“Dad!” I ran after him, my hand catching his elbow, his turn sudden, and I came to a stop, my breath hard. “We got Chase?”
“Who’d we lose?” The only negative of new blood, the sacrifice of our weakest lambs.
“Just Collende, and a Minor guy. Probably some draft picks and cash.”
“Damn. Anyone talk to him?” I wanted to be sad. But we’d all known Collende would leave at some point. I’d spent the last two days analyzing our roster and had already prepared for the emotional break. Not that the loss was anything to cry over. Collende was a prick. A prick with one hell of a bat, but a prick regardless.
“No. You gonna be able to handle this, Ty?”
“What?” I looked up into his face and tried to understand the question. “Collende leaving?”
“No. Stern.” He lowered his voice and put a hand on my shoulder. “I don’t want your hero worship of him to affect…”
I didn’t help the man out. I let him dangle in the Atlantic wind, one struggling father on a limb that was shaky at best.
He swallowed before continuing, “…to affect your judgment. He’s gonna go straight for you, Ty. I know he is.”
I didn’t know what to say, my father’s opinion biased, the likelihood of Chase Stern even noticing my existence was slim. And that was fine. He was a baseball god. My excitement was at having him on our field, his glove and bat our new asset. “Dad. It’s Chase Stern.” He could change everything for us. He could take us back to the World Series, put us on the record books. One day his name would be mentioned in the same circles as Ruth and Gehrig, and we would have shared a field with him. “He’s not gonna mess with me,” I protested. “Don’t worry about that.”
He pulled me to him, a rare hug between us. “Oh, Ty. So smart and still so dumb.”
I leaned into his arms and said nothing. He was wrong, a rarity for my father. But still, my blood hummed with excitement.
Two Days Later
Our original stadium was built in the twenties. Two years ago, due to an aging infrastructure, excess cash, and the need to one-up everyone else, our new home was built. We now had fifty thousand seats. Fifty-two skyboxes. A press box that caused erections. And a locker room that trumped every MLB club out there. A locker room that, fingers crossed, held Dad’s wallet.
“It’s not gonna be there. You check, you always check.”
“It might be in the drawer. Sometimes you stick it there.” I grabbed a pair of sunglasses from the glove box and pushed them on. I pulled at the seat belt to try to get some breathing room. “Just let me run in and check. Otherwise we’re dealing with…” I rummaged through the center console, snagging a wad of spare bills and counting them out. “Nineteen dollars.”
It was an old conversation, one we’d had a dozen times. After games, both of us tired, things got left behind. My backpack. His medicine. His keys, though we never got too far without those. His wallet was a constant source of stress, never where it should be; typically in Alpine when we needed it in the Bronx. Once he left it in a Cleveland hotel room, the team jet at thirty-five thousand feet before Dad reached for his back pocket, a curse leaving his lips.
He looked at the dash and cursed. “And … I’m low on gas.”
“It’ll be there,” I repeated, passing him the gate card, the players’ lot empty, today an off day. Everyone was at home, neglected families getting attention, jealous spouses getting updates, muscles worked by masseuses. Sometime today, Chase Stern would take off from LA, his stuff packed up by movers, everything in motion so that he could play tomorrow.
“Be quick.” Dad came to a stop by the gate, and I grabbed the door handle, my feet already out, the truck door slammed shut as I jogged down the walkway and to the door, my fingers quick on the keypad, his personal code entered, and then I was inside.
Chase Stern sat naked on wood planks, his back against warm stone, his arms loose at his side, eyes closed. There was a knot in his right shoulder blade that needed to be worked out. He rolled his neck to the side and inhaled deeply, the steam thick and hot, his skin pinpricking with the heat.
Yankee Stadium. It felt unreal. His tour had been short, the rep from the owner’s office concise, nothing much to show. Every club was the same: offices, facilities, locker rooms, and fields. Here, everything was just better; the owner’s money was spent well, the locker room one that put the Dodgers’ to shame.
When he’d seen his locker, his name already in brass up top, his uniform pressed and ready, size 13 cleats in place … that was when it’d really hit home. That was when he’d dismissed the short man with the wingtips and had a moment of reverence, of realization that this was it, he was here. In the big house, with pinstripes that bore his name.
He coughed, clearing his throat, and waved at the air, suddenly claustrophobic in the sauna, the steam so thick he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, sweat pooling behind his knees. He stood and wiped at his eyes, reaching for the handle.
“Hey Mark.” I smiled at the maintenance worker, jogging down the hall, the path one I’d taken a thousand times. Easier on days like this, when the place was deserted, no conversations to halt forward progress, no packs of bodies to squeeze around, no executives to avoid. Not that I ever had to hide. But the less I was seen, the better. Yankee management has been extremely understanding about my travel with the team, my role as ball girl, and my constant presence over the last seven years. Prior to the Yankees, we’d been with Pittsburgh, a ball club who hadn’t been nearly as understanding. Maybe the Yankees allowed me around because I was Mr. Grant’s favorite. Or maybe it was because Dad was the best closer in the business, and they liked to collect rings. Whatever the reason, I was grateful.
I rounded the corner and hit the player lobby, the front desk empty, Dad’s code getting me through the double doors and into the locker room. I slowed to a walk, moved past the club chairs and ping pong tables, grabbed an apple from the food bar and leaned on the door to the inner sanctum, a place I rarely went during peak times, the possibilities of a penis sighting too high; that was something I had no interest in seeing.
I took a bite of the apple and pushed off the door, letting it swing shut behind me. Then I stumbled to a halt, my world stopping dead at the man who stood naked before me.