“It’s dead, Dirk,” she said, without even so much as a concerned look from the wheel as we drove. “You’re just going to have to deal with it.”
I dealt with her tactfully delivered news by letting my head fall into the passenger side window glass with a disparaging
. What the hell was I going to do for transportation now?
“Cars do that, honey, they just die,” she added.
“Remind me to never leave you with a puppy,” I said.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, it’s a car. There are others out there.”
“That car and I had memories!”
“I don’t know what you want me tell you.” She accelerated our currently living car onto the freeway as she spoke, heading south from the Akron-Canton Airport. “Your dad thought it was the fuel injectors or something. I think it just rusted through and croaked. Either way it would have cost more than what you paid for it to fix. Your dad sold it for scrap already.”
“You sold my car!”
“It was dead! And your grandma said she could smell leaking gas. She demanded we remove it from her house, called every day until we did. Said it was going to blow up and kill her.”
“Was it leaking gas?” I could envision my deranged grandmother crawling beneath my car punching holes in the gas tank to spite me. She doubled as my landlord during the off-season and used some Gestapo-style tactics to get me to do her bidding, threatening me with everything from eviction to prosecution. I wouldn’t put it past her to practice sabotage.
“I don’t know, that’s what she said. We didn’t check,” said my mother.
“How could you not check?” I threw my hands up at the injustice.
“It doesn’t matter! It’s gone now. Dad got $150, since the tires were still good.”
“My poor car ...” I imagined it being obediently led to a dark scrap yard someplace, getting patted on the hood one last time, then rolled into a vicious crushing machine while a fat man with a cigar laughed and counted out a wad of money with my grandma. “You let it die,” I said to my mother. “I asked you to keep it safe for me and you got it killed. You’re a car
Mom, taking her eyes from the road to look at me for the first time in our conversation, simply said, “I’m glad you’re home, sweetheart. Now shut up.”
When I got off the plane that brought me home from the 2007 Double A championship season, it was as if the whole thing never happened. There was no ticker-tape parade. No flashbulbs or requests for autographs. No screaming fans, endorsement deals, or bonus paychecks. The big leagues didn’t call and request my immediate promotion, and I wasn’t mentioned on ESPN. There was just Mom, waiting impatiently for me in her car so she could taxi me home before she was late for work.
One may wonder how the elation that comes with jumping onto a pile of screaming teammates and uncorking fountains of Champagne to celebrate ultimate victory can fade away so quickly. That’s because minor league championships are great, but they are still minor league. Once all the champagne is sprayed, the pictures are taken, and everyone’s had a chance to make out with the trophy, it doesn’t mean much. I was part of an event I could always be proud of, and Lord knows, winning feels a whole lot better than losing, but in the grand scheme of the minor league economy, my name in a record book was just that. I was still going to be living the next six months on my grandma’s floor, looking for another source of income, getting ready for a new season while wondering what being a Double A champion really meant.
Such is the lot of a career minor league baseball player, because, even at its best, minor league baseball struggles to translate into a better quality of real-world life. Sure, there are wonderful moments like winning, the thrill of competition, and the joy of watching teammates twenty beers deep get really emotional about how much they love you at a championship party. You get to put on the jersey, lace up the spikes, and listen to John Fogerty croon out “Centerfield” all summer long. But the season always ends, for better or for worse, and that’s when you find yourself face-to-face with a reality that tells you your car is pushing up daisies and your dad only got $150 for its tires.
Life seems so blissful when all you have to do is focus on the next pitch—assuming that next pitch doesn’t get hit over the fence. When you are on field, living in the moment, it’s easy to think all that matters is the here and now. Yet, when the pitching is done, the truth is revealed: league title or total defeat, the clock is always ticking, waiting for you to break into the big time or settle up the debt you made trying to get there. I had showered three times since my San Antonio Missions brethren and I celebrated our championship by soaking one another in cheap Champagne, but nothing got me clean like the cold, sobering splash of reality my mom gave me on the car ride home from the airport.
“So, do you think you’re guaranteed a place on the team for next year?”
“I don’t know, Mom.” There was no way to know that.
“You don’t think the championship made you more important to the club?”
“I don’t know.” Or that.
“Didn’t they tell you what their plans are for you?”
“No.” Or that.
“Did they tell you they couldn’t have done it without you?”
“Well, what did they tell you?”
“Good job, we’re proud of you. See you next year.”
My mom paused in her onslaught of prying questions for a moment and then declared, “Well, that sucks.”
“I thought it was all pretty cool until we started talking about it, actually.”
“Oh. My. God. You are so depressing. You’d think you’d be happier after winning a championship. ”
I caught myself before I could object to my mom’s logic. Telling her she was doing that thing she does where she inadvertently sucks the pride from a situation wasn’t going to work now since it hadn’t worked during any of the other years I tried explaining it to her, so I said, “I’m just telling you what I know, Mom.”
“This is why I read the Internet sites, you know. You never tell me anything.”
“Whatever.” I rolled my eyes.
“Fine, let’s talk about something else then.” My mom took a highway exit for the area of Canton where my grandma’s house was located. “What are you going to do for a job?”
“I just got off the plane, Mom.” And I was beginning to wonder if I could get back on it.
“I know, but you’ll need a job if you want to get a car.”
“I realize that.”
“I suppose you can borrow your grandmother’s car until you get one.”
I deflated with a long, exasperated exhale at the thought of patrolling the streets in my grandmother’s ark-like car-asaurous. It was a monster of steel and chrome that devoured economy parking like Tic Tacs and swilled down fuel like minor leaguers on cheap booze.
“Who do you have to impress? No one knows you’re back,” said my mom, noting my disgust.
“I have a date tomorrow.”
“A girl!” she squealed. Meddling in the events of my baseball life was only secondary pleasure to the joy she took from meddling in my love life. “How is that even possible?”
“Thank you for being so confident in your son.”
“I mean, how did you meet one from around here during the season? You’ve been gone all year.”
“On eHarmony,” I said.
“Oh, a technological romance.” She nodded her head as if she thought this was what all the kids were doing these days. “What’s her name?”
“Does she know you’re a baseball player?”
“Did you tell her you sleep at your grandmother’s yet?” My mom giggled.
“What do you think she’ll say when you do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is she a nice girl, I mean, not a stalker or something?”
“No, Mom, she’s not a stalker.”
“Where are you taking her out to?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Well, if you need my advice, I’m always here.” She smiled at me to let me know my questions were always welcome, though I knew I never had to ask her any to get her answers. “You can ask anything, honey, you know that. Even sex-related questions. I know you say you aren’t having it, but you can still ask me if you’re curious.”
“Okay, Mom. That’s enough.”
“I think it would really help you relax if you did. You are so high-strung. Does Bonnie know how high-strung you are?”
“That’s enough, now.” I started humming something to tune her out.
“Has she had sex, or is she a religious type like you?”
“Okay, Mom, time for another subject change. How’s Dad doing?”
My mom shut up at this. The glee of sucking details from me like some social vampire dissipated. “Don’t ask,” she said, looking back to the road.
“Why? What’s wrong? I thought things were going well at home.”
She said nothing.
Concerned, I turned to her, “Brak isn’t drinking again, is he?”
“No, your brother kept his promise,” said my mom. She looked like me trying to answer her questions.
“Then what is it?”
“We’re here,” she said, and spun the wheel.
My mom pulled the car into the driveway of my grandma’s house and parked under the canopy of trees close to the garage. The leaves were turning in the autumn weather and had littered the driveway with reds and yellows. My grandma was vainly raking them up with a metal-fingered rake that scratched across the pavement of the drive. When we exited the car, I made my way over to my grandma and offered to hug her, which she accepted. It was a nice moment—maybe I was wrong to suspect her of punching holes in my deceased car’s gas tank after all? When we finished our embrace, however, she thrust her rake at me and said, “Finish gathering up these leaves. When you’re done, those stupid neighbors’ dogs shit in my backyard again. The shovel is in the shed.” Then she walked into the house.
“Well,” said my mom. “Welcome home.”
“Thanks.” I said, holding the rake, which smelled faintly like gas.
“It’s a place to live,” said my mom with a shrug. “If you need anything, call me.”
“I need a lot of things,” I mumbled.
I unloaded my luggage, told my mom I loved her, then watched her pull out of the drive and make for work. I was home, if you could call it that, and I had a lot to figure out. I needed a job, transportation, a place to train, the name of a nice restaurant, and the courage to ask my grandmother if I could borrow her car. Yet, before all that could happen, I needed to finish raking the leaves from the driveway, then go shovel some dog shit.