Better Than Perfect(4)

By: Kristina Mathews

Alice had worked for the Mel Harrison Jr. Foundation since its inception, a little more than a year after her husband’s death. The initial donations were privately funded, set up to provide grants to community schools and youth organizations. As the foundation had grown, they were able to provide services for greater numbers of children, but the more successful they’d become, the less contact she had with the kids.

Until a few years ago, when the team had approached her about setting up a minicamp for youth players. It evolved from a Saturday demonstration and meet-and-greet to a weeklong afterschool program where the ballplayers worked directly with the kids, helping them learn fundamentals of the game while boosting their confidence with the attention and mentorship of the pro athletes.

“Cooper’s alright.” Zach sounded disappointed, bordering on whiny. “But he’s not Johnny Scottsdale.”

“Zach, we made a commitment to Nathan Cooper.”

“And Harrisons always keep their commitments.” Zach parroted the family motto. She could tell by the tone of his voice he had to restrain himself from rolling his eyes.

“Yes, Zach, Harrisons keep their commitments.” No matter what. She’d made a commitment to Mel, to the Harrison family. She’d hoped her feelings for Johnny would eventually fade. She’d made her choice. A desperate one at the time, but once she’d committed to Mel, she wouldn’t look back. She still couldn’t. “Cooper’s a good player. A good guy. We can’t just tell him we don’t want him anymore.”

“Well, maybe they could both do the pitching clinic,” Zach suggested. “Since Cooper’s a lefty, maybe it would be better to have a right-handed pitcher too.”

“Johnny’s a busy man. He doesn’t need us bugging him.” And she didn’t need to be reminded of what she’d given up.

“Yeah, but he probably doesn’t know very many people here yet.” Zach sounded hopeful. Like they’d be doing Johnny a favor. “It would be good for him to get involved in the community.”

“Zach. He doesn’t need us.” She’d made sure of it.

“But…” Zach couldn’t let it go.

“I think it’s time for some lunch.” Lately, food seemed to be the best distraction.

“I could eat.” Zach shrugged. “You want to split some garlic fries?”

“You know I do.” The ballpark’s signature fries had become a tradition. But if she ate a full order herself, she’d be sorry later.

“Can I get two hot dogs, then? Or maybe some nachos?”

“You’re that hungry?” Wasn’t it only yesterday that she begged him to eat? Playing airplane with the spoon or bribing him with a toy to take three more bites.

“Yeah. I guess meeting Johnny Scottsdale increased my appetite.” He grinned at her. For a second there, he reminded her of someone she used to know.

“Oh, Zach…” She sighed, her emotions getting the better of her. Seeing Johnny for even a few minutes had her all mixed up.

It had been easier when Johnny was on the other side of the country. When he’d been nothing more than a box score. An image on TV. She’d followed his entire career. From his earliest days in the minor leagues, to his first start in Kansas City, to when he was traded to Tampa Bay. She’d watched him. Cheered for him. Wished him nothing but success.

“Oh please, Mom. Don’t go there.” She was embarrassing him. As she often did whenever she talked about how quickly he was growing up. Becoming a man. Neither of them was quite ready for it, but that didn’t matter.

She put her arm around him but felt him struggling with the idea of pulling away. Reluctantly, she let him go, knowing it was only a matter of time before he wouldn’t need her at all.

“Order whatever you want. Just don’t complain about a stomach ache later.”

“I won’t.” He ordered a hot dog, nachos and a root beer.

She stepped up behind him and ordered her hot dog, the garlic fries and a Diet Coke. She struck up a conversation with the lady behind the counter while they waited for their order.

“Geez, Mom. Why do you have to talk so much?” He’d waited until they were at the condiment station before complaining.

“I was only being friendly. There’s nothing wrong with that.” She unwrapped her hot dog and placed it under the mustard spout.

“Yeah, then why weren’t you very friendly with Johnny Scottsdale?” He kept his head down, concentrating on his food. She’d learned to pay attention more when he seemed least interested in making conversation. “You actually knew him in college and you barely said a word to him.”