Kevin sat in his chair and swiveled it around like a merry go round, pretending to address questions from the press. He had always imagined what it would be like to suit up in a major league locker room. Many a player had come back and tried to describe it, but they said you had to experience it to appreciate the feeling. Now he could experience their awe.
“When I was little and playing in Little League there was this neighbor who played on the same team as I. We made a pact that if we ever got separated when we turned 18 we would meet in front of Yankee stadium to try out with the Yankees. They were both our favorite team when we were kids. As you grow up, present company excluded, you soon learn you just don’t walk up to a team and say you want to play for them. It is a long and complicated process of getting recognized by the scouts then getting drafted by a team and finally agreeing to a contract. You don’t choose who you get to play for. The whole process of cutting rosters down to 25 or 24 is a process that weeds out the weak. If Darwin were alive today he could use baseball as an example of his theory of evolution.”
“Do you still see friend?”
“He stopped by at a ball park where I was playing a couple years ago. He was very envious of what I had accomplished, even though it was obvious by this time I was a career minor leaguer. He joked with me by saying he had waited at Yankee stadium for me, but after hours of waiting when I failed to show up he bailed. He said his baseball career had ended because of me. In actuality he quit the game when he was cut by his high school coach his freshman year. He never went back to the game. He was in his senior year in college, majoring in international business or something like that when we last came in contact. I haven’t heard from him since. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch but we haven’t. He has probably got his degree now, pursuing a career, while I scrimp and save pursuing a baseball dream that doesn’t appear to have any legs.”
There was some noise at the entrance of the locker room as the first couple players arrived. They were noisy and appeared to be full of self confidence, obviously veterans of the game who had taken the luxury of their locker room for granted. They worked their way to the back to peek their head into the catacombs to determine if any life appeared. That is where they saw Jason and Kevin suiting up. When Kevin saw their faces he recognized them, but he didn’t know them. There were only two current Orioles he played with in the minor leagues. Major league teams were filled with the faces of minor league players Kevin had called a teammate at one time in his minor league career. These two players who walked in did not fit in that category. They had an air of professionalism about them, big builds, stylish hair and expensive threads.
They noticed Jason and Kevin sitting in front of their lockers. “Hey, how’s it going,” one of the players said with surprise filtered in with some uncertainty.
The other looked closely at Jason. “Hey look. That is the Chinaman that will be pitching tonight. You must be Jason Woo.” They went over and introduced themselves.
The locker started to get more crowded as the day progressed. Sometimes Kevin wished he could stop moments in time so he could savor them more. It all seemed to be moving too fast for him now. He was relieved to see Troy Harper finally stroll in the room, a little late for a rookie, but expected for a bonus baby spoiled by his draft status. He flashed his surfer grin when he spotted them and bear hugged them both. “I heard you were going to be making your debut,” he said with enthusiasm to Jason. “It’s already getting pretty crazy out there. National television. Sold out stadium. Nothing like putting a little pressure on you, even though it is only an exhibition game. It’s a little faster game up here, but just play your game and you’ll be all right. It’s just baseball.”
Both were now dressed in their uniforms. They fit pretty snugly. Kevin walked in front of the mirror and looked at himself to make sure the uniform was worn right. He liked to wear his pant legs up to show off his stirrups. His shirt had to be tightly tucked in. No bunching in the middle. That made him look fat. He gave Jason his cell phone and asked him to take a picture. He would have to send it to Shu for the photo album.
He wondered if Shu was watching the game. He had called her twice last night to remind her of the game. That was in between his walks along the balcony to sooth his nerves. Did she find someplace where she could watch the game? She said she had. In fact, the neighborhood was very excited Kevin was playing in a major league baseball game that was nationally televised. He had to remind her it was only an exhibition game. She spoiled it by saying everyone wanted to see Jason Woo pitch. “What about me?”
“I want to see you.” Kevin was satisfied with that.
One of the neighbors was holding a big barbecue party. When Shu had told the neighbors Jason had stayed with them for a week they were all shocked, complaining she should have brought him around to introduce him to the neighborhood.
Kevin wondered if Shu had the same pterodactyls buzzing around her stomach as she watched the television screen or if she was just gossiping with the neighbors. It was much easier for Shu to talk to people when she was in a crowded room. Kevin became more like a lamp fixture, finding a corner of the room where he could park and make his best effort not to stand out too badly, burning dimly like a low wattage bulb. Maybe Jasmine was keeping her too busy to focus on the pre-game hype. Or she left Jasmine with her mother so she could watch the game without interruption. He hoped Shu had brought Jasmine with her, but then what did it matter. At her age Jasmine really has no concept of looking inside a television tube and recognizing her father was inside, especially since he would be covered up in a mask for most of the game. It was at that point he thought it sucked being a catcher. The 45-inch television tubes in every corner of the room were tuned to the game echoing all the pre-game hype but Kevin wasn’t paying too much attention to it.
“Where’s Woo?” came a voice from the front of the room.
“Woo?” another voice cried out.
“He’s in the back,” a third voice answered.
A man dressed in black appeared from around the corner locker. He was one of the umpires for the game. He was stout and portly with a bowling ball for a belly and wide hips. His chipmunk cheeks framed his face well, hiding his second chin. He had lots of gray hair to show as evidence of his years of experience, and judging from his build he had to use that experience to cut corners when covering the bases. He didn’t look like he could run far and survive to make a call. “What are they doing putting you back here? You’re the star of the game.” He looked at Jason, a little shocked by how tall he was. Jason was standing up wearing his uniform, his shoulders level to the top of the umpire’s head. “You’re a lot taller than I imagined. Why aren’t you playing basketball? I thought everyone in China played basketball?”
“I like baseball,” was Jason’s response. He didn’t like talking in English to people he did not know.
“Somebody brought you up right. Here, I need you to sign this.” He gave Jason a ball and a pen to sign the ball.
Jason looked at the ball. “What you want me to say?”
“It’s not for me. Just your signature is good. After you make your first pitch this ball is going to the Hall of Fame.”