The Rookie

April 16, 2010

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As the taxi sped away, Wyatt Jonson stared in awe of the stadium looming in front of him.  He felt that he was on hallowed ground in the shadow of the great shrine to the game.  Wyatt slowly came out of his reverie and walked toward the player entrance.

“Who’re you?” snapped the burly man guarding the player entrance.

“Wyatt Jonson, the new third baseman.”

“I ain’t got no Jonson on my sheet.  I gotta make a call.”  The guard took the toothpick out of his mouth, grabbed the phone, and punched in a number.  After a moment of grumbled conversation, he turned back to Wyatt.

“Need to see your license.”

Wyatt pulled out his South Dakota driver’s license and handed it to the guard.

The guard glanced at the photo on the ID, then back at Wyatt to verify that the photo matched.

“OK, kid, you’re good to go.  Welcome to the show.”

A few minutes later, Wyatt had found his way to the manager’s office.  Mac McGee was tied up on a phone call, facing away from the door.  Wyatt stood silently by the door, waiting for the call to end.  When Mac hung up the phone, Wyatt knocked on the door.

“What the ^*&^*&?” exclaimed the startled manager, spilling his coffee on the cluttered desk.

“I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to surprise you like that.  I’m Wyatt Jonson.”

Mac’s face changed into a smile.  “You realize that you didn’t need to report until tomorrow, right?  Geez, kid, how did you manage to get here so quickly?”

“My dad’s best friend happens to live in Springfield and has a private plane.  I was able to circumvent the whole airport hassle.  I wanted to get here as soon as possible.”

Mac laughed.  “I appreciate your enthusiasm, kid.  Have the pilot send a bill to the team.”  The manager glanced at his watch.  “We weren’t planning to have you available until tomorrow, but you’re probably the best option we have right now.  We’re getting pretty close to game time.  Go take a few hacks in the batting cage.”

Wyatt was quickly hustled down to the batting cage where he took some nervous swings.  His big league debut was just minutes away, and giant butterflies were flying around in his stomach.  Fifteen minutes later, he was escorted back to the dugout.

“There’s your locker, kid,” said the equipment manager, nodding at a stall.  Wyatt rushed to changed into his uniform.

“Something wrong, kid?” asked the equipment manager, noticing the frown on Wyatt’s face.

“My name’s wrong.  It’s J-O-N-S-O-N.”  The equipment manager glanced at the jersey, which had the name JOHNSON emblazoned on the back.

“Oh, man.  I’m sorry.  We don’t have time to get it fixed right now, but we’ll have it done for tomorrow’s game.”

Wyatt nodded.  He reminded himself that this was a minor detail, and that the important thing was that he would be on the field tonight.

Moments later, Wyatt was on the field as the Star Spangled Banner was played.  After the final note faded away, he drifted toward his shortstop position.

“Play ball,” came the shout from the umpire.

The batter dug in and turned to face the mound.  Reigning Cy Young winner Twister Larson unleashed a 95 mph fastball.  The batter swung and hit a ground ball between second and third base.  Wyatt hurried toward the ball, gloved it, set himself, and made a strong and accurate throw to first base.  So far, so good, he thought.

Another hitter stepped into the batter’s box, and Larson rocked and fired again.  A few pitches later, the batter was making the long, slow walk back to the dugout.  The final batter of the inning lifted a harmless fly ball to right field.

Wyatt returned to the dugout and started to take a seat on the bench.

“You’re leading off, rook,” came the voice of Mac McGee.  Wyatt turned and went to the bat rack.  He realized that he hadn’t brought any bats with him.

“What are ya looking for? “ asked Rake Sauders.  The three time batting champ smiled broadly.  “I have a rather extensive collection of wood.”

“Uh, 34 inches and 32 ounces.”

“Ah, here we go,” replied Rake, pulling a Louisville Slugger from the rack.  “Consider it a housewarming gift.”

Wyatt nodded his thanks and headed toward the plate.

“Aren’t you up past your bedtime, kid?”

Wyatt ignored the chatter from the catcher and settled into the box.  He realized that the opposing pitcher was Lefty Vays.  Vays threw in the high 90s with mediocre control and a nasty disposition.  This was not going to be a fun at bat.

The ball arrived at the plate much too quickly, and the ump quickly registered a strike.  Wyatt had faced some guys in the minors who threw in the high 90s.  That pitch had to be at least 102.

Wyatt prepared himself for the fastball and took a mighty swing at the next pitch.  It was a changeup moving at about 85 mph and Wyatt was hopelessly in front of it.  He managed to make contact on the next pitch, fouling it weakly into the stands behind the plate.

Wyatt prepared for the 1-2 pitch.  The wild pitch got away from Vays and struck Wyatt in the ribs.  The umpire awarded Wyatt first base and busied himself sweeping home plate to give Wyatt some time to recover.

When Wyatt got to first base, he immediately got the sign to steal.  He took off on Vays’ first motion and slid into second well ahead of the throw from the catcher.  He smiled as he stood at second base and shook off the dust.  His ribs seemed to hurt a bit less.

Rake Saunders lived up to his nickname and hammered the next pitch off the wall in center field.  Wyatt raced around third base and streaked toward home plate.  He slid into home, but the throw went into second to keep Saunders from advancing.

Wyatt was greeted warmly by his teammates when he returned to the dugout.

Mac McGee smiled up at him.  “Hey kid, why don’t you take a load off and sit down for a minute.”

Wyatt was beaming as he took a seat on the bench – the first chance he’d had to sit down since he had jumped out of the taxi.

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