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Authors: Dirk Hayhurst

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BOOK: Out of My League
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Chapter Forty-eight
Compared to the bargain bin motels that touted Frosted Flakes in turnstile dispensers, the big league hotel in San Francisco was a palace. Granite countertops and cherry desks with ornate lamps and bonsai trees; chandeliers of gold and crystal; life-size murals, mood lighting, and Muzak that didn’t make you want to rip your ears off. The plane had crashed, I was convinced of it. The plane had crashed and I was dead, and at any moment, angels were going to throw me out of the place.
There was a store in the lobby where you could buy a suit or an expensive watch, and a restaurant that promised excellent steak if you had an excellent bank account. Marble beneath my feet, crystal above my head, surrounded by smiling, well-groomed people who stood ready to assist me. I wanted to fall to my knees to kiss the floor of this temple. In fact, there was a strong feeling that at any moment the whole scene could break into spontaneously choreographed dancing with me twirling around the place singing my joy as bellhops pushed high-note-hitting waitresses around on luggage carts.
The lady behind the check-in desk greeted me with, “How may I help you, sir?”
I stared at her in wonder, and then I got to say words that made me feel like I was declaring, “Let there be light,” and actually had all the power to back it up. “Yes,” I began with a smooth, deep voice, “my name is Dirk Hayhurst, and I’m a player on the San Diego Padres. I believe you have a room for me?” Boom, that just happened.
I expected the words to knock the woman behind the desk over with their sheer awesomeness, but she stood firm and replied, “Oh, wonderful,” before punching away at the keyboard.
“Looks like I do have a room for you, Mr. Hayhurst.” She handed me my key and gave me directions to the door it would unlock. “Would you like someone to take up your bags?”
My bags were parked beside me with the one marked with the giant Padres logo sitting prominently on top. I made sure all the tags and labels faced out as visibly as possible. If bystanders didn’t recognize me, at least they would recognize the logo, and maybe do the math that I was a player, and then whisper about me in that way I’d always dreamed about, ever since the concept of celebrity through sport had first entered my brain. If I would have had a big league ID card, I would have dropped it in the middle of the crowded halls announcing, “Silly me, always dropping
my big league ID. Us big leaguers
can be so clumsy sometimes.” I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to shout and tell the whole world that yes, Dirk Hayhurst was a big leaguer, the approachable, praisable kind who carried his own luggage!
“No thanks, I can handle it.” I left the front desk and paraded my way to the elevators. I kept note of every stray look that lingered on me or my luggage and even of some that didn’t. Then, while strutting down the hallway, I ran into Luke.
“Hey!” we shouted at the same time.
“Congratulations!” Luke followed up. We traded a man-hug. I knew he was here, of course, and had we not run into each other in the lobby, I’d have searched him out immediately.
“Thanks, man, wow, I can’t believe this is for real.” I grabbed his shoulders with both hands and squeezed them in my excitement.
“It sure is, man, you earned it. When I heard you were coming up, I was so happy for you—told you to keep your head up, didn’t I?” He whacked me in the side in that atta-boy way.
“I know you did, thanks. What a great time for this to happen, huh?”
“Is there such a thing as a bad time to get a call up?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Sure. How’s Bonnie taking it?”
“She’s ecstatic.”
“That’s great. That’s just great.” Luke’s words meant a lot, but his face said the most important stuff. The knowing way he smiled while looking off to some familiar memory told me he was recalling the moment he was in my place. Every player who has been through the experience knows just how wondrous it is. It can’t be summed up in one moment but through a series of them chained together as we players enter our new life as a big leaguer in its full spectrum. The first-class flight, the big league hotel, trying to get people to notice your team bag: they were but the tip of the iceberg. Luke recalled these moments when he saw the elation on my face; those, and many more I had yet to know.
“You’re starting tomorrow, right?” Luke looked back at me. His face changed, indicating he knew something I didn’t.
“Yes.”
“Nervous?”
“Oh my God, am I ever.” In fact, every time I thought about it I got shaky.
“I got something that can help you with that. Come with me.”
We got into an elevator with glass panels exposing views out over the city and its historic buildings, bridges, and bay. It all seemed too surreal. I’d been to San Francisco once before, but not like this. I was a tourist then. I thought buying crap in Chinatown was the coolest thing ever. Now I was a reason people toured.
Luke watched me as I took it all in. He chuckled to himself.
“You going to be my catcher tomorrow?” I asked.
“Nope. I’m not even going to be here tomorrow.”
“What! Why?”
“Got sent down. They told me last night. I leave for the airport in about thirty minutes.”
“Was it to make room for me?” I felt terrible. I knew who came up and went down was out of our control, we were just pawns. Still, Luke was a friend, and it was hard to know if I was mixed up in his descent.
“Not your fault. Tactical decision by the brass. Bard’s coming off the DL. Don’t worry, I’ll probably be back in a couple of days when they expand the roster for September.”
“And you are cool with this?”
He shrugged. “I made it, I caught Maddux’s 350th win, and I’ll probably get to come back in September. I can hang out in Portland for a few days. At least this way I’ll get to play every day again.”
I had forgotten that Luke’s main role in the Bigs this year was to sit on the bench. He seemed excited to play again, even if it was in Triple A, which I’ll admit baffled me because we’d always joke about how we’d happily collect splinters in our ass as long as we were collecting the Big League minimum. I didn’t articulate those thoughts, since now didn’t seem like the right time for such talk.
The doors opened on Luke’s floor. We exited the elevator and made our way to Luke’s room. He opened the door to a stunningly appointed suite: a king-size bed with heaps of throw pillows, a desk with a glass tabletop, panoramic views of the city, a Jacuzzi tub in a bathroom with marble floors, and a forty-two-inch flat screen television—a good one I couldn’t afford even with my store discount at Circuit City.
“How on earth did you manage a room to yourself?”
“What do you mean? We all have our own rooms here.”
“Are you serious?” Like I said, all the good stuff about being in the Bigs doesn’t hit you at one time. “This just keeps getting better!”
“Yeah man, it’s great.” There was a certain bittersweet candor to Luke’s tone, seeing that his bags were packed next to his bed. While I wandered around the room inspecting the place, he opened one of his suitcases and fished out a pill bottle. He shook out two blue pills and handed them to me. They looked like little blue diamonds, which made me think they were Viagra. I wasn’t sure what he was insinuating. I’d heard the big leagues change people, but how Luke could go from a devoted family man to a dude popping Viagra to do Lord knows what so fast was beyond me.
“I don’t think I need any Viagra, Luke. I know it worked for Palmero, but, uh.”
“They aren’t Viagra. They’re sleeping pills. Blue Bombers, we call ’em. We can get them up here because the doctors come right into the clubhouse and write you a prescription, if you need them. It helps us regulate our sleeping when we do the harder traveling. Or”—he raised his eyebrows—“when we’re nervous as hell.”
I rolled the pills in my hand. I knew some guys who took them in the minors and they would talk about how magical they were. I was always jealous of them because while I’d sit crunched on the rumbling buses unable to sleep, they’d pop one of these and knock themselves out. We’d cover their sleeping bodies in discarded garbage wrappers as a punishment for slumbering while the rest of us suffered.
“Awesome! How do I take ’em?”
“Stick ’em in your mouth and swallow.”
“I know, but when?”
“Before you want to go to bed. They’ll help you sleep through the night. Trust me, tonight might be the hardest night you’ve ever had in baseball.”
“Thanks, dude.”
“Sure. And good luck tomorrow, I have to get going now. I don’t want to miss my flight.”
“No other sage advice for me?” I asked. I was a little sarcastic when I asked this, but that was just to hide the real, nearly tangible anxiety that had been building in me since I got the news. Once Luke left, I’d be alone in this hotel with nothing but the door-die tales of life in the Bigs as recounted by the guys back in Portland to keep me paranoid and terrified. I was nearly as afraid of violating the unwritten codes as I was of taking on the Giants in front of a national audience tomorrow.
“Keep the ball down, pitch like you have been, you’ll be fine.”
“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about not screwing up big league etiquette and getting crucified. I’ve heard”—I swallowed—“stories.”
“The only thing I can tell you for sure is, don’t take the team bus anywhere.”
“Why not? It says I’m supposed to.” I took out my travel itinerary and tapped my finger on the sheet.
Luke shook his head. “I know what it says, but don’t take the bus, trust me. Unless you got like ten years in the Show, take a cab.”
“Why have a team bus if you can’t take it?”
“I have no idea. Just make sure you’re not on it.”
“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t just say that on the itinerary if—”
“Welcome to the big leagues.” Luke smiled. “Oh, and get used to hearing that every time you don’t understand something but you still have to do it: ‘Welcome to the big leagues.’ ”
“Wonderful, what other traps await me up here?”
“Just do what all the other young guys do. They’ll show you. Keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, do your job, don’t piss anybody off, don’t get on the team bus, don’t forget to ... Oh, you’ll figure it out. Just worry about tomorrow.”
“I’ve got worrying more than covered, thanks.”
“You’re gonna be fine. Relax.”
That seemed impossible now that I knew there were punishments and thrashings mismarked on the itinerary. I kept asking Luke to explain, but he had no concrete answers for me. He kept saying I’d just have to feel it out.
“Alright. I gotta go. Do great, I’ll be following.” He gave me another man-hug, wished me luck, then made his way to the door. Before it shut, he caught it, looked back in, and said, “Oh yeah, one more thing: if Jilly tries to hug you in the shower, just let him do it. Seriously, it will be better for you in the long run if you do.”
“What the hell?”
“Welcome to the big leagues.” The door shut, and Luke was gone.
Chapter Forty-nine
My room was actually better than Luke’s. It was the same room, but it was clean and pressed with everything in perfect order, and it was mine. The bathroom with all the little soaps and oils and towels folded into the shape of swans was mine. The bed with forty-seven throw pillows and 300-thread-count sheets was mine. Even the private view overlooking downtown San Francisco and the Bay that made it famous—mine. The bill for it all, however, was the Padres’, and on that thought, I dropped my bags, kicked off my shoes, and leapt onto the bed like a stage diver. The pillows and comforter swallowed me up, and I lay there sinking blissfully into Egyptian cotton heaven.
Breathing facedown in the luxurious fabric, I started laughing to myself. A player sleeps in a lot of places during his baseball evolution. I’d slept with other teammates on road trips in high school, four of us in one room, two of us per bed. Of course, this would happen around the same age when most teenage boys have a strong paranoia of what homosexuality entailed; thus, those nights were hardly comfortable, with who got beds decided on everything from card games to gladiator fights in the parking lot. Then, college days landed me in dorm bunks, budget hotels, and leftover host family mattresses. In the minors I laid my head on everything from bus floors to backwater budget bungalows. And there was Grandma’s house, where praying to the squirrel gods was a must if you didn’t want to be up at 6
A.M.
This king-size slice of nirvana made me as giddy as a schoolgirl. I rolled over on the bed and did a snow angel in the fabric, spraying pillows and laminated information cards all over the floor.
I spent about an hour milling about the room, counting all the goodies in the well-stocked minibar, looking at prices on the room service list, flexing in the mirrors with my shirt off to see if being in the Bigs actually did make me look sexier. I had a lot of time on my hands, and I didn’t want to leave the hotel room because I was afraid I’d break some rule I was not aware of, at least not while anyone else on the team might be in the building.
When I was sure everyone affiliated with the club was at the ballpark, I left the hotel and wandered the streets of the city looking at sites and foraging for food. I called friends and family, and we freaked out about how I was really in the promised land. I called Bonnie and freaked out about how awesome the hotel was. She told me her family freaked out about how she was going to be married to a big leaguer. And we both freaked out about how close we were to saying “I do.” There was a lot of freaking out going on.
After food and phone calls, I was back in the hotel room, where I started to feel the tick of the clock. I could only eat so much, or wander so far, or freak out to so many people. My debut was coming, and as bad as I wanted it to come, I was terrified of its arrival. The future was large and looming, and I was running out of distractions. In a matter of hours, I would be in front of the biggest crowd I’d ever known with friends and family all over the world watching.
Anxiety started to take over, and soon I was pacing, hyperana-lyzing, looking for omens, searching for signs. What if I was a huge, embarrassing failure tomorrow?
No, no, don’t think that way, you’re gonna be fine
. Then I made a deal with God that if a certain number of pigeons flew by the window, I’d pitch great. When that didn’t happen, I changed the deal to no pigeons, then to clouds in the shape of pigeons, then to just clouds.
That was when I realized that I’d not played catch today. In fact, I’d done nothing baseball oriented at all. As a creature of habit, this did not sit well with me. Under normal circumstances I might have relaxed on this issue; I mean, I have spent entire off days in front of pizza boxes and video games without worry of what my lack of physical activity would mean come the next game day. But this was no ordinary off day. If I wanted to feel like vintage Dirk for tomorrow’s game, the game of all games, I needed to throw. I didn’t have a lot of options, and I wasn’t about to call down to the front desk to ask if there was some nice young man on staff who wanted to come up to my room and play ball, not with a pocket full of blue diamond-shaped pills.
In my equipment bag were my glove and a ball. I pulled both of them out. Next I took all the pillows and sheets off the mattress and flipped it up against the wall. I stripped down to my underwear so as not to stink up my dress clothes since I didn’t know when I’d be able to wash them. Then I ran in place, did some jumping jacks and a few light stretches. Glove on, ball in hand, I came set about eight feet away from the upturned king-size mattress. I took my sign and tossed a ball at near point-blank range. It collided with a soft thud, then fell to the floor. If it were a lesser mattress with lesser memory foam, I’m sure the ball would have ricocheted into a lamp or window, but once again, life in the big leagues was better, even when it came to something as mundane as playing catch with a mattress in a luxury hotel in your underwear.
I turned the television to the Padres/Giants game. Cha Sueng Baek was pitching for the Pads. When he came set, I came set. I dug into the pile of the hotel carpet with my toes, watched Baek throw a fastball down and away, then wound up and pretended to do it myself. There was just the center of the mattress for me, but my arm wouldn’t know the difference. As far as my arm was concerned, I had a perfect game going through two innings. Then Baek threw an absolutely filthy slider that painted the outside of the strike zone, and the hitter took it off the wall. I stopped and stared at the replay. A bastard pitch peppered off the wall with the flick of the wrist. That just wasn’t fair. I looked at the ball in my hand, then to the mattress—I was doomed. I turned the game off.
I was starting to panic. Six years in the minors and I still wasn’t ready for this moment. I had to relax. I called Bonnie and told her I was having trouble keeping it together, and she told me I needed to take a bubble bath and listen to music because that always helped her relax. I told her I couldn’t take a bubble bath the night before a big league debut start, and she said, “Aren’t you the one who says that in this sport it doesn’t matter how you get it done as long as you get it done?”
“Fine. You win. But do I have to use bubbles?”
“Yes, they’re part of the magic.”
I followed her advice and ran a bath, but added so much complimentary bubble formula that by the time I had two inches of water in the tub, bubbles were spilling over the rim and onto the floor. I had to stop and wait for some of the bubbles to melt before I could soak, which took agonizingly long. In the meantime, I went to plan B: the minibar.
Alcohol makes me sleepy, which is why I poured two mini bottles of vodka and a can of Sprite together and slammed it. I’m not sure how much was there, at least enough to make it seem like there was no Sprite in the mixture, but it didn’t matter. I had no tolerance for alcohol, and no idea how to make mixed drinks. Chip and Luke always did it for me back at the apartment. A lot or a little, I would feel it, but I decided to err on the safe side by consuming way more than usual. I thought for sure it would put me under, but hard liquor swilled quickly doesn’t have the same effect as when it’s sipped in a calm, unforeboding, the-rest-of-your-life-doesn’t-hinge-on-this type of environment. About fifteen minutes after consumption, I was irritable, confused, and lashing bubbles off the tub with a towel spun into a whip. I still wasn’t tired, which led me to believe I didn’t have enough. I went back, grabbed another bottle, and bombs away. Shortly afterward, I was floating in some dreamlike state while water and bubbles gushed over me and onto the bathroom floor. I knew what was going on, but I didn’t know exactly why, nor did I really care. I was warm, wet, and things were great. I was gonna be a big leaguer tomorrow. “Hell yeah! I’m gonna be a fucking big leaguer!” I yelled in the bathroom as I pressed the warm, foamy bubbles into my face in an attempt to cover my head like a sheep.
About this time the phone in the bathroom rang. I don’t remember picking it up, but sure enough, I was talking and the water had stopped running. The organization’s pitching coordinator’s raspy voice grated through the receiver. I was shocked to hear him and tried to calm the wavy ocean of alcohol my brain was adrift on long enough to sound coherent.
We hadn’t talked in a long time, but he was calling to wish me luck, the most awkward luck I’ve ever been wished. It’s strange getting a call from an old coach out of nowhere, but even more so while you’re in a bubble bath, wasted, and obliviously taking a piss while it happens. I had enough sense not to say much, but I can’t be sure if I really did keep my mouth shut or just can’t remember what I said. I think we had a good conversation, actually. From what I recall, he kept repeating a lot of baseball clichés like, “It’s the same game, pitch like you are capable,” and “Do what you did to get yourself there.” He also kept telling me he was proud of me, how he really wanted me to make it after all I’d been through—how I had a good head on my shoulders. He just kept saying the same stuff over and over again, which led me to believe he’d been drinking. That pissed me off. I mean, what kind of boss calls you up buzzed to tell you how proud he is of you while you’re drunk in a bathtub? Have some self-respect, for God’s sake. Then I dropped the receiver in the water.
By the time we finished our conversation, the tub water had gotten cool and I was aware enough to know I needed to sop up what spilled on the floor. I threw some towels down, dried myself, then slid into bed. I was sleepy, but just in case the alcohol wore off before I went under, I had the pièce de résistance: Luke’s sleeping pills. I popped one and minutes later my head hit the pillow like a sledgehammer.
 
I heard it chirping at me from far away, like some annoying bird that needed to be shot. I was warm and safe and cozy in a black abyss of pills and alcohol, floating beyond the bounds of space and time. All was good in the universe except for that goddamn bird that would not shut up. It persisted, growing louder until it didn’t sound like a bird anymore. It sounded like a phone.
I woke up to the phone ringing beside my head. It was about 12:30
A.M.
I had only been in bed for an hour, if that. Who the hell was calling me? I didn’t give a shit how happy my pitching coordinator was for me, so help me God, if he was on the line I was going to tell him to shove his advice straight up his ass. It probably wasn’t him; it probably was some jackass fan who asked the hotel for my room so he could call and harass me about how bad I was gonna get my tail kicked tomorrow. It was my stupid fault, I should’ve seen that one coming, should’ve changed my name at the front desk to Harry Rosinbag or something.
I picked up the receiver with an intense fury but what came out was a groggy, illegally medicated, “Hellope.”
“Dirk, this is Darren Balsley.” The big league pitching coach.
“Oh, hey,” I rubbed my face, perking up instantly, “how are you?” I pulled myself from my cocoon of blankets and sat upright.
“I’m fine. Did you see the game tonight?”
“Yes,” I responded immediately. “Yes, I did.” An interesting first question; it made me seriously wonder if there was going to be a quiz about the game. Was he going to ask me about what pitches were thrown to whom or if I memorized the hitters’ stances and scouted them for weaknesses? I couldn’t remember my last name at this point. Is that what they do the night before—have phone conferences about hitters? Why didn’t Luke tell me that?
“What are you up to right now?”
Oh Jesus, they do. Was he on his way up to my room now? “I’m in bed, actually. I went to bed early because I knew I’d have trouble sleeping tonight. This is one of the most nerve-racking nights of my life. Tomorrow is kind of a big deal for me.” I offered a nervous chuckle at the end. I thought it sounded very committed on my part, like I took the job super-serious to get to bed early, but his tone was vacant.
“Yeah, right. About tomorrow, try and get to the park at a decent time. You only get to experience this day once, so try to slow down and really take it for all that it’s worth.” It’s hard to explain, but the way he said it made it feel like he didn’t really care much if I took it all in or not, as if he was just saying it like a legal disclaimer.
“Right, absolutely. Once-in-a-lifetime thing, gotta enjoy it. I want to be ready for this.” More nervous laughter.
There was a strained pause in the conversation, then, “See you at the park tomorrow.”
“Okay, see you there.”
“Good night.”
I lay down again and stared into the dark of the room. I could feel the pull of all the depressants in my system, but I could not fall asleep. I wanted to so badly, but I couldn’t. The more I thought about sleep, the more I couldn’t do it. I kept checking to see if I was falling asleep, which made me wake up. Then my mind began to break free of the downers, and I began surging with paranoia again, thinking about the start, the brief phone call, and how it didn’t feel right. I lay there for hours, tossing and turning, uncomfortable in the most comfortable bed I’d ever been in.
BOOK: Out of My League
5.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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