He stood behind me, his hands over mine, and we swung. A practice stroke, over and over, my sore muscles learning the motion. “Look to the moon when you swing,” he instructed. “That’s what you want. A ball that disappears into it. One that goes to the moon and past. A moonshot.”
“Sounds stupid,” I grumbled, my eyes on the dirt, my swing down.
“Everything’s stupid if you look at it a certain way. Some people think it’s stupid for a girl to be named Ty.”
I looked up with a smile. “That was stupid. Ty Cobb? You couldn’t have picked a Yankee?”
“Would Thurmon have been better? Or Red? Or Whitey? Yogi? Lou? Mickey?”
“Mickey isn’t bad. Or Babe.” I grinned at him, tapping the end of the bat against my cleats.
He scowled. “Let’s focus on the moon. I’ll worry about stripper nicknames later.”
A moonshot had been impossible for me. I woke up the next day with a task almost as improbable: avoid Chase at all costs. Eye contact would be dangerous, any conversation disastrous.
I knotted my hair into a low bun. Skipped makeup. Pulled on a baseball cap, low over my eyes. Wore jeans instead of shorts, and a long-sleeved T-shirt, the biggest one I owned.
I stared at myself in the full-length mirror and hoped that I looked different. Maybe he wouldn’t recognize me from the girl who had stood, limp-jawed, in the middle of the locker room.
“He’s my dad.”
God, why had I said that? Talk about sticking a giant kiddie nametag to my chest.
I heard the rattle of metal on metal, our garage door opening, and turned at the sound. Striding down the hall, I grabbed my bag off the hook and headed for the door.
Our night games had a schedule, like clockwork, and hadn’t changed in the last decade. Got to the park around two. The team ate together around five. Hit the field around six. National Anthem at seven. Showtime.
Everything was the same, yet everything was different, the change palpable in the air. Chase Stern’s arrival at the Yankees hit like an atomic bomb—so loud it was silent, the cloud of effect rippling out from his person in a giant wave that touched all of us. Muttered conversations, bits of gossip jumping amid the staff, a subtle shift of change in the air, everything moving aside for greatness, then settling back into place around him.
Despite myself, despite the dread I had at seeing him, the energy was addictive. My own personal drama aside, we needed his glove, his bat, his fans. With him here, we could do anything.
Avoid Chase at all costs. Dad must have heard my inner mantra. He dragged me with him to the bullpen, way out at the end of the field, strict instructions barked at me to finish my history project. A project that could wait for the weekend, but I didn’t argue. Arguing would have raised red flags, and he was more on edge than I’d ever seen him. So I pulled out my laptop and sat on the ground, leaned against the wall, and worked.
It took two hours to knock out my report—an analysis on Civil War motivations and the consequences of the war. My back tight, I stretched, closed the laptop, and pushed it into my bag. Dad sat at the end of the bullpen with two relievers, his hat off, elbows resting on his knees, his chin lifted at me in acknowledgement. As the closer, he was the best arm on the team, and brought in only when we were trying to preserve a close lead. The majority of the game, he was out in the bullpen, far enough to be out of my hair, close enough to be part of the game. I smiled at him. For an old guy, he was handsome, in a wiry kind of way, even with his hair sweaty and rough, his skin lined by too many years of squinting into the sun. In another life, he might have remarried, but I’d never even seen him consider dating. Maybe that was my fault. I’d never asked for another mom, wasn’t really interested in anything to interrupt our bond. I looked away and stepped to the fence, peering through and across the field. The dugout was empty, no players in sight. I glanced at the stands, a few fans already moving down stadium steps, drinks in hand, smiles in place. The gates must be open, go time near. It was time for the boys to get their asses on the field, time for me to get down front. Close to the action, close to Chase. My palms sweated.
My father’s voice stopped my reach for my backpack.
“You should go to the hotel.”
“What?” I let go of the strap, and it fell, loud and heavy, on the metal bench.
“I spoke to Frank. The ball boys can cover for you.”
“No.” I could count on one hand the number of times I’d refused him. I could also count on one hand the number of times he’d been this stubborn.
His eyes hardened. “You’ve got school work to do, and I don’t want you working the game. Now go. Take the truck. I’ll get a ride.”
I glanced toward the other pitchers and stepped closer to him, lowering my voice. “This is bullshit. I’ve never missed a game.” And I hadn’t. Not in ten years. Not when I’d been sick, not when I was seven and had tears running down my face over Mom. We were Rollins. We didn’t miss games. And we didn’t fight with each other; we griped, we gritted through with sarcasm and wit. Not like this. Not with a hole in my chest, my breath suddenly short, the possibility of not working the game, not even going to the game—that was something that had never crossed my mind.
“I’m sorry, Ty. It’s just a big day. Lots of energy in the air with a new player. You know that.”
“All the more reason to have me out there. Someone you don’t have to worry about messing up.” Snagging a fair ball as foul. Too much Mississippi mud on the balls. Grabbing the wrong bat. Not having dip, braces, lotion, headphones … all of the idiosyncrasies that set up each player for success. Yes, I was a ball girl—the job typically done by prepubescent boys. But I was the best one in the league. And it was ridiculous for him to pull me from this game, to punish me for … what? Chase Stern’s presence? “I’m going to the game.” I crossed my arms tightly in front of my chest, swearing on Babe Ruth’s grave that I was not about to cry, not right here, on sacred soil, with the eyes of the others on us, my father’s face as old as I’d ever seen it.
“Don’t fight me on this.” He hung a hand on the fence beside us. Long fingers, cracked at the seams. Talented appendages linked with a structure designed to keep worlds apart. There was an analogy there; I just didn’t see it. “You’re seventeen, Ty. You’re beautiful. Don’t…” his voice broke in two, “…don’t grow up on me just yet.”