Clods flew from the bottoms of Lincoln’s spikes as he slammed them together, showering the floor of the dugout in red clay. When he arrived that morning, the field was still wet from the night’s rain. There was a large puddle between first and second, but his spot at short was mostly dry. Still, after three buckets of ground balls, the spaces in between the metal teeth of his cleats were clogged, and it felt like he was lifting bricks with each step.
On the field, his bowling ball of an agent, Roy, was collecting the stray baseballs behind first base. Even from where he was sitting, Lincoln could see the man was out of breath and sweating through his shirt. The cleats were as clean as they were going to get, so Lincoln tossed them in his bag and went to help him.
“Jesus Christ, Roy. There’s still dew on the grass and you’ve already ruined that shirt.”
Roy turned to him red-faced, “Oh shut up, you bum. Any Rep with a shred of dignity wouldn’t even be out here hitting worm burners at you like your fucking daddy.”
Lincoln laughed, “Guess it’s lucky for me you lost the last of your dignity when Carter was in office.”
Roy grumbled more under his breath about bums and his distaste for fungo bats, but he was absolutely right. Lincoln couldn’t even get a decent trainer to work with him. After three surgeries in four years, his right knee was hamburger. His last two rehab stints in the AA ball had gone well, only to see him reinjure the same knee – the first time on a slide into second and then again chasing a ground ball in the gap. St. Louis cut him loose an hour after he went under the anesthesia for his last surgery. Lincoln was washed up.
The men tossed the last of the balls into the bucket and headed back to the dugout, where Lincoln plopped on the bench and Roy made for a cooler in the corner. He pulled out a Red Stripe for himself and a bag of watery ice for his client.
“How’s the stem, Tall Cotton?”
“Sore,” he said, catching the bag of ice from Roy and laying it across the top of his knee, “but not ‘sore’ sore. You know?”
Roy nodded and pried the cap off his beer.
“Bit early for that, isn’t it, Roy?”
“That’s rich. I thought I divorced my wife years ago, but here she is sitting next to me.”
Lincoln laughed again – he couldn’t help but love the man. He’d signed with him fresh out of high school, when both legs were golden and he was the most reliable hitting short stop in the Midwest. First impressions weren’t great; Roy had the wardrobe of a loan shark and Lincoln had a reputation for slacking in his conditioning. Their first meeting was over hot wings at a Hooters in Des Moines. Lincoln signed with him the next day.
“Anybody call this week?” Lincolnasked, slowly rubbing circles with the ice.
“Nobody yet, slick, but they will,” he took a small sip from his beer, “that Cuban kid Los Angeles had shipped over just ripped his rotator cuff and Chicago is weak on the left side. It’s only a matter of time.”
“What about San Diego? That rookie they are trotting out there – Schmidt – booted three balls last week.”
“Yeah, he did. The little son of a bitch also parked six others in the stands. They’re sticking with him.”
Lincoln said nothing. The dull throb in his knee was dying out and the sweat around his collar was all but gone in the breeze.
“Listen, kid,” Roy’s voice was unusually soft, “I’ve got a first basemen’s mitt in the car. You want to take some reps over there? Try it out a bit?”
Lincoln’s stomach turned. “I’m not a goddamned first baseman, Roy. You know that.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, you’re not a goddamned short stop either – at least not an employed one. All I’m saying is give it a shot. There’s less range over there and you’ve got good hands. Add a few years to your career, dummy.”
He was met with a long silence.
“Fuck first base,” said Lincoln, finally.
Roy let loose a long sigh. “So that’s the way it’s going to be, huh?”
“Looks like it, Roy.”
The agent walked back down to the end of the dugout and fished out another beer. Sitting back down, he opened it and handed it to Lincoln without a word. They clinked their bottles together.
“Fuck first base.”