Chapter #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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Chapter #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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Chapter #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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Chapter #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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Chapter #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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Chapter #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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Chapter #40 – Road Trip – Sedona

The sun is just peeking over the horizon on a bright clear morning in the mountains of Arizona, and John puts his feet on the floor, ready for his morning run.  He is determined to keep up with his off season conditioning during this trip, if only for an hour each morning before his friends wake up.  Jogging along the roadway away from their hotel, he feels the crisp air of an autumn morning in the mountains.  He sees a hillside in the distance, and using it as his target, he runs toward it and then up it.  Standing at the top, he is thinking about where he and his wife Jenny will make their off season home.  They should be able to live anywhere, there are family reasons to remain in Kansas, but there are so many reasons to explore other places as beautiful as this one.

The red rock country of Arizona - magical Sedona

The red rock country of Arizona – magical Sedona

John quickly showers and dresses after his run, and goes knocking on doors to get his friends moving for the day.  All three of them are feeling good as they walk across the street for coffee and breakfast, and there John tells them about the day he has planned for them.  They will drive south for an hour to Sedona, the jewel of the red rock country.  John has already booked them for a full day guided sightseeing trip – first, a jeep tour of the desert with a local guide, and then a horseback ride along the river, and ending the day at a nice steak restaurant with an outdoor dining area warmed by fireplaces.  “Impressive Mijo, you planned this in advance, que no?” Esteban says as he looks over his coffee cup at John.  “Yes, Jefe, I did plan this, and more.  Is that a problem with you two?” He asks his friends, and the two of them reply with just a laugh that he has heard from them as long as he has known them.  When they finish their meal and coffee, they get into the Ford, and John has a knowing smile on his face.  There is an extra surprise lined up for Riley today, and he has hopes that it will bring a smile to his face.

John, with a considerable amount of help from Jenny, has arranged for one of Riley’s girlfriends from his many years on the road to meet them in Sedona.  Gwen and Riley have been off and on friends for many years.  She tried to talk him into settling down with her in Phoenix, and he tried it for a couple of months, but couldn’t stay put.  John has listened to Riley talk about her for several years, heard a tone in his friend’s voice that was different from his usual bluster.  When he started to plan this trip, and decided on the day trip to Sedona, he had an idea to find a way to reunite Riley with Gwen.  It didn’t take Jenny long to find Gwen and after explaining Riley’s prognosis to her, and after a couple of tearful phone conversations, she convinced Gwen to meet Riley for the day trip.

The Ford pulls into the lot of the tour guide company, and John sees Gwen sitting on the hood of her car waiting for them.  Jenny shared photos of her with him, but Riley saw her first and said, “I’ll be damn, it couldn’t be her” He says as he rolls down the window and whistles.  She gets off her car and opens the back door before Riley can do it.  “It has been too long cowboy, thanks for inviting me to join you guys.”  Riley smiles and gives her a hug and a kiss, and then says, “Yes, too long, it’s good to see you.  I’m glad you could make it.”  Gwen is introduced to John and Esteban, and as they walk towards the tour jeep, Riley pulls John aside before saying, “You are full of surprises, or was it Jenny?” John tells his friend, “It wasn’t me”, while he knows Jenny will give him hell tonight for that.

Gwen is about the same age as Riley, meaning just the north side of fifty.  She is dressed in well worn blue jeans, a western shirt with pearl buttons, a straw cowgirl hat, and a dusty brown pair of moccasins.  Her skin shows the years in the Southwestern sun, but her eyes are bright blue with a devilish glint and a quick and clever smile.  She is the first one to jump into the jeep and calls back to the three men, “Come on you hayseeds, let’s go see my desert.” John and Esteban exchange a smile, while they watch Riley gamely jump up into the jeep next to Gwen.  She has the look of a woman that has jumped into the deep end of the pool more than once, and called it shallow.  John doesn’t know her history with Riley because Jenny didn’t share too much information, just told him to expect her when they got to Sedona.

They start out into the desert, driving down red dusty roads, and then the driver takes the jeep off road and makes for a climb up a rock fall.  They bounce along, John and Esteban grabbing for handles, and Riley grabbing for Gwen.  She leans into him, as they top the crest and says loud enough for everyone to hear, “It’s been too long since you’ve been through here and with me, but it doesn’t matter because you are here today, it never mattered how long the time was in between, but the time together always mattered.”  John watches his old friend, the big bear, melt under Gwen’s words and look like chocolate in the desert sun.  They rode around the desert for two hours, stopping to see dry stream beds, gila monsters lizards sunning themselves, all sorts of cacti, and gazed in wonder at the sights of the red rock mesas and cliffs around them.

Sedona has a reputation as a spiritual spot at the center of the universe.  John is not thinking about that today, but he is noticing the change in Riley, and watching the years and miles dropping away from him.  Riley looks more alive and energetic today than he has since the day he got the death notice from the doctors.  John pulls out the camera and takes pictures of the scenery, and of Riley and Gwen, and will send them to Jenny from the hotel tonight.  He is wishing his wife was with them to see both sets of images as he sees them.  The jeep driver drops the four of them off at a ranch down by the Oak Creek. The creek water is running clear in early November, with the flow fed by early snow in the mountains to the north.  They get the training lesson of riding a horse from the ranch’s wrangler, and head down the trail.  These are tourist horses, generally tame and play follow the leader in spite of the lack of skills their rider has or doesn’t have.  However, Gwen handles her horse like she was born in the saddle, and Riley shows that although he handles an 18 wheeler better than a horse, he is not half bad at it.  John and Esteban lag behind.  “Have you been on a horse before Coach?” John asks.  Esteban laughs before replying, “No Mijo, only burros, and they are facil (easy) like a good wife, but not like my wife.”  It is John’s turn to laugh now, and say “Yo lo comprendo, mi senorita is rarely facil, es verdad?”  Riley calls back to them as they lag behind, “Will you two stop talking in half Spanish and half English?”

They ride along the creek trails for an hour, and then head back to the stable.  The sun is starting to set and the red rocks come alive with color and images.  All four of them are dusty and trail worn from today’s excursions, but John anticipated that and has arranged for dinner at a casual outdoor barbecue ranch that caters to tourist.  They take seats at picnic tables and soon have a pitcher of margaritas in front of them, along with hot wings and chips to share.  John is encouraged that Riley has an appetite tonight for both the food and for his companions.  He is smiling like his old self, the man that had no cares or worries.  John switches over to ice water for dinner and takes more pictures.  A band starts to play and Riley and Gwen go to dance when their meal is done.  A woman comes up to the table and asks Esteban to dance with her, and John watches his friend kick up his dusted cowboy boots like he has been doing this forever.  When Riley goes looking for the restroom, Gwen finds John and sits down next to him.  “I want to thank you and Jenny for arranging this reunion, it means so much to me that Riley has friends like you two.  I also have a question, feel free to say no.  Can I go along with you three on the rest of this road trip?  I’ve let him get away more than once, and now I don’t want that to happen again soon.”

John looks up into the white lights ringing the patio dancing area, and then looks back at Gwen before answering her question, “It is not up to me, but I see the way you look at Riley and how happy he is to have you with us.  If the two of you want to stay together now, then I’d be happy for both of you.  Have you talked to Riley about this?”  She gives him a kiss on the cheek and replies, “Of course, he said he wanted me to go along but I needed to ask John.  Where are we going next Mijo?”  John looks across the patio and sees Riley standing with Esteban, and both of them are smiling at him like only they can, or like Jenny does when she wants him to say yes.  He tells Gwen, “You are more than welcome to join this adventure, and tonight we go back to Flagstaff and in the morning head for the Pacific Ocean.”

Jenny’s Journal – November 3

John called me tonight from Flagstaff after a day long road trip to Sedona. Our mutual arrangement to bring Riley back together with Gwen seems to have worked out well, and we are both excited about it.  I know after talking with her via email and then later on the phone, that she loves our Riley like we do, and she is sincere about being with him now when he needs her love, and she is ready for what will come.  If I wasn’t sure, I would not have even told John about contacting her for this reunion.  I am so very lucky to have found the love of my life, and that he became my husband forever.  I also know that everyone is not as lucky, and that love is found and lost.  Our Riley, being who he is and what he has done, is gone more often than not, but he always comes back when you need him most. After talking on the phone with John tonight, it seems that Gwen is ready and willing to be with Riley, however long that may be we do not know.  The truth is that we never know, we live day to day with the belief and hope that forever means forever.  I sat on the porch alone tonight with a cup of hot tea, and I cried thinking about what I would feel if I didn’t have my John in my life.  I wiped the tears from my eyes and told myself that each day we have together is truly a gift, and we are fortunate to share that gift with each other, our family, and our friends like Riley.  This road trip is for all of us, it is a statement that we make to each other.  We should say it every day but we forget until it matters most. Hopefully, we remember on both hard days and easy days to say thank you to those in our lives that make us better and happy to know them.  We love you Riley, and hope that Gwen being with you now will be good for both of you.

John is driving the Fairlane the next morning as they cross the Colorado River bridge and come into California.  Their destination today is Orange County Coast, but first they stop at a Walmart in Needles for Gwen to get some clothes, and other things. Riley goes into the store with her, and John and Esteban stay in the car.  Esteban says, “Mijo, this is good.  It is good for me, for our friend and his woman, and for you too.”  John pauses and thinks about the wisdom that his old coach has shared over the years since they first met before replying, “What is it that binds us together?  What is it that makes people we bring into our life or bring us into their lives that makes it good?”  Esteban gives him that look, the one that tells him he has asked a question when he already knows the answer, but he replies, “Mijo, we bring people close to us, whether they are familia or not because we need them, and we quickly find out that we cannot live the good life without them.  Tomorrow we will drive to the ocean and see it, and when we stand there and look at its endlessness we may understand that like the ocean there is nothing to compare to the ties that bind us together.  Go to sleep mi Toro, rest easy because this has been a good day.”

They have stopped at a motel about a mile from the beach.  After a late start, they drove across the California desert with the top down and sun shining on them.  John and Esteban share a room, and Riley and Gwen are down the hall.  Tomorrow, the four of them will head for a beach and see the ocean.  Neither John or Esteban has ever seen the Pacific and they stay awake for a while talking about it, and then the talk turns to the next baseball season.  Esteban says, “This is your job now, I know you work hard to be the best, but now you must work harder.  Those pitchers will show you more respect, and bring their best.  Be confident Mijo, be yourself.”

John gets out of bed and walks around outside.  It’s late but he calls Jenny on his cell. “Hi honey, sorry to wake you up.”  She just says, “You didn’t wake me, I was waiting for you my love.  Was it a good day?  Will you send me ocean pictures tomorrow and promise to take me there someday?”   He laughs, “Yes, I will.  I’ll take pictures and take you anywhere. Who knows?  Maybe someday I’ll get traded to the Angels and we will live on the beach, que no mi amor?”  Jenny says, “Are you serious?  Do you think you can take your Kansas small town wife to Southern California?”  He just says good night and doesn’t yet tell her about the phone call from his agent today.  It seems that the Royals are shopping him for a trade for prospects and the Angels need a first baseman.  He goes to bed and tells himself to let tomorrow take care of itself.

 

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Chapter #39 – Road Trip – Flagstaff

John, Riley, and Esteban stopped at the Waffle House down the street from the motel before getting on the road again.  John was up early and jogged for an hour, came back for a shower and dressed before his friends were out of bed.  He made a pot of room coffee for them and then went looking for a stronger cup for himself.  He found it at the Waffle House and then went back to the room to collect them for breakfast.  Esteban had been watching the Weather Channel on the television and when they finished breakfast he put down the top of the Ford.  He says, “Mijo, and Senor Riley, pull your hats down tight, put on a jacket if you need one, but today we ride into Nuevo Mexico with no top on the car, esta bien y comprende?”  They did understand, and after an hour of feeling the cool air blow across them at 75 miles and hour, the sun shined on them and they tossed away the hats and the coats.  Esteban was pushing the old Ford up past 80 and loving every mile.  Riley was sitting in the front seat and leaned over to look at the speed.  He waited a while before saying, “Amigo, you keep pushing it hard and the policia is going to pull us over.”  Esteban stepped down harder on the accelerator and asks him, “What are they going to do with me, arrest me for being old?”

They reached Tumacari quickly, and then Esteban got off the interstate and took Highway 54 to the southwest.  He slowed down some but still pushed the Ford hard around some mountain curves, and then quickly slowed down when they came over another hill, and turned onto a gravel road.  John and Riley didn’t ask why he turned off the highway or ask where they were going, Esteban seemed to know and that was good with them.  They drove along the gravel road for about fifteen miles and then turned left onto a dirt track for another mile and stopped at a very old looking farmhouse with two thin cows and five even skinnier goats.  There was an older man that resembled Esteban sitting on the front porch. As the now dusty Ford came to a stop, the old coach said, “Since we were driving by with no particular plan, I thought we would stop by and say Hola to my cousin Emilio.  It has been many years since I’ve seen him, and Mijo, he has good stories for the notebook. Come you two, say hello.  His engles is muy poquito, but I will translate, que no?”

Emilio stood up from his chair and looked at the strange old car that had pulled up, but then he saw Esteban and called out across the yard, “Mi primo, que ha pasado demasiado tiempo desde que hemos visto el uno al otro. ¿Quiénes son estos hombres con usted? Esteban told his friends, “He says it has been too long since we have seen each other, and ask who is with me.”  John and Riley followed Esteban to the porch, and stood back as the two men embraced.  John paused, took out the camera and got a picture of the two old cousins as they embraced each other and talked to each other on the porch in rapid fire Spanish.  After a minute of conversation, Emilio called out to Riley and John in English, “Welcome to my home, friends of Esteban’s are friends of mine.  Come and sit here with us and let’s talk.  I would bet this old man told you I didn’t speak English, but what does he know?  I listen to the radio everyday and learn much, que no?  He writes me letters in Ingles and I know you two.  You’re Riley, the gran oso (big bear) that is the truck driver, and you John, I know you are the Toro Grande that is the beisbol guru’s best student, que no? Come, let’s have a bit of tequila together and then some strong cafe.”

They sat together in chairs on the porch in the November sun.  The old cousins told stories and shared remembrances of their childhood in South Texas and old Mexico.  John went back to the car for his notebook and the camera, as the old men and Riley sipped tequila and ate tortillas filled with peppers and some kind of meat.  He stood aside and took notes and more pictures of the ranch house, the pens, the surrounding desert and the men on the porch.  He declined the tequila, getting bottles of water out of the cooler in the trunk.  The other men each told stories, and listened to each others, and each story told tried to be bigger and more dramatic than the last one.  The coffee never came out, and soon both the tequila and the food was gone.  The three of them sat contented on the porch as John walked around the house and yard.  Emilio looked up into the sun from eyes shaded by his wide brimmed hat and says, “Esteban, he is like a caged tiger, a mountain lion ready to pounce on prey, or a bull ready to run through the matadors, all his many muscles ready to see the ball and hit it, or snatch it out of the air.”  Esteban looks at his Toro and he replies, “Yes he is, all that and much more.  Cousin, no matter how long we’ve played ball, we have never seen anything like him.”

It was after noon when they left Emilio’s ranchero, waving goodbye to him still sitting on the porch.  John was driving with the top down and soon after they left Emilio’s both Esteban and Riley were asleep in the sun shine.  John followed the back roads randomly until he picked up Interstate 25 to Albuquerque and then turned west on 40 to Flagstaff. He pulled off the highway into the rest stop with a good view of the red rock mesas of Northern New Mexico.  He got out of the Ford and after using the restrooms he refilled water bottles from the fountain in the lobby, and then walking back to the car he sees his friends out of it and stretching.  They both reach for water bottles and go into the restrooms as John takes pictures of the mesas for Jenny.

photo from - http://lifeasahuman.com/2011/feature/red-rocks-and-remembering-a-writers-road-trip/

photo from – http://lifeasahuman.com/2011/feature/red-rocks-and-remembering-a-writers-road-trip/

The day is staying warm, and the top stays down, as they head west towards Gallup. John is still driving and he is now feeling hungry for a burger.  He pulls off the interstate and into the first non-chain burger place he finds.  He orders a double cheese burger with everything, fries, and a large chocolate shake, while his friends both go for just a small vanilla shake.  He takes a photo of the burger stop, makes another note in the book, and then gets back into the car after eating on the patio.  It is only ten miles down the road before Esteban and Riley are back asleep, but two hours later as they climb into higher altitude the air turns much cooler and they both wake up.  John pulls off the road, and puts the top of the Ford up again and turns the heat on low for them.  Riley stretches across the back seat and falls back to sleep, but Esteban sits up front and asks, “Where are we going Mijo?  I have never been in this country before.”  John points out the window at the increasing pine trees, and replies, “We are climbing into the mountains of Northern Arizona, going to Flagstaff.  I’ve never been here before either, but I’m told it is very nice, much different from the rest of the state.”  A few miles pass by before Esteban says, “Yes, it is different.  Just lead the way and we will follow.”

They are just ten minutes away from John’s intended stop, although they together did nothing to plan this trip, he did.  He spent hours on the computer thinking about many possible spots and where they would stay in every town along the possible routes.  He has a second notebook in his back pack.  There is the one for his notes and entries, and the second one with ideas where to go, where to stay, and how to get there.  He wanted to make this trip easy for his friends, and make it seem effortless to them.  Riley wakes up and looks out the window and from the back seat comments, “Hey, we are coming into Flagstaff.  I love Flagstaff, lots of good places to park a rig and get dinner, and from here we could make the Central Valley of California for an early morning drop if we wanted to be there.”  John says, “It is nice here, I thought we make check in for two nights, and make a side trip tomorrow.  There is something special nearby for us to see.  Okay?”  His friends both agree, and soon they are parked, checked into a nicer hotel and after a couple of long showers, ready for dinner.

The view from the hotel in Flagstaff Arizona

The view from the hotel in Flagstaff Arizona

John picks out a diner to go to for dinner, thinking after the tequila morning and early afternoon, the boys could use some diner food for dinner.  While they are getting ready, he walked outside and took pictures of the pine trees surrounding the hotel.  He is thinking about Jenny, she would love this town and these mountains.  His Kansas grown wife has never been to the mountains and he looks forward to seeing them in her eyes for the first time.  They walk to the nearby restaurant and each of them has no trouble finding something on the menu for dinner.  John has water with his dinner, but Esteban and Riley both have two glasses of milk each, he doesn’t laugh or comment about them eating too many chilies or drinking too much tequila with Emilio today.  They all feel better as they walk back to the hotel, and tonight each has their own single room for the night.  John tells them both to get a full night of rest and he will see them around eight or nine, no rush to wake up tomorrow.  He goes to his own room, turns on his laptop to send today’s pictures to Jenny, takes a quick shower to wash off the road dust, and gets ready to call his wife.

Jenny picks up the phone on the first ring and says, “Hola mi Juan, how was your day my love?”  He smiles and says, “Two days gone and my name has changed?  It was a good day, an interesting day.”  He tells her about the side trip to see Emilio, and his sleepy passengers going through the rest of New Mexico, and about the mountain beauty surrounding them tonight.  She listens, she understands, and then she asks, “Did you write all this down in the notebook?  It seems like you have been too busy today.  I did just see the pictures and they are wonderful, I’m starting to collect them together on the computer for later.”  He is now tired and makes a confession to his wife, “I took some notes, but didn’t make a journal entry today, there just wasn’t time.”  His Jenny, his wife, his best friend, she just says, “I have been making notes as you talked, we can keep this trip journal together.  It will be more interesting to us in the years to come because we shared the effort, shared the viewpoint of the story from different perspectives.  You see it from what happens in front of you, and I see it from what you share with me.”  John does feel tired tonight and not ready to write anything down, but Jenny sounds the opposite, and he tells his wife, “That is a really good idea, we’ll document this trip together.”

Jenny’s Journal – November 2

My three amigos had a day today.  My three amigos are my loving husband, our dear friend Riley, and the guru of beisbol that we call our wonderful friend Esteban. They left the panhandle of Texas this morning and passed into New Mexico.  My John let someone else take the wheel and lead him to some place he did not know.  He always wants to be in charge, always wants to know where the day will go, and always loves being inside his routines.  My John is a planner, someone that thinks about everything in advance, and this trip is something very new and different for him.  He is out there on the road, with two real vagabonds and he wants to keep up with them, but I know he is being stretched to keep up.  I love him, love all the many, many great qualities that are part of his very nature, but spontaneity is not one of them.  I’m thinking that today when Esteban turned off the highway on to the gravel road, John was gripping tight onto the dash or door. He then paced around the yard of Emilio’s house because the surroundings were not familiar.

There have been nights, usually the first night in a strange city when he was on a road trip with the baseball teams, when he felt like he did today.  My man is happiest in the familiar, even if that is in the batter’s box with some pitcher throwing 99 mph fastballs and 50,000 fans hoping he will strike out.  He went on this road trip with our friends because they needed it, and I know John’s heart is as large as it can be, he would do anything for the ones he loves, and his capacity for love and loyalty is endless.  I’m sure that no one, not even his mother and father, know him the way I do now, and I know him very well.  What makes our love and marriage so very special is that as much as I know now, I will be surprised by how much more there is to learn from him.  I’ve told him many times, but tonight as he sleeps in a hotel room in Arizona, I will tell him again, I love you John Erickson, you are truly one of a kind and I am so lucky to be with you. 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter #38 – Road Trip – Amarillo

John sits on the wide front porch with a cup of coffee and a notebook in his hands.  He turns on the porch light since it is just a bit past five in the morning, and the sunrise is still a few hours away.  Jenny is still asleep in their bed.  As he sits outside in the early morning hour, he is thinking again about Riley and Esteban.  They have plans today to get together at John’s parent’s house for some batting practice and road trip planning.  John knows that the three of them don’t actually need to do anything to plan a road trip because all they need to do is rent a comfortable car and head west by southwest somewhere.  The trio of compadres can just head out to the highway, and they will find adventure.  Riley and Esteban have certainly traveled a lot and had many adventures, and John is looking forward to sharing this one with them.

Journal entry – October 28

Next Monday, my two best friends (other than my Jenny, who is my top best friend) and me are going to leave on a road trip westward.  We are just going to pack a bag, rent a cool car, maybe take along a map, or better yet Riley’s GPS unit, and go.  No schedule, no plan, and no time limit.  There are places my friends have seen that I want to see, but the most important thing about this trip is not where we go, but how we get there.  I called up the car dealer in Kansas City that sold us Jenny’s car.  He gave me a phone number and recommendation to a guy that rents out vintage cars.  I called him today, told him what I wanted, and he got back to me in an hour.  Jenny will drive me to Wichita on Sunday to pick up our car – a 1957 Ford Fairlane Convertible.  This way when we cut across Interstate 40, or take the backroads, or wherever else Riley or Esteban take us we can put the top down.

The top down and following the sun into the Western sky

The top down and following the sun into the Western sky

I know myself that I want to see California, I want to drive with them along the Coast Highway, see the Pacific Ocean, see Esteban’s face light up with a new place in front of him, and Riley’s smile when for the first time in forever he is not on a tight schedule and has time to take the back roads, the roads less traveled.  I’m a bit sad that Jenny is not going with us, although she assures me she wants us to go without her.  “It’s a male bonding trip, hon” She says.  “You and me will go on a vacation like this another time, in fact, come February we will be going to Arizona, que no?”  She really cracks me up now when my Kansas girl starts talking Spanish.  Although, she is right, we will hopefully be able to travel all over the country, as long as I keep hitting and fielding.  If I stop being able to do those skills, then we can still be happy living in a house behind the truck stop we manage for my Mom and Pops.  I can be happy living the life of a pro ball player, or living the life at the truck stop in South Haven, because I know for certain and forever, if Jenny is next to me, well then I’m happy.

I don’t know what to expect from this road trip, hoping for the best of times, knowing there may be some down times where one of us or all of us are just tired of it.  However, I still think this is a great idea, and both Esteban and Riley are excited about it, just like I am. Before I signed my first contract and went off to the Minors, I really never packed a bag or traveled, and since then, though I’ve been around many parts of the country, I wasn’t able to just go where I wanted to go.  The same has been true for my friends, so for each of us this trip is a unique opportunity.  I’m going to take this notebook along with me and try to write in it as often as possible.  I’m trying to think ahead, and years from now I’ll be able to find this notebook tucked away in a box, and remember the November day when my friends and I got into an old car and drove west chasing the setting sun.

John puts down the journal book, looks up and sees the sun starting to come up and its rising is lighting the sky.  He hears the front door open and looks back towards it.  There is Jenny with the coffee pot in hand and barefoot.  “Aren’t your feet cold?” He says.  She smiles, “Yes, they are, care to snuggle me up for a few minutes?”  She refills his cup, sets the pot down on the porch, and curls up in his lap like a happy kitten.  He is wearing a light coat and wraps her up inside it.  “What are you thinking about out here in the dawn’s light?” She asks.  He smiles back to her and pulls her closer, “Just you honey, and the road trip too. I’m going to miss you, I’ll call you every night.”  She says nothing as she lays her head on his chest and feels his strong arms wrapping her up in his embrace.  They sit still in silence for minutes, until she reaches into the pocket of the warm terry cloth robe she is wearing and pulls out a box.  “I bought this camera for you to take along, remember to take a lot of pictures of every thing, we will want to have them to remember this epic adventure of Mi Don Quixote, my vagabond husband.”  She then kisses him, slowly at first but with some passion too, and just when he thinks about suggesting they go back to bed, the door opens again and Riley walks out onto the porch with an empty coffee cup.

“I was wondering where the coffee pot went, I see that someone hijacked Jenny and dragged her out onto the porch with it.” Riley says as he reaches for the pot and gives himself a cupful.  He takes a long gulp of hot coffee, stands against the porch rail, and looks at the two of them still together in the chair.  “Remember kid, I told you a long time ago that this girl was a keeper.  I’m happy that you listened to at least some of my advice.” Jenny gives Riley one of her best smiles and says, “You told me the same thing about him, were you playing matchmaker?”  Riles holds out his now empty cup for a refill before replying, “Not intentionally, I guess I just pay attention to the obvious.”

On the first day of November, with bags packed in the Ford’s trunk, the tres amigos were ready to leave Kansas for points and places to the west.  Riley and Esteban gave Jenny a kiss on the cheek, and then went to wait in the car for John.  She comes in close and tilts her lips up towards him for a long kiss goodbye, and a few minutes later, puts her head on his chest, and softly tells him, “You take care of those two, try not to get into too much trouble, drive safely, and most of all, make this memorable.  Make it a story that we will tell our children and we use to inspire them about chasing dreams.  Mi corazon, que sea maravilloso.”  He looks at his wife, wonders if she has been taking Spanish lessons without him knowing it.  He then replies, “I understood the my heart part, but what did you just say?”  She says, “My heart, my love, make it wonderful.  And call me every night before we fall asleep, take lots of pictures, and just make sure you get home for Thanksgiving.”

John is driving as they pull away, and he sees Jenny standing on the porch waving them goodbye.  They head for the interstate and the road south towards Oklahoma City.  The trunk of the Ford has their travel bags, and two more bags.  John filled up an equipment bag with gloves and a few bats, along with a full bucket of balls.  His plan is that every now and then along the trip, they will find a ball field and have a game of catch, or some batting practice.  He also tossed in an empty duffel bag, that one is to use for collecting souvenirs and mementos he intends to get for his friends, family, and most of all his Jenny.  The day is dry and warm for November as they pass the first few hours and go through Oklahoma City and change over to Interstate 40 westbound.  It is not yet warm enough to put the top down, but they have that to look forward to, maybe later today, or maybe tomorrow.

John pulls off into a truck stop to refill the gas tank, and get themselves coffee and a snack. They have been seeing the billboards for a steak house in Amarillo that is advertising a 40 oz. steak meal, and agreed to stop in for an early dinner and find a motel there for the first night. The old Ford has a radio but no CD player, so as they move further west, they fill the miles with conversation and stories. Riley is driving now, and John pulls out the notebook to capture the stories his friends are telling, and then he pulls out the camera and snaps a few pictures of Riley driving and Esteban taking a nap in the back seat.  He leaves the camera out on the dash board to remind him to take more pictures of their first day on the road.  Riley looks over at John with the notebook and the camera, and he says, “Are you a ball player or a journalist?”  John smiles at the comment, and after a pause replies, “Both, is that a problem?”  Riley, with his truck driver’s eyes looking straight ahead, just says, “Not for me, I’ve always known you, unlike most people, could be anything you decided you wanted to be.”

Journal entry – November 1.

We are making good time across Oklahoma on Interstate 40.  All of us have spent time in Oklahoma and frankly it holds little interest for us.  We are looking forward to crossing the Texas panhandle and getting into the western states of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and eventually California.  Esteban has never seen the last two states, and I haven’t seen them up close on my own.  Of course, Riley has seen them all and has a special affection for California.  Maybe I can get him to tell me why, is it the scenery, the ocean, or the memory of a woman there?  While we were driving and before he decided to take a nap, Esteban told a story about a barnstorming trip he took one fall across Oklahoma and North Texas.  His first minor league season had ended, and he was thinking about going back to Mexico or South Texas to do field work until the following spring, but some of his teammates had concocted an idea to go on a tour to play ball against local town teams.  They traveled from town to town, sometimes stayed free with their opponents families and shared a meal with them.  They played games in the evening throughout September and the early part of October, played until the weather turned towards winter.  They played and stayed with virtual strangers for the love of the game. Sometimes, they played against a ball player that had skills as good or better than theirs, and they would write down his name and hometown to pass along to their favorite scout.

It was still fairly early afternoon when they approached Amarillo, they had been on the road only about six hours after leaving Kansas this morning, but they were in no rush, and agreed to pull off the road and find a motel for the night before dinner.  It was easy to find an inexpensive room for the night, and John paid the bill for it.  He had talked with his friends about expenses when they were planning the trip, and he made sure they agreed that he would pay most of the expenses.  John’s agent had already checked in with him, and let him know the Club wanted to agree on a new contract with him.  He wasn’t going to make established veteran money next season, but he would be a well paid rookie.  After they carried their bags into the room, Riley walked across the street to a liquor store for a pack of beers, a bottle of tequila and a silver spoon with an armadillo on it for Jenny. When he got back he finds John laying on a bed with the notebook in his hand, and Esteban sitting in a chair.  Riles gets plastic cups and pours them each a shot, and then hands them each a beer.  He says, “I have a toast to us. Here’s to us and to everyone that wishes they could be us.”  They take a drink of beer, and then Esteban says, “Here’s to mi bueno amigo Riley and mi Toro” and they take another drink.  And then John says, “We have all been on road trips before, but this one is special. This trip is not just another one like the ones we’ve done before, not just miles to get from here to there, not just the next game or the next offload.  This trip is not about finding anything other than another good day together with the best of friends.  Here’s to us, salud and long life.”  They drink their shots and finish their beer, and go out for dinner.

John takes a picture of Riley and his plate of huge steak and three sides, and then Riley takes a picture of him with the same.  Esteban opts for a catfish dinner, and John takes his picture with Riley clowning around in the background.  They then convince their waitress to take a picture of the three of them on John’s camera.  They enjoy their dinner, but none of them finish the big plates of food, and then over another beer debate whether or not to take the leftovers back to the motel.  John saw someone that was obviously a little on the down and out side of life in front of the motel, and asks the waitress to package up the leftovers together for later use.  When they walk back to their room, he hands the bag to the stranger, tells him he hopes it will be a good meal.  When the three of them get back to the room, Riley and Esteban lay down in bed and go right to sleep.  John gets out the laptop computer and plugs it in to send Jenny tonight’s pictures before he calls her.

John takes his phone with him as he leaves the room.  The night air is cool but not cold, enough for a sweatshirt but not a coat.  He walks around the back of the motel and finds a quiet bench away from road noise, and he connects the phone to his wife.  She answers quickly, “Hello honey, how was the first day?”  He warms to the sound of her voice and replies, “Good, really good.  I took notes, and did you get the pictures from the restaurant?” She says, “Yes, I’m really glad you took the laptop along, with that, and the camera, and the phone, it will be just like being along without intruding on what you need to be doing. Where are you three going tomorrow?”  He realizes that he is smiling when he answers her, “I’m not sure until we get there, but I’m thinking Roswell in New Mexico, and then drive along the red rock mesas of Northern New Mexico and maybe make it to Flagstaff Arizona by nightfall.  I love you Jenny, and it does feel like you are right here with us.”  She sits at their house on the front porch with a blanket wrapped around here, and Ellen sitting in the other chair.  They had dinner together tonight, and Jenny thinks that Ellen was also waiting for John’s call to hear about the first day of the trip.  Jenny says, “Ellen is here with me. She says hello and good luck.”  He looks up into the now dark sky, picks out a star and looks at it.  He has used this idea before when they were apart and all he wanted was Jenny next to him, and then he says, “Sweetheart, there is a star in the sky, and you know when I look at it, that I think of you and no matter what the distance between this star and me, or you and me, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because in my thoughts, you are never a step away from me.  I’m going to go back inside and fall asleep and dream about you.”  Jenny turns away from Ellen, not wanting to share the tears in her eyes, but she says in a strong and clear voice, “I love you too John, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow night, good travels and a happy day with our amigos, que no?”

Their call disconnects, but John stays outside for a few more minutes, and then goes back to the motel room.  The lights are dim in the room, and both his friends are asleep.  He thinks about having another beer or shot of tequila but neither needs or wants either one. He thinks about picking up the journal again tonight but it too can wait for tomorrow.  He takes a key and goes out to the ice machine for a bag of ice, and then puts the beers in the sink and covers them with ice.  He first has a thought, and then laughs at it.  Tomorrow, when they stop at a truck stop for a fill up, he should buy one of those cheap Styrofoam coolers to keep the leftover beers cold for the next night.  He crawls in between the sheets, and goes quickly to sleep, setting the alarm on his phone.  He plans to get up early and go for a run before Esteban and Riley wake up.  They may be on a vacation trip, but he still has to keep up with his off season conditioning.  All of us has our past, and our futures. Today, and each day while we are on this trip we will find both of those moments, but he still needs to focus on what needs to be done to be ready to play in spring training when February comes along.  When he stops thinking, lays down, and closes his eyes, he says to himself, good night Jenny my love, and in his head he hears her response, good night Mi Toro, sleep well.

 

 

 

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Chapter #37 – Reunion

John is driving east towards the Truck Stop on a Saturday morning.  Later today, he will go with Jenny to pick up grocery supplies, and tonight is the team reunion dinner, but right now he is going to the shed to hit some balls.  His phone rings and he picks it up and says hello to Esteban.  “What are you doing this morning Mijo?” He says.  John replies, and wonders how his coach knows he is looking to hit this morning, “I’m going to get some BP, want to come along? I’m just coming up on the farm house.”  John turns left onto the road leading to Mac and Ellen’s farm without waiting for Esteban to answer.  The call drops and he pulls up alongside the front porch.  Ellen is sitting there in the rocking chair with a cup of coffee.  “Hello dear, I was just wondering when you were going to come by for a visit. Have a seat and a cup with me.”  Ellen goes into the house and then comes back out on the porch with a cup of coffee for him.

She hands him both the cup and a plate with one of her homemade cinnamon rolls on it. She sits back in the chair, staying quiet while he is eating the roll.  She has always enjoyed watching this boy eat.  When he puts down the empty plate, she says, “How is Riley doing?”  John takes a sip of coffee before responding, “He is doing okay, looks fine, but I know being off the road is driving him crazy.  He needs something to do, but I don’t know what.  He just sits on the front porch, and he doesn’t say much.  I’ve been thinking we need to take a road trip.  I’m not sure where we need to go, just thinking about getting a rental car, maybe a convertible, and head for the coast.  I know he likes California, maybe we’ll go there.”  Ellen looks up at him, “That sounds like a plan, just get up and go.”

Esteban comes out the door onto the porch, and says, “That is a plan Mijo, will our Jenny let you go on a road trip with old and a bit wild men?”  John looks over towards Ellen and seeing the smile on her face, he knows that next week there is a road trip in his future. Ellen says. “Our Jenny can stay with me, you men need to go do this trip.  Send us pictures, and make memories.”  John just nods, and he thinks about this idea, it does sound like what Riley needs right now, and he can’t think of anyone other than Jenny that he would want to take a trip with other than Esteban and Riley.  “Okay, I’ll talk to Riley about it, we are having a high school baseball team reunion tonight, would the two of you like to join us?”  Esteban dips his head a little, and looks at John over is glasses, “Con mucho gusto Mijo.”  Ellen smiles and says, “And it would be my pleasure too.”  John smiles at both of them, and then he says,  “me and Jenny will pick you up at six, my Mom and Pops are going too, it should be some fun.”

John and Esteban are on the highway, talking baseball. talking about hitting and fielding. “Mijo, I know you are a natural hitter, but we need to also focus on your footwork around the base.  It is good, but we can do better, there is no reason you can’t be the best.  When we get back from this road trip, we should have Ricardo come stay a few weeks with us and together we will do the work.  Do it before the snow starts to fall, or if we don’t, then we will just dip the balls in orange paint, es verdad?”  Mom and Pops were both working in the store and so they just went right to the shed.  An hour later, after many buckets of balls fed in the machine by Esteban, batting practice was over.  John toweled off after they picked up all the balls, and then the two of them got in his truck and parked at the back door of the Stop to say hello to Mom and Pops.

They made plans to meet up at the restaurant in South Haven for the reunion.  John dropped Esteban off at the farm, and told him they would pick him and Ellen up at 5:30. What he didn’t tell Esteban that this reunion was as much about him as it was about the team, because after all, this team was the last one he coached.  He hurried home to get Jenny, they were going to decorate the banquet room with school colors, their trophy, and photos.  Riley offered to help and the three of them had plenty of time to get it done and ready for the evening.  Billy and Jim stopped by the house to pick up Riley, and the plan was for them to call John when all the guys had arrived and were waiting for their old ball coach.  John and Jenny was purposely late to the farm house, they had been parked on the highway waiting for Jim to call.  Only then, did they pull into the drive.  Ellen was in on the surprise, and she was slow to get ready.

They drove toward town, and Esteban says, “We’re running a little late Mijo, not like you to be late?”  Jenny stepped up and bailed John out, “It was my fault Coach, I just couldn’t decide which dress to wear”, She says from the front seat.  Ever the charmer, Esteban just replies, “No problema Mija, you look beautiful tonight.”  They pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, and made their way to the banquet room.  John hung back, and let Esteban be the first to enter the room, as he did everyone stood and applauded, and then his ball players surrounded him, shaking his hand, and some giving him hugs.  John looked around the room, sees his Mom and Pops smiling at him, and then Ellen finding him and nodding her head in approval, and felt his wife’s hand holding his, and then she leaned in closer and told him, “You did good primero, muy bien.”  He kissed her and then they joined the rest of the group.

The dinner was wonderful, full of stories about their high school years, funny stories like the one where Jim and Billy missed the bus for a road game, and then “borrowed” a neighbors car to get to the game. Some serious stories too like the time Hector Garza was knocked out by a right field wall, and when the dessert was served, each one of the ball players stood up one at a time, and said something about what they had learned about baseball and life from their old ball coach.  John was the last to speak.  “I want to thank you all for being here tonight.  It has been too long since we were all together.  My Mom and Pops have given me a good life, and our coach has given me a good game.  I would not still be playing ball today if my friend and coach had not come into my life.  He has been my mentor, my source of advice and inspiration.  All of us that played on our championship team know that we won because we played well, but what we really know is that we played well because we were coached by the best – the Guru of Beisbol, we are the luckiest group of ball players because he found us”.  There were tears in many eyes, and even in Esteban’s as he walked across the room and hugged John.  He talked softly in John’s ear, “Toro, I’ve coached many, many ball players, but you my Mijo, you have been such a joy to know, and coach.  I’m truly humbled by this tonight, mucho gracias.”

The dinner party ended, most of the players and their wives or dates headed for the Johnson’s house for a secondary party planned by Jim and Billy.  John was sitting at a table with Esteban and Riley.  He looked at his friends and could see they both looked tired now.  They started to talk about the road trip they wanted to take together.  They agreed to get together next week to talk about it some more.  John has a thought that he doesn’t say out loud.  This road trip matters, because looking at his two best friends tonight, he wonders if this trip would be their last one together.  Jenny is across the room, saying goodbyes to some of their high school friends, when she looks toward her husband and sees the black cloud cross his face.  She walks over to the table, stands close behind him and puts her hand lightly on his shoulder.  He looks at her and gives her a pained smile, looks into her eyes that always tell him that everything will work out for the best.

 

 

 

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