Bottom of the Third

Stadium Lights

The wind whipped and howled around Abigail as she grabbed a bag of groceries from her car. One strong gust of wind, although failing to take the door off the car, did manage to rip the folder out of her hands. As her reflexes made a desperate bid to catch the folder, the paper bag went crashing to the ground, and somehow, almost as if Winter himself was taunting her, the wind stopped blowing for just a moment, allowing her to hear the sickening crush of pickle jar and eggshells. Winter’s choreography was perfect, as another gust of wind swept through and caught the splash of pickle juice and turned it into a fine mist that coated her suit skirt and then proceeded to sweep the papers that were once secure within the folder and scatter them in trees, gutters, and rooftops. She barely reacted … she knew it was the perfect cap to the day.

Fridays shouldn’t be full of meetings, layoff announcements, and phone battles with insurance companies … then again, no day should be like that. She was still employed, but close friends for many years went home with boxes instead of folders. She was grateful, but her nerves were shot. She needed some time for herself.

She gathered the papers she could and salvaged a few groceries and headed into the house. Abigail brought the groceries into the kitchen, grabbed the mail, and headed into the living room, where she was greeted by a mess of dusty boxes and what seemed like the entire contents of the attic. She mumbled a curse to herself as she remembered that her kids had volunteered to clean out the attic for her over the weekend. She appreciated the effort, but this was the last thing she needed.

As she was about to turn around and head back to the kitchen, she noticed the black truck in the corner of the living room. A smile quickly crossed her lips and the day instantly melted away. Monday was Opening Day.

After changing into sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, eating dinner, and grabbing a glass of wine, she pulled the trunk over to her lounge chair and sat down. The top of the trunk was covered with what seemed like every Bird-related sticker ever created. There were so many, the trunk seemed more orange than black. Many of the stickers had been customized with crayons. Her father was so angry the day he came home to find her sitting at the trunk with the crayons. He eventually would cherish the drawings and scribbles of the five-year-old daughter on the trunk.

Abigail slowly opened the lid, and on top was her Number 6 jersey. Every year, she would take the jersey out of the trunk just before Opening Day and would put it back into the trunk after the team had played its last game of the season. She had that jersey for what seemed like forever. She smiled because, after 10 years of being away from the team, Number 6 was signed to a minor-league contract this past off-season. She was hoping he would make the team.

She put the jersey aside and looked through the rest of the contents. There was a peculiar assortment of odd giveaways from different games, along with pennants and other Bird-related gifts she and her father had received through the years. There were some old programs and a couple of autographed baseballs, as well. Her father tried to fit all his baseball souvenirs in that trunk, but it wasn’t a magic trunk. Eventually, some stuff found its way into other boxes, but the important stuff went in that trunk. After her father had died, she continued to put more stuff in the trunk. She shook her head trying to figure out how exactly it had survived the fire. It had been so many years now, but she still cannot figure out how that trunk only suffered a little bit of scalding while everything else was lost. Almost everything.

The trunk had a couple of media guides from the championship seasons. She had another box full of media guides somewhere else. A friend of hers was the HR director for the team. She would often give her the guides every spring. They had met in the aftermath of the fire. She thought it weird the good that could sometimes come out of such things. She hadn’t talked to her since September or October when they had met for lunch by the harbor. They were having a nice lunch when her friend suddenly let out a gasp and realized she had a meeting that she needed to rush off to with the director of marketing or public relations or something like that and that she was already late. Her friend had walked off into the drizzly day mumbling something about how now her whole day was going to be thrown off. She laughed out loud about how her friend was always late from one meeting and into another. She needed to call her.

In the bottom of the trunk were two scrapbooks that her father had meticulously kept. Those scrapbooks were so important to him. Her grandfather would grab the afternoon papers on the way home from work and would put them into her father’s eager little hands. The books were true treasures and she did all she could to preserve them. Next to the books was a small pile of newspapers from different years. Her father had tried to get her to keep a scrapbook, but she wasn’t as meticulous as he was. She found it easier to just save the whole paper.

She shuffled through the stack, reading headlines about great games of the past. Clinching games. A couple of no-hitters. A couple of heartbreaks. She still curses that team from the Big Apple to this day. Toward the middle of the pile, her eyes met the headline from true heartbreak. The real heartbreak that a baseball diamond rarely sees. It was the story of a fire and a small two-story house. A fire that would take the life of the brother of Number 6. He had gone into the burning house for a little girl … her little girl … who was trapped on the second floor. He had managed to get her daughter out a window to another fireman on a ladder, but the floor under him had collapsed before he could make it to safety. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she read the story. Her daughter is in college now and has such little memory of that night … she thought that was lucky. She still thinks of the family of that poor man … that hero.

Abigail knew it was time to pack the trunk back up. It was dark now and she had other stuff to do. She gently placed everything back into the trunk except for the jersey and closed the lid. She picked up the jersey and stared at it. On Number 6 was a little soot. She looked at her hand and realized it had come from her fingers. Even after all these years, soot was still on that trunk in different spots. No matter how much she tried to clean it, it was always hiding somewhere. She brushed the jersey off and took it to her bedroom. She was going to wear it tomorrow for the exhibition game. As she passed by her bedroom window, she noticed the lights at the stadium flickering. They must be testing the scoreboard, she thought. She clutched the jersey close to her and stood there watching the lights for a little while.

Callie stood on the ramps, field somewhere behind her, but the city in front of her. She had lost track of time and wasn’t sure if it was closer to two or three in the morning. At this point, it really didn’t matter. All hope of getting a decent night’s sleep was lost hours ago when they decided to go a different direction with a couple of the videos they were producing.

The city seemed so quiet as the roads lay nearly empty. The traffic lights kept changing and signaling to no one in particular. An occasional car ripped down the road and she wondered if they were coming from or going to work. Once or twice a cop car would roll out from a side street, turn onto the main boulevard and slowly disappear into the night, all while the traffic lights kept doing their job.

Every so often Callie would see a flash of lights from the stadium reflecting off an office building across from the stadium. They were testing graphics on the light boards and she wondered if it ever bothered people trying to sleep in some of the apartments around this Chapel to baseball. She wondered who in the stadium would have to field those calls in the morning. They had jobs to do, but she hoped the neighbors understood.

She was exhausted … mentally drained … wiped out by the current press. The truck from Spring Training had arrived hours ago and the first of the final two spring training games was less than 12 hours away. In this ballpark. And they weren’t ready. These games gave them a chance to “test drive” videos. To see what worked and what didn’t. It allowed them to get one last tune-up before the real games began.

And it wasn’t just about the videos they showed being perfect. They were trying to be perfect. Everyone was trying to be perfect. The guys behind the cameras on the field. The producers behind the control boards in the control room. The editors updating the stats in the graphics. They all had to be perfect and ready to react to what was going on in the game. Like the players on the field, they had been preparing for this since last season. Almost literally since the last out of the last season was made, preparations for the new season began.

A couple of them had spent some time working for minor league teams. A few had nothing but college experience behind them. There were veterans of the game that had been in the control rooms since before the Ace pitcher had even been born and there were others that were interns, working their first jobs right out of college.

Like the team on the field, they came from all walks of life with different life experiences and they had to work together. They were a team in every sense of the word and they almost had to read each other’s minds. Even in these final two Spring Training games, they wanted to be perfect more than they needed to be perfect.

She had been there for five years now. While there were one or two that had been there so much longer, Callie was considered a grizzled vet in the business. The long hours … the lost weekends … the time away from friends and family were not the jobs for everyone. However, she loved it … maybe not every moment, but she did love it.

She liked to come out to the ramps in the middle of the night when she was working late to clear her mind. Sometimes it would be near freezing out there, sometimes it was brutally hot. However, it was always quiet and dark and she could be alone to collect her thoughts. Sometimes she would wander around most of the stadium just going up and down the ramps and she could always return to the control room or the video production office feeling refreshed and ready to go. In the dark and quiet, it was almost her own fortress of solitude.

The video editor reflected on all of this as she stared out. It was a grind. It was tiring. It was a brutal stretch of work. She also reflected on her previous job at a local newsroom, working all hours of the night only organizing tapes, running out for coffee for the producers, and wiping down monitors. It was a thankless job, and as tired as she was and even though she still had to do some of that stuff, she was overjoyed at being there, on that ramp, in the middle of the night waiting for the season to begin. It was tough. It was tiring. It was brutal. But it was part of her living her dream and doing exactly what she wanted with her life.

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