Inning 17 ★ First Things First

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Yesterday dad and I had a fantastic idea. I wouldn't say we're geniuses, but I also wouldn't say we're not.

The entire team assembled at school and started boarding the school bus for our first away game of the season. We waited until they were all comfortably sitting with their friends, chatting about homecoming and then we told them all to get out of the vehicle again.

"Gentlemen," my dad said, looking at their confused faces. "Metropolitan High School is not normal."

Even I glanced at him at that.

"We're not going to be like any school, just doing extracurriculars for fun." He continued, "This team is a family. We've been through thick and thin together, through victories and heavy losses." He paused there, to let us feel the weight of those words and what they meant. Our biggest loss was almost a year ago.

"We're in this to win it and therefore we have to get in the mindset of winners." He walked in front of the line of boys from different heights and ages, all wearing their still new and pristine white pants, red shirts with cursive white letters spelling Alligators and small accents in green. They looked untried and untested, like some of them had no idea really what they'd signed up for. He stopped in front of the captain. "And in order to do that we need to breathe baseball, think baseball and talk baseball 24/7."

Well, I certainly had the right mindset already.

"How do you think we're going to achieve this?" he asked them. "Each of the seniors is going to sit together with a sophomore and the juniors with freshmen. All through the ride toward the game you will interview each other about your career in this sport so far. Strengths, weaknesses, goals. You're going to get to know your teammate better than your date to the homecoming, and after we're done winning this game, I want to hear what you learned from each other."

A few of the guys exchanged dubious glances. In general they seemed to have trouble understanding the next step, so I stepped up and said, "What are you waiting for? Find a partner for the ride and get on the bus. C'mon!"

I rocked back on the balls of my feet as they struggled with partnering up. They must have realized that there was not an even number of boys per school year. If they hadn't known that until now they were even less of a team than we had anticipated.

Dad snuck up to me. "I'm glad we watched Remember the Titans together last night, honey bunny. I think this is a great idea."

"Thank you, but you really need to stop calling me that. You're undermining my authority." I was irritated that all he did about that was smile.

One of the reasons why I thought this was a genius idea was because a) yes, huge potential for team bonding and b) this definitely left the possibility of me sitting close to Santiago out. And I definitely needed the distance. We hadn't seen or talked to each other since Bobby's All Star and I still feared like the first thing to come out of my mouth to him was going to be what the fuck?

I took my seat next to dad at the front of the bus. This was the definite downside of this idea. I turned to him and smiled. "Well, aren't we supposed to interrogate each other?"

"Yes," he said, as he pulled up his backpack from the floor and onto his knees. "My first question for you is, have you put on sunblock? Your nose is looking pretty red already."

I rolled my eyes. "Right back at you, Mr. Ginger."

"I got us covered." He produced a tub of heavy duty sunblock and we shared it. I didn't know how much exposure to the sun I'd get but it always seemed like the sun rays twisted around to find my face and paint new freckles. Come to think, it also seemed to penetrate through clothes because I had freckles all over my chest, shoulders and back. Meanwhile, Ellen's skin, for example, was completely smooth and unblemished except for a tiny birthmark on her left cheek that made her look mysterious and worldly. As we drove down I-4 I dreamed of a world where I looked mysterious and worldly, where I definitely got kissed on the lips instead of my forehead.

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