Read Sweet Spot: Homeruns #4 Online

Authors: Sloan Johnson

Sweet Spot: Homeruns #4 (18 page)

BOOK: Sweet Spot: Homeruns #4
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I kicked myself when I heard a little boy’s voice in the background. It was Sunday and the Miners’ game was at home earlier in the day, which meant Mason and Asher were likely visiting. It wouldn’t be long before they moved to Dubuque for the summer.

“I’m sorry. It’s nothing important,” I apologized, even as a thread of jealousy started to wind its way through my chest. Sean had paid his dues years ago. He’d been the miserable player, so devoted to the game he forgot anything else existed. That’s why I called him, to figure out how to get past the feeling that baseball wasn’t worth the pain of being lonely. It’d taken him a long time, but he’d found a way to have it all. I wanted to find a way to hold out long enough I might be able to experience the same good fortune.

“Don’t give me that shit, Stone,” Sean chastised. The voices in the background faded and there was a faint hiss of wind across the line. It made me wonder what the weather was like in Iowa. It was probably still seasonably cool and the players didn’t have to worry about sweating through their shirts before the end of the first inning. God, I wished I was there. “You didn’t even want to take my number when I offered it and you sound like someone just kicked your dog.”

I didn’t think I sounded too pathetic. It was about how I felt, but I thought I was better at hiding my internal anguish.

“It’s nothing,” I said again. Most guys who were coming up through the minors would’ve given their left nut to have the personal cell number for a future Hall of Famer, and here I was wondering why in the fuck I’d actually thought it a good idea to call.

“Okay, let me lay things out for you,” Sean said. “I’m glad you called, even if you are suddenly tongue-tied and too chickenshit to get to the point. I’m not trying to rush you or anything, but Mason and Asher are here for two more hours before I have to say goodbye to them for seventeen days. So, I’d suggest you do us both a favor and get to the damn point. Does this have something to do with why Price said you’re one of the moodiest bastards on his squad right now?”

Shit. It wasn’t a good thing if my attitude was a topic of conversation between the coaches.

“Yeah, probably,” I admitted. “I just—” I stopped short, trying to figure out which was my most pressing issue at the moment. The next words out of my mouth weren’t what I’d expected at all. “Is it stupid of me to try to start a relationship right now?”

“Why would it be?” I hated when people answered questions with questions.

“Because it’s taking my focus away from the game,” I told him. My other line beeped. I checked quickly and ignored the call since it wasn’t anyone in my contacts. “You said it yourself; Price said I have the mood swings of a preteen girl lately. One minute, I’m happy to be getting the start, and before I can even get out there to warm up, I’m snapping at everyone because I’m so damn pissed that I’m stuck in Double-A.”

“Sounds like you need to figure out why you’re really upset,” Sean guided me.

“Because I’m pissed off,” I growled, immediately feeling like shit. This man was acting like a mentor to me. He’d been my idol since his rookie year in the Bigs. And I was snapping on him the way I usually only sniped at my sister. You might think that’d make me check myself, but it didn’t. I was too gone for that. “I don’t fucking belong in Pennsylvania and we both know it. There are guys in Milwaukee and Dubuque who pale in comparison to my numbers, but they got the spots because they’re protected. They’re good enough the team doesn’t want to risk someone else swiping them, and I’m expected to shut up and deal with it.”

“Nick, we talked about this,” Sean reminded me. “I know it sucks, but it’s the way it’s always been.”

“So what! That doesn’t make it right,” I argued. I was tired of hearing how this was the way it was because it was how it’d always been.

“Then, if I was you, I’d figure out what you need to do to make everyone want to shuffle you up,” Sean guided me. “I have to get back inside, but here’s a hint for you: no one likes an asshole. You’re part of a team. Act like it and you’ll get what you’re aiming for. Baseball shouldn’t be the only priority in your life, but the second you walk into the clubhouse, you have to pretend it’s everything to you.”

“Yeah, I know.” We quickly said goodbye and I stared at the display until it went dark. I had no clue what I was going to do, but Sean’s last piece of advice held the key. Now, I just had to figure out what he’d have done in my shoes.

Seventeen
(Cody)


H
ey
, it’s me. I guess you haven’t turned your phone on or you’re still at the clubhouse. Wanted to call and talk to you before I go to bed.”

I carefully set my phone down on the bed before I gave in to the urge to throw the damn thing across the room. I was doing my best to be cool with not talking to Nick as often as I’d like, but damn it was getting hard to be patient. It’d been over two months since we’d seen one another, and the phone calls and video chats were how we’d planned to get through until whenever our schedules worked out. But something was off. Nick would deny it, the way he had been for the past three weeks, but that didn’t make it any less true.

I’d driven myself crazy trying to figure out if something I’d said or done had caused this chasm between us to grow, but I kept coming up empty. The only error I could’ve possibly made was when I told him I was disappointed that our schedules hadn’t worked out so we could see one another during the Mavericks’ road stretch on the East Coast, but I’d only done so because he’d been harping on me to be open with him about how I was feeling. Well, if and when he called me back, Nick was going to get his wish.

I cursed under my breath when there was a knock at the door of my hotel room. We were in St. Louis tonight and the guys wanted me to go out to dinner with them. Again. Just like I did every other night. And just like every other night, I’d sit at the end of the table listening to them tell stories about players they’d worked with or played against over the years. I’d feel like the proverbial third wheel because I had nothing in common with most of the guys. If not for the fact Drew had made it his mission in life to make sure I wasn’t sitting in my hotel room sulking, I would’ve begged off long ago.

“Come on, Cody. I know you’re in there.” Drew pounded on the door again. If I stayed quiet, maybe he’d leave, assuming I was already down in the lobby. “If you don’t open up, I’ll call the front desk and tell them I think someone’s hurt in there. You don’t want to make a scene, do you?”

I snorted at the absurdity of his threat. If he did that, he’d be the one who looked like an ass when security opened the door and I was sitting on the bed in nothing but my underwear watching TV. I should’ve called his bluff, just to embarrass the shit out of him. But I couldn’t. I was doing my best to make a good impression on the organization so they’d give me a recommendation at the end of the season.

“I’ll meet you down there in five minutes,” I called out as I started rummaging through my suitcase for a pair of jeans.

“Okay, but if you’re not there, I’m sending Kevin up to get your sorry ass,” he warned me. Kevin was a good guy. Totally straight, more than a little socially inept, but a good guy nonetheless. He was also big enough he’d have no problem throwing me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and he’d refuse to let me down until the entire team saw my humiliation. Again. I’d been upset when it happened the first time, but Jason and Drew both told me it just meant Kevin thought of me as one of the guys.

I hadn’t told Nick about any of that. He was pissed about being stuck out in Reading, and I figured it’d be like salt in the wound to hear me talking about how much time I spent with the men he wanted to call his teammates. Off the field, I was living the life he’d worked his ass off to have.

“I said I’d be there. The longer you harp on me to hurry, the longer it’ll take me,” I yelled. As I pulled on my jeans and snatched a T-shirt out of my suitcase, I wondered if anyone had overheard us. Drew was basically like a big brother to me, but sometimes I worried there would be another asshole trying to make trouble with Mark out of the picture.

Five minutes and forty-seven seconds later, I stepped off the elevators and almost ran into Kevin. He crouched down like he was going to pick me up but I pushed him away. “Nu-uh,” I protested. “I’m down here. You’re not carrying me through the fucking lobby again.”

“Damn kid, you never let me have any fun,” Kevin complained as he tossed an arm over my shoulder. “You gonna sit and cry into your soda again tonight, or you gonna let me whoop your ass at pool?”

“In your dreams,” I scoffed, not bothering to move away from him. Like I said, he was a good guy—there was no reason to shy away from him. “But I’ll gladly school you again if you think you’re up for it. What do you say, maybe lay a little money on the line?”

I wasn’t ashamed of the fact that I’d gladly take money from anyone who dared challenge me on the pool table. Perhaps it was unfair to not tell them I’d spent the better part of a summer holed up in the basement practicing because it was better than listening to Eric and Bryce go at it when Drew was gone, but they had a hell of a lot more money to burn than I did. My internship paid, but not well. Sure as hell not enough to put gas in my car, go out with the guys whenever we were on the road, and still save up for a plane ticket to go see Nick at some point.

“Yeah, I think I can take you. I’m feeling lucky tonight.” Kevin winked before turning away from me. I cocked my head to the side as I tried to figure out what in the hell that was about. Kevin was straight. We’re talking one hundred percent, no doubt about it, straight as an arrow straight. “You’re gonna hurt yourself if you keep thinking so hard. Let’s go.”

It didn’t take long for Drew to notice how quiet I was in the cab. He leaned in close so we wouldn’t be overheard and asked if everything was okay. I shrugged, which earned me a knowing glance from Drew.

“Drop it,” I warned him. This wasn’t the time or the place to tell him I thought Kevin was hitting on me. Drew cleared his throat, which meant he wasn’t going to give up. “I’ll tell you later. Promise.”

“You’d better.” He placed a hand on my leg. “I’m worried about you. You’ve been off for the past couple weeks.”

I decided to play that angle for all it was worth. He was off the mark, but only in regards to what had me quiet right then. So, I decided to open up to him. “Nick and I haven’t talked in a few days.”

“Yeah, and…?” This didn’t seem unusual to him, which made me wonder if I was being an idiot. Nick had only had one day off each month, so maybe it was unreasonable of me to be upset.

“I just…I was stupid and figured we’d find a way to talk every day. Bad move on my part, but I’ll get over it.” I turned away and pressed my face against the window, hoping it’d cool me down. Either the air-conditioning was broken in the cab or it simply couldn’t keep up with four professional athletes, the driver, and me. The hotter I got, the more I worried I was about to be sick. I hated riding in the backseat.

“You sure you’re up for going out tonight?” Kevin asked when he noticed my discomfort. “No offense, but you look like you’re about ready to puke. If you do, don’t turn this way or you’ll get me going.”

“Gee, thanks for your concern,” I responded sarcastically. “I’ll try to make sure I don’t yack all over your expensive loafers.”

The cab pulled up in front of the hotel and we filed out. I tried to hide myself in the shadows while Drew settled up the fare, wishing I’d stayed back at the hotel. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with people tonight.

“Hey, you know I’m just giving you a hard time, right?” Kevin slid close to my side and we officially crossed into a space where a friendship turns uncomfortable and awkward. He placed his hand on my shoulder, which wouldn’t have been weird if not for his thumb gently caressing my skin. As I shifted away from him, I wondered if he’d always been like this or if it was something new. It felt an awful lot like flirting. But that couldn’t be right. No fucking way. “What’s going on, Cody? You’re being weird tonight.”

“I’m being weird?” I screeched, loudly enough to catch the attention of everyone standing in front of the bar. “What about you? You’re the one who doesn’t understand the meaning of personal space.”

Kevin flinched and then backed away from me with his hands held up in surrender. “Whoa, easy, killer. I didn’t mean to freak you out. I just…you’ve seemed off for a while now, and I thought you might be in need of a friend.”

“A friend, yes. But I’m not looking for someone to take my mind off Nick,” I accused. “I know it’s tough and I know how most of you guys feel about monogamy, but I’m not going to fuck up what I have with him just because you’re here.”

I faintly registered hysterical laughter in the distance. I stared at Kevin and noticed the look of complete shock on his face. “Wait…you think…no, no…what in the hell, Cody?” he stammered. “You think I’m being nice to you because I want to fuck you?”

“You don’t?” For whatever reason, it now pissed me off that he might
not
want to sleep with me. And then my stomach churned as I realized how badly I’d just screwed up. “Shit, I’m sorry. Don’t listen to me. I’m so sorry, Kevin.”

“No worries, kid,” he assured me. “I mean, if I was gonna swing that way for a night I could do worse than you, but no. Not happening. Never. I can’t imagine reaching down and feeling some dude’s hairy balls in my hand, plus, I have a totally hot girlfriend back home.”

“I know that,” I responded adamantly. “God, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Me neither,” Kevin teased. “Although, maybe it’s because you’re not used to guys other than Drew and the gang being nice to you without expecting something in return.”

“Maybe,” I said dismissively.

“Okay, lovebirds,” Drew mocked when he and Jason approached us. My mortification grew as I realized they’d all heard everything. I was never going to live down my ridiculous accusations. “If you’re done making out, can we go in and eat? I’m starving.”

“You’re always starving,” I teased, hoping to get the attention off my faux pas. When word of this got back to Eric and Bryce, and I had no doubt it would, I’d never live it down.

I fell in step next to Drew as we made our way to the semi-private area of the bar where the team had a table. “Seriously, what’s going on? Did you actually think Kevin was hitting on you? Because I have to tell you, he’s about the last person on the team I’d ever suspect of even thinking about being with a guy.”

“I know,” I grumbled. “I already told you, it’s been hard not getting to see Nick. I wonder if we were stupid to think we could make it work.”

“Do you really feel that way, or are you so frustrated you’re talking out of your ass?” Drew knew how much it’d hurt the last time Nick and I split up. He knew me well enough to know I’d have given anything to have another chance with him. Now, I had it, and I was suddenly talking about what a mistake it was.

“Probably mostly the latter,” I responded. “What do you think?”

Drew pulled me to the side before we reached the rest of the guys. We slid into an empty booth in the back room and Drew flagged down the waitress to bring us a round of drinks. That probably wasn’t the best idea, because if I had too many, I was likely going to call Nick and tell him everything that’d been plaguing my mind even if I vented to his voice mail.

“I’ve been trying to stay out of what’s going on between the two of you,” Drew began. And he had minded his own business. But now, I needed the big-brother style advice he freely offered on any other topic. “I think you and Nick are in a tough spot. It’s always harder for players to maintain relationships when they’re in the minors. He has so much pressure on him to perform it’s bound to take away from the time he can focus on you.”

“I know that,” I argued. Because I did. Logically, at least. But logic didn’t make life any easier.

“Right, but I think both of you likely underestimated just how hard it was going to be,” Drew continued. “Think about how hard it’s been for Eric, Bryce, and me. And we have the benefits of not only being older and wiser, but two of us know what it’s like to be on the road most of the year. Even with all of that, we’ve had our struggles.”

“You have?” I wracked my brain, trying to figure out when that might’ve been. This whole time, I’d been beating myself up because they make it seem so easy.

“Of course,” Drew confirmed. “I’m out here when I’d much rather be at home with them. And there are nights when all I can think about is how much more time they get on their own than I get with either of them. For a long time, I freaked out pretty regularly, thinking they’d realize they were better off without me. Luckily, they knew me well enough to figure out what was in my head and set me straight every time. It’s not always easy, but we find ways to make it work.”

“Okay, so what are you trying to tell me?” The waitress dropped off our drinks and I chugged half of mine while I waited for the next bit of sage advice.

“It’d be a shame for you to give up,” Drew said bluntly. “I had my doubts at first, but you guys are good together. And you’re good for each other. A lot of guys never find what the two of you have, so I think you should talk to him. Find out where his head is at and think about how to get through until he’s called up or the season ends. It also helps to set small goals.”

“Such as…” I coaxed him.

“For starters, I’d be willing to bet part of your problem is you’re thinking you’re not going to see him until the end of the season. Sean’s a man of his word and has said multiple times he’s trying to get Nick at least to Dubuque as soon as possible. So focus on that. Then, instead of thinking about September, focus on July. It won’t be much, but the two of you could sneak away for a few days during the All-Star break. Maybe head up north and rent a cabin. Find something closer to look forward to and it’ll make the distance not seem as impassable.”

That made a lot of sense. And Drew was right, I had been focused on the end of the season. And that’d depressed me even more because the end of the season meant the end of my internship. The end of my internship meant I was going to have to find a job, and there was no guarantee I’d stay in the area. Instead of finding solutions, I’d gotten wrapped up in finding obstacles.

“Thanks, Drew.”

“Anytime.” He stood and motioned for me to follow him to where the rest of the team was already deep in whatever debate they were having tonight.

“You know, I think I’m going to get a cab back to the hotel,” I told him. Not only was I not looking forward to sitting next to Kevin right now, but I had a phone call to make. Nick needed to know my frustration wasn’t going to push me away from him. We’d get through this, but we had to figure out what each of us expected from the other.

BOOK: Sweet Spot: Homeruns #4
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