“I can’t believe you’re making us do this stuff after we gave blood. Isn’t that dangerous?” Slappy asked Stan as our fitness test group marched across the landscaping of the Padres complex to field four.
“You didn’t give enough to make a difference,” said Stan.
“When’s the last time I had to run a ball to home plate?” asked Rosco, objecting to the amount of shuttles we had to run. The relevancy of the spring training fitness test has always been a hot debate among players on the verge of running it.
“It happens. Pitchers have to cover home,” said Stan.
“Yeah, but do they stop and run back to the mound, then repeat it twelve more times?” continued Rosco.
“No, no, no. They don’t. They never do that,” Slappy persisted.
“You never know,” said Stan. You could tell he was enjoying the absoluteness of his power. This was the time of year when weight coaches reign supreme. Come the start of the season, when they can’t punish us with “fat camp” or extra running, they try to make friends again. But here, their word is law, and some enjoy it a little too much.
“Pitchers don’t do rundowns between home and the mound!” Slappy protested.
“This is the National League. You can get in one on the bases,” Stan replied.
“Well, I’m feeling pretty dizzy right now,” said Slappy. “I think they took more blood than they should have.”
“Besides, Slappy has all kinds of STDs, so he needs all the extra blood he can get,” said Maddog.
Stan smirked oh so slightly, marching onward, winding and unwinding the cord of his stopwatch around his finger as he strode.
I walked next to Dalton as the first fitness test group filed along. Dalton was one of the only guys, aside from myself, from last year’s championship squad who didn’t get invited to big league camp. However, as recompense, we were granted the “privilege” of running the spring training fitness in the first group. Since years of arguing the matter had already taught us there was no way of getting out of this test, Dalton and I turned our attention to bigger issues.
“They brought in the whole fucking island this year,” said Dalton, referring to the large amount of Dominican players who were invited to big league camp. “And they brought in everyone else on the Missions team, too. Frenchy, Ox, Macias, Hundo, Headley, Ek, Moreno, even Marique. Everyone. Well, everyone but us.”
“Reek?” I asked. “Even him? Wow.” Manrique, or Reek, as we called him since he perpetually dispensed burrito-flavored farts, was the name of one of the Mexican relievers on the team from last season. He struggled with the Missions club last season, so it was surprising to hear that he went to camp with the big club. Especially since Dalton and I looked better than him on paper.
“Germ is back, too, and Bentley. Hell, they even brought Dallas over.”
After the year he had?” I sighed heavily; that name really hit a nerve. I had the best year of my life last year and I couldn’t even get a sniff from the big league club, but Dallas, a guy who practically self-destructed in Triple A, got yet another invite to camp? What the heck?
“Reek getting invited is surprising, but Dallas ... fuck,” I grumbled.
“They like him. He’s one of their top prospects,” said Dalton.
“Oh, what does that even mean, ‘top prospect’?” I sneered. “Just some stupid
“In this organization, it means you get paid a lot of money to sign and if you don’t pan out, someone is gonna get fired.”
“For sure. Also, if you wanna be a top prospect around here, you need to get into a bar fight, have two or three kids with different women, develop a drinking problem, a pot problem, or get popped for roids.” Dalton looked at me and smiled. “So far, I’ve got the drinking thing down.”
“Good for you, dude. You’re never too old to learn a new tool in this game.”
“Fuck no, you ain’t.”
We got to the field where the fitness test was being run and started stretching out. Dalton sat down next to me and worked his hamstrings. “Well,” he said, “don’t be bitter. Dallas needs to make that team if he’s going to keep living like a top prospect off the field. He’s got like two kids with two different chicks in one year. Pretty tough pace to keep—guy can’t keep it in his pants.”
“Yeah, he’s his own worst enemy,” I said. “But still ...”
Every team has at least one guy that rubs you so hard the wrong way you can’t help but cross your fingers that he’ll fail. I’m talking about a guy who butts into your conversation and then hijacks it with stories about himself. A guy who always makes sure you know how impressive he is, yet always has an excuse for why he failed. A guy with no filter, who’s never afraid to tell you that you didn’t do it the way he would have. A guy who, despite all his shortcomings, is so goddamn good on the field he can get away with being a total ass off it. Ever since I’ve been in pro ball, Dallas Preston has been that player.
Dallas and I got drafted together and played our first year on the same team. Back then, when we were all new to the game, we didn’t have much with which to gauge each other, so our interactions broke down into bragging contests about college pedigrees, signing bonuses, and booze capacity. Dallas had high marks in all of those categories, going along with his plus arm and oversize personality. In a league like rookie ball, where everyone is fresh from a life of being the alpha male in their school programs, big bonuses and power arms barked loud. That, and Dallas wasn’t afraid to bite. He was reckless with his drinking, his mouth, and, occasionally, his fists. He once punched me in the mouth for waking him up the night before a start. I did it on purpose, I admit, but only to get even with him for waking me up by climbing onto the hotel roof and throwing beer cans at my window at five in the morning in a drunken stupor. I thought turnabout was fair play, but when I got done washing the blood out of my mouth I consented that Dallas wanted to be top dog more than I did. I thought the other players would take my side in this issue, but Dallas was the best, and in the sports world, those who perform best have a way of making the law bend to their will.
I hated Dallas, not because he hit me—though I certainly didn’t want him to hit me again. No, I hated him because of the way he lived. It wasn’t fair that a guy could have so much talent and yet live so senselessly. It frustrated me no end to watch his 96 mph heater burn hitters up, then watch him get plastered drunk and cheat on his girlfriends while the Padres cut him checks for more money than my family had made in the last six years combined. Every year, he’d get himself in deeper and deeper, and every year he’d shine on the field in a way that made it all disappear. God, what I could do with just one of his gifts! I was jealous of him, pure and simple.
“Well, whatever,” I said. “Good for him. Fan-fucking-tastic.”
“It’s just an audition. He’s not going to make the club,” said Dalton.
“I know. But wish I knew I had a chance. A real one, not this ‘as long as you have a uniform on your back’ jargon they feed us to keep us chasing long odds. One like those guys over there do.” I looked over to the big league side of camp.
“I just want the fucking meal money,” said Dalton. “It’s like a grand a week over there.”
“Yeah, that would be nice too, huh?” I said, thinking of the hundred-twenty bucks’ worth of meal money the minor league campers got for the same week of service. “I hope Ox shares his with us when he gets back.”
Ox was older than both of us and a longtime teammate. He was a hard-throwing, square-chinned, Type A male cut from the same mold as oiled-up action movie stars and professional wrestlers. Rock music, big boobs, and red meat—that was his idea of heaven. We were pulling for him to make the team, but also excited to have him back, and not just for the meal money.
“Yeah right, Ox’s probably spent it all on dumb shit like jerky or lap dances.”
“He’s probably beating Reek’s meal money out of him right now.”
“Group one, on the line for your test!” bellowed Stan, cutting into our conversation.
A collective groan came out of the group.
“Remember when Danny was the strength coach here and the test was a twenty-minute run?” Dalton asked, walking to the line beside me.
“Yeah, those were the days when we actually did stuff that translated into baseball. God, I miss that guy,” I said.
“Hey, Stan,” said Rosco, almost perfectly on cue. “When are we going to run these shuttles again?”
“You’re not, it’s just this once.”
“So why don’t we just get tested on stuff we’ll actually do during the season?”
“You use this kind of stopping and going during the season.”
“So you’re saying it is relevant to our careers?” asked Slappy.
“Then where are all the coaches at? Where is Grady, or Erp, or Towers? Don’t they want to see who can run these the fastest?” asked Rosco.
“I’m the conditioning coach, that’s why I’m here.”
“Oh, right. So you’re turning in a report on our shuttle-running abilities?” asked Slappy.
“I’m telling the organization who is in good baseball shape.”
“Based on what your stopwatch says, right?” Rosco asked.
“How many years did you play baseball again?” Rosco continued.
“I didn’t.” Stan did not look happy.
“So, let me get this straight.” Rosco was ready for his finale. “You never played baseball, we’re never going to do this drill again, the player development personnel aren’t here, and the big league GM doesn’t give a fuck.” Rosco looked at the rest of us and lifted an eyebrow before looking back to Coach Stan. “How many years did you go to school to learn how to run that stopwatch, again?”
“It went well,” I said to Bonnie on the phone that evening. “Standard first day of camp. I passed all my tests, although, I will say, pissing off your strength coach is not a good way to enter into a conditioning test. I never ran so hard in my life.”
“What did you do?”
“Oh, nothing. We just talked about the value of higher learning and one of the coaches got upset over it. You know how meatheads are when you make jokes at their expense. They can dish it out but can’t take it. Anyway, I need to talk with you about something.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Let me first preface this conversation with the fact that I love you.”
“Is this going to be a bad talk?”
“No, no, not at all. Why would you ask me that?”
“Because you told me you loved me first, which leads me to believe that you are going to say something unloving.”
“It’s not unloving. It’s just that it covers the type of thing that doesn’t lend itself to the ladies. It’s guy stuff, even though ...”
“Even though what?”
“Women are the centerpiece”—I couldn’t resist—“or, should I say, centerfold?”
“Porn? You’ve been looking at porn!”
“No. I haven’t been looking at it, per se, but I have been around it today.” I paused, then sheepishly added, “And most of my baseball career.”
“I don’t understand,” said Bonnie, like I had just told her I’d finally broken off my other relationship for the sake of our engagement.
“Remember how I told you there are things about baseball that you can’t possibly understand from sitting in the stands? Well, this is one of those things.”
“You guys look at porn together? How could I possibly understand that no matter what job you did?”
“Just let me explain.”
“You do. Oh my God.”
“No, we don’t. You’re jumping to conclusions. Well, we do, but ... Just let me explain.”
“Start explaining, then!” she demanded.
“Young guys chase girls, you can understand that concept, right?”
“I have a brother. I know what you’re capable of.”
“Baseball is a very testosterone-driven environment. Guys being guys, guy talk, guy interests, guy stuff. Except it’s ...” I searched for the words.
“It’s a lot more concentrated. You know all that evil stuff you’ve been preached to about avoiding since you were a little girl in all the Christian schools you went to?”
“We’re that. Aside from the killing.”
“Oh dear God.”
“But it’s not all of us,” I shot in quickly. “It’s just the predominant environment. It’s the culture of baseball, and as a player you can go with it or against it. I know this is hard to understand, but what I want you to get from this is that I’m not like that. I’m not perfect either, but I’m not perusing this stuff.”
“So why are you telling me you looked at it today?”
look. Porn just happened to show today, and I wanted to be open with you about what I saw ... er ... I mean, witnessed—the events around the porn, not the actual porn itself.” I exhaled. “Look, I need you to trust me. I won’t be able to play if you don’t. Do you trust me?”
There was a pause in the conversation while Bonnie collected herself. “Of course I trust you, honey. But I’m not happy about the fact you’re around that stuff.”
“I didn’t expect you to be.”
“So what happened?” Some levity came into her tone. “Were some guys looking at a porn magazine and you just walked away?” She said this hopefully, like she could capture all the chaos in a small bottle if she painted it casually enough.
“They were selling multi-DVD sets in the locker room today.”
The levity left. “Who was selling them? The Padres sell you porn?”
“No, not the Padres, the other guys on the team were.”
“What guys? That’s outrageous!” she protested.
“Yeah, it was pretty funny.” I chuckled to myself.
“It’s not funny!”
“I’m sorry, you’re right, it’s not funny.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Those guys are perverts!”
“I know. I know. But the bottom line is, I’m not a pervert, dear.”
“Do they sell porn on a regular basis?”
“No, that’s new, actually. Most of the time it’s free.”
“Oh my God.”
“Wait, just listen.”
“I am, but this just keeps getting worse! When are you going to tell me something I want to hear?”
“I said that I loved you.”
Bonnie did not reply.
“Have you ever listened to your dad tell stories about what goes on at his work?”
“Yes, and they don’t sell porno boxed sets at his work.”
“Well, they don’t do that here, either. Most of the time, that is. Today was way out there, an anomaly; you have to believe I was shocked by it too. That’s why I’m telling you. Bonnie, I’m sharing my life with you; that’s what you wanted, right? Well, these environmental factors are part of it.”
Bonnie didn’t answer to the use of her own logic against her. I walked over to the window of the hotel room and gazed out into the distance, thinking about what my future was going to be like if my wife-to-be always operated under the assumption that every day at the park was like punching my time card in the Devil’s workshop.
“I understand,” came her steady voice. “I understand. I trust you. But your teammates are perverts.”
“Yes, some are,” I said. “In fact, I get made fun of for not being even normally sexually active.”
“I value that about you, though,” Bonnie said.
“I know you do, but the world of baseball has its own value system.”
“I guess so.”
“It does, and that’s why when I tell you stuff like this, it’s really me getting you prepared for the world you are about to become a part of.”
“What does that mean?”
“Here’s the deal: What happens in baseball is supposed to stay in baseball. It’s like a creed shared by thieves. It’s twisted, and it’s wrong, but it’s not our place to judge. Even if guys are doing really bad things, like cheating on their wives, I can’t just lie to you and tell you it doesn’t happen, because it does. But what you do with that information is the important part. It’s not our place to tell the people who don’t know, like, say, the other players’ wives or families. That’s why you can’t judge them; it will make turning a blind eye so much harder. It’s like—I don’t know why this came to my mind—it’s like your client privacy laws or something.”
“My clients are individuals with special needs. Your teammates are fully functional adult perverts. There is no comparison here.”
“You really should meet Slappy before you dismiss the ‘special needs’ option.”
“It’s not the same!”
“Fine, but if I tell you something about what goes on in the locker room, you can’t tell anyone.”
“I don’t know anyone to tell.” She gave a dubious laugh, probably from the serious way I was conveying it all to her in the face of her perceived irrelevance, since she didn’t yet know anyone inside the baseball circle except me.
“We keep our mouths shut because we care about each other,” I said.
“More like because you
care about each other. Gosh, boys are stupid sometimes.”
“Hey,” I said, offended, “you’ll know people to talk with soon enough. When you come to visit me during the season, you’ll be put in the wives section, and you’ll meet the other wives. You’ll get to know them through some of the most awkward, pretentious dialogue you’ve ever experienced because they all know stuff about each other that they’re not allowed to talk about. Then you’ll start forming opinions of each other and complaining to us. I’m trying to spare you that. If you think we’re stupid, it’s only because we know how stupid girls can be.”
“Are you calling me stupid for wanting husbands to be faithful?”
“No, no. Gosh no. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t become the way other people find out.”
“What would you like to do then, since you seem to be the expert in pervert relations here?” Bonnie asked.
“I don’t want to lie to you by not telling you what happens in my life.”
“You’re not lying to me if you refrain from telling me things about other people that don’t pertain to me. You’re lying to me if you refrain from telling me things about you that pertain to me.”
“That’s what I just did. That’s what this whole conversation was, me being honest with you! Look how well it’s going!”