Many thanks to catherder and alaidh, the Almighty Betas Pairing:
This is what comes of spending too much time in the sun watching my kids play sport. Many thanks to my wonderful friends and betas, catherder and alaidh, both of whom worked on this in record time. They are both determined to beat the Aussie out of me – at least as far as writing is concerned, LOL!.Batter Up
Logan grunted with effort as he pushed the wheelchair across the rough grass of the field. At the age of 46, his hair now had a sprinkling of gray through the brown, but the body was as lean and muscular as ever, mostly as a result of the effort he put into maintaining his fitness. But even for him, the tussocky sporting oval was hard work. The group of boys, aged around 12, followed behind him dragging a heavy canvas bag of equipment among them, in addition to their own bags and bats, laughing and joking as they went. He led them into the metal roofed cage of the dugout at first base, narrowly squeezing through the entrance, and spun on his axis to check on what the boys were up to. A small group of parents, some with other children, some alone, followed the ragtag group, dragging and carrying a variety of folding chairs and rugs.
The boys came in all different shapes, sizes and colours, which is what had prompted Logan to christen the novice team the Sector 9 Harlequins some two years before. Logan had managed to meld the motley group into a cohesive team, infected with his own particular brand of baseball enthusiasm.
"Okay guys, over here. Ben and Alex, I want you two to help me set up the diamond. The rest of you, I want to run to the far fence and back, then start doing some stretches."
"Aww, dad…" Ben started to protest.
"Aww, dad, what?" Logan looked up from where he was ferreting in the bag for the bases and the long measuring tape.
"Nothin'." Ben shuffled his feet.
"Come on guys, let's get this done."
The three of them measured up the diamond and set the bases into position, then Logan sent the two boys off to warm up. Two other fathers were putting the boys through their paces with some warm-up stretches. Logan pulled out the paperwork and started going through the team list, checking that everyone was there. He had worked out the batting order and positions the night before, but always double-checked once he got to the ground.
"Logan," Marianne's voice called as she walked up to the dugout carrying a folding chair and the large score book. "How's it going?"
"Good, Marianne, you ready for this?"
"Ready as I'll ever be. Thanks for picking him up – I just couldn't get away that early."
"No problem – anything for family."
"Jonas was pretty keyed up this morning – his first ever semi-final."
Logan grinned broadly, "Ben was the same…Max had to hold him down to get him to eat."
"So, where is she?"
Logan shrugged, "You know Max and games…not her thing." Marianne raised an eyebrow and Logan grinned. "She'll be here in a bit. The baby was fussing, so she figured she'd take her time and walk from home...try to settle her a bit...it’s not that far, after all."
"Now that's more like it." Marianne grinned back at him.
"So where's Bennett today?"
"He had to drop by the office. He'll be here soon. Couldn't miss his only son's semi-final. You got the team sheet ready yet?"
"No, just give me five. Go set up."
Logan went back to looking through the list, checking the faces against the names. When he was satisfied, he wheeled back through the dugout, deftly avoiding the equipment and pushing some of the boy's bags back out of the way, and headed around to where Marianne and the opposition scorer were setting up. There was no sign of an 'official' umpire as yet, and it was more than likely one of the fathers would get that particular job – home team and all that.
With the scorers organized, Logan headed out to where the boys were warming up. He watched as they threw between pairs, getting better as they got into the swing of things, taking note of style, even this late in the day. Logan may not have played baseball in 20 years, but prior to that, it had tied for top place with basketball in his list of favorite pastimes. He still played with the wheelchair basketball league, was one of the senior players, but his son had wanted to play baseball, so baseball it had to be. Logan was prepared to go with whatever his son wanted, and when he found that there was a shortage of coaches with any real knowledge of the game – probably a result of the war and civil strife of the previous decade – he hadn't hesitated to 'step' forward and take on the job. Watching the boys play to the best of their ability brought a warm glow to his heart – it was a sign that things were starting to get back to the same sort of normality as before the Pulse in '09, some twenty-five years before.
"Okay, Jonas – get the catcher's gear on and you can start warming up Alex." Alex was the star pitcher, fast and accurate. Ben, despite the strength inherited from his mother, had speed but not accuracy, at this point in time. Logan tended to keep him for the first change. He had been working on getting the boy to slow down and concentrate on getting the ball into the strike zone, but his natural exuberance tended to get the better of him, and he would throw fast just because he could. Alex, on the other hand, aimed at getting the ball into the zone, and any speed was an added bonus.
Jonas, junior, Logan's nephew, was one of the smallest players there, but had proven himself a capable catcher over the previous two seasons. He had his mother's looks with his father's easy, quietly confident nature – quite a contrast to the impetuous dark-haired, olive-skinned and green-eyed Ben. The two cousins were quite inseparable, and when Ben had started playing baseball, so had Jonas, and they had to play for the same team.
"Okay, Ben, Mike and Nathan – go and get your bats and helmets."
He had Mike's father, Mark stand out at approximately the pitcher's distance from the batter to act as 'retriever' while he gently tossed balls in the air for each of the three boys to hit in turn…and so on through the rest of the team. When Logan looked across to the other side of the field, he could see that the opposition were going through similar drills.
Logan also saw Max show up, pushing six-month old Eva in her stroller across the ground, and find herself a place on the sidelines among a group of other parents. She sat with her legs crossed and Eva on her lap, and smiled at him. He had never ceased to be amazed that Max had chosen to stay with him. In fact, not only chose to stay but she had refused to leave, had seen him through the dark times, including the loss of the exoskeleton, which was now an irreparably damaged sculpture collecting dust in the corner of their bedroom. For his part, he had seen her blossom into her role as a mother. Ben, named for her dead brother, had been her pride and joy, and their daughter, Eva, was an added bonus. Eva had proven to be a handful in many respects, right from conception. She was a more difficult child than her brother, and Max had had her hands full during the six months since her arrival. It was a true test of her patience.
Logan had remodeled the apartment to cope with the growing family – the exercise room was now back to being a bedroom, occupied by Ben. The computer array had been relegated to the tiny storage room near the front door, which was cramped but adequate. Ben had learned very early on that when Logan had the door shut, it wasn’t a good idea to enter. The computer room had been converted to another bedroom, which Eva would eventually occupy, although for now she still slept in a crib in the master bedroom with her parents.
"Logan!" Mark, one of the other fathers, called, pointing to the far side of the field, where an 'official' umpire in uniform and carrying his equipment, seemed to be heading their way.
Logan smiled to himself, thinking, "Well at least if there's a complaint it won't be because of us, today." It was time to call the players in and get them sorted out for the start of the game. They were designated the home team, even though it was not their ground, so they would be fielding first, under the local rules. He called out names and fielding numbers and benched the two extra players for now. He also suspended a copy of the team sheet with the batting order from the wire of the dugout in clear view of all the players.
"Okay, guys, are we ready to play some ball?"
The response was eleven grinning faces, which included those of the two reserves, and a couple of cheeky responses, which the coach ignored, as usual.
"Off you go then, guys. Good luck and come home dirty!" He high-fived each of the nine players going onto the field as they walked past him onto the field, then he turned to watch the game, clipboard at the ready. The umpire and the opposition coach came over. They agreed on the finer details and rules for this particular match, and then the game was under way. There were no more distractions other than a motor-mouthed Kevin sitting on the bench in the dugout.
Alex threw a couple of warm-up pitches, and finally the umpire called up the first batter for the Orioles.
Logan pulled his hat out of the pocket in the back of the wheelchair, and leaned forward to watch with the clipboard in his hands. Alex was pitching well, and had the first batter out, caught at shortstop by Nathan in no time at all. The Orioles had been their biggest opposition all season. This was not going to be a walk or walk in the park. A good start was necessary to give them a prerequisite boost in confidence.
Logan was more than satisfied at the end of the first two innings when the teams were both even on three runs apiece, including a screaming home run to young Jonas, who pierced the field with a beautifully timed shot out between right and centre-field. He turned briefly after watching where the ball had gone to see Marianne's pleased grin as she filled in the details in the score book.
The results see-sawed back and forth for three innings.
Logan brought Ben on to pitch when he could see Alex tiring in the third inning. He trundled out onto the diamond to quietly speak to his son, issuing last minute instructions, and pausing to slap hands with Alex for a job well done. Coming back off the field, he detoured via the scorers to advise them of the fielding changes, before returning to the dugout.
For once, Ben was following instructions. He slowed his pitches and was getting them in the strike zone, and it showed. Maybe having his mother there was making a difference – she had no interest in sport of any kind, unless there was money to be made. While proud of her son's achievements, she had not made it to many games, citing the "guy thing". Be that as it may, she often proved to be a steadying influence on him.
The Harlequins were two runs behind going into the last dig. Ben had managed to keep the Orioles scoring to a minimum for two innings, but the Orioles had reciprocated. The tension was showing among the Harlequin players. Marcus had developed a bad case of the shakes and the others were silent as the first of their ranks came up to bat in the last inning of the match. Marcus swung wildly at the first pitch, which was too wide and too high.
Logan called out from his position near first base, "Steady, Marcus, concentrate." The dark-skinned, dumpy kid pushed his glasses up his nose and took up his position again...and missed...again.
"Steeeriiikkkkeee Two!" called the umpire.
"Marcus, this one is yours...put it away."
Marcus steadily looked at his coach, settled himself in position and tapped the ball away in the direction of third, running as fast as his short legs would carry him, while the third baseman retrieved the ball and tried to long-arm it over to first. Marcus ran through the base as the ball arrived. Logan looked closely at the umpire as he called "safe." He had his doubts.
Alex followed Marcus, and while he managed to advance the first batter, was himself tagged out of the game at first, Marcus reaching second in a mad scramble and slide.
Jonas was next up, fouling out the first two pitches and then there was a stream of balls, which resulted in his taking a slow amble to first base.
Logan surreptitiously wiped his hands on his legs...even he was getting nervous when Kevin struck out. "Sorry, coach." The boy looked totally crestfallen.
"Aww, Kevin, you did your best."
Logan looked across at a smiling Max when Ben came up to bat. Ben also flicked a brief glance in that direction, then settled himself into position, digging the toes of his right foot into the dirt for grip. When the pitch came, the bat connected with a sweet ‘ping’ (aluminium bats were allowed in the league), which sent the ball flying out over the top of the infield over the shortstop’s head. Alex waited just long enough to see that it wasn’t caught, then started to run, as did Marcus, with Ben hot on his heels. Left field relayed the ball back and it eventually found its way into the pitcher’s glove as Ben cleared third and headed for home. Logan held his breath as the pitcher threw, but when the Oriole catcher dropped the ball, there was no doubt that Ben was safe. The boy slid into home in a cloud of dust to yelling from the parents and his team mates.
"Well played, guys.!"
Logan high-fived Ben as he entered the dugout. There was a lot of whooping and hollering going on among the boys as they gathered into a clump around the final run scorer. Logan felt a hand on his shoulder and turned his head to see the grinning face of his cousin, Bennett, whom he hadn’t seen arrive.
"Well done, cuz."
Logan saw that the umpire was already with the scorers signing the results sheets and bulldozed his way out of the dugout, catching the toes of some unwary boys in passing.
With that out of the way, he led the boys back onto the field to give three cheers for their opponents, the umpire and spectators, then it was time to go.
Having to pack up and go was quite a letdown. The boys were on a high and wanted to race around razzing each other. Logan ended up calling upon a couple of parents to grab the bases while he dealt with the boys.
"Steady up guys, we’re not there yet. We’ve won the semi, but give the Orioles their due – they put up a good fight. That doesn’t mean the hard work is over. So what do I want you to do?" he asked.
"Training on Wednesday afternoon?" called one of the boys from the back of the dugout.
That’s right. Training Wednesday. Usual time, usual place. We still have a final to win."
Max’s hand magically appeared on Logan’s shoulder and she gave it a squeeze.
"I would’ve come sooner...but this little girl was being a pain." She dropped the baby lightly into his lap.
"Hey, you made it, and that’s all that matters."
"Little boys with the sticks and balls," she rolled her eyes. "You want a hand with the stuff?"
"You got one?"
"Got two, actually, but one of them will be tied up with madam, here."
"Nah, we’ll be fine. I’ll get my two packhorses to carry the gear."
"Yes, son?" Logan peered over his glasses at the boy, an innocent expression on his face.
Ben already knew better than to argue. "C’mon Jonas, let’s do this. ‘Soon as we get home we can go to the park."
"Jonas, what’s your mum say about that?" asked Max.
"His mum says it’s fine." Marianne had come up behind them.
"Logan, good work. That was a terrific game." This last was from Bennett, who was standing just behind him, but on the far side of the wire mesh.
"They’re a great bunch of kids."
"Yes, they are that. Come on, Marianne, I need a ride back to the office. James drove me here, but he had to go. See you later, cousin."
"You too, Bennett. I’ll drop young Jonas back after dinner."
Bennett waved as he and Marianne started to walk back across the field.
"And on that note, hadn’t we better catch up with the boys? They’re already at the car," said Max, gathering up Eva and putting her back in the stroller.
Logan looked across to where he had left the Aztek, a more recent model than his original but just as beat up. He’d developed a grudging affection for the ugly SUV. The boys had the hatch open and were loading the bags into the back. They hadn’t waited to see whether Jonas would be allowed to stay – they knew he would – so they didn’t waste any time on the social niceties.
Eva started to protest at being put back in the stroller, but Max ignored her yell and started to push. "Come on, lazybones."
"I’ll race you."
Logan grinned and pushed off through the dugout. It was purely for Eva’s benefit – she loved the rough rides her mother gave her across the grass, and arrived giggling at the car way before Logan did. Max had Eva belted into the baby seat and the two boys in beside her before Logan made it across the ground. She waited, leaning in the window to talk to the kids while he got into the driver’s seat, then she took the wheelchair to the back, broke it down and loaded it as well, briefly thinking of the first time she’d done that particular job and the reaction she’d gotten from her prickly, proud man. "Logan, I’m allowed to do this. It’s not like I’m picking you up and carrying you, and it gives the boys some legroom. You ought to try sitting in the back seat with the wheelchair on your toes sometime." He’d replied by saying wistfully, "I wouldn’t be able to feel it." All the same, he’d conceded the point, and she’d been doing this ever since.
She slammed the hatch down as Logan started the engine and came around to get in the passenger seat.
"Well, folks, let’s go home." She smiled at the two boys in the back seat and then at the one in the front, as he put the car in gear and headed out.