Better Than Perfect(10)

By: Kristina Mathews

“You do want to play in high school, right?” They’d been over this. He wanted to push his limits and she wanted to protect him. “Maybe even beyond?”

“Yeah. But what if I’m not good enough?”

“You are. You don’t need a curveball. Your fastball is solid and your changeup is coming right along.”

“You have to say that, you’re my mom.”

“I’m your mom, but I don’t lie to you.” Unless she’d been lying to him about who his father was.

* * * *

Zach couldn’t be more thrilled to have Johnny Scottsdale working at the minicamp. But nervous, too. What if he thought Zach was some annoying little kid who just tagged along because his mom ran the camp? He was Johnny Scottsdale. The best of the best. Perfect, even. “I was thinking maybe instead of participating in the camp, I could, like, help. Be your assistant or something.” He hoped she wouldn’t think it was a lame idea. “I mean, I know a lot about baseball already. And maybe I could work with some of the younger kids.”

“Really? You want to do that?” She sounded kind of surprised, but not in a bad way.

“Yeah. I mean, you’re always talking about giving back and stuff.”

“Good to know you’ve been listening.” She ruffled his hair. Kind of embarrassing, but he didn’t mind all that much. As least not when none of his friends were around.

“I just think that maybe it might be easier for kids to see someone more their age, you know.”

“I think that’s a splendid idea.” She gave him one of those smiles. Like she was so proud of him she might cry any second now.

“Yeah, okay. And if you want me to especially help Johnny Scottsdale, that would be cool.” Yeah, like he was fooling her with his pretending that he didn’t care one way or another.

“You want to help Johnny.” She had that weird thing in her voice. Like it had gotten caught on something sharp. “I think it’s a great idea for you to want to help out. But let’s not get too excited about working with a particular player.”

“He’s new to the team.” Zach tried to keep it cool. “It might help for him to have someone around who knows how we do things.”

“We’ll see.” Why did moms always have to say that? Why didn’t she come right out and tell him no? “But Johnny might be more comfortable working alone.”

“I just want to help.” It was true. But he also wanted to get to know Johnny. He’d always felt a connection to him that he couldn’t explain. Johnny Scottsdale had always played in the eastern part of the country, so Zach had never seen him play in person. But he’d seen him on TV. He was exactly the kind of pitcher Zach hoped to be someday. Johnny never got flustered. He never got upset when he’d pitched well, only to lose 1-0 because his offense couldn’t score any runs. He never blamed his teammates if they made an error behind him. He just shook it off and went out and pitched even better the next time.

“It’s great that you want to help.” His mom got that funny kind of look. “I’m sure we can find plenty for you to do. But don’t plan on following Johnny Scottsdale the whole time.”

“Yeah, I’m not a stalker.”

“I know. But if you get too excited about meeting him, it might make him uncomfortable.” She sounded like she couldn’t quite find the right words. “You know how you get embarrassed when people talk about you too much. Like when Nannie or Grandpa start bragging to their friends about you and you’re there in the room?”

“Yeah. Totally embarrassing.” Zach didn’t like having too many people look at him. And when he was playing sports he had to tune out the crowd. At least his mom wasn’t too loud. She’d just yell Go Zach! or something like that. Some kids’ parents got a little obnoxious. Trying to coach from the bleachers. Usually shouting the opposite of what coach told them to do.

“Well, Johnny’s the same way. He doesn’t play baseball because it makes him famous.”

“He plays because he loves it.” Zach could totally relate. “And because he’s awesome.”

“Just don’t tell him that.” She was probably joking, but it didn’t sound like it.

“So are you saying I blew it when I told him we we’re his number one fans?” Great, now he’d probably think Zach was a dork.

“No. You didn’t blow it. Just try to act like you don’t have his stats memorized and his poster over your bed.”

“I get it, Mom. I’ll play it cool.” He could totally do that. He was in eighth grade. Playing it cool was probably the most important thing they’d learned this year. How many times had he seen his friends make fools of themselves by letting a girl know they liked her? But then if they acted like they didn’t like her, her friends would come up and ask why he ignored her.