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Novel

Middle of the Third

The sun had set several hours ago, yet the office around the Young Intern Michael buzzed with energy. While each of the many actors in the scene around him moved calmly about their business, there was an underlying feeling that they were on the eve of something truly magical. It felt as if the energy being generated from the building was emanating its own light and even powering the whole city. In some ways, what happened in and next to that long, six-story brick building did power this jewel of a city in the throne of one of America’s great waterways.

The Young Intern can’t remember the last time he saw his bed. A year ago, he was sitting in a college classroom, counting down the days to graduation, wondering what lay before him. Now he was counting down the minutes until a black box that could hold him four times over, with brass hardware and wheels, could be rolled off the truck. Michael had only been on this job for five months, and they had been some of the most challenging five months of his life. Waiting for that trunk in the truck … waiting for that bus … it felt like it was the first time he had a chance to take it in. There were papers and books and binders and all sorts of stuff in that trunk that needed to be organized for the morning, and so, there he was, waiting for the trunk. For the moment, it was his only job.

He stared out across the hall and saw the lights flickering on and off in a dizzying pattern through the window. They were testing the scoreboards and the video screen in the stadium. He walked over to the window and gazed at the field. He would grow to love that view. Two stories up, overlooking the field from across the concourse, especially at night. The field was perfect in the dimmed-down stadium lights. In this state, it seemed to have a story to tell. A story of a game that had just been played or the story of a game not yet played. A lit field, in the middle of the night, begged to be played on. Begged to be listened to.

Michael loved baseball. It was his first true love. He was lost before he had found baseball. It was baseball that found him, actually a baseball … a little roller … a ground ball that was trickling that had found an uninspired teenager struggling to figure out where exactly he fit into the world. It didn’t just inspire him to chase down his dreams … It inspired him to dream a big dream and then to have the faith to chase it down, even when hope had been abandoned and even when he was forced to temporarily look elsewhere.

Every day the world presents a case, a cause, a reason to doubt yourself, the people around you, and the world around them. For a 13-year-old who knew nothing about who he was, except he was shy and 13 with no apparent skills or ability, the doubts were served up hourly on a silver platter. Staring out that window at that field, he could still feel the same pit of despair in his stomach that he felt all the time in his early teen years. He could still feel that uncomfortable tie squeezing around his neck and the sweat underneath the heavy sweater as he stood in the school hallway with a pile of books. It was filled with people who were gridiron stars and mathematical geniuses. It was filled with rich kids with rich looks and rich vocabularies. He was a shy boy who could barely find the tongue in his mouth to greet anyone. He was lost.

Then one night, he heard baseball whispering to him … calling out to him, and he started to take notice. He could not help but take note of a team that did not belong in the Fall, a team that ignored Winter’s demands. This team seemed to take the Fall hostage and fought off Winter with last-strike rallies, improbable catches, and pitchers whose rubber arms had turned to cannons. It was a team that knew nothing about blowouts and everything about drama. They were, in short, magic, and he took notice.

In any relationship, there is a courtship when the two sides are getting to know each other, trying to figure out if there is a connection or bind there. They test the water, express interest, and logic dominates rather than the heart.

Then it happens. That one moment where logic excuses itself, takes a step back, and walks away. It could be something as simple as a glance or a brush of the hands. It could be the way a door is held or exchanging a simple gift. It could be more dramatic, like a moment of crisis or a passionate, awkward first kiss that can no longer be held back.

Or, it could be a moment in Game Six of the championship series when Hope has already been dismissed and tasked with asking Winter to join them at the gate. A moment when a confused, lonely, emotional, and lost teenager is either too empty of real-life experience or too full of faith to know when a game is lost. The moment when that boy whispers a prayer and says, “Please God, please.” The moment when three hits, a wild pitch, and a misplayed flyball forces a team, a stadium, and a city to its feet, Winter to its knees, and the only thing that comes back through the gate is Hope, bewildered, shaken, but alive. It is a moment like that when a boy dreams his first big dream and falls in love for the very first time. And with that love comes something more powerful, more unrelenting … faith. Even when love breaks your heart and hope has left, faith is always there for the taking. He learned about that faith that night, and it made him believe in himself and made him feel in things beyond himself that would guide his life.

As sure as love is love, baseball would break Michael’s heart in the way that love is supposed to break your heart. That team that defied the Winter would become Winter’s roadkill in the seasons since. He would soon learn that he could take the losses and the disappointment, for they would make the eventual success all the sweeter. He could take injured players and bad personnel moves … that was the grizzle of the game that he loved.

Baseball was an accurate analogy to life for him. Nearly every day throughout the season, a player had a chance to redeem himself. One day, a player could be the guy that struck out three times and grounded into a double play with the tying run standing on third base in the bottom of the ninth, and the next, he could hit three home runs and make a game-saving catch at the wall. Nearly every time, a player had a chance to redeem himself, whether it was the next inning, the next game, the next series, or the following season. Redemption was always just a day or a Winter away. Those who learned from their mistakes and sought out redemption, despite the odds, were the ones who succeeded. This is how he lived his life. It was okay to have a bad day. It was okay to make a fool of yourself. You could always come back the next day. Baseball and life are set up for one to fail. What you do, from one day to the next to overcome the failures, is what defines you. And when you found success, it was suitable for precisely one day. You can savor it, and you need to remember the taste of it, but you need to go back out the next day and defy the odds again.

Eventually, however, the love would betray him in the form of drugged-up stars, childish antics, greed, and a lost World Series. These were things that he could not bear to watch. They were the things that truly broke his heart. He would walk away from baseball, glimpsing it from afar, ready to extend a hand when his beloved was prepared to ask for forgiveness. You aren’t supposed to walk away from those you love, but sometimes you can’t continue to love them if you don’t walk away for a little while.

And that’s what he did. Eventually, the game itself would walk away from everyone. Because of greed, it sacrificed Fall to Winter in the heat of Summer and just turned its back on all that loved it. For one particular freezing Winter, Summer had no outpost … there was no one to survive Winter’s wrath. For the Young Intern, it was the last straw, and he simply walked away.

Seven months ago, Michael was a college graduate working in a job he hated, barely keeping his head above water when the magic of the game grabbed a bit of interest for him in the form of the Iron Bird and the unbreakable record. He was reminded of the love he felt for The Game. He was reminded that the impossible could be possible again. And it came at a time when he, himself, was lost and confused again. He needed the game even if it seemed that the game didn’t need him, but he found it tough to give his whole heart back.

It would take an oddly beautifully lit cornfield after a storm to call him back. Finally, it came and found him after all those years. It didn’t even whisper to him … it screamed his name and ripped him back. It came and told him that it was time to dream again. It told him it was time to have faith again.

And it was with him when he got in his broken-down car that October morning in the drizzling rain following a fight with his girlfriend. And it was with him when he boarded that train to enter the city. He had told himself that he would knock on several doors, but he had only one gate to knock on.

He believed in faith, and God and that small miracles do happen every day. You just need to open yourself up to those miracles. Miracles happen if you are willing to put forth the effort of faith to meet them. That misplayed flyball … his faith, brought him down to the city and to the front desk of the team and had him ask to talk to someone. It didn’t matter that the receptionist made it clear that she wasn’t going to allow it and that he just needed to leave his resume. He politely asked to talk to someone … he sensed the importance of that moment.

It would have just been an ordinary moment … a mundane moment, if it wasn’t for the miracle it led to. The miracle was the Human Resources director walking by at that exact moment. The miracle was that she had just been commissioned by a Media Relations person to find someone to fill a role. A role … almost the exact role … that he, the Young Man, was looking for. The miracle was all three of these people believing in fate, or even something more powerful. Somewhere, in that old brick building, faith met up with a miracle, and a dream came true. What one person might call a fantastic set of circumstances—a coincidence—was what he called a miracle. That tricky trickling fair ball had been bouncing and hopping for all these years and finally came to rest against his foot.

And there he was, seven months later, on the inside, staring down at the field. The team had broken camp earlier in the day and were heading home. It was a team that had wholly rebuilt itself in the last six months. It was a team that was full of promise and excitement. It was a team that inspired new dreams and new journeys of faith. And they were on their way home. They were literally flying north for the summer.

Michael pondered miracles and thought about the error in left field that had turned him into a fan of the game. Many times during his lunch breaks, he would sneak up to the sixth-floor—and look through media guides and post-season programs and old news clippings. Sometimes, there are two sides to a miracle, especially in this game. For every game-winning home run and miracle comeback, there was a player responsible and thousands of fans who saw it as whatever the opposite of a miracle is. The error in left field that gave him the desperate miracle that he needed had sent this city reeling. As he looked through the news clips, not just from the days that followed all those years ago, but to this day, he realized that this city continued to be haunted by it. 

The left fielder that made the error, Tuck, was never booed over this … when it came to baseball and its heroes, this city understood. They knew that they themselves were imperfect and that bad things happen all the time. And he was the favorite son, the man who was supposed to return them to glory. In some ways, his mighty error endeared him to them even more. They were a city that was battling back themselves and they understood what the opportunity for redemption meant. It’s not to say that they didn’t hurt and complain and, on rare occasions, curse him … It’s that they had a collective feeling that he would get his redemption, and in doing so, raise them with him.

It never happened, however. Tuck would suffer a personal tragedy a few years back, and he would leave town soon after. The city, again understanding, knew why he had to go. They knew that things were bigger than the game. However, the city seemed to fall flat nonetheless in the years since he left.

The young man’s eyes were still trained on the field, wondering if the city’s favorite son would find redemption, and he wondered if he would be a part of it. In a way, it felt as if the building, and the city by proxy, was energized because they were waiting for that trunk. It wasn’t so much the contents of the trunk, it was more of what it symbolized. It wasn’t a trunk that was making its way north on some highway through the south and snow. It was the Spring and everything that it brings with it, blazing a path through the snow and shoving Winter’s grip away. It wasn’t just a black box on wheels with brass hardware. It was love. It was hope. It was faith.

Soon, he no longer saw the field. He was tired. He was scared. He was unsure of himself. He was the quiet, reserved type living in a world of giant personalities and even bigger egos. He was a kid. He was just the kid waiting for the trunk. Michael was just a kid waiting for something bigger than himself … bigger than all the egos … bigger than even the stadium. And even though he was just a kid, he knew he was living a man’s dream, and he would not have wanted to be anywhere else than in that old building staring at an empty field, waiting for that trunk … waiting for another miracle … waiting for someone else’s redemption.