As Dizzy and I walked to school, I couldn’t help but look at him a little closer. Everyone’s so quick to write him off as the class clown. No one notices how thoughtful and caring he is. All they see is jokes and stupid antics. Sure, he’s partially at fault for his reputation, but even when he’s trying his hardest, people don’t take him seriously. One day they’ll see that. They’ll see what he achieves and wonder how the goofy kid from high school made it that far, but for now, he’s still Dizzy Armstrong.
“What?” He asked with a confused look as he noticed my stare.
“Nothing.” I couldn’t help but smile as he worked on his second donut of the morning. Adam insisted that we only have one, but somehow Dizzy made sure to snatch another before we walked out of the house.
“Oh, I know what.” He smirked as he flashed me a wink.
I shook my head, but had to hold back some laughter. “You have frosting all over your face.” I pointed out as his smirk grew.
“Saving it for later.” He teased, before reaching up with the sleeve of his jacket and wiping it off.
“Dizzy!” I exclaimed at his childish actions. “That’s disgusting!”
“Oh please, it washes out.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Besides, I have two more of these jackets back home.”
“Of course you do,” I rolled my eyes. “and I bet they all have frosting stains.”
“Oh trust me,” He began, starting to crack up with laughter before he could get his words out. “that’s not frosting!”
“That barely even makes sense!” I yelped as I turned away to hide a smile. “What’s the matter with you this morning?” I asked, but had a hard time not laughing at his joke.
“I don’t know,” He confessed as he looked back over at me. “you’ve just got me feeling some kind of way these past couple weeks Artie Price.”
We’ve been dating for a while now, but I couldn’t help but blush at his words as he grabbed my hand and led me the rest of the way to school. I’d never really been late before. I’ve had a couple close calls, and that one time Charlotte had to help me find my homeroom, but today we’re walking in nearly three hours after the first bell!
“What was it today Dizzy?” The secretary asked as we walked into the front office. “Aliens invade the city again?” She asked in an unamused voice, no doubt quoting an excuse he had given at some point this year.
“Ripped another tag off a mattress.” He shrugged his shoulders as he handed her our late notes. “Believe it or not police really care about that.”
“I’m sure they do.” The secretary groaned as she carefully scanned the note.
“Artie and Dizzy?” Mrs. Mowry called out as she walked out of the doorway that connected the front office to the faculty room. “Nice of you two to join us.”
“We took a left when we should’ve gone right.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders, drawing a confused stare from me.
“These boys in your homeroom?” The secretary asked, offering her our notes before Mrs. Mowry could even answer the question.
“Yup.” Mrs. Mowry answered as she took the notes and began to read them over. “So you both have the same note, from the same person?”
“I tried to tell Adam it was wasteful.” Dizzy commented, while watched for Mrs. Mowry’s reaction closely.
“Yes ma’am.” I said, finally answering her question. “It’s from my Uncle. Dizzy stayed at my house last night.”
“We’re dating.” Dizzy explained, continuing to share whatever popped into his mind.
“Can you stop?” I asked as I turned back to him. “You’re not helping.” I warned, drawing a small laugh from the secretary.
“You boys realize this is kind of suspicious, right?” Mrs. Mowry asked. “You’re three hours late and both notes just say, Artie or Dizzy will be late to school today.”Dizzy couldn’t help but chuckle as he heard her words. “Usually we ask that parents or guardians at least give early notice if they know a student is going to be this late.”
“I’m sorry, my Uncle is still a little new to all of this.” I tried to explain, but knew it wasn’t helping.
“They had a family issue that carried over to this morning.” Dizzy spoke, finally taking the situation seriously. “Adam should’ve written that we’d be late for personal reasons, but he really likes to keep things private.” He continued to explain. “We’ll tell him to call next time, but he honestly didn’t know.”
“You can call him now if you want.” I tried to offer. “He won’t mind.”
“It’s alright.” Mrs. Mowry finally accepted as she handed the notes back to the secretary. “But please do make sure he calls next time.” She warned before turning to Dizzy. “And we all know you’re just trying to stall before you have to go to class.” She exhaled. “So please, keep the jokes to yourself today and just go where you’re supposed to be.”
“Yes ma’am.” Dizzy answered before I could.
“Sorry,” I offered as he began to walk away. “he’s, you know.”
“We know.” Mrs. Mowry laughed as she nodded her head. “But he’s also a very bright young man when he wants to be!” She called out to him.
Dizzy kept walking, but I knew the compliment meant a lot to him. He hasn’t exactly made a strong case for being more than a class clown this morning. He’s been loud, fidgety and driving the school nuts! But no matter what, I’ll always see him as more than jokes.Besides, who couldn’t use a good laugh every now and then?
The half of the school day we were there for flew by. During lunch, Dizzy and I filled in Ky and Charlotte on why we were late, but made sure to make Adam’s and my argument sound less like a fight and more like a debate. I appreciate all the support their giving me, but they don’t need to see our dirty laundry. Besides, who doesn’t fight with their parents, or I guess, Uncle?
When baseball rolled around I started to feel better, that is, until I saw Mason, Adam and Lindsay sitting in the bleachers! Sure, they’ve been to my games before, but right now things just feel a little different. Adam and I patched things up, but I really don’t want to let him down right now. I’m putting him through so much stress as it is, I can’t have him come watch me play baseball for a few hours just to blow it!
“Artie,” Jose called out as he noticed me staring off in the dugout. “you ready to go?”
“Yeah,” I lied as I shook my head. “just trying to focus.”
Jose nodded, but studied me carefully. “It’s not too late to teach you that breathing I was telling you about.”
I let out a sigh as I thought it over. “Alright.” I finally accepted. “How do I do it?”
“Sweet!” He exclaimed as he slid down the bench to get closer to me. “So the basic idea is that you move your focus to your breathing, not your thoughts.” He began to teach. “Instead of thinking about the play, you’re breathing and just reacting.”
“Oh,” I let out as I quickly thought it over. “like I said yesterday, I don’t know if I’m good enough to do that.”
“You’re one of the best players on this team, if you’re not good enough to go off your reactions, then neither am I.” He shut down, not even willing to hear any of my insecurities. “Trust me. Your body knows what to do.”
“Alright.” I accepted, before growing quiet to let him speak.
“So up at the plate, it’s simple,” He began again. “As the ball is leaving the pitchers hand, you just exhale.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Just like, a simple breath.” He tried to explain. “Just a relaxed long sigh.” He repeated before giving me an example. “Your body will be focused on that breath and your mind will be free to react to the pitch.”
“That’s it?” I asked, amazed at how simple his advice was.
“If breathing was complicated, I don’t think humans would be around this long.” He teased, but I could tell he wasn’t finished yet. “In the field it is kind of different though,” He continued his lesson. “it’s more situational, so whenever you feel distracted, you do it.” He warned. “It’s just an inhale through your nose for three seconds, then hold your breath for two and exhale it through your mouth for five seconds.”
I nodded my head before trying it out myself. “Just like that.” He encouraged. “You might not feel a difference right away, but if you keep doing it, it’ll free your mind up.”
“Okay.” I accepted, unsure how much I believed him. I know he said it works for him, but it still feels kind of crazy! Where I’m from we just played baseball! No one thought about breathing, you were just good or you weren’t! Then again, back home they also told me I made a better girl than baseball player, so maybe they’re not the best judges!
He couldn’t help but laugh as he saw the look on my face. “Come on Price,” He offered a smile. “stop thinking and let’s play some fucking baseball!” I nodded but as I stood up and grabbed my glove, I felt him give me a strong shove. “Let’s fucking go boys!” He began to shout to the team.
“This is our chance!” He yelled, grabbing their attention. “No waiting for someone else to step up and get it done, it falls on us today!” He encouraged as everyone began to gather around us. “Three games left, that’s all we’ve fucking got.” He warned, as even the coaches began to look over. “Win or lose, you leave it all on that god damn diamond.”
“Today,” He began again, slowly making his way towards the dugout steps. “we start clawing our way into the playoffs.” He smiled one last time as he looked back at us. “Now let’s fucking go!” He shouted again, his adrenaline now too high to come up with anything else.
Watching baseball growing up, I always thought about what it’d be like to be a part of a team. To have so many people pushing one another forward. Well now I know what that feels like, and I won’t let them down. Out of our three games left, we only have to win two to make the playoffs. We can do this. I can do this.
As we took our spots on the field, the game finally started. I looked over at Dizzy for support, but as I saw Adam I felt all the doubts about Ezra starting to rise in my mind. I tried my hardest to dismiss them, but as I watched a ball fly over me and go foul, I knew I needed to try Jose’s advice.
At first it didn’t help that much, I felt calmer but the thoughts were still there. Until finally, I exhaled a deep breath and noticed a ground ball quickly coming my way. The second I scooped it up, and threw it to first, I instantly saw what Jose was talking about. My movements just felt like they were flowing out of me. I didn’t have to think about what I was doing, I just did it!
As my confidence began to rise, I could feel my play getting better and better. I’ll never be able to carry my team to a win the way Jose can, but you’d better believe I’m trying. I made every at bat I got count, even if I only got a single, well I made sure to steal second. If a ball came my way in the field, I threw out the runner before he could even look my way.
Best of all, I did it with the same emotion Jose was showing. Sure, we drew a few angry glances from the other team and their parents, but who cares? Jose and I are out here having fun and grinding our butts off, you bet we’re going to let that show! Pretty soon that emotion spread through our team, creating one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in.
Yet as the game wound down, and we found ourselves down by one run, I couldn’t help but feel my heart beat faster. I watched our last batter carefully, as he tried his hardest to calmly walk himself through the motions. He worked a full count, just like he should’ve, until the pressure started to get to him. As a fastball came in high, he panicked and swung under it, popping it straight up.
I had to look away as the ball came down, right into the first basemen’s glove. I let out a deep breath before biting my tongue, and turning around to get my stuff together.
“Alright boys,” Our coach called out, trying his hardest to hide his own disappointment. “I know this was a heartbreaker, but there’s a lot of great things we can build on.”He tried to encourage. “Our offense was explosive, you boys did a great job of driving the ball deep and swiping extra bags.” He lectured, finally drawing my attention back. “But our defense was unacceptable. Way too many poor decisions and bad reactions.”
“Because of state testing, we don’t have another game until the end of next week.” He explained as his gaze started to drift over to me. “That gives us plenty of time to practice defense, and I expect certain players to step up and help their teammates improve.” As our eyes met, I nodded my head.
“I know this one hurts,” Coach exhaled, finally breaking eye contact and starting to look around the dugout. “but we’ve still got our shot at this, win these last two and we’re in.” He explained. “So rest up, get your heads on straight, and let’s get back to work.”
Some guys responded with a “Yeah”, others just nodded their heads as we all tried our hardest not to take the loss too personally. Yet with every passing minute, the loss began to sting more and more.
“You pissed off?” Jose asked, as we both began to make our way out of the dugout.
“Yup.” I forced out, not even looking over at him.
“Me too.” He grunted in a defeated voice. “But I remember when I first tried to recruit you.” He shook his head. “We had no playoff hopes, and I told you everything was just for fun.” He couldn’t help but laugh at his own words. “I think I liked baseball more back then.”
“Me too.” I exhaled, finally looking up. “Now it just feels like, like we have to prove ourselves.”
Jose nodded his head as he thought it over. “I don’t have anyone to prove myself to, do you?”
As his question bounced around my head, I couldn’t help but think of Ezra. I went to say yes, but as I saw Adam in the distance, shook my head. “No, I don’t think I do.”
“Then let’s have fun again.” He decided, but I could tell by his voice that he was still angry. “When we were having fun, we were winning.” He shrugged his shoulders. “We both played good, but we’re trying too hard, we’re forcing it.” He warned as his eyes locked with mine. “We let our emotions get the better of us.” He confessed. “This week, you work on helping the guys improve the defense and I’ll find ways to bring the fun back to our game.”
“Deal.” I accepted as he gave me a strong pat on the back.
“Baseball should be our escape,” He began again. “not the thing that makes us feel terrible.” I nodded my head, but nearly jumped as I felt him throw an arm around me and pull me in close. “We’ve got this kid, our team needs us to.”
“No!” I heard Dizzy playfully shout from the distance.
Jose let me go and looked over to where Dizzy was standing. “Now I see why you keep that kid around.” He said as a small smile cracked his face.
“He knows how to make people laugh.” I agreed, but noticed the smile quickly fade from Jose’s face. He’s trying his hardest to be strong, but this loss is bothering him more than anyone else on the team. I can just tell.
When we finally made our way to our families, Jose and I went our separate ways. Charlotte said a quick hello to me, and gave me a hug before handing me over to Dizzy and following after Jose.
“Hugging other guys Price?” Dizzy teased with gentle smile. “You trying to break my heart?” I shook my head but stayed quiet. “Alright.” He nodded his head, realizing he needed to change his approach.
“You played good,” Lindsay encouraged as our eyes connected. “I think that’s the best I’ve seen you play.”
“Thank you.” I was able to force out, but it was obvious I didn’t agree.
“I know you’re disappointed, but you’ve got another couple games left.” Adam began as we started to walk home. “You just have to put this one behind you, and keep moving.” He looked over to Mason for reassurance but it was clear he disagreed. “What?” Adam asked.
“Let the kid feel how he needs to.” Mason shrugged his shoulders. “Loses teach more than wins, so if he needs to keep thinking about it, let him.” He exhaled as his gaze moved over to me. “Just don’t stay in that place for too long,” He warned. “You played your ass off and wore your heart on your sleeve, sometimes that’s all we can do.”
Adam shot Lindsay a confused look, but she simply shrugged her shoulders. “What?” Mason asked, noticing the same thing as me.
“Since when are you a coach?” Adam questioned as their eyes connected.
“I don’t know,” Mason shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it’s just something I picked up after my high school football team won our second state championship.”
“You played football?” Dizzy asked in disbelief, as he carefully scanned Mason. Mason may not be the toughest guy I’ve ever met, but it doesn’t exactly surprise me he used to be an athlete. He’s taller than Adam and a bit more built, in fact, he’s still in pretty good shape.
“First string tight end and middle linebacker.” He proudly bragged. “I had a letterman jacket and cheerleader girlfriend.” He began to explain. I could still feel some anger from the loss, but would be lying if I said Mason’s story wasn’t distracting me from it.
“I’m sure you and her were very happy together.” Adam rolled his eyes, not as entertained by the story as Dizzy and me.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Mason objected. “she was pretty pissed that her boyfriend hated kissing her.” He teased, finally drawing a laugh from Adam. “But take it from a winner,” He continued to joke. “sometimes you need to take your loses before you can win.” As I nodded my head, I saw Mason look back to Adam. “Did I mention I won states twice with my high school football team?”
“You’re so obnoxious today!” Adam complained drawing a laugh from Lindsay.
“Adam’s finally getting what he deserves.” Lindsay said with a smile. “Not so fun when someone’s pushing your buttons, is it?”
“Not so fun…” Adam began to mock as we finally saw the house in the distance.
Sure, the house was a little crowded that night, but it was exactly what I needed. Adam, Lindsay and Mason all tried to cook together while Dizzy talked me into giving video games another chance. And honestly, I’m not too sure which one went worse!
We may not be the most traditional household, but I dare anyone walking by to find a house with more laughter and yelling than ours.
When the night finally wound down, and Lindsay, Mason and Dizzy headed home, I felt the sting from the loss returning to me. For a little while I stayed quiet and thought it all over, while Adam played the game Dizzy was trying to teach me.
“Do you think I could,” I started but stopped myself as moments from last night’s argument began to flash in my mind. “can I call Ezra?” I finally asked, but before I could even finish the question, Adam was handing me his phone.“Are you sure?” I double checked as I started to fall into my own head.
“Up to you.” He offered as he paused his game and looked over to me. “Like I said this morning, I’ll support you no matter what.”
I forced a small smile and nodded as I pulled up Ezra’s contact and hit the call button. “Arthur,” Ezra began as the other end clicked on. “I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you today.”
“Why’s that?” I asked, seeing what he’d say.
“Felt like I offended you and Adam yesterday.” He answered without hesitation. “And I apologize if I did, I’m just doing what I think is right.” He offered, but just like all the calls before, Adam wasn’t buying it.
There were a few moments of silence as I let Ezra’s words sink in. “So you had a game today,” He began again, moving onto the next topic. “how was that?”
“Frustrating.” I answered, unsure how to describe it. “We lost by one, and we really can’t afford to drop games like that right now.”
I heard him hum for a moment as he thought it over. “You said you had three games left and you have to win two, right?” He asked.
“Yeah.” I quickly answered, surprised that he had remembered. This whole time I figured he was just going through the motions and forcing small talk.
“Then it sounds like playoffs start early for you boys.” He encouraged as his voice grew louder. “No one knows how to handle must win games, but if you boys can string together two wins, you’ll be a very dangerous team.” He lectured. “Prove you boys can handle the pressure, that way when you make the playoffs, you don’t have to.”
“I didn’t think of it like that.” I confessed, eager to hear what else he had to say.
“Sometimes it’s all about perspective.” He continued to teach. “If a goal seems impossible, you just have to look at it from a different angle.” He explained before growing quiet to think. “How about you, how did you play today?” He asked.
“I was alright, I picked up a few assists in the field and helped turn a couple double plays.” I answered as I began to reflect on my game once more. “Picked up three singles and stole second twice, but I also lined out once and got caught stealing another.”
“Alright,” Ezra accepted as he thought over my words. “well going three for four is definitely nothing to be ashamed of.”He tried to encourage. “And if you try and steal three times in one game, you’re definitely going to get caught at least once!” He warned in a laugh. “How didn’t you get caught twice?”
“Guess I’m just fast.” I answered, as I couldn’t help but laugh along.
“Guess so.” He agreed. “Either way, it sounds like you did your part during the game. You just need to keep building on that.”
“Yeah.” I forced out as the same feelings from after the game began to reemerge.
“You’re angry, aren’t you?” He asked as he heard the tone in my voice.
For a second, I thought about lying to him, about acting like I was too strong for one loss to phase me. But as Adam looked over to me, I knew I needed to tell the truth. “Yeah.” I finally answered.
“Good.” Ezra supported without any hesitation.
“That’s alright?” I asked in a surprised voice. I know I don’t know Ezra that well, but I thought for sure he’d want his son to be stronger than that. That he’d want his son to keep powering through his feelings.
“Sure it is.” He answered once more. “You’re angry because you care Arthur.” He pointed out. “These are the feelings that push us to get better.” He spoke in a confident voice. “Next game, you remember this feeling and you make sure you do everything to prevent it from happening again.”
“Yes sir.” I couldn’t help but respond, surprising even myself. I know I basically heard the same speech from Mason, but for some reason I didn’t expect Ezra to be saying it too! I thought for sure Ezra would frown upon any kind of losing!
“When you’re not angry after a loss, that’s when you should be concerned.” He lectured, this time drawing a cautious stare from Adam. “Anyway, I have to be up early in the morning, so I should start getting ready for bed soon.” He began to wrap up. “And I don’t want to push my luck too far,” He paused as Adam’s glance only grew more intense. “but I was wondering if you and Adam had a chance to discuss last nights conversation.”
“We did.” I forced out, unsure how to respond. I looked over to Adam for help, but he simply nodded, showing me it was okay. “You can visit,” I let out in a shaky voice. “but only for three days.”
“That’s great!” He happily cheered as his voice grew louder once more. “When are your next two games?” He suddenly asked. “Or even better, do you know when playoffs start?”
“I don’t know when playoffs start,” I hesitated as his excitement began to overwhelm me. “but the next two games are next weekend.”
I noticed Adam doing his best the hide the nerves in his eyes, the same way I was. “I have to move some things around,” Ezra began again. “but I think I’ll be able to work that out.” He said in an excited voice. “I’ll call tomorrow to let you know for sure.”
“Sounds good.” I accepted, trying my hardest to sound as confident as he did. “Good night.” I forced out.
“Good night Arthur.” He echoed before ending the call.
I looked over to Adam as I handed him the phone, but only received another nod. I could tell he’s not a fan of the idea, but won’t do anything to stop it. He’s really trusting me here, and I can’t let him down. As I felt my thoughts start to run wild, I took a moment to practice the breathing Jose taught me.
I can handle this. This time next week, I’ll be able to sit face to face with my birth father and figure out what he really wants from me. Better yet, he’ll be in the crowd of my baseball games. I’ll be able to show him first hand, the kid he left behind. I’ll show him just how good a job Sarah Price did without him in her life.