Rain Outby Stephen Shane
The afternoon game had been rained out in the third inning. Lopez watched from the dugout as the last of the crowd made for the exits under their umbrellas and open newspapers and the field hands rolled the black tarp over the infield.
They'd lost the morning game but Lopez felt all right about how he'd played. It was the first time in weeks he'd been able to put a solid swing on the ball and if he was ever going to get called up it wouldn't be for wins and losses. The important thing was he was hitting again. He'd felt comfortable at the plate and he'd hit the ball hard and the hits had fallen. All he had to do now was find a rhythm.
The players were in the locker room when the power went out in the stadium. There were hoots and whistles in the pitch dark. Lopez opened his phone and the soft blue glow of the screen lit his face and the shadows around him. He checked his messages. She hadn't called. Not that he'd expected her to, it just seemed like a few things had gone right today.
The emergency lights flashed on over the doors. Dobbins emerged from the showers holding a towel around his waist, his flip-flops slapping the wet floor.
"Hell with this town," he said.
"I don't even know where we are," Lopez said.
"Yeah, well wherever it is, I'm not coming back."
The rain was sheeting off the windows as the bus pulled up at the motel. Davis was sitting in the back away from the rest of team, his glove open over his face, a bag of ice taped around his left shoulder. In his palm he slowly turned a baseball, tracing the stitching with the tips of his fingers.
Lopez knew there wasn't any point in trying to talk to him. Eight runs in one-and-a-third innings. There was nothing to say to a pitcher after a shelling like that.
"Like hell you're batting three-twenty," Espinoza said.
"Three-twenty-seven," Dobbins said. "I keep all my own stats."
"Well there you go."
"Let's make it an early night, gents." Reed, the manager, stood watching the players file off the bus, a wad of chew bulging his lower lip. He spat into an empty water bottle. "We got a nine hour drive tomorrow and I don't need anybody bitching and moaning. I'll drop your ass off on some dirt road in western Pennsylvania, don't think I won't Dobbins. Left fielders come cheap these days. And Lopez, nice swinging out there."
"It felt good, coach," Lopez said.
"I'll bet it did. You were due."
"Davis is still back there."
Reed nodded, spat. "I see him."
"Leave his ass," Espinoza said under his breath. "Might help our record."
Dobbins spread the word for everyone to bring anything they had to drink over to his room and the players shouldered their gear and jogged through the rain to the motel, two crumbling stories painted a dull green and pink, the door to each room stenciled with a flaking palm tree. Lopez followed Espinoza up the stairwell to their room at the far end. He hit the light and a scattering of moths came alive off the curtains, fluttering in the sallow glow.
Lopez flopped face down on his mattress.
"You're not tired," Espinoza said. "Come on, get up."
"How long you think it takes for a comforter to smell like this?"
"Quit putting your face in it. Roll over."
"The trick is to never sleep under the covers. Always on top."
"Wish it were March already and we had a final roster. It's painful watching guys like Davis keep trying." Espinoza had dug a handful of shooters out of his duffel and was feeling around the lining for more. "You coming?"
"Yeah I'll be down in a few."
Espinoza zipped up his windbreaker, the pockets sagging and clicking with the little bottles. "You know you got nothing to worry about," he said. "Keep hitting like you did today, you'll be starting at short the rest of the season."
"No, none of this hope so bullshit. Batter up. Come on downstairs."
"I'll see you down there."
"Half an hour," Espinoza said. "Then I'm coming back to drag you out."
He pulled the door shut. Lopez rolled over and lay there looking up at the moths and a piss-colored stain on ceiling. He took out his phone, scrolled to Heather's number, and pressed the call button. He let it ring once, then hung up.
A few months ago she'd taken off from work and followed the team on the road for a string of games. She thought it'd be fun travelling from town to town, staying in motels, eating in diners along the way. She thought it'd help not spending so much time away from each other. It was a romantic idea, like floodlights at a night game or the flag over the scoreboard. But road trips are a grind, day in, day out, and the motels all look the same. After the first of a three game series in Syracuse, Heather drove back by herself without telling him she was going. She called and left a message from the road.
"It felt the same," she said. "It felt the same as when you're home. You always feel that far away."
Lopez got up and took the glove out of his bat bag and lay back with it open over his face. He breathed in the smell of the leather, trying to remember where the next game was. Somewhere nine hours away. And all that empty land, the burnt yellow fields of grass and weeds, the dead industrial towns, all flying past the bus windows.
It was easier not to call during the day. There were other things to concentrate on. But when he got home in the evening after practice or a game, that was when the apartment felt most empty. Heather had moved out weeks ago and there were still times half-awake he'd see her naked figure moving across their bedroom in the dark. He'd hear her get up first for work in the morning, her soft singing from the shower, her smell still there on the sheets, and then the silence after she left.
Lopez woke to a heavy thump on the roof. He opened his eyes. The stain on the ceiling looked like it was growing damp but he couldn't be sure.
There was a rush of shouts outside the room. He went to the door and opening it saw a baseball streak past down the walkway. There was the pop of a glove and someone yelled "relay-relay-relay!" and the ball whistled back the way it came, skipping off the walkway and smashing into the motel wall.
"Fucking catch the ball, Hobbes!"
"Throw me a strike and I'll catch it."
"How'd you ever get drafted not knowing how to turn a relay?"
"I see two of them every time. I need a glove for the other hand too."
Lopez went across their throwing lane to the railing where the rain poured in a thin curtain off the eave. There were a handful of players in the parking lot, all soaked to their skin and looking up at the roof, waiting for something. Then there was the crack of a bat and a ball soared into the gray wilting sky, cresting, and falling back to the parking lot as the players wrestled for position, their gloves held open. Espinoza shouldered another player out of the way and made a basket catch at his waist.
"That's three!" He threw the ball back up to the roof.
"Gonna make you work for this one," Dobbins called down.
Another crack. The pop fly took off for the back of the lot. Espinoza was the only one who went for it. He slid across the hood of a car and the ball dropped just out of his reach and banged around the bed of a truck.
"Should've been caught!" Dobbins yelled.
Espinoza groaned and picked himself up off the pavement. "Lost it in the sun," he said.
"I don't need excuses, Espo. I need outs!"
Hobbes came over, his catcher's mitt overflowing with shooters. He uncorked a tequila.
"Where you been, Lo?"
"Just woke up."
Hobbes took a sip and winced. "Shit," he said. "I fall asleep now, I'm not waking up for a week."
Dobbins swung again. He shanked the ball down into the lot and smashed a car window. The players scattered, swearing over their shoulders at Dobbins as he clambered down the fire escape. Hobbes dropped his mitt and took for the stairs, spilling little bottles all over the walkway. Lopez picked up a bourbon, unscrewed the cap, and sipped, watching his teammates gather across the street. They were laughing now, clapping each other on the back, stumbling off in search of a bar.
Lopez thought of going after them. It seemed like too much of an effort, more than he had left for the night. He remembered he'd left his phone in the room. Not that it mattered. Heather would've seen his missed call by now and ignored it like she did the others. She'd be home from work, maybe having dinner or getting ready to go out. He saw her there in front of the closet mirror holding the blue patterned dress he'd bought her. She shook her head and hung it back up.
Something shattered below. Lopez leaned over the railing. At the other end of the parking lot stood a man barefoot in boxers and an undershirt holding a baseball bat. It was Davis, the plastic bag of what had once been ice still taped and sloshing around his shoulder. He took a couple listless cuts at the rain as if to loosen up, mumbling to himself. Then he yelled, "Beautiful night for a ballgame here at Jacobs Field, ladies and gents!"
He reached down for one of the beer bottles standing on the pavement. The weight of his upper body almost toppled him.
"One out, top of the second, runners on the corners. Davis has already given up seven runs. God knows why they haven't pulled him. But let's see, maybe he'll get lucky here with a double play ball. And the lefty deals."
Davis tossed the bottle into the air and blasted it with a looping swing.
"And that's smoked into the left field gap! One hop and it's off the wall and that'll bring around another and the score's now eight to zip. Eight fucking runs, somebody do something."
He dropped the bat. The wood rang hollow off the pavement.
"Kind of late for batting practice," Lopez called down.
Davis's head lolled back. "I have a tireless work ethic," he said.
Lopez came down the stairwell. He stood under the walkway out of the rain.
"I've never been to Jacobs Field," he said.
"I've never been to Wrigley," Davis said. "You ever been to Wrigley?"
"Once, long time ago. I was little. My dad and I were on a road trip and we stopped to see games all along the way. Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago."
"They used to sell two dollar tickets the day of the game at The Jake. Always put us way the hell up there." Davis looked up at some distant seats in the clouds.
"But then you just wait an inning and sneak on down to one of the baselines," Lopez said.
Davis picked up another bottle and went to take a drink but it was empty. Bits of glass had sprayed into his bare neck and face and the cuts dribbled a watery red. He dragged the bat upright, propping himself on it like a cane.
"You know what my problem is? It's not that I'm not good enough."
He tossed the bottle, swung, and missed. It shattered at his feet.
"Fucking curveball," he said.
"Careful," Lopez said.
But Davis was already walking. After two steps he staggered and tried to lift his foot to look at it and lost his balance. Lopez ran out and pulled him up under the arm and carried him toward the building.
"Who took my shoes?" Davis said.
"What's your room number?"
Davis looked down the walkway. "Let's ask someone," he said, and started to pound on the closest door.
Lopez dragged him to the stairwell, Davis's dead weight slowly sinking off his shoulder. When they got to the room Lopez pushed the door open and let him slide down onto the carpet where he lay blinking at the ceiling.
"This isn't it," Davis said. "My room had blue skies."
"I know it did. Let me see that foot."
Lopez lifted Davis's leg, cradling the calf. There was a shard of bloodied glass half-buried in the heel.
"I'm on my way out," Davis said.
"You're not going anywhere. Just shut up a second."
Lopez brought his duffel out onto the bed and shuffled through the clothes for the toiletry kit.
"I'm not going back with the team," Davis said. "Not going to sit around waiting for coach to call me to his office."
Lopez took Davis's foot in his hand and gripped the exposed edge of glass with a pair of tweezers and pulled.
"All it takes is one walk," Davis said. "One hit and I get shook."
"Everybody has off days."
"You just think I'm drunk."
"You are drunk."
"It'll happen to you too." Davis wiped his eyes, smearing the blood from the cuts on his face. "Even if you make it to the show, someday someone'll tell you you can't play anymore. They'll take it away from you."
"Come on," Lopez said. "Let's get you cleaned up."
He helped Davis to the bathroom and sat him on the toilet with his foot resting in the tub and ran the warm water. He lifted Davis's head by the chin and picked out the splinters of glass with the tweezers. Davis watched, flinching weakly, his bloodshot eyes struggling to focus.
"I was better than good enough," he said.
"You still are."
Davis smiled. "Watching the ball go over the fence won't bring it back."
The bathwater had gone a faint red. Lopez dampened a washcloth and started to clean Davis's face.
"You're alright," he said. "Just let that foot soak a while."
The door to the room was still open. Lopez walked out to the railing and stood watching the rain. He tried to remember Wrigley Field, the deep green stripes of the mown grass, the ivy covering the brick fence, the rooftop stands across the street. He remembered tall bodies walking all around him as he held his father's hand in the crowd. He saw the shade creeping over the infield dirt as the sun dropped behind the old scoreboard, and he heard his father's voice telling him to watch the short-stop's footwork, how smooth he made it look, like a dance.
"Actually I always thought it was kind of a boring game to watch," she'd said. "I go to watch you. That's never boring for me."
Heather lay with her head on his chest, her eyes closed. The glare from the TV flashed over them in the dark. He was watching the last inning of a game on mute.
"I get nervous for you," she said.
The cars in the parking lot shined wet in the lamplight. Lopez could see a red traffic light strung out on the wind, swinging over the intersection.
There were some things no one ever took away from you, he thought. Some things you just lost on your own.
He went back inside and pulled the door shut. Davis was in the tub, his head resting on the ledge, the damp washcloth laid over his eyes.
"How you feeling?" Lopez said.
"Like someone just picked glass out of my face."
There was a low rumble of thunder. The bathroom lights flickered off then on again.
"My brother and I used to spend our summers at Jacobs Field," Davis said. "We'd walk to the ballpark. Tried to see every game we could."
"Not a bad way to spend a summer."
"That team used to kill me. Always losing heartbreakers by one or two runs."
"Yeah, but those are the games that keep you coming back."
"I guess," Davis said. "Sure made for some long walks home though."