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I’ve given up everything for the chance to play major league baseball. Everything. Now I’m so close I can practically hear the crowd chanting my name. There’s nothing that could take my dream away from me . . .
Unless I lose focus. And Ainsley Burke is the most beautiful, distracting woman I’ve ever met. When I’m with her, I can’t think of anything else.
But no matter how much I want Ainsley, there’s no room for love in my game plan. I can give her a quick tour of the bases, but that’s it. Then I have to let her go. If she wants to think I’m a love ’em and leave ’em player, fine.
All dreams require sacrifice. I just wish this one didn’t mean tearing out my own heart.
Spring training is upon us, fine folks in New England. While our Renegades head to Fort Myers and the faithful allegiance of fans follows, there are a few of us who will remain here in Boston. However, game stats and spring training updates will happen as usual.
It’ll be interesting to see what manager Cal Diamond does this year with both Steve Bainbridge and Cooper Bailey on the roster. You can’t go wrong with starting either of them, as both of their numbers last season were solid. Diamond has a tough decision ahead of him, that’s for sure, and so does general manager Stone, considering he’s fielding requests for a player trade that includes Bailey.
Expected to move into the starting catcher position is Jose Gonzalez, unless the off-season acquisition of Michael Cashman proves to be a better choice.
Be sure to watch for designated hitter Branch Singleton during spring training. The scuttlebutt around the clubhouse is that he’s been working out there daily, and the coaching staff is expecting his batting average to soar this season.
If you’re in Fort Myers and want to contribute to the BoRe Blog, please email us!
Travis Kidd is still up to his old antics, and nothing seems to stop him. He was recently spotted at BU hitting up a sorority. Rumor has it, he was caught streaking by the Pub Safe patrol, but being a fan of his, they let him go.
The BoRe Blogger
Over the years I’ve had many dreams. I’m not talking about the ones you experience when you’re sleeping, but the kind of dreams that can become reality. When I was young, my mother passed away, leaving my father alone to raise me. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, except I probably didn’t experience everything I could have. To cope with the loss of my mother, my dad and I turned to baseball. We’d play catch in the yard every night before sitting down to dinner, which usually consisted of sandwiches or cereal.
Hours of tossing the ball around the backyard turned into fielding grounders, catching pop flies, and spending time in the batting cages. What started as a way for us to cope with our depression turned into something I really enjoyed doing, and when the scouts started paying attention, I began dreaming of the big leagues, the pomp and circumstance of playing in the majors. I dreamed of winning a national championship at a prized SEC school and running out of the dugout as my name was announced during the All-Star Game. When the Boston Renegades drafted me, my dreams started to become reality; the only thing standing in my way is Steve Bainbridge. The veteran center fielder was hinting at retirement last year, leaving the door open for me, which is part of the reason the Renegades went after me in the draft. At the end of last season, Bainbridge changed his mind, putting my spot on the team in limbo. Still, the organization called me up, and here I am, about to make my major league debut.
Now as I step out onto the wet field, my cleats sink into the dewy grass. I’m not supposed to be out here today, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. I’m so close, yet so far away, from starting my major league career.
Spring training is a rite of passage for any baseball player, but for a rookie like me, this is everything. When I arrived in Fort Myers, the itch to get out onto the field was something I had never experienced before.
I tilt my head back and let the early morning Florida sun warm my skin. In the distance, the sound of lawn mowers coming to life, the swooshing sound of the nets being raised behind home plate, and the smell of glove oil all surround me. There are a few things missing that would make this better, such as the smell of hot dogs and popcorn and the sounds of the fans gathering in their seats.
“Rookie, look at you being the first one out here.” Travis Kidd, our left fielder and someone I will have to work closely with, calls out to me as he steps onto the warning track. As the center fielder, I’m tasked with not only backing up numerous positions, but I must also have the ability to run fast and judge the depth of a ball. My high school coach once said that you could tell where a ball was going by the sound it made when it left the bat. He was probably right, and I’d love to do that now, except we use wood bats and not aluminum. Switching from aluminum to a wooden bat took some getting used to. I had a faster swing in college and could smack the shit out of the ball. Now, the ball and bat have to hit just right, and you have really put some power behind your swing in order to get the same effect.
“He’s eager,” Bryce Mackenzie says. Mackenzie is in charge of second base, another position that I’ll have to work closely with.
Next to walk out of the dugout is Steve Bainbridge, who doesn’t even try to make eye contact with me as he steps onto the warning track. Being a fan of baseball makes me a fan of his, but right now he has the job that I want, and I’m here to take it from him.
Last year when I was called up, we had a team-wide meeting. Everyone was very nice, genuine in welcoming me to the club, well, everyone except for Steve Bainbridge. I get it. I do. In his eyes, I’m the enemy. I’m here to take his starting position and make him a “has-been.” Some call me unlucky because he’s a fan favorite, but I call it the luck of the draft. The general manager, Ryan Stone, chose me. He wanted me here to make a difference, to help lead the Renegades to the pennant.
Other team members start to filter out of the dugout. It’s six a.m. and time for us to start conditioning. I imagine our conditioning will be similar to that in the minors since they try to follow the same regimen.
“Morning,” Scotty Johnson, the Renegades trainer, says as he stands in front looking at each and every one of us with an evil glint. I’ve seen an expression like that before, on my college coach, and know it means there will be hell to pay today. The holiday beer guts are about to be a thing of the past. “I don’t know about you, but I feel like running today.”
No one says anything, because we know what’s coming.
“All right, here is what we’re going to start off with. Two laps around the field and into one hundred Superman planks followed by two more laps. When you’re done with that, you’re going to give me five-minute wall squats with a medicine ball between your knees and then one hundred burpees. This is on repeat until I say stop. Last year, you looked like shit. You were out of shape, and most of you couldn’t outrun a throw to first. This year, I’m going to make damn sure you’ll be able to.” He blows his whistle, and we’re off.
I’m confident that I’m one of the fastest players on the team, but I have to pace myself. The last thing I want to do is become gassed or piss anyone off. Branch Singleton is by far the quickest, and right now he’s all the way at the back of the pack. Everyone is paired off, except for me. I get it. I’m the outsider. Even Michael Cashman, who was acquired in the off-season, is running with another teammate.
“They’re a tough group, but keep your head up.” I take a sideways glance to see who’s running next to me. Ethan Davenport, the third baseman.
“You would know, right?”
“Yep. Rookie year is tough, even tougher for you because of their loyalty to Bainbridge.”
“Yeah, I’m sensing that. I guess I thought they’d see it wasn’t my choice?”
Ethan shakes his head and keeps stride with me. We’re both huffing and puffing by the time we finish our second lap.
“Everyone has a choice,” he says. I half expect him to leave me so he can go work out with his friends, but he doesn’t. He takes a spot on the grass next to me and starts his planks. “The thing is, Bainbridge is still hanging on. He’s going through some shit at home, and this is the place where he can escape.”
His marriage problems have been widely reported. My agent says I can use that to get into Bainbridge’s head and get him to mess up. Each screwup is an opportunity for me to take the starting spot. While the viewers and fans think baseball is about family, it’s not always that way. The more television time you have, the more sponsors you end up with. Sponsors are the way to supplement your income and prepare yourself for early retirement if you’re unlucky enough to have a career-ending injury.
Except that isn’t how I function. I want to play baseball and I want to play for the Renegades, but if they don’t need me, I’ll have no choice but to ask for a trade. The game has always been my priority.
“Have you moved to Boston yet?”
I grunt through my planks, finishing before Ethan does. I decide to wait for him so we can run together again.
“I haven’t yet. I started looking, but nothing has caught my eye. I’m not sure where I should look, either.”
“I went through the same thing when I first came to Boston. I rented for a bit before buying a condo. When we get back, you can stop by and check it out if you want. My wife won’t care if you crash for a few days.”
“Wife?” Ethan and I aren’t far apart in age, and I can guarantee you that a wife or girlfriend isn’t in my near future.
Ethan smiles. “Yeah, we got married after last season. She’s cool. You’ll like her.”
I shrug and continue my run. We catch up with a few of the other guys: Preston Meyers, who plays right field, and Kayden Cross, who covers first. Ethan keeps me in the conversation, and before I know it, I’m laughing right along with them. Minus the workout, I have to say today is shaping up.
* * *
“Here are your playbooks,” Cal Diamond says as he hands them out. There was some scuttlebutt last season that he was ill, but he looks healthy to me. I’m looking forward to playing for him.
“Also, we have some public relations matters that we need to take care of. The Major Leagues are pushing an initiative to give back to the communities, and Stone wants to start in Fort Myers.”
There’s a collective groan throughout the room. I’ve been doing this for a while, so I’m okay with whatever we have to do. In the minors, we set aside a few minutes here and there to sign autographs before and after the game. Some of the kids there can’t afford the big-league prices so we try to make it special for them.
“Later this week, we’ll be giving a tour to some kids at the zoo. I know most of you haven’t been to the zoo here, so the best thing to do is to let the kids guide you. There will be ample time for autographs and pictures. It’s just one of those things you have to deal with. You’ll have lunch with the kids and end the day with a photo op with the staff. The zoo is closed to the public when we go, so you won’t need to worry about people tagging along that shouldn’t be there.
“Another event you’ll be doing is senior prom.”
This time, the groans are louder. Diamond smiles and shakes his head.
“Wrong kind of prom. This senior prom will be held at the community center, and it’s for the residents of the retirement home. Now just because they’re of age doesn’t mean there will be drinking. I don’t care what they try to slip you. You’re expected to dance, talk baseball, and entertain. I’ve been to a few; they’re fun. You just need to remember that the people attending probably haven’t done this type of thing in a long time.
“And don’t forget about the charity golf tournament. You’re all expected to be there.”
Diamond continues to go on about the expectations while in Fort Myers, how he has an open door policy, and reminds us that we take the field in two weeks. It’s crazy to think, but all-day conditioning and practicing will get us ready for preseason play. Everything else we’ll fix along the way.
“Before you leave tonight, don’t forget to pick up your uniforms. This year, we’ll be wearing three different hats instead of the normal two. And don’t forget your autograph sessions. Your schedule is in your binder.”
I flip through the binder as everyone gets up to leave. I look around and find the other rookies doing the same thing. We’re in this boat together, even if we’re miles apart on the playing field.
“Hey, rookie?” I look up at the sound of Davenport’s voice. “We’re heading to dinner. Do you want to come?”
The truth is, no, I don’t. I’d rather go back to the apartment and learn the plays, but to tell him no would be foolish.
“Yeah, of course,” I say, scrambling to gather my things.
“Do you miss this?”
Glancing over at Bruce and seeing a smile that likely matches mine answers his question. It’s only a matter of seconds before I turn my gaze back to the fifteen-foot cow who is pacing her sawdust-laden stall, waiting for her first calf to be born. I have been anticipating this moment since I first thought Jambo was pregnant. Later, an ultrasound confirmed what I and my co-workers thought: We were going to have a calf among our giraffe population. That was almost thirteen months ago, and so much as has changed for me since.
“I do. I miss being with them so much. The giraffes have always been my favorite. Even in college, I found myself focusing on them, their habitat, and their interaction with humans.” About the time Jambo’s pregnancy was announced, I had to step down from my job as a zookeeper due to the long hours and always being on call. It wasn’t an easy decision, but my mother is fighting cancer, and it’s more important that I’m there for her. Still, it’s times like this when I truly miss my job, even though I still hold a position in the front office of the zoo. Being hands-on with the animals, particularly the giraffes, is my passion.
“Thank you for calling me, Bruce,” I say, focusing my attention on Jambo. I knew she was due to give birth, and when Bruce called to tell me that she had started pacing, I raced down here, not caring that it was two in the morning and thankful that my mother’s part-time in-home nurse agreed to come when I needed her. I didn’t want to miss this experience.
“You deserve to be here, Ainsley. Jambo is your baby.”
He’s right, she is. She was over a year old when she came to live at the zoo, and it took us a while to bond, but once we did, I could call for her from across the yard and she’d trot over to me. This proves especially fruitful when I occasionally volunteer to lead the feeding sessions. Even though I can enter their sanctuary at any time, sometimes it’s better for me to try to distance myself, yet I can’t always stay away.
“There’s enough padding, right?”
“Of course. I set the large mat down last week and put about eight inches of sawdust down myself three days ago, with a fresh layer this morning. The calf will be fine, Ainsley, don’t worry.”
“I know. I can’t help it, though. Jambo is a first-time mom, and I want everything to be perfect for her.”
Bruce doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. He knows what I’m thinking. We’ve all been so worried that something would go wrong after a calf at another zoo was delivered stillborn a few months ago. Since then, that giraffe has had trouble integrating back into the yard with the others. Even animals suffer from depression, and it can be hard to treat them properly.
“Bruce, look.” I point toward Jambo as hooves start to appear. Bruce mutters the time, and I know he’s writing it on his clipboard because that is what I’d be doing if this were still my job. Tears well in my eyes as I watch an animal I love dearly bring her first child into this world.
Watching her give birth is in complete contrast to how I spent my day, sitting beside my mom while she received her chemo with her eyes closed and her hand pressed tightly into mine. I spent most of my day re-reading over the same pages of the magazine I brought because it was the only thing that could keep my attention long enough.
My mother is dying, while Jambo is giving birth. It seems like an odd form of irony when I think about it. Shortly after the news broke about Jambo’s pregnancy, my mom was diagnosed with stage-four gastric cancer. I have yet to come to terms with her prognosis: I’m still waiting for a drug to miraculously become available that wipes out every nasty cancer cell ever discovered, but I know deep in my heart that it won’t happen.
The chaplain always seems to come around when my mother is receiving her treatments. At first, it didn’t bother me, but now it does. He says to pray, and I question: for what? Do I pray that this is all a dream and that, when I wake up, everything is back to normal?
Or do I forgo praying and instead pinch myself to wake up from this nightmare? Neither option right now seems to be the right answer.
My mother, she’s all I have. My father bailed before I was born, and she raised me by herself. My grandparents are around, but they can’t help. They try, but they’re old and frail, and watching their only daughter die isn’t something they’re taking very well.
So I’m there for her with no questions asked. It’s where I want to be. It’s where I need to be. She didn’t have to keep me, but she did. So I’m there with a smile on my face, tending to her while her body is pumped full of drugs that are going to make her puke her guts out later, make her hair fall out and cause her to cry each time she looks in the mirror, and make her weak, even though she’s the strongest woman I know, because she was always there for me.
In the past year, so much has changed. My mom has gone from a healthy, active woman to a frail, sickly shell of who she used to be. Retirement was supposed to be her time to shine. Her plans were to travel, play golf, and enjoy life, all while trying to find me a rich doctor to marry. She can pretty much guarantee I won’t be marrying a doctor, not unless he’s the one who finds the cure to keep her in my life another forty years or more.
Not a week after she retired, she called me complaining of a stomachache. I brushed it off. I mean, how many have I had one that went away hours later? A month after that phone call, she showed up at my apartment with the news. I was so excited to tell her about Jambo, but I could see by the look in her eyes that she had something important to tell me. I cried in her arms; she was consoling me, promising me that everything was going to be okay.
Her last scan showed that the cancer is growing. The last round of chemo didn’t work so they’re trying a new kind. Who knew there were different kinds? It’s like a vending machine full of drugs, and your selection is B-15. Only to find out you chose wrong.
The staff and I are on a first-name basis. I tried to keep a wall up, not wanting to get to know any of them, but after you spend days, even weeks in there, you can’t help but ask personal questions and answer theirs in return. My favorite nurse is Lois. She’s very caring when it comes to my mother, making sure that she’s always comfortable. When I’m running late, Lois steps in and reads to my mom for me. With our many hospital stays and chemo visits, we’ve sailed through an array of romance novels, and while my mother loves the stories, some of them make me blush.
“Ainsley, are you watching?”
“I’m sorry, what?” I shake my head, clearing myself from my daydream. Only it’s not a dream, but the stark reality in which I live at the moment. My eyes focus back on Jambo as the face of her calf appears. More tears of happiness emerge, and I can’t help but start to clap for her. The calf moves slowly out of its mother until the six-foot baby is on the ground with the padding cushioning its fall.
“Oh my,” I say, covering my mouth. “We have a baby, Bruce.” You would think that I had given birth myself with how emotional I am at the moment.
“That we do. From start to finish, Jambo did this in under an hour. Not bad for a first-time mom.” Everyone around us is cheering.
“Now we wait and see if she nurses or if we have to guide them to each other.” My hands clasp together with my thumbs resting against my lips. I study Jambo as she looks at her calf warily.
He or she is covered in sawdust, and the sight is comical and adorable. Jambo takes tentative steps as she nears her calf. She nudges her baby a few times and then starts cleaning.
“She’s a natural,” I say. “And the calf is beautiful.”
“She is,” Bruce says, standing next to me. “I’ll be right back. I want to check the temperature in the room.”
My mother is always cold. It’s a side effect from the chemo. We live in Florida and are likely the only people who don’t use our air conditioner. In the hospital, they provide warming blankets, and I looked into having one of the machines in our house. The dryer doesn’t warm them enough, and I’m afraid an electric blanket will burn her if she keeps it on too long. It’s a no-win battle sometimes. Our condo is stifling, and sleep often evades me, especially when it’s hot.
On good days, my mom will get dressed, put on makeup, and go to lunch with friends, but those days are few and far between lately. I feel like her lack of motivation is being caused by some form of depression, and I’ve asked her to see a doctor, but she refuses. She’s stubborn and determined not to be a burden. I can’t get it through to her that she’s not a burden and I only want what’s best for her.
I gasp again when the calf stands, and Bruce hollers “woohoo” from around the corner. Over the next few days, this calf is going to be mischievous and will test Jambo as a mother. I already know that I’ll try to be down here as much as possible, even if it means giving up my lunch hour to spend time with mama and her baby.
“Yes, move toward your baby, Jambo,” I say, trying to encourage her to let the calf nurse. “Oh, Bruce, look.” I point as the baby latches on, much to the delight of all our staff. There’s a collective sigh among us, knowing that the first steps of motherhood have been taken by Jambo and were done so easily.
I choose to sit on the floor and rest my head against the wall, not ready to leave. Right now, I don’t care if I’m lacking sleep or my alarm will sound in a few hours. Everything I witnessed in the past couple of hours is giving me enough adrenaline to conquer whatever tasks lie ahead. Including the fact that, once the sun rises, the Boston Renegades will be here for media day, along with a hundred or so underprivileged third-graders from various schools in the area.
That alone should scare me into leaving, but it doesn’t. Sitting here, watching Jambo nurse her calf, is the most calm and peaceful I have felt in a long time, and right now I could use this heavy dose of this type of happy to get through everything I’m facing with my mother.
I dive into the swimming pool and stay under as long as I can before I begin to stroke. Swimming is my way of loosening up my sore muscles and keeping them from getting strained. I can’t afford to get injured during spring training or not to be in the best shape of my career. Everyone is watching me. They’re waiting for me to come out and hit the shit out of the ball, or to fuck up. The critics out there are wagering on whether I can make it in the majors or not. They say Stone kept me in the minors for a reason, and now I have to prove them wrong. Their opinions shouldn’t matter, but they do.
With each lap I complete, my mind becomes clearer. My body cuts through the lukewarm water, creating a path so I can glide easily into my next stroke. This is the only time I have to myself before I’m “on.” Before I’m officially Cooper Bailey, Boston Renegade. I know it’s going to be different, with a lot more expectations, and for that I’m ready. I’m ready for what today is going to bring, with a whirlwind of activities, and I want to be my best. I want to stand out among my peers.
After the first day of conditioning I thought the guys like Davenport, Meyers, and Cross wouldn't talk to me again; however, they have and we continue to go through our workouts together. They’re making me feel welcomed, and I’ve even been razzed by Kidd with some off-the-cuff one-liners that had me bent over gasping for air because I was laughing so hard. But there are still some guys in the clubhouse that give me sideways glances. I get it. I just hope they know I have no control over who gets the starting spot—that is all determined by the performances of Bainbridge and myself, and in the hands of Cal Diamond.
- "McLaughlin knocks it out of the park with her second sports contemporary... This novel goes above and beyond the typical sports romance with a hot, complex hero and a gutsy, multidimensional heroine. McLaughlin keeps the pace lively throughout, and just when readers think they have the finale figured out, she throws them a few curveballs. This novel will appeal to McLaughlin's fans and will win her many more."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "Heidi McLaughlin never fails to pull me in with her storytelling, and I assure you she'll do the same to you! Home Run is a home run, in my book."—Jen McLaughlin, New York Times bestselling author
- "Fun sports romance done only the way that Heidi McLaughlin can do! I absolutely loved this book. It was fun, it was quick, it was dramatic and it was all around a good time."—Lulo Fangirl on Third Base
- "Heidi McLaughlin hit another home run with this one."—Love N. Books on Third Base
- "A beautiful, emotional story about love and healing. It was both sexy and heartwarming. I finished the book with happy tears in my eyes. Loved it!"—Aestas Book Blog on My Unexpected Forever
- "I was glued to the page from start to finish and just couldn't turn those pages fast enough."—Aestas Book Blog on Here With Me and Choose Me
- On Sale
- Jun 6, 2017
- Page Count
- 336 pages