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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
Michael Kevin Wilson
Dedicated to Debbie, Kelly, and Kristen Wilson, who made me.
And Leigh Anne Couch, who keeps me.
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
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
Michael Kevin Wilson
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"Actually, it's all over the TV. You should see the newspaper. They have this
thing, this counter or something that..."
"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
"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?"
"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
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
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
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
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. "
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
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,
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
"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
"You mean like the-"
"The rushing the pitcher and the sliding into first base."
"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."
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
"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."
"And that doctor says you're fine right?"
"He seems rightly optimistic, yes sir."
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
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
"I thought you went to see some head shrink about this. I thought you were
"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
"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
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.
"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,
"I reckon you watched the game today."
"I did yes."
"And so you saw...all that."
"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
"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?"
"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
"Just clippings I've cut out from various places. It' s more a scrapbook I
"Tell me, Troy."
"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."
"Well, goodnight, Troy. I will see you next week."
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 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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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,
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.
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,