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Taking Bases


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TAKING BASES By MICHAEL KEVIN WILSON A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2004

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Copyright 2004 by Michael Kevin Wilson

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Dedicated to Debbie, Kelly, a nd Kristen Wilson, who made me. And Leigh Anne Couch, who keeps me.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I wish to thank Colonel Padgett Powell, who brought me to Florida and kept me here until I could write a decent sentence. I would also like to thank the rest of the creative writing faculty, especially Jill Ciment and David Leavitt, who provided endless hours of support and encouragement. Ann Patchett, my fairy godmother, made me a part of her family and gave me all the help a person could ask for. I am forever indebted to her kindness. I wish to thank The Sewanee Writers Conference for providing me with an opportunity to meet my best friends and fellow writers, Leah Stewart, Phil Stephens, Juliana Gray, Greg Williamson, and Matt OKeefe. Finally, I owe everything to my family and Leigh Anne, forever. iv

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT.......................................................................................................................vi CHAPTER 1........................................................................................................................1 CHAPTER 2......................................................................................................................13 CHAPTER 3......................................................................................................................25 CHAPTER 4......................................................................................................................34 CHAPTER 5......................................................................................................................38 CHAPTER 6......................................................................................................................44 CHAPTER 7......................................................................................................................50 CHAPTER 8......................................................................................................................56 CHAPTER 9......................................................................................................................67 CHAPTER 10....................................................................................................................70 CHAPTER 11....................................................................................................................81 CHAPTER 12....................................................................................................................88 CHAPTER 13....................................................................................................................94 CHAPTER 14....................................................................................................................97 CHAPTER 15..................................................................................................................109 CHAPTER 16..................................................................................................................113 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH...........................................................................................129 v

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Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts TAKING BASES By Michael Kevin Wilson May 2004 Chair: Padgett Powell Major Department: English This thesis is comprised of a novel-in-progress, Taking Bases, which is set in the world of baseball, specifically during the 1989 season. The primary interests of the novel are identity, love, and the inevitability of failure, interwoven between lots of scenes of people smacking home runs and slapping each other on the rear end. I hope someone finds this work to be of interest, as I hope to finish the novel after I have received my degree at Florida. vi

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CHAPTER 1 Roy Firestone Jr.: So, do you like being hit? Troy Breckenridge: No. I dont like to get hit. Excerpt from interview, May 13, 1989 The sun sits high above Royals Stadium in Kansas City. Rays of sunlight sparkle off the fountains behind center field. From home plate, the arc of water looks like a rainbow of diamonds and when players hit a long ball into center, it is called tossing a coin into the fountain or making a wish. It is a beautiful thing to watch, to see the whiteness of the ball fade as it carries and then falls downward, as it becomes lost in the glare of the fountains. It is April 3, 1989, Opening Day, and the stadium is a sea of blue hats and novelty foam hands, a free promotional gift for the first twenty thousand fans from the Royals organization and Pizza Hut. The air is light, easy to breathe, and the slight east-west breeze bends the extended foam index fingers in the same direction, as if the fans have seen something important all at once. The weather is cool from the breeze, but warm enough so that fans can take off their shirts and display letters or symbols painted on their bodies. Five men stand anxiously in the upper level of the left field bleachers, spelling out OYALS and looking from side to side at the stairways, searching for their late friend, R, and suddenly feeling very foolish. The stadium is filled with a kind of restless energy that has built up from a winter off-season, a hope for what could be. Everyone at Royals Stadium today, before 1

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2 the first pitch is thrown, senses that anything could happen. This moment will not last, will shoot like fireworks into the atmosphere once the game begins, but for right now, everyone is happy. It is what the announcer calls a great day for some baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays have come to Kansas City with high hopes for this new season as well. The Blue Jays have finished two games out of first for two seasons in a row and it is hard on a teams spirit to count up the number of games in a season and then realize that out of those one hundred and sixty-two games, an error here or a called strike there means that you sit home during the off-season and feel a little like a failure. They are a good team with a solid group of talented veterans. They have the AL MVP, a solid outfield, a Gold Glove shortstop, and an ace pitcher, but everyone on the team realizes that there are only so many years that you can miss the playoffs and feel secure. For this season, the Blue Jays management has decided to leave the lineup mostly intact, giving this team one more chance before the overhaul begins. The only major lineup change is at catcher. Fan favorite Ernie Whitt, who was the only player left from the original lineup of the first Blue Jays team, but no longer able to hit with any consistency, is gone. Runners were not afraid of his arm and pitchers knew he chased anything low and outside. Then, after he let a pitch get away from him that allowed the game-winning run to score in a disappointing loss to Baltimore, Whitt told a reporter that he was sick and goddamned tired of taking the blame for pitchers and their son-of-a-bitchin wild arms. So, fan favorite or not, Whitt has been replaced by a rookie called up from Syracuse, the Jays AAA affiliate. His name is Troy Breckenridge and this game at Kansas City starts what he believes will be the best year of his life.

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3 21 Troy Breckenridge Bats Rights Throws Right Ht. 6-2 Wt. 205 Birthdate 08-28-64 1988 Club Syracuse G 131 Avg. .314 HR 27 RBI 94 Hometown Bellbuckle, TN Troy comes to the Blue Jays after an All-Star year in Syracuse. While there, he set a AAA league record for most steals by a catcher in a season (19). Jimy Williams says that although it is Troys first season, he will play an integral part in the Jays quest for a pennant. Troy, an avid fisherman, enjoys boating and hiking. Bio from 1989 Toronto Blue Jays Team Program Troy Breckenridge is Torontos catcher of the future. His arm is strong, strong enough to throw from his knees and still put away players trying to steal second. When he sets his feet to block home plate, waiting for a hard-charging runner coming from third, he smiles because he knows that when it is all over, he will still be holding the baseball. He is also quick, deceptively so for a catcher, for someone who spends half the game crouched down in a squat. He can send a pitch into left, center, or right field with equal power, can make the ball whistle, almost scream, when it comes off his bat. He has made the Blue Jays organization look very smart and feel very lucky. Troy sits in the dugout and watches the first three batters for the Blue Jays go down in order, all strikeouts. The Royals ace, Mark Gubicza, is throwing pitches with so much speed and spin that the batters cannot focus on the ball before it passes them and hits the catchers glove with that deep-buried whump. When Tony Fernandez, the leadoff man, comes back to the dugout after swinging on an outside curve, he slams his bat into the rack and mutters, Bitch broke like a tidal wave. Jimy Williams, the manager, shakes his head and yells over his shoulder at Fernandez.

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4 That pitch was outside from the start. It was outside the minute it left his hand and I said to myself, Tony wont swing at that garbage, and damned if you didnt swing at it. There is an uneasy feeling in the dugout already, and now they all have to sit there for nine innings with bad feelings hanging in the air, making it as stuffy and uncomfortable as a bomb shelter. Troy almost claps Tony on the shoulder, telling him that hell get one the next time around, but he thinks better of it when he sees Tonys face. Troy realizes that Tony already knows hell get one the next time around because he has to, because he cannot make two mistakes in a row. So the players sit in the dugout and focus on the game, waiting for something to happen. After the third strikeout, Troy snaps on his leg protectors and slips his mask over his head and trots onto the field to take warm-up pitches. He squats down behind the plate, balancing on the balls of his feet, ready to spring up and out. When the final warm-up pitch smacks into his glove, he snaps his arm and zips a perfect strike to Fernandez, who lays a tag on the imaginary runner for an easy out. The leadoff man for the Royals, Willie Wilson, steps up to the plate and now Troy can sense the umpire settling in behind him, can feel the umps chest protector rubbing against his helmet. The ump yells Play Ball, but it is not as loud as Troy had hoped it would be, seems to stick in the umps throat and never quite make it to the air. Troy checks the sign and relays it to his pitcher, who nods yes, and Troy can feel his whole body tense to the point that it is vibrating. The pitch comes, high and hard, and when Troy raises his mitt to meet the ball, he hears that soothing whump and his body is loose again. And this is how the entire inning goes, what Troy likes so much about

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5 baseball, about catching. Every pitch is like that first one, that quick feeling of terror, of not knowing what is going to come down the pipe, and then hearing that whump, and doing it all over again. Troy Breckenridge smiles as he tosses the ball back to his pitcher, already forgetting how easy it was and tensing himself up for the next one. The Royals strand two men on the bases and Troy snaps off his gear and tosses it into the dugout just as Leon, the batboy, hands him his bat. Troy stands in the on-deck circle and watches Gubicza warm up, looks for anything to get a slight edge, to catch that extra tenth-of-a-second head start on the pitch. He notices that Gubicza flips his wrist from right to left just before he throws a changeup, snaps it just as his grip tightens around the ball. Fred McGriff, Torontos cleanup hitter, starts off the inning with a blast into left field that bounces off the wall and sends McGriff to second standing up. Troy begins walking to the batters box, focused on Gubiczas wrist, watching it even though he cant quite figure out why it matters what his wrist is doing before he even has the ball in his hand. Troy hears his name over the loudspeaker, a clear, booming rendition of his name that carries into the crowd and hangs there for a second before he hears the boos and sees all the foam fingers wave in his direction, waggling back and forth in a way that looks obscene. He taps the dirt off his cleats, takes two practice swings, and then digs his back foot into the dirt and watches Gubiczas wrist. The pitcher checks the sign, begins to wind up, and it is at this moment that Troy realizes that he cant remember what the wrist-flip meant, what pitch would be coming. It wont come to him and now the pitch is about to come and Troy feels something shake inside of him, something shake so hard

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6 that it feels like it has rattled parts of him loose. He no longer cares what the pitch will be, knows that he is going to take it and send it deep, plunk it down into the fountain in center field so hard that water will splash down like rain onto the center fielder. The ball is a blur, a whitish comet with a tail that stretches all the way back to the pitchers mound, and Troy flexes his arms and readies his bat, and then it comes. It comes at him, Troy begins to realize. At his head. Troy sees it now, knows it is going to hit him, but only stares at the pitch, squinting his eyes as if he is searching for a faint star in the sky. And then it hits him. The sound of the ball hitting his helmet echoes into the stands. It sounds like an old tree snapping in half, like something finally giving way to fate. There is an audible noise that comes from the crowd, an aaaah that starts high and slowly loses volume, but Troy does not hear it, does not hear anything but a sharp ringing in his ears. Troy jumps back up to his feet, shakes his head, and follows the baseline that the umpire is pointing him towards, though he cannot tell right now exactly where it is he is going. He is squinting still for no particular reason, and the muscles in his face uncontrollably tighten and then go slack as he stands on first base, as if his body is still replaying the moment over and over. All Troy can think about is that it is puzzling to see something that is not supposed to come at your head actually come at your head. The first base coach claps some of the dirt off of Troys jersey while people mark down the event on their scorecards. Troy Breckenridges first major league at-bat is marked HBP. Hit By Pitch. Now, Troy is running. He is running very fast around the bases and he does not know why until suddenly he realizes that he is in a baseball game and someone must have

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7 hit the ball somewhere and now he is running the bases as the rules dictate a player must do. What is frightening to Troy is that he does not remember the hit, does not understand why Jesse Barfield is running behind him instead of Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee, who follow Troy in the batting order. All he can do is watch the third-base coach, his right arm waving like a windmill, and trust that the coach saw where the ball went and what happened to Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee and that they are okay because Troy can only run. He swings around third and he sees the catcher for the Royals, mask flipped aside and legs planted, waiting for the throw. Troy puts his head down, focuses on the white line of the base path, and then he hears this whizzing sound, feels something hot pass by his ear but he only sees the white line and he follows it until he smashes into the catcher, puts his shoulder right into the catchers chest and lifts him off the ground and to the left and sees the ball fly to the right. Troy touches home plate and just keeps going into the dugout, past the umpire, who is swinging his arms out, SAFE, past Fred McGriff, who apparently has already scored, and past Leon the batboy, who is mouthing the words Holy shit. Troy sits down in his spot on the bench and tries to catch his breath. His teammates circle around Troy and clap him on the back, and Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee are there and Troy wants to ask what happened to them, but they look so happy and all the other players looks so happy that Troy too is happy and he does not even think about the hit-by-pitch or the gap in memory and he smiles. Williams comes over to Troy and asks him Are you okay, son? You still got all your faculties with you? and Troy nods. Williams laughs out the side of his mouth. I thought for sure you were dead when you took that pitch, but you jumped up like one

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8 of them plastic, inflatable boxing toys. Im serious; your head had hardly touched the ground and you were already rising upright. Way to take one. Troy feels good. Well, he is in good spirits, but his head is still ringing, but not so loud, more like background music now. Leon comes over to Troy and hands him a piece of paper. Its from his wife, Sue Bee, and all it says is are you okay???? Below that, there are two boxes, one labeled YES and the other NO, and Troy marks the YES box and gives it back to Leon. When the inning is over and Troy walks to home plate, he finds his wife in the stands, on the first-base line with some of the other players wives, and he gives her a thumbs-up sign and he can see her face ease into a smile. And Troy feels good about today, has already forgotten the unpleasantness, the ringing ears and memory loss and the tenderness on the left side of his head, and he is ready for more baseball. When the fifth inning comes around, the Blue Jays are up 2-0. Before Troy steps into the on-deck circle, Jimy Williams stops him, grasps him tight on the shoulder and tells him, Dont go and get scared with this pitcher. Dont give him an inch of that plate. You stand right back where you were and tell him Hit me again, you bastard, but you aint getting this inside corner. You got that, Troy? Troy nods, and when he comes to bat the bases are empty with two outs. He stands in the same place as before. He is not worried. Troy is a big man and the pitcher looks small from this distance. He tightens his grip on the bat, keeps his weight directly in the center, and watches. He watches the wind-up, sees the pitchers leg kick high and then his arm raise up fast behind him, and then ball is coming towards him again, directly towards him again.

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9 Troy feels the vibrations, feels something shake inside his belly, but this time he knows he will not send this ball into the outfield. He manages to put his shoulder into the pitch and takes it on his left bicep. As he walks to first, murmurs pass through the crowd like a poorly planned wave, starting on first and moving around to third, a delayed ooh. Fact-checkers for the announcers are looking to see if this has ever happened before. Troy stands on first and rubs his arm. It is a dull throb, not very painful at all, but he wonders if it is the ringing in his ears that keeps him from concentrating on his arm. He is stranded on first and when he comes back to the dugout to get his gear, the players slap his ass and say, Way to take one, Troy. Manny Lee, the second baseman, whispers in Troys ear as he passes, Pretty soon, youre gonna get to swing at one, rookie, pretty soon, and now Troy is a little worried. The Royals side goes down in order and when Troy gets back to the bench, Leon has another note for him, another set of boxes to check, and Troy marks YES again. The next inning, Troy steps up to the plate again. The bases are loaded, with one out, and Troy keeps telling himself not to swing at any junk, though this is just habit. In the back of his mind, all he can think about is the last two at-bats, the way the ball came at him. He takes three practice swings, level and swift, and he stands just a little bit away from the plate, just a couple of inches, but he hopes it is enough to allow him to swing at a pitch. Mark Gubicza looks unhappy, looks like he is thinking about the last two at-bats as much as Troy is. His wrist is flipping around and around as if it is trying to disconnect itself from Gubiczas arms and fly away with the ball. He does not want to throw this pitch and Troy does not want to receive it. It comes, a curve ball that keeps curving,

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10 keeps curving until it beans Troy on the left shoulder and Gubicza throws his glove to the ground while Troy walks slowly to the base. Hell get an RBI for this one, an RBI and another HBP. George Brett, the Royals first baseman, leans into Troy. Gubicza wanted me to tell you that hes got nothing against you as a person. He aint doing it on purpose. Just a freak thing I guess. When the inning ends and Troy comes back to the dugout, only a couple players say anything, and then they only use expletives like fucking strange or goddamned puzzling. There are no way to take ones this time. When the Royals go down in order again and he comes back to the bench, there is another note, but he crumples this one up and tosses it into the corner of the dugout. He doesnt think Sue Bee would like to see what he checked this time. It is the ninth inning and there is a new pitcher. Troy feels good about this change, thinks perhaps he and Gubicza have some kind of mutual opposition thing going on that needs to be resolved at some point, but not right now. Tom Gordon, a rookie like Troy, takes some practice throws, and while he warms up, Troy waits in the on-deck circle with Leon the batboy. Leon is the kid of one of the front-office guys and he is old for a batboy, seventeen. He smokes a cigarette, keeps his hand cupped around it so you can only see the burning red and then the smoke. Troy does not understand why Leon would still want to be a batboy, but he has been since he was seven. He has a patch on his jersey that says DECADE BATBOY. Leon is the only batboy in the league with such a patch. Leon is trying to tell Troy about some bet with the Royals batboy, a nine-year-old, that Leon keeps calling a real pigeon, but Troy is trying hard not to listen. He is

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11 focusing on Gordon, who has a lot of heat and not much else, which Troy figures he can handle. Leon keeps talking, telling Troy that he has bet the Royals batboy fifteen dollars that Troy can get hit by another pitch. If it happens, Leon will give Troy a third of the money. Finally, Gordon is warmed-up and Troy steps to the plate and waggles his bat, stands close to the plate again, not giving an inch. Gordon checks the sign and as he winds up, Troy can hear something being chanted by the crowd. BEAN BEAN BEAN BEAN and this is all Troy can hear and then the pitch comes and Troy leans back from a smoking fastball. Troy pulls back enough that he looks like he will fall over backward and then the ball bends. The ball, a fastball on the inside corner, looks as if it changes direction, and bends right into Troy. In his awkward position, the force of the pitch knocks him over and he rolls out of the batters box. The crowd is cheering, as if something spectacular has happened. The Royals are going to lose this game; the fans realize this and so they have focused on something else to make their trip to the stadium worthwhile. They are cheering and clapping in a way that seems as if Troys being hit four times is better than a Royals win. The catcher and umpire help him up, and Troy starts to walk. He keeps seeing the way the ball moved, the way it found him, and he is headed for the dugout, just wants to sit down for a second and rest, but then Leon runs over to him and directs him to first base. Troy snaps awake, remembers there is still a game going on, and begins to move towards first, where the first-base coach is shaking his head. Two pitches later, Troy still on first, Leon runs over to Troy and presses something into his hand. He assumes it is another note from his wife, but when he looks down, he sees a five-dollar bill. Troy folds

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12 the bill and shoves it into his back pocket. He will keep it. At this point, even though he isnt exactly sure why Leon has given him this money, Troy feels that he has earned it. The first-base coach still hasnt said a word, will not even touch Troys jersey to clap the dirt off. George Brett is far from the base, very far. Everyone seems to want to give Troy his space, give him a chance to think about whats going on, but Troy does not want to think about it at all. Still, he cant help it, cant help thinking about the ball and the curving and the smack sound it made as it hit him. Its a lot to think about and Troy is happy when the inning is over and even more when the Royals side is finally retired and the game is over. The team is happy about the win, they all form a circle, and if Troy thought about it, he would be happy about the win too, but that is not what hes thinking about as they head to the showers, change, and head back to the hotel. Hes thinking about the HBPs, thinking that something is not right, not right at all. Jimmy Greenway: I think weve all witnessed something very special here today. Pete Fowler: Well, maybe not special. Jimmy: Special may not be the right word. Pete: Strange would be more appropriate I think. Jimmy: I agree. I think Troy Breckenridge would be inclined to agree too. Royals Wrap-Up, 04/03/89

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CHAPTER 2 I watch him slide, not down but out. The way his cleats reflect the sunlights gleam, The way they melt into the base A flash before the ball and glove touch down. He rises, brushes off the dirt. The red cloud swims around his arms before It settles, And he settles into his crouch To watch the pitcher tuck, unfurl and throw. His breathing comes in rapid bursts, For now he sees hes still too far away. The chalk line stretches, bends, then fades. Hes far from home, wants only to get back. To get back home. The Diamonds Edge by Susan Beatrice Breckenridge, originally published in the Maple Leaf Review, Spring Issue, 1989 After the game, while Troy and his teammates shower, he tries to rub shampoo into his hair and realizes it is not going to work very well at all. He can hardly lift his left arm. From the minute the game ended, once the adrenaline faded out, he has not been able to feel his arm. He has to clean his entire body with his right hand, and so naturally there are nooks and crannies that cannot be reached, will remain untouched for now because he knows it is improper to ask for help in the shower, cannot imagine anything worse than asking one of his pitchers to scrub him. When he steps out of the shower, he feels half-dirty, as if one side never really showered at all. He wraps the towel poorly around his waist, not able to fully tuck it in, and he knows the towel will drop at any second, will not stay around his waist. So, he grips it tight with his good hand and shuffles quickly to his locker, only to find it 13

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14 surrounded by five reporters. He does not want to talk to them, feels embarrassed about the whole thing, but he scoots by them and answers a few questions, still gripping his towel. He tells them that no, he was not trying to get hit on purpose, and no this has not happened before and no, he has no hard feelings for the Royals pitchers and yes, he can make out how many fingers they are holding up and no, he does not expect to make a habit of being hit by pitches. The team doctor, a lanky man with a thin mustache that does not look real, sidles his way into the half-circle of questions and tells the reporters that Troy has to be examined now for signs of a concussion and any lingering effects of head trauma, which sounds very serious, something Troy was not expecting. He has been worried about why he was hit four times today, not the actual fact that he was hit four times today, and all of a sudden he realizes that he was hit very hard in the head with an eighty-five mile an hour fastball, and it starts to worry him a little. The team doctor check shines a penlight into Troys eyes, examines the bruising on his forearm, snaps his fingers, and pronounces Troy to be okay, fiddle-fit he calls it. You reckon I might have a concussion? Troy asks. The doctor looks puzzled, frowns in a way that pulls his face towards the center, makes his little mustache disappear. Oh, well, yes. You have a concussion. Not much to that. You got hit in the head with a baseball, you know. The arm, though, thats what might be more of a problem. Give it a soak tonight and well see what it looks like tomorrow. Then the doctor hands Troy some pills, says only, Here are some pills to take. He says nothing about what they are, how many to take at a time, when to take them, as if

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15 these matters are unimportant. After he finishes changing into his street clothes, struggling with the buttons of his shirt until his arm throbs, Troy pops two pills into his mouth, slips the rest into his pocket, and walks toward the exit. The reporters have moved over to George Bells locker and as Troy awkwardly walks past the crowd he can hear George muttering to one of the reporters, Well, he didnt say anything to me if he meant to do it. By the time he gets on the bus to go back to the hotel, the pills are working. He still cannot feel his left arm, but he finds he doesnt care anymore, feels peaceful and happy and suddenly he is looking forward to the next game in two days, is grateful that at least his throwing arm is still okay. He sleeps for the fifteen minutes it takes to get back to the hotel and it takes several players to shake him awake. Duane Ward shows him the drool stain Troy left on Duanes new shirt as he slept, head pressed into Duanes shoulder, but even then Troy does not care. He feels that fine. He takes the elevator to the seventh floor with some of the other players and when he walks into his room, his wife is there, has been waiting since the game ended. She gets off the bed and jumps into his arms, but there is only one arm that can hold her. Thankfully, she is very small, weighs almost nothing, and Troy shifts her to one side, cradles her with his good arm. She kisses him, presses her lips softly against his neck and face, and Troy tries to move his arm, shakes his body in such a way to make his left arm swing, lightly brush against her rear end, but it doesnt really work. His arm just jiggles spastically, kind of jumps around, tapping her thigh. She stops kissing him, keeping her arms tight around his neck. Whats wrong, honey?

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16 He laughs, says that his arm hurts a little, but it isnt much to worry about, that the doctor has cleared him and given him some pills, and that he will be fine for the next game and that he can probably move his arm if he really wants to, but thinks it best to give it a rest tonight and that is why he isnt giving her a full hug. Sue Bee looks at him, looks down at his arm, then looks at him again. No, I mean why does this side of your neck taste like dirt? Now, as Troy sits in the bathtub of Room 704 of the Kansas City Marriott Hotel while his wife, Sue Bee, washes his hair for him, he no longer feels very fine. He feels lousy because his head hurts again and he is half-dirty and he still cannot understand what happened today. Sue Bee dunks his head into the tub and scrubs out the shampoo, getting both sides of his head evenly cleaned. Troy feels slightly embarrassed about the whole bath thing, doesnt feel this is the way he and his wife should celebrate his first major-league game, but she has insisted. Sue Bee dips one of the hotel glasses into the tub and pours it over Troys head and then begins to soap the washcloth. Troy leans back in the tub, looks up at the little bottles of hotel shampoo and conditioner and body lotion. Sue Bee has forgotten to use the conditioner on his hair, but he decides not to mention it, feels to do so would be in poor taste, seeing as how she is already washing him, him a grown man. He would feel worse about it, but the water is warm, and he is clean, and Sue Bees washcloth feels good as it sweeps across his body. He looks at her pruning hands, the delicate blond hair on her arms flecked with soap bubbles. Water from the tub soaks her tee shirt so it sticks close to her body, while her hair is falling around her face in strands, little wisps that hang down past her chin. Her blue eyes are so light that they

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17 could be silver, hover between the two colors in such a way that sometimes it seems to Troy that he could see right through her eyes, right through them and inside her head, where she keeps her thoughts. And this makes Troy happy, to stare into her eyes so hard that he thinks he knows what she is thinking, and right now he thinks he can see. He grips her hand, the one holding the washcloth, pulls her so close that she is leaning over the tub. He keeps pulling her with his good arm, closer and closer to the surface of the water and he tries to reach his other arm around her but it wont react the way he wants. Still, Sue Bee does not see this, just keeps coming closer. And now she is in the tub with Troy and the water level rises slightly and they stay like that for what seems like a long time. Troy loves Sue Bee more than just about anything else, as much as he loves playing baseball. He thinks he would love her more than baseball, a lot more, if she loved baseball too. If she loved the game just a little, it would balance the relationship more, wouldnt put all the pressure on him, but she does not. She likes the unique design of each ballpark, the thousand different ways pitchers can make a ball curve. She likes it when an outfielder leaps into the air, climbs the wall to catch a long drive, only to have it sail just out of his reach for a home run. She says she likes the futility of it, the struggle for something just out of reach. She likes all of these things, but she does not love them. There are lots of things to love, Troy, but baseball is not one of them. Baseball is something to play. Sue Bee is a poet. She strings words together in strange shapes and sounds and Troy never understands what he is reading until he reaches the end. He can hear the beginning of the poem when he finishes; it echoes in his head until he follows the

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18 unbroken chain of words in reverse to find that first word and when he reaches it, he goes forward again, through the same words. And he does this again and again until he thinks he understands and even if he doesnt he is sure that Sue Bee is happy for the effort, like Troy is happy when she explains the infield fly rule to someone during a game. He met her in college, the community college where he played before he went pro and moved to Knoxville for AA ball. Motlow State Community College is a little nothing school in Tennessee, built with money from the Jack Daniels fortune in nearby Lynchburg. Troy was the starting catcher for the Motlow State Bucks because the school was close to his family in Bellbuckle and the baseball program was respected as far as community colleges went. Sue Bee taught poetry there and was the editor of the schools literary journal, The Distillery. Troy did not like school, had never been particularly fond of learning on his own. And so when he came to Motlow knowing that the Blue Jays were going to calling him up to the minors pretty soon and saw that the poetry class only met once a week, had fewer assignments than any other writing course, and that the classroom generally kept a four to one ratio of women to men, he was sold. At the first poetry class, she handed out a poem and asked the class to scan it, putting stresses where appropriate. She showed them the first line, where the marks would go, and Troy had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. She put the chalk down and settled into her chair, but Troy kept hoping she would say more, show them maybe another line, then another, until the poem was scanned, but she just sat there. She looked young for a professor; Troy would later find out that she was only eight years older than he, a beautiful woman with brown-gold hair and dark purple-rimmed glasses that she kept propped on her head, pulling them down only to check the clock on the far

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19 wall. Her head was tucked down, chin on her chest, and it looked to Troy that she was asleep, the way her eyelids fluttered every few seconds, and Troy found he was staring at her too much, for too long, and everyone else in class was already on the second stanza. He looked up at the board again, tried to figure out what the lines meant, and decided he would just mark a stress on the verbs and adverbs and unstress the nouns and adjectives. He went fifty-fifty on the prepositions, and when he was finished the poems looked like some strange diagram, smiley faces and forward strokes with no apparent rhyme or reason. Sue Bee checked the clock one last time, pulling down her glasses, and then reconvened the class, calling each person to do a line of the poem. When it came Troys turn, he listed the stresses of the line, tapping and out from the line Tapping his pipe out on a white-flaked column. Sue Bee frowned, twisted her mouth from side to side, and then smiled at Troy, a quick smile that showed the impression of dimples on either side of her face. No, but its close. And Troy smiled back and went through the rest of the poem, marking everything unstressed, smiley face after smiley face until there was pure happiness looking up at him from the page. Troy could not figure out meter. He spent hours counting out syllables on his hands, erasing his paper until he rubbed through to the wood of the table. He used a metronome, spoke the lines out loud with comical emphasis on stressed words. When his roommate, the left fielder on the baseball team, was out of the room, he would get out of his chair and try to dance the lines. It was Sue Bees suggestion and if anyone else had said it, he would have dismissed it immediately, but there he was, twisting to T. S. Eliot. He couldnt make the lines fit, his words stumbled over each other, and Troy felt uncoordinated in a way he could not remember having felt before.

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20 When it came time for him to create original works, he would turn in a terrible poem in quatrains and Sue Bee would smile, delicately show him that adding a fifth line to a stanza no longer makes it a quatrain, and Troys face would burn red in patches. He would take his poem back to revise and beg her to come watch him play baseball. Im good at something, he would say, I just want you to see Im really good at something. Sue Bee would look down at the floor and tell him that she wasnt a fan of baseball. Besides, she said, I think theres lots of things you would probably be really good at. Sestinas didnt makes sense either. He couldnt remember the sequence for the lines, had trouble making his words last, as if he was rationing them out in tiny bites. It took him the entire week, to stretch the words out six times, to squeeze every last inch of meaning out of them, and when he was done, he knew it didnt make a lick of sense. When he showed her the poem, she frowned while she read it, seemed to be working the syntax out in her head, making the sentences work as she went through it. She finally looked up and smiled, almost apologetically, and Troy wanted to run his finger across her face, close his eyes and feel the impression. He wondered if the dimples looked different when she really smiled, when she meant it. He waved off her suggestions, told her not to bother with line editing. Im just no damn good at this stuff, he muttered, just not good at all. At the next game, she was in the stands. Troy smiled all through warm-ups, pegged the ball even harder into his teammates gloves. During his first at-bat, Troy took a pitch so far out of the park that no saw where it finally ended up, the ball kept carrying and carrying with such ferocity that eventually most everyone gave up on tracking it as it fell back to earth. But she watched, squinted her eyes and tried her best to follow the arc,

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21 follow the beginning to end of it. He stood on third in the last inning and watched her sit, cross-legged and propping up a notebook spilling with scraps of paper. He watched her so close, the way she was staring back at him, and he started running, left the base before the pitcher had even started winding up, and Troy just kept going, slid across home just under the tag. After the game, she waited for him outside the park. You look really graceful when you run, she said. Troy looked down at the ground and said, I just put my head down and go. Not much else to it I reckon. Thats when you know youre really good at something. You do it without thinking, it just happens to you. Then I guess I got a ways to go on the poetry. They went back to her apartment and she showed him her poetry and he showed her the proper batting stance and they drove together to poetry class the next day, each convinced of the other persons perfection. Now, Troy sits on the bed, while Sue Bee rubs feeling back into his arm as they watch the TV. He can lift it now, move it around, pick up objects with it, and they are both happy about this. He will spend most of tomorrow in the whirlpool, keep his entire arm either iced or heated or both. Troy is still thinking about the game, the pitches, and he asks Sue Bee what it looked like from the stands. Well, it kind of looked likethe first ones just looked like the pitches got away from him. There is a silence for a while until Troy asks about the last two at-bats. Well, those looked more likelike something magnetic, like you were a big magnet and those pitches just had to come to you.

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22 This does nothing for Troy, makes him feel just as confused as he was before, and he sinks lower on the bed, presses his back into the pillows. Sue Bee reminds him of the good job he did behind the plate, that he didnt make an error. She reminds him of the first time he got on base, of beating the throw from the outfield and scoring all the way from first. Those things are sometimes more important than something like getting hit a few times, she says. Those things are just as good I would think. And Troy smiles, tries not to seem sullen or perturbed by the game, and he pulls Sue Bee close to him. They lie like that for a while, and then Sue Bee scrambles off the bed, runs to the TV to turn it up. The game is on the news. Theyre talking about the game! Troy sits up in bed, and Sue Bee sits back down. Maybe theyll show you, and all of a sudden there is a montage of clips, all of Troy getting hit. There are clips of Troy getting hit in slow motion, from different angles. There is nothing else mentioned about the game, only the shots of Troy turning away from the pitches. Its not that important, Troy. Whats important is that you played a good game. Whats important is that you were okay. On the TV, the announcer states, Luckily, Mr. Breckenridge suffered no injuries from the pitches. Sue Bee smiles, points to the TV, and says, See? Troy, this is stupid. This wont prove anything. Just try it, just to see. It wont make any difference whether it happens or not, cause were in a hotel room by ourselves.

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23 Sue Bee, just throw the shampoo bottle please. Troy stands ready at one end of the hotel room, holding a rolled-up copy of the Atlantic Monthly, his right arm cocked for the pitch. At the other end, Sue Bee pulls down her glasses to see Troys strike zone, grips the plastic bottle of shampoo. This means something to Troy, will make a difference. He watches Sue Bee, the way her front leg hardly moves as she winds up. Her arm looks awkward as the shampoo bottle comes down the pipe. Troy tightens his grip on the magazine, as if he will connect with that shampoo bottle and send pieces of plastic and gobs of shampoo flying across the room. The bottle sails slowly, too close to Troy for him to make contact, and as he tries to swing at the pitch, it strikes him on the left thigh. He tosses the magazine, pages fluttering as it flies out of his hands. Did you do that on purpose? he asks. Oh, goddamn, Troy. No, of course not. Well, that pretty much seals it. What the hell are you talking about? It was a shampoo bottle. Im not even a real pitcher. I throw like a girl. It still hit me. This is ridiculous. We just need to go to bed and tomorrow will be fine and the next day youll get to swing at a pitch and things will go back to normal. Troy looks down at the shampoo, kicks it around with his feet. He does feel a little ridiculous, now that he thinks about it, though he would feel less ridiculous if he had sent that bottle to the far wall of the hotel room. Sue Bee slips into bed, calls for Troy. He shrugs his shoulders, picks the shampoo off the ground and places it on the

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24 nightstand. After the lights are off, after he wraps his arms around Sue Bee while she sleeps, he lies awake, waiting to fall asleep. He waits for dreams to come, baseball dreams where he connects with the ball so hard that it flies into the air and does not come down until morning. And for the fourth time tonight, we have another dedication for Troy Breckenridge, the Toronto player who took the hit four times today. Troy, Sarah from Sugar Creek sends this one out to you, Pat Benatars Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Feel Better, Troy. DJ Mark Kinnton, KSRC Star 102, transcript, 11:45 04/03/89

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CHAPTER 3 A hits a hit. Even if it means getting hit. Yogi Berra, October 12 th 1961 When Troy steps out of the dugout for his first at-bat of the second game of the season, his teammates are silent, cannot figure out what to say exactly. He knows theyre thinking about the same thing he is, the same thing hes been trying not to think about, and he does not blame them for their silence. During batting practice, before the game, he was hit three times until the pitching coach finally started lofting the pitches, a softball arc, but even then Troy couldnt take a real swing because the ball would curve towards him, come at him until he leaned out of the box. Finally, the batting coach stepped in and told Troy that maybe he better save it for the game, but Troy didnt quite understand what it was he was supposed to save. He doesnt think there is much to say now, but then Manager Williams spits and says, Try not to get hit. A base would be nice, believe me, but maybe try to get a double or single this time. Troy nods, waiting in the on-deck circle. Leon is there, flirting with an uninterested teenaged girl in the front row. When he notices Troy, he smiles at the girl, blows her a kiss, and then talks to Troy. It turns out the Kansas City batboy still hasnt learned his lesson from the previous game and now there is even more money riding on Troy, who cuts Leon off before he can say anything else. Troy tries to explain. 25

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26 Leon, he says, I need you to understand the delicate nature of this at-bat, okay? Theres, well, there is a necessity for my bat to make contact with that ball. For confidence, okay? I gotta hit that ball and get extra bases and then those fellas in the lineup behind me have a better chance of bringing me in. And, hell, Leon, I guess I got a selfish desire to avoid bodily harm if at all possible. You reckon any of this could get you to ease up on me? At least until the fifth or sixth inning? Leon looks on, disinterested. He has fifty dollars riding on this at-bat and, confidence-builder or not, he needs this money. Troy wonders if maybe there is another batboy, a younger one who would hand Troy a special, magic bat that would allow him to get a hit, one that looked with awe at Troy, a major-league baseball player. He wonders if there is not some way that he can get Leon kicked off the team, thrown out of the majors for betting on the outcome of a game he has a personal stake in. Troy thinks about all of this for a while and then realizes that hes about to bat, and so he forgets about it, tries to at least, and focuses on the pitcher. Before he steps into the batters box, Troy looks over at Sue Bee, who is leaning forward so far that she looks as if she is about to fall over the rail and onto the playing field. He wants to wave, give a thumbs-up, but thinks better of it and readies himself for the first pitch. He tries not to think about the last four at-bats, tries to block them out of his mind. Every at-bat is a fresh start. It is one of the things he loves about baseball, especially given his circumstances, that there is no way to predict what will happen, and when the pitcher winds up, Troy believes in his heart of hearts that something good will come of this pitch.

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27 It comes, rolls off the pitchers fingers and spins, end over end, so that the red stitching flickers like a sirens flash against the white blur. Troy waits, waits to hear the crack of bat on ball, perhaps even the smack against the catchers mitt, but there is only that dull sound, that monotone thump against his body and Troy knows that this will not be over any time soon. Pete Fowler: Here comes Troy Breckenridge for his second at-bat. Jimmy Greenway: Already today, Breckenridge is 0 for 1 with a hit-by-pitch. That makes it five for the season already, right Pete? Pete: Five and counting. Jimmy: Breckenridge readies himself for the pitch. He looks a little pale, dont you think, Pete? Pete: He looks a little peaked, yes. Jimmy: Saberhagen waves off another call. He seems a little reluctant, a little hesitant to throw a pitch. Im sure the last at-bat between these two is in his mind. And I have to admit that I would be thinking about it as well. Its been a strange start for Breckenridge thus far, but hes got another chance here. What do you think, Pete? Pete: I think hes going to get hit by this pitch. This one right here. Jimmy: The windup, here comes the pitchlooks like you were right, Pete. Pete: Just a hunch. 04/05/89 Broadcast of Kansas City-Toronto Major League Baseball game Troy is hit four times, until Manager Williams finally pulls him out of the game in the eighth inning. Son, he says to Troy, you are going to get killed if I let you go to bat again, and I dont believe the front office would look too kindly on that, killing off my starting catcher two games into the season. Troy ices his arm in a tub while he watches the rest of the game on the TV in the clubhouse. He watches his replacement behind the plate, a big dumb ox of a player named Pat Borders, throw high and wild trying to put out a runner stealing second. Troy watches the ball roll into the outfield and feels good that at least through all of this, hes thrown out all three stolen-base attempts and hasnt made an error. He doesnt think

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28 anyone else even cares, realizes even he would rather get a couple hits even if it means that he flubs a pop-up here and there or throws wild to second. After the game, another Blue Jays win, the press surrounds Troy, asks him the same questions as the previous day, and he answers almost the same as before: no he wasnt trying to get hit; no this hasnt happened before, except of course for the previous game; actually, he does feel a little animosity towards the Royals pitching staff now that you mention it; three fingers held in front of him; and no this will not continue, this getting-hit-by-pitches thing. But it does continue, all through the next series against Texas and again in New York. Troy walks up to the plate, taps the plate, takes a swing, normal routine. He still believes though it gets harder every time but he still believes it will happen for him. The Yankees catcher laughs softly under his breath each time Troy takes a practice swing. Guess you gotta take your swings when you can, and Troy agrees with him, says damn right, and then takes the pitch on the shoulder, flexes the pain out, and takes his base. Sue Bee is back in Toronto. It is not customary for players wives to travel with the team, but Troy begins to wish she was here in New York with him, wants to have someone to come home to after the game. As it is, he shrugs off half-hearted offers from other players to go out. He says he has to get home, look at the tapes from the last game, and they understand, actually prefer it because they will inevitably talk about the games. They will talk about the games and that will lead to talk of individual performances, which will lead to discussion of Troys performance, which will lead to laughing and

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29 snickering and maybe even tears rolling down faces from laughing so hard. So, it may be best if Troy not attend. Instead, Troy sits in his hotel room with a tennis ball, winding up and pitching it against the wall. Then as it bounces back at him, he assumes his batting stance, tries to reenact the at-bats, but the room is too small and there isnt enough room for the tennis ball to come back at him with any kind of speed, and pretty soon there is a polite call from the management of the hotel asking if he could kindly stop the hammering or bouncing or jumping or whatever it is that is making the incessant, monotone thumping noise that several of the other guests have been calling to complain about. Troy apologizes, says he was doing calisthenics to keep in shape, but the hotel person has already hung up. Troy dials his home in Toronto and Sue Bee answers. Hey, honey. I dont know if you saw the gameits still happening, the HBP thing. Actually, its all over the TV. You should see the newspaper. They have this thing, this counter or something that That what? Nothing. Youll see when you come back. I cant wait for you to come back here. Are you okay? I guess. Im thinking about changing my stance maybe, shift my body to the left more. What do you think? I think you should just wait until you get back to Toronto. I think you just need a home game to sort everything out.

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30 Youre probably right. I just cant helpwhat about this counter thing now? Its nothing, its just this stupid newspaper thing they have. I think I have a copy of todays edition. Ill save it for you. Good luck tomorrow. Things will work out. I think so, too. Well, thats something at least. Troy returns to Toronto with a 9-game HBP streak, 31 at-bats, 31 HBPs. At the newsstand, he finally sees what Sue Bee was talking about. On the front page of the Toronto Star is a caricature of Troy in his Blue Jays uniform, his face slightly bruised and his left arm emitting nonsensical #!!$%&*! marks that Troy assumes to indicate pain or discomfort. There is a counter beside him that states how many at-bats he has had (31) and how many HBPs hes taken (31). Its called the Breckenridge Hit-by-Pitchometer and the newsstand owner tells Troy that hes been on the front page since the third game of the season. The Star added the arm-pain nonsense today. I cant imagine what that little guys gonna look like by the end of the season, the newsstand guy says. Troy shakes his head, places the newspaper back on the counter. I cant either. Troy sits on the couch with Sue Bee, eating popcorn and watching some nature documentary about seals or walruses or perhaps how the two either do or dont get along. Troy isnt really watching it. Their apartment is a little two-bedroom place on King Street, so Troy can walk to the stadium if he wants. The building is just a few years shy of needing renovations. Like most apartment complexes in Toronto, it seems a holdover

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31 from the 60s, jutting balconies and unnecessary windows. Most of the players live in the suburbs, in big houses with nicely manicured lawns, but Sue Bee likes the city, wants to be close to the museums and bookstores. They changed one of the bedrooms into a study, where Sue Bee writes her poems and Troy looks over statistics and studies opposing pitchers strengths and weaknesses. They covered the walls of the study with framed portraits of their heroes: Johnny Bench and Robert Penn Warren, Willie Mays and Emily Dickinson. The carpet is deep blue and the walls are eggshell and the furniture is earth-toned and it all feels as comfortable as it sounds. Troy likes the apartment for now, thinks it is a good way to get to know Toronto, to get used to it, because there are lots of things to get used to. The hot-dog vendors use Grey Poupon mustard; the buns have poppy seeds on them. Troy doesnt know why, but this makes him ill at ease, that he is eating something more than a hot dog, and though he may have to eat them, he doesnt have to like it. Hot-dog preferences aside, for the most part the switch from Tennessee to Toronto has been easy. He doesnt worry about the ramifications of playing Americas game while representing a foreign team. Still, it is not something that a young ballplayer likes to hear, that a Canadian ball club has drafted him. After he was drafted, Troys agent said, The big problem is that the currency is a bitch, Troy. You ever buy a magazine and see the difference in price if you bought it in Canada? Everythings like that. Troy didnt care so much about that, was happy to get to play professional ball anywhere, but to come from a tiny town like Bellbuckle, Tennessee and be expected to fit in right away in a big city like Toronto is asking a lot. Being with Sue Bee has helped. She seems made to live in a place filled with people, with motion. She pulls Troy down

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32 streets he doesnt even know the names of, into restaurants and to author readings when Troy would have just stayed at home and eaten a microwave pizza if hed been by himself. She makes him happy that he is in Toronto, in a place where there are things for both of them. There is a game tomorrow, the first home game of the season, and Troy is trying to relax, but he feels nervous all the time now, feels like he is being lead somewhere he does not want to go. Sue Bee has not mentioned the Hit-by-Pitchometer again. They sit in bed, him looking over the opposing-pitcher sheets for Kansas City, the opponent tomorrow. He wonders if it will be like it was in Kansas City, the fans cheering as he got hit. It happened in all the away games, fans seemingly excited to see him when he came to bat, the cheers and applause when he took the pitch. He wonders what the Toronto fans will do, if the home crowd will boo the opposing pitcher for his poor pitching skills. He imagines a Blue Jays fan, face painted blue and white, poppy-seeded hot dog in hand, screaming at the Royals pitcher, Hey dont take it out on our player, just cause you have to play for Kansas City, and the crowd will back him with cheers, followed by a chant to Let him hit, let him hit. He smiles, feels gratitude for these imaginary fans, and after a while, he isnt even studying the pitchers charts any more, though, with all of the HBPs lately, he doubts that he needs to anyway. Troy looks over at Sue Bee, scribbling lines in her notebook, and as he glances at the page, he sees words he knows, batters box, swing, hit by pitch. When he asks, she tells him that shes been thinking about whats been going on with him, the HBP thing. Shes been writing some poems about it, about baseball, and though she doesnt want to show him any yet, they arent really developed, she thinks they may be interesting. Troy

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33 feels happy at first, thinks its encouraging for her to show interest in the game, but he thinks about his name in her poems, his name beside words like fall, beaned, bruised. He thinks of how his predicament may sound worse if it is rhymed, if it is in iambic pentameter, that it might sound more tragic than it really is. Baseball poems never end well: Casey at the Bat. I just dont see why it deserves to be made into a poem is all, he tells. Troy, theres something really perfect in whats going on, some kind of metaphor that I think could really be fantastic. A metaphor for what? I dont know yet, but something, something good. Me getting beaned in the head with a fastball is metaphorical? Yes. But it hurts. Metaphors arent supposed to hurt are they? Sometimes. Sometimes metaphors hurt worse than the real thing. Tom Cheek: Here we go Jays fans. Lets hope that some home-field advantage will help Breckenridge out of this streak hes been going through on the road. Jerry Howarth: Sometimes all it takes is to be on familiar ground to turn something Tom Cheek: Looks like its gonna take a little more than that. 04/14/89 Broadcast of Toronto-Kansas City Major League Baseball game

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CHAPTER 4 TAKING IT ON THE CHIN Troy Breckenridge, Torontos rookie sensation, is leading the league with an unheard of 1.000 on-base average. So why hasnt he recorded a single hit yet? By Paul Wolfe When the Blue Jays called up Troy Breckenridge from their farm club in Syracuse for the new season, many insiders in the organization believed the young catcher was going to be a big hit in Toronto. They had no idea how right they would be. In what is proving to be one of the strangest individual seasons in baseball history, Troy Breckenridge is currently on pace to smash three current major league records to the point that they may never be broken again: the single season on-base average record, the single-season hit-by-pitch record (which he broke last week against New York), and the career hit-by-pitch record. Breckenridge has been hit by a pitch in every game, at every at-bat. So far, in only 20 games, he has been hit a total of 70 times, already twenty more than the previous season record set by Ron Hunt in 1971. At this pace, he should easily break Don Baylors career record of 267 before the end of this, his first, season. Its really fcking strange, Im not going to lie to you, says Jays manager, Jimy Williams, its a damned head-scratcher thats for sure. Not since Joe Dimaggios 56 game hit streak has a player been so scrutinized at every at-bat and if the streak continues, one cant help but wonder if Troy Breckenridge can hold up under the gaze. Breckenridge, a soft-spoken Southern boy from Bellbuckle, Tennessee (pop. 326), was not prepared for what the beginning of the season held in store for him. I 34

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35 would be lying if I said that expected this to happen. I figured I would at least have a few hits by now. His teammates were just as surprised. You see this guy, your teammate, and hes getting plunked every time he goes up thereits a little unnerving, says Jays outfielder Junior Felix. Im just glad I dont bat after him in the lineup, Ill tell you that much. While the psychological stress of the HBPs is a concern for Breckenridge, the Jays are more worried about the physical wear-and-tear that such a unique streak presents. Stanley Arbonne, Torontos team doctor admits he is concerned about the physical ramifications of being hit many, many, many times in the head, arms, torso, and legsmany times. However, since the beginning of the season, Breckenridge has been outfitted with special wrist and shin guards, as well as an arm pad that covers most of his left arm, the one he faces the pitcher with. Although the new devices have made his swing more awkward, Breckenridge supposes that its not really an issue yet, because I havent taken a swing in a real game, but Im still trying to perfect it just in case. The people from Troys upbringing, however, confirm that he is no stranger to hardship. An automobile accident took the life of his mother and severely crippled his farming father when Troy was only fourteen years old. At this point Troy was already a burgeoning baseball prospect but he also took over the day-to-day care for his father while his older sister kept the farm running. Theyve had a hard life, says Troys old high school coach Scooter Mitchell, but that boy can take just about anything. Larry Belter, one of Torontos head scouts, remembers seeing Troy play as a freshman on the high school team. He was effortless in everything he did. It was amazing to watch him. The first game I saw, he hit a home run and drove in five runs and stole three bases. He

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36 also blocked the plate twice on home plate collisions. He seemed like a total player. I tried to talk to him after the game, but he said he had to get home and get his chores done and fix dinner for his father. I figured we had a star on our hands. The Blue Jays selected Troy in the first round and once his high school career ended and when he showed progress at the local community college, the Blue Jays called him up to their AA farm team in Knoxville, where he quickly became an all-star at that level. Despite the developing streak, Belter still believes Troy is a find. I think this boy has all the tools to be an all-star caliber playerif he can swing at a pitch every now and then. And even if he doesnt, we have a player who will get on base every time he comes to bat. You cant ask for much more than that. Although Belter and the Jays organization may feel that way, Troy is indeed asking for more than that. How long can a career last when you get hit every time you go up? Not long, I reckon. Even so, the Jays' fans and media are hoping it will keep going a little while longer. The media circus that has formed around the Toronto Blue Jays is nothing short of amazing. Every newspaper in both Canada and the United States is avidly following the streak, and the press box at Exhibition Stadium has become very crowded, not to mention the rest of the stadium, which has sold out every game so far this season, and despite the optimistic hopes for a pennant this year, it would be foolish to think that the fans are coming just to watch a baseball game. I come because I want to see Troy get hit, says one Toronto fan, and he is not alone. Evidenced by the sea of Get Brecked tee-shirts, which show a cartoon Breckenridge getting beaned, that are selling off the racks in Toronto stores, its not hard to see that this rookie ballplayer is carrying the media image of the Blue Jays on his bruised shoulders. It makes one think that the Blue

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37 Jays decision to build the new SkyDome, which finally opens in June of this season, was a stroke of genius. There will be a lot more seats for eager fans to fill, and a bigger press box, too. Breckenridge, who until this season had only been hit by a pitch six times in his baseball career, is trying to come to grips with his strange streak in his own way. I just want to be a factor on this team, help us win some games, and I think Im doing that. Its hard sometimes with all the attention, and you just want to play ball. Its not unusual for the stress of a streak to take its toll on a player. Roger Maris lost a large amount of hair when he hit 61 homers in and Mark McGwire developed strange rashes on his arms and legs when he chased 61 in ending up with 49. Breckenridge, however, is staying healthy. I havent had anything like that, he said, referring to Maris and McGwires curious ailments, I mean, Ive got some soreness, some muscle pain that I didnt have when the season started but I think that has more to do with being hit by pitches all the time and not so much really with media stress. With all frenzy about the streak, most people have failed to notice that Breckenridge still plays in the field instead of opting for a designated hitter spot. He has yet to commit an error behind the plate and has thrown out 17 of 20 runners attempting to steal a base. I feel like Im still a decent ballplayer with some good skills, and Im trying to focus on that, keep working on the other things until this HBP issue goes away. But will it go away is the question, the question that every baseball fan, player, and reporter is asking at the moment. Well, it has to stop sometimewouldnt you think? However, whether he likes it or not, Troy Breckenridge is a marked man, both by pitchers and the media, and it will be interesting to see if his body, and his mind, can hold out. Sports Illustrated Magazine, April 27, 1989

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CHAPTER 5 Subject displays nervous tension and fear signals akin to the behavior of a childhood victim of abuse, a sense of both wonder and terror at the fact that they cannot fully understand why they are being punished or what they can do to avoid it in the future. Excerpt from the journals of Dr. Branch Ebbets, Jr., Psychiatrist Troy begins to realize that the inevitability of an event doesnt make it any easier to take. He still takes practice swings, still thinks of hitting the ball, and perhaps this is why he is so depressed, why he still hasnt become used to the idea of being hit by a major-league fastball. That isnt to say that the rest of the Blue Jays havent adjusted. Fred McGriff begins his trot to second base the minute that Troy steps into the batters box, doesnt even wait for the pitch anymore. In a bases-loaded situation when Troy comes to bat, fans already mark another run down before he takes the pitch in the shoulder. Troy starts to feel a little animosity towards his teammates, believes that their acceptance of the HBPs as a necessary event adds to the inevitability, prevents him from getting a hit. He takes the fans cheers, but is beginning to believe that they arent really cheers for him, for his taking the pitch in such a workmanlike fashion, but for the event itself, for the balls hitting body. Against the much hated California Angels, whom they have played three times in Anaheim, there is a brawl at every game because of Troy. The Blue Jays players sit expectantly in the dugout, which, in Anaheim, always smells disconcertingly of sex hastily cleaned up, of cleaning products covering something deeper, something you 38

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39 shouldnt smell in a dugout. The players sit/stand in an awkward position whenever Troy comes to bat, almost rising off the bench, held back by the pitch, waiting for the throw. The Angels pitcher doesnt even look at Troy, stares right into the visitors dugout, and hesitates for just a second, looks at the bases not to check the runners but to make sure his teammates are ready. The pitch comes off his fingers, already heading for Troy, and both benches clear in that split-second, fill up the field, meet at the mound in a swarm of caps and gloves that fly awkwardly into the air and fall back to the ground like birds with clipped wings. The teams punch, kick, choke, kick dirt on each others uniforms, but Troy, left behind at home plate, simply gets off the ground and walks to his base, navigating the movement of the fight, the snaking parts of it that spill off the diamond lines. He sits down on first base and holds his head in his hands, his deeply callused hands from gripping the bat so tightly, from wanting to believe too much. He waits for the umpires to clear up the melee, to send players this way and that way, and after a while, Troy begins to wonder if he should even bring a bat with him to the plate. On May 13, a home game against the Minnesota Twins, Troy takes a low curve in his left shin. He hears the sound of the ball against the protective casing of the shin guard, and in his mind, in some little place in his head that registers sound and turns it into an image, Troy knows hes hit the ball. He doesnt see the ball, has no idea where it dribbled off to after it hit him, but he is tearing down the base path, his cleats digging into the ground, kicking up the chalk line. He now hears the crowd cheering, but he is focused on the base, knows he has to hustle to beat out the throw. At this point, his brain

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40 has begun to do damage control, has alerted him to the fact that hes only been hit again, that there is no need to run to the base, but Troy is past caring now. He knows, but it feels good to run, to think there is a chance he might not make it in time, and at the last moment, Troy dives, perfect, head-first. He slides into first, arms outstretched, fingers wriggling for the base and when he touches it, feels it solid in his hands, he glances up. Mike Squires, the first-base coach, is looking down at Troy with a face that is hard to explain. It is the look of someone who knew you were capable of something, but never quite believed you would actually do it, that the rules of society would always hold you firmly in place. Its the same face that Kent Hrbek, the Minnesota first baseman, is making, and Troy realizes that Hrbek is actually pretty far from first base, closer to second than he is to first. Troy rises slowly to his feet, looks down at the stain of dirt and chalk on the front of his jersey. He is filthy, his teammates look either concerned or smug, knowing that this was going to have to happen eventually. The crowd is still cheering, loud, filling up the stadium and even though Jimy Williams is shaking his head in disbelief, Troy feels happy, feels like he earned that base. He thinks that even though it was a free base, another HBP, he deserves it, worked harder than most people to get there. Deep down, he thinks that maybe, just maybe, it will get marked as a single. He hopes that the statisticians will be so flustered by his mastery of the base path that they forget about the HBP, start to believe that he really did get a single, believe it so much that they mark it down on the scorecards. And then it will be a single, a real hit, and whether people believe it or not, it will be true, that is how it will be remembered. Troy smiles, rests his

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41 hands on his knees, and waits for the next pitch. Jimy Williams mutters to no one in particular, That boy went and broke something very precious inside that head of his. The next day, when Troy checks the box scores in the Toronto Star, he is slightly disappointed to see four HBPs instead of three and a single. He looks at the cartoon Troy on the front page Hit-by-Pitchometer and thinks that the caricature looks too battered, should be one HBP less bruised than he is. Honey, Sue Bee tells him as he crumples up the newspaper, you know it was an HBP though, right? I mean, youd like it to be a single, but you know that you got hit? Troy looks at Sue Bee, sees the unhappiness swimming behind her eyes, choppy waves of it, and he nods. He says that of course he understands, hes not that far gone to think it really was a single. It would just be nice is all, and Sue Bee wraps her arms around him, squeezes, but Troy has to shift his weight, wriggle free because the bruises hurt sometimes when she touches him. He adjusts his body and she loosens her grip, presses her hands lightly against his chest, and they lie on the couch. They try to think of something else to say to each other but nothing is coming. Both feel that the other is unjustly unhappy with them but theres no way to bring it up nicely. They are hurting each other in tiny increments, but not enough for it to matter. It is only enough to make it slightly uncomfortable and they are getting used to it. Sue Bee reads a book while Troy stares out the window, thinking of the single, the single he knows is his, should be his, must be his. There is much scribbling going on in the doctors notebook, many observations to make because this player on the TV is such a fascinating character. The way he takes three practice swings every time, no matter what, despite the eventual outcome, suggests

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42 some sort of obsessive-compulsive behavior. The wide eyes before the pitch comes, the fact that you can see the whites of his eyes get larger when the pitch is thrown, even on a TV, even from the cameras view so far away. You can still see it though, and the doctor believes that this player must have a lot of fear in him for it to be so easy to notice. The way the muscles on his arm tense just a fraction of a second before the pitch comes, his biceps flicker like a tiny shock and then the ball bounces off. All of these things are amazing to the doctor, amazing enough for him to want to know more. He has been following this player since the start of the season, cannot believe that such a strange event is occurring in his own city. It was easy enough to see what was happening, what would eventually happen to the player, given the circumstances. A paranoid patient believes that the forces of nature are actively working against him, even though they obviously are not. This player, on the other hand, has become paranoid in a way that is actually a higher form of consciousness, because, to the doctor at least, the forces of nature are conspiring directly against him. Over the course of an entire season, the doctor cant help but believe that the player will have to undergo a lot of emotional stress, perhaps too much for him to stand. And now this thing on the TV, the head-first dive into first base. It is enough to make the doctor smile, reaffirming what he had hypothesized at the beginning of the season, but its also a smile of thanks. Someone needs to help this player, a professional. The doctor makes some more notes on his paper, watches the rest of the game, which continues in the same fashion for the player, more HBPs. The game ends, the player walking slowly back into the dugout, his catchers mask still pulled down over his face, which the doctor suspects is not a happy one, that he is concerned with things other

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43 than the outcome of the game. The station credits roll across the screen and the doctor takes his findings, rudimentary at the moment, and places the notebook under his bed, with the other journals in which he has jotted down things about this player. The doctor takes out his address book, and finds the number for one of his clients, a front-office man with the Blue Jays organization. He knows it is late in the evening, perhaps too late, but its crucial to get in before any other doctors offer their services. The phone rings twice before the front-office man picks up. Mr. Braenard, this is Dr. Ebbets. Leons doctor. How is Leon doing these days? I see. I see, well it is a good job, Mr. Braenard, keeps him off the streets doing god knows what. I know wed both prefer it if Leon decided to give up the life of a batboy, but we need to look on the bright side. Thats actually not the reason I was calling. I wanted to ask you about one of your players, a Mr. Troy Breckenridge. Im not sure if you had a chance to watch todays game, Mr. Braenarduh huh. Well, then you can understand why I might be calling about him. Yes. Now, you and I both know my credentials here in this city, and I want to tell you right now that I believe that I can help Mr. Breckenridge, keep him emotionally sound for the rest of the season. Yes, I realize the situation with Leon, but Mr. BraenardLeon. Im glad you agree with me. Thank you. You wont regret it, nor will your organization. And if youd like, I could do another round of sessions with LeonNo, I cant promise anything, Mr. Braenard, but Ill try. Well, you think it over and Ill be in touch.

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CHAPTER 6 There are really three methods of thought on Troy Breckenridge. One, you can pitch it easy, a change-up or something that, although its still gonna sting, it wont hurt as bad as a fastball. I mean, you know its gonna hit him no matter what, so maybe take it easy on him. Second, you can say to yourself, goddammit, I want to be the one pitcher who can strike this guy out, or at least pitch to him without hitting him. So you put all your effort into it, trying as hard as you can to find some way to pitch to this guy. And of course you still hit him. Finally, you can just wing it in there, as hard as you can, on purpose. You can aim right for him, decide that if its gonna hit him anyway, you might as well make it hurt. Hes taking a base from you, he should have to earn it. Thats pretty much the three ways to do it. All end up the same, though, same thing happens when it leaves your hand. Interview with Cy Young award-winning Texas Ranger pitcher Nolan Ryan; The Sporting News (05/15/00) Sue Bee has a poem published in the Atlantic Monthly, a baseball villanelle about a batter who cannot see the ball, doesnt believe one is actually being thrown. The repetition is nice, Troy admits, helps add to the hopelessness of the situation, but Troy is not so sure about the player losing his mind at the end, the clever change of phrasing with the second repeating line. He wonders what he saw before becomes he wonders what he never saw, which suggests to Troy that the player has lost it, is thinking about unanswerable questions, and that always leads to insanity. It is a good poem, one of Sue Bees best, and Troy is happy for her, but he doesnt know about that line, why it changes. They have asked her to send more, they would like to stay in touch. Troy suggests the mountaintop-removal poem, but Sue Bee only smiles, says they would like to see some more baseball poems, and Troy wonders how many she has, how many issues of the Atlantic Monthly she could fill up with her baseball poems. Troy looks back wistfully on those days when Sue Bee did not like baseball very much at all. 44

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45 The series in Cleveland is utterly depressing. The outfield has giant bites of exposed dirt, making the grass look like patchwork quilt from the stands. Cleveland Stadium is gigantic, but the Indians recent fortunes havent given the fans much to be excited about and the stands seem to be swallowed up with emptiness. The fans that are here are tired of even saying Wait till next year and instead just come to sit and watch things happen. Most, if not all, of them are here to see Troy. There is fog that seems to creep into the stadium off of Lake Erie that makes Troy feel like he is playing in another world, a baseball purgatory. He thinks that if he had to play this season in Cleveland, he would kill himself. When the Blue Jays walk from the tiny, cramped clubhouse to the dugout before the game, Troy looks at the exposed pipes in the runway. They seem to run all over the walls, jutting out at strange angles. The pipes are wrapped in a rapidly decomposing material of some kind and Troy presses his finger into the padding. He wonders aloud to the rest of his team, Is this asbestos maybe? Jesse Barfield pushes past him through the narrow runway and says, Does it even matter, rookie? On the May 16 th game against the Indians, Troy takes a record six HBPs in one game, breaking his own previous record of five, set just a few weeks earlier. The next day, the final game of the series between the two teams, Troy has the sneaking suspicion that Greg Swindell is pitching at him, trying to bean him on purpose. Troy watches Swindells eyes the next time he comes to bat, sees how Swindell never once looks anywhere but at Troy, zeros in and sends a split-fingered fastball humming into Troys side. In the dugout, Troy tells Manny Lee That jerk is pitching at me on purpose, hes

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46 actually trying to bean me. Manny Lee only nods, then quickly gets up to tell something to Cito Gaston, one of the coaches. The next time Troy goes to bat, he watches the catchers hands, peers behind him to see the sign the catcher gives and notices that the catcher doesnt move his hand at all, just sits there until the windup starts. Swindell rockets another fastball, this time against Troys shoulder, and as the ball bounces off his body, Troy slams his bat to the ground, flips off his helmet, and tears off toward the mound, ready for a fight. Swindell only smiles, looks past Troy to the umpire, and holds up his hands. This is what really gets Troy, this false innocence, and he cant wait for one of his teammates to hold Swindells arms behind his back while Troy takes swing after swing after swing at his mid-section. Halfway to the mound, however, Troy notices that his team, the entire bench, is still sitting in the dugout. They are staring at Troy again, wondering what little piece inside his head has broken now. Troy tries to figure out how he could explain, how to make them see, but realizes its useless. He slows down to a jog, and angles to the right, headed towards first base. The next time at-bat, Troy doesnt even make eye contact with Swindell, merely takes the pitch and walks to first. After the game Troy just wants to go back home, get on the plane back to Toronto and see Sue Bee, but there are reporters, lots of reporters to deal with, and then the fans. Outside the gate, there are hundreds of fans with Cleveland baseball caps and Get Brecked tee-shirts, all waiting for autographs. Troy tries to sign everyones shirt, wants to show Cleveland that he isnt really a bad guy, that its just been a really strange day for him, a really strange season. Bruises or not, he signs the fans shirts and when he gets to the bus, the rest of the Blue Jays are waiting, have been waiting for twenty

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47 minutes. Not a single one of them was asked for anything, a picture, an autograph, a quote for a newspaper. Troy Breckenridge is starting to get on their nerves, and Troy is very much aware of this, realizes he needs to do something before things start to get crazy. Sue Bee is appropriately concerned. When Troy comes back to Toronto after the Cleveland game, when Troy charged the pitcher, she makes him sit in a bath filled with relaxing lavender bath salts for two hours, until Troys hands and feet are wrinkled and pale white. Hes always been competitive, always bringing the cleats high when he slides into second, but this is different, Sue Bee says. Troy tells her, If you poke a bunny rabbit in the stomach every day, I dont care how cute and cuddly it is, its gonna get pissed. Troy always seems nervous now; in bed at night, his body tenses every three or four minutes, deep shrugs that shake the bed. Sue Bee suggests they take relaxation classes together, perhaps Tai Chi or something like that. However, the season is in full swing and Troy cant take that kind of time off, the time necessary to properly learn and practice Tai Chi in a way that would be beneficial to Troys present situation. Its hard enough with all the advertisements that Troy is dealing with. Troys agent has been hard at work this season. Troy finds out that his agent, Kenny Langford, copyrighted the Get Brecked logo, along with some other slogans for the future (Breckball). All the profits from those tee-shirts in the stands, all those bumper stickers on cars that Troy just assumed were being done by all kinds of companies, are funneled back to Troy and his agent. But I never authorized this. Wouldnt I have to sign some release form or something? Troys agent tells him that he had to forge the

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48 signature, had to act fast to get the t-shirts out while the demand was strong. Just a hunch, baby, but a pretty fucking lucrative one at that, yes. Troy is not a big fan of Kenny, though Kenny is, as he has told Troy very many times, a very big fan of Troy. Troy wishes now that maybe he had looked a bit longer for an agent when he was drafted, maybe one of those New York or Los Angeles guys that seemed pretty reputable. However, Kenny was the first one to show an interest, back when Troy was still in high school. It wasnt important at the time that Kenny had never represented a baseball player before. Its all the same when you talk dollars, baby. You want it and they want to keep it and thats where I come in, no different from my account with Jeff Brighthorn, who drives the Rogue Smasher. Kennys agency is based in Marietta, Georgia, and specializes in Nascar and Monster Truck drivers. He is loud and overbearing and cares only about money, which is what Troy assumed agents have to be to get what their clients want. When Troy and Toronto finalized and agreed upon his contract, Kenny seemed depressed, as though that was it for the next three years until renegotiations rolled around. He is used to constant work, finding sponsor after sponsor to place more advertising patches on the uniforms of his clients who drive big trucks and fast cars. So, it probably shouldnt surprise Troy that now Kenny is working the sponsorship angle for him. He has already signed the Get Brecked deal, and is talking to the Band-Aid people for a series of commercials where Troy will keep placing Band-Aids on spots where he gets hit until in the last clip, he is covered from head to toe in Band-Aids. Troy doesnt know about all this, feels like its a bit exploitative, but Kenny says not to worry. You let me handle the money side of this,

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49 baby. You just worry about keeping this streak going and, if it keeps going, let me tell you somethingyour face on a box of Wheaties. Its done. I got nine-year-old kids jumping in front of pitches because they see this Troy Breckenridge on the TV do it. They used to swing at anything, trying to be Daryl Strawberry or Jose Canseco, swinging for the fence, but now they just sit there, waiting for an inside pitch to step in front of. I got parents chewing my ear off cause their kids coming home from a Little League game with bruises. Jerry Candido, Coach of the Maryville Swingers, a youth baseball squad in Toronto

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CHAPTER 7 That boy was born with a goddamned target painted on his chest. Sparky Anderson, manager of the Detroit Tigers, after Breckenridge is hit by a pitch in the final inning to bring in the game-winning run, 06/09/89 The team doctor, the one who gave him the body protectors, has come up with something else, something to take the edge off. In the doctors office, Troy watches as the doctor pulls a garment bag out of the closet and hands it to Troy. Its a heavy bag, heavier than a suit would be. When he unzips the bag, he sees a thick gray-black vest with shoulder pads that go down the arms. The doctor tells him that he was watching a movie a few nights ago, a cop-buddy action movie, the name of which escapes him at the moment. Regardless, one of the main characters is shot, which the doctor thought was odd seeing as how the movie was only thirty minutes old, but then the main character rips his shirt off to show a bullet-proof vest that saved his life. A few calls around to the Kevlar people got him this baseball prototype, not as heavy as the police vests, and more flexible in the shoulders. Youre the only baseball player who has onethe only person who has one, its an original model. Troy tries it on and its true, the lightness and flexibility. He and the doctor go to the pitching machine in the stadium and Troy stands on the plate and takes a few pitches, shoulders, back, chest, and though there is a sting, a very noticeable sting, it is a lot nicer than before. Troy takes a few more, rotating his body 360 degrees, feeling but not feeling the thwack, thwack, thwack of the ball against the vest, and though it doesnt really solve anything, it sure does make it a lot easier to take. 50

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51 Jimy Williams wants to see Troy in his office, and that is the best explanation for why Troy is sitting in the office with Jimy Williams. It was innocently proffered, this invitation to the office, made after practice, but Troy knows, as well as the other players in the locker room, that office meetings are never good. No one ever gets called in to hear that they are doing a fantastic job. That kind of thing is done in public, to raise the morale of everyone, to share in the good fortune. Animals are put to sleep in private. Criminal interrogations are given in private. Jobs are rescinded in private. So, Troy sits in the managers office and waits. He knows as well as the rest of the team that it has not been an easy season for Jimy Williams. The team is underperforming, has been in a slump as of late, and the blame is going mostly to the manager. George Bell has made a tacit promise to the organization that either he or Jimy Williams will not be around by the start of the next season. George Bell is the Al MVP and Jimy Williams has never led the Blue Jays to the playoffs, so its understandable that Jimy Williams has a lot on his mind as well. Which is probably the reason that Troy and his manager sit across from each other for a very long time, five minutes perhaps, and say nothing, just stare. They both have lots to think about. Troy, youve really done a fantastic job this season, and now Troy wishes they could go back to the locker room, let everyone hear. I know its been a strange season for you, and youre making the best of it. Youre the first one here for practice and the last to leave. Still, this hit-by-pitch thingwell, its damn vexing isnt it? Im working on it, coach.

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52 No, I know you are. I know you are. But the thing is, hell, its seems like sometimes its makes you a little uneven, a little touched in the head if you know what I mean. You mean like the The rushing the pitcher and the sliding into first base. Yes. Well, Im a little worried about it, pretty damned worried actually cause youre one of my key players. Everyones concerned, because it is a lot of pressure on you and Im wondering if maybe it wouldnt be such a bad idea to cut back a little. Like what? Well, for instance, were gonna make you the designated hitter for a while. We love what you do for us at the plate. We can always count on you for that, but it is taxing, you have to admit, physically. The doc gave me that vest, though. And, we just want to make sure you stay healthy. So, were gonna let you DH for a while so you can focus on getting your hitting back and that way you wont have all the responsibilities of catching stressing you out. Wellokay. Okay, if that will help the team. Good. Okay, thats pretty much it. Good luck out there tomorrow. We need a win. Just before Troy stands to leave, the manager mentions also that the General Manager brought up the idea of perhaps seeing someone, a doctor. When Troy mentions that he already has the team doctor, he can see that Jimy Williams is uncomfortable. He

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53 is a baseball manager. He tells people to hit and catch and throw the ball and run at the appropriate times and puts players in and out of the game at the right time. He does not like anything else, the talking and the concern and the media relations. He likes Troy, knows he is a hard worker and a damn good ballplayer, but he would like Troy more if he would hit the ball every once in a while, be a normal player. But this is his job for now, for however long he can hold on to it, and so he tells Troy about Dr. Ebbets, a brain doctor. A pansy head shrink for people with bullshit problems, but Troy does not hear this version. Troy hears about how Dr. Ebbets is a professional psychiatrist, that he specializes in work-related stress. Hell get Troy back in shape, and before you know it, Troy will be back behind the plate and smashing home runs and the Blue Jays will finally get that pennant theyve been so close to the past few years. Troy nods, leaves the office, but he cant stop thinking about this Dr. Ebbets, that only crazy people see psychiatrists. He tells this to Sue Bee at dinner that night, pasta and wine at some place downtown. People come up every few minutes for autographs, and Troy has to change the subject quickly each time someone arrives, switch from psychiatrists and therapy to finance and buying a new car. Finally, when everyone in the restaurant who wants an autograph gets an autograph, Troy tells Sue Bee that he doesnt want to go to Dr. Ebbets, that therapy is for crazy people, but Sue Bee thinks its a great idea, thinks it may help the nervousness at night, the trembling. Besides, she tells Troy, therapy isnt just for crazy people. Its also for people who are going crazy, who may be in the process of becoming crazy. She smiles at Troy, squeezes his hand, and he feels better, thinks therapy may not be such a bad idea after all,

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54 and they finish their meal happy about Troys seeing the doctor. But later that night, in bed, he replays what she said, about people who are going crazy, and suddenly it doesnt sound as good as when he heard it the first time. He doesnt quite like the implication involved, the tiny switch in phrasing. People who are crazy. People who are going crazy. Dr. Ebbets has been practicing psychiatry for eleven years. He is highly recommended, is quite famous and well respected as far as Troy can tell from talking with people. However, while waiting in the on-deck circle during one game, Leon tells Troy that Dr. Ebbets is creepy in a Mr. Rogers way. He kept saying that I still wanted to be a batboy because I was afraid of playing ball myself, that I wouldnt be good enough and so I tried to stay a bystander. He told my dad I should try out for the high-school baseball team. I mean, I want to be a batboy because I get paid all kinds of money to pick up bats that you big-shots are too high and mighty to pick up yourself. Its easy money, but he didnt want to hear about that, just kept writing stuff in that notebook. And his room is so tiny, its like sitting in a closet. Troy thinks, asks Leon if he meant to say office. Leon smirks, takes another drag on his cigarette. I mean room. Youll see when you get there. Finally, when Troy tells one of Sue Bees friends, an editor at some journal in Toronto, about Dr. Ebbets, she looks puzzled. I heard he wasnt practicing anymore, that hed had a stroke or something. No, Troy informs her. He has an appointment with him next week. The editor thinks for a while and then, just for a second, Troy can see a smile form, then disappear just as quickly. Do you mean the son? Ebbets Jr.? Troy looks at the business card he was given. Dr. Branch Ebbets, Jr. The editor wont say

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55 anything else other than, I wouldnt have guessed that he was still able to practice either. Troy doesnt know what that means exactly, but he is becoming less and less assured about therapy, about Dr. Ebbets. "Everyone has a breaking point, turning point, stress point, the game is permeated with it. The fans don't see it because we make it look so efficient. But internally, for a guy to be successful, you have to be like a clock spring, wound but loose at the same time." Dave Winfield, All-star outfielder for the New York Yankees

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CHAPTER 8 Forget Lou Gerhig and Cal Ripken. If Troy Breckenridge makes it through this season without missing a game, he is baseballs true iron man. I mean, come on, the man is facing a firing squad four times a game. Its a wonder he can remember his name or tie his shoes, much less walk to first base. Doc Edwards, manager of the Cleveland Indians after Troy is hit by a pitch 17 times in a three-game series, 05/17/89 On May 23 rd against Minnesota, the stakes are high. Both teams are in a slump and need something to get them back on track. More importantly for Troy, it is the day before his meeting with Dr. Ebbets. He keeps thinking that if he can only get a hit this game, just a single or even a pop-up thats easily fielded, he wont have to go to therapy. Look, he can say, I got a hit. You have no need to worry about my mental state. He does not do this often, prefers not to think that higher powers are responsible for his situation, but today he prays for a hit. He sits on the bench with Leon when the Blue Jays are on the field, tries to focus on the game, but cant stop thinking of other questions he could ask Leon about the doctor. Leon unhappily informs Troy that he has to go see Dr. Ebbets as well, that he has been set up for another round of sessions, and that his father wants to see if Troy can drive Leon home from the doctor. It seems Leons session is just before Troys and so if Troy will already be there, whats the harm. I think my dad is weirded out by that guy more than I am. The first two at-bats for Troy are HBPs, nothing special, and in the eighth inning, Troy steps up for what will probably be his last at-bat for the game. He wants it this time, figures he will swing for the fences come hell or high water. The windup 56

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57 begins and then the pitch flies from the pitchers hand and Troy lets himself believe this is the one. The ball begins to bend, but Troy thinks he can do it. He starts to swing, turns his shoulders, but the ball keeps bending, keeps moving, and Troy feels it connect with his wrist, the cracking sound as it hits his wrist guard. The umpire stands, not quite sure how to call it, because Troy did bring the bat around. It should be called a strike, because the bat passed over the plate. However, the ball was coming at him and a case could be made that he was defensively swinging to protect himself, which is what Jimy Williams is ready to argue as the home-plate umpire calls the firstand third-base umps over to meet. Williams stands up and begins to inch towards the field, weary with the issues he never had to deal with before Troy. Troy still stands in the box, not wanting to move, ready to swing again. The firstand third-base umpires join the head ump, and they form a huddle, looking back over their shoulders every once in a while to glance at Troy, who is not moving. The crowd is booing the umpires, want Troy to take his base and keep the streak going. Finally, they pull away, scatter to their separate areas, and the head umpire directs Troy towards first. The crowd cheers, but Troy still isnt moving, tells the ump that he thinks it was a strike. Well, technically it was, but we figured you might as well just take it. Go on. Troy still wont move, can only think about taking another swing at that pitch, but soon the delay is noticeable. Leon is standing beside Troy, tugging on the end of the bat. Troy looks into the dugout and sees Jimy Williams kneeling on the stairs, one hand covering his eyes as if to hide the fact that he is crying. Nothing is going to keep him from going to therapy, and so Troy hands the bat to Leon and walks to first, the crowds cheers growing even louder. Over the roar, Leon leans in and tells Troy that

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58 maybe Troy could treat him to McDonalds after the sessions at Dr. Ebbets, and Troy nods, just wanting to get to first. Theres no way to get around it. He has to go. *** The waiting room at Dr. Ebbets office is not really a waiting room. Its not really a waiting room because Dr. Ebbets office is not really an office. Its not really an office because its his house. And its not really even his house because its his parents house. When Troy arrived at the office, and he will keep calling it an office because if he doesnt then all of this seems pretty silly to him, he pushed the buzzer and was immediately met with a womans voice, a fraction of a second after the buzzer went off. She screamed quickly and forcefully, as if using her last breath, Dont open the door for gods sake! Troy waited, waited some more, then finally peered in through the circular glass window embedded in the middle of the door. Inside the house, he could see an older woman walking carefully through the hallway, taking a long, winding pathway to the door, with what appeared to be two flashlights tied to her head. The door opened a fraction of an inch, and the beams of the flashlights peered at Troy like two eyes. On closer inspection, Troy could see that they werent two flashlights tied to her head, but a pair of goggles with tiny but powerful lights built into the sides, headlights for people. If youve come to see the doctor, youll have to come sit in the living room because hes still with the other one right now. Troy nodded, followed the woman into the hallway, making the same cautious steps as she, even before she told him, You have to walk

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59 carefully in here. Just follow these arrows Ive made and you can sit down on the chair over there, the one the arrows lead you to. Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness in the house, he could see a series of glow-in-the-dark arrows, leading him in a giant, s-shaped course to the living room. Looking beyond the arrows, to the boundaries beyond the markings, he could finally make out what it was that filled up the floor of the hallway. They were dominoes, rows and rows of dominoes stood up on their ends. There were hundreds of them in the hallway alone, thousands even, as every square inch of floor space other than the arrowed path was filled with tightly packed designs of dominoes, seemingly teetering on their edges, waiting, waiting for something to push them. Troy looked over at the woman, standing with her arms crossed, and though he could not see her eyes, from the harshness of the headlights, the glare of them, he could tell that he was not supposed to be the force that set these dominoes in motion, that the consequences would be unpleasant if he were. So, Troy now sits in the waiting room/living room. The floor is covered in dominoes as well, save for the thin strip of the walkway. He decides not to look down, feels as if he could make them fall just by staring at them, and so he surveys the walls of the room. It is hard to see in the darkness but his eyes adjust to the wood paneling of the walls and soon he can see the pictures hanging. Most of them are of an older, distinguished-looking man in a gray suit and a red bowtie. In each picture he is posing with someone famous, or at least someone who appears to be famous because everyone in the background seems interested in what is going on. He figures this to be Dr. Ebbets, notices the dozen or so honorary degrees around the pictures, all inscribed to Doctor

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60 Ebbets, and Troy feels a little better. He likes to see credentials, even as flimsy as photo ops with possibly famous people and arbitrary degrees. However, he squints to read further and realizes that they are made out to Dr. Branch Ebbets Sr., not Jr. This is not good. He reads over each of the degrees, hoping maybe even one will contain a Jr. Not a single one and now Troy decides not to look at anything in the room because every time he sees something, it makes him dizzy, makes him think of the dangerous possibilities. Instead, he takes out todays edition of the Toronto Star that hes brought along and reads in the dim light that filters through the blinds. He is featured twice on the front page, the first a headline that states, Blue Jay Bean Bag to Miss Game. The paper says its just to let Troy recuperate from his accumulated injuries and even though this isnt entirely false, its not entirely true either. He doesnt feel any worse than he usually does, there are no outstanding injuries that are hobbling him aside from some bruises and soreness. Hes sitting out todays game because of the therapy today, because of the delicate nature of undergoing analysis. Even though he assured the team he could still make the game in time, that the session would only last one hour, Jimy Williams told him that perhaps it would be nice to take a game off, give them some time apart from each other, the team and Troy. Troy agreed because there was no way out of it, no chance of getting out of this paid vacation, but now he feels a little spurned, a jilted player. The second feature in the paper is the ever present Hit-by-Pitchometer. The little Troy doesnt look so good. His left arm is in a cast, there is a pool of blood at his feet, he is missing one tooth, and all of a sudden, Troy feels grateful for the day off. He

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61 is happy not because he will miss a game, but because for one day, a game will pass and the cartoon Troy will look the same as the day before, maybe even minus the cast tomorrow. He thinks sitting out a game will be good for little Troy, will be good for both of them. He hears a door open upstairs and footsteps begin sounding on the stairs. He peers into the hallway and sees Leon walking down the steps, the older woman accompanying him making groaning sounds with each step. Easy, watch out, watch out, she says, but Leon acts as if he doesnt hear, walking dangerously close to the rows of dominoes. She keeps hissing warnings until Leon is out of danger and standing beside Troy in the waiting room. Your turn, Breck, Leon mutters and falls back into the safe chair, his back knocking against the wall. Dont shake the walls, you brat, the woman says. You can send vibrations through the floor and then wed be in big trouble. Leon whispers to Troy, shes like this every time. Just go on upstairs. Troy starts to move but the woman blocks his way. You dont move until he calls for you. You walk up there before he calls you and then maybe hes not ready and he sends you back down to wait and then he calls you finally and you have to go right back up and each time your footsteps send a tiny little shockwave through this floor and then A door opens upstairs and Dr. Ebbets calls out, Mother, you can send Mr. Breckenridge up now. Troy looks at the woman, squinting in the glare of her headlights. Youre his mother?

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62 Mrs. Ebbets dims her headlights and grabs Troy by the collar of his shirt. Do I look like a receptionist to you? Look around you. Look at all ofthis. Does this look like the work of a receptionist? Troy notices she has two belts crossed over her chest, jangling with dominoes, like ammo for a machine gun. No, maam. No I suppose it doesnt. She lets go of Troys collar and increases the brightness on the headlights. As he follows the arrows upstairs, she unclips another domino and gently blows the dust off of it, readying it for placement. When Troy makes it to the top of the stairs, the door is closed but he knows it is the office because there is a nameplate attached to it, the only semblance of doctorly goings-on thus far. He knocks on the door, then again, and he hears Dr. Ebbets announce from behind it, Come on in then, please. Troy opens the door and steps in and he is inside. He is seeing a psychiatrist. He is doing this and he cannot turn back now. He cant walk down the steps because Mrs. Ebbets would flash her headlights upon him and send him right back up. He can only step into the room and look at the double bed, freshly made, and wonder why there isnt a seat to be found. The room is tiny, just big enough to move around in, and the ceiling feels too close overhead. The wallpaper is garishly striped with bright colors, neon greens and reds and yellows that begin to bend and wiggle if he stares too long at it. The carpet is burnt orange and makes Troy think of earth that hasnt seen rain in months, makes him think of drought. A dresser, a side table, and the bed are the only objects of furniture in the room and Troy looks back at the bed. The sheets have stagecoaches on them, interspersed with silver pistols from the Old West and it dawns on Troy that this room

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63 feels like his room from childhood. Everything is too small, the colors too bright, and Troy begins to think that maybe he isnt in the right place. As he starts to back away though, he hears Dr. Ebbets, remembers there is someone else in the room, someone standing very close to him. Hello, hello. Welcome to my office. Is this your first time? Troy can only nod, is still trying to figure out where he is supposed to sit. He waits for Dr. Ebbets to bring out a chair or at least tell him where to go, but the doctor only stands there, beaming. Dr. Ebbets is a small man, around five-feet-four maybe, and the dimensions of the room suddenly befit his stature. His hair is wild and seems to fly off his head at strange angles. His glasses are thin, black, square-shaped frames that almost seem invisible on his face. He is wearing an argyle cardigan with the sleeves rolled up and a white dress shirt underneath. His pants are gray wool and rolled up severely, showing his pale shins above his socks. He keeps shifting from foot to foot, nervous or excited or both, and finally he tells Troy, Well lets get started shall we? Lets get going because I imagine that we are going to have a lot to discuss today in the short time we have, the short time we have left I mean. Dr. Ebbets gestures to the bed and smiles. Troy looks down at the stagecoaches on the sheets and then back at the doctor. Dr. Ebbets gestures again to the bed, this time more emphatically, and still smiles. Troy looks at the stagecoaches and begins to look back at Dr. Ebbets but imagines this could very well continue for the rest of the session and so he asks the doctor, Where are you going to be sitting? Is there a seat or something for me? Dr. Ebbets laughs and then sits down at the foot of the bed. Well, you will lie down on the bed here. There are pillows if you need to prop yourself up or

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64 you can lie flat if you prefer. I will stay here at the edge and this is how well go about our session. Troy is still standing. Isnt there a seat or something I could sit in? The doctor smiles more and tells Troy that this method is one of the brave new steps that he has taken in creating a better means of therapy. I find that if the patient lays down on one side of the room and the doctor sits way over on the other side, then the essential matters they are discussing become lost in the distance. Distance creates uncertainty, misunderstandings. Close proximity creates truth, clarity. Now please. He pats the surface of the bed and Troy finally sits down on the very edge of the bed, leaning forward. Dr. Ebbets motions with his finger, telling Troy to swing around and lie down and Troy slowly lifts his feet off the floor and lies back on the bed. You can get under the covers even if youd like. Im okay I think. Thank you though. Very well. Perhaps we should start, yes? Troy notices there is no clock in the room. Dr. Ebbets tells Troy that he wants to help, that he has expertise with sports-related stress and it is his primary field of interest. The athlete, he tells Troy, sometimes strengthens the exterior so much that the interior becomes neglected and thats when I come in. You know, Troy, were not as different as you might think. Youre a catcher and Im a listener. A good listener is a lot like a good catcher. You take what someone throws you and you keep tossing it back so they can pitch it again. Dr. Ebbets feels that with enough therapy, Troy will be back swinging for the fences before the season is over. Ive worked with countless hockey players within the Maple Leafs organization, Troy. So much anger and aggressiveness, but with enough time, they

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65 became more focused on the actual game rather than which of the opposing players deserves a beating. Troy feels slightly better about these meetings now, realizes that lots of players must have to talk with psychiatrists at one point another. Perhaps theyre mandated by law but nonetheless it makes Troy feel better to know hes not the only one. When Dr. Ebbets finishes his speech, Troy asks about the dominoes downstairs, about Dr. Ebbets mother. Dr. Ebbets does not smile. He takes out his pad and pen and begins to scribble something Troy cannot see. Finally, the doctor hands it to him. It is a drawing of two stick figures. The stick figure with a stethoscope around his neck has an arrow leading to the other that is labeled ? while the stick figure wearing a baseball mitt has an arrow leading back that says Detailed Responses. Dr. Ebbets takes the pad back and tells Troy that this is the method that he finds to work best, that when questions come from the patient, We start to forget who the real professional is, dont we? They begin. It starts with Troys telling Dr. Ebbets what he knows, how this Hit-by-Pitch phenomenon started. He tells the doctor about Kansas City and the shaking and the way the pitches bend towards him. Dr. Ebbets is a good listener, Troy realizes that much. The doctor sounds interested, always nodding and then scribbling something else in his notepad. He is intrigued, even excited, by the things Troy figured no one wanted to hear about anymore. Dr. Ebbets asks questions about his home life, his relationships with the other players, and soon Troy is talking about Sue Bee, telling the doctor about the poem in the Atlantic Monthly and the other ones he knows she is writing. He tells him about the other players and what he imagines that they think of him. There is more nodding from the doctor, more scribbling, and then more questions for Troy. Troy talks and talks

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66 and by the time the session is over he realizes he has said more than he had originally intended and now Dr. Ebbets is lying beside him on the bed. They are making progress. I came into this game sane and I want to leave it sane. Don Baylor, all-star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox

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CHAPTER 9 When Troy returns from the session with the doctor, he feels sense of calm that he hasnt had in a while. He feels justified now that the hope hes had all year, the belief that he will finally get to swing at a pitch, is being seconded by a respected sports psychiatrist. Sue Bee is waiting for him on the couch when he opens the door to their apartment, Indian food from the restaurant across the street laid out on the coffee table. Good or bad, she asks him, which one would be closer to the truth? He sits down next to her, slowly easing into the couch because of the constant soreness in his upper legs. He tells her it was a good session, that the doctor seemed positive about what could happen with this season. He does not mention that the doctor conducted the session from his bedroom, on the bed, because he knows she would think less of the doctor. He only talks of progress, of sorting through the fears he has about the future, of finding a happy medium, and this makes Sue Bee smile. Troy knew it would because he did the same thing when he heard the doctor say all of this. They eat saag paneer, scooping it up with pieces of naan, and for the first time, they watch a Blue Jays telecast that does not show Troy getting hit. For at least a few games while he sits out, the Hit-By-Pitchometer will register no new hits, his old bruises will not be covered with new ones, and perhaps something will change when he comes back. After dinner they walk through the city, up and down King and Yonge and Bathhurst streets, to an old movie house that plays arty foreign movies that Troy does not understand or does not care to understand. They watch a German movie about an 67

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68 umbrella that turns into a bird at inopportune times. The man will be walking the streets of Berlin, using the umbrella as a cane, tap-tapping along the sidewalk, when it starts to rain. And always the umbrella turns into a bird when he opens it, flies out of his hands, and he stands there on the street, soaking wet, watching the bird fly over his head. Troy has no idea what is going on or why the man doesnt just buy another umbrella but he feels something for the man, the departure of reason in his life. Troy starts to ask Sue Bee why the umbrella changes into a different bird every time, but she is following the movie carefully, eyes wide and reflecting the flickering of the screen. So he leans back and watches more umbrellas fly from the mans grasp. Troy can enjoy the moment because Sue Bees hand is warm and soft in his and no one at this theatre knows who he is. The art students and fading new wavers and philosophy professors with stylish glasses have never seen a baseball game and so Troy has no fears of Breckballs or Get Brecked t-shirts. He simply watches things he doesnt know the answers to and smiles. That night, while Troy is brushing his teeth in the bathroom, Sue Bee sneaks behind him and wraps her arms around his waist, pressing her face into the space between his shoulder blades. She blows softly on his skin and it feels cool and warm at the same time. He thinks about later, when they will slip under the covers and he is not sure what will happen. They have not been together in weeks. He is always too bruised, his body constantly aching in soft places from the pitches. Where she touches him is always tender, either new or fading bruises. Sometimes her body presses against a contusion on his leg and he will jerk awake, kicking out at her unconsciously. Im too banged-up for it I reckon, he tells her after he pulls away from her. Nights when they feel he is well enough to try it, it never happens. Youre thinking about it too much, she tells him, but

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69 he is actually thinking about the other thing, the pitches coming at him, but he does not tell her this. He only apologizes quickly, shakes his head, and so they untangle themselves and slide to the edges of the bed, each thinking of other things. Tonight though, once Sue Bee leads him to the bed, it is different. Troy sits at the foot of the bed while he strips off his shirt. The bruises show like tattoos on his skin, deep purple circles and half-circles on his shoulders and chest and back. Sue Bee places her hand on him and traces a path across his body that weaves between the bruises. Once they are under the sheets, Troy lifts the thin fabric of her nightgown up and off her body and they both lie there, silent. Troy doesnt even want to breathe, as if the movement of the particles of air in the room will change things. They move softly against each other, barely touching. They will find ways around it, they decide, until he repairs himself.

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CHAPTER 10 On the 28 th of May, the last game in the series against the White Sox, Troy returns to the lineup. He feels good about todays game, even with only one session with Dr. Ebbets behind him. He thinks it may have been enough, that straightforward problems may have simple answers. Today he crouches behind the plate to catch for the starting pitcher during warm-ups and feels the tightness in his legs as he balances on the balls of his feet, the tiny flickering of pain in the nerves in his left thigh. He realizes he probably wouldnt be as effective as a catcher anymore, that protecting home plate would add even more bruises to his body. Still, he enjoys the back and forth of it all, the feel of the ball in his hands again. The other players seem to have loosened up in Troys absence, even if its only been a few days, and joke with him more than usual. Jimy Williams has told them about the session and the hope that Troy will be back to normal. As he fires a fastball across the plate, Dave Steib asks Troy if he thinks hes going to hit a homer today. I reckon Im due for one, he calls back. Sue Bee is in the stands, ready with her scorecard and notebook to record the event. Everyone feels excited and anxious for the game to begin, to see what will happen. Before Troy heads to the on-deck circle for his first at-bat, Jimy Williams takes him aside. Now, you say the thing with the doctor went well, right? Yes sir, coach. I feel like it helped a lot. 70

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71 Well thats good. Thats good. Fine. Now, you feel like taking a swing today? Sure thing, coach. Thats more like it. Okay, dont swing at any garbage now though. Just dont get anxious up there. Wait for your pitch and lets see what happens. Got it. Troy? Yes, coach? And that doctor says youre fine right? He seems rightly optimistic, yes sir. Fine. At the on-deck circle, Troy and Leon talk about Dr. Ebbets. On the car ride home, neither one said very much at all. Troy was still thinking about the session and Leon was wondering if they were going to stop for that burger hed mentioned earlier. Now though, Troy asks Leon about the dominoes. Leon nods and tells Troy, Oh yeah, she does something with dominoes I think. Im not really sure. Her name is in books for it though, you could look it up. Leon asks if the doctor lay beside Troy and Troy is silent. Leon smiles. He did, didnt he? It took five sessions before he sat beside me. Dont worry though. He doesnt mean anything by it. He just does it when he feels like youve made a breakthrough. I guess youre a natural mental patient. Troy goes to the batters box smiling, thinking about the breakthrough hes made. The pitcher has no idea about Troys sessions. Neither do the fans, who are chanting Get Brecked in unison. They are thinking only about the HBPs and thats the

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72 way Troy wants it. He thinks of the surprise, of the silence that will come if he hits this pitch. He stares at first-base coach and nods but the first-base coach only looks away. He is not a big believer in the power of therapy. The pitcher winds up, twisting himself into an impossible puzzle, and then releases the ball as his arm crests the wave of motion. There is a blur that Troy knows is the ball and he is ready. Troy watches and tightens his grip on the bat. He pulls his arms back slightly, that split-second where the batter decides whether or not to swing. He wants to swing. He is dying to swing. And then Troy realizes he should have been spending that split-second tensing his muscles for the pitch. The ball zips closer and closer until he feels it. As he flexes his bicep and rubs out the pain, he looks into the dugout. All of the players have their heads down, doing everything not to look at Troy. The crowd, however, is still cheering. They were always expecting this to happen. They know only of the streak and its continuation and so they cheer. As Troy goes to take his base, he looks into the stands and sees Sue Bee. Her head is down. She is writing something on her scorecard, though it seems to take up more space than a simple mark, and Troy knows shes found a new theme, a new poem. He takes his base and realizes the ease in which he falls back into the motion, the deliberate pace towards first, shaking off the pain. He settles into his crouch after he steps on the bag and readies himself for the next pitch, for the rest of the pitches that will be coming. When he gets back to the dugout, thrown out on a double-play, he sits beside Junior Felix and stares ahead. Junior offers him a sunflower seed but Troy shakes his head.

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73 I thought you went to see some head shrink about this. I thought you were fixed now. Well, the doctor said it would take more than one session. How many sessions will it take then, do you think? I dont rightly know now. Hopefully before the end of the season. Well, I hope you can last that long. Yeah, me too. Troy takes three more pitches, three more bases, and each time Jimy Williams throws up his hands. Troy only thinks about the cold hard truth of the matter, the tiny fact that this may not stop. He doesnt want to think about it but he does. He has to wonder if this can go on forever and suddenly it doesnt seem so outrageous, that he could take a million pitches and be hit by each one. It is something he has not let enter his mind until now but there it is and he suddenly cannot wait for next weeks session. He needs to sort some things out. Once the game is over and Troy has showered and changed and answered all the reporters questions in that robotic, monotone voice hes beginning to develop with the media, he walks out to catch a cab back home. He sent Leon up to the stands after the game to tell Sue Bee not to wait for him and that theyd meet up at the apartment. He doesnt want her waiting for him because he has shit to think about. Shit is happening and he tends to do his thinking about shit alone. Still, there are about forty people waiting outside the players entrance that he must wade into and through before he can get to his cab. When he steps out, they all cheer, waving signs that say WELCOME

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74 BACK BRECK and THE STREAK DONT STOP and MARRY ME TROY. They form a tight circle around him as he walks, the crowd engulfing him and then slowly moving with him as he continues to walk, the new form moving like an amoeba. As he signs what they have for him, unsheathed Sharpies held out point-first for him to write with, the fans move from the center towards the edge and then slowly fall away from the amorphous group of autograph-seekers. He does the initials first, as hes learned to do for quickness. He makes a straight, grammatically sound T and spaces a B an inch away from it. Then he squiggles the rest of his name in, a curling line that goes from the T straight through the B and off the page. Hes got it down to a science now. If he cant work on his batting, hell work on his signing. Mostly he signs a new collectible kind of baseball his agent developed and the stores have been carrying for a few weeks now. They are called Breckballs and they have tiny spots of black-bluish bruises covering the surface of the baseball, one for every HBP so far. The real fans and collectors will buy a new one every time the streak changes. That four bucks a pop and thatll pay for a lot of aspirin let me tell you. By the time he gets a cab and starts towards home, fans still waving as they disappear from view, he is already sore again, his arms tightening up from the new bruises. The driver, who has taken Troy home several times from past games, starts to head towards his apartment, but Troy tells him just to drive for a while, maybe thirty minutes. The driver swings around and starts driving out of the city, where there's some space. Troy takes a pain reliever that the team doctor gave him, a steady supply that Troy never has to explain the need for when he asks for them. He lies down in the backseat of the cab while the driver listens to the recap of the game, the analysts commenting on the

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75 return of Troy Breckenridge and the continuation of the streak. Troy tunes out the radio, empties his head until there is silence. He sits in the back seat of the cab and lets his body mend, but he does not know if hes really just finding ways to ignore the pain. When he gets to the apartment, Troy walks in to find forty-eight messages on the answering machine and Sue Bee in the shower. He watches the blinking red light on the machine, the steady pulsing, and he leans over to check the messages. He has changed his phone number four times but still they find him. The calls are usually from reporters, writers interested in getting a quote about the latest game. Kenny, his agent, gives out a prepared statement whenever he receives calls from reporters now. It provides a brief analysis of the last game though Kenny hasnt changed the wording since the third week of the season. I am very surprised about the continued events involving my being hit with the baseball while I am at bat. I am not sure what the cause of the phenomenon is but for now, all I can do is take my swings and hope something works out. I do not think about the streak because it does not concern the operations of the Blue Jays organization and our commitment to winning. I do not believe that the aforementioned series of events will continue since the law of averages dictates that nothing is infinite. I think we played (well/poorly) today and hopefully we can (turn this around/keep it up). Sometimes fans manage to find his number and call to leave encouragement or insults. Other ballplayers leave tips about his stance. Insurance salesmen call to ask about his coverage. Rarely are the messages anything he really wants to hear but he still goes through them.

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76 As he deletes the messages one by one, listening to the first five seconds before skipping to the next, he notices Sue Bees notebook on the desk. Its a black and white composition book, labeled Poems on the cover. She has about forty or fifty of these notebooks, every page filled to overflowing, and she keeps them all stacked under their bed. He has never looked at one. Sue Bee likes to type her poems out on the typewriter before she gives them to him to read. The notebooks could be filled with grocery lists for all he knows, drawings of flowers with smiley faces on them. He notices a page bookmarked with a ticket from the game today and as the drone of unknown voices rambles on the machine, he looks towards the bathroom and listens for the sound of water. After a few seconds, he carefully opens the notebook, careful not to break the spine or rip the paper. He looks over the scribblings on the marked page and sees that its a sestina, or the beginnings of one, titled Suicide Squeeze. Just as he starts to check over the repeating words in the first stanza, he hears the water shut off in the bathroom. Sue Bee steps out of the bathroom, a towel tied into a turban around her head. Troy softly sets the notebook back on the desk, nudges it with his finger into the exact same placement as before, and continues listening to the messages. Anything good this time, she asks him, tying the belt around her robe. He readies his finger on the skip/delete button. Troy this is Marc Devereaux of the Montreal SentinelTroy this is Carl Phillips from the Lexington County LeaderTroy this is Patrice Rousseau of the Quebec Daily They listen to the last eight messages, all reporters or newscasters, and then stare at the light on the machine, now finally stilled. Sue Bee reaches towards him, her

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77 robe slowly falling open. Her skin is pale white underneath, luminescent, but Troy can only think of the poem, about the suicide squeeze play and the possible themes that could be addressed with such a topic. He does not want her tonight and as her hand moves towards him, he tenses his body as if she is already touching the bruises. He moves away just slightly but Sue Bee is already reaching beyond him, over his shoulder and to the desk, where she retrieves her notebook. Im going to write a little in the bedroom, she tells him. Do you want to come? She closes the neck of her robe with her free hand and smiles. He says that he wants to look over the pitcher profiles for the next game, watch the video from todays game maybe. Well, dont think about it too much. Dr. Ebbets will help you at the next session. When Sue Bee pulls the door to the bedroom shut, Troy gently lifts the phone from the receiver. He is holding the doctors business card while he punches in the number. He hopes it is a direct line for the office and that Mrs. Ebbets will not answer. It rings three times before he hears a voice on the other end. Yesyes? Doctor? Who? Doctor Ebbets? What? Yes, I meanyes, of course. Is this Troy? Yeah, I hope its not too late to be calling. No, no of course not. I was just resting but you should treat this number like a 24-hour hotline. It is always open for you to use. Except on Fridays from nine to eleven

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78 thirty. I like to watch the Mystery of the Week and generally when thats on its hard to get me to pay much attention to anything. Other than that, you should call at any time. Even if youre with a patient? Well, then I guess Id let the machine pick it up. I usually turn off the ringer and set the volume on the machine lowbut what were you wanting to talk about, Troy? I reckon you watched the game today. I did yes. And so you sawall that. I did. And so you can maybe understand that Im feeling a little disappointed. I can understand why you are unhappy with today, yes. Still, Troy, we have to take this a step at a time. This is not a simple psychological construct that we can tear down in one session. See, I reckon thats kind of what I was thinking it was. Yes, well its a bit more difficult than that. We have to look at this as a two-part treatment. We want to make it so that you are no longer mentally affected by being hit. And once that is accomplished, we can use that psychological harmony to help you eliminate the actual incidents of getting hit. It just seems hopeless I guess. And it will seem that way for a while. You will be frustrated at first, Troy, but you simply have to soldier on like you have been and know that we will eventually fix this problem.

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79 If you say so, doctor. You know what? Why dont we do a session a week instead of every other week if youre concerned about it? Every week? Yes, I think thatd be nice. More face time for the two of us, more time to sort things out. Its just nice to meet, dont you think? Ill talk to the manager and see what he thinks. Just a thought. Now, its strange youre calling because Ive been going over your file. File? Just clippings Ive cut out from various places. Its more a scrapbook I suppose. Oh, okay. Tell me, Troy. Yes. Do you ever think that this will all end tragically and that nothing will ever quite be the way it was before it started? No, never actually. Good. Good, because nothing productive can come from that. I reckon not. Dont do it. I wont. Well, goodnight, Troy. I will see you next week.

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80 Alright then. When he hangs up, Troy wonders if this is wrong, this calling for help in the middle of the night. He thinks about Sue Bee, just feet away in the other room. He knows he should talk to her about all this instead of some strange psychiatrist who still lives with his parents, but he is afraid of the things he says around her now. He does not want to give her any good lines. He counts the syllables when he speaks to her, trying to create sentences that dont scan metrically, even though he is still hopeless at it. He is being petty and perhaps jealous about her new creative spurt, but he cannot get around it. He hopes maybe Dr. Ebbets can help him mend the problems he is having with Sue Bee but hes not sure if Dr. Ebbets is that kind of therapist. He knows he should go to bed, but tonight he sleeps on the sofa and dreams about nothing, as if hes used it all up during the day.

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CHAPTER 11 The curious thing about a streak is that once you find yourself in one, its easier to stay in it than it is to get out. Wee Willie Keeler, one-time holder of the major-league record for consecutive games with a hit The streak is showing no signs of slowing. The Jays sweep the series against the White Sox, sending Troy to bat 17 times with 17 HBPs. Its a new record for Troy, the most in a three-game series and so another entry in the record books. The next series against Cleveland also goes well, with Toronto picking up two wins and Troy another dozen HBPs. The team is excited, hasnt won three straight in months, and as the team boards the plane for Boston, everyone is happy except Troy. There are still hopes of a pennant, though the last few weeks have been rough. These wins were just what they needed to build confidence. Were not dead yet, boys, Jimy Williams tells them as they settle into their seats on the team plane. Were awful damn close though. And Troy would like to be happy as well but the last two series have taken his team spirit away. He does not talk to his teammates anymore, finds himself unable to offer anything they would care to talk about. Sometimes, when he sits on the bench while the team goes out to the field, he forgets the score, forgets even whom they are playing. He only stares out into the sea of fans and wonders why he doesnt care about any of this anymore. He only wants to get to bat, to face the pitcher. The rest of the game is a blur except for those few moments when he steps to the plate. He has very little except for the obsession that he might be able to get himself straightened out with 81

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82 the next pitch, the hope that this will be the one. And it never is and hes never quite prepared for it and he spends the rest of the game thinking of the last pitch and wishing for the next one. The game has become a one-man, one-pitch contest for Troy and that is why he sits in the back of the plane by himself and reads. He hasnt had a normal session with Dr. Ebbets since the first meeting. These away games have limited them to phone sessions, hour-long conversations that do nothing for Troy. He doesnt want to say it but he is disappointed with the doctor, had hoped for quicker results. The doctor only repeats that Troy must accept the HBPs a fact of his existence for now and that is exactly what Troy cannot do. He feels that the only chance he has is to keep believing that he will get a hit. To forget that is more than he can bear. So, they mostly talk about his personal life now, a tactic that Dr. Ebbets feels may help him from constantly focusing on his life on the field. The doctor asks Troy about his life, his likes and dislikes, and Troy can hear him scribbling furiously over the phone, trying to get it all down. He does not know why Dr. Ebbets wants to know what his favorite meal or movie or color is, but he tells the doctor anyway. And the more they talk about these things the more Troy feels that Dr. Ebbets may not actually ever help him. Still, it gives him something to do, something to talk about, and Troy is grateful for that. He spends a lot of time in his head now, cluttered with box scores and pain medication, and so its nice to have someone who doesnt want to talk only about the HBPs. Troy leans his chair back as the airplane streaks towards Boston. He has taken two pain pills and is flipping through the magazines hes brought with him. He avoids Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, anything that may mention baseball. He keeps

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83 to the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, magazines completely unconcerned with sports. He also reads though a few literary journals, scanning the poems in each one. Even though hes unhappy with Sue Bees new interests for her poetry, he finds himself wanting to read a few poems once in a while, dense poems with strict meter. Something with order in it. When he picks up the New Yorker he turns to the table of contents and checks over the articles. Under the poetry section is a poem, Suicide Squeeze, and he feels his face slacken, his jaw dropping wide enough to swallow his fist. He looks over to the authors name and there it is: Susan Beatrice Breckenridge. He checks it three times and three times it is the same name as the name of his wife. He looks to the notes on the contributors page and looks for her name. The entry reads as such: Susan Beatrice Breckenridge is a poet living in Toronto. She is the wife of the ill-fated baseball star Troy Breckenridge. Mrs. Breckenridge is currently at work on a cycle of poems about baseball. When the team arrives in Boston and is taken to their hotel, Troy finally reads the poem. Its the sestina that he saw in the notebook and he stares hard at it. It takes up an entire page, something hes never seen before in a magazine like this. The poem is about a baseball player whose slump at the plate also reflects the problems hes having in bed. Troy hates to say it but its a good poem, maybe her best, and he admires how nicely Sue Bee uses the repeating words to play on the double entendres inherent in the poem. She takes all the meaning she can from bats and sexual organs, from the base paths acting as both the playing field and the levels of physical contact in his sex life. He wonders if he will ever see home. There are lines that make him feel sick to his

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84 stomach when he reads them but hes not sure if its the poem or the fact that its his wife who wrote it. By the end of the poem, the player decides to try to bunt to get on base, and at home he decides to masturbate instead of trying to have sex with his wife. A bunt is just like jerking off, a cheap hithell take it if he has too Troy closes the magazine and lies on his bed. He wants to call Sue Bee, ask her about the poem and why she didnt tell him. He reaches over for the phone but as he dials he realizes there are things he knows he does not want to hear from her. In the back of his head, he knows what she could say to him, the way hes been distant and uninterested in her. He knows the ways they could let each other down and so he waits. Hell wait until he sees her, until they are face to face and can figure out what they are doing and if they should keep doing it. He places the phone back on the receiver and stares up at the ceiling. He needs to talk but most of the players are out at the bars or watching videos and he doesnt think they would much like to listen. Theyre not much on poetry either and even if they secretly harbor inclinations towards meter and rhyme, he does not want them to try to infer anything from it. You say your woman wrote thishmm. They already know something is wrong with him; he shouldnt give them more things to believe. He picks up the phone again and dials Doctor Ebbets number. He begins to wonder how much the doctor will charge for these phone conversations, if he treats them as regular sessions. When he hears the doctors voice on the other end of the line, Troy suddenly does not know how to tell him about the New Yorker poem. It is the doctors job to analyze things, to look deeper than the surface meaning, and Troy does not want to tell him anything about the poem. He does not want to hear the doctor tell him about

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85 how fiction is just the truth filtered through the subconscious or nonsense like that. But now the doctor is on the line and Troy has nothing to say and so he tries to make small talk. He tells him about the plane ride and the weather, how theres nothing on the TV tonight. Dr. Ebbets happily discusses all of this with Troy, seems delighted to talk about anything. Dr. Ebbets says that he is beginning to think about getting his own place, feels he is almost ready to leave his parents but it still may take some time. They talk for an hour before Troy finally decides to ask for the doctors advice. Doctor, I also had a little something I needed to tell you. I need some help with something which is kind of the reason I called. This isnt just a friendly call, Troy? NoI mean yes but only sort of. It was a friendly call but I was hoping we could then maybe have a mini-session or something. Well, thats fine. I guess we should focus on our professional obligations for now. What is the problem? Sue Bee got a poem published in the New Yorker A baseball poem. I see. And you are feeling much like you felt after the Atlantic Monthly poem? Sort of. Well, I still feel unhappy thats shes focusing on baseball for her material now that its become such a bad spot for me. Yes. Kind of like shes mining your pain for her artistic benefit. I reckon thats part of it. But also this one feels a little too personal, like shes revealing things about us that may or may not be true. And even if its not true, people

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86 will think it is because shes married to me and Im a baseball player and this poems about a baseball player. Guilt by association, yes. Well, thats understandable. And also, she never told me about it. She didnt tell me she had sold the poem. Ah! We have an issue with trust as well. Well, Troy, thats a big problem I think. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, in my opinion. Even you and me. I expect you to tell me the truth in how you are feeling and that is why we are able to communicate. Its no different with a marriage. I can understand your unhappiness. Well, I just dont know how to approach it. I know I have to talk to her about it but I just want to make sure I do it the right way. Perhaps you should just wait for her to bring it up, see how long she can carry this along with her. It might reveal her intentions with this marriage a little more clearly. I guess I could do that. Still, I reckon thats a bit too passive-aggressive it seems. I feel like I should be honest with her, to show her how important honesty is to our relationship. Thats another way I suppose. Look, Troy, I dont want to besmirch the reputation of your wife but she seems to be a classic pain opportunist. Oh no, shes not like that really. I feel like Im giving her a bad name. Shes a wonderful woman and I do love her. Its just I feel like this has been a crazy season and as a result our marriage has been a little crazy.

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87 Well, do what you think is right. We can maybe discuss this more at our next session. Thanks, doctor. I hate calling you all the time, but I really do appreciate having someone I can talk to. You can charge me for the whole call tonight, even the talking we did at the beginning. Troy, Im not going to charge for any of this. Think of this as an exchange of advice between friends. Well, I do appreciate that, doctor. Cause we are friends, arent we, Troy? I reckon we are now, yeah. Thats nice to hear. I hope you have a good night and remember, Troy, whatever happens on the field tomorrow has no bearing on you as a person. Right? Ill try to remember that. After he hangs up the phone, Troy wants to call Sue Bee, just to try to clear the air. Maybe fly her down to Boston so they can be together, maybe try to get some alone time in the hotel at night. However, he keeps hearing what Dr. Ebbets said, about Sue Bee being a pain opportunist. He feels that maybe he is just a bruised muse for her. He realizes its crazy anyway, should just wait until he gets back to Toronto so he can collect his thoughts. He turns on the TV and watches the scores for todays games, sees himself taking pitches and watches the quick grimaces that sweep across his face. As if remembering the aches in his body by watching it on TV, he takes another pain pill and begins to drift off, hears his name on the TV but doesnt stay awake to hear what the announcers say. The world turns itself off by degrees and Troy waits for tomorrow.

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CHAPTER 12 People are treating packs of Topps baseball cards like Willy Wonka bars since the Breckenridge card came out. Ive got grown men ordering boxes of cards trying to find one. Im not joking when I say that people are paying eighty to a hundred bucks for one. People figure its going to be a rare card, seeing as how its not even certain he can even last to the end of this season. Larry Weintraub, sports-card authority and owner of Larrys League of Sports Memorabilia, about the updated Topps 1989 set which includes a Troy Breckenridge rookie card. On the off day before the Boston game, Troy spends it walking a piece of the Freedom Trail, to clear his thoughts. The summer sun seems to soak into the cobblestone of the city and Troy sees the waves of heat move in tiny measures as he walks past historical buildings and trinket shops. He is beginning to wish he hadnt worn the long-sleeve linen shirt and khakis but he does not want people to see the bruises. He figures that baseball-sized bruises will help people place his face a little easier and so he sweats as a tradeoff. After he has seen enough of American history, he walks over to Fanueil Hall and walks through the long hallway of food shops on either side. He gets a spinach calzone and a coke and goes outside to sit on a bench. As he alternates bites of the calzone with sips of his drink, Troy feels more relaxed than he has in weeks, begins to wish he had more days off on the road trips. The day is pleasant and the motion of people all concerned with something else lets him enjoy the moment. The game is tomorrow but he thinks nothing of it now, and though he can still remember lines from Sue Bees poem, it seems to be less and less about him as he sits there. 88

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89 When he finishes his meal, he notices a small boy, about six or seven years old, hovering near him. He is wearing a Batman t-shirt and his hair is spiky with gel, and he seems to be waiting for Troy to acknowledge him. Troy nods, wiping his hands with his napkin, and then motions to the boy. The boy looks back at who Troy assumes to be his parents, who tell him to go ahead, and the boy walks cautiously over to Troy. Mr. Breckenridge, he asks softly, could I maybe have your autograph? He holds out a pen and a card and Troy tells him that would be fine, feels happy to maybe make this kids day. He asks the boy whom he should make it out to, but the boy instantly replies, No personalizations. Just your name. His voice sounds older now, more mature, and Troy looks at the card he has been handed. Its a picture of him, his name at the bottom of the card in a blue wave. It shows him turning away from a pitch, just seconds before it hits him. He studies the white blur of the ball and then looks at his face, the tightened expectancy. The boy asks him if he could get that autograph sometime today. Troy cannot stop staring at the card, feels that no matter what he does this season or the next or ever, there is always proof that he played baseball, something to remind people. He asks the boy if maybe he could sign a baseball for him and keep this card. Yeah, if you wanna pay me fifty bucks for that card. More if you sign it. He feels the sudden urge to tell the kid to fuck off, but then he notices the boys family just a few steps away. Troy checks his wallet but he only has thirty and the kid isnt budging on the price. So, Troy signs his name diagonally across the card and hands it back to the kid, who nods. He tells Troy to keep it up and then runs back over to his parents, who are waving at Troy. He waves back.

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90 Things get even worse the next day. Against Roger Clemens, Troy gives up as much of the plate as he possibly can. He does not like the power pitchers, knows always that they will bring the heat and then he will have to take it. And these are the pitchers who never ease up, unfortunately, always thinking that they can throw it so hard that the ball has no choice but to go down the strike zone. It makes Troy long for knuckleball pitchers, that slow easy release and falling arc that allows you to prepare yourself for it. It still hits him of course, always seems to knuckle towards him, but its just easier. He looks out into left and stares at the giant expanse of green wall that seems to block the sky. He thinks about sending a pitch over the Green Monster, sailing far right of the yellow foul pole and over the wall. He is no longer focused on the game, is only looking out towards left field, and this becomes his safety zone, something to make him forget what is about to happen. Because it is about to happen. Troy closes his eyes as the ball comes at him, his eyelids fluttering as if caught in rapture. He realizes something, in the flash before rawhide meets skin. He can feel the ball moving towards him and with his eyes closed, his senses reduced by one, he feels something vibrating inside him. He feels it hum like a tuning fork struck soundly and he knows this is what the ball understands, gravitates towards. He feels it like a diviner feels the water move from the ground up to his fingertips. But he will not remember any of this because the ball still has to hit him. And it does. The sound at the center of the impact is hollow, moving in concentric circles like the ripples in a lake. Troy does not hear it at all, feels only the warmth spread from the base of his neck and rise into his brain. The ball glances off the back of his helmet, just behind his left ear, and he does not yet know that he is falling. He is still holding

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91 onto the bat, still gripping it, and as he falls to the ground, his head bounces off the bat, just below his right eye, and Troy hears the cheering but he does not know if it is real or not and he does not much care. The dugout in Fenway Park is always damp. Troy does not understand this about most ballparks, but the dugouts are usually wet, as if a small body of water hides underneath the field. The back of Troys head is soaking wet now and the water smells like moss and cobwebs. He turns his head and listens to the floorboards creek and realizes he is staring at a row of cleats circled around him, tapping to different cadences. He stares back up and sees the ceiling of the dugout and then, his vision moving out, the faces of his teammates slowly gaining clarity. Boyboy are you okay down there? asks Jimy Williams. You awake? Troy wonders how long he has been on the floor of the dugout. He pushes himself up onto one arm and feels his head swim inside itself. Leon kneels down to steady him. Jesus Christ, man, that was unbelievable. You took a 97 mile-per-hour fastball in the headin the head. Leon pulls Troy up to his feet and leads him over to a corner of the bench. Some players scoot over to make room, scooting over even more than is necessary. Holy Jeez, you got hit and then I ran over and lit you up with some smelling salts. Well, you bolted right up and started walking over to first base, but Jimy said to take you out of the game. I think you may have a concussion. Troy is feeling the two points of pain in his head, one in the back and one in the front. Oh yeah, Leon continues, you must have hit yourself with your bat when you fell cause you got a shiner like nobodys business under you eye.

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92 The players start to move back to the bench to watch the game, losing interest now that Troy appears to be okay. Leon helps Troy over to the bench as well and Troy watches the inning progress, not knowing a single fact about the game going on. When the Jays half of the inning ends, Troy begins to snap on his catchers equipment, draping the chest protector over his Kevlar-padded jersey. Pat Borders, the other catcher for the Jays, walks over to Troy and mumbles something, holds out his hand. Troy does not pay any attention. Hey, Troy, Pat says again, I need that stuff. Im catching today. Since when, Troy fires back, still getting on the gear. Well, since a month ago, give or take. Youre the DH now, remember? Troy stares up at Pats fleshy face and curly hair while Pat keeps looking over at Jimy Williams for help. Pat Borders is your typical under-achieving catcher, half a step slow and always frantically looking to the coach for the sign. Troy does not like him but Pat may very well be right. Dont you remember, Troy? Troy looks back at his equipment, and then back to Pat. Obviously not, he replies, and begins to snap the equipment off, handing each piece back to Borders, slowly. As the inning progresses, Troy notices the fuzziness at the edge of his vision, the slight pain at the base of his skull. He wants to take something for it but his pills are in the locker room. He starts opening and closing his left hand uncontrollably. After a while, enough time for Troy to begin to worry, he goes over to Jimy Williams. Coach? Coach, could I ask you something? Jimy Williams doesnt turn around to face Troy, as if embarrassed to meet his gaze. He continues to look out to the field. Troy, you can ask me something but I dont know if I can answer the kind of things you want to know. Troy asks the manager about why he wasnt taken to the hospital or something else that

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93 seems medically responsible for someone who was hit in the head and knocked unconscious. Jimy Williams informs him that Troy himself told them that he was fine and only needed to lie down in the dugout. But isnt that the worst thing for someone with a possible head injury? Jimy Williams shrugs his shoulders and continues to stare at the game at hand. Mine is not to reason why, Troy. You know? Troy says that hed like to be examined now and Jimy Williams says he thinks that would be great and tells Troy to go to the locker room. Those medical guys will know what to do, I betcha. You take care now, Troy, and well see you tomorrow. We may still win this one yet. Troy walks down the long runway back to Fenways tiny, cramped visitors clubhouse. The team doctor is waiting, pacing in circles. Lets get you to Mass General, how about that? Troy only nods, feels something sick stir in his stomach, and lets himself be led to a waiting ambulance. He sits in the back of the ambulance as the sirens blare softly, competing with the ringing already in his head. He wonders if he will be able to play tomorrow, or ever. He thinks it might not be so bad but then he thinks about his current state. He still needs to get a hit, he still has to keep playing, and he tries to tell the team doctor that he is fine but the doctor shakes his head. I dont think so this time Troy. I think this isnt so good. And this time, Troy can do nothing but agree with him, lie back and wait for the ride to end.

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CHAPTER 13 At Mass General Hospital, Troy talks with a neurologist, who takes his blood to check the oxygen level and does the vital tests, flashlight in the eyes and so on. The doctor takes out a sharpie and puts it in Troys right hand. Now, lets see how your motor skills are responding. Maybe you could write your name. Troy looks for a piece of paper and the doctor hands him a baseball card, another Topps card of Troy. I mean, if you want to, the doctor tells him. Troy has no interest in upsetting the man dealing with his well being, so he signs the name with no problems. They give him a CAT Scan and while he waits, the team doctor sits with him in the hospital room, nervously tapping his foot. Hospital give me the darndest creeps. Never liked them. Thats why I took up sports medicine, less of this in-and-out uncertainty you get as a hospital doctor. Sports injuries are pretty straightforward. A torn this or a fractured that. Well, except for you of course. Finally, the doctor steps into the room, holding a bunch of pictures that Troy assumes are of his brain and a tray of food. His brain looks fine enough to him, the right size and dimensions at least. Do you mind if I eat, asks the doctor, a long night. As he takes bites of a turkey sandwich, the doctor asks if Troy has ever had a concussion before and Troy nods. And what was the cause that particular time? Troy tells him that it was an inside fastball, and the doctor nods, writes something on his notepad. He takes a sip of milk and finishes off the French fries on his plate. When he is done, he turns to Troy, looking serious. Well, Troy, you have a Grade 3 concussion here, 94

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95 potentially dangerous stuff. We think you need to stay overnight and then youre free to do as you like. We recommend you not play tomorrow of course, or the next game. Generally we would tell you to take it easy for two weeks but your team doctor has told us about the pennant race and other extenuating circumstances, so well let you decide on that. Otherwise, you seem okay this time. Troy is happy enough with the results. So, I can keep playing, right? Theres nothing wrong with me? The doctor picks up his bowl of Jell-O as he starts to talk again. Well, not really. I mean, you are taking career-threatening blows to the head and thats never good. Youre okay this time, seem to be thinking clearly and dont have any lingering effects. Youre a tough guy, Troy, no doubt about that. Still, we need to think about long-term effects now and how this will affect your career. The doctor stops to shovel in a few more bites of his Jell-O, watching it quiver as he touches it. He seems amused and Troy wonders if hes forgotten about him. Finally, he looks back at Troy. Troy, if I may offer a visual? Troy expects the doctor to go into the CAT Scan images in greater detail but instead the doctor slides his chair over closer to the hospital bed. Troy, lets pretend this Jell-O is one part of your brain and then the Cool-Whip is another part. See, the brain moves around at different speeds and so some parts of the brain move at a different speed than others when something like this happens. He shakes the bowl to further explain and Troy watches the Jell-O shake rapidly while the whipped cream holds steady atop the green mass. He is losing the doctor. After a few of these hits, the motion could be violent enough to tear the nerves and then youre looking at long-term neurological problems. He shakes the bowl until the whipped cream dislodges itself from the Jell-O and falls onto the doctors medical booties. The

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96 doctor frowns, wipes away the Cool-Whip, and then looks back at Troy. Its a lot to think about. That night, Troy tells the team doctor that he can go back to the hotel and the doctor looks openly relieved, hurrying out the door as he reassures Troy that he will be fine. Troy avoids the TV, hanging from a metal post coming from the ceiling. He has no desire to see what he will inevitably have to see a hundred times or more, the fastball to the head. Hes happy enough with the doctors opinions, though he cant quite decide why. Finally he decides that he just wants to keep playing, doesnt know what will happen if he has to quit playing without resolving this situation. One swing, one line drive into the outfield, and all this pain will be worth it. Its misplaced and not at all what Dr. Ebbets would like to hear, but Troy does not think he will quit until he gets a hit. He wonders if he should call Sue Bee or Dr. Ebbets, but figures the team will let his wife know and Dr. Ebbets should be okay for one day. He will see them soon enough anyway. He thinks that maybe he can use these days off to straighten some things out. He needs to talk to Sue Bee about the poem, about what is going on with them. He needs to have a real session with Dr. Ebbets to sort out all these feelings hes experiencing. Still, he knows what he wants more than any of those things and it is the one thing that will make him nervous and anxious for the week until he finally gets back onto the field. He needs a hit.

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CHAPTER 14 At Logan Airport, before he boards a private plane back to Toronto, Troy stops at the flower cart near the food court. An old woman with black hair sprinkled gray sits on a stool beside the cart and flips through a magazine. Troy never understands flowers, what you should get or how much. Everything looks slightly sad to him when he imagines himself presenting them, cut flowers near drooping from a three-hour plane ride offered for reasons neither he nor Sue Bee really wants to address. Its better than walking in with nothing though, this much he knows. He asks the woman what kind of flowers he should buy. She doesnt look up from her magazine. What do you wanna say? He tells her that he wants something that shows that hes sorry, that he takes responsibility for the way hes acted, but he also wants to convey that it isnt all his fault either. The woman saves the place in her magazine and walks over to a purple plastic bucket and pulls out a bouquet of tulips. Cause theyre beautiful flowers, she tells him, but they aint roses. The plane is empty save for Troy and the two pilots. This is the personal jet of the Blue Jays owner. He wanted Troy to travel in the utmost comfort after his injury the other day. The outside is painted bright blue with the wings of the plane serving as the painted wingspan of a blue jay, whose profile adorns either side of the planes nose. It is a giant blue bird of an aircraft but the inside is all luxury, with plush carpet and leather seats and a full bar. Since there is no stewardess on the flight, Troy occasionally walks the length of the plane to the very back and makes himself a Tom Collins. After a few 97

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98 trips to the back, he is feeling loose. He asks the pilots if they want a martini or anything but they dont respond. He lies flat on the ground, the carpet softer than his mattress at home. He sips a Manhattan through a straw and when the plane touches down in Toronto, Troy can hardly feel the landing through the haze of plush carpet and alcohol. The pilots help him up and hand him his carry-on bag and flowers and when they tell him goodbye, Troy almost feels sad to leave. In the taxi to his apartment, Troy leafs through the newspaper to find that the Blue Jays lost in spectacular fashion last night, giving up four runs in the bottom on the ninth. There were three errors on the final play, a crazy line-drive single that somehow got stretched into an inside-the-park homerun once the Jays outfield got through tossing the ball around. The sheen from the Chicago sweep has vanished as quickly as it came and one of the sportswriters is calling for Jimy Williams to be fired, saying hes lost control of the team. There is a picture of Troy just before the ball hit his head on the front page, but he doesnt care to look. Hes seen enough of these pictures of himself to know the look by now, a mixture of wonder and fear that makes for Pulitzer Prize-winning photography. The article and photo are doing their best to bring Troy out the alcohol-induced happiness hes been experiencing. And as the taxi gets closer to his apartment he starts to think about what he is going to say to Sue Bee. He has absolutely no idea what to tell her and now he wishes hed read the New Yorker poem again today just to refresh himself. He thinks of her face, the rapid, undisguised way her eyelids flutter when she sees him recently, as if preparing for the worst before she hears it. She seems older to him now. Despite their age difference, hes never felt much of an actual gap in their relationship but now he suspects there are things she has learned in those few

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99 extra years that he cannot know. He realizes she has probably been waiting for this discussion for weeks now. Perhaps shes only been waiting for an opportunity to bring it up. He touches the deep bruise under his eye and flinches. He wonders if it looks bad enough to gain a few moments of sympathy. Troy pays the taxi driver and signs an autograph and then rides the elevator to the top floor of the building. As he rises, he notices that his alcohol buzz is mostly gone, replaced by a dry, frothy taste in his mouth, like swallowing chalk dust. His palms are sweating and he keeps checking the flowers to make sure they are presentable. He feels like he should have bought roses. When he opens the door, he calls out for Sue Bee, softly and without expression. He says her name like a prayer and it hangs in the doorway while he waits in the hall. He pauses, feels the greeting dissipate, and then steps inside. Troy holds the bouquet as if it was a flashlight, as though it will help him find what hes looking for in the apartment. He calls her name again, louder this time, but there is still no answer. There is no sound from the shower, and when he walks into the bedroom there is no one around. The room is empty. There is nothing there except for the notebook, lying open on the bed. Sue Bee is away and the notebook is here and Troy walks through the apartment again, calling out her name almost as if daring her to answer. Finally, he is positive that she is away, and he hustles back to the bedroom and stands over the notebook, squinting at the lines on the page. He bends towards the notebook and begins to read, but there is something that makes him feel this is all wrong, like he is cheating on Sue Bee. He carries the flowers into the kitchen and takes a vase off of the top of the cabinets. It is long and fluted and the top flares out like a trumpets head. He arranges

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100 the flowers, moving them into a position that emphasizes how many there are, and fills the vase with water. He decides to leave it on the coffee table in the living room. It will be the first thing she sees when she walks in. She will open the door and there will be flowers and that will be all that she thinks about for at least a few seconds. She will walk over to the coffee table and admire the tulips and think what a wonderful husband she has. She will smile and call his name but not before taking another look at the flowers. And all this time she will not see Troy, lying on the bed, flipping through the notebook. At first he glances at each page, searching out the meanings. They are all about baseball; he can tell from the words, the way she focuses on dirt and leather and rawhide. The pages are worn with marks, the poem from the previous page imprinted onto the new one. Sue Bee bears down when she writes, as if there is no other way to say the things she imagines but to press them into the paper as if they have always been there. When he gets to the end of the notebook, he realizes that every poem is about baseball in some way. When he is finished, he turns towards the door and looks down the hallway to the living room. There is no motion or sound and so he starts over, flipping back to the beginning, and he reads over each poem again. There is one about stealing home, one about an intentional walk, and another about filling out a scorecard. Everyone is slightly damaged in these poems, all these different ball players. And he knows deep down that he is all of these ball players, whether Sue Bee will admit it or not. These poems are broken-down and full of the inevitability of failure, and they are all about him. Of course, they are all wonderful poems, curious uses of form and meter that work well with the subject matter. There are rules in baseball, things that can and cannot be allowed to happen, but within those simple rules the game is unpredictable and

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101 chaotic. Sue Bee does the same with her poems, allowing the strict meter to frame the strangeness of the things going on within the poem. Her imagery is amazing, filled with details that make Troy understand that she was always paying attention to the aspects of baseball, even when she couldnt stand the actual game going on. She has become very good at poetry and Troy is sick to his stomach. Troy starts over again and looks for hidden meaning, for hope. He wants to find something that will make him feel better. The tone of the poems is kind, tender even, but the players always fail. He flips through the poems, frantically searching for one that will tell him it will all work out. He begins at the final lines of the poems and works backwards, looking for things hes never been good at finding. He scrutinizes each stanza, scouring it for meaning, and when the door opens he does not hear it. He does not hear the sound of footsteps in the hallway as she comes closer. What he does hear finally is his wifes voice, cracking slightly as she says his name. He looks up at her and realizes he has been caught with a quick certainty that makes him shudder. He tosses the notebook away, as if it were on fire. They stare at each other, silent. Troy can almost see her breath as it pushes out of her body. Its like a mist. I bought you flowers, he tells her. Her eyes are glassy, as if a sheet of something not quite liquid has moved over them. What are you doing with my writing? He cannot answer. He wishes he had the flowers with him to give to her. They sent me home early. He points to his black eye. I got hit in the head. He wishes she would hit him, would dig her nails into his skin and cut into him. Anything would be better than the silence, the quiet realization of his failures. He watches her slowly pick up the notebook and hold it close against her body, as if it were a

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102 baby that had been crying. It makes him want to touch her but he does not. She looks at him like he is an intruder in their apartment. Are you okay? she finally says, still standing away from him. He instinctively touches his eye again, a new nervous habit, and then he nods. I reckon. At least the doctor said so. Might not be if this keeps up though. He tries to find the right thing to say. It has to be perfect or the rest of the things he tells her wont come out right, will be lost in the confusion. I liked your poems. Honest. They werethought provoking. He does not think this was the right thing. They sit on the bed, their backs propped against the headboard. This is how Troy talks about things that are on his mind now, the effect of Dr. Ebbets. They stare ahead at the mirror of the dresser directly across the room from them. When they talk their eyes shift slightly to look at each others reflection. He tells her about the New Yorker poem, about learning that his wife was writing about him while he was stuck 30,000 feet in the air in an airplane filled with his teammates. I didnt know they were going to run it so soon, Troy, she tells him, tilting her head towards him while keeping her eyes fixed on the mirror. It was rushed to print and by the time I found out, you were already on the road. Sue Bee mentions how quiet hes been lately, how sullen about anything pertaining to baseball. I cant help it if the themes I am dealing with in my writing is all of a sudden the bane of your existence, Troy. Troy remembers what Dr. Ebbets said about Sue Bee and her possible use of Troys pain for her own benefit. He knows he cant say this though or the conversation will go downhill in a hurry. He counts to ten. The room feels smaller to him. He notices how tiny a space it is for two grown people and he wonders why he never felt it before. There is only a finite amount

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103 of air in the room and they are both breathing it. He takes a deep breath before he says, Youre a pain opportunist, is what you are. Sue Bee jumps off the bed, still clutching her poems. What? What in the hell are you talking about? Troy still stares at the mirror but his face is all that looks back. You are using my pain and suffering for your own benefit, to jump start your writing career. He knows this is going downhill fast but theres no way to stop it now. He only can watch the events come to him and wait for the sting of contact. I had to do something with all of your pain. You were creating enough of it for the both of us. I would have drowned in it if I didnt start writing about it. And for your information, my writing career was doing just fine before your major-league crisis. He can almost feel the heat radiating from Sue Bee, the anger changing the molecules in the room but still he cannot look at her. He does not remember the last time he yelled at Sue Bee. He cant remember the last time he yelled at all. He is a calm man, someone who does not let his life upset him if he can help it, but he is going to see this out. He is going to holler until he and Sue Bee find their way to the ugly, bitter end of this moment. He only bears down. And you think you didnt make it worse? I come home damn near covered in bruises and you run off to the study to write a poem. Thats like backing over someones dog and sending them a photo in the mail. Sue Bee is screaming now. You think this is easy? My husband wont sleep with me anymore, cant even stand my touch. You just stare off into nothing all the time, and I know youre thinking about baseball, just marking time until you get to go back up to bat. Youre completely infatuated with your own pain to the point that you cant feel anything else. Troy finally looks over at Sue

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104 Bee and he can see the tears still welled up in her eyes, too angry to cry. He feels like they are breaking things that cant be fixed but he does not care much anymore. I guess youre gonna use that for a poem too, aint you? Troy sees the windup but there is nothing he can do. He watches Sue Bees shoulder flex, her arm move in a wide arc, and the next thing he knows, she is side-arming the notebook right at him. The notebook spins like a frisbee and Troy waits, feels the moment between action and inaction slip away. The edge of the notebook catches him right underneath his good eye and bounces off his head and onto the floor. Sue Bee runs down the hallway but Troy does not move to stop her. He cannot move at all actually, can only watch as the room gets fuzzier and fuzzier, the air rushing through the door to follow Sue Bee. The apartment smells like fresh flowers. Troy falls back against the headboard thinking he may never see his wife again. He finally understands that she is leaving him. He knows it will happen and he wonders why he didnt grasp this sooner. They do not talk anymore. And what they do not say is that there are now things they care about more than each other. They pass through each others lives at random times, spare moments between games and poetry where neither one is focused on the other person. What he suddenly realizes is that there are things stronger than love. There are things that require more devotion in order to keep them alive. Finally, a moment occurs where you realize the things you are infatuated with are not the things you once thought they were and you have to make a decision about what you need more. And this is where Troy and Sue Bee are finding themselves, making decisions.

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105 He wants to leave the bedroom. He needs ice for his freshly bruised eye, but he can hear her out there, moving. He does not know if she wants to see him right now, and his eye, rapidly swelling as he sits with his back against the door, reaffirms this belief. He can feel her footsteps move through the floor like shockwaves, climbing up his spine in rapid bursts like messages to his brain. It is saying things he does not think are very cordial. He pictures himself, sitting with his knees pulled close to his body like a small child, afraid of something behind the door. It is ridiculous and sad. It is enough to make him stand up and walk out into the hallway. There are tulips everywhere, the remains of the flowers strewn about the apartment like shrapnel. Troy is suddenly thankful he did not buy roses. She is sitting in the middle of the living-room floor, cross-legged and calm except for the traces of tulips under her fingernails and the red flush of her skin. She is holding a piece of paper in her lap. Troy does not know what to do. His body does not react well to moments of quick judgement anymore. He wants to kneel beside her, wrap his arms around her small frame and carry her back to the bedroom, but he knows the time for that has passed now. Troy wants ice for his eye but he cannot seem to move around her presence. He awkwardly bends his legs, lowering himself to the floor. He is drawn to her, slowly but surely, and before he knows it, he is moving closer to her in tiny increments, trying not to awaken her anger again. He moves until he is inches from her, until he can tell they are breathing each others air. Troy stops short of touching her, lingers in this miniscule space between separation and kissing. The bruises and pains in his legs make it difficult to sit comfortably on the floor but he does it anyway. They face each other but do not speak, and it is now that Troy tries to make out what is on the piece

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106 of paper. But his vision is not very good at this moment, clouded by his eyes in various stages of swelling. Whatever it is, the paper looks official. Sue Bee finally speaks. The sound of her voice surprises Troy, as if they had tacitly agreed not to speak to each other for a long time. They want to publish my poems. Sue Bee says it almost resignedly, as if she can no longer believe it to be untrue. The New Yorker wants to publish all of them, Troy responds, almost in wonder, but catching himself before it sounds totally unbelieving. She looks up at him and smiles, the first smile he can remember from her in weeks. She is always shocked into a hesitant kind of love for him in these moments, when he cannot grasp the obvious. Random House. They want to publish a book. Troy still cannot quite put all the pieces together. Of your poems? A book of your poems? She nods, the smile slowly fading from her face. Troy looks around the room to see if it is the same room it has always been. He decides it is. He asks her which poems they want to put in the book, and she tells him that they want to publish the poems in the notebook he just read, the baseball poems. Troy wonders if he can bargain with her. He will be a better husband if she will only keep the poems out of circulation. These are poems about me, he tells her, but she reminds him that the poems are fictional. And while this is true, Troy knows that the poems are about a fictional character who resembles him in many ways and that is all that people will need to make their own decisions. He asks her if maybe she can stop writing poetry for a few months, until the season is over. Sue Bees smile is totally gone now, the traces of it evaporated like steam off the surface of water. You are asking me to give up something that I love, something thats a part of me. And something that was a part of me long before you were around, Troy. Its asking too much. And even if Troy

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107 understands this, he cannot give up just yet. He tells her that he wants to go back to how it was before, the simple ways they stayed together and happy. Troy thinks about that short time before they moved north, that year in Knoxville when he was playing minor-league ball. Sue Bee would come home from teaching her classes at UT and he would be waiting for her on the balcony of their duplex, his feet hanging off the edge, a cooler of Pabst waiting in ice. And they would watch the blackbirds scatter in ragged forms from tree to tree while the sun slowly slipped behind the horizon and everything about their lives seemed distant and unformed and optimistic. They were going to be doing important things but not yet, not just yet. And now nothing seems quite that way anymore. He dreams about a time when he wasnt in pain and she didnt find poetry in it. Finally, Sue Bee says she will stop. She will give up poetry for as long as it takes for them to work things out. Troy feels relief sweep up into his lungs but before he can move closer to her, feel his skin on hers, she tells him about his part of the bargain. No baseball, she tells him. Her eyes are hard and unblinking, as if this was the one thing she did not want to say but he has made her say it. Just quit and well go back to Tennessee and figure out what were doing. He laughs slightly. Honey, I cant just quit on the team. I have obligations. Ive still got half a season left. Sue Bee grabs Troys arm, digging into his skin. He tries not to grimace as she presses into a bruise. No you dont, Troy. You can quit right now and itll all be over. You wont have to worry about getting hit anymore. You wont have to deal with all ofthis. Troy shakes his head slowly and feels Sue Bees grip ease. He cant. Yes, you can, she tells him, you just dont want to. He stops shaking his head now, slowly reverses the movement

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108 of his neck and begins to nod in agreement. Thats right I reckon. Thats right. And Sue Bees hand moves back to her lap and Troy feels the chill of the space between them but does nothing to fill it up. Sue Bee holds up the contract. I was going to tell you about this when you came back. I have been trying to figure out how to tell you about this book for a while now and I was going to discuss it with you when we saw each other again. But now with all of this Sue Bee waves her hand in the air as if to encompass all of what has happened in the last hour, the notebook being thrown, the flowers getting eviscerated, their marriage going straight out the window. With all of this, Ive decided that Im going to sell this collection, Troy. Theyre my poems and Im publishing them. And you can keep playing baseball and sometime in the future well decide if it was a good idea but right now this is what we have to do. And this is how things fall apart, the slow, deliberate deterioration that is as natural and immutable as gravity. Things can only go on for so long and though the thought of it makes Troy inescapably sad, it is not for the reasons one would think. Nothing can last, but Troy cannot stop getting hit. And what worries Troy is the idea that perhaps there are some things even the laws of nature cannot control.

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CHAPTER 15 LOCAL WOMAN SEEKS TO RETOP DOMINO TOPPLING RECORD By Thomas Lieberthal While most people think of their house as a place to hang their hat, Dorothy Ebbets sees a blank canvas for her domino creations. For the past thirty years, Ebbets has been constructing intricate and awe-inspiring domino designs in the same house where she, her husband, and their son live. And while most people enjoy sitting on their couch and watching TV once they get home, Ebbets is busy trying to reclaim a world record that very few people even know about. It all started when Mrs. Ebbets was trying to find a way to pass the time while her husband was away from the house on business. Dr. Branch Ebbets Sr., the well-known clinical psychologist and Toronto philanthropist, was constantly giving speeches at various academic conferences, leaving his wife and child to find ways to pass the time without him. My son had a falling domino kit but he never had much skill with it. Hes got shaky, nervous hands but not me. I started building little rows to topple and pretty soon I was spending hours at a time setting up these patterns. A trip to the library provided Ebbets with a brief instructional book about the science of domino toppling, and from that single event came a chain reaction that is still toppling to this very day. Once shed learned the basics of domino toppling U-turns, side steps, branches and the pyramid Ebbets began drafting domino designs that she would later create throughout the rooms of her house. While it may seem strange for some to imagine their 109

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110 floors filled with snaking patterns of dominoes, the Ebbets family finds it as natural as carpet. Dr. Branch Ebbets Jr., himself a psychiatrist, says, I cant remember a time when the house wasnt filled with those things. Its a little unsettling at points and I feel like the atmosphere of the house is made considerably more tense, but it has become a part of our daily lives. Is there anything the family might do different than other households because of the patterns? I made father tape up the legs of his pants so his cuffs wouldnt knock over my patterns, says Dorothy, I learned that one the hard way, believe me. Pretty soon, Ebbets designs were being published in the domino topplers bible, Topple Quarterly where the best and brightest domino-pattern designers publish the blueprints for their most intricate creations. After winning the magazines annual Design of the Year for three years running, Ebbets soon found herself in the top echelon of topplers, ranking her with fellow designers Donald Domino Donato, Scotty Sizemore, and Oleg Gusarov, long recognized as the kings of toppling. She is credited with creating two new toppling techniques: the spiraling shape, which spins inward and upward in what Topple Quarterly called the most hypnotic topple ever created, and the K2, an amped-up version of the pyramid that has a larger base and reaches over 25 domino-stories high. However, it was in 1979 that Dorothy eventually attained the title of Master Toppler with her Guinness World Record for dominoes toppled by an individual. The pattern contained an astounding 250,00 dominoes that stretched from the west corner of the first floor of her house all the way to the eastern edge of her third-floor attic. I made sure the men stayed the hell away from the house during that one, let me tell you.

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111 Offers from TV shows to present her work came rolling in after the record-breaking feat. They were quickly dismissed, however. Ebbets remains fiercely critical of keeping her visions within the realm of art and science. This is not some quirky act that you can schedule between dancing dogs and unicycle jugglers on the Gong Show. What I do is as academic as mapping DNA strands and artistic as writing symphonies. I see commercials now where boxes of pizza get knocked over in patterns that I created and it makes me want to kick a hole in the wall. Her neighbors, on the other hand, are more exasperated with Mrs. Ebbets than with the state of toppling. I cant play loud music at all. She calls the cops the minute I turn the stereo on. Says the bass shakes her foundation, says her next-door neighbor Allen Carpenter. When asked if perhaps she is perceived as fanatical for her devotion to toppling, Ebbets replied tersely, Well of course its strange. So is slapping around a piece of rubber on a sheet of friggin ice but you guys cover that like it was the second coming. In 1984, a young wunderkind from Germany, Klaus Friedrich, shocked the toppling world by breaking Ebbets six-year record by creating and setting off a pattern containing 281,581 dominoes. The reclusive European was thrust into the limelight while Ebbets took a brief respite, busy struggling with her husbands recent stroke which had left him severely incapacitated. When the Around the World Domino Toppling Team that was part of Coca-Cola's centennial celebration in 1986 was announced, Ebbets name was not included. Ebbets dismisses the stunt as shameless commercialism and mind-numbing patterns that were five years old, and states that the main reason she was left off the team was simple. I drank Pepsi.

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112 Later that year, Dorothy Ebbets reminded the sport why she was still a master of the domino when she performed a Christmas Day topple that crushed the old world record by more than twice the number of dominoes. It was a wonderful Christmas present, says Ebbets, though we didnt really celebrate Christmas at all that year actually because I was working ten-hour days for a month and a half, but you get the idea. However, her German counterpart Friedrich again erased her name from the record books the following year, eclipsing her old record by 60,000 dominoes. Still, Ebbets makes no secret about her disdain for Friedrichs methods. He gets it with sheer volume. His record is for 650,645 dominoes but what they dont like to mention is that his pattern was for 703,236 dominoes. He makes sloppy patterns that are developed simply to break records. If you look at my previous record, I only had 205 dominoes left standing when it was all over, and thats only because my son left a book where he shouldnt have. Thats another thing, Ebbets adds, part of the challenge is to create within an unstable environment. I have a husband and a son threatening the existence of my patterns. Klaus is a lonely man in a giant, empty house. For the past two years, both Ebbets and Friedrich have both been secretly working on domino creations, racing to set the new record. While Dorothy wouldnt let me see her newest design because she feared I might knock over a section, she told me that it was going to be incredible. Ill break the million mark, thats for darn sure. And when it happens, expect the city of Toronto to be filled with the click-click sound of Dorothy Ebbets passion realized. Toronto Star, March 11, 1989, Arts and Entertainment

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CHAPTER 16 It is a sad reflection of Troys domestic life that he feels calmer in a house filled with teetering rows of dominoes than in his own apartment. After Sue Bee told him about the book contract, they spent the next few hours cleaning up the living room, picking up the petals and twisted stems of Troys bouquet. They did not say another word though, silently moving around each other as they cleared away the traces of their fight. When it was finished, Sue Bee took her contract and notebook into the study and shut the door behind her. Troy suddenly wanted to follow her, wanted to touch her again but he instead picked up the phone and called Dr. Ebbets to schedule a meeting. Ebbets was excited to hear from Troy, had been worried sick since he saw the last HBP on the TV. He penciled Troy in for later that day and when they had finished talking, Troy started repacking his duffel bag, emptying out the clothes from the last road trip and picking out the things hed need now that he was moving out. He left a note for Sue Bee on the refrigerator, Gone to see the doctor. Ill be back when Im better. So now Troy sits in the directors chair and tries not to stare at the dominoes, as if by vision alone he could start the process of toppling. Mrs. Ebbets is nowhere to be found today. Troy knows all about her now, her domino patterns, but he isnt sure if he feels like he understands her any more or less. Before the session at Dr Ebbets, Troy went to the public library and asked the periodical assistant for information on Mrs. Ebbets. The man had smiled slightly, quickly checked himself, and then turned serious 113

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114 again as he led Troy to a microfilm table. While Troy looked through the viewfinder, the assistant would return from time to time with another article about the Domino Lady. It all seemed so sad to him, the almost mocking tone of some of the lesser articles, especially after reading through some of her essays in Topple Quarterly. It really was amazing to see how intricate her designs were, even to someone as unfamiliar with the sport as he was. Still, every other piece of microfilm the assistant brought over was a news report about how Mrs. Ebbets was suing some company or another for their attempts to ruin her patterns. She wanted the city to ban all tractor-trailers from driving on her street, all underground systems to be diverted from underneath her house. Paranoid fears of any kind of physical threat to her domino patterns caused her to be mentioned in headlines like, Domino Lady seeks to have firework ceremony for new mall canceled. This afternoon, in her absence, there was a note on the front door that stated that she was going to be working in the east wing of the house to repair a section that had fallen during the night. Troy was merely to go to the safe chair and wait for the doctor. There are cameras in this house. I am watching you, the note said, though it sounded less like a threat and more desperate than when she had actually been standing in front of him. Perhaps it was because her headlight glare wasnt blinding him as he read it, but also because of his own problems. What had happened with Sue Bee was ten times worse than any punishment Mrs. Ebbets could dole out if he were to upset the pattern. At least this is what he tells himself. Truthfully, he does not imagine that he can take any more incidents today.

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115 He sees the light flicker in the hallway upstairs and Troy gets ready for the session. He decides he will not mention Sue Bee just yet. He does not think things will be fixed between them, and he just doesnt know how to talk about it calmly. As he reaches the foot of the stairs, Leon is waving hello, whistling at the state of Troys face. Got hit so hard, looks like the other eye turned black overnight. Troy turns away from Leons gaze, trying to hide the evidence of his breakup with Sue Bee. The docs on a roll today, Leon says as he passes Troy, slapping his shoulder as he continues down the steps. Got me thinking I should give up on the whole batboy game. As he reaches the bottom of the stairs, he turns back to Troy and rolls his eyes. Hes a miracle worker that man. So, you think maybe you could buy me a burger after your session? Ill wait seeing as how no ones coming to get me anyway. Lucky you showed up today to give me a ride home. Troy only nods and continues up the stairs, where Dr. Ebbets is nervously tapping his foot, careful not to tap too hard and start any domino quakes. He smiles when he sees Troy, but his mouth immediately hangs open when he sees the bruises under Troys eyes. Oh dear lord, Troy. He reaches out a hand instinctively for Troys face but Troy turns away quickly. Im fine, doctor. Just a little swollen I guess. He is agitated already with Dr. Ebbets, feels like his pain is further proof of the doctors failure to fix him. All he can think about is Sue Bee and the tulips all around her. He feels like things are perhaps beyond fixing but he lies down on the bed anyway. Hell try anything at this point. Ebbets is already scribbling in his notebook, but Troy is not watching. He stares up at the ceiling at the constellation of glow-in-the-dark stars that Dr. Ebbets has pasted above his bed, but he can still hear the scratching of pencil on paper. Finally, they begin.

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116 So, you were telling me last time about these feelings of helplessness. Tell me about that. Well, I play baseball, where the object is to hit the ball. So, I play this gameIm paid to play this gamehundreds of people come to see me play this gameand all I do is get hit by pitches. I mean, I can hit the ball, I did it all the time before this year. Im going to interject here. Isnt the point of baseball to score runs, to get on base any way you can? What you do helps the team win. Well, that isnt really Troy, if I may? Dr. Ebbets quickly slides over to the other side of the bed and lies down beside Troy. They are now both staring up at the stars on the ceiling. While the doctor makes emphatic gestures with his hands, Troy holds his breath, though he does not know why. What you are saying is very me-centric. I want people to see me hit the ball. I want people to realize Im very talented. I want people to chant my name above the names of all the rest of my teammates. I want you to move back to the foot of the bed. Evading. It is clever. You are very good at evading the questionsmuch better than evading fastballs, but you wont get away that easy. Doctor, Im famous right now because of this thing. Im getting the attention. Its why Im getting the attention that bothers me. It feels hollow.

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117 You know something, Troy? Im looking at you and you know what I see inside you? A disappointed boy who is thinking maybe he isnt as good as all these superstars around him. All the other players see you get up to bat and immediately go Well, heres another HBP. You want them to see you as a hard-working, talented ball player, not some ball magnet with bruises. Kind of. I guess so. Fantastic. Fantastic. Ebbets happily snaps his fingers and then reaches over Troy for his notebook. He then returns to his side of the bed, drawing some kind of chart with quick, straight lines. Youre finally opening up here. Okay, lets run with this. Umyoure feeling this inadequacy and helplessness because of being constantly hit by pitches and not being allowed to actually try and hit the ball. Exactly. Exactlyand this helplessness comes from something deeper, something else inside you. Fear. Its fear deep down inside you. Fear? Yes, fear. Fear that somehow, one time, you will step up to the plate and the ball wont hit you. You are scared that if that happens, you wont be able to compete with these other players because you arent as good as them without the HBP thing. NoI dont think so, doctor. Thats not it. I want to be able to swing at a ball. Do you? Do you really want that opportunity, Troy?

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118 Yes. Yes, I do, and stop squinting your eyes like that. It makes you look like a bitter old man. Lets not transfer you fear of inadequacy onto my appearance, Troy. Fine, whatever. Look, I want to swing at the ball. Im a good baseball player. I batted .298 last year in the minors for chrissakes. I hit 24 home ru Scared men use statistics, Troy. Men who are afraid use facts. I will not have them in my office. Here, pardon me. Let me just get to the window over here. Lets open up this window and let the statistics just fly right out like pesky houseflies, all right? Fine. So, tell me more about these feelings of helplessness. Dr. Ebbets lies back down beside Troy and immediately Troy jumps up. He does not want to hear anymore of Dr. Ebbets strange conclusions. He does not feel like talking now. He is surprised at the anger that has been bursting out of him today, first with Sue Bee and now here. Its not like him usually, but he is past the point of accepting things anymore. All he knows is that his wife has left him, his career is a laughing stock, and his doctor is possibly crazier than he is, and he does not feel that discussing it will make it any less true. I dont want to talk about helplessness anymore today, thank you. Troy can see the hurt on the doctors face, but Ebbets quickly tries to hide it. He adjusts his glasses several times as he thinks of something to say. You know, Troy, I feel like youve been more combative today than usual and I was hoping it was because you were opening up to me more, that we had established a

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119 friendship and you were allowing yourself to become less hesitant to help me in helping you. However, I feel like youre just being mean now. I think your abuse is out of frustration for something you think I am doing or not doing. And thats unfortunate, but stomping around wont make it better. Lying back on the bed will though. Im not lying down. Im leaving as a matter of fact. Troy begins to walk out of the room but Dr. Ebbets quickly hops off the bed and drapes himself across the doorway. He does not look like he is going to move. Troy, I am trying to help you. I want to help you through this thing but we both have to understand that we are dealing with something that is not going to be resolved with a few hours of chit-chat. I understand that youre frustrated but Im here to help you through it. I dont want help, doctor, I just want to get on with it. When Troy tries to push past the Ebbets, he sees the doctor tighten his grip on the doorframe. When the doctor still refuses to move, begins pushing back, Troy wraps his arms around him and begins to lift him out of the doorway, the doctors legs kicking wildly into the air. Troy has his arms locked in a half-nelson around Ebbets shoulders and it almost looks as if they are dancing, the way their legs move independently of each other but their upper bodies are held together. As Troy carries Ebbets out of the room and into the hallway, one of the doctors legs kicks out awkwardly and finds one of the dominoes lined up on the floor. Troy hears the tiny click as the domino leaps forward into the next one. It begins now, the downward fall. The first domino quickly gives in to gravity and falls until it finds the next domino in the pattern. Both men have stopped fighting now, can

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120 only stare as the chain of dominoes begins its inevitable downfall. Mrs. Ebbets has set the dominoes so tightly, with such amazing precision and spacing, that the area of the falling dominoes is still only inches from the two mens feet. It will still be a few more seconds before it finishes its inward toppling and begins to stretch further down the hall. Nevertheless, Troy and Dr. Ebbets are too mesmerized to do much of anything but stare. It is like the end of the world, that sick feeling that something bad is happening and there is little anyone can do about it. Dr. Ebbets stutters out a little cry, the repetitious beat of a single sob broken by quick breaths. What Troy understands it to mean is this: My mother is going to beat me to within an inch of my life. Troy also thinks that this could also pertain to him as well, that the doctors mother could have enough rage left over to throttle him as well. And as he begins to fear for Ebbets life, he watches the pattern of the dominoes and finds the rhythm of their toppling. He sees the timing of the pattern, how the click-click sounds are spaced out like dashes and dots of Morse code, and he wonders if Mrs. Ebbets is writing a story with her patterns, long lines of coded sentences that snake through her house. He feels his heart beat in time with the sound of the dominoes touching one after the other and before he can think about it, he is moving towards the pattern. He moves swiftly but places his feet with great care and purpose, not wanting to send anymore shockwaves through the floor and set off more toppling patterns. He watches the dominoes inevitably fall, his eyes snapping forward each time the next domino topples. Each time he thinks he can do it, the pattern skips ahead just one inch out of his range. In a few feet, the pattern will fork like a river, spreading out in all directions of the upstairs, so Troy does not have much time if he is going to do what he

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121 thinks he might be able to do. He is not breathing, moving quickly with his head down and knees bent. And suddenly what he can see is the red-glazed dirt of the baseball field, the row of dominoes serving as the white-striped base path. Troy moves towards the dominos as if he were a ball in a squeeze play, a bunt laid perfectly down the line, riding the line with deliberate movement. He moves alongside the falling dominoes, his right hand quickly crossing over his body and towards the one piece that will end this. There is nothing but the movement of the line and Troy focuses, feels his body tighten, and suddenly his hand has shot out and plucked three dominoes out of the pattern without disturbing the next in line, his fingers working with a margin of error of mere centimeters. And as he straightens back up, grips the dominoes tight in his palm, he watches for that split second where the pattern can either stop or continue. And when the last domino falls, there is nothing for it to touch, only the open air. It clicks to the floor and the rest of the pattern sits patiently, inert, still dormant. Troy stares ahead, following the pattern of untouched dominos, but he does not want to turn around. He cannot bear to see the broken line behind him or the face of the doctor. He only wants to think about the perfect stretch laid out in front of him and the actions he took to keep it so. He has not been this excited in months. The quick charge of adrenaline from chasing the dominos is more thrilling than any baseball game hes played lately. And while this should be sad, pathetic, it fills Troy with a sense of something, a purpose maybe. There are still things he can do, skills he has not unlearned. He feels the doctors hand rest between his shoulder blades but he does not react. He and the doctor stand silently and follow the pattern to its logical conclusion in their mind,

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122 watching it until it spills out of their view and into the far-reaching depths of the house they are standing inside of. Thisthis is not good. Dr. Ebbets finally has to say what both he and Troy already know. Troy can only nod and slowly he turns around to see what has been left behind. It is strange to see how small the distance is that the dominos traveled. It seemed like a hundred feet of toppling while it was happening but now Troy can see that its only nine feet or so. What is tricky is the number of dominos packed into that space, hundreds and hundreds of them patterned in ways that Troy has already forgotten. He can no longer imagine the ways in which these dominos stood erect, only their current state where each fallen piece rests crookedly atop the next. The doctors face is pale white, his color has gone the way of the pattern. He kneels on the floor and lifts a single piece from the line. What you did was amazing, Troy, unbelievable. It could have gone on forever; it could have stretched all the way back downstairs to my mother. I want to thank you. Troy shrugs his shoulders and kneels down beside Dr. Ebbets. He thinks the doctor is going to cry, and Troy can only pray that he does not. If the doctor cries, Troy is not sure what he will do. He does not imagine it is normal for a patient to see his doctor lose it. He gently places his hand on the doctors neck and squeezes. Im sorry for the way I acted, Dr. Ebbets. Its not your fault. Im justfrustrated. All of this is my fault. The doctor drops the domino and looks over at him, and Troy is relieved to see that there is not a single tear in his eyes. He thinks things can be salvaged after all. This is no ones fault, Troy. Well, its both of our faults, but these things happen. Its fine. Whats not fine is what my mother will do if she sees this. She is an

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123 old woman, Troy, and I do not know if her delicate condition would be able to handle this destruction. Troy does not imagine Mrs. Ebbets has much anything delicate about her but he does not say a word. Can we fix it then, Troy asks him, the two of us? Dr. Ebbets pushes himself back up, grunting from the effort. Perhaps. I know the pattern well enough. Ive walked past it every day for months now. I dont really have the hands for it though. Too shaky. Troy rolls up the sleeves of his shirt and wiggles his fingers in front of Dr. Ebbets. You direct and Ill construct. The doctor shows Troy how far up to roll the cuffs of his pants, to avoid brushing the dominos. Troy uses a fingernail clipper to trim his nails down to the skin. An extra millimeter of fingernail could touch off another topple. They quickly collect the fallen dominos and place them in a pile outside the doctors bedroom door. With a small cloth, the doctor wipes the settled dust that has collected on each piece and then hands it to Troy, directing his placement with nearly imperceptible movements of his head. It takes forever but they do not mind. Neither one has anywhere else to go. They hold their breath when they repair the pyramid, the seemingly unreal way the dominoes stack and build higher with each set. Troy has steady hands, but even so he knocks over the design several times in moments of tight placement, perfect balance. Dr. Ebbets does not mind. He only occasionally looks over his shoulder at the steps for the sight of his mothers headlights illuminating the stairway. They work in silence, the doctor using his hands to indicate placement. On particularly difficult set pieces, he makes a crude model away from the rest of the pattern so Troy can get an idea of how it goes. Troys reticence comes from a combination of things. He is concentrating, on the pattern and his life. They both fill up his mind.

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124 Finally, once the pyramid is done and they have moved on to simple curves and cutbacks, Troy tells the doctor, Reason I was so mad earlier, doctor, was on account of Sue Bee. Shes publishing a book of those poems about meor baseball, either way. We fought pretty fierce over it and now I dont really know where anything stands. I just wanted to tell you, doctor, seeing as how our relationship is based on trust. I wanted you to know that was why I was so angry today. Its got nothing to do with you, Dr. Ebbets. The doctor hesitates before handing Troy another dust-free domino. His mouth seems to curl into a smile and a frown at once, his lips twitching as if pulled by strings. He touches his glasses. Troy, I appreciate your sharing that with me. As your doctor, these are the things we need to discuss in order to help you. It was only natural that the stress of your situation with baseball was going to worsen the stress with your home life, and vice versa. With all this uncertainty swirling around you right now concerning both aspects of your life, you need something to ground you. Thats what these meetings should be for you, Troy, a chance to remove yourself from your wife and the game for just an hour or so and try to sort them out. Thats what I should be for you, Troy, a friend and a doctor when things get difficult. Im glad we talked about this. Troy feels the heaviness inside himself become more tolerable. There is nothing in his life that isnt slightly damaged but he believes it will change. For now, he convinces himself that things will change, and it is enough to make him smile. He cannot know what will be coming and he doesnt want to know. He only places the dominos where the doctor gestures, following his lead until the pattern becomes unbroken, fixed.

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125 From downstairs, Leon shouts up to the second floor, Are you guys gonna have an all-night session? Im starving down here. My parents are probably starting to wonder where I am. Troy tells him that hell take him home in just a while, which quiets Leon to a dull mumbling of obscenities. Hes right though, Troy tells the doctor, we need to get going so I can get him home and I can find a hotel for the night. Dr. Ebbets turns quickly back to Troy. Youre not going home? No, I think me and Sue Bee just need a little time to figure out whats going on. Theres a Holiday Inn on King St. thatll be fine for tonight. Well, dont you think thats unnecessary? You should just stay here tonight. I feel like weve made such a breakthrough as it is. Just think of what we could do if we had a whole night. We could have some dinner and maybe watch a little TV and then get right back to these feelings of helplessnessor whatever else youd want to talk about. No, thats okay. I think I should be by myself tonight, try to think things through. Besides, wouldnt want to break the patient-doctor code What? Oh, oh yes. Ha ha ha. Very good, patient-doctor rules and whatnot. Well, if you need anything tonight, just give me a call. Will do. And thanks again, doctor. In the car, Leon tells Troy about the SkyDome opening for tomorrow. Fireworks and the retractable roof over the stadium and the JumboTron scoreboard but Troy isnt really listening. Hes thinking about Sue Bee, wondering what shes doing as he drives his batboy back to his house. He imagines her at the desk in their study, creating stanzas out of a dozen post-it notes. He wonders if shes at a reading tonight or

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126 wandering through the art gallery. He figures maybe hell stop over at the art-movie theatre and see if anything interesting is playing. Perhaps shell be there. Still, he knows there is nothing he could say right now. If they have to be apart for now, hell accept it. Hell be a grown-up about it and try to work it out like adults. And then Leon tells Troy, You know, you can spend the night at our house. I heard about you and your wife. Troy looks at him in disbelief. Hey, if you want a private conversation, stay in the doctors room. The hallway is a public forum and thats why I know about your wife and the book and I cant blame you for shacking up at my folks place tonight. With Leons summation of his life, Troy suddenly feels exhausted. He says nothing and finally nods his head, yes. Still, Leon says, his hand hanging outside the window of the car, seems like we should grab a few hamburgers first. Your treat? Mr. Braenard is incredibly welcoming to Troy, considering that he is essentially Troys boss and Troy is essentially asking if he can sleep over. Old lady put you in the doghouse? I can tell just by looking at that face of yours, Troy. Troy tries to tell Mr. Braenard that its nothing like that but he isnt listening. Didnt think you were the kind to let a woman punch you twice though. He offers Troy a glass of bourbon, but Troy says that he should get some rest before the big game. Its gonna be a spectacle, thats for sure, Troy. A goddamned eyeful. Fans may be interested in something other than you getting pegged out there for once. Leon shows Troy where the clean towels are and leads Troy over to the guest room. Hes drunk, Leon tells him. The teams hovering around .500 and somethings going to happen soon or were out of it. He always starts drinking more around the middle of the season. Come August hell be so lit up he wont even remember what sport it is.

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127 The guestroom is filled with Blue Jays paraphernalia, pennants and caps and framed jerseys and foam fingers and autographed balls. The room is swirling with deep blue and red and white, feathers everywhere. He feels strange to not have his uniform, as if he is the only thing out of place in this Blue Jays-filled room. He settles into bed and tries very hard not to think about the days events. He cannot believe that he was in Boston just this morning, that only one eye was black at the start of the day, that his marriage was still intact, that his home was still his home. He thinks about Sue Bee and for the first time begins to feel her absence. This feeling of loss sits deep in him, almost still, but he knows it is there and she is not. He knows it is for the best right now, that they want different things. Even if they still want each other, it is not enough. He knows he should go to sleep and see what the next day has for him, what it will throw at him next. Instead, he is creeping down the hallway of the Braenards' house, searching for a phone in the middle of the night. He passes by Leons room, a black light humming through the crack under the door, and then down the carpeted, soundless stairs, where he finds a phone hanging from the wall in the kitchen. He softly takes the receiver off the hook, afraid even the sound of the numbers being dialed will awaken someone. Troy is relieved that at least its a local call. Hello? It sounds like her voice, Sue Bees, and this reassures Troy for some reason. She has not left the city. She is still here. He doesnt speak, only listens to the sound of her breathing, heavy with sleep, on the other end of the phone. He does not think there is anything he can say, or rather there are a million things he can say but not the things that will fix this. He knew this before he ever dialed the numbers but that is

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128 not why he called. He only wants to hear her, feel some tiny, intangible part of her for a few moments. Sue Bees voice asks again, Hello, but at this point Troy thinks she knows. For the next ten minutes, there is silence on the line, just the faint sound of their breathing commingling through the wires. Troy sits down on the floor of the Braenards kitchen. Finally, Sue Bee says to Troy, to the silence, I have to go now. Its late and you should sleep. Theres a game tomorrow. Something will work out, just maybe not the way we want. I miss you. Goodnight. And before Troy can respond, the line goes dead. Troy listens to the dial tone for a few more seconds, hanging up just before the phone can bleat out its warning of the phones being left off the hook. The house seems unnaturally quiet, absent of any sound, and the darkness mixed with the unfamiliarity of his surroundings makes Troy nervous. He quickly creeps back into his room, gets under the covers of his temporary bed, and imagines the sound of Sue Bees breathing, steady as a heartbeat.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Kevin Wilson is a native of Winchester, Tennessee. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Shenandoah, Carolina Quarterly, Other Voices, and elsewhere. 129


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0004849/00001

Material Information

Title: Taking Bases
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0004849/00001

Material Information

Title: Taking Bases
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0004849:00001


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TAKING BASES


By

MICHAEL KEVIN WILSON













A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2004

































Copyright 2004

by

Michael Kevin Wilson


































Dedicated to Debbie, Kelly, and Kristen Wilson, who made me.
And Leigh Anne Couch, who keeps me.
















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I wish to thank Colonel Padgett Powell, who brought me to Florida and kept me

here until I could write a decent sentence. I would also like to thank the rest of the

creative writing faculty, especially Jill Ciment and David Leavitt, who provided endless

hours of support and encouragement. Ann Patchett, my fairy godmother, made me a part

of her family and gave me all the help a person could ask for. I am forever indebted to

her kindness. I wish to thank The Sewanee Writers' Conference for providing me with

an opportunity to meet my best friends and fellow writers, Leah Stewart, Phil Stephens,

Juliana Gray, Greg Williamson, and Matt O'Keefe. Finally, I owe everything to my

family and Leigh Anne, forever.























TABLE OF CONTENTS

Pag


ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... iv


AB STRAC T ................ .............. vi


CHAPTER 1 .............. ...............1.....


CHAPTER 2 .............. ...............13....


CHAPTER 3 .............. ...............25....


CHAPTER 4 .............. ...............34....


CHAPTER 5 .............. ...............38....


CHAPTER 6 .............. ...............44....


CHAPTER 7 .............. ...............50....


CHAPTER 8 .............. ...............56....


CHAPTER 9 .............. ...............67....


CHAPTER 10 .............. ...............70....


CHAPTER 11 .............. ...............8 1....


CHAPTER 12 .............. ...............88....


CHAPTER 13 .............. ...............94....


CHAPTER 14 .............. ...............97....


CHAPTER 15 ................. ........................ .................. ..............109


CHAPTER 16 ................. ...............113...............


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................. ...............129......... ......
















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts

TAKING BASES

By

Michael Kevin Wilson

May 2004

Chair: Padgett Powell
Major Department: English

This thesis is comprised of a novel-in-progress, TaTking Ba~ses, which is set in the

world of baseball, specifically during the 1989 season. The primary interests of the novel

are identity, love, and the inevitability of failure, interwoven between lots of scenes of

people smacking home runs and slapping each other on the rear end. I hope someone

Einds this work to be of interest, as I hope to Einish the novel after I have received my

degree at Florida.
















CHAPTER 1

Roy Firestone Jr.: So, do you like being hit?
Troy Breckenridge: No. I don 't like to get hit.
- Except f~om interview, May 13, 1989


The sun sits high above Royals Stadium in Kansas City. Rays of sunlight

sparkle off the fountains behind center Hield. From home plate, the arc of water looks like

a rainbow of diamonds and when players hit a long ball into center, it is called "tossing a

coin into the fountain" or "making a wish." It is a beautiful thing to watch, to see the

whiteness of the ball fade as it carries and then falls downward, as it becomes lost in the

glare of the fountains.

It is April 3, 1989, Opening Day, and the stadium is a sea of blue hats and

novelty foam hands, a free promotional gift for the first twenty thousand fans from the

Royals organization and Pizza Hut. The air is light, easy to breathe, and the slight east-

west breeze bends the extended foam index fingers in the same direction, as if the fans

have seen something important all at once. The weather is cool from the breeze, but

warm enough so that fans can take off their shirts and display letters or symbols painted

on their bodies. Five men stand anxiously in the upper level of the left Hield bleachers,

spelling out "OYALS" and looking from side to side at the stairways, searching for their

late friend, "R", and suddenly feeling very foolish.

The stadium is filled with a kind of restless energy that has built up from a

winter off-season, a hope for what could be. Everyone at Royals Stadium today, before









the first pitch is thrown, senses that anything could happen. This moment will not last,

will shoot like fireworks into the atmosphere once the game begins, but for right now,

everyone is happy. It is what the announcer calls "a great day for some baseball."

The Toronto Blue Jays have come to Kansas City with high hopes for this new

season as well. The Blue Jays have finished two games out of first for two seasons in a

row and it is hard on a team's spirit to count up the number of games in a season and then

realize that out of those one hundred and sixty-two games, an error here or a called strike

there means that you sit home during the off-season and feel a little like a failure. They

are a good team with a solid group of talented veterans. They have the '87 AL MVP, a

solid outfield, a Gold Glove shortstop, and an ace pitcher, but everyone on the team

realizes that there are only so many years that you can miss the playoffs and feel secure.

For this season, the Blue Jays' management has decided to leave the lineup mostly intact,

giving this team one more chance before the overhaul begins.

The only maj or lineup change is at catcher. Fan favorite Ernie Whitt, who was

the only player left from the original lineup of the first Blue Jays team, but no longer able

to hit with any consistency, is gone. Runners were not afraid of his arm and pitchers

knew he chased anything low and outside. Then, after he let a pitch get away from him

that allowed the game-winning run to score in a disappointing loss to Baltimore, Whitt

told a reporter that he "was sick and goddamned tired of taking the blame for pitchers and

their son-of-a-bitchin' wild arms." So, fan favorite or not, Whitt has been replaced by a

rookie called up from Syracuse, the Jays' AAA affiliate. His name is Troy Breckenridge

and this game at Kansas City starts what he believes will be the best year of his life.












21 Troy Breckenridge
Bats -Rights Throws -Right Ht. -6-2 Wt. -205 Biithdaic kll- 08-28-64
1988 Club Syracuse G 13 Avg. .314 HR 27 RBI 94
Hometown -Bellbuckle, TNV
Troy comes to the Blue Jays after an All-Star year in Syracuse. While there, he set a AAA
league record for most steals by a catcher in a season (19). Jimy Williams says that
although it is Troy 's first season, he willplay an integral part in the Jays' quest for a
pennant. Troy, an avid fisherman, enjoys boating and hiking.
- Bio from 1989 Toronto Blue Jays Team Program

Troy Breckenridge is Toronto's catcher of the future. His arm is strong, strong

enough to throw from his knees and still put away players trying to steal second. When

he sets his feet to block home plate, waiting for a hard-charging runner coming from

third, he smiles because he knows that when it is all over, he will still be holding the

baseball. He is also quick, deceptively so for a catcher, for someone who spends half the

game crouched down in a squat. He can send a pitch into left, center, or right field with

equal power, can make the ball whistle, almost scream, when it comes off his bat. He has

made the Blue Jays organization look very smart and feel very lucky.

Troy sits in the dugout and watches the first three batters for the Blue Jays go

down in order, all strikeouts. The Royals' ace, Mark Gubicza, is throwing pitches with

so much speed and spin that the batters cannot focus on the ball before it passes them and

hits the catcher's glove with that deep-buried whump. When Tony Fernandez, the leadoff

man, comes back to the dugout after swinging on an outside curve, he slams his bat into

the rack and mutters, "Bitch broke like a tidal wave." Jimy Williams, the manager,

shakes his head and yells over his shoulder at Fernandez.









"That pitch was outside from the start. It was outside the minute it left his hand

and I said to myself, 'Tony won't swing at that garbage,' and damned if you didn't swing

at it."

There is an uneasy feeling in the dugout already, and now they all have to sit

there for nine innings with bad feelings hanging in the air, making it as stuffy and

uncomfortable as a bomb shelter. Troy almost claps Tony on the shoulder, telling him

that he'll get one the next time around, but he thinks better of it when he sees Tony's

face. Troy realizes that Tony already knows he'll get one the next time around because

he has to, because he cannot make two mistakes in a row. So the players sit in the dugout

and focus on the game, waiting for something to happen.

After the third strikeout, Troy snaps on his leg protectors and slips his mask

over his head and trots onto the field to take warm-up pitches. He squats down behind

the plate, balancing on the balls of his feet, ready to spring up and out. When the final

warm-up pitch smacks into his glove, he snaps his arm and zips a perfect strike to

Fernandez, who lays a tag on the imaginary runner for an easy out.

The leadoff man for the Royals, Willie Wilson, steps up to the plate and now

Troy can sense the umpire settling in behind him, can feel the ump's chest protector

rubbing against his helmet. The ump yells "Play Ball," but it is not as loud as Troy had

hoped it would be, seems to stick in the ump's throat and never quite make it to the air.

Troy checks the sign and relays it to his pitcher, who nods yes, and Troy can feel his

whole body tense to the point that it is vibrating. The pitch comes, high and hard, and

when Troy raises his mitt to meet the ball, he hears that soothing whump and his body is

loose again. And this is how the entire inning goes, what Troy likes so much about










baseball, about catching. Every pitch is like that first one, that quick feeling of terror, of

not knowing what is going to come down the pipe, and then hearing that whump, and

doing it all over again. Troy Breckenridge smiles as he tosses the ball back to his pitcher,

already forgetting how easy it was and tensing himself up for the next one.

The Royals strand two men on the bases and Troy snaps off his gear and tosses

it into the dugout just as Leon, the batboy, hands him his bat. Troy stands in the on-deck

circle and watches Gubicza warm up, looks for anything to get a slight edge, to catch that

extra tenth-of-a-second head start on the pitch. He notices that Gubicza flips his wrist

from right to left just before he throws a changeup, snaps it just as his grip tightens

around the ball.

Fred McGriff, Toronto' s cleanup hitter, starts off the inning with a blast into left

field that bounces off the wall and sends McGriff to second standing up. Troy begins

walking to the batter' s box, focused on Gubicza' s wrist, watching it even though he can't

quite figure out why it matters what his wrist is doing before he even has the ball in his

hand. Troy hears his name over the loudspeaker, a clear, booming rendition of his name

that carries into the crowd and hangs there for a second before he hears the boos and sees

all the foam fingers wave in his direction, waggling back and forth in a way that looks

obscene.

He taps the dirt off his cleats, takes two practice swings, and then digs his back

foot into the dirt and watches Gubicza's wrist. The pitcher checks the sign, begins to

wind up, and it is at this moment that Troy realizes that he can't remember what the

wrist-flip meant, what pitch would be coming. It won't come to him and now the pitch is

about to come and Troy feels something shake inside of him, something shake so hard









that it feels like it has rattled parts of him loose. He no longer cares what the pitch will

be, knows that he is going to take it and send it deep, plunk it down into the fountain in

center field so hard that water will splash down like rain onto the center Hielder.

The ball is a blur, a whitish comet with a tail that stretches all the way back to

the pitcher's mound, and Troy flexes his arms and readies his bat, and then it comes. It

comes at him, Troy begins to realize. At his head. Troy sees it now, knows it is going to

hit him, but only stares at the pitch, squinting his eyes as if he is searching for a faint star

in the sky. And then it hits him.

The sound of the ball hitting his helmet echoes into the stands. It sounds like an

old tree snapping in half, like something Einally giving way to fate. There is an audible

noise that comes from the crowd, an aaah that starts high and slowly loses volume, but

Troy does not hear it, does not hear anything but a sharp ringing in his ears.

Troy jumps back up to his feet, shakes his head, and follows the baseline that

the umpire is pointing him towards, though he cannot tell right now exactly where it is he

is going. He is squinting still for no particular reason, and the muscles in his face

uncontrollably tighten and then go slack as he stands on first base, as if his body is still

replaying the moment over and over. All Troy can think about is that it is puzzling to see

something that is not supposed to come at your head actually come at your head. The

first base coach claps some of the dirt off of Troy's j ersey while people mark down the

event on their scorecards. Troy Breckenridge's first major league at-bat is marked HBP.

Hit By Pitch.

Now, Troy is running. He is running very fast around the bases and he does not

know why until suddenly he realizes that he is in a baseball game and someone must have









hit the ball somewhere and now he is running the bases as the rules dictate a player must

do. What is frightening to Troy is that he does not remember the hit, does not understand

why Jesse Barfield is running behind him instead of Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee, who

follow Troy in the batting order. All he can do is watch the third-base coach, his right

arm waving like a windmill, and trust that the coach saw where the ball went and what

happened to Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee and that they are okay because Troy can only

run. He swings around third and he sees the catcher for the Royals, mask flipped aside

and legs planted, waiting for the throw.

Troy puts his head down, focuses on the white line of the base path, and then he

hears this whizzing sound, feels something hot pass by his ear but he only sees the white

line and he follows it until he smashes into the catcher, puts his shoulder right into the

catcher' s chest and lifts him off the ground and to the left and sees the ball fly to the

right. Troy touches home plate and just keeps going into the dugout, past the umpire,

who is swinging his arms out, SAFE, past Fred McGriff, who apparently has already

scored, and past Leon the batboy, who is mouthing the words "Holy shit." Troy sits

down in his spot on the bench and tries to catch his breath. His teammates circle around

Troy and clap him on the back, and Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee are there and Troy

wants to ask what happened to them, but they look so happy and all the other players

looks so happy that Troy too is happy and he does not even think about the hit-by-pitch

or the gap in memory and he smiles.

Williams comes over to Troy and asks him "Are you okay, son? You still got

all your faculties with you?" and Troy nods. Williams laughs out the side of his mouth.

"I thought for sure you were dead when you took that pitch, but you jumped up like one










of them plastic, inflatable boxing toys. I'm serious; your head had hardly touched the

ground and you were already rising upright. Way to take one."

Troy feels good. Well, he is in good spirits, but his head is still ringing, but not

so loud, more like background music now. Leon comes over to Troy and hands him a

piece of paper. It' s from his wife, Sue Bee, and all it says is are you okay??? Below

that, there are two boxes, one labeled YES and the other NO, and Troy marks the YES box

and gives it back to Leon. When the inning is over and Troy walks to home plate, he

finds his wife in the stands, on the first-base line with some of the other players' wives,

and he gives her a thumbs-up sign and he can see her face ease into a smile. And Troy

feels good about today, has already forgotten the unpleasantness, the ringing ears and

memory loss and the tenderness on the left side of his head, and he is ready for more

baseball.

When the fifth inning comes around, the Blue Jays are up 2-0. Before Troy

steps into the on-deck circle, Jimy Williams stops him, grasps him tight on the shoulder

and tells him, "Don't go and get scared with this pitcher. Don't give him an inch of that

plate. You stand right back where you were and tell him 'Hit me again, you bastard, but

you ain't getting this inside corner.' You got that, Troy?" Troy nods, and when he

comes to bat the bases are empty with two outs. He stands in the same place as before.

He is not worried. Troy is a big man and the pitcher looks small from this distance. He

tightens his grip on the bat, keeps his weight directly in the center, and watches. He

watches the wind-up, sees the pitcher' s leg kick high and then his arm raise up fast

behind him, and then ball is coming towards him again, directly towards him again.










Troy feels the vibrations, feels something shake inside his belly, but this time he

knows he will not send this ball into the outfield. He manages to put his shoulder into the

pitch and takes it on his left bicep. As he walks to first, murmurs pass through the crowd

like a poorly planned wave, starting on first and moving around to third, a delayed ooh.

Fact-checkers for the announcers are looking to see if this has ever happened before.

Troy stands on first and rubs his arm. It is a dull throb, not very painful at all, but he

wonders if it is the ringing in his ears that keeps him from concentrating on his arm. He

is stranded on first and when he comes back to the dugout to get his gear, the players slap

his ass and say, "Way to take one, Troy." Manny Lee, the second baseman, whispers in

Troy's ear as he passes, "Pretty soon, you're gonna get to swing at one, rookie, pretty

soon," and now Troy is a little worried.

The Royals side goes down in order and when Troy gets back to the bench,

Leon has another note for him, another set of boxes to check, and Troy marks YES again.

The next inning, Troy steps up to the plate again. The bases are loaded, with one out, and

Troy keeps telling himself not to swing at any junk, though this is just habit. In the back

of his mind, all he can think about is the last two at-bats, the way the ball came at him.

He takes three practice swings, level and swift, and he stands just a little bit away from

the plate, just a couple of inches, but he hopes it is enough to allow him to swing at a

pitch.

Mark Gubicza looks unhappy, looks like he is thinking about the last two at-bats

as much as Troy is. His wrist is flipping around and around as if it is trying to disconnect

itself from Gubicza' s arms and fly away with the ball. He does not want to throw this

pitch and Troy does not want to receive it. It comes, a curve ball that keeps curving,










keeps curving until it beans Troy on the left shoulder and Gubicza throws his glove to the

ground while Troy walks slowly to the base. He'll get an RBI for this one, an RBI and

another HBP. George Brett, the Royals' first baseman, leans into Troy.

"Gubicza wanted me to tell you that he's got nothing against you as a person.

He ain't doing it on purpose. Just a freak thing I guess."

When the inning ends and Troy comes back to the dugout, only a couple players

say anything, and then they only use expletives like fuckingg strange" or "goddamned

puzzling." There are no way to takettttt~~~~~~~tttttt ones this time. When the Royals go down in order

again and he comes back to the bench, there is another note, but he crumples this one up

and tosses it into the corner of the dugout. He doesn't think Sue Bee would like to see

what he checked this time.

It is the ninth inning and there is a new pitcher. Troy feels good about this

change, thinks perhaps he and Gubicza have some kind of mutual opposition thing going

on that needs to be resolved at some point, but not right now. Tom Gordon, a rookie like

Troy, takes some practice throws, and while he warms up, Troy waits in the on-deck

circle with Leon the batboy. Leon is the kid of one of the front-office guys and he is old

for a batboy, seventeen. He smokes a cigarette, keeps his hand cupped around it so you

can only see the burning red and then the smoke. Troy does not understand why Leon

would still want to be a batboy, but he has been since he was seven. He has a patch on

his jersey that says DECADE BATBOY. Leon is the only batboy in the league with such

a patch.

Leon is trying to tell Troy about some bet with the Royals batboy, a nine-year-

old, that Leon keeps calling "a real pigeon," but Troy is trying hard not to listen. He is










focusing on Gordon, who has a lot of heat and not much else, which Troy figures he can

handle. Leon keeps talking, telling Troy that he has bet the Royals batboy fifteen dollars

that Troy can get hit by another pitch. If it happens, Leon will give Troy a third of the

money .

Finally, Gordon is warmed-up and Troy steps to the plate and waggles his bat,

stands close to the plate again, not giving an inch. Gordon checks the sign and as he

winds up, Troy can hear something being chanted by the crowd. BEANBEANBEAN

BEAN and this is all Troy can hear and then the pitch comes and Troy leans back from a

smoking fastball. Troy pulls back enough that he looks like he will fall over backward

and then the ball bends. The ball, a fastball on the inside corner, looks as if it changes

direction, and bends right into Troy. In his awkward position, the force of the pitch

knocks him over and he rolls out of the batter' s box.

The crowd is cheering, as if something spectacular has happened. The Royals

are going to lose this game; the fans realize this and so they have focused on something

else to make their trip to the stadium worthwhile. They are cheering and clapping in a

way that seems as if Troy's being hit four times is better than a Royals win.

The catcher and umpire help him up, and Troy starts to walk. He keeps seeing

the way the ball moved, the way it found him, and he is headed for the dugout, just wants

to sit down for a second and rest, but then Leon runs over to him and directs him to first

base. Troy snaps awake, remembers there is still a game going on, and begins to move

towards first, where the first-base coach is shaking his head. Two pitches later, Troy still

on first, Leon runs over to Troy and presses something into his hand. He assumes it is

another note from his wife, but when he looks down, he sees a five-dollar bill. Troy folds









the bill and shoves it into his back pocket. He will keep it. At this point, even though he

isn't exactly sure why Leon has given him this money, Troy feels that he has earned it.

The first-base coach still hasn't said a word, will not even touch Troy's jersey to

clap the dirt off. George Brett is far from the base, very far. Everyone seems to want to

give Troy his space, give him a chance to think about what' s going on, but Troy does not

want to think about it at all. Still, he can't help it, can't help thinking about the ball and

the curving and the smack sound it made as it hit him. It's a lot to think about and Troy

is happy when the inning is over and even more when the Royals' side is finally retired

and the game is over. The team is happy about the win, they all form a circle, and if Troy

thought about it, he would be happy about the win too, but that is not what he's thinking

about as they head to the showers, change, and head back to the hotel. He's thinking

about the HBP's, thinking that something is not right, not right at all.


Jimmy Greenway: I thrink\ nI I've all witnessed \Iomethrling very special here today.
Pete Fowler: Well, maybe not special.
Jimmy: Special may not be the right word.
Pete: Strange would be more appropriate I think.
Jimmy: I agree. I think Troy Breckenridge would be inclined to agree too.
- Royals Wrap-Up, 04/03/89
















CHAPTER 2


I watch him slide, not down but out.
The way his cleats reflect the sunlight 's gleam,
The way they melt into the base
A flash before the ball and glove touch down.
He rises, brushes off the dirt.
The red cloud swims around his arms before
It settles,
And he settles into his crouch
To watch the pitcher tuck, unfurl and thil II.
His breathing comes in rapid bursts,
For now he sees he 's still too far away.
The chalk line stretches, bends, then fades.
He 's farfrom home, wants only to get back.
To get back home.
- "The Diamond's Edge" by Susan Beatrice Breckenridge, originally published in the
Maple Leaf Review, Spring Issue, 1989


After the game, while Troy and his teammates shower, he tries to rub shampoo

into his hair and realizes it is not going to work very well at all. He can hardly lift his left

arm. From the minute the game ended, once the adrenaline faded out, he has not been

able to feel his arm. He has to clean his entire body with his right hand, and so naturally

there are nooks and crannies that cannot be reached, will remain untouched for now

because he knows it is improper to ask for help in the shower, cannot imagine anything

worse than asking one of his pitchers to scrub him.

When he steps out of the shower, he feels half-dirty, as if one side never really

showered at all. He wraps the towel poorly around his waist, not able to fully tuck it in,

and he knows the towel will drop at any second, will not stay around his waist. So, he

grips it tight with his good hand and shuffles quickly to his locker, only to find it










surrounded by fiye reporters. He does not want to talk to them, feels embarrassed about

the whole thing, but he scoots by them and answers a few questions, still gripping his

towel .

He tells them that no, he was not trying to get hit on purpose, and no this has not

happened before and no, he has no hard feelings for the Royals' pitchers and yes, he can

make out how many Eingers they are holding up and no, he does not expect to make a

habit of being hit by pitches.

The team doctor, a lanky man with a thin mustache that does not look real,

sidles his way into the half-circle of questions and tells the reporters that Troy has to be

examined now for signs of a concussion and any lingering effects of head trauma, which

sounds very serious, something Troy was not expecting. He has been worried about why

he was hit four times today, not the actual fact that he was hit four times today, and all of

a sudden he realizes that he was hit very hard in the head with an eighty-Hyve mile an hour

fastball, and it starts to worry him a little. The team doctor check shines a penlight into

Troy's eyes, examines the bruising on his forearm, snaps his Eingers, and pronounces

Troy to be okay, fiddle-fit he calls it. "You reckon I might have a concussion?" Troy

asks. The doctor looks puzzled, frowns in a way that pulls his face towards the center,

makes his little mustache disappear. "Oh, well, yes. You have a concussion. Not much

to that. You got hit in the head with a baseball, you know. The arm, though, that' s what

might be more of a problem. Give it a soak tonight and we'll see what it looks like

tomorrow."

Then the doctor hands Troy some pills, says only, "Here are some pills to take."

He says nothing about what they are, how many to take at a time, when to take them, as if










these matters are unimportant. After he finishes changing into his street clothes,

struggling with the buttons of his shirt until his arm throbs, Troy pops two pills into his

mouth, slips the rest into his pocket, and walks toward the exit. The reporters have

moved over to George Bell's locker and as Troy awkwardly walks past the crowd he can

hear George muttering to one of the reporters, "Well, he didn't say anything to me if he

meant to do it."

By the time he gets on the bus to go back to the hotel, the pills are working. He

still cannot feel his left arm, but he finds he doesn't care anymore, feels peaceful and

happy and suddenly he is looking forward to the next game in two days, is grateful that at

least his throwing arm is still okay. He sleeps for the fifteen minutes it takes to get back

to the hotel and it takes several players to shake him awake. Duane Ward shows him the

drool stain Troy left on Duane's new shirt as he slept, head pressed into Duane's

shoulder, but even then Troy does not care. He feels that Eine.

He takes the elevator to the seventh floor with some of the other players and

when he walks into his room, his wife is there, has been waiting since the game ended.

She gets off the bed and jumps into his arms, but there is only one arm that can hold her.

Thankfully, she is very small, weighs almost nothing, and Troy shifts her to one side,

cradles her with his good arm. She kisses him, presses her lips softly against his neck

and face, and Troy tries to move his arm, shakes his body in such a way to make his left

arm swing, lightly brush against her rear end, but it doesn't really work. His arm just

jiggles spastically, kind of jumps around, tapping her thigh. She stops kissing him,

keeping her arms tight around his neck. "What's wrong, honey?"










He laughs, says that his arm hurts a little, but it isn't much to worry about, that

the doctor has cleared him and given him some pills, and that he will be fine for the next

game and that he can probably move his arm if he really wants to, but thinks it best to

give it a rest tonight and that is why he isn't giving her a full hug. Sue Bee looks at him,

looks down at his arm, then looks at him again. "No, I mean why does this side of your

neck taste like dirt?"

Now, as Troy sits in the bathtub of Room 704 of the Kansas City Marriott Hotel

while his wife, Sue Bee, washes his hair for him, he no longer feels very fine. He feels

lousy because his head hurts again and he is half-dirty and he still cannot understand

what happened today. Sue Bee dunks his head into the tub and scrubs out the shampoo,

getting both sides of his head evenly cleaned. Troy feels slightly embarrassed about the

whole bath thing, doesn't feel this is the way he and his wife should celebrate his first

maj or-league game, but she has insisted. Sue Bee dips one of the hotel glasses into the

tub and pours it over Troy's head and then begins to soap the washcloth. Troy leans back

in the tub, looks up at the little bottles of hotel shampoo and conditioner and body lotion.

Sue Bee has forgotten to use the conditioner on his hair, but he decides not to mention it,

feels to do so would be in poor taste, seeing as how she is already washing him, him a

grown man.

He would feel worse about it, but the water is warm, and he is clean, and Sue

Bee's washcloth feels good as it sweeps across his body. He looks at her pruning hands,

the delicate blond hair on her arms flecked with soap bubbles. Water from the tub soaks

her tee shirt so it sticks close to her body, while her hair is falling around her face in

strands, little wisps that hang down past her chin. Her blue eyes are so light that they









could be silver, hover between the two colors in such a way that sometimes it seems to

Troy that he could see right through her eyes, right through them and inside her head,

where she keeps her thoughts.

And this makes Troy happy, to stare into her eyes so hard that he thinks he

knows what she is thinking, and right now he thinks he can see. He grips her hand, the

one holding the washcloth, pulls her so close that she is leaning over the tub. He keeps

pulling her with his good arm, closer and closer to the surface of the water and he tries to

reach his other arm around her but it won't react the way he wants. Still, Sue Bee does

not see this, just keeps coming closer. And now she is in the tub with Troy and the water

level rises slightly and they stay like that for what seems like a long time.

Troy loves Sue Bee more than just about anything else, as much as he loves

playing baseball. He thinks he would love her more than baseball, a lot more, if she

loved baseball too. If she loved the game just a little, it would balance the relationship

more, wouldn't put all the pressure on him, but she does not. She likes the unique design

of each ballpark, the thousand different ways pitchers can make a ball curve. She likes it

when an outfielder leaps into the air, climbs the wall to catch a long drive, only to have it

sail just out of his reach for a home run. She says she likes the futility of it, the struggle

for something just out of reach. She likes all of these things, but she does not love them.

There are lots of thing\ to love, Troy, but baseball is not one of them. Baseball is



Sue Bee is a poet. She strings words together in strange shapes and sounds and

Troy never understands what he is reading until he reaches the end. He can hear the

beginning of the poem when he finishes; it echoes in his head until he follows the









unbroken chain of words in reverse to find that first word and when he reaches it, he goes

forward again, through the same words. And he does this again and again until he thinks

he understands and even if he doesn't he is sure that Sue Bee is happy for the effort, like

Troy is happy when she explains the infield fly rule to someone during a game.

He met her in college, the community college where he played before he went

pro and moved to Knoxville for AA ball. Motlow State Community College is a little

nothing school in Tennessee, built with money from the Jack Daniels fortune in nearby

Lynchburg. Troy was the starting catcher for the Motlow State Bucks because the school

was close to his family in Bellbuckle and the baseball program was respected as far as

community colleges went. Sue Bee taught poetry there and was the editor of the school's

literary journal, The Distillery. Troy did not like school, had never been particularly fond

of learning on his own. And so when he came to Motlow knowing that the Blue Jays

were going to calling him up to the minors pretty soon and saw that the poetry class only

met once a week, had fewer assignments than any other writing course, and that the

classroom generally kept a four to one ratio of women to men, he was sold.

At the first poetry class, she handed out a poem and asked the class to scan it,

putting stresses where appropriate. She showed them the first line, where the marks

would go, and Troy had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. She put the chalk

down and settled into her chair, but Troy kept hoping she would say more, show them

maybe another line, then another, until the poem was scanned, but she just sat there. She

looked young for a professor; Troy would later find out that she was only eight years

older than he, a beautiful woman with brown-gold hair and dark purple-rimmed glasses

that she kept propped on her head, pulling them down only to check the clock on the far









wall. Her head was tucked down, chin on her chest, and it looked to Troy that she was

asleep, the way her eyelids fluttered every few seconds, and Troy found he was staring at

her too much, for too long, and everyone else in class was already on the second stanza.

He looked up at the board again, tried to Eigure out what the lines meant, and

decided he would just mark a stress on the verbs and adverbs and unstress the nouns and

adj ectives. He went fifty-fifty on the prepositions, and when he was Einished the poems

looked like some strange diagram, smiley faces and forward strokes with no apparent

rhyme or reason. Sue Bee checked the clock one last time, pulling down her glasses, and

then reconvened the class, calling each person to do a line of the poem. When it came

Troy's turn, he listed the stresses of the line, tapping and out from the line Tapping his

pipe out on a white-flaked' cohemn. Sue Bee frowned, twisted her mouth from side to

side, and then smiled at Troy, a quick smile that showed the impression of dimples on

either side of her face. "No, but it' s close." And Troy smiled back and went through the

rest of the poem, marking everything unstressed, smiley face after smiley face until there

was pure happiness looking up at him from the page.

Troy could not Eigure out meter. He spent hours counting out syllables on his

hands, erasing his paper until he rubbed through to the wood of the table. He used a

metronome, spoke the lines out loud with comical emphasis on stressed words. When his

roommate, the left Hielder on the baseball team, was out of the room, he would get out of

his chair and try to danced~~~~ddddd~~~~dddd the lines. It was Sue Bee's suggestion and if anyone else had

said it, he would have dismissed it immediately, but there he was, twisting to T. S. Eliot.

He couldn't make the lines fit, his words stumbled over each other, and Troy felt

uncoordinated in a way he could not remember having felt before.










When it came time for him to create original works, he would turn in a terrible

poem in quatrains and Sue Bee would smile, delicately show him that adding a fifth line

to a stanza no longer makes it a quatrain, and Troy's face would burn red in patches. He

would take his poem back to revise and beg her to come watch him play baseball. "I'm

good at something," he would say, "I just want you to see I'm really good at something."

Sue Bee would look down at the floor and tell him that she wasn't a fan of baseball.

"Besides," she said, "I think there's lots of things you would probably be really good at."

Sestinas didn't makes sense either. He couldn't remember the sequence for the

lines, had trouble making his words last, as if he was rationing them out in tiny bites. It

took him the entire week, to stretch the words out six times, to squeeze every last inch of

meaning out of them, and when he was done, he knew it didn't make a lick of sense.

When he showed her the poem, she frowned while she read it, seemed to be working the

syntax out in her head, making the sentences work as she went through it. She finally

looked up and smiled, almost apologetically, and Troy wanted to run his finger across her

face, close his eyes and feel the impression. He wondered if the dimples looked different

when she really smiled, when she meant it. He waved off her suggestions, told her not to

bother with line editing. "I'm just no damn good at this stuff," he muttered, "just not

good at all."

At the next game, she was in the stands. Troy smiled all through warm-ups,

pegged the ball even harder into his teammates' gloves. During his first at-bat, Troy took

a pitch so far out of the park that no saw where it finally ended up, the ball kept carrying

and carrying with such ferocity that eventually most everyone gave up on tracking it as it

fell back to earth. But she watched, squinted her eyes and tried her best to follow the arc,









follow the beginning to end of it. He stood on third in the last inning and watched her sit,

cross-legged and propping up a notebook spilling with scraps of paper. He watched her

so close, the way she was staring back at him, and he started running, left the base before

the pitcher had even started winding up, and Troy just kept going, slid across home just

under the tag. After the game, she waited for him outside the park.

"You look really graceful when you run," she said.

Troy looked down at the ground and said, "I just put my head down and go. Not

much else to it I reckon."

"That' s when you know you're really good at something. You do it without

thinking, it just happens to you."

"Then I guess I got a ways to go on the poetry."

They went back to her apartment and she showed him her poetry and he showed

her the proper batting stance and they drove together to poetry class the next day, each

convinced of the other person' s perfection.

Now, Troy sits on the bed, while Sue Bee rubs feeling back into his arm as they

watch the TV. He can lift it now, move it around, pick up obj ects with it, and they are

both happy about this. He will spend most of tomorrow in the whirlpool, keep his entire

arm either iced or heated or both. Troy is still thinking about the game, the pitches, and

he asks Sue Bee what it looked like from the stands. "Well, it kind of looked like...the

first ones just looked like the pitches got away from him." There is a silence for a while

until Troy asks about the last two at-bats. "Well, those looked more like...1ike something

magnetic, like you were a big magnet and those pitches just had to come to you."










This does nothing for Troy, makes him feel just as confused as he was before,

and he sinks lower on the bed, presses his back into the pillows. Sue Bee reminds him of

the good j ob he did behind the plate, that he didn't make an error. She reminds him of

the first time he got on base, of beating the throw from the outfield and scoring all the

way from first. "Those things are sometimes more important than something like getting

hit a few times," she says. "Those things are just as good I would think."

And Troy smiles, tries not to seem sullen or perturbed by the game, and he pulls

Sue Bee close to him. They lie like that for a while, and then Sue Bee scrambles off the

bed, runs to the TV to turn it up. "The game is on the news. They're talking about the

game!"

Troy sits up in bed, and Sue Bee sits back down. "Maybe they'll show you,"

and all of a sudden there is a montage of clips, all of Troy getting hit. There are clips of

Troy getting hit in slow motion, from different angles. There is nothing else mentioned

about the game, only the shots of Troy turning away from the pitches. "It' s not that

important, Troy. What' s important is that you played a good game. What' s important is

that you were okay." On the TV, the announcer states, "Luckily, Mr. Breckenridge

suffered no injuries from the pitches." Sue Bee smiles, points to the TV, and says,

"See?"




"Troy, this is stupid. This won't prove anything."

"Just try it, just to see."

"It won't make any difference whether it happens or not, cause we're in a hotel

room by ourselves."










"Sue Bee, just throw the shampoo bottle please."

Troy stands ready at one end of the hotel room, holding a rolled-up copy of the

Atlantic Monthly, his right arm cocked for the pitch. At the other end, Sue Bee pulls

down her glasses to see Troy's strike zone, grips the plastic bottle of shampoo. This

means something to Troy, will make a difference. He watches Sue Bee, the way her front

leg hardly moves as she winds up. Her arm looks awkward as the shampoo bottle comes

down the pipe. Troy tightens his grip on the magazine, as if he will connect with that

shampoo bottle and send pieces of plastic and gobs of shampoo flying across the room.

The bottle sails slowly, too close to Troy for him to make contact, and as he tries to swing

at the pitch, it strikes him on the left thigh. He tosses the magazine, pages fluttering as it

flies out of his hands.

"Did you do that on purpose?" he asks.

"Oh, goddamn, Troy. No, of course not."

"Well, that pretty much seals it."

"What the hell are you talking about? It was a shampoo bottle. I'm not even a

real pitcher. I throw like a girl."

"It still hit me."

"This is ridiculous. We just need to go to bed and tomorrow will be fine and the

next day you'll get to swing at a pitch and things will go back to normal."

Troy looks down at the shampoo, kicks it around with his feet. He does feel a

little ridiculous, now that he thinks about it, though he would feel less ridiculous if he had

sent that bottle to the far wall of the hotel room. Sue Bee slips into bed, calls for Troy.

He shrugs his shoulders, picks the shampoo off the ground and places it on the






24


nightstand. After the lights are off, after he wraps his arms around Sue Bee while she

sleeps, he lies awake, waiting to fall asleep. He waits for dreams to come, baseball

dreams where he connects with the ball so hard that it flies into the air and does not come

down until morning.


And for the fourth time tonight, we have another dedication for T oy Breckenridge, the
Toronto player who took the hit four times today. T oy, Salrah f om Sugar Creek sends
this one out to you, Pat Benatar 's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Feel Better, T oy.
- DJ2ark Kinnton, KSRC Star 102, transcript, 11:45 04 03 89
















CHAPTER 3

A hit 's a hit. Even if it means getting hit.

-Yogi Berra, October 12th, 1961


When Troy steps out of the dugout for his first at-bat of the second game of the

season, his teammates are silent, cannot figure out what to say exactly. He knows they're

thinking about the same thing he is, the same thing he's been trying not to think about,

and he does not blame them for their silence. During batting practice, before the game,

he was hit three times until the pitching coach finally started lofting the pitches, a softball

arc, but even then Troy couldn't take a real swing because the ball would curve towards

him, come at him until he leaned out of the box. Finally, the batting coach stepped in and

told Troy that maybe he better save it for the game, but Troy didn't quite understand what

it was he was supposed to save.

He doesn't think there is much to say now, but then Manager Williams spits and

says, "Try not to get hit. A base would be nice, believe me, but maybe try to get a double

or single this time." Troy nods, waiting in the on-deck circle. Leon is there, flirting with

an uninterested teenaged girl in the front row. When he notices Troy, he smiles at the

girl, blows her a kiss, and then talks to Troy. It turns out the Kansas City batboy still

hasn't learned his lesson from the previous game and now there is even more money

riding on Troy, who cuts Leon off before he can say anything else. Troy tries to explain.









"Leon," he says, "I need you to understand the delicate nature of this at-bat,

okay? There's, well, there is a necessity for my bat to make contact with that ball. For

confidence, okay? I gotta hit that ball and get extra bases and then those fellas in the

lineup behind me have a better chance of bringing me in. And, hell, Leon, I guess I got a

selfish desire to avoid bodily harm if at all possible. You reckon any of this could get

you to ease up on me? At least until the fifth or sixth inning?"

Leon looks on, disinterested. He has fifty dollars riding on this at-bat and,

confidence-builder or not, he needs this money.

Troy wonders if maybe there is another batboy, a younger one who would hand

Troy a special, magic bat that would allow him to get a hit, one that looked with awe at

Troy, a maj or-league baseball player. He wonders if there is not some way that he can

get Leon kicked off the team, thrown out of the maj ors for betting on the outcome of a

game he has a personal stake in. Troy thinks about all of this for a while and then

realizes that he's about to bat, and so he forgets about it, tries to at least, and focuses on

the pitcher.

Before he steps into the batter's box, Troy looks over at Sue Bee, who is leaning

forward so far that she looks as if she is about to fall over the rail and onto the playing

Hield. He wants to wave, give a thumbs-up, but thinks better of it and readies himself for

the first pitch. He tries not to think about the last four at-bats, tries to block them out of

his mind. Every at-bat is a fresh start. It is one of the things he loves about baseball,

especially given his circumstances, that there is no way to predict what will happen, and

when the pitcher winds up, Troy believes in his heart of hearts that something good will

come of this pitch.










It comes, rolls off the pitcher' s fingers and spins, end over end, so that the red

stitching flickers like a siren's flash against the white blur. Troy waits, waits to hear the

crack of bat on ball, perhaps even the smack against the catcher' s mitt, but there is only

that dull sound, that monotone thump against his body and Troy knows that this will not

be over any time soon.


Pete Fowler: Here comes Troy Breckenridge for his second at-bat.
Jimmy Greenway: Already today, Breckenridge is 0 for l a ithr a hit-by-pitch. That
makes it five for the season already, right Pete?
Pete: Five and counting.
Jimmy: Breckenridge readies himself for the pitch. He looks a little pale, don 't you
think, Pete?
Pete: He looks a little peaked, yes.
Jimmy: Saberhagen waves off another call. He seems a little reluctant, a little
hesitant to thl 1,1a pitch. I'm sure the last at-bat between these two is in his mind. And I
have to admit that I would be thinking about it as well. It 's been a strangetrt~r~rt~t~rtrt~r start for
Breckenridge thus far, but he 's got another chance here. What do you think, Pete?
Pete: I think he 's going to get hit by this pitch. This one right here.
Jimmy: The windup, here comes the pitch... looks like you were right, Pete.
Pete: Just a hunch.
04/05/89 Broadcast ofKlansas City-Toronto Major League Baseball game

Troy is hit four times, until Manager Williams finally pulls him out of the game

in the eighth inning. "Son," he says to Troy, "you are going to get killed if I let you go to

bat again, and I don't believe the front office would look too kindly on that, killing off

my starting catcher two games into the season."

Troy ices his arm in a tub while he watches the rest of the game on the TV in the

clubhouse. He watches his replacement behind the plate, a big dumb ox of a player

named Pat Borders, throw high and wild trying to put out a runner stealing second. Troy

watches the ball roll into the outfield and feels good that at least through all of this, he' s

thrown out all three stolen-base attempts and hasn't made an error. He doesn't think










anyone else even cares, realizes even he would rather get a couple hits even if it means

that he flubs a pop-up here and there or throws wild to second.

After the game, another Blue Jays win, the press surrounds Troy, asks him the

same questions as the previous day, and he answers almost the same as before: no he

wasn't trying to get hit; no this hasn't happened before, except of course for the previous

game; actually, he does feel a little animosity towards the Royals pitching staff now that

you mention it; three fingers held in front of him; and no this will not continue, this

getting-hit-by-pitches thing.



But it does continue, all through the next series against Texas and again in New

York. Troy walks up to the plate, taps the plate, takes a swing, normal routine. He still

believes though it gets harder every time but he still believes it will happen for him.

The Yankees' catcher laughs softly under his breath each time Troy takes a practice

swing. Guess you gotta takettttt~~~~~~~tttttt your swings when you can, and Troy agrees with him, says

damdddddddd~~~~~~~~~n right, and then takes the pitch on the shoulder, flexes the pain out, and takes his

base.

Sue Bee is back in Toronto. It is not customary for players' wives to travel with

the team, but Troy begins to wish she was here in New York with him, wants to have

someone to come home to after the game. As it is, he shrugs off half-hearted offers from

other players to go out. He says he has to get home, look at the tapes from the last game,

and they understand, actually prefer it because they will inevitably talk about the games.

They will talk about the games and that will lead to talk of individual performances,

which will lead to discussion of Troy's performance, which will lead to laughing and










snickering and maybe even tears rolling down faces from laughing so hard. So, it may be

best if Troy not attend.

Instead, Troy sits in his hotel room with a tennis ball, winding up and pitching it

against the wall. Then as it bounces back at him, he assumes his batting stance, tries to

reenact the at-bats, but the room is too small and there isn't enough room for the tennis

ball to come back at him with any kind of speed, and pretty soon there is a polite call

from the management of the hotel asking if he could kindly stop the hammering or

bouncing or jumping or whatever it is that is making the incessant, monotone thumping

noise that several of the other guests have been calling to complain about. Troy

apologizes, says he was doing calisthenics to keep in shape, but the hotel person has

already hung up. Troy dials his home in Toronto and Sue Bee answers.



"Hey, honey. I don't know if you saw the game...it' s still happening, the HBP

thing."

"Actually, it's all over the TV. You should see the newspaper. They have this

thing, this counter or something that..."

"That what?"

"Nothing. You'll see when you come back. I can't wait for you to come back

here. Are you okay?"

"I guess. I'm thinking about changing my stance maybe, shift my body to the

left more. What do you think?"

"I think you should just wait until you get back to Toronto. I think you just

need a home game to sort everything out."










"You're probably right. I just can't help...what about this counter thing now?"

"It' s nothing, it' s just this stupid newspaper thing they have. I think I have a

copy of today's edition. I'll save it for you. Good luck tomorrow. Things will work

out."

"I think so, too."

"Well, that's something at least."




Troy returns to Toronto with a 9-game HBP streak, 31 at-bats, 31 HBPs. At the

newsstand, he finally sees what Sue Bee was talking about. On the front page of the

Toronto Star is a caricature of Troy in his Blue Jays uniform, his face slightly bruised and

his left arm emitting nonsensical #!!$%&*! marks that Troy assumes to indicate pain or

discomfort. There is a counter beside him that states how many at-bats he has had (31)

and how many HBP' s he' s taken (31). It's called the Breckenridge Hit-by-Pitchometer

and the newsstand owner tells Troy that he's been on the front page since the third game

of the season. The Star added the arm-pain nonsense today. "I can't imagine what that

little guy's gonna look like by the end of the season," the newsstand guy says. Troy

shakes his head, places the newspaper back on the counter. "I can't either."




Troy sits on the couch with Sue Bee, eating popcorn and watching some nature

documentary about seals or walruses or perhaps how the two either do or don't get along.

Troy isn't really watching it. Their apartment is a little two-bedroom place on King

Street, so Troy can walk to the stadium if he wants. The building is just a few years shy

of needing renovations. Like most apartment complexes in Toronto, it seems a holdover









from the 60's, jutting balconies and unnecessary windows. Most of the players live in the

suburbs, in big houses with nicely manicured lawns, but Sue Bee likes the city, wants to

be close to the museums and bookstores. They changed one of the bedrooms into a

study, where Sue Bee writes her poems and Troy looks over statistics and studies

opposing pitchers' strengths and weaknesses. They covered the walls of the study with

framed portraits of their heroes: Johnny Bench and Robert Penn Warren, Willie Mays and

Emily Dickinson. The carpet is deep blue and the walls are eggshell and the furniture is

earth-toned and it all feels as comfortable as it sounds. Troy likes the apartment for now,

thinks it is a good way to get to know Toronto, to get used to it, because there are lots of

things to get used to.

The hot-dog vendors use Grey Poupon mustard; the buns have poppy seeds on

them. Troy doesn't know why, but this makes him ill at ease, that he is eating something

more than a hot dog, and though he may have to eat them, he doesn't have to like it.

Hot-dog preferences aside, for the most part the switch from Tennessee to

Toronto has been easy. He doesn't worry about the ramifications of playing America's

game while representing a foreign team. Still, it is not something that a young ballplayer

likes to hear, that a Canadian ball club has drafted him. After he was drafted, Troy's

agent said, "The big problem is that the currency is a bitch, Troy. You ever buy a

magazine and see the difference in price if you bought it in Canada? Everything' s like

that." Troy didn't care so much about that, was happy to get to play professional ball

anywhere, but to come from a tiny town like Bellbuckle, Tennessee and be expected to fit

in right away in a big city like Toronto is asking a lot. Being with Sue Bee has helped.

She seems made to live in a place filled with people, with motion. She pulls Troy down










streets he doesn't even know the names of, into restaurants and to author readings when

Troy would have just stayed at home and eaten a microwave pizza if he'd been by

himself. She makes him happy that he is in Toronto, in a place where there are things for

both of them.

There is a game tomorrow, the first home game of the season, and Troy is trying

to relax, but he feels nervous all the time now, feels like he is being lead somewhere he

does not want to go. Sue Bee has not mentioned the Hit-by-Pitchometer again. They sit

in bed, him looking over the opposing-pitcher sheets for Kansas City, the opponent

tomorrow. He wonders if it will be like it was in Kansas City, the fans cheering as he got

hit. It happened in all the away games, fans seemingly excited to see him when he came

to bat, the cheers and applause when he took the pitch. He wonders what the Toronto

fans will do, if the home crowd will boo the opposing pitcher for his poor pitching skills.

He imagines a Blue Jays fan, face painted blue and white, poppy-seeded hot dog in hand,

screaming at the Royals' pitcher, Hey don 't takettttt~~~~~~~tttttt it out on our player, just cause you have

to play for Kansas City, and the crowd will back him with cheers, followed by a chant to

Let him hit, let him hit. He smiles, feels gratitude for these imaginary fans, and after a

while, he isn't even studying the pitchers' charts any more, though, with all of the HBPs

lately, he doubts that he needs to anyway.

Troy looks over at Sue Bee, scribbling lines in her notebook, and as he glances

at the page, he sees words he knows, batter 's box, swing, hit by pitch. When he asks, she

tells him that she' s been thinking about what' s been going on with him, the HBP thing.

She's been writing some poems about it, about baseball, and though she doesn't want to

show him any yet, they aren't really developed, she thinks they may be interesting. Troy










feels happy at first, thinks it's encouraging for her to show interest in the game, but he

thinks about his name in her poems, his name beside words like fall, beaned, bruised. He

thinks of how his predicament may sound worse if it is rhymed, if it is in iambic

pentameter, that it might sound more tragic than it really is. Baseball poems never end

well: Casey at the Bat.

"I just don't see why it deserves to be made into a poem is all," he tells.

"Troy, there' s something really perfect in what' s going on, some kind of

metaphor that I think could really be fantastic."

"A metaphor for what?"

"I don't know yet, but something, something good."

"Me getting beaned in the head with a fastball is metaphorical?"

"Yes."

"But it hurts. Metaphors aren't supposed to hurt are they?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes metaphors hurt worse than the real thing."


Tom Cheek: Here we go Jays fans. Let 's hope that some home-field advantage will help
Breckenridge out of this streak he 's been going through on the road
Jerry Howl at thr Sometimes all it takest~~~~ttttt~~~~tttt is to be on familiar ground to turn voineth~rling...
Tom Cheek: Looks like it 's gonna takettttt~~~~~~~tttttt a little more than that.
-04/14/89 Broadcast of Toronto-Kansas City Major League Baseball game
















CHAPTER 4


TAKING IT ON THE CHIN
Troy Breckenridge, Toronto's rookie sensation, is leading the league with an unheard of
1.000 on-base average. So why hasn't he recorded a single hit yet?
By Paul Wolfe

When the Blue Jays called up Troy Breckenridge from their farm club in

Syracuse for the new season, many insiders in the organization believed the young

catcher was going to be a big hit in Toronto. They had no idea how right they would be.

In what is proving to be one of the strangest individual seasons in baseball history, Troy

Breckenridge is currently on pace to smash three current maj or league records to the

point that they may never be broken again: the single season on-base average record, the

single-season hit-by-pitch record (which he broke last week against New York), and the

career hit-by-pitch record. Breckenridge has been hit by a pitch in every game, at every

at-bat. So far, in only 20 games, he has been hit a total of 70 times, already twenty more

than the previous season record set by Ron Hunt in 1971. At this pace, he should easily

break Don Baylor' s career record of 267 before the end of this, his first, season. "It' s

really f-cking strange, I'm not going to lie to you," says Jays manager, Jimy Williams,

"it' s a damned head-scratcher that' s for sure." Not since Joe Dimaggio' s 56 game hit

streak has a player been so scrutinized at every at-bat and if the streak continues, one

can't help but wonder if Troy Breckenridge can hold up under the gaze.

Breckenridge, a soft-spoken Southern boy from Bellbuckle, Tennessee (pop.

326), was not prepared for what the beginning of the season held in store for him. "I










would be lying if I said that expected this to happen. I figured I would at least have a few

hits by now." His teammates were just as surprised. "You see this guy, your teammate,

and he's getting plunked every time he goes up there...it' s a little unnerving," says Jays

outfielder Junior Felix. "I'm just glad I don't bat after him in the lineup, I'll tell you that

much." While the psychological stress of the HBP's is a concern for Breckenridge, the

Jays are more worried about the physical wear-and-tear that such a unique streak

presents. Stanley Arbonne, Toronto's team doctor admits he is concerned about the

physical ramifications of"being hit many, many, many times in the head, arms, torso,

and legs...many times." However, since the beginning of the season, Breckenridge has

been outfitted with special wrist and shin guards, as well as an arm pad that covers most

of his left arm, the one he faces the pitcher with. Although the new devices have made

his swing more awkward, Breckenridge supposes that "it' s not really an issue yet,

because I haven't taken a swing in a real game, but I'm still trying to perfect it just in

case."

The people from Troy's upbringing, however, confirm that he is no stranger to

hardship. An automobile accident took the life of his mother and severely crippled his

farming father when Troy was only fourteen years old. At this point Troy was already a

burgeoning baseball prospect but he also took over the day-to-day care for his father

while his older sister kept the farm running. "They've had a hard life," says Troy's old

high school coach Scooter Mitchell, "but that boy can take just about anything." Larry

Belter, one of Toronto' s head scouts, remembers seeing Troy play as a freshman on the

high school team. "He was effortless in everything he did. It was amazing to watch him.

The first game I saw, he hit a home run and drove in five runs and stole three bases. He









also blocked the plate twice on home plate collisions. He seemed like a total player. I

tried to talk to him after the game, but he said he had to get home and get his chores done

and fix dinner for his father. I figured we had a star on our hands." The Blue Jays

selected Troy in the first round and once his high school career ended and when he

showed progress at the local community college, the Blue Jays called him up to their AA

farm team in Knoxville, where he quickly became an all-star at that level. Despite the

developing streak, Belter still believes Troy is a find. "I think this boy has all the tools to

be an all-star caliber player...if he can swing at a pitch every now and then. And even if

he doesn't, we have a player who will get on base every time he comes to bat. You can't

ask for much more than that." Although Belter and the Jays organization may feel that

way, Troy is indeed asking for more than that. "How long can a career last when you get

hit every time you go up? Not long, I reckon." Even so, the Jays' fans and media are

hoping it will keep going a little while longer.

The media circus that has formed around the Toronto Blue Jays is nothing short

of amazing. Every newspaper in both Canada and the United States is avidly following

the streak, and the press box at Exhibition Stadium has become very crowded, not to

mention the rest of the stadium, which has sold out every game so far this season, and

despite the optimistic hopes for a pennant this year, it would be foolish to think that the

fans are coming just to watch a baseball game. "I come because I want to see Troy get

hit," says one Toronto fan, and he is not alone. Evidenced by the sea of "Get Brecked"

tee-shirts, which show a cartoon Breckenridge getting beaned, that are selling off the

racks in Toronto stores, it's not hard to see that this rookie ballplayer is carrying the

media image of the Blue Jays on his bruised shoulders. It makes one think that the Blue










Jays' decision to build the new SkyDome, which finally opens in June of this season, was

a stroke of genius. There will be a lot more seats for eager fans to fill, and a bigger press

box, too.

Breckenridge, who until this season had only been hit by a pitch six times in his

baseball career, is trying to come to grips with his strange streak in his own way. "I just

want to be a factor on this team, help us win some games, and I think I'm doing that. It' s

hard sometimes with all the attention, and you just want to play ball." It' s not unusual for

the stress of a streak to take its toll on a player. Roger Maris lost a large amount of hair

when he hit 61 homers in '61, and Mark McGwire developed strange rashes on his arms

and legs when he chased 61 in '87, ending up with 49. Breckenridge, however, is staying

healthy. "I haven't had anything like that," he said, referring to Maris and McGwire's

curious ailments, "I mean, I've got some soreness, some muscle pain that I didn't have

when the season started but I think that has more to do with being hit by pitches all the

time and not so much really with media stress."

With all frenzy about the streak, most people have failed to notice that

Breckenridge still plays in the field instead of opting for a designated hitter spot. He has

yet to commit an error behind the plate and has thrown out 17 of 20 runners attempting to

steal a base. "I feel like I'm still a decent ballplayer with some good skills, and I'm

trying to focus on that, keep working on the other things until this HBP issue goes away."

But will it go away is the question, the question that every baseball fan, player, and

reporter is asking at the moment. "Well, it has to stop sometime...wouldn't you think?"

However, whether he likes it or not, Troy Breckenridge is a marked man, both by pitchers

and the media, and it will be interesting to see if his body, and his mind, can hold out.
-Sports Illustrated Ma'gazine, April 2 7, 1989
















CHAPTER 5

Subject displays nervous tension and fear signals akin to the behavior of a childhood
victim of abuse, a sense of both wonder and terror at the fact that they cannot fully
understand why they are being punished or what they can do to avoid it in the f eture.
-Exceipt f~om the journals ofDr. Branch Ebbets, Jr., Psychiatrist

Troy begins to realize that the inevitability of an event doesn't make it any

easier to take. He still takes practice swings, still thinks of hitting the ball, and perhaps

this is why he is so depressed, why he still hasn't become used to the idea of being hit by

a maj or-league fastball. That isn't to say that the rest of the Blue Jays haven't adjusted.

Fred McGriff begins his trot to second base the minute that Troy steps into the batter' s

box, doesn't even wait for the pitch anymore.

In a bases-loaded situation when Troy comes to bat, fans already mark another

run down before he takes the pitch in the shoulder. Troy starts to feel a little animosity

towards his teammates, believes that their acceptance of the HBPs as a necessary event

adds to the inevitability, prevents him from getting a hit. He takes the fans' cheers, but is

beginning to believe that they aren't really cheers for him, for his taking the pitch in such

a workmanlike fashion, but for the event itself, for the ball's hitting body.

Against the much hated California Angels, whom they have played three times

in Anaheim, there is a brawl at every game because of Troy. The Blue Jays players sit

expectantly in the dugout, which, in Anaheim, always smells disconcertingly of sex

hastily cleaned up, of cleaning products covering something deeper, something you









shouldn't smell in a dugout. The players sit/stand in an awkward position whenever Troy

comes to bat, almost rising off the bench, held back by the pitch, waiting for the throw.

The Angels pitcher doesn't even look at Troy, stares right into the visitors'

dugout, and hesitates for just a second, looks at the bases not to check the runners but to

make sure his teammates are ready. The pitch comes off his Eingers, already heading for

Troy, and both benches clear in that split-second, Eill up the Hield, meet at the mound in a

swarm of caps and gloves that fly awkwardly into the air and fall back to the ground like

birds with clipped wings.

The teams punch, kick, choke, kick dirt on each other's uniforms, but Troy, left

behind at home plate, simply gets off the ground and walks to his base, navigating the

movement of the Eight, the snaking parts of it that spill off the diamond lines. He sits

down on first base and holds his head in his hands, his deeply callused hands from

gripping the bat so tightly, from wanting to believe too much. He waits for the umpires

to clear up the melee, to send players this way and that way, and after a while, Troy

begins to wonder if he should even bring a bat with him to the plate.

On May 13, a home game against the Minnesota Twins, Troy takes a low curve

in his left shin. He hears the sound of the ball against the protective casing of the shin

guard, and in his mind, in some little place in his head that registers sound and turns it

into an image, Troy knows he's hit the ball. He doesn't see the ball, has no idea where it

dribbled off to after it hit him, but he is tearing down the base path, his cleats digging into

the ground, kicking up the chalk line. He now hears the crowd cheering, but he is

focused on the base, knows he has to hustle to beat out the throw. At this point, his brain









has begun to do damage control, has alerted him to the fact that he's only been hit again,

that there is no need to run to the base, but Troy is past caring now.

He knows, but it feels good to run, to think there is a chance he might not make

it in time, and at the last moment, Troy dives, perfect, head-first. He slides into first,

arms outstretched, Eingers wriggling for the base and when he touches it, feels it solid in

his hands, he glances up. Mike Squires, the first-base coach, is looking down at Troy

with a face that is hard to explain. It is the look of someone who knew you were capable

of something, but never quite believed you would actually do it, that the rules of society

would always hold you firmly in place. It' s the same face that Kent Hrbek, the

Minnesota first baseman, is making, and Troy realizes that Hrbek is actually pretty far

from first base, closer to second than he is to first.

Troy rises slowly to his feet, looks down at the stain of dirt and chalk on the

front of his j ersey. He is filthy, his teammates look either concerned or smug, knowing

that this was going to have to happen eventually. The crowd is still cheering, loud, filling

up the stadium and even though Jimy Williams is shaking his head in disbelief, Troy feels

happy, feels like he earned that base. He thinks that even though it was a free base,

another HBP, he deserves it, worked harder than most people to get there. Deep down,

he thinks that maybe, just maybe, it will get marked as a single. He hopes that the

statisticians will be so flustered by his mastery of the base path that they forget about the

HBP, start to believe that he really did get a single, believe it so much that they mark it

down on the scorecards. And then it will be a single, a real hit, and whether people

believe it or not, it will be true, that is how it will be remembered. Troy smiles, rests his









hands on his knees, and waits for the next pitch. Jimy Williams mutters to no one in

particular, "That boy went and broke something very precious inside that head of his."

The next day, when Troy checks the box scores in the Toronto Star, he is

slightly disappointed to see four HBP's instead of three and a single. He looks at the

cartoon Troy on the front page Hit-by-Pitchometer and thinks that the caricature looks

too battered, should be one HBP less bruised than he is. "Honey," Sue Bee tells him as

he crumples up the newspaper, "you know it was an HBP though, right? I mean, you'd

like it to be a single, but you know that you got hit?" Troy looks at Sue Bee, sees the

unhappiness swimming behind her eyes, choppy waves of it, and he nods. He says that

of course he understands, he's not that far gone to think it really was a single. "It would

just be nice is all," and Sue Bee wraps her arms around him, squeezes, but Troy has to

shift his weight, wriggle free because the bruises hurt sometimes when she touches him.

He adjusts his body and she loosens her grip, presses her hands lightly against his chest,

and they lie on the couch. They try to think of something else to say to each other but

nothing is coming. Both feel that the other is unjustly unhappy with them but there' s no

way to bring it up nicely. They are hurting each other in tiny increments, but not enough

for it to matter. It is only enough to make it slightly uncomfortable and they are getting

used to it. Sue Bee reads a book while Troy stares out the window, thinking of the single,

the single he knows is his, should be his, must be his.



There is much scribbling going on in the doctor's notebook, many observations

to make because this player on the TV is such a fascinating character. The way he takes

three practice swings every time, no matter what, despite the eventual outcome, suggests









some sort of obsessive-compulsive behavior. The wide eyes before the pitch comes, the

fact that you can see the whites of his eyes get larger when the pitch is thrown, even on a

TV, even from the camera' s view so far away. You can still see it though, and the doctor

believes that this player must have a lot of fear in him for it to be so easy to notice. The

way the muscles on his arm tense just a fraction of a second before the pitch comes, his

biceps flicker like a tiny shock and then the ball bounces off. All of these things are

amazing to the doctor, amazing enough for him to want to know more.

He has been following this player since the start of the season, cannot believe

that such a strange event is occurring in his own city. It was easy enough to see what was

happening, what would eventually happen to the player, given the circumstances. A

paranoid patient believes that the forces of nature are actively working against him, even

though they obviously are not. This player, on the other hand, has become paranoid in a

way that is actually a higher form of consciousness, because, to the doctor at least, the

forces of nature are conspiring directly against him.

Over the course of an entire season, the doctor can't help but believe that the

player will have to undergo a lot of emotional stress, perhaps too much for him to stand.

And now this thing on the TV, the head-first dive into first base. It is enough to make the

doctor smile, reaffirming what he had hypothesized at the beginning of the season, but

it' s also a smile of thanks. Someone needs to help this player, a professional.

The doctor makes some more notes on his paper, watches the rest of the game,

which continues in the same fashion for the player, more HBPs. The game ends, the

player walking slowly back into the dugout, his catcher's mask still pulled down over his

face, which the doctor suspects is not a happy one, that he is concerned with things other










than the outcome of the game. The station credits roll across the screen and the doctor

takes his findings, rudimentary at the moment, and places the notebook under his bed,

with the other j ournals in which he has j otted down things about this player. The doctor

takes out his address book, and finds the number for one of his clients, a front-office man

with the Blue Jays organization. He knows it is late in the evening, perhaps too late, but

it' s crucial to get in before any other doctors offer their services. The phone rings twice

before the front-office man picks up.



"Mlr. Braenard, this is Dr. Ebbets. Leon 's doctor. How is Leon doing these days? I

see. I see, well it is a good job, M~r. Braenard, keeps him off the streets doing god knows

what. I know we 'd both prefer it if Leon decided to give up the hife of a batboy, but we

need to look on the bright side. That 's actually not the reason I was calling. I wanted to

ask you about one of your players, a M~r. Troy Breckenridge. I 'm not sure if you had a

chance to watch today 's game, M~r. Braenard... uh huh. Well, then you can understand

why I might be calling about him. Yes. Now, you and I both know my credentials here in

this city, and I want to tell you right now that I believe that I can help M~r. Breckenridge,

keep him emotionally sound for the rest of the season. Yes, I realize the situation 11 ithr

Leon, but Mr. Braenard...Leon. I'm glad you agree 11 ithr me. Thank you. You won 't

regret it, nor will your organization. And if you 'd like, I could do another round of

sessions 11 ithr Leon... No, I can 't promise awth rling. M~r. Braenard, but I 'll try. Well, you

think it over and I 'll be in touch. "
















CHAPTER 6

There are really three methods of thought on Troy Breckenridge. One, you can pitch it
easy, a change-up or \Ilto~linehig that, although it 's still gonna sting, it won 't hurt as bad
as a fastball. I mean, you know it 's gonna hit him no matter what, so maybe takettttt~~~~~~~tttttt it easy
on him. Second, you can say to yourselfJ goddammit, I want to be the one pitcher who
can strike this guy out, or at least pitch to him 11 without hitting him. So you put all your
effort into it, trying as hard as you can to find some way to pitch to this guy. And of
course you still hit him. Finally, you can just wing it in there, as hard as you can, on
purpose. You can aim right for him, decide that if it 's gonna hit him anyway, you might
as well make it hurt. He 's takitt~~~~tttt~~~~ng a base fr~om you, he should have to earn it. That 's
pretty much the three ways to do it. All end up the same, though, same thing happens
when it leaves your hand.
-Interview In ithr Cy Young award-winning Texas RangeRR~~~~~RRRRR~~~~r pitcher Nolan2 Ryan; The
Sporting News (05/15/00)

Sue Bee has a poem published in the Atlantic Monthly, a baseball villanelle

about a batter who cannot see the ball, doesn't believe one is actually being thrown. The

repetition is nice, Troy admits, helps add to the hopelessness of the situation, but Troy is

not so sure about the player losing his mind at the end, the clever change of phrasing with

the second repeating line. He wonders what he saw before becomes he wonders what he

never saw, which suggests to Troy that the player has lost it, is thinking about

unanswerable questions, and that always leads to insanity. It is a good poem, one of Sue

Bee's best, and Troy is happy for her, but he doesn't know about that line, why it

changes. They have asked her to send more, they would like to stay in touch. Troy

suggests the mountaintop-removal poem, but Sue Bee only smiles, says they would like

to see some more baseball poems, and Troy wonders how many she has, how many

issues of the Atlantic Monthly she could fill up with her baseball poems. Troy looks

back wistfully on those days when Sue Bee did not like baseball very much at all.









The series in Cleveland is utterly depressing. The outfield has giant bites of

exposed dirt, making the grass look like patchwork quilt from the stands. Cleveland

Stadium is gigantic, but the Indians' recent fortunes haven't given the fans much to be

excited about and the stands seem to be swallowed up with emptiness. The fans that are

here are tired of even saying "Wait till next year" and instead just come to sit and watch

things happen. Most, if not all, of them are here to see Troy. There is fog that seems to

creep into the stadium off of Lake Erie that makes Troy feel like he is playing in another

world, a baseball purgatory. He thinks that if he had to play this season in Cleveland, he

would kill himself.

When the Blue Jays walk from the tiny, cramped clubhouse to the dugout before

the game, Troy looks at the exposed pipes in the runway. They seem to run all over the

walls, jutting out at strange angles. The pipes are wrapped in a rapidly decomposing

material of some kind and Troy presses his finger into the padding. He wonders aloud to

the rest of his team, "Is this asbestos maybe?" Jesse Barfield pushes past him through the

narrow runway and says, "Does it even matter, rookie?"

On the May 16th game against the Indians, Troy takes a record six HBPs in one

game, breaking his own previous record of five, set just a few weeks earlier. The next

day, the final game of the series between the two teams, Troy has the sneaking suspicion

that Greg Swindell is pitching at him, trying to bean him on purpose. Troy watches

Swindell's eyes the next time he comes to bat, sees how Swindell never once looks

anywhere but at Troy, zeros in and sends a split-fingered fastball humming into Troy's

side. In the dugout, Troy tells Manny Lee "That j erk is pitching at me on purpose, he' s









actually trying to bean me." Manny Lee only nods, then quickly gets up to tell something

to Cito Gaston, one of the coaches.

The next time Troy goes to bat, he watches the catcher' s hands, peers behind

him to see the sign the catcher gives and notices that the catcher doesn't move his hand at

all, just sits there until the windup starts. Swindell rockets another fastball, this time

against Troy's shoulder, and as the ball bounces off his body, Troy slams his bat to the

ground, flips off his helmet, and tears off toward the mound, ready for a Eight. Swindell

only smiles, looks past Troy to the umpire, and holds up his hands. This is what really

gets Troy, this false innocence, and he can't wait for one of his teammates to hold

Swindell's arms behind his back while Troy takes swing after swing after swing at his

mid-section. Halfway to the mound, however, Troy notices that his team, the entire

bench, is still sitting in the dugout. They are staring at Troy again, wondering what little

piece inside his head has broken now. Troy tries to figure out how he could explain, how

to make them see, but realizes it' s useless. He slows down to a jog, and angles to the

right, headed towards first base. The next time at-bat, Troy doesn't even make eye

contact with Swindell, merely takes the pitch and walks to Birst.

After the game Troy just wants to go back home, get on the plane back to

Toronto and see Sue Bee, but there are reporters, lots of reporters to deal with, and then

the fans. Outside the gate, there are hundreds of fans with Cleveland baseball caps and

"Get Brecked" tee-shirts, all waiting for autographs. Troy tries to sign everyone's shirt,

wants to show Cleveland that he isn't really a bad guy, that it' s just been a really strange

day for him, a really strange season. Bruises or not, he signs the fan's shirts and when he

gets to the bus, the rest of the Blue Jays are waiting, have been waiting for twenty










minutes. Not a single one of them was asked for anything, a picture, an autograph, a

quote for a newspaper. Troy Breckenridge is starting to get on their nerves, and Troy is

very much aware of this, realizes he needs to do something before things start to get

crazy.

Sue Bee is appropriately concerned. When Troy comes back to Toronto after

the Cleveland game, when Troy charged the pitcher, she makes him sit in a bath filled

with relaxing lavender bath salts for two hours, until Troy's hands and feet are wrinkled

and pale white. He's always been competitive, always bringing the cleats high when he

slides into second, but this is different, Sue Bee says. Troy tells her, "If you poke a

bunny rabbit in the stomach every day, I don't care how cute and cuddly it is, it' s gonna

get pissed." Troy always seems nervous now; in bed at night, his body tenses every three

or four minutes, deep shrugs that shake the bed. Sue Bee suggests they take relaxation

classes together, perhaps Tai Chi or something like that. However, the season is in full

swing and Troy can't take that kind of time off, the time necessary to properly learn and

practice Tai Chi in a way that would be beneficial to Troy's present situation. It' s hard

enough with all the advertisements that Troy is dealing with.

Troy's agent has been hard at work this season. Troy finds out that his agent,

Kenny Langford, copyrighted the "Get Brecked" logo, along with some other slogans for

the future (Breckball). All the profits from those tee-shirts in the stands, all those bumper

stickers on cars that Troy just assumed were being done by all kinds of companies, are

funneled back to Troy and his agent. "But I never authorized this. Wouldn't I have to

sign some release form or something?" Troy's agent tells him that he had to forge the










signature, had to act fast to get the t-shirts out while the demand was strong. "Just a

hunch, baby, but a pretty fucking lucrative one at that, yes."

Troy is not a big fan of Kenny, though Kenny is, as he has told Troy very many

times, a very big fan of Troy. Troy wishes now that maybe he had looked a bit longer for

an agent when he was drafted, maybe one of those New York or Los Angeles guys that

seemed pretty reputable. However, Kenny was the first one to show an interest, back

when Troy was still in high school. It wasn't important at the time that Kenny had never

represented a baseball player before. "It's all the same when you talk dollars, baby. You

want it and they want to keep it and that' s where I come in, no different from my account

with Jeff Brighthorn, who drives the Rogue Smasher."

Kenny's agency is based in Marietta, Georgia, and specializes in Nascar and

Monster Truck drivers. He is loud and overbearing and cares only about money, which is

what Troy assumed agents have to be to get what their clients want. When Troy and

Toronto finalized and agreed upon his contract, Kenny seemed depressed, as though that

was it for the next three years until renegotiations rolled around. He is used to constant

work, finding sponsor after sponsor to place more advertising patches on the uniforms of

his clients who drive big trucks and fast cars. So, it probably shouldn't surprise Troy that

now Kenny is working the sponsorship angle for him. He has already signed the "Get

Brecked" deal, and is talking to the Band-Aid people for a series of commercials where

Troy will keep placing Band-Aids on spots where he gets hit until in the last clip, he is

covered from head to toe in Band-Aids. Troy doesn't know about all this, feels like it' s a

bit exploitative, but Kenny says not to worry. "You let me handle the money side of this,






49


baby. You just worry about keeping this streak going and, if it keeps going, let me tell

you something...your face on a box of Wheaties. It' s done."


I got nine-year-old kids jumping in front of pitches because they see this Troy
Breckenridge on the T~do it. They used to swing at agethrling~. trying to be Daryl
Strawberry or Jose Canseco, swinging for the fence, burt nowM they just sit there, awaiting
for an inside pitch to step in front of: I got parents chewing my ear off cause their kid's
coming home fr~om a Little League game 0I ithr bruises.
- Jerry Can2dido, Coach of the Maryville Swingers, a youth baseball squad in Toronto
















CHAPTER 7

"That boy was born 0I ithr a goddamneed target painted' on his chest. "
-Sparkry Anderson, manager of the Detroit Tigers, after Breckenridge is hit by a pitch
in the final inning to bring in the game-winning run, 06/09/89

The team doctor, the one who gave him the body protectors, has come up with

something else, something to "take the edge off." In the doctor's office, Troy watches as

the doctor pulls a garment bag out of the closet and hands it to Troy. It' s a heavy bag,

heavier than a suit would be. When he unzips the bag, he sees a thick gray-black vest

with shoulder pads that go down the arms. The doctor tells him that he was watching a

movie a few nights ago, a cop-buddy action movie, the name of which escapes him at the

moment. Regardless, one of the main characters is shot, which the doctor thought was

odd seeing as how the movie was only thirty minutes old, but then the main character rips

his shirt off to show a bullet-proof vest that saved his life. A few calls around to the

Kevlar people got him this baseball prototype, not as heavy as the police vests, and more

flexible in the shoulders. "You're the only baseball player who has one...the only person

who has one, it's an original model."

Troy tries it on and it' s true, the lightness and flexibility. He and the doctor go

to the pitching machine in the stadium and Troy stands on the plate and takes a few

pitches, shoulders, back, chest, and though there is a sting, a very noticeable sting, it is a

lot nicer than before. Troy takes a few more, rotating his body 360 degrees, feeling but

not feeling the thwack, thwack, thwack of the ball against the vest, and though it doesn't

really solve anything, it sure does make it a lot easier to take.










Jimy Williams wants to see Troy in his office, and that is the best explanation

for why Troy is sitting in the office with Jimy Williams. It was innocently proffered, this

invitation to the office, made after practice, but Troy knows, as well as the other players

in the locker room, that office meetings are never good. No one ever gets called in to

hear that they are doing a fantastic j ob. That kind of thing is done in public, to raise the

morale of everyone, to share in the good fortune. Animals are put to sleep in private.

Criminal interrogations are given in private. Jobs are rescinded in private.

So, Troy sits in the manager' s office and waits. He knows as well as the rest of

the team that it has not been an easy season for Jimy Williams. The team is

underperforming, has been in a slump as of late, and the blame is going mostly to the

manager. George Bell has made a tacit promise to the organization that either he or Jimy

Williams will not be around by the start of the next season. George Bell is the '87 Al

MVP and Jimy Williams has never led the Blue Jays to the playoffs, so it' s

understandable that Jimy Williams has a lot on his mind as well. Which is probably the

reason that Troy and his manager sit across from each other for a very long time, five

minutes perhaps, and say nothing, just stare. They both have lots to think about.

"Troy, you've really done a fantastic job this season," and now Troy wishes

they could go back to the locker room, let everyone hear. "I know it' s been a strange

season for you, and you're making the best of it. You're the first one here for practice

and the last to leave. Still, this hit-by-pitch thing...well, it' s damn vexing isn't it?"

"I'm working on it, coach."










"No, I know you are. I know you are. But the thing is, hell, it's seems like

sometimes it' s makes you a little uneven, a little touched in the head if you know what I

mean."

"You mean like the-"

"The rushing the pitcher and the sliding into first base."

"Yes."

"Well, I'm a little worried about it, pretty damned worried actually cause you're

one of my key players. Everyone's concerned, because it is a lot of pressure on you and

I'm wondering if maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to cut back a little."

"Like what?"

"Well, for instance, we're gonna make you the designated hitter for a while. We

love what you do for us at the plate. We can always count on you for that, but it is

taxing, you have to admit, physically."

"The doc gave me that vest, though."

"And, we just want to make sure you stay healthy. So, we're gonna let you DH

for a while so you can focus on getting your hitting back and that way you won't have all

the responsibilities of catching stressing you out."

"Well...okay. Okay, if that will help the team."

"Good. Okay, that's pretty much it. Good luck out there tomorrow. We need a

W1H."

Just before Troy stands to leave, the manager mentions also that the General

Manager brought up the idea of perhaps seeing someone, a doctor. When Troy mentions

that he already has the team doctor, he can see that Jimy Williams is uncomfortable. He









is a baseball manager. He tells people to hit and catch and throw the ball and run at the

appropriate times and puts players in and out of the game at the right time. He does not

like anything else, the talking and the concern and the media relations.

He likes Troy, knows he is a hard worker and a damn good ballplayer, but he

would like Troy more if he would hit the ball every once in a while, be a normal player.

But this is his job for now, for however long he can hold on to it, and so he tells Troy

about Dr. Ebbets, a brain doctor. A pansy head shrink for people with bullshit problems,

but Troy does not hear this version. Troy hears about how Dr. Ebbets is a professional

psychiatrist, that he specializes in work-related stress. He'll get Troy back in shape, and

before you know it, Troy will be back behind the plate and smashing home runs and the

Blue Jays will Einally get that pennant they've been so close to the past few years. Troy

nods, leaves the office, but he can't stop thinking about this Dr. Ebbets, that only crazy

people see psychiatrists.

He tells this to Sue Bee at dinner that night, pasta and wine at some place

downtown. People come up every few minutes for autographs, and Troy has to change

the subj ect quickly each time someone arrives, switch from psychiatrists and therapy to

Einance and buying a new car. Finally, when everyone in the restaurant who wants an

autograph gets an autograph, Troy tells Sue Bee that he doesn't want to go to Dr. Ebbets,

that therapy is for crazy people, but Sue Bee thinks it's a great idea, thinks it may help the

nervousness at night, the trembling.

Besides, she tells Troy, therapy isn't just for crazy people. It's also for people

who are going crazy, who may be in the process of becoming crazy. She smiles at Troy,

squeezes his hand, and he feels better, thinks therapy may not be such a bad idea after all,










and they Einish their meal happy about Troy's seeing the doctor. But later that night, in

bed, he replays what she said, about people who are going crazy, and suddenly it doesn't

sound as good as when he heard it the first time. He doesn't quite like the implication

involved, the tiny switch in phrasing. People who are crazy. People who are going

crazy.

Dr. Ebbets has been practicing psychiatry for eleven years. He is highly

recommended, is quite famous and well respected as far as Troy can tell from talking

with people. However, while waiting in the on-deck circle during one game, Leon tells

Troy that Dr. Ebbets is "creepy in a Mr. Rogers way. He kept saying that I still wanted to

be a batboy because I was afraid of playing ball myself, that I wouldn't be good enough

and so I tried to stay a bystander. He told my dad I should try out for the high-school

baseball team. I mean, I want to be a batboy because I get paid all kinds of money to

pick up bats that you big-shots are too high and mighty to pick up yourself. It' s easy

money, but he didn't want to hear about that, just kept writing stuff in that notebook.

And his room is so tiny, it' s like sitting in a closet." Troy thinks, asks Leon if he meant

to say office. Leon smirks, takes another drag on his cigarette. "I mean room. You'll

see when you get there."

Finally, when Troy tells one of Sue Bee's friends, an editor at some journal in

Toronto, about Dr. Ebbets, she looks puzzled. "I heard he wasn't practicing anymore,

that he'd had a stroke or something." No, Troy informs her. He has an appointment with

him next week. The editor thinks for a while and then, just for a second, Troy can see a

smile form, then disappear just as quickly. "Do you mean the son? Ebbets Jr.?" Troy

looks at the business card he was given. Dr. Branch Ebbets, Jr. The editor won't say










anything else other than, "I wouldn't have guessed that he was still able to practice

either." Troy doesn't know what that means exactly, but he is becoming less and less

assured about therapy, about Dr. Ebbets.


"Everyone has a breaking point, turning point, stress point, the game is permeated a ithr
it. The fans don 't see it because we make it look so eff cient. But internally, for a guy to
be successful, you have to be like a clock spring, wound but loose at the same time. "
Dave Winfield, All-star outfielder for the New York Yankees
















CHAPTER 8

"Forget Lou Gerhig and Cal Ripken. If Troy Breckenridge makes it through this season
0I without missing a game, he is baseball's true iron man. I mean, come on, the man is
facing a firing squad four times a game. It 's a wonder he can remember his name or tie
his shoes, much less walk to first base. "
- Doc Edwards, manager of the Cleveland Indians after Troy is hit by a pitch 1 7 times
in a three-game series, 05/1 7/89

On May 23rd, against Minnesota, the stakes are high. Both teams are in a slump

and need something to get them back on track. More importantly for Troy, it is the day

before his meeting with Dr. Ebbets. He keeps thinking that if he can only get a hit this

game, just a single or even a pop-up that' s easily fielded, he won't have to go to therapy.

Look, he can say, I got a hit. You have no need to worry about my mental state. He does

not do this often, prefers not to think that higher powers are responsible for his situation,

but today he prays for a hit. He sits on the bench with Leon when the Blue Jays are on

the field, tries to focus on the game, but can't stop thinking of other questions he could

ask Leon about the doctor. Leon unhappily informs Troy that he has to go see Dr. Ebbets

as well, that he has been set up for another round of sessions, and that his father wants to

see if Troy can drive Leon home from the doctor. It seems Leon's session is just before

Troy's and so if Troy will already be there, what' s the harm. "I think my dad is weirded

out by that guy more than I am."

The first two at-bats for Troy are HBPs, nothing special, and in the eighth

inning, Troy steps up for what will probably be his last at-bat for the game. He wants it

this time, figures he will swing for the fences come hell or high water. The windup










begins and then the pitch flies from the pitcher' s hand and Troy lets himself believe this

is the one. The ball begins to bend, but Troy thinks he can do it. He starts to swing, turns

his shoulders, but the ball keeps bending, keeps moving, and Troy feels it connect with

his wrist, the cracking sound as it hits his wrist guard. The umpire stands, not quite sure

how to call it, because Troy did bring the bat around. It should be called a strike, because

the bat passed over the plate. However, the ball was coming at him and a case could be

made that he was defensively swinging to protect himself, which is what Jimy Williams

is ready to argue as the home-plate umpire calls the first- and third-base umps over to

meet. Williams stands up and begins to inch towards the field, weary with the issues he

never had to deal with before Troy. Troy still stands in the box, not wanting to move,

ready to swing again. The first- and third-base umpires join the head ump, and they form

a huddle, looking back over their shoulders every once in a while to glance at Troy, who

is not moving. The crowd is booing the umpires, want Troy to take his base and keep the

streak going.

Finally, they pull away, scatter to their separate areas, and the head umpire

directs Troy towards first. The crowd cheers, but Troy still isn't moving, tells the ump

that he thinks it was a strike. "Well, technically it was, but we figured you might as well

just take it. Go on." Troy still won't move, can only think about taking another swing at

that pitch, but soon the delay is noticeable. Leon is standing beside Troy, tugging on the

end of the bat. Troy looks into the dugout and sees Jimy Williams kneeling on the stairs,

one hand covering his eyes as if to hide the fact that he is crying. Nothing is going to

keep him from going to therapy, and so Troy hands the bat to Leon and walks to first, the

crowd's cheers growing even louder. Over the roar, Leon leans in and tells Troy that










maybe Troy could treat him to McDonald's after the sessions at Dr. Ebbets, and Troy

nods, just wanting to get to Birst. There's no way to get around it. He has to go.






The waiting room at Dr. Ebbets onfce is not really a waiting room. It' s not

really a waiting room because Dr. Ebbets office is not really an office. It' s not really an

office because it' s his house. And it' s not really even his house because it's his parents

house. When Troy arrived at the office, and he will keep calling it an office because if he

doesn't then all of this seems pretty silly to him, he pushed the buzzer and was

immediately met with a woman's voice, a fraction of a second after the buzzer went off.

She screamed quickly and forcefully, as if using her last breath, "Don't open the door for

god's sake!"

Troy waited, waited some more, then finally peered in through the circular glass

window embedded in the middle of the door. Inside the house, he could see an older

woman walking carefully through the hallway, taking a long, winding pathway to the

door, with what appeared to be two flashlights tied to her head. The door opened a

fraction of an inch, and the beams of the flashlights peered at Troy like two eyes. On

closer inspection, Troy could see that they weren't two flashlights tied to her head, but a

pair of goggles with tiny but powerful lights built into the sides, headlights for people.

"If you've come to see the doctor, you'll have to come sit in the living room because he's

still with the other one right now." Troy nodded, followed the woman into the hallway,

making the same cautious steps as she, even before she told him, "You have to walk









carefully in here. Just follow these arrows I've made and you can sit down on the chair

over there, the one the arrows lead you to."

Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness in the house, he could see a series of

glow-in-the-dark arrows, leading him in a giant, s-shaped course to the living room.

Looking beyond the arrows, to the boundaries beyond the markings, he could finally

make out what it was that filled up the floor of the hallway. They were dominoes, rows

and rows of dominoes stood up on their ends. There were hundreds of them in the

hallway alone, thousands even, as every square inch of floor space other than the arrowed

path was filled with tightly packed designs of dominoes, seemingly teetering on their

edges, waiting, waiting for something to push them.

Troy looked over at the woman, standing with her arms crossed, and though he

could not see her eyes, from the harshness of the headlights, the glare of them, he could

tell that he was not supposed to be the force that set these dominoes in motion, that the

consequences would be unpleasant if he were.

So, Troy now sits in the waiting room/living room. The floor is covered in

dominoes as well, save for the thin strip of the walkway. He decides not to look down,

feels as if he could make them fall just by staring at them, and so he surveys the walls of

the room. It is hard to see in the darkness but his eyes adjust to the wood paneling of the

walls and soon he can see the pictures hanging. Most of them are of an older,

di stingui shed-looking man in a gray suit and a red bowtie. In each picture he i s posing

with someone famous, or at least someone who appears to be famous because everyone

in the background seems interested in what is going on. He figures this to be Dr. Ebbets,

notices the dozen or so honorary degrees around the pictures, all inscribed to Doctor










Ebbets, and Troy feels a little better. He likes to see credentials, even as flimsy as photo

ops with possibly famous people and arbitrary degrees. However, he squints to read

further and realizes that they are made out to Dr. Branch Ebbets Sr., not Jr. This is not

good.

He reads over each of the degrees, hoping maybe even one will contain a Jr.

Not a single one and now Troy decides not to look at anything in the room because every

time he sees something, it makes him dizzy, makes him think of the dangerous

possibilities. Instead, he takes out today's edition of the Toronto Star that he' s brought

along and reads in the dim light that filters through the blinds. He is featured twice on

the front page, the first a headline that states, "Blue Jay Bean Bag to Miss Game." The

paper says it' s just to let Troy recuperate from his accumulated injuries and even though

this isn't entirely false, it' s not entirely true either. He doesn't feel any worse than he

usually does, there are no outstanding injuries that are hobbling him aside from some

bruises and soreness.

He' s sitting out today's game because of the therapy today, because of the

delicate nature of undergoing analysis. Even though he assured the team he could still

make the game in time, that the session would only last one hour, Jimy Williams told him

that perhaps it would be nice to take a game off, give them some time apart from each

other, the team and Troy. Troy agreed because there was no way out of it, no chance of

getting out of this paid vacation, but now he feels a little spurned, a jilted player.

The second feature in the paper is the ever present Hit-by-Pitchometer. The

little Troy doesn't look so good. His left arm is in a cast, there is a pool of blood at his

feet, he is missing one tooth, and all of a sudden, Troy feels grateful for the day off. He










is happy not because he will miss a game, but because for one day, a game will pass and

the cartoon Troy will look the same as the day before, maybe even minus the cast

tomorrow. He thinks sitting out a game will be good for little Troy, will be good for both

of them.

He hears a door open upstairs and footsteps begin sounding on the stairs. He

peers into the hallway and sees Leon walking down the steps, the older woman

accompanying him making groaning sounds with each step. "Easy, watch out, watch

out," she says, but Leon acts as if he doesn't hear, walking dangerously close to the rows

of dominoes. She keeps hissing warnings until Leon is out of danger and standing

beside Troy in the waiting room.

"Your turn, Breck," Leon mutters and falls back into the safe chair, his back

knocking against the wall.

"Don't shake the walls, you brat," the woman says. "You can send vibrations

through the floor and then we'd be in big trouble."

Leon whispers to Troy, "she's like this every time. Just go on upstairs."

Troy starts to move but the woman blocks his way. "You don't move until he

calls for you. You walk up there before he calls you and then maybe he's not ready and

he sends you back down to wait and then he calls you finally and you have to go right

back up and each time your footsteps send a tiny little shockwave through this floor and

then..." A door opens upstairs and Dr. Ebbets calls out, "Mother, you can send Mr.

Breckenridge up now."

Troy looks at the woman, squinting in the glare of her headlights. "You're his


mother?"









Mrs. Ebbets dims her headlights and grabs Troy by the collar of his shirt. "Do I

look like a receptionist to you? Look around you. Look at all of...this. Does this look

like the work of a receptionist?"

Troy notices she has two belts crossed over her chest, jangling with dominoes,

like ammo for a machine gun. "No, ma'am. No I suppose it doesn't."

She lets go of Troy's collar and increases the brightness on the headlights. As

he follows the arrows upstairs, she unclips another domino and gently blows the dust off

of it, readying it for placement.

When Troy makes it to the top of the stairs, the door is closed but he knows it is

the office because there is a nameplate attached to it, the only semblance of doctorly

goings-on thus far. He knocks on the door, then again, and he hears Dr. Ebbets announce

from behind it, "Come on in then, please." Troy opens the door and steps in and he is

inside. He is seeing a psychiatrist. He is doing this and he cannot turn back now. He

can't walk down the steps because Mrs. Ebbets would flash her headlights upon him and

send him right back up. He can only step into the room and look at the double bed,

freshly made, and wonder why there isn't a seat to be found.

The room is tiny, just big enough to move around in, and the ceiling feels too

close overhead. The wallpaper is garishly striped with bright colors, neon greens and

reds and yellows that begin to bend and wiggle if he stares too long at it. The carpet is

burnt orange and makes Troy think of earth that hasn't seen rain in months, makes him

think of drought. A dresser, a side table, and the bed are the only obj ects of furniture in

the room and Troy looks back at the bed. The sheets have stagecoaches on them,

interspersed with silver pistols from the Old West and it dawns on Troy that this room









feels like his room from childhood. Everything is too small, the colors too bright, and

Troy begins to think that maybe he isn't in the right place. As he starts to back away

though, he hears Dr. Ebbets, remembers there is someone else in the room, someone

standing very close to him.

"Hello, hello. Welcome to my office. Is this your first time?"

Troy can only nod, is still trying to figure out where he is supposed to sit. He

waits for Dr. Ebbets to bring out a chair or at least tell him where to go, but the doctor

only stands there, beaming. Dr. Ebbets is a small man, around five-feet-four maybe, and

the dimensions of the room suddenly befit his stature. His hair is wild and seems to fly

off his head at strange angles. His glasses are thin, black, square-shaped frames that

almost seem invisible on his face. He is wearing an argyle cardigan with the sleeves

rolled up and a white dress shirt underneath. His pants are gray wool and rolled up

severely, showing his pale shins above his socks. He keeps shifting from foot to foot,

nervous or excited or both, and finally he tells Troy, "Well let's get started shall we?

Let' s get going because I imagine that we are going to have a lot to discuss today in the

short time we have, the short time we have left I mean."

Dr. Ebbets gestures to the bed and smiles. Troy looks down at the stagecoaches

on the sheets and then back at the doctor. Dr. Ebbets gestures again to the bed, this time

more emphatically, and still smiles. Troy looks at the stagecoaches and begins to look

back at Dr. Ebbets but imagines this could very well continue for the rest of the session

and so he asks the doctor, "Where are you going to be sitting? Is there a seat or

something for me?" Dr. Ebbets laughs and then sits down at the foot of the bed. "Well,

you will lie down on the bed here. There are pillows if you need to prop yourself up or










you can lie flat if you prefer. I will stay here at the edge and this is how we'll go about

our session." Troy is still standing. "Isn't there a seat or something I could sit in?" The

doctor smiles more and tells Troy that this method is one of the brave new steps that he

has taken in creating a better means of therapy. "I find that if the patient lays down on

one side of the room and the doctor sits way over on the other side, then the essential

matters they are discussing become lost in the distance. Distance creates uncertainty,

misunderstandings. Close proximity creates truth, clarity. Now please." He pats the

surface of the bed and Troy finally sits down on the very edge of the bed, leaning

forward. Dr. Ebbets motions with his finger, telling Troy to swing around and lie down

and Troy slowly lifts his feet off the floor and lies back on the bed.

"You can get under the covers even if you' d like."

"I'm okay I think. Thank you though."

"Very well. Perhaps we should start, yes?"

Troy notices there is no clock in the room.

Dr. Ebbets tells Troy that he wants to help, that he has expertise with sports-

related stress and it is his primary field of interest. "The athlete," he tells Troy,

"sometimes strengthens the exterior so much that the interior becomes neglected and

that' s when I come in. You know, Troy, we're not as different as you might think.

You're a catcher and I'm a listener. A good listener is a lot like a good catcher. You take

what someone throws you and you keep tossing it back so they can pitch it again." Dr.

Ebbets feels that with enough therapy, Troy will be back swinging for the fences before

the season is over. "I've worked with countless hockey players within the Maple Leafs

organization, Troy. So much anger and aggressiveness, but with enough time, they









became more focused on the actual game rather than which of the opposing players

deserves a beating." Troy feels slightly better about these meetings now, realizes that lots

of players must have to talk with psychiatrists at one point another. Perhaps they're

mandated by law but nonetheless it makes Troy feel better to know he's not the only one.

When Dr. Ebbets finishes his speech, Troy asks about the dominoes downstairs, about

Dr. Ebbets' mother. Dr. Ebbets does not smile. He takes out his pad and pen and begins

to scribble something Troy cannot see. Finally, the doctor hands it to him. It is a

drawing of two stick figures. The stick figure with a stethoscope around his neck has an

arrow leading to the other that is labeled "?" while the stick figure wearing a baseball mitt

has an arrow leading back that says "Detailed Responses." Dr. Ebbets takes the pad back

and tells Troy that this is the method that he finds to work best, that when questions come

from the patient, "We start to forget who the real professional is, don't we?" They begin.

It starts with Troy's telling Dr. Ebbets what he knows, how this Hit-by-Pitch

phenomenon started. He tells the doctor about Kansas City and the shaking and the way

the pitches bend towards him. Dr. Ebbets is a good listener, Troy realizes that much.

The doctor sounds interested, always nodding and then scribbling something else in his

notepad. He is intrigued, even excited, by the things Troy figured no one wanted to hear

about anymore. Dr. Ebbets asks questions about his home life, his relationships with the

other players, and soon Troy is talking about Sue Bee, telling the doctor about the poem

in the Atlantic Monthly and the other ones he knows she is writing. He tells him about

the other players and what he imagines that they think of him. There is more nodding

from the doctor, more scribbling, and then more questions for Troy. Troy talks and talks









and by the time the session is over he realizes he has said more than he had originally

intended and now Dr. Ebbets is lying beside him on the bed. They are making progress.

I came into this game sane and' I want to leave it sane.
- Don Baylor, all-star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox
















CHAPTER 9

When Troy returns from the session with the doctor, he feels sense of calm that

he hasn't had in a while. He feels justified now that the hope he's had all year, the belief

that he will finally get to swing at a pitch, is being seconded by a respected sports

psychiatrist. Sue Bee is waiting for him on the couch when he opens the door to their

apartment, Indian food from the restaurant across the street laid out on the coffee table.

"Good or bad," she asks him, "which one would be closer to the truth?" He sits down

next to her, slowly easing into the couch because of the constant soreness in his upper

legs. He tells her it was a good session, that the doctor seemed positive about what could

happen with this season. He does not mention that the doctor conducted the session from

his bedroom, on the bed, because he knows she would think less of the doctor.

He only talks of progress, of sorting through the fears he has about the future, of

finding a happy medium, and this makes Sue Bee smile. Troy knew it would because he

did the same thing when he heard the doctor say all of this. They eat saag paneer,

scooping it up with pieces of naan, and for the first time, they watch a Blue Jays telecast

that does not show Troy getting hit. For at least a few games while he sits out, the Hit-

By-Pitchometer will register no new hits, his old bruises will not be covered with new

ones, and perhaps something will change when he comes back.

After dinner they walk through the city, up and down King and Yonge and

Bathhurst streets, to an old movie house that plays arty foreign movies that Troy does not

understand or does not care to understand. They watch a German movie about an










umbrella that turns into a bird at inopportune times. The man will be walking the streets

of Berlin, using the umbrella as a cane, tap-tapping along the sidewalk, when it starts to

rain. And always the umbrella turns into a bird when he opens it, flies out of his hands,

and he stands there on the street, soaking wet, watching the bird fly over his head. Troy

has no idea what is going on or why the man doesn't just buy another umbrella but he

feels something for the man, the departure of reason in his life. Troy starts to ask Sue

Bee why the umbrella changes into a different bird every time, but she is following the

movie carefully, eyes wide and reflecting the flickering of the screen. So he leans back

and watches more umbrellas fly from the man's grasp. Troy can enjoy the moment

because Sue Bee's hand is warm and soft in his and no one at this theatre knows who he

is. The art students and fading new wavers and philosophy professors with stylish

glasses have never seen a baseball game and so Troy has no fears of Breckballs or "Get

Brecked" t-shirts. He simply watches things he doesn't know the answers to and smiles.

That night, while Troy is brushing his teeth in the bathroom, Sue Bee sneaks

behind him and wraps her arms around his waist, pressing her face into the space between

his shoulder blades. She blows softly on his skin and it feels cool and warm at the same

time. He thinks about later, when they will slip under the covers and he is not sure what

will happen. They have not been together in weeks. He is always too bruised, his body

constantly aching in soft places from the pitches. Where she touches him is always

tender, either new or fading bruises. Sometimes her body presses against a contusion on

his leg and he will jerk awake, kicking out at her unconsciously. "I'm too banged-up for

it I reckon," he tells her after he pulls away from her. Nights when they feel he is well

enough to try it, it never happens. "You're thinking about it too much," she tells him, but









he is actually thinking about the other thing, the pitches coming at him, but he does not

tell her this. He only apologizes quickly, shakes his head, and so they untangle

themselves and slide to the edges of the bed, each thinking of other things.

Tonight though, once Sue Bee leads him to the bed, it is different. Troy sits at

the foot of the bed while he strips off his shirt. The bruises show like tattoos on his skin,

deep purple circles and half-circles on his shoulders and chest and back. Sue Bee places

her hand on him and traces a path across his body that weaves between the bruises. Once

they are under the sheets, Troy lifts the thin fabric of her nightgown up and off her body

and they both lie there, silent. Troy doesn't even want to breathe, as if the movement of

the particles of air in the room will change things. They move softly against each other,

barely touching. They will find ways around it, they decide, until he repairs himself.
















CHAPTER 10

On the 28th of May, the last game in the series against the White Sox, Troy

returns to the lineup. He feels good about today's game, even with only one session with

Dr. Ebbets behind him. He thinks it may have been enough, that straightforward

problems may have simple answers. Today he crouches behind the plate to catch for the

starting pitcher during warm-ups and feels the tightness in his legs as he balances on the

balls of his feet, the tiny flickering of pain in the nerves in his left thigh. He realizes he

probably wouldn't be as effective as a catcher anymore, that protecting home plate would

add even more bruises to his body. Still, he enj oys the back and forth of it all, the feel of

the ball in his hands again. The other players seem to have loosened up in Troy's

absence, even if it' s only been a few days, and j oke with him more than usual. Jimy

Williams has told them about the session and the hope that Troy will be back to normal.

As he fires a fastball across the plate, Dave Steib asks Troy if he thinks he' s going to hit a

homer today. "I reckon I'm due for one," he calls back. Sue Bee is in the stands, ready

with her scorecard and notebook to record the event. Everyone feels excited and anxious

for the game to begin, to see what will happen.

Before Troy heads to the on-deck circle for his first at-bat, Jimy Williams takes

him aside.

"Now, you say the thing with the doctor went well, right?"

"Yes sir, coach. I feel like it helped a lot."










"Well that's good. That's good. Fine. Now, you feel like taking a swing

today?"

"Sure thing, coach."

"That' s more like it. Okay, don't swing at any garbage now though. Just don't

get anxious up there. Wait for your pitch and let' s see what happens."

"Got it."

"Troy?"

"Yes, coach?"

"And that doctor says you're fine right?"

"He seems rightly optimistic, yes sir."

"Fine."

At the on-deck circle, Troy and Leon talk about Dr. Ebbets. On the car ride

home, neither one said very much at all. Troy was still thinking about the session and

Leon was wondering if they were going to stop for that burger he' d mentioned earlier.

Now though, Troy asks Leon about the dominoes. Leon nods and tells Troy, "Oh yeah,

she does something with dominoes I think. I'm not really sure. Her name is in books for

it though, you could look it up." Leon asks if the doctor lay beside Troy and Troy is

silent. Leon smiles. "He did, didn't he? It took five sessions before he sat beside me.

Don't worry though. He doesn't mean anything by it. He just does it when he feels like

you've made a breakthrough. I guess you're a natural mental patient." Troy goes to the

batter' s box smiling, thinking about the breakthrough he's made.

The pitcher has no idea about Troy's sessions. Neither do the fans, who are

chanting "Get Brecked" in unison. They are thinking only about the HBPs and that' s the










way Troy wants it. He thinks of the surprise, of the silence that will come if he hits this

pitch. He stares at first-base coach and nods but the first-base coach only looks away.

He is not a big believer in the power of therapy.

The pitcher winds up, twisting himself into an impossible puzzle, and then

releases the ball as his arm crests the wave of motion. There is a blur that Troy knows is

the ball and he is ready. Troy watches and tightens his grip on the bat. He pulls his arms

back slightly, that split-second where the batter decides whether or not to swing. He

wants to swing. He is dying to swing.

And then Troy realizes he should have been spending that split-second tensing

his muscles for the pitch. The ball zips closer and closer until he feels it. As he flexes his

bicep and rubs out the pain, he looks into the dugout. All of the players have their heads

down, doing everything not to look at Troy. The crowd, however, is still cheering. They

were always expecting this to happen. They know only of the streak and its continuation

and so they cheer. As Troy goes to take his base, he looks into the stands and sees Sue

Bee. Her head is down. She is writing something on her scorecard, though it seems to

take up more space than a simple mark, and Troy knows she's found a new theme, a new

poem. He takes his base and realizes the ease in which he falls back into the motion, the

deliberate pace towards first, shaking off the pain. He settles into his crouch after he

steps on the bag and readies himself for the next pitch, for the rest of the pitches that will

be coming.

When he gets back to the dugout, thrown out on a double-play, he sits beside

Junior Felix and stares ahead. Junior offers him a sunflower seed but Troy shakes his

head.










"I thought you went to see some head shrink about this. I thought you were

fixed now."

"Well, the doctor said it would take more than one session."

"How many sessions will it take then, do you think?"

"I don't rightly know now. Hopefully before the end of the season."

"Well, I hope you can last that long."

"Yeah, me too."

Troy takes three more pitches, three more bases, and each time Jimy Williams

throws up his hands. Troy only thinks about the cold hard truth of the matter, the tiny

fact that this may not stop. He doesn't want to think about it but he does. He has to

wonder if this can go on forever and suddenly it doesn't seem so outrageous, that he

could take a million pitches and be hit by each one. It is something he has not let enter

his mind until now but there it is and he suddenly cannot wait for next week' s session.

He needs to sort some things out.



Once the game is over and Troy has showered and changed and answered all the

reporters questions in that robotic, monotone voice he's beginning to develop with the

media, he walks out to catch a cab back home. He sent Leon up to the stands after the

game to tell Sue Bee not to wait for him and that they'd meet up at the apartment. He

doesn't want her waiting for him because he has shit to think about. Shit is happening

and he tends to do his thinking about shit alone. Still, there are about forty people

waiting outside the players' entrance that he must wade into and through before he can

get to his cab. When he steps out, they all cheer, waving signs that say WELCOME









BACK BRECK and THE STREAK DON'T STOP and MARRY ME TROY. They form

a tight circle around him as he walks, the crowd engulfing him and then slowly moving

with him as he continues to walk, the new form moving like an amoeba. As he signs

what they have for him, unsheathed Sharpies held out point-first for him to write with,

the fans move from the center towards the edge and then slowly fall away from the

amorphous group of autograph-seekers.

He does the initials first, as he's learned to do for quickness. He makes a

straight, grammatically sound T and spaces a B an inch away from it. Then he squiggles

the rest of his name in, a curling line that goes from the T straight through the B and off

the page. He's got it down to a science now. If he can't work on his batting, he'll work

on his signing. Mostly he signs a new collectible kind of baseball his agent developed

and the stores have been carrying for a few weeks now. They are called Breckballs and

they have tiny spots of black-bluish bruises covering the surface of the baseball, one for

every HBP so far. "The real fans and collectors will buy a new one every time the streak

changes. That four bucks a pop and that'll pay for a lot of aspirin let me tell you."

By the time he gets a cab and starts towards home, fans still waving as they

disappear from view, he is already sore again, his arms tightening up from the new

bruises. The driver, who has taken Troy home several times from past games, starts to

head towards his apartment, but Troy tells him just to drive for a while, maybe thirty

minutes. The driver swings around and starts driving out of the city, where there's some

space. Troy takes a pain reliever that the team doctor gave him, a steady supply that Troy

never has to explain the need for when he asks for them. He lies down in the backseat of

the cab while the driver listens to the recap of the game, the analysts commenting on the









return of Troy Breckenridge and the continuation of the streak. Troy tunes out the radio,

empties his head until there is silence. He sits in the back seat of the cab and lets his

body mend, but he does not know if he' s really just finding ways to ignore the pain.



When he gets to the apartment, Troy walks in to find forty-eight messages on

the answering machine and Sue Bee in the shower. He watches the blinking red light on

the machine, the steady pulsing, and he leans over to check the messages. He has

changed his phone number four times but still they find him. The calls are usually from

reporters, writers interested in getting a quote about the latest game. Kenny, his agent,

gives out a prepared statement whenever he receives calls from reporters now. It

provides a brief analysis of the last game though Kenny hasn't changed the wording since

the third week of the season. "I am very surprised about the continued events involving

my being hit with the baseball while I am at bat. I am not sure what the cause of the

phenomenon is but for now, all I can do is take my swings and hope something works

out. I do not think about the streak because it does not concern the operations of the Blue

Jays organization and our commitment to winning. I do not believe that the

aforementioned series of events will continue since the law of averages dictates that

nothing is infinite. I think we played (well/poorly) today and hopefully we can (turn this

around/keep it up)." Sometimes fans manage to find his number and call to leave

encouragement or insults. Other ballplayers leave tips about his stance. Insurance

salesmen call to ask about his coverage. Rarely are the messages anything he really

wants to hear but he still goes through them.










As he deletes the messages one by one, listening to the first five seconds before

skipping to the next, he notices Sue Bee' s notebook on the desk. It' s a black and white

composition book, labeled "Poems" on the cover. She has about forty or fifty of these

notebooks, every page filled to overflowing, and she keeps them all stacked under their

bed. He has never looked at one. Sue Bee likes to type her poems out on the typewriter

before she gives them to him to read. The notebooks could be filled with grocery lists for

all he knows, drawings of flowers with smiley faces on them. He notices a page

bookmarked with a ticket from the game today and as the drone of unknown voices

rambles on the machine, he looks towards the bathroom and listens for the sound of

water. After a few seconds, he carefully opens the notebook, careful not to break the

spine or rip the paper. He looks over the scribblings on the marked page and sees that it' s

a sestina, or the beginnings of one, titled "Suicide Squeeze." Just as he starts to check

over the repeating words in the first stanza, he hears the water shut off in the bathroom.

Sue Bee steps out of the bathroom, a towel tied into a turban around her head.

Troy softly sets the notebook back on the desk, nudges it with his finger into the exact

same placement as before, and continues listening to the messages. "Anything good this

time," she asks him, tying the belt around her robe. He readies his finger on the

skip/delete button.

"Troy this is Marc Devereaux of the Montreal Sentinel... Troy this is Carl

Phillips from the Lexington County Leader... Troy this is Patrice Rousseau of the Quebec

Daily..."

They listen to the last eight messages, all reporters or newscasters, and then

stare at the light on the machine, now finally stilled. Sue Bee reaches towards him, her










robe slowly falling open. Her skin is pale white underneath, luminescent, but Troy can

only think of the poem, about the suicide squeeze play and the possible themes that could

be addressed with such a topic. He does not want her tonight and as her hand moves

towards him, he tenses his body as if she is already touching the bruises. He moves away

just slightly but Sue Bee is already reaching beyond him, over his shoulder and to the

desk, where she retrieves her notebook. "I'm going to write a little in the bedroom," she

tells him. "Do you want to come?" She closes the neck of her robe with her free hand

and smiles. He says that he wants to look over the pitcher profiles for the next game,

watch the video from today's game maybe. "Well, don't think about it too much. Dr.

Ebbets will help you at the next session."

When Sue Bee pulls the door to the bedroom shut, Troy gently lifts the phone

from the receiver. He is holding the doctor' s business card while he punches in the

number. He hopes it is a direct line for the office and that Mrs. Ebbets will not answer.

It rings three times before he hears a voice on the other end.

"Yes...yes?"

"Doctor?"

"Who?"

"Doctor Ebbets?"

"What? Yes, I mean...yes, of course. Is this Troy?"

"Yeah, I hope it' s not too late to be calling."

"No, no of course not. I was just resting but you should treat this number like a

24-hour hotline. It is always open for you to use. Except on Fridays from nine to eleven-










thirty. I like to watch the Mystery of the Week and generally when that' s on it' s hard to

get me to pay much attention to anything. Other than that, you should call at any time."

"Even if you're with a patient?"

"Well, then I guess I'd let the machine pick it up. I usually turn off the ringer

and set the volume on the machine low...but what were you wanting to talk about,

Troy?"

"I reckon you watched the game today."

"I did yes."

"And so you saw...all that."

"I did."

"And so you can maybe understand that I'm feeling a little disappointed."

"I can understand why you are unhappy with today, yes. Still, Troy, we have to

take this a step at a time. This is not a simple psychological construct that we can tear

down in one session."

See, I reckon that' s kind of what I was thinking it was."

"Yes, well it' s a bit more difficult than that. We have to look at this as a two-

part treatment. We want to make it so that you are no longer mentally affected by being

hit. And once that is accomplished, we can use that psychological harmony to help you

eliminate the actual incidents of getting hit."

"It just seems hopeless I guess."

"And it will seem that way for a while. You will be frustrated at first, Troy, but

you simply have to soldier on like you have been and know that we will eventually fix

this problem."










"If you say so, doctor."

"You know what? Why don't we do a session a week instead of every other

week if you're concerned about it?"

"Every week?"

"Yes, I think that' d be nice. More face time for the two of us, more time to sort

things out. It's just nice to meet, don't you think?"

"I'll talk to the manager and see what he thinks."

"Just a thought. Now, it's strange you're calling because I've been going over

your file."

"File?"

"Just clippings I've cut out from various places. It' s more a scrapbook I

suppose."

"Oh, okay."

"Tell me, Troy."

"Yes."

"Do you ever think that this will all end tragically and that nothing will ever

quite be the way it was before it started?"

"No, never actually."

"Good. Good, because nothing productive can come from that."

"I reckon not."

"Don't do it."

"I won't."

"Well, goodnight, Troy. I will see you next week."









"Alright then."

When he hangs up, Troy wonders if this is wrong, this calling for help in the

middle of the night. He thinks about Sue Bee, just feet away in the other room. He

knows he should talk to her about all this instead of some strange psychiatrist who still

lives with his parents, but he is afraid of the things he says around her now. He does not

want to give her any good lines. He counts the syllables when he speaks to her, trying to

create sentences that don't scan metrically, even though he is still hopeless at it. He is

being petty and perhaps jealous about her new creative spurt, but he cannot get around it.

He hopes maybe Dr. Ebbets can help him mend the problems he is having with Sue Bee

but he's not sure if Dr. Ebbets is that kind of therapist. He knows he should go to bed,

but tonight he sleeps on the sofa and dreams about nothing, as if he' s used it all up during

the day.
















CHAPTER 11

"The curious thing about a streak is that once you find yourself in one, it 's easier to stay
in it than it is to get out. "
-Wee Willie Keeler, one-time holder of the major-league record for consecutive games
nI ithr a hit

The streak is showing no signs of slowing. The Jays sweep the series against

the White Sox, sending Troy to bat 17 times with 17 HBPs. It's a new record for Troy,

the most in a three-game series and so another entry in the record books. The next series

against Cleveland also goes well, with Toronto picking up two wins and Troy another

dozen HBPs. The team is excited, hasn't won three straight in months, and as the team

boards the plane for Boston, everyone is happy except Troy. There are still hopes of a

pennant, though the last few weeks have been rough. These wins were just what they

needed to build confidence. "We're not dead yet, boys," Jimy Williams tells them as

they settle into their seats on the team plane. "We're awful damn close though."

And Troy would like to be happy as well but the last two series have taken his

team spirit away. He does not talk to his teammates anymore, finds himself unable to

offer anything they would care to talk about. Sometimes, when he sits on the bench

while the team goes out to the field, he forgets the score, forgets even whom they are

playing. He only stares out into the sea of fans and wonders why he doesn't care about

any of this anymore. He only wants to get to bat, to face the pitcher. The rest of the

game is a blur except for those few moments when he steps to the plate. He has very

little except for the obsession that he might be able to get himself straightened out with









the next pitch, the hope that this will be the one. And it never is and he's never quite

prepared for it and he spends the rest of the game thinking of the last pitch and wishing

for the next one. The game has become a one-man, one-pitch contest for Troy and that is

why he sits in the back of the plane by himself and reads.

He hasn't had a normal session with Dr. Ebbets since the first meeting. These

away games have limited them to phone sessions, hour-long conversations that do

nothing for Troy. He doesn't want to say it but he is disappointed with the doctor, had

hoped for quicker results. The doctor only repeats that Troy must accept the HBPs a fact

of his existence for now and that is exactly what Troy cannot do. He feels that the only

chance he has is to keep believing that he will get a hit. To forget that is more than he

can bear. So, they mostly talk about his personal life now, a tactic that Dr. Ebbets feels

may help him from constantly focusing on his life on the field. The doctor asks Troy

about his life, his likes and dislikes, and Troy can hear him scribbling furiously over the

phone, trying to get it all down. He does not know why Dr. Ebbets wants to know what

his favorite meal or movie or color is, but he tells the doctor anyway. And the more they

talk about these things the more Troy feels that Dr. Ebbets may not actually ever help

him. Still, it gives him something to do, something to talk about, and Troy is grateful for

that. He spends a lot of time in his head now, cluttered with box scores and pain

medication, and so it's nice to have someone who doesn't want to talk only about the

HBPs.

Troy leans his chair back as the airplane streaks towards Boston. He has taken

two pain pills and is flipping through the magazines he's brought with him. He avoids

Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, anything that may mention baseball. He keeps










to the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, magazines completely unconcerned with

sports. He also reads though a few literary journals, scanning the poems in each one.

Even though he's unhappy with Sue Bee's new interests for her poetry, he finds himself

wanting to read a few poems once in a while, dense poems with strict meter. Something

with order in it. When he picks up the New Yorker, he turns to the table of contents and

checks over the articles.

Under the poetry section is a poem, "Suicide Squeeze," and he feels his face

slacken, his jaw dropping wide enough to swallow his fist. He looks over to the author' s

name and there it is: Susan Beatrice Breckenridge. He checks it three times and three

times it is the same name as the name of his wife. He looks to the notes on the

contributors' page and looks for her name. The entry reads as such: Susan Beatrice

Breckenridge is a poet living in Toronto. She is the wife of the ill-fated baseball star

Troy Breckenridge. M~rs. Breckenridge is currently at work on a cycle of poems about

baseball.

When the team arrives in Boston and is taken to their hotel, Troy finally reads

the poem. It' s the sestina that he saw in the notebook and he stares hard at it. It takes up

an entire page, something he's never seen before in a magazine like this. The poem is

about a baseball player whose slump at the plate also reflects the problems he's having in

bed. Troy hates to say it but it's a good poem, maybe her best, and he admires how

nicely Sue Bee uses the repeating words to play on the double entendres inherent in the

poem. She takes all the meaning she can from bats and sexual organs, from the base

paths acting as both the playing field and the levels of physical contact in his sex life.

"He wonders if he will ever see home." There are lines that make him feel sick to his









stomach when he reads them but he' s not sure if it' s the poem or the fact that it' s his wife

who wrote it. By the end of the poem, the player decides to try to bunt to get on base,

and at home he decides to masturbate instead of trying to have sex with his wife. "A bunt

is just like jerking offJ a cheap hit... he 'll takettttt~~~~~~~tttttt it if he has too..."

Troy closes the magazine and lies on his bed. He wants to call Sue Bee, ask her

about the poem and why she didn't tell him. He reaches over for the phone but as he

dials he realizes there are things he knows he does not want to hear from her. In the back

of his head, he knows what she could say to him, the way he's been distant and

uninterested in her. He knows the ways they could let each other down and so he waits.

He'll wait until he sees her, until they are face to face and can figure out what they are

doing and if they should keep doing it.

He places the phone back on the receiver and stares up at the ceiling. He needs

to talk but most of the players are out at the bars or watching videos and he doesn't think

they would much like to listen. They're not much on poetry either and even if they

secretly harbor inclinations towards meter and rhyme, he does not want them to try to

infer anything from it. "You say your woman wrote this... hmm." They already know

something is wrong with him; he shouldn't give them more things to believe.

He picks up the phone again and dials Doctor Ebbets' number. He begins to

wonder how much the doctor will charge for these phone conversations, if he treats them

as regular sessions. When he hears the doctor's voice on the other end of the line, Troy

suddenly does not know how to tell him about the New Yorker poem. It is the doctor's

job to analyze things, to look deeper than the surface meaning, and Troy does not want to

tell him anything about the poem. He does not want to hear the doctor tell him about










how fiction is just the truth filtered through the subconscious or nonsense like that. But

now the doctor is on the line and Troy has nothing to say and so he tries to make small

talk. He tells him about the plane ride and the weather, how there' s nothing on the TV

tonight. Dr. Ebbets happily discusses all of this with Troy, seems delighted to talk about

anything. Dr. Ebbets says that he is beginning to think about getting his own place, feels

he is almost ready to leave his parents but it still may take some time. They talk for an

hour before Troy finally decides to ask for the doctor's advice.

"Doctor, I also had a little something I needed to tell you. I need some help

with something which is kind of the reason I called."

"This isn't just a friendly call, Troy?"

"No...I mean yes but only sort of. It was a friendly call but I was hoping we

could then maybe have a mini-session or something."

"Well, that's fine. I guess we should focus on our professional obligations for

now. What is the problem?"

"Sue Bee got a poem published in the New Yorker. A baseball poem."

"I see. And you are feeling much like you felt after the Atlantic Monthly

poem?"

"Sort of. Well, I still feel unhappy that's she's focusing on baseball for her

material now that it' s become such a bad spot for me."

"Yes. Kind of like she' s mining your pain for her artistic benefit."

"I reckon that' s part of it. But also this one feels a little too personal, like she' s

revealing things about us that may or may not be true. And even if it' s not true, people










will think it is because she's married to me and I'm a baseball player and this poem's

about a baseball player."

"Guilt by association, yes. Well, that' s understandable."

"And also, she never told me about it. She didn't tell me she had sold the

poem."

"Ah! We have an issue with trust as well. Well, Troy, that's a big problem I

think. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, in my opinion. Even you and me. I

expect you to tell me the truth in how you are feeling and that is why we are able to

communicate. It' s no different with a marriage. I can understand your unhappiness."

"Well, I just don't know how to approach it. I know I have to talk to her about

it but I just want to make sure I do it the right way."

"Perhaps you should just wait for her to bring it up, see how long she can carry

this along with her. It might reveal her intentions with this marriage a little more

clearly."

"I guess I could do that. Still, I reckon that' s a bit too passive-aggressive it

seems. I feel like I should be honest with her, to show her how important honesty is to

our relationship."

"That' s another way I suppose. Look, Troy, I don't want to besmirch the

reputation of your wife but she seems to be a classic pain opportunist."

"Oh no, she's not like that really. I feel like I'm giving her a bad name. She's a

wonderful woman and I do love her. It's just I feel like this has been a crazy season and

as a result our marriage has been a little crazy."










"Well, do what you think is right. We can maybe discuss this more at our next

session."

"Thanks, doctor. I hate calling you all the time, but I really do appreciate

having someone I can talk to. You can charge me for the whole call tonight, even the

talking we did at the beginning."

"Troy, I'm not going to charge for any of this. Think of this as an exchange of

advice between friends."

"Well, I do appreciate that, doctor."

"Cause we are friends, aren't we, Troy?"

"(I reckon we are now, yeah."

"That' s nice to hear. I hope you have a good night and remember, Troy,

whatever happens on the field tomorrow has no bearing on you as a person. Right?"

"I'll try to remember that."

After he hangs up the phone, Troy wants to call Sue Bee, just to try to clear the

air. Maybe fly her down to Boston so they can be together, maybe try to get some alone

time in the hotel at night. However, he keeps hearing what Dr. Ebbets said, about Sue

Bee being a pain opportunist. He feels that maybe he is just a bruised muse for her. He

realizes it' s crazy anyway, should just wait until he gets back to Toronto so he can collect

his thoughts. He turns on the TV and watches the scores for today's games, sees himself

taking pitches and watches the quick grimaces that sweep across his face. As if

remembering the aches in his body by watching it on TV, he takes another pain pill and

begins to drift off, hears his name on the TV but doesn't stay awake to hear what the

announcers say. The world turns itself off by degrees and Troy waits for tomorrow.
















CHAPTER 12

"People are treating packs of Topps baseball cards like Willy Wonka bars since the
Breckenridge card came out. I 've got grown men ordering boxes of cards trying to find
one. I'm not joking when I saysss~~~~~ssss that people are paying eighty to a hundred bucks for one.
People figure it 's going to be a rare card, seeing as how it 's not even certain he can even
last to the end of this season. "
- Larry Weintraub, sports-card authority and owner ofLarry 's League of Sports
Memorabilia, about the updated Topps 1989 set which includes a Troy Breckenridge
rookie card

On the off day before the Boston game, Troy spends it walking a piece of the

Freedom Trail, to clear his thoughts. The summer sun seems to soak into the cobblestone

of the city and Troy sees the waves of heat move in tiny measures as he walks past

historical buildings and trinket shops. He is beginning to wish he hadn't worn the long-

sleeve linen shirt and khakis but he does not want people to see the bruises. He figures

that baseball-sized bruises will help people place his face a little easier and so he sweats

as a tradeoff.

After he has seen enough of American history, he walks over to Fanueil Hall

and walks through the long hallway of food shops on either side. He gets a spinach

calzone and a coke and goes outside to sit on a bench. As he alternates bites of the

calzone with sips of his drink, Troy feels more relaxed than he has in weeks, begins to

wish he had more days off on the road trips. The day is pleasant and the motion of

people all concerned with something else lets him enjoy the moment. The game is

tomorrow but he thinks nothing of it now, and though he can still remember lines from

Sue Bee's poem, it seems to be less and less about him as he sits there.










When he finishes his meal, he notices a small boy, about six or seven years old,

hovering near him. He is wearing a Batman t-shirt and his hair is spiky with gel, and he

seems to be waiting for Troy to acknowledge him. Troy nods, wiping his hands with his

napkin, and then motions to the boy. The boy looks back at who Troy assumes to be his

parents, who tell him to go ahead, and the boy walks cautiously over to Troy. "Mr.

Breckenridge," he asks softly, "could I maybe have your autograph?" He holds out a pen

and a card and Troy tells him that would be fine, feels happy to maybe make this kid's

day. He asks the boy whom he should make it out to, but the boy instantly replies, "No

personalizations. Just your name." His voice sounds older now, more mature, and Troy

looks at the card he has been handed.

It' s a picture of him, his name at the bottom of the card in a blue wave. It shows

him turning away from a pitch, just seconds before it hits him. He studies the white blur

of the ball and then looks at his face, the tightened expectancy. The boy asks him if he

could get that autograph sometime today. Troy cannot stop staring at the card, feels that

no matter what he does this season or the next or ever, there is always proof that he

played baseball, something to remind people. He asks the boy if maybe he could sign a

baseball for him and keep this card. "Yeah, if you wanna pay me fifty bucks for that

card. More if you sign it." He feels the sudden urge to tell the kid to fuck off, but then

he notices the boy's family just a few steps away. Troy checks his wallet but he only has

thirty and the kid isn't budging on the price. So, Troy signs his name diagonally across

the card and hands it back to the kid, who nods. He tells Troy to keep it up and then runs

back over to his parents, who are waving at Troy. He waves back.










Things get even worse the next day. Against Roger Clemens, Troy gives up as

much of the plate as he possibly can. He does not like the power pitchers, knows always

that they will bring the heat and then he will have to take it. And these are the pitchers

who never ease up, unfortunately, always thinking that they can throw it so hard that the

ball has no choice but to go down the strike zone. It makes Troy long for knuckleball

pitchers, that slow easy release and falling arc that allows you to prepare yourself for it.

It still hits him of course, always seems to knuckle towards him, but it' s just easier.

He looks out into left and stares at the giant expanse of green wall that seems to

block the sky. He thinks about sending a pitch over the Green Monster, sailing far right

of the yellow foul pole and over the wall. He is no longer focused on the game, is only

looking out towards left field, and this becomes his safety zone, something to make him

forget what is about to happen. Because it is about to happen.

Troy closes his eyes as the ball comes at him, his eyelids fluttering as if caught

in rapture. He realizes something, in the flash before rawhide meets skin. He can feel the

ball moving towards him and with his eyes closed, his senses reduced by one, he feels

something vibrating inside him. He feels it hum like a tuning fork struck soundly and he

knows this is what the ball understands, gravitates towards. He feels it like a diviner feels

the water move from the ground up to his fingertips. But he will not remember any of

this because the ball still has to hit him. And it does.

The sound at the center of the impact is hollow, moving in concentric circles

like the ripples in a lake. Troy does not hear it at all, feels only the warmth spread from

the base of his neck and rise into his brain. The ball glances off the back of his helmet,

just behind his left ear, and he does not yet know that he is falling. He is still holding










onto the bat, still gripping it, and as he falls to the ground, his head bounces off the bat,

just below his right eye, and Troy hears the cheering but he does not know if it is real or

not and he does not much care.

The dugout in Fenway Park is always damp. Troy does not understand this

about most ballparks, but the dugouts are usually wet, as if a small body of water hides

underneath the field. The back of Troy's head is soaking wet now and the water smells

like moss and cobwebs. He turns his head and listens to the floorboards creek and

realizes he is staring at a row of cleats circled around him, tapping to different cadences.

He stares back up and sees the ceiling of the dugout and then, his vision moving out, the

faces of his teammates slowly gaining clarity.

"Boy...boy are you okay down there?" asks Jimy Williams. "You awake?"

Troy wonders how long he has been on the floor of the dugout. He pushes himself up

onto one arm and feels his head swim inside itself. Leon kneels down to steady him.

"Jesus Christ, man, that was unbelievable. You took a 97 mile-per-hour fastball in the

head...in the head."

Leon pulls Troy up to his feet and leads him over to a corner of the bench.

Some players scoot over to make room, scooting over even more than is necessary.

"Holy Jeez, you got hit and then I ran over and lit you up with some smelling salts. Well,

you bolted right up and started walking over to first base, but Jimy said to take you out of

the game. I think you may have a concussion." Troy is feeling the two points of pain in

his head, one in the back and one in the front. "Oh yeah," Leon continues, "you must

have hit yourself with your bat when you fell cause you got a shiner like nobody's

business under you eye."










The players start to move back to the bench to watch the game, losing interest

now that Troy appears to be okay. Leon helps Troy over to the bench as well and Troy

watches the inning progress, not knowing a single fact about the game going on. When

the Jays' half of the inning ends, Troy begins to snap on his catcher' s equipment, draping

the chest protector over his Kevlar-padded j ersey. Pat Borders, the other catcher for the

Jays, walks over to Troy and mumbles something, holds out his hand. Troy does not pay

any attention. "Hey, Troy," Pat says again, "I need that stuff. I'm catching today."

"Since when," Troy fires back, still getting on the gear. "Well, since a month ago, give

or take. You're the DH now, remember?" Troy stares up at Pat's fleshy face and curly

hair while Pat keeps looking over at Jimy Williams for help. Pat Borders is your typical

under-achieving catcher, half a step slow and always frantically looking to the coach for

the sign. Troy does not like him but Pat may very well be right. "Don't you remember,

Troy?" Troy looks back at his equipment, and then back to Pat. "Obviously not," he

replies, and begins to snap the equipment off, handing each piece back to Borders,

sl owly.

As the inning progresses, Troy notices the fuzziness at the edge of his vision, the

slight pain at the base of his skull. He wants to take something for it but his pills are in

the locker room. He starts opening and closing his left hand uncontrollably. After a

while, enough time for Troy to begin to worry, he goes over to Jimy Williams. "Coach?

Coach, could I ask you something?" Jimy Williams doesn't turn around to face Troy, as

if embarrassed to meet his gaze. He continues to look out to the field. "Troy, you can

ask me something but I don't know if I can answer the kind of things you want to know."

Troy asks the manager about why he wasn't taken to the hospital or something else that










seems medically responsible for someone who was hit in the head and knocked

unconscious. Jimy Williams informs him that Troy himself told them that he was fine

and only needed to lie down in the dugout. "But isn't that the worst thing for someone

with a possible head injury?" Jimy Williams shrugs his shoulders and continues to stare

at the game at hand. "Mine is not to reason why, Troy. You know?"

Troy says that he'd like to be examined now and Jimy Williams says he thinks

that would be great and tells Troy to go to the locker room. "Those medical guys will

know what to do, I betcha. You take care now, Troy, and we'll see you tomorrow. We

may still win this one yet." Troy walks down the long runway back to Fenway's tiny,

cramped visitors' clubhouse. The team doctor is waiting, pacing in circles. "Let' s get

you to Mass General, how about that?" Troy only nods, feels something sick stir in his

stomach, and lets himself be led to a waiting ambulance.

He sits in the back of the ambulance as the sirens blare softly, competing with

the ringing already in his head. He wonders if he will be able to play tomorrow, or ever.

He thinks it might not be so bad but then he thinks about his current state. He still needs

to get a hit, he still has to keep playing, and he tries to tell the team doctor that he is fine

but the doctor shakes his head. "I don't think so this time Troy. I think this isn't so

good." And this time, Troy can do nothing but agree with him, lie back and wait for the

ride to end.
















CHAPTER 13

At Mass General Hospital, Troy talks with a neurologist, who takes his blood to

check the oxygen level and does the vital tests, flashlight in the eyes and so on. The

doctor takes out a sharpie and puts it in Troy's right hand. "Now, let's see how your

motor skills are responding. Maybe you could write your name." Troy looks for a piece

of paper and the doctor hands him a baseball card, another Topps card of Troy. "I mean,

if you want to," the doctor tells him. Troy has no interest in upsetting the man dealing

with his well being, so he signs the name with no problems.

They give him a CAT Scan and while he waits, the team doctor sits with him in

the hospital room, nervously tapping his foot. "Hospital give me the darndest creeps.

Never liked them. That' s why I took up sports medicine, less of this in-and-out

uncertainty you get as a hospital doctor. Sports injuries are pretty straightforward. A

torn this or a fractured that. Well, except for you of course."

Finally, the doctor steps into the room, holding a bunch of pictures that Troy

assumes are of his brain and a tray of food. His brain looks fine enough to him, the right

size and dimensions at least. "Do you mind if I eat," asks the doctor, "a long night." As

he takes bites of a turkey sandwich, the doctor asks if Troy has ever had a concussion

before and Troy nods. "And what was the cause that particular time?" Troy tells him

that it was an inside fastball, and the doctor nods, writes something on his notepad. He

takes a sip of milk and finishes off the French fries on his plate. When he is done, he

turns to Troy, looking serious. "Well, Troy, you have a Grade 3 concussion here,