Better Than Perfect(5)

By: Kristina Mathews

She hit the pump on the mustard a little too hard and it splattered all over her sweater. She quickly grabbed a napkin to wipe up the stain.

“Is it… Is it because he reminds you of Dad? Does seeing him make you sad?”

“Oh, honey.” She put her arm around him, pressing him against her. How could she possibly explain why seeing Johnny again was so painful?

“It seems kind of weird that they didn’t keep in touch after college.” Zach had no idea how weird it would have been if they had. The three of them had been the best of friends. How many times had they let Mel tag along on their dates? Or how many times had she made herself at home at their place? But Johnny had been at the heart of their little group. And when he’d moved on, she and Mel turned to each other.

“Johnny was trying to make it to the big leagues.” She used the same story she’d told herself over the years. “He had to work very hard to get to where he is today. Mel had a job here in the city, and I was busy raising you. We just drifted apart, that’s all.”

“But, maybe you and Johnny can be friends again.” He had a tiny hesitation in his voice. Telling her there was more to the story than he was willing to share.

She waited. Pushing him would never get him to open up.

“Maybe…” Zach took a long slurp of his soda. “Maybe he could tell me more about my dad.”

* * * *

Well, that was a mistake. By bringing up his dad, he’d upset his mom. Zach could tell because she got really quiet. They sat in the stands to eat their lunch and watch the next round of interviews. She nibbled on her hot dog and absently picked at the garlic fries. He ended up eating most of them, which was fine. He loved garlic fries. But it was weird with her not talking. Normally she would chatter on and on about the upcoming season and especially all the new players. He’d expected her to be really excited about Johnny Scottsdale. She was probably an even bigger fan than he was.

She’d actually cried when he pitched his perfect game. Cried and hugged Zach like they’d been there. But she barely said a word to him when they met today. And they didn’t even get an autograph.

Now, she was all quiet, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she said she wanted to leave soon. He’d seen what he wanted to see. Johnny Scottsdale’s first interview as one of the Goliaths, and then he’d gotten to meet him. Sort of.

Kip Michaels stepped onstage to introduce the next set of players. He was one of the best. He never had anything bad to say about an opponent, but he was a Goliath to the core. He also managed to throw out a few tips for young players during every game. He’d point out simple things, like keeping balanced in the batter’s box or following through on a pitch. Plus, he’d been there. Way before Zach’s time, but he’d pitched in the majors for ten years. So he knew what he was talking about.

“Thank you, San Francisco!” Nathan Cooper stepped up to the mic for his turn in the spotlight. “It’s going to be a great season. I guarantee it.”

Yeah, he was alright. Kind of a showoff, though. Like it was more about him than the team. Cooper played to the crowd, making them laugh and cheer and get pumped up for the season. Even if he was kind of obnoxious, he was a pretty good pitcher. Most of the time.

Zach glanced over at his mother. She was trying to rub the mustard stain out of her sweater. He wondered if that would be her excuse for leaving early. He wouldn’t mind. Not really. He just wished he could have talked to Johnny Scottsdale more. He had a lot of questions. Mostly about baseball. Like what it was like to pitch a perfect game.

He had questions about his dad.

He barely even remembered him. Only a few fuzzy memories—mostly good—of a guy in a suit taking off his tie and getting down on the floor to play with the Thomas the Train set. He remembered watching movies and going to the park, but he didn’t think he’d ever played catch with his dad.

He’d played catch with a few different major leaguers. As part of the minicamp. He never really felt like he was part of the program though. It was more like he tagged along, just because he could. Because his mom ran the show and his grandparents had started the whole charity thing after his dad died.

Some of the other kids had it real tough, though. Single parents who worked two jobs just to pay their rent. So they didn’t have time to play catch with their kids. There were foster kids who never lived in one place long enough to be part of a team. Some of the kids had dads in the military, serving overseas in Afghanistan or places like that.

Zach felt kind of bad, taking up a spot for a kid who needed it more. At least he didn’t have to worry about money. Or his mom didn’t have to worry, anyways.