Saturday Morning Zen

I’m standing outside in the backyard early on another Saturday morning.  The sky is a soft blue not yet brightened by the harsher hues of the midday sun.  It is up though, shimmering behind the branches of the eucalyptus trees on the nearby hillside.  A light wind blows through the trees, causing the branches of the redwoods to dance up and down, side to side.  It is a gentle and slow dance accompanied by the whispered sounds of wind touches the tree’s needles.  I notice the scent of the lawn wet from an early morning sprinkle, and holding a familiar coffee cup in my hand I take a sip and get lost in thought and memory.

Memories of Saturday mornings spent on ball fields, beaches, parks, highways, jobs, homes and backyards.  I do the math and determine that today is the 2,986th Saturday morning in my lifetime.  Just as baseball has its milestone moments, we all have our own. The typical list of birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, holidays and all the other greeting card days.  Maybe I should go shopping for a 3000 Saturdays card?

In a ball game the path has clarity – 1, 2, 3, home; but like the eight year old kid playing right field I’m lost in thoughts and sensations and pay no attention to the ball flying towards me. As it lands in front of me, the Zen moment is gone and the reality of a list of things to do today returns.  I hope the moment comes back another Saturday morning.

 

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The Last Dance – It Was a Shuffle and Laughs

The long and often harsh Winter in the middle of the country, in Iowa specifically, was coming to an end again.  That year, like many years before that one, was particularly cold, snowy, and at times bleak of warmth or sunshine.  When the winter started to fade in late March, and there were a few good days in a row, it again came time to play baseball.  This is a story, mostly true, but with a little literary embellishment.  A story about a season that started on a cold day in late March with a first practice and ended in early July in the hot sun of summer.  It is a story about a group of boys playing their last season of little league baseball, and for them and for many of their parents it was the last dance of their youth baseball years.  It was for most of them, the last season they would put on a baseball uniform and play the game they had been playing since they were very young.  Many of them, but not all of them, had played together for eight or more years. They were not always on the same team, but even when they played against each other, they were still friends. They were then, and in many ways today are connected by the game, and the times they enjoyed together. The last season, the last dance, was just three years ago. Though today, looking back at it in memory, it seems much longer than three years. Since that season, this group of boys have become men, and they have moved on from their high school years to go into jobs, or colleges, or will graduate from high school this year. Sadly, we lost one of the team in a car accident.  The word sadness doesn’t come close to describing the depth of that loss.  However, in the memory of that season, which more than one of the ballplayers has told me was the “best season ever”, he is with us forever.

This story is based on my personal memories of that special season.  However, I encourage the team, or their parents, to add their own memories and stories.  You can do this by adding comments here, or by sending them to me at kbroby2444@gmail.com and I will include them by editing and adding onto the story.  I’ve also pulled copies of many of the photos here from the facebook pages of the players.  If any of you want me to remove any of these photos, or if you have ones you want included, please let me know. Although I’m writing this story, it doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to you, and you get to decide what get’s included.  If I make any mistakes, then you can correct me.

The lineup in alphabetical order – Adam, Brandon, Connor, Dalton, Joe, Kip, Luke, Matt, Mike, and Thomas.  They were also known for that season as K No De, Double B, Con Man, Bubba, Jose, Kipster, Fishbones, Flash, Robes, and T Train.

Adam in an earlier season

 

Brandon in tux and ball cap

Brandon in tux and ball cap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Con Man going headlong into second base at Urbandale

Con Man going headlong into second base at Urbandale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dalton - self portrait

Dalton – self portrait

My good friend, Jim Riesterer, and me got together in January 2011 and agreed that we wanted to coach our sons in their last season of little league baseball.  Jim and I had coached the previous season together and enjoyed doing it.  We shared a common philosophy – let the boys play and have fun.  This final season was my eighth and last as a coach, and Jim had coached both baseball and his daughter’s softball teams for at least that many.  Looking back now, Jim and I were not so much coaches as we were zookeepers.  Our main goal game to game was to let the animals run loose, but not totally out of control.  The first decision was what team name to pick.  The year before we were the Cubs, because that was Jose’s choice, but this year it was Robes turn to choose, and being well raised in tradition by his dad, he went with the Giants.

The Coaches

The Coaches

It was cold and wintry day that early Spring for our first game, and there were not many chances to have a practice before the season started. Some of the boys wanted to practice, but an even larger group shared Jose’s opinion.  “We don’t need no stinking practice, let’s play”, He said more than once.  The first game day came soon enough, and that Saturday, they “warmed up” for a few minutes and then stood together on the big field at Doanes Park in Pleasant Hill (PH), Iowa.  The boys spent more time in the dugout with a box of donuts I brought from the store, than they did warming up.  I’m sure we played the other PH team that day, but don’t remember the scores or who won.  I don’t remember any scores from the season, or the team’s actual won/loss record, but I know we usually won games, and when we lost one we still had fun.

Most of the individual games are now distant and vague memories.  I do have a recollection of a double header we played in Dallas Center, where after winning the first game, the boys seemed to get bored and fell behind by about ten runs.  And then all of sudden, something happened, and as it was often with them, it became contagious. Hitter after hitter came up and knocked the ball all over the place, at least four hit balls to the fence and we scored enough runs to have the winning runs on base.  Someone, it may have been Mike; hit a rocket that found its way right into a glove, and the game was over. The reaction on the bench was nearly unanimous, everyone said, “Let’s eat.”

Joe now

Joe now

Not seriously?

Not seriously?

There were several things about that season that stand out in my memory.  First, there was constant laughter.  Yes, the boys played ball hard and played to win, but they had fun doing it, and were almost always laughing together and teasing each other.  There were often loud, on occasion obnoxious and irreverent, but they understood this was their last season and they were going to enjoy it.  Mostly, as coaches, Jim and I tried to stay out of their way, and we laughed a lot too.  They would sometimes randomly change positions; they would often ignore our signs when running or batting and do whatever came into their minds.  They asked more often to get out of the game for a seat on the bench than begging to get into the game.  They didn’t trash talk the other team, but trash talked each other almost all the time, and learned to take it as well as they gave it.

Matt - at age ten with Mike and Adam from an earlier team

Matt – at age ten with Mike and Adam from an earlier team

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connor pitching

The Righty

dalton pitching

The Lefty

It wasn’t like they didn’t know how to play the game well, because they did. There were many games and many plays where we as coaches sat on the bench and wondered how did they just go from goofing off to making that double play?  They would flip balls out of their gloves, make diving catches, and unbelievable digs, tags, and stretches for outs.   I remember a day versus SE Polk where Mike hit at least three balls off the outfield fences but none of them got out, and other days when Matt and Connor hit balls well over the fences.  Those two not only got hits more often than not, but ran the bases with abandon. One time, an opposing player had the ball in his glove, all ready to tag Matt out, and then stood there unbelieving as Matt jumped about three feet in the air over the glove and landed on his feet safe at third.  The pitching that season was deep, varied, and very effective:  Matt throwing very few pitches and getting almost nothing but outs, Dalton and Connor not giving up an earned run all year, Adam was throwing rockets, and Thomas had his wicked curve ball.

Mike at a ball park

Mike at a ball park

 

 

There was one Saturday, one doubleheader, that defined that season.  We were in Urbandale on a beautiful Saturday in May, their ball park always looked good, and the PH boys mostly had a long history of going there for games that turned into heart breaking losses.  There were no losses that day, the boys hit everything and everybody Urbandale threw at them. They made all the plays, made all the pitches, and won both games easily.  And after many years of going there and going home beaten, they left there that day with smiles and victories.  They did it with class, but they also did it with lots of fun and laughter.  And most importantly, they did it with dancing in the infield.  Yes, they danced on a baseball field, doing a little shuffle step, heal-toe, heal-toe, keep moving up and down a line.

Kip in California

Kip in California

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas in locker room

Thomas in locker room

I’ve watched many baseball games in the last fifty years, but I’ve never enjoyed one as much as I enjoyed that day in May three years ago. There are thousands of youth baseball teams getting ready to play this season all over the country, but personally I doubt there is any team anywhere that is ready to have as much fun and joy playing as the 2011 PH Giants did for their last dance. The boys are all grown now, moving along their individual paths and finding their own way to wherever they are going.  My hope for them is that every one of them gets many more opportunities to again experience the happiness and joy they shared with each other when they played, laughed, joked, teased each other, and even danced during one season of baseball.

Where are they now? Mike is a freshman at Drake University and working spring and summer as a baseball umpire.  Joe is working in Des Moines and doing some modeling work as well.  Luke will graduate from East High in May, and he just qualified for a national bowling tournament in New York.  Brandon is living and working in Mississippi.  Matt is working in the Des Moines area.  Adam is working as a carpet tech/installer in the Des Moines area and is married with a child.  Connor is working in the Des Moines area and studying at DMACC.  Thomas is working in the Des Moines area.  Dalton is working in the Des Moines area.

More Photos – The credit for the very good game day photos from that Saturday in Urbandale goes to Cindy Bayer.  I had a few of Mike in my computer, but the rest came from photos shown on the boy’s own Facebook pages and taken by Cindy.

connor

Connor catching

An unforgettable Saturday

An unforgettable Saturday

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The infield shuffle dance

thats gone

That’s gone

ph giants16

Race to the bag

ph giants15

Making connections

ph giants13

Old men can’t dance?

mattpearson

Does he look tired? He should, he just ran around the outfield and then all around the bases at Matt speed

matt at bat

More connections

jose at second

The attitude coach

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John’s Story #46 – A New Game

John and Jenny sit at the kitchen table after dinner talking about the road trip.  She cuts them each a slice of homemade berry pie, a large slice for John and a small one for herself.  There is a pot of coffee done in the machine and she pours a cup for him, while making herself a cup of herbal tea, and then sits down again.  “So, tell me of all the places you went, which one did you like best?” She says.  He answers her with a question of his own, “Where did the pie come from?  It’s very good.”  He assumes Jenny didn’t make it because she doesn’t do any baking, leaving that to their moms, who are constantly dropping things off to them.  “My mom and dad came by the other day, did you forget my question?” She teases him.  “No, but where did the new hanging swing on the front porch come from? He asks her.  “I told you, my mom and dad came by the other day, and Dad put up the swing that they found at a yard sale last weekend.  Do you like it?  And when are you going to answer my question?”  She is till teasing him and now starting to giggle.  He replies, “Yes I like it, it’s perfect for the porch.  Care to grab a blanket and try it out with me?  You said you have some news to share with me and I’m being very patient, but still curious.  Since when did you start drinking herbal tea instead of coffee?  Is the switch your news?”  She answers as she gets up from the table to get a warm blanket from the bedroom, “I read somewhere that caffeine is bad for you.”  He laughs at that and follows her out of the kitchen and onto the porch, and says “It’s never bothered me and I’ve been drinking coffee since I was seven years old.”

They settle comfortably onto the swing, with Jenny’s legs tucked under John’s for added warmth.  It is cooler tonight and they are both wearing sweaters and drape the blanket across them.  Jenny snuggles in closer and John wraps an arm around her and says softly, “Now honey, tell me your news.  I know you and you are never at a loss for words, or hesitate to share news.  This one must really be something to get you acting this way.” She says, “What way is that?”  He searches for an appropriate description before answering, “I’d say you’re about ready to burst.”  She giggles again, “That may be a true statement in about nine months.”  John turns her face towards his and says, “Really?  You mean you…I mean us…we are going to have a baby?  When?”  She nods yes in reply, and then he kisses her, again and again.  When they stop kissing she tells him, “I have an appointment next week with an OB Gyn doctor, she’ll be able to give us an estimated due date, but if my guess is right and you do the math, I’d say the baby will be due about the All Star Game break.”

They rock back and forth on the swing in silence for a few minutes and John has a thought that he shares with her, “This is one of those moments that we will never forget.”  She replies, “I know, I wanted to tell you on the phone so many times in the last week, but wanted more to wait until we were together.”  John then asks, “Does anyone else know?” Jenny says, “Of course not, I wouldn’t tell our families or friends before you.  Although I have a feeling Ellen knows, she has some kind of “farm sense” about life.  She has stopped by to check up on me almost everyday while you were gone, but she never said why.”  John nods in agreement, “I know what you mean, I felt them same thing about Mac, that he always knew more than he said.  When are we going to give everyone the news?” Jenny says, “Sunday, you know how our parents and friends are going to react, and I don’t want us to overshadow tomorrow’s wedding party for Riley and Gwen.”

John holds Jenny close, and says, “It’s cool out here, do you want to go inside?  She says, “No, no yet, this feels so good that I just want to stay here for a while longer, but another cup of tea would be nice.”  John gets up, tucks the blanket around her and says, “I’ll be right back with it.”  He makes her tea and pours himself another coffee, and then returns to her and the swing.  After they finish their cups, Jenny tells him, “I was a little worried this would be too much for you, happening during your rookie season, and with a new club in a new city.  That with all you’re going to be handling, the news of a baby would be overwhelming, but you don’t seemed phased at all by it, why not?”  John smiles at his wife, his love, and replies, “Honey, compared to the thought of becoming a dad for the first time, playing a game of baseball is going to be easy.  I guess I’m not really worried about either one because I’m with you.”  He kisses her again, and then she says, “You never disappoint me, Mi Numero Uno, let’s go to bed.”

John wakes up before the dawn sun comes over the Eastern skyline and gets ready for a run along the dark streets of town.  He manages to ease himself away from his wife in bed without waking her, and although she moves a bit and reaches for him in her sleep, she stays asleep and he lets her be, she is now sleeping for two.  He puts on running clothes, and turns on the coffee pot for later, and before he goes out the front door, he stands in the doorway to their room.  He stands there for a few moments and sees his Jenny sleeping, and then he smiles to himself and has a moment of complete contentment.

There are very few moments in any life that are a moment where you know that every other moment before now has led you to this place in time, and you feel and know utter and complete contentment and happiness.  The house is quiet, with Riley and Gwen asleep in the other bedroom.  The coffee pot is starting to work and the scent of a fresh pot fills the kitchen with it’s aroma.  John walks out the door onto the front porch, and he pauses there to stretch a bit before starting his run.  There is no sound at all on this November morning in his small town.  The street lights are still on and cast dim spaces of light across the dark streets.  He starts down the stairs but hears the front door open behind him.  He turns and sees Riley coming out onto the porch.  “You’re up early buddy, you feeling okay?”  His friend rubs his eyes, and then replies, “I’m doing fine, just smelled the coffee.  You go ahead and run around town, I’m going to sit, drink coffee, and watch the sun come up.”  John says, “Okay, I’m going to the truck stop this morning to say hello to my Mom and Pops, want to come along?”  Riley nods a yes, and goes for coffee as John heads out for his run.

An hour later, the two of them are in the truck heading east along the highway, and as they pass by Ellen’s farmhouse John looks to Riley, “Are you and your wife going to move into the farmhouse while Ellen goes with Esteban?”  Riley just nods yes, and then says, “We are, I’m not sure how she is going to handle a Kansas Winter, but we’ve talked about it, and yes we can be happy there together until Spring Training time.”  John keeps his eyes on the road, but replies, “Us too, where are you two planning on going next?”  His friend just looks out the window for a few minutes and then says, “I don’t know about you kid, but we are going to Arizona, I heard the Angels signed a hotshot rookie and I’d like to see if he turns into anything special.  I’ve been thinking about watching him play, and come the tail end of Kansas cold ass winter I’m thinking Gwen would like to see some warm sunshine again.”

John turns the old truck into the lot of the truck stop, and then he notices that snowflakes are just now starting to fall.  This is an early season snow, and the flakes look large and full of water – wet snow now.  He didn’t pay attention to the weather report at all, and he turns to Riley and asks, “Are we going to have to hook up the plow today?’  His buddy looks at him and laughs before responding, “Yes, the weather turned while you were running and I was drinking your coffee.  Let’s go say hi to your Pops and get busy, I’m guessing we’ll see a couple of inches in the next hour.” John nods an okay, and the two of them have the plow blade hooked on the truck in ten minutes, and only then go into the store.

Pops is working the counter, and when he looks up for the next customer he sees his only child, now a grown man standing next to one of his oldest friends.  He smiles his best one, and then walks around the counter to give them both a welcome home and glad to see you kind of greeting.  He says, “It’s good to see you both home, how was the road?  Let’s have a cup and let me hear the stories that weren’t already on the TV?”  He then looks to Riley, and with a shake of his hand says congratulations.  Riley pulls Sven in closer, and pats him on the back, and replies, “Thanks, it’s good to be home.”  The three of them sit down for a while and tell John’s dad about the road trip in between customers, and then Pops tells him to go onto the house and see his Mom.  First, he walks around the truck stop and looks at the minor improvements completed by the contractor – there is a noticeable difference to the old place, and he thinks it looks good.  He stands in the middle of the back lot, and Riley bumps up alongside him and says, “Good looking stop kid, you did good.”

John leads the way through the front door of their old house, pauses for a moment to smell the fresh pies just out of the oven.  His Mom is getting some things ready for tonight’s party at the farm house, and she comes out of the kitchen with her baking apron on and smiles at him and Riley.  His Mom’s smile when he first walks through the front door no matter how many days he has been away from home makes him feel like the look he knows she gave him the day he was born.  He doesn’t remember the look, but knows it when he sees it.  He hugs her and then she gives Riley a big hug and says, “I never thought I would ever see you married, but I am so happy for you and can’t wait to meet Gwen, our Jenny tells me she is a sweetheart and that’s good enough for me.”  Riley actually shows a blush on his cheeks under his beard, and tells Deb, “Thanks, yes she is a sweet woman, and thanks for this party tonight.”

John leaves them talking and goes into his old bedroom looking for something special. Deb and Riley sit down on the sofa, and she asks him, “How are you feeling?”  He gives her a smile in reply and says, “I’m doing alright.  I get tired some days, and for a few minutes feel depressed about not having much time left.  Still, I’m determined to make the best of it, and to make it through Winter until Spring.  The road trip is a great memory, and having Gwen with me makes a lot of difference.”  Deb nods in understand and then says, “Have you thought about having another discussion with the doctor about possible treatments?  I know you, and never seen you give up on anything.”  Riley says, “Yes, I have.  Gwen wants me to make another appointment to see what’s possible.”  John comes back into the living room with an old ball glove in his hands.  His Mom looks up and smiles when she sees him holding it.  “Honey, that’s your first glove, isn’t it?  Are you going to take that memento home with you?”  He replies, “Yes, I’m thinking this is a reminder of how far I’ve come, and another motivation to go further.”  She smiles at her son, and says “I’m sure you will find other uses for it someday.”  John looks at his Mom, and thinks to himself as he and Riley leave the house and head for the shed to hit some balls, she knows about the baby.  He and Jenny have told no one but their moms and Ellen all seem to know already?

Journal Entry – A cold Sunday night in November – South Haven Kansas

Jenny has gone to bed and I’m sitting at the small desk in the living room of our rental house.  It has been an eventful weekend and this is the first chance I’ve had to reflect on where we all, meaning my wife and my extended family, are heading next.  Last night, the Magruder farmhouse was full of family and friends to celebrate Riley and Gwen’s wedding. My old friend pulled me aside at one point and said, “Thanks for everything, I guess I didn’t realize I had this many friends.  I’m going to go ahead and try whatever treatment plan the docs suggest.  I’ve spent my whole life just getting to the next stop, and then getting back on the road.  I guess I’m not ready to quit yet.”  

Today, Jenny and I started the day with a late breakfast with the newlyweds at our house. Jenny drove into Wichita last week, and went to a custom T shirt shop.  She had shirts made special for everyone, and gift wrapped for when we visited them today to share the news that she is pregnant.  We started with Riley and Gwen because they live with us for now, and when we sat down at the table, she handed them their packages.  They opened them, and the front of the shirts had a logo with crossed baseball bats with a ball in the middle.  My wife is bold, and always believes the best of me, so she added a line of script under the logo.  It says “Our Little All Star”.  On the back, it said Uncle Riley and Aunt Gwen.  Riley smiled when he saw that, and Gwen teared up and gave us both hugs.  Next, Jenny and I stopped by her parent’s house with two more shirts – one for Grandpa Ted and another for Grandma Mary.  Ted beamed with pride, and Mary joked that she was too young to be a grandmother, but she was tearful too.  She pulled me aside, and then told me that she knew from my first date with her daughter that she would one day see the two of us become new parents, and she couldn’t be any happier.  Jenny left “Uncle” shirts with her Mom for her brothers, they are off working the winter months at oil field jobs in Texas, but her Mom promised to call them today and mail them their shirts.

Our next stop was at the truck stop, where we found my Pops and Mom at the house on a Sunday afternoon.  My dad has a new counter man working for him now that gives him a break from the normal long hours, so he takes more time off away from the store.  Pops had a fire going in the fireplace and the house where I grew up felt warm and comforting. I haven’t said anything to Jenny, but I have been having thoughts about being a father myself at just 21, and during my rookie season.  I guess I should admit to myself and to her that I’m more than a little nervous how I’m going to handle all of this.  Jenny gave my parents their package, and they looked at us with a question in their eyes.  My dad opened his up first and it said “Grandpa Pops” on the back.  Now my Pops has lived a hard life, done hard work day after day, and never paused or complained.  He is by nature not an emotional man, but today he smiled and laughed out loud.  My Mom opened her package too, and hugged Jenny, and then looked at me and said, “This explains you taking the glove home yesterday.  What if our baby is a girl?”  I told my Mom, “Then maybe she will play softball?”

We left my parent’s house and drove to see Esteban and Ellen.  Esteban was sitting on the front porch smoking one of his thin cigars, and Jenny handed me his wrapped up shirt, and then said, “You should give this to him outside while I go inside and talk with Ellen.  I think you need some coach talk time.”  My wife knows me so well, knows what I’m thinking when I don’t say it out loud. She gave Coach a kiss on the cheek and then went into the house.  I sat down in the chair next to Esteban on the porch, and then handed him the wrapped shirt.  He looked at it, and said, “What’s this Mijo?  It’s not my birthday?”  He opened it up, looked at the logo on the front and then turned it over.  It said just Abuelo, meaning grandfather.  He looked at me, took a small drink of tequila, and said, “What does this mean?”  We both heard Ellen’s laughter from inside the house, and then she came out the front door with her own shirt that said Abuela (grandmother), and gave Esteban a kiss.  She hugged me, as Jenny followed in her wake and also hugged Esteban.  He said, “It is a fine day, another ballplayer is on the way, Que No?”

Esteban poured me a shot of his tequila, and lit another cigar.  He raised his glass and said a toast to our blessings.  He looked at me, and then said after Jenny and Ellen had gone back in the house, “What are you thinking?”  I told him about wondering if I was ready for everything – becoming a dad, my rookie year, taking care of all of my family.  He looked away, looked off to the south for a few minutes before responding.  He said, “Mi Toro, I know your heart and it is strong.  You can play our game of beisbol well because you live life well.  You listen and learn, you work hard, and take care of your family and your teammates.  You speak little, but say what matters.  You can do anything that you choose to do.  Have no doubts Mijo, trust yourself and be yourself in everything you do. You are going are going to be a great Padre to this baby, and have many more.  Salud.”  

I sit here tonight feeling very good about everything in my life.  The next few months until Spring Training will be full and busy.  I wouldn’t want it to be any other way, but tonight I’m thankful for a moment to be quiet and still, and reflect on the past, and look forward to the future.  I know I love the game, love playing it and want to do it well.  However, if the game was taken away from me tomorrow, I would still be happy because I have a family and friends, and my wonderful wife.

John puts away the journal notebook, turns off the desk light, and goes into his bedroom where Jenny is sleeping.  She fell asleep with the bedside table lamp on, and next to it is his first baseball glove.  He stands next to the bed, looking at the glove, and at his sleeping wife that he loves, and has a thought before getting into bed with her.  Someday, just like his Pops did with him, he will play a game of catch with his son or daughter; it will be just a game of catch, but so much more than that in meaning.

***

Author’s Note – Although the story has come to an end, I expect that sometime in the future I will pick it up again and continue it in a sequel.  In the meantime, I have a few short story ideas to add to the Bedtime for Ballplayers collection, and still thinking about extending the stories of Jack and Diane, and Jim and Carmen too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crossroads

When I started this blog site, I was at a crossroad in life.  That is a moment in time where you decide to go one way or another.  You can go straight ahead, which means just keep going the way you have been going and if it is not working for you then just keep hoping for the best.  Now, as much as I believe in the power and possibility of hopes, that is really not a reasonable plan for living the life you want or choose.

Robert Frost (one of my favorite poets) wrote about taking the road less traveled.  I know, that his poem has always stayed with me when those days came up that I made the choice to turn off the interstate highway and take the back roads.  Sometimes, those turn offs were actual and I have traveled more back roads than most people, but sometimes they were purely a mental turnoff, where in my own mind I decided to do something completely unique and go my own way.

I’m writing about this idea today, just less than an hour before going to work until late this night in a small town grocery store, because somehow today a new crossroad came into my front view.  I feel lucky though, because there have been many times when it came into my rear view mirror and I missed the turn.  I have a very clear vision of the road ahead, and the confidence to go the next mile.  I also know that there will be unexpected turns that will surprise me and when they come I will slow down for them.

If you are a regular visitor to this site, and want to know what happens next with John’s Story, or want to know more about Jim and Carmen, or about Jack and Diane, or want to read more stories for the Bedtime for Ballplayers – well then, all I can say is this:  I’m still working on it, and soon I will figure it out.  Writing original fiction, if it is any good at all, is a difficult task.  I try my best to make every single story I post worthy of your time it takes to read it, and I truly hope when you do you will come back and try it again.

Maybe, just maybe, the one thing I am learning about by doing this writing everyday, is that there really no end to any story, there is for all of us another chapter, another tale to be told, and another day to be lived.  All of us come to many, many crossroads in our lives, and we make a choice to take a turn one way or another.  My only observation is this, if you turn the wrong way, don’t be afraid or hesitant or unwilling to admit a mistake, and then turn around and go back.  Sometimes where you are meant to be is right behind you.

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John’s Story #45 – Road Trip – Wedding and the Road Home

John and his friends met in the lobby of the hotel/casino at nine in the evening at the bar just off the lobby. The three men sit there and have another beer together to toast the upcoming nuptials, as Gwen goes off with a few twenties to try out the slot machines. They’re all dressed in clean jeans and clean shirts, and Gwen is in jeans, a nice white blouse, and her cowgirl boots.

The four of them walk down the street towards the wedding chapel after Gwen lost her money in the slot machines.  Riley takes her hand in his, and she looks up at him with a smile in her eyes.   John holds the door open for her and she stops and gives him a hug and a kiss on the check.  “I can’t thank you enough for this trip, and for finding the way to make it happen for Riley and me.  I’ve been trying to put a rope on that wild stallion for years, you and Jenny are my outriders I’ve been looking for.”  John hugs her back, and speaks, “It’s our pleasure, and we are both so happy for the both of you.”

The ceremony takes less than half an hour, when the chapel reverend pronounces the couple husband and wife, John takes pictures before they return to the casino.  They’re seated at a table in the hotel’s nicest steakhouse restaurant.  The wedding meal is John’s treat, and he tells his friends to order anything they want.  Riley asks the waitress for a pitcher of margaritas, a champagne cocktail for Gwen and a beer for John.  The server comes back soon with the drinks and appetizers.  Esteban raises a glass and offers a toast. “Here’s to our friends today, may you always love each other as you do today, may you find happiness on the good days and peaceful contentment on the hard days.  May you two never say manana, except at the end of the day when you are in each other’s arms and looking forward to another day together.   Salud and Buenas Suertes”

They enjoy a wonderful early dinner and each other’s company, and then after the table is cleared they finish their drinks in comfortable silence, and John orders a cup of coffee.  Riley is the first to speak, “Well, where do we go next?”  No one answers at first, and then John says, “If you’re all ready for it, let’s go home.  Let’s stay up late tonight and celebrate, and get a late start home in the morning.  Riles, how long do you figure it will take to get back to South Haven?”  Riley answers, “What’s today, Wednesday?  If we drive straight through, taking turns at the wheel, I think we be home Friday afternoon.  That does sound good.”  They all nod in agreement, and then John hands each one of his friends a hundred dollar bill for gambling and tells them he will find them after he talks to Jenny.  He has more in his pocket for after they lose this money.

John manages to find a quiet spot and calls Jenny, who answers quickly.  “Hello dear” She says, “How was the wedding and dinner?  I saw the pictures, they look so happy together.”  He laughs and replies, “They are happy, holding hands through dinner and smiling all the time.  We’re going to start for home tomorrow, and be there Friday afternoon.”  She says, “That’s good news and perfect timing.  Our moms and Ellen want to have a party for them Saturday night at the farmhouse, and wanted to know if you all would be home by then.  I’ll them and let them know the plan for Saturday is a go.  I miss you and can’t wait until you’re home with me.”  She listens to her husband tell her he misses her too, and she wants to tell him her news today but will wait until he is home for that talk.  John sits for a while and thinks of Jenny.  He has a sense that she is not telling him something, but decides that he will know what it is when they are together.  He goes looking for his friends and finds them all together at the slot machines.  Gwen has just won a thousand dollar jackpot, and Esteban announces he has been lucky at the blackjack table.  John shares the news about the party plans, and Esteban wishes them a good night, explaining that he is going to give Ellen a call.  As the ball coach walks away to the elevators, Riley raises an eyebrow and says to John, “What do you think?  Is there another wedding in our future?”  John nods yes and replies, “Jenny says yes, and I trust her instincts.”

Back in South Haven, there is an early winter storm approaching.  Jenny sits at the desk in the front room and looks out the window watching the dark clouds approach.  She is working on her journal project, reading some entries done nearly three years ago when they were in John’s senior year.  The entries bring back warm memories, and when she comes across one written that spring, her eyes tear up and she sets the notebook open on the desk.  She goes into the kitchen to make a hot drink, not coffee but instead an herbal tea with lemon.  Her first prenatal appointment is next week, but she’s been doing some research and has already given up any caffeine.  She has been wondering how John will take the news about them expecting a baby during his rookie season, with a new team, and them living in a nice place, but after reading this journal entry, she knows he will be just fine with it.

Journal entry – April 21

Tonight is prom night and after dinner with a group of friends at Jenny’s house, we will be going to our last high school dance.  Graduation day for me is just a month away now, and then if Esteban is right I’ll be drafted by a major league club and assigned to a small town minors team.  I will be leaving South Haven and my parent’s house for the first time in my life, and I’ll be separated from Jenny all summer.  We’ve talked about it, and she tells me that I need to do this.  Do it for me and my dream of being a ball player, and for her and our future.  I’ve had some college scholarship offers, and could go that route and choose one close to home, but Esteban tells me I’m ready to learn in the minors and play the pro game.  My Mom and Pops want me to go to college, but are letting me decide.  I’m going wait and see and compare the offers if I do get drafted.

Tonight, I’m going to enjoy this evening with Jenny.  The dance is semi-formal, and she has a new dress for it.  Me however, when I tried on my suit I found out that I have out grown it since the last time it came out of the closet.  My Mom wanted me to get a new one, but I convinced her that a new shirt and tie would be good enough.  Tonight, I’m going to hold Jenny close when we dance together and think about our future.  We haven’t talked about it much, because I think maybe we both assume that we will be together always – even if occasionally separated.  In a couple of years, when the time is right I want to marry her, and then someday have children together and make a family.  I don’t know when the time will be right, but I trust her and she will somehow know and give me signals. 

After the dance.

We had a great time tonight at both the dinner and the dance.  It was everything I hoped it would be, and years from now I think that Jenny and I will remember tonight.  Some night when we are married and in a house of our own, we will play the same music and dance together on the front porch or in the kitchen.   I’ll go to sleep happy tonight and wake up at the usual five in the morning.  I’m going to hit balls tomorrow, there are just three regular season ball games left before the district playoffs start.  We have a good team, and if we play well we can win the district title.  I hope so.

Tonight after the dance, Jenny and I sat in the truck in front of house.  She moved over close to me and put her head on my shoulder.  She said, “There’s something on your mind, care to share it with me?”  She reads me so well.  I told her, “I am thinking about what you say when we talk about me choosing to leave you and home to play minor league ball, and thinking about our future.  We’ve never really talked about it.  I know what I’m thinking but want to know if you think the same.”  She snuggled in even closer and laughed like she always does when I’ve done something she thinks is silly, but then she said, “John Erickson, for such a smart guy you can be clueless at times.  When I think of our future, I see us together forever, together even when your baseball career takes you away from me.  I see us happy, married for a very long time, and at home with our children.  Now what are you thinking?”  I just replied, “The same as you”, and then we kissed goodnight.

Jenny puts away the journal into the box with the rest of them, and then gets on the phone to let everyone know that Riley and Gwen’s party is on for Saturday night.  It is starting to snow outside, and the afternoon has passed into evening.  She goes into the kitchen for another cup of tea and makes a light supper for herself.  She returns to the desk and works on the journal project until time for bed.  As she falls to sleep, she says out loud to herself, “John Erickson, next time you take a road trip, I’m going to be there with you.”

The next morning John and his friends have a late breakfast and start driving east before noon.  The early winter weather along Interstate 80 is mild and they make good time.  They are a quiet group as they drive across the mountains and desert valleys of Northern Nevada, and along the Great Salt Lake of Utah.  Riley and Gwen stayed up late on their wedding night and are asleep in the back seat, so John and Esteban take turns at the wheel for the first leg of the trip home.  Mostly, they talk about the upcoming baseball season.  Esteban will be leaving soon on his first scouting trip, watching winter ball games in Arizona and Mexico, looking for prospects. John has three months until reporting for Spring Training and will keep up with his off season conditioning program.  They stop in Salt Lake City for a quick dinner and return to the highway with a change of drivers.

Riley steers the Ford through the mountains of Utah and Wyoming in the darkness of the evening.  He and Gwen talk quietly so as not to wake up the sleepers in the back seat. Riley mostly tells her of road adventures he has had in these mountains, and Gwen shares stories about her years in the Arizona desert country.  “Riley,” She says, “Where are we going to live now that we’re married?”  He waits a few moments before replying, “I guess I haven’t thought that through yet.  We can stay with John and Jenny for a while until we decide where we want to go next.  Let’s see what you think of a Midwest winter.  You know me; I’ll go anywhere, especially with you.”  She smiles at him, “Yes you will.”

They drive through the night with Gwen taking her turn until they reach the outskirts of Denver just an hour before dawn.  Riley points the way to a truck stop he knows that serves a good breakfast and all of them go into the coffee shop after refueling the Fairlane. After they order food and coffee, John asks Riley, “How are we doing?”  Riley looks up from his plate and smiles, “We running right on time.  It’s a straight shot east on 70 to the Turnpike south and home.  We should pull in to South Haven around 3 this afternoon.” John thinks about calling Jenny, but it is too early.  He’ll talk to her later when they make another pit stop.

Riley was right about the coffee shop, it was a good breakfast, and now he and Gwen go to sleep after being awake all night.  John is driving and Esteban says. “Mijo, I have something to talk to you about.  Ellen and myself have been talking about my scouting trip. She wants to go with me on it.”  John looks briefly away from the road and towards his coach, and says, “Esteban, it sounds like you and are Ellen are becoming more than housemates?”  He replies, “Si Mijo, es verdad, we are a couple now.  We are going to ask Riley and Gwen if they want to move into the farmhouse and take care of the place until Spring Training, maybe longer if they like it.”  John nods, “I’m happy for you and Ellen, all of our lives are changing, and for the better.”

John calls Jenny from a stop just after Noon and a few miles from the turnoff for Interstate 35.  She answers, “Hi honey, where are you?”  He says, “Only about three hours from you. It has been an easy and smooth trip.  I have some interesting news to share with you when I get home.”  She wonders what his news is about, and then replies, “That’s funny, I have some news to share with you.  We can sit on the porch and talk when you get home. I can hardly wait to see you.  Drive safely and be home soon.”  Jenny and John disconnect the call, and she sits at the desk, thinking how she is going to tell her husband that he is going to be a dad.  Ellen was over for a visit earlier and told Jenny about her plans to travel with Esteban, and their offer to discuss with Riley.  She is planning on being at Jenny and John’s house when the group gets into town, and then having Riley and Gwen over for dinner at the farmhouse.  She invited Jenny and John, but Jenny declined by saying tonight she just wants to be alone with her husband.

Two hours later, Jenny is sitting on the porch watching the road leading to their house from the highway.  She sits quietly with her thoughts for what seems like hours but is actually just thirty minutes, and then she spots the distinctive red car approaching.  She leaps into John’s arms as he gets out of the car, and they share a long kiss, while their friends watch with smiles.  She then gives each one a hug and congratulates the newlyweds.  Ellen drives up and greets everyone, and meets Gwen.  Ellen moves close to Esteban for a hug and a kiss.  John watches his wife for her reaction, but she has just an easy and knowing smile. They then all go into the house where she has both hot coffee and cold beer waiting for them.  John pulls his wife aside, and says, “Did you already know about Ellen and Esteban?”  Jenny laughs, “Of course, was that your news?”  He says, “Yes, what’s yours?”  She leads them back to the others, and says, “I’ll tell you later.”

 

 

 

 

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John’s Story #44 – Road Trip – Big Sur and the City

The road trip group loads into the Fairlane and pulls out of the hotel parking lot just after nine.  The coast is still shrouded with fog but there is a hint of the sun burning through it as they take the turn off for Highway 1 and head north towards Big Sur.  Gwen is looking very tired this morning and quickly falls asleep in the back seat.  Riley is looking unusually happy, wearing a very big grin on his face that John sees in the rear view mirror. The road here is mostly straight until they pass through San Simeon, and then it turns to twisting often alongside the coastal cliffs.  When driving the curves wakes Gwen up, she looks out the window towards the ocean to the left, and says, “I’ve never been here before, it’s beautiful.  Riley? Have you?” He smiles at her and takes her hand, “No, never for me either, there is no way to pull a full size trailer on this highway.”  Gwen says as she moves over closer to him in the seat, “John, when we come up on a town, could we stop for some coffee?”  John looks over at Esteban in the other front seat before replying, and when he says, “Sure we can, first chance we get.”  Esteban says to John, “Si Mijo, some coffee would be welcomed.”

It is thirty miles of twisting highway and almost an hour before they come to a town, not really a town, just a few houses, a motel, and a store.  They all get out of the car and feel the warmth of the morning sun now that the fog is gone.  The store sits just off the highway but on a cliff side high above the ocean below.  They stand there and take in the incredible beauty of the view.  The cliff runs down for hundreds of feet to a small rocky shoreline that is pounded by the surf action of the ocean.  The western horizon is still covered with the morning fog and can’t be seen yet, but it looks to be endless even still. John takes pictures for Jenny, and Esteban stands next to him as Riley and Gwen go into the store.  He says, “Should I get you a coffee Mijo while you talk to Jenny?”  John nods first, and then says, I’ll be inside in a moment, it’s good to stretch our legs for a while, que no Coach?”

John sends the pictures to Jenny via text messaging from his phone, and before he can call her she calls him.  “Good morning my ballplayer, I see the pictures and they are beautiful, where are you?”  He replies, “I’m not sure if the place has a name, just a stop alongside the road.  Standing here is like feeling I’m on the edge of the dry land world, so very different from home.  I’ve never seen anything like this and we still have miles to go before we reach Monterey.”  She waits a moment before saying, “Enjoy the road, I miss you, but you come home when you are ready, and when you come home you are all mine for a while.”

John leaves the cliff side and goes into the store.  His friends are sitting at a table with some snacks and cups of coffee, and there is cup waiting for him.  John feels a bit of hunger and goes looking for something, he sees some donuts at the counter and moves that way to get a few.  The owner of the store is in the familiar place behind the counter and next to the cash register.  There is a television on behind him and John hears the national sports show playing in the background.  It is November so most of their coverage is about football news, but as he looks up at the screen and sees his own face looking back at him.  The announcer is talking but John doesn’t hear him, his friends are watching him but he doesn’t see them, and then the store owner looks at him, and then again at the TV, and he says, “That’s you, and you are here in my store.  I’m an Angels fan, and I was hoping it wasn’t just a rumor.  I saw your game in Kansas City last year.  Welcome to California.  Can I get your autograph on a ball?”  He then reaches under the counter and pulls out a well-worn and used ball, and he hands it and a pen over to John.  John signs the ball for him, and then takes the receipt for the donuts and writes down his cell phone number and hands it back to the store owner, “Thank you that is kind of you.  Call me up here when you want to go to a game, I’ll try to get you a couple of seats.”

They head north again and arrive in Big Sur in the afternoon.  Big Sur is where the coastal mountains reach down into the ocean, and on clear days the water can be the most incredible colors.  John suggests they wait for a couple of hours or so for a late lunch, and no one disagrees with him.  He has something different in mind.  The stop often to take pictures along the road, make the switch back turns and go across the bridges that seem to span from cliff to cliff.

Photo credit - tripadvisor.com

Photo credit – tripadvisor.com

The fog bank stays offshore and the top of the car is down.  John keeps his eyes on the twisting road, as Esteban, Riley and Gwen watch the views pass by at an easy 30 mph. They turn away from the ocean as they enter Carmel and the highway is surrounded with tall pines and eucalyptus trees.  An hour goes by around the edges of the Monterey Bay and soon they reach the turn off for Santa Cruz.  They find a parking spot near the pier and walk along it until they find a seafood restaurant for lunch.  It wasn’t hard to find since there were many along the pier.  They sit in a window booth with a view of the coastline and the old boardwalk amusement park.  Riley orders a pitcher of margaritas, but John has just water.  He takes pictures of his friends, the coastline, and the boardwalk and sends them to Jenny.  His phone rings and he takes a look at it, expecting it to be her calling him.  It’s not her, it’s his agent Harry.  “Where are you kid?  The Angels want to do a press conference with you, make a big deal about them landing the best new prospect in years. Can you be in LA tomorrow?”  John excuses himself from the table and goes out onto the pier, “No Harry, I can’t be there.  We are going to be in San Francisco tonight, and then we are going to jump on Interstate 80 and go back to Kansas.”

Harry calls out to his assistant and John can hear him talking, he’s arranging hotel rooms for them in San Francisco and talking about getting someone from local TV there to have John in studio for the morning news.  “Okay kid, this is what we do, you all are booked at the downtown Marriott, and you are the featured guest on channel 7 tomorrow at 7:30 – they are going to love this – Kansas boy makes good and moves to California.  Work with me kid, the Angels PR guy is going to be salivating about getting fans from the north with you being the hook.  You and I are going to make you into the new California baseball hero. Okay?  You’ll be there right?”  John waits a moment as he watches the surf move in and splash against the pilings of the pier, and he hears the sound of the roller coaster on the boardwalk and the joy of the riders as they go down the big drop.  “Okay, Harry. Thanks for setting up the hotel, text me where to be for the TV spot, but go slow with the PR stuff.  I’m just a ball player, just a rookie with only a few games, and the day after tomorrow I’m going home to South Haven and my wife until Spring Training.”  He disconnects the call and goes back into the restaurant to be with his friends.

They head north again on the Coast Highway, and when they get into the City, they turn towards downtown to find the hotel.  Just off to their left is the Golden Gate Bridge, and the fog is staying offshore and they can see it rising above them.  Everyone in the car except John has been napping for the last hour, but they all awake now and see the symbol of California that everyone that doesn’t already live there knows so well.  They gaze at the orange painted bridge placed just so between the city and Marin headlands.  John takes an exit and turns the car away from downtown and towards the bridge.  Esteban says, “What do you have in mind Mijo?”  John glances at him with a big smile on his face, “I am thinking we can take a walk, stretch our legs.”  He finds his way to the parking lot near the bridge, and leads his friends to the walkway across it.  They walk for a while, dodging bicycles, skaters, and other tourist as the November sun sets in the western sky.  He takes pictures of the bridge, his friends, and the city from there, and sends them along to Jenny.  When they go back to the car, he stops in the gift shop and gets her a T shirt, while thinking that the first time he plays a game here, his wife will be with him.

photo credit - businessinsider.com

photo credit – businessinsider.com

Everyone is up early after a good night’s sleep in the downtown hotel.  His friends are in the restaurant having breakfast, and John sits in the lobby with a cup of coffee and his notebook.  The plan for the day is to do the interview, and then some sight seeing in The City before heading east on Interstate 80 and stopping tonight in Reno.  Riley and Gwen both said this morning that they wanted to stop there, but shared no reason why.

Journal entry – November 8

We’re in San Francisco this morning and all of us are in a good mood.  Esteban is enjoying the trip and pleased with the prospect of the scouting job, while Riley and Gwen have found each other again and are rekindling an old flame.  I have a suspicion about why they want to stop in Reno tonight, but I say nothing and just wait and see. I’m doing a morning show interview today with a local television show, and the station in Los Angeles is going to show it live too.  Harry is doing his PR thing, and although I guess I have to go along with it, I’m not wild about the idea.  I know the club is trying to create off season interest and sell tickets, I’m just not that comfortable with the business off the field.  My friends are here now and it is time to walk down the street to the TV studio.  I’m sure Jenny will find a way to see the interview on the Internet and call me soon.  

They walk down the street to the station and take in the hustle and bustle of the city streets as workers flow out of the BART train station and head to their offices and jobs for the day. John takes it all in, sees the many blank stares on their faces, and is thankful that he is lucky enough to play baseball for a living.  The thought itself puts him in a good mood, and he is ready for the interview.  It is a small price to pay for a twenty one year old man to be living his dream.  He’s dressed in just a white shirt, and a pair of khaki pants, they were waiting for him when he checked into the hotel last night.  Harry and his assistant know how to take care of details.  The morning show producer meets them in the lobby and ushers his friends into a room where they can watch the show, while taking him into the studio.  He declines the offer of TV makeup, and the young lady says, “I don’t think you need any, you have the California tanned beach boy look already.”  He says, “Thank you ma’am, I’ll share that with my Kansas wife and she will laugh at me.”  She laughs back, and then takes him into the studio and introduces him to the news anchorwoman for his interview.  The red light on the camera comes on and they start talking.

“Welcome back, we have John Erickson, the newest California Angel with us this morning. John, welcome to California and to San Francisco.  I understand you were vacationing here when the Angels traded for you?”  He replies, “Yes Maria, I’m on a road trip with some friends and happened to be in Southern California when I got the trade news.”  She nods, and then says, “Are you excited about the change, moving from small town Kansas to LA is a big change for you and your wife.”  He responds in a quiet and confident voice, “Yes, we’re excited.  The Angels are a very good opportunity for me and I’m thankful for having a chance to play for them.  California is a beautiful state and my wife Jenny and I are happy to get this chance to live here.”  Maria asks another question, “Is Jenny with you on your road trip?”   He answers, “No, she is at home in South Haven.  I send her pictures everyday, and we talk.  I’ll be back there with her soon.  This has been a trip with a couple of dear and old friends to drive highways and create memories.”  She starts to wrap up the quick interview and replies, “You appear to be a ball player with a poetic streak, you will do well in California.  Please come back and visit us again when you are in the Bay Area.”  They shake hands and then she promos the next segment with a local chef and goes to commercial.  John stands and the producer unhooks his microphone.  He thanks Maria and goes looking for his friends.  As he walks away, she says to her producer, “What do you think of him?”  The response is, “If he plays ball as good as he looks and speaks, he is going to be a star.”

John and his friends spend the rest of the day driving around The City, take a ride on a cable car, walk around the waterfront and by the Giant’s home field, and then they have lunch in Chinatown before checking out of the hotel.  Riley takes the wheel, with Gwen in the front seat next to him, and the Ford crosses the Bay Bridge and heads east towards home and Jenny.  The temp is cooler today and they have the top up for the drive as they pass through the Central Valley and head into to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The farm lands of the valley are behind them now as they steadily climb into the mountains and cross over Donner Pass.  There are tall pine trees on each side of the road, and here and there patches of snow left over from an early season storm.  Riley keeps the Ford at the speed limit and soon they top the pass and start heading down the mountain into Reno and the Nevada state line.  Interstate 80 is very familiar to Riley, and as John and Esteban sit quietly with their own thoughts in the back seat, he tells Gwen stories of other trips along this road.  They soon pull into Reno and Sparks, and Riley drives up on the Nugget Casino and Hotel.  He parks at the valet station, and they all get out with their luggage and check in for rooms for the night.  Riley gives Gwen a few twenties and sends her off to the slot machines, and he guides his friends to the bar for a beer.

Riley waits until the bartender puts a cold bottle in front of them, and then looks at his friends and says, “Gwen and me are going to get married tonight, right down the street at a little chapel.  I’d like it a lot if you two will be there as our witnesses, and stand beside us.” Esteban raises his bottle, pats the old bear on his back, and says, “Salud amigo, and I wish you both a long and happy life together.”  John smiles, and then tells Riley, “Of course we will be with you, what time and should we get cleaned up some?”  Riley downs his beer and orders another round, “Thanks, and hell no.  This is a blue jean wedding.” John finished his beer, and goes up to his room for a shower and a call to Jenny.  She doesn’t answer so he leaves her a message, “I love you.  Did you see the interview?  And oh by the way, Riley and Gwen are getting married tonight.  I’ll take pictures and talk to you later.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Done for the Day

It is time to kick off the shoes, time to say it is the end of a good day off from work, and time to think about the present and the past, and really time to think about the future too.  I write to say something that resonates with readers, and I write to tell the stories, and I write to to touch hearts with you and want you to think about what I say to you.  I see a lot of living, see a lot of people, and try to share with every reader what I see.  I sit in front of the keyboard in every free moment and try my best to say what needs to be said today.  I have many stories to tell, more chapters about John and Jenny, more about Jack and Diane, more about Jim and Carmen, and more about my baseball boys growing up and learning about life.   I hope you find us, find what you like, and keep coming back for more.

Come back please, let me know if I should keep doing this.  Leave a comment, register as a user because you like reading these stories.  Pass this site onto your friends, help a starving writer find a home where the words matter and make a difference.

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John’s Story #43 – Road Trip – The Coast Highway

Everyone was out of bed and in the car before 7 am, but the Santa Ana Freeway was not free of traffic.  They crept along below 30 mph for awhile, and then Riley said take the next exit and lets have some coffee and breakfast.  He says, “The highway won’t be without traffic for awhile and will still  be slow going, but it will get better, and we need to have breakfast here.”  They take the Lakewood Blvd exit and find Arthur’s.  It is just a little shop with a few booths and counter stools.  Riley says, “Order the biscuits and gravy with bacon, get an egg or two if you want.”  Their coffee cups stay full, the food is hot and they sit and talk for almost an hour as the traffic goes by on the freeway.

When the meal was over, they head north and the turn west towards the beach again and found interstate 10 to Santa Monica,  It is now warm enough for the top to go down and the four of them head for the ocean again.  Gwen speaks up from the back seat for the first time with a suggestion.  “Hey guys, how about we take a side trip to Venice Beach?  Do you want to see our Riley on roller blades?”  Johns says, “Sure, we can stop.” They get off the interstate and follow Gwen’s directions to the beach.  Riley and Gwen find a skate rental shop and join the crowd skating down the bike path, as John and Esteban find a seat on a low wall and watch them go by.  John snaps a few pictures of them, the beach, the crowd, and the ocean, and then sends them to Jenny.  A few minutes later his phone rings and he sees it is Jenny.

 

Photo credit - whitehippousa.wordpress.com

Photo credit – whitehippousa.wordpress.com

“Good morning dear, how’s another day in paradise you beach bum?”  She says. And then John replies, “It couldn’t be better unless you were with me.  We’re at Venice Beach, Gwen wanted to take Riley rollerblading here.  We’re going to drive up the Coast Highway to at least San Luis Obispo today, and then into San Francisco tomorrow.  How are you this morning?”  Jenny smiles as she replies, “I’m a little tired because I stayed up half the night reading your journals.  There is some really good stuff in them, I’m enjoying this project more each day, tell the boys and Gwen I said hello.  Send me pictures along the road today, and each time you do I will call you.”  John laughs with his wife and says, “I will, I’ll talk to again soon, why don’t you get some rest now?”  She says, “I will, I’m going to take a nap, and then go to my parent’s house for the afternoon and dinner.  I love you John.” He just says, “Me too Jenny”, and then disconnects the phone and looks towards the ocean.  Esteban sits quietly next to him, but in a moment says, “You Mi Toro are a lucky man, I know because I was lucky too. It is good to have such a wife, que no?” John just nods yes to agree with Esteban, and then continues to enjoy the sunshine, and the ocean.

Two hours later, they pass through Santa Barbara and agree to keep heading north along Highway 101.  San Luis Obispo is just a couple more hours up the road, and when they take a rest stop and refill the Ford, they all agree to stop there for the night to explore the town.  There is fog coming inland off the ocean and the air becomes cooler and damp. They have the top up now, some music playing on the radio, and all of them are taking in the scenery along this stretch of a California highway.  There are signs along the road calling it the El Camino Real, and more signs pointing out historical sites like the original missions built by the Spanish when they ruled this area.  Esteban gives them all a history lesson as they pass Santa Maria and get closer to their destination.  “This was called the King’s highway, and the Franciscan order of monks worked with the local natives to build missions.  Each mission was about a long day’s ride apart on horseback. The monks converted the locals to the their faith, and worked with them to develop crops. Everything can grow here, back then just as it does today.”  Riley was almost napping, but wakes up and says, “You’re right coach, this area keeps a lot of truck drivers busy hauling produce east to the rest of the country.”

They are getting close to their stop now, but it’s Riley’s turn to suggest another side trip. He says, “John, take the next exit for Pismo Beach.  This is one of the few places on the coast where you can drive a car on the sand.”  John follows his directions and in just minutes they are taking the Ford down a ramp into hard pack sand and driving in it along the ocean.  He stops and parks, and all of them get out of the car and look at the gentle surf barely making waves, as people with shovels dig for clams. Riley and Gwen walk off together down the beach about fifty yards with their bare feet in the water, and John watches them as they stop and talk.  He senses something is happening, and senses Esteban knows it too.  Riley drops to one knee, getting the legs of his jeans wet in the surf, and takes Gwen’s hand.  She is looking at him, but John cannot hear what they are saying, but he gets the meaning of this.  His old friend, the vagabond trucker, has just asked Gwen to marry him.  Esteban is watching also, and as Riley stands up and Gwen kisses him, he says, “I’ll be damn, she said yes, what do you think of that Mijo?”  John has his camera out and gets the picture before replying, “Good for him, and her, que no?  What about you old friend, could you get married again?”  Esteban rubs a hand across his chin, and with a certain kind of glint in his eyes says, “I don’t know Mi Toro, anything is possible, yes?”

Gwen and Riley walk down the beach back towards them, and when they get close, John sees the smiles on their faces.  He and Esteban congratulate them, and Gwen says, “I’ve been waiting years for this big bear to say that to me, lucky me.”  And then Esteban gives her a hug, and whispers in her ear, “No Mija, lucky him.”  Esteban shakes Riley’s hand, and then guides him a few feet away down the beach, and Gwen knows that he is giving her a chance to talk to John.  She says, “Thank you and your Jenny, and I have a favor to ask.  Have you thought about where we stay tonight?  I know it is kind of expensive, but there is a hotel here that is kind of special, and I would consider it a very kind gift if we can stay at it tonight.  It’s the Madonna Inn, and Riley and I spent a night there more than a few years ago.  I don’t want to take advantage of your generosity, you’ve already been so kind to us, it’s okay to say no.”  John holds her hand and replies, “The answer is of course we can, I’m very glad you are with Riley, and besides if I said no, well then my wife would kick my butt.”

They pull off the highway and into the hotel parking lot.  It, from the outside, is certainly not the usual chain motel or hotel.  When they walk into the lobby and go to the reception desk, John asks the woman for something special for a room for his friend and his new fiance.  She brings out a catalog, and after few minutes of looking through it, they pick out the Yosemite Rock Room.  John then gets two standard single rooms for him and Esteban.  Gwen gives him a kiss on the cheek and says, “Tell Jenny I said hello and thank you, and that just like her I’m going to marry a great guy.”  She then takes her key, takes Riley by the hand towards the stairs, and John and Esteban stand and watch them walk away.  Esteban breaks the silence of their individual thoughts, “Toro, I’m a bit hungry and more than a bit tired.  How about we get an early dinner, and then I will go to sleep and you can call our Jenny and tell her about today?”  John nods yes, and they head for the hotel restaurant, a meal, and then find their own rooms.  They will not see Riley and Gwen until 10 o’clock the next morning.

photo credit - tripadvisor.com

photo credit – tripadvisor.com

 

photo credit - madonnainn.com

photo credit – madonnainn.com

John sets down his travel bag, and then decides to take a long hot shower before calling Jenny.  He sent her pictures from Pismo Beach and of the hotel, and knows she is just waiting for him to call with a recap of what happened today.  This road trip is going in its own direction day by day, and he likes the surprises.  There seemed to be so many years in his life where the routines of the day took control and guided him through each day, but not now.  Now, it is the surprises – most good and some bad – that have become the new normal.  Maybe just because it is the off season, when Spring Training starts again, and the season starts again, well then the routines of practice, and game days, and travel, will again take over.  He lets the hot water wash over him and relaxes in the bed with the cell phone in his hand.

Jenny picks up the call after the first ring, “About time, I’ve been waiting on you.  Are you going to tell me what happened or what?”  He teases her, knowing her and how impatient she can be, “Nothing happened, we just drove north, stopped on the beach for a drive there, Riley got engaged to Gwen, we checked them into an incredible room for the night, and then Esteban and me had dinner.”  She doesn’t respond, but he can hear her laughing at him, or is it with him.  “John Erickson, you dog, there will be payback for keeping me waiting.  Now tell me, really Riley? Riley engaged?”  He says, “Yes dear, our old bear of a friend is going to marry Gwen.”  She thinks a moment before telling him what is on her mind, “Honey, when will you all be home?  I don’t want to rush you, but I miss you so much.”  He answers quickly, “We will be in San Francisco tomorrow, spend one day there seeing the city, and then maybe another day north of there, and then we will head for home, if we trade off on driving we may make it in two days, so honey I’ll be home in five or six days, is that okay?”  Jenny is sitting on the front porch, looking to the west, and says, “Yes, that’s good.  I guess there will be many road trips in our future my Angel, anything is good as long as you come home to me.”

 

 

 

 

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John’s Story #42 – Road Trip – Trade and Change

John is awake before dawn this morning, and he takes a quick shower and dresses quietly so as not to wake up Esteban.  He is feeling some apprehension of the unknown about today’s meeting in Anaheim with the Angel’s team management, but also feeling a lot of satisfaction about the day he and his friends had yesterday.  He walks around outside for a while as the sun comes up over the nearby mountains to the east of the coast and thinks about the end of the day before, and thinks about what may happen today.

They left the beer and wings place in Newport in the late afternoon and took a leisurely drive south down the coast to Laguna Beach.  When they got there, no one was hungry for dinner and the sun was still a few hours from setting over the ocean, so they all left their shoes in the car and walked together for miles on the beach.  They turned and headed back towards their starting point and as the sun turned to gold on the horizon, and the spray of the breakers shined in its light. they found a nice seafood place with an ocean view and dined on fish, rice, vegetables, and a bottle of white wine while the sky turned from dark blue to black.  When they returned to the hotel, Riley and Gwen said good night and went into their room. Esteban told John, “Mijo, I’m going to take a hot bath and then fall asleep.  Gracias for a great day.”  John went back to the chair by the pool where he started the day and pulls out his phone.

She answered the call after the first ring and says “Hello dear, I was hoping you would call tonight.  Was your day special?  How are you feeling about tomorrow?” John looked up to the sky before answering, noticing that here in the city the stars are dimmed by all the city lights.  “Yes honey, it was a very good day.  How did the pictures turn out?”  She says, “They are wonderful, I’m working with them now using a photo software program to save them into an album.  I have a new idea for a project I want to do.”  He asked, “What’s your project?”  She laughs and responds, “I want to take photos you and I take, along with our journal entries, and collect them together into a personal history document, like a keepsake, something we can look at in the future, maybe share it with our children.  Will you share all your journals with me to go through and add to mine?”  He said right away, “Yes, that’s a great idea.  I’m going to let you get back to your project, and I’m going to bed. Tomorrow should be interesting, and Harry will handle the details to get us a good contract.  Good night my love.”

John went to bed and laid there thinking about Jenny talking about their children. They haven’t talked much about having kids.  They are both young, and right now their life together seems so new.  They have been together for a long time, but are just now getting the chance to live together like a regular couple, and then there are the changes that would come with a move to Southern California if this trade deal happens tomorrow.  He went to sleep content in his mind, knowing that just like it did for his Mom and Pops, his life with Jenny will unfold in its own time.

He is back sitting in the poolside chair with a second cup of coffee when his phone rings. He answers without looking at the caller display, assuming it is Jenny and says “Hello honey.”  He hears his Mom’s laugh as she says in reply, “Good morning son, aren’t you sweet to be calling me honey.  How is the road trip with the boys going for you?”  He smiles to himself and says, “Good morning Mom, it’s going very well.  How are you and Pops?”  She says, “Just fine, we heard on the news last night that there is a rumor about our son moving away from Kansas, is it true?” John is unsure of what his parent’s reaction will be to the trade but replies, “Yes, I have a meeting in a few hours with the Angel’s management and my agent.  I’m not sure what will happen but I’ll call later today when I know for sure.”  His Mom responds simply, “Okay dear, I’m going to go visit Jenny today.  She called this morning to ask Ellen and me to lunch.  She said she is working on a project she wants to share with us.  Good luck with your meeting son, talk to you soon.”

John goes up to the room to change into the best clothes he packed for this trip, just a pair of khakis and a polo shirt.  He knows Harry and likely Bruce Davies the Angel’s GM will be dressed in suits but it doesn’t matter.  Harry will have been working on the deal details all day yesterday and today’s meeting is just a formality. His contract with the Royals doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so if they trade him then he goes wherever he goes.  He has breakfast with his friends and they drive the few miles in morning traffic to the stadium.  He didn’t play in Anaheim last season and this is his first view of their home, “The Big A”.

The Big A  - photo credit to MLB.com

The Big A – photo credit to MLB.com

They park the Ford Fairlane in the parking lot reserved for club employees and office visitors, and are met there by Harry and Bruce Davies, and his assistant, Peter.  Harry introduces John to Bruce, and then John introduces his friends to everyone else before Bruce gets right to business.  He says, “John, Peter is going to give your friends the VIP tour of the stadium while we have a talk in my office. We’ll join them after our meeting and I get a chance to show you around our home, and then we’ll have lunch together in the Diamond Club.  Sound good?”  John just replies, “Yes sir, we appreciate your hospitality.”

Before they separate, Esteban pulls John aside for a quiet conversation.  He says “Mijo, do you trust Harry to act in your best interest?  If you do, then let him handle the details, but don’t be shy about asking for what you want too.  They want you more than they will say, comprende?”  John smiles at his coach, “Si, comprendo mi entrenador (Yes, I understand my coach)”.  John follows Bruce and Harry into the stadium and they go to the GM’s office. It is on the club suite level with a view of the ball field and John stands at the window for a few moments taking in his first site of the what may be his new home field.  Bruce and Harry talk for a few minutes and let him take in the sight of it, and then Bruce comes up next to him.  “What do you think of our field?  I love the way you ball players are always drawn to the field first, I bet you have a memory of every ball field you have ever played on before. am I right?  John looks towards him and replies, “Yes sir, I do, every one of them.” Bruce motions towards a seating area in his office and says, “John, call me Bruce, sir makes me feel too old.  Let’s sit down and talk about making you the newest Angel in Los Angeles.”

The three of them talk for an hour.  Harry handles all the contract details, the annual salary, the incentive bonus clauses, the length of the contract, etc. etc, etc. Each time there is agreement after negotiations back and forth, he then looks to John for his approval and acceptance of the terms.  John says little, until Bruce asks him after all the standard details have been done, “John, is there anything we can do to make you more successful here?”  John waits just a moment before replying, “I hesitate to suggest this, but I did see that you were making some changes in your coaching staff.  I just want to make a recommendation to you; it is not a requirement or a request.  I’ll work hard with anyone, but I do think that Dick O’Brien with the Royals is the best hitting coach I’ve ever been with in any league.  He is the reason you are trading for me today.”  Bruce smiles and nods, and then says, “I agree with you, it was his conversation with our head scout that got us interested in this deal.  I’ve already contacted the Royals about our interest in him, and plan to package his move to our club with your trade.  I also want to have a conversation today with Coach Hernandez, we can always use scouts with his eye for talent on our staff.  Is there anything else?”  John says, “No sir, your offer is very generous, and I promise you I will do all the work to earn it.”

The contract details were then documented and sent to the league office, and the official trade agreements between the clubs were being exchanged while John got a look at the stadium facilities.  They all had a very nice lunch, talked baseball, and as it turned out, talked trucking too.  It seems that when Bruce Davies was coming up in the organization as a scout, he worked in the off season driving a rig.  He and Riley exchanged a few of their road stories, but Riley was being well behaved and cleaned up his stories some.  As their lunch was ending, Bruce and Esteban stood off to the side and had a private conversation about baseball and scouting for talent.  Everyone said their thanks for the tour and the lunch, and John and his friends were escorted back to the Ford in the lot.

The four of them sat on the hood of the Ford and looked at the stadium in silence for a few minutes.  Riley was the first one to speak, “Kid, ever since I gave you that ballpark for Christmas many years ago, it has been a dream of mine to see you play for the Angels.  I can hardly wait for Gwen and me to be back here for your first game.”  John notices Gwen reaching to hold Riley’s hand, and his reference to still being with her next April and feels good for this friend, and says “You two will have seats near the dugout, along with Mom and Pops, Ellen, Ted and Mary if they can make it too.  I’m not sure about Esteban though, he may be working.”  Riley raises an eyebrow and looks at Esteban, “Do you have a job now old man?”  The Guru of Beisbol nods his head yes, and then with a big grin on his face says, “It seems so; the Angel boss just offered me a scouting job.”  Riley laughs, but Esteban continues talking, “It seems they think that I know something about finding good ball players in small places that no one else can find.  No lo comprendo, perhaps Mi Toro Grande said something, que no?”  John puts his arm around Esteban and says, “It wasn’t me, I didn’t ask him to hire you, it was you my coach, they want you for what you know and what you see on a ball field.”

They get into the Ford and Riley says, “What’s next?  Let’s go find a bar with deep Margaritas and celebrate.”  They go across the street from the stadium to a Mexican restaurant and find a table.  John orders a pitcher of the house special drink and asks for a ice water for himself.  He then excuses himself, and tells his friends that he has a call to make.  The three of them nod in understanding, all knowing that he is going to talk to Jenny now.  He says before he leaves the table, “Let’s take a drive around and see Los Angeles today, and then tomorrow we head north on the Coast Highway towards San Francisco, okay?”  Each of them raise a glass of margaritas, and Esteban says, “Para usted, nuestro amigo, y para su éxito.”  Riley takes a large drink and starts to ask for a translation when Gwen speaks up first.  She says, “Yes, to you our friend, and to your success.”

John steps out into the parking lot, and finds the Ford.  It is another nice day for November, the sun is shining and temp is in the 70′s. He looked at the weather at home and although it is okay for November, it is some 30 or so degrees colder in Kansas.  He pushes the number 1 key on his speed dial and after a few rings his wife says, “Hello, are you my Angel now?”  He just says in reply, “I think you may like it here, except the traffic.  The meeting went well; we have a trade deal done, now it is just the clubs and the league doing paperwork.”  Jenny is talking, but not to him, so he waits for her to come back onto the call.  “Sorry honey,” She says, “Your Mom and Ellen are here with me, and I was just sharing the news with them. Where are we going for Spring Training?  Where are we going to live?  How was the stadium tour?  What are you all going to do now?  The project is going great; I can’t wait for you to see it.  Can I get out your book of journals and start reading through them?”  He laughs out loud, and in response she says, “What’s the matter hon?  Can’t keep up with my questions?”  John replies, “Jenny, I love you, but I may never learn to keep up with you, and I’ve been trying to do that since the first time you kissed me.”

He says, “Okay dear.  Listen and then ask more questions.  Tell Mom and Ellen we all say hello.  Spring Training home is in Tempe Arizona, we’ll find a place there for six weeks starting in late February, and before April 1st we’ll find a place to live, somewhere fairly close to the stadium in Anaheim.  It is a really nice field, and they treated Riley, Gwen, and Esteban really well.  In fact, Esteban got a job offer today to be a scout for the club.  I’m glad you are enjoying your project, it sounds great, and yes you can read through all the journals.  We are going to just drive around doing sightseeing in the LA area today, and then tomorrow start driving up the coast towards San Francisco, and then I think from there we will start to head home.  I miss you, I think Esteban misses the farm house and Ellen, and Riley is getting serious about Gwen.”  Jenny walks out of the house onto the front porch, and then talks to John, “I think Ellen is missing Esteban too, and I wonder how she is going to react to him getting a traveling scout job?  Where do you think Riley and Gwen will live when you all get back here?  They can stay here, but this house may be too small for us?”  John just says, “You and I will figure it all out.”

Sportscenter screen crawl for late night November 5th – John Erickson, the rookie that hit for the cycle in four pitches in his second major league start is being traded by the KC Royals to the LA Angels.

Jenny’s Journal November 5

There is so much happening to my husband and me today. Our life just flipped today. Yesterday, we were planning on living in Kansas for the next season, and today we are now going to be in Southern California.  We are going to be away from home and family for the first time for me, and I know it will be different for John too.  I’m going to do my best to make this change work for us, and not add any drama to his already full plate.  I know him, we grew up together, and he will never say a word about the pressure, never say a word about the expectations, but I can’t help but worry about the weight this deal is putting on his shoulders.  I have something to tell him when he gets home.  This is not something I can share over the phone, not something we planned but life happens when you don’t plan for it and it happens to us.  I will tell you the first night or day you are home my love, but until then I will carry a new story inside me, not telling anyone before you.  I’m feeling a bit queasy tonight but Deb and Ellen may wonder why but I will not confirm their suspicion. Yes, my John, I am pregnant with our first child and he or she will come to us, God willing sometime in August, and you Mi Primero, with me, will adapt and do what we’ve always done.  I want to call him tonight but I won’t because I want him to sleep and get rest.

John’s journal – November 5th

I can’t sleep tonight, there was just too much that happened today.  I got traded from my home state team to the west coast.  I’ve only played three weeks in the bigs and the local news is talking about me as a potential star.  I know better.  The pitchers in the show know how to work a rookie, and I’m still just that guy.  I’m very lucky if the Angels can get Mac here on the coaching staff, we connect in the same way Esteban and I connect.  I’m very happy that in some way their signing me caused them to understand how much my coach knows about the game and offered him the job he earned.   I want to call my Jenny, my wife, my love, and my anchor tonight, but I won’t because I want her to sleep, and then I know when I wake up early tomorrow, she will be waiting for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John’s Story #41 – Road Trip – The Beach and …

John’s journal entry – November 4

I’ve finished my morning run, and now I’m watching the early morning sky turn from dark to bright blue.  I have my notebook, a large cup of coffee, and I’m sitting in a chair by the hotel pool.  I haven’t seen Esteban, Riley, or Gwen yet this morning and guess they all are sleeping in late.  That’s okay today, we don’t have far to drive to reach the beach and the Pacific Ocean.  There’s a coffee shop across the street where we can start with a late breakfast.  This gives me some time to make notes in the journal.  

I’m excited about seeing the beach and the ocean today.  I’ve been looking online and I’m going to steer us toward the Orange County beaches at Huntington and Newport, and then go further down the coast to Laguna.  When we stopped yesterday for Gwen to buy some clothes, I bought a frisbee and a boogie board to play with on the beach.  I need to remember to take the camera and send Jenny lots of pictures.  I’ll call her soon because I miss her and the sound of her voice puts me into a happy mood.

I mean for this trip to be a special time for the three of us to spend together.  I know from the past experience we went through with my Mom that there are moments in life when we need to slow down from the daily routines and pay attention to the moment in front of you. All of us, no matter what age, or health condition, have no guarantees about the length of our time together.  This trip for me is the moments I want to capture in our memories.  I see the door to the hotel room opening and here comes Esteban.  Today will be his first time at the ocean too, so we’ll share that.  I’m going to write more later tonight, but for now it is time for more coffee and a chat with my ball coach.

Esteban goes through the hotel lobby and gets himself a cup of coffee before joining John at the pool.  “Buenas dia Mijo, it is a beautiful day to see the ocean, que no?” He says as he takes a seat across from John.  John leans back in his chair and looks to the west, “Yes, coach.  A beautiful day for another adventure, a day when a boy from Southern Kansas, and another one from South Texas, see the beach and ocean for the first time.” They sit in easy silence for a while, until Esteban says, “Our friend Riley seems to be enjoying the morning with his woman, should we see if they want to join us for breakfast? I’m ready for some huevos y papas.”  John smiles, and then replies, “Are you going to go ask him or is it me?  I want to call Jenny soon too.”  Esteban laughs at John, “I will do it, give our Jenny my good wishes.”

John gets the cell phone from his pocket and calls his wife.  She doesn’t pick up the phone though and it goes to voice mail.  He leaves just a short message, and before he can put the phone down it rings.  “Hi honey, sorry, I was outside taking out the trash can.  How are you today?  Are you excited about the day at the ocean?  Have you had breakfast yet? How are Esteban and Riley feeling?  What do you think about Gwen?”  John is used to his wife’s habit of asking many questions at once, and just like usual, he answers them all in the same rapid fire manner as she asks them.  “I’m doing great, yes very excited, we’re going to breakfast in a few minutes, they both seem to be doing well and enjoying this trip, and she is nice and good for Riley – he actually smiles all the time when she is around. And what are you doing today” He answers.

Jenny replies after she stops laughing at her husband, “I’m doing some online research into colleges around Kansas City.  I’m thinking that I want to take some classes, just to get started, and I’m not sure what I want from it but I’m searching around.”  John pauses and knows he now needs to tell his wife about his agent’s calls and the trade rumor before it shows up on the local television. “Jenny, right now this is just speculation, but you may need to research colleges in Southern California too” He says with some hesitation.  She laughs the devil girl laugh, and tells him, “I already did that, there are a lot of options nearby in Orange County. You won’t catch me unprepared mi amigo.”  Esteban has come back and heard the last of their conversation and as John says goodbye to Jenny, his coach looks at him.  “Trade talk already?  It makes sense; the Angels do need a new first baseman.  Let’s look around and see if you will like it here.”  John nods a yes, and says, “Yes we will, I have already arranged for us to get a tour of the Angel’s Stadium tomorrow.  Is Riley ready for breakfast anytime soon?”  Esteban stands up and says, “No, let’s go get ours.”

John and Esteban are just finishing up their breakfast plates when Riley and Gwen come into the coffee shop and join them.  They all sit together, nursing another cup of coffee or having breakfast, and talk about the trade rumors.  John is wishing they would change to another topic, he’ll leave this to his agent and the teams to decide what they want to do because all he wants is a good spring training, make a team in the majors, play ball, and be with his friends and Jenny.  Today however, he wants to have a good day with his best friends.  They get into the Ford, with swim suits and beach towels in bags, John’s beach toys are in the trunk, along with a cooler full of water and beers.  They drive down a street called Golden West with the top down and can smell the salt air before they see the water.  They come up on the beach quickly and pull into the first parking lot they find.  The Pacific Ocean is ahead of them, to the left and right of them, and it’s expanse is greater than John could have imagined.

Photo credit - http://www.stockteam.com/2222.html

Photo credit – http://www.stockteam.com/2222.html

The day is incredibly warm for early November and they find a spot near the water. Riley and Gwen go hand in hand for a walk down the beach, but John and Esteban sit there and look out to the ocean, and the children playing in the foam of the surf, and the surfers further out sitting on boards and waiting for a good wave.  Esteban says, “Gracias for this Mijo, I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I’ll never forget this day.  Let us go for a swim, que no?”  John reaches for the boogie board, and says, “Can you swim? Are you ready for this old man?”  Esteban is giving him the look, the one that says I’ve done everything in a long life, and says “You are just a baby about to take your first steps, give me the board and watch me.”

They run into the surf together, feeling the shock of the cold water but keep running towards the waves.  John stands in knee deep water and watches Esteban grab the board and plunge into the wave.  This is so out of character for his coach, who always seems to sit back and watch, instead of doing.  He watches Esteban swim strongly on the board and take the waves washing over him until he gets to the breaker line, and then he turns into an oncoming wave and catches it at the crest, his timing is perfect and the wave lifts him up and then pushes him quickly into the beach.  He crashes into the sand, but stands up with a smile and shouts out, “Mijo, did you see that?  I rode the wave like a young rubio surfer, and I’m still standing!”

John and Esteban take turns riding the boogie board and catching waves.  The longer they are in the water, the less it feels cold to them.  Despite how naturally athletic John is, he doesn’t take to the water and ride the waves as Esteban does. The old coach is like an otter in the water, doing tricks like riding the board on his back, and he starts to draw a small crowd watching him.  He is loving the attention and John is laughing with him.  Riley and Gwen come back from their walk and join their friends in the surf.  Riley is not a swimmer and stays in close to shore in knee deep water, but Gwen dives into the waves and shows herself to be a strong swimmer and body surfs without the board next to Esteban. John stands in the surf now with Riley and says, “How are you doing today?”  His friend watches the surf, and keeps a eye on Gwen, but replies, “Good, really good today.  I’m a bit tired from not sleeping much last night, and I need to give Jenny a big thank you for arranging for Gwen to join us, but I’m doing good kid.  What else do you have planned for us?”

John watches the ocean surf come in and wash up against their legs before saying, “I thought we would leave this beach in a while, and then head down the Coast Highway to Newport.  I have a friend on the Royals that told me about a good place to have a cold beer and a plate load of hot wings.  And then, we’ll drive further south and see more of the coast, end up in Laguna Beach, walk around there, and find some restaurant for a real seafood dinner with a view of the sunset on the ocean.  How does that sound?”  Riley reaches for him and gives him one of his big bear hugs, harder to do now that John has grown taller than him, but replies, “Sounds great, you’ve put a lot of thought into this so called random road trip.  I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be doing this with you.  I haven’t done a lot right in my life, took more than a few wrong turns, but the one thing I know for sure and certain, is that being your friend has made all the difference.”

John leaves Riley with Esteban and Gwen.  The three of them sit on beach towels and enjoy the warm sunshine as he walks up to where the Ford is parked.  He thinks about pulling out his notebook and making a journal entry, but decides to reach for his phone instead and send Jenny the pictures of the beach.  It takes him a few minutes to send them all and as soon as he is done, the phone rings.  Jenny says, “Hello Toro, I see the pictures, it looks wonderful and all of you are smiling.  I should be jealous, but I’m not.”  He waits a moment and then tells her, “I wish you were here too, I miss you.”  She laughs softly before responding, “I miss you too, but you have been on TV today, the local sports show is all about a rumor that the Royals are trading their rookie phenom first baseman to the Angels.”  John looks at his phone and sees that there are four missed calls from Harry, his agent.  “Oh, I haven’t been paying attention to the phone; Harry is trying to call me.  Are you sure you could move away from Kansas and live here?”  Jenny pauses just a moment, then tells him, “Knucklehead. Don’t you know that it’s every small town Kansas girl’s dream to fall in love with a handsome and wonderful ball player and move to California?”

John looks at the beach, the ocean, and feels the warmth of the November sun, and then says to his wife, “Well, I guess maybe I should call Harry and find out what’s going on with this, I wouldn’t want to make my Kansas girl disappointed in her choice of husbands.  I’ll call you later and let you know what he says.”  She says, “Okay, but if you get traded to the North Pole Polar Bears in class A ball, I’ll follow you and live in an igloo.”  He laughs now, knowing how lucky he is to have her in his life, and then replies, “No worries my love, unless I suddenly forget how to hit, or field, or run.  And no matter where I play is just fine with me, as long as I get to play ball, and as long as you are with me.  I love you Jenny.”

He disconnects the call after Jenny says she loves him too, and then he calls Harry. When the agency receptionist connects his call, Harry answers with his typical high energy. “John?  Where have you been?  There is a lot happening, can you be in Anaheim tomorrow for a meeting with Angel’s management and a physical?  I’ll get my assistant to book you a flight and hotel room.  I think this can be good for you, a bigger market with more exposure, and endorsements up the wazoo, know what I’m saying? You and I are going to start making big money now.  When can you get here?” John replies, “Harry, I’m on a road trip with friends, I’m in Huntington Beach right now, and can be at the Stadium anytime tomorrow, I already made arrangements for a tour with the clubhouse manager for the four of us.”  Harry yells at his assistant to get the Angel’s General Manager on the phone, and talks to John, “This is why I love you kid, you have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.  I’ll call you back in a few, try to answer your phone, or at least call me back quickly.”

John stood in the parking lot on the bluff above the beach, looked out to the ocean and realized there was a very good chance that life as he knew it was about to change.  He can accept changes, because he knows that no matter where they live and what team he plays for next season, he and Jenny will just keep moving on each day, and their families and friends will be near at heart, if not near in terms of miles.  He turns from looking out across the wide distance of the ocean and looks eastward.  He can’t see the farm fields, the interstate, or the truck stop – but he knows they are there still, just where they have always been.

The four of them drive south along the coast, stop in Newport Beach at a place called Mutt Lynch’s.  The hot wings are very good, and the cold beer is served in 32 ounce goblets. John keeps one eye on his friends and one on his phone, and when Harry calls, he excuses himself and walks outside.  “Hello, what’s happening?” He asks.  Harry is manic, more than he can believe.  “Welcome to California, you’re going to love this deal, I know I love it and I only get ten percent.  It seems that the Angel’s top talent scout has an old friend that knows you well, he called him up and then told the GM that you were the real deal.  A 30-30-.300-100 guy and more (30 home runs, 30 stolen bases, .300 batting average, and 100 runs batted in – per season), and then the GM looked at your cycle game last September and called with the deal.  It’s a good deal kid, the best a rookie ever received, and I can make you tons on endorsements too.”  John replies, “Take the deal, I’ll sign, but don’t go overboard on endorsements or appearances, when I’m on home stands I want to be with my wife,  Sorry, if that cuts into commissions, but that’s my choice.”  Harry takes a breath, and then replies, ‘Okay, I get you.  Be at the stadium offices at 10 tomorrow morning, your friends will get the VIP tour while we do business and you take a physical.  You’re going to be huge kid; LA is going to love you.”  John, by his lifelong habit takes a moment before saying what he is thinking, “I don’t need to be huge Harry, I just want to play ball, okay?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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