrowing Michael and Alex in the safety of a celebratory cocoon, far from the lens of any camera. And in a better world, Michael imagines this picture, the one of his family joined together, on the cover of every newspaper or magazine or in the top corner of every newscast. Instead of the one with him and Alex kissing that he knows will inevitably be the choice of every news outlet.
But that doesn’t matter now. He’s made his own choices, and he’s never been happier. Funny how he keeps thinking that and then some unexpected thrill arrives to make him a liar. It constantly blows his mind.
When Michael pulls away from Alex, they grin at each other in the shadow of the milieu. With a final hard kiss, Michael turns into Danny and Lena’s arms and Alex gets swept up by Cam. And soon they are all in the middle of the field for team pictures and family photos, interviews and cigars and champagne. The party continues late into the night, everyone reconvening at Michael’s house for food and booze and the kind of joy that keeps the world turning.
As expected, the picture of Alex and Michael kissing is plastered everywhere a picture can be plastered. The footage of Becks outing Michael becomes national news despite it being a decade old. Sports pundits take the stage to debate the bigotry of baseball and try to predict where baseball’s number one first basemen and first openly queer player goes from here. It’s enough to make Michael’s stomach turn, so he avoids the press and buries himself in Alex’s body, moving into the tour bus as soon as he’s able.
Publicly, no one ever knows much about what happens next. Michael plays everything close to the chest and Alex follows his lead.
There are a few things that are known, though.
First, Game 7 of the 2020 World Series is Michael Guerin’s last game of professional baseball. He announces his retirement the day after he wins the 2020 MVP. He remains tight-lipped about the reasons. When asked the whats and whys, he always responds the same: It’s just time. There’s more I’d like to do with my life. Followed by a good-natured smirk and a lazy shrug of his shoulders. And suddenly, he looks ten years younger.
When asked about his take on baseball’s homophobia, he sharply reminds whichever hapless reporter has asked that bisexual people exist and ends with: Baseball is a perfect game played in an imperfect world. Over the rest of his life, neither of these answers ever change, mostly because he rarely ever agrees to interviews in the first place.
Everyone also knows that Michael joins Alex on tour, only returning to Atlanta over Christmas to put his house on the market and to attend the birth of his godson, Mateo Marks, born late on Christmas Eve. The first time he holds Mateo in his arms he, Danny, and Lena all sob while Alex looks on shaking his head fondly and taking a picture that will remain on their mantle forever despite their puffy cheeks, red eyes, and snot-covered faces.
So what is Michael Guerin’s legacy? How does baseball remember him?
He’s a 5x All-Star, a 3x Silver Slugger, a 2x Gold Glove winner. The 2020 MVP and World Series champ. And those are just the most obvious awards and accolades he accumulates over his twelve-year career. Not surprisingly, he’s also the player with the largest philanthropic footprint during his time in the league, and no one in all of a baseball has a single bad thing to say about him. Eventually, he’ll be a Hall-of-Famer.
He’s the first openly queer player in the league, although he argues about that until the day he dies. Feeling like he’d never done enough for the queer players who came after.
And maybe that’s true.
But as Danny likes to remind him, that had never been his job in the first place.
And baseball does start to change. Fucking finally. The day before his own retirement, Danny Marks steps onto a stage with a young up-and-coming pitcher named Raul Hernandez as he announces his engagement to his boyfriend of six years. Michael and Alex are in a nearby hotel sitting with Raul’s fiance, Paul, as they watch the press conference live on ESPN.
What is known is this: the next day Raul gets to wake up and play baseball. And the next day and the next. Every day for all seventeen years of his career. And while it’s never a fairytale, never full-time sunshine and rainbows, baseball shifts and grows and expands.
Is that Michael Guerin’s legacy?
He’ll tell you no. So will a lot of other folks. That’s Raul’s legacy.
Michael Guerin’s legacy isn’t baseball. Michael Guerin’s legacy isn’t championing causes, even his own. Maybe that’s one of his flaws, maybe it’s a survival mechanism. Probably it’s both.
Michael Guerin is more than baseball and less than baseball.
He is a teacher. A six-time overall best teacher in the state of New Mexico. When he goes back to school, he decides to focus on middle school education and winds up spending most of his career teaching jaded pre-teens Earth and plant science. More than simply science, he attempts to put the stars back in their eyes. Mr. G succeeds more often than he fails.
He is a philanthropist. Together with Danny and Isobel, Michael puts together an organization that runs sports camps for at-risk youth, free of charge and without any academic or behavioral restrictions. He hires a staff of former pro-athletes, counselors, and social workers to help kids all over the country. The kids who’ve been forgotten, left behind, and unloved. The kids who are told they are undeserving and worthless. The kids destined for juvie or exorcism or worse. Often when Michael’s asked about fatherhood, he cites that first summer camp - those twelve perfect kids - as the moment he became a dad.
He is a brother. The two hundred acres he and Alex purchase in New Mexico soon grow lonely. So Michael plots off the land and gives 40 acres to Danny and Lena and 40 acres to Max and Liz. Both his brothers become his neighbors, and they turn into the kind of obnoxious people who ride ATVs and golf carts everywhere, back and forth from one front porch to another. But Michael’s favorite moments are when Max and Danny are nowhere to be found, off one some tandem adventure without needing him as a buffer. Brothers in their own right.
Isobel declines her own acreage, declaring her side of town a welcome reprieve from their noise and nonsense, preferring the nearness of actual civilization.
He is a husband. Alex and Michael’s relationship never reaches perfection. In fact, they struggle. Especially at first. Alex remains in therapy and Michael soon joins him, both working hard to love themselves and each other in better, healthier ways. And finally, seven years into their journey, Michael marries Alex in the dusty old barn on their property, a spur of the moment idea hatched before their first cup of coffee while they’re still tangled together between the sheets. Lights are strung up and the barn fills with no more than a dozen people, the ones they love the most. There is laughter, there are no suits, and no one sleeps a wink that night. Their honeymoon is waking up with the sun slanting over them and choosing to spend each and every day together for the rest of their lives. Over and over again. It’s simple and it isn’t. It’s love and it’s more than that.
(Editor’s note: Michael would like you to know that while the above is certainly true -- slight editorializing aside -- their sex life does reach perfection. In spite of that time they put a rather large hole in the wall or all the times their children accidentally walk in on them or that other time with the ill-advised spinning dildo that nearly killed them both. Alex interjects to mention something about a horse, and Michael just glares at him.)
He is a father. It starts with plants. A garden built in raised cedar boxes scattered about their property. Green stalks growing and blossoms blooming and food feeding his family and friends. Then comes the menagerie. A pack of dogs and a sulky cat and enough goats for yoga and a horse named Bob Michael pretends to hate but actually adores. There’s an alpaca and several chickens and once the donkey arrives Alex cuts them off.
And for a while, that’s enough. Until the day Sheriff Valenti asks them to take in newborn twins. They’ve just completed foster training, and newborns definitely weren’t what they were expecting. The twins are dark-eyed and soft-skinned. They smell like new beginnings and cry like the world’s ending. Michael’s ready to devote his life to them immediately while Alex hesitates, worrying because his husband’s heart is so tender and Rosie and Jacob are not theirs. Not yet. There’s a grandmother in Texas and an uncle in Wyoming. There are social worker visits and court dates and staying up all night wondering if tomorrow morning is goodbye.
Months pass. And then a year. Alex gives in and loves his children completely. Eventually, the grandmother is deemed unfit, the uncle stops caring, and the world is proven cruel once again. Rosie and Jacob, two more children threatening to fall through the cracks, but Michael and Alex are there to catch them, to blanket them with stars, to gift them the moon, to sing them the heavens above.
He is a son. Soon after moving to New Mexico, Alex accepts some security contract work to help out an old Air Force buddy and makes the discovery of a lifetime. In the middle of the desert lies a prison. A dank, dark, shabby nightmare place with a history of medical experimentation and genocide. One resident remains. A woman called Nora Truman. Left behind to die alone. In the middle of a warm August night, Michael, Isobel, and Max risk a rescue like no other. And it’s backward, to become a son after becoming a father. But when Michael holds his mother to his chest that first night, time travel is real and he’s a little boy all over again. Except this time surrounded by all the love he’d never known. History repeating, history remade.
Michael Guerin is an alien from another planet. He is a lover and a fighter. He believes in the stars above and the Earth below. He is a genius and a dumbass, a work in progress and a fully-formed heart. He’s got the greenest thumb and the blackest humor. He’s dad-shaped and silly. A fixer, a builder, a creator. He’s the sun-soaked desert and the sweet-bitter of beer. He is smirk and sarcasm. He is loving arms and insistent hips and a hungry mouth. He’s that feeling after you’ve been gone too long and that feeling when you return. He’s a beat-up Chevy, a black cowboy hat, a scuffed pair of boots. A chaos of curls and three buttons undone.
Michael Guerin is human.
And to the ones who see him, who know him, who love him best, he is Polaris. Always the way home.