Inning 30 ★ Home

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I'd got accepted to the elite program in Alabama.

They sent me a note after the interview, asking me to please fill in an application so they could officially commence the process of my enrollment with a full ride scholarship.

So we cancelled the protest. Basically, now what mattered was to graduate without major incident and go off to college after the summer. Mr. Jones and staff were relieved, but they didn't seem to press the issue when I started showing up at baseball practices anyway, giving my advice as a casual bystander. Dad also didn't seem to mind when I joined him and he even asked for my opinion on occasion.

The team was now preparing for state and the pressure was intense. One single loss and we'd drop out of the running. But the fact was that this was already farther than any other Alligator team had ever got. We'd written history, and I'd been a part of it.

The first game for state was tomorrow, but that Saturday morning I was with my pee wees, where it all started. Kwentin batted off a nice hit and ran for first base, where Pedrito waited for the ball. I urged them on, each one for their respective task. Kwentin got on base and shot me a grin that was now missing a tooth.

He'd dropped that one after a fall last week, but I'd been assured by his dad that it'd just been a milk tooth. This morning I'd asked if the tooth fairy brought him something and he said yes, a new glove. I was trying to help him break it in as he played.

"Hi."

I swiveled around on the bench and saw Santiago lean against the chainlink fence. He looked like a man candy, with his green t-shirt falling off his wide shoulders onto a narrow waist that curved as he rested his weight on only one foot. The breeze tousled his hair and his eyes, oh, his eyes, they left a hot trail where they looked at me.

"Hi, what are you doing here?"

He showed me his bat and hat laying on the floor. "I was wondering if I could join the team."

My eyebrows went up. I looked at him, all big and grown, and back at my pee wees who were stumbling on loose shoe laces and fighting over a bat. My lips pursed.

"I'm not sure we need you. Our players are all fine and talented, you see."

He put his hand against his heart. "Oh, I know. That's why I want to learn from them."

Not waiting for any sort of retort, he walked into the field and announced to the kids that they'd got a new teammate. Of course the boys remembered him from that time I brought him with me and inflicted torture on him while they played. A couple of the kids threw themselves against him and pulled him to the plate. I caught bits of their conversation. Was he a catcher? Was he any good at playing at all? I had a laugh when Pedrito told Santi, straight to his face, that he didn't think he was.

So I continued breaking in the glove with my hands, a ball and rope as I watched him play with the kids. He pretended to fumble with the ball, or maybe he did, because the kids threw very low and slow, but he kept them entertained and energized for about an hour. When we were done with practice each of us said what had been good or bad from today, as Domingo had taught his sons and me back in the day, and when the good part came their answer had been Santiago.

I couldn't agree more.

He sat next to me and grabbed my water bottle as we watched the kids being picked up by their parents. One of them approached me and asked what they were going to do when I went off to college. I told him the same thing Santi had told me while I was at the hotel, that we had a bit less than a year to figure that out. But I was going to miss my pee wees so much; I knew that by the way my stomach turned to knots as I saw the last ones go.

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