Mayfield Magic

Chapter 15-IF

<Larry and Phil>
Larry and Phil sat at a table in the concession area, each enjoying a donut and a cup of weak concession stand coffee. A man carrying a hot dog and a soda came up to their table. “Mind if I join you?” he asked.
“Feel free, Clyde,” Larry grinned. “Good to see you.” Clyde Sandstrom, who was the head baseball coach at Monte High School, sat at the table.
“It looks like you’ve got some good kids coming to the high school,” Clyde said. “That cleanup hitter is something else. I’ve never seen a kid in this league hit the ball as far he did. I have a feeling he will be skipping the freshman team and going straight to the JV in the spring.”
“I can tell you that isn’t going to happen. In fact, Dean and Tom will be working with him on his fielding skills. I’d like him to be able to do more than DH when he hits high school,” Larry said, referring to Dean Eklund and Tom Seaver the middle head and assistant baseball coaches.
“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that big hunk is heading into eighth grade and not ninth?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. His family emigrated here, and it was decided to hold him back a year.”
“I figure the kid that was the starting pitcher in the first game is ready to be a Mustang.”
“That’s Trent Hallion and he will be a Mustang, along with yesterday’s starting pitcher and Max, the first baseman. Everyone else will be going into either seventh or eighth grades. This group of kids is one of the most talented to come through Mayfield in quite a while.”
“Skyler, the big stud on these Bulldogs, will be a high school Bulldog next year. I’m figuring he’ll be skipping the frosh team and playing JV ball. And this game’s starter is your son, right?”
“That he is,” Larry said proudly. Larry and Phil had finished their snacks and stood up to return to their bleacher seats. “Who’s starting for the Dogs?”
“Walt Haggerty. Our number two starter sprained his ankle in Saturday’s game. Zeke is our number three starter, but he’s still a damn fine pitcher.”
‘Just like Aiden,’ Larry and Phil both thought.
“I guess Walt and Greg are going to piggyback and give us three innings or so each. Anyway, good luck to your kids, but not enough luck to beat our kids,” Clyde said.
“The feeling is mutual,” Larry grinned. “I think this game is going to go right down to the last play.”
“Agreed,” Phil said. “Good to see you, Clyde.”
“It was a pleasure seeing the two of you.”
When Larry and Phil returned to their seats, the umpires were meeting with the coaches and captains at home plate. Scott and Trent were both at the meeting. They were just in time for the coin flip. Mayfield and Monte had each been the home team once, so the home team for the IF game was going to be decided by a coin flip.
“Since Mayfield traveled the longer distance, they get to call the flip,” the home plate umpire said.
“Since tails failed last time, I’m going to say that a tail won’t fail,” Scott said. “So, I’m calling tails.”
“Whatever suits you.” The ump tossed the coin which came down tails. “Tails it is.” He pointed to the third base dugout and called out, “Mayfield is the home team,” which brought on some Mayfield cheers.
“Interesting boy,” umpire Chris Nettles told Coach Hallion as the meeting broke up.
“Very. Straight A student and one of the smartest kids you’ll find on a baseball field. Hell of a pitcher, too.” James Hallion wasn’t sure what kind of response the umpire expected, but he was certain it wasn’t the one he received.
The Yard Goats ran out onto the field. Aiden engaged the rubber and threw a warmup pitch to Lenny. On his sixth pitch, the plate umpire held up two fingers to indicate that Aiden had two more and after the seventh pitch he held up his index finger and reminded Lenny to throw the ball to second, which Lenny did as soon as he caught the ball. Mason covered second, made a phantom tag, and tossed the ball to Aiden as the ump called for the first batter. It was time to play ball.
Aiden threw his first pitch for a strike. On his second pitch, Marvin, the Bulldog leadoff batter, grounded out to Miles at second.  Zeke, who was playing left field, batted next and flied out to Rusty in left on the second pitch to him. Aiden went fastball, changeup, fastball to Skyler. Skyler swung and missed all three to end a quick half inning. Skyler tipped the brim of his helmet to Aiden before making the turn to the dugout. Aiden needed only seven pitches to retire the side.
Nobody on the Goats knew much about Walt, the starting pitcher, except that he usually pitched in relief and that relief pitching was not one of the Bulldogs’ strengths. Nevertheless, Walt, who faced Gordy, Trent, and Aiden, retired the side on three groundouts.
“That pitcher’s got nothing,” Cal said as the teams changed sides. “The Goats will get to him real quick.”
“I dunno. It gets really tough when you’re in the playoffs,” Nolan pointed out.
“And don’t I know that,” Cal nodded. It was just a few days ago that he had been certain there was no way his Bucks would lose to Mayfield. All he had to do was look at which team was in the field playing for the championship to be reminded that the game is played on the field.
The Bulldogs picked up the first hit in the game with two outs in the top of the second. Greg, who was Skyler’s boyfriend, hit a solid single to center. But Walt hit a groundball to Gordy at short who flipped the ball to Miles at second for a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
“He throws slow, slower, and slowest,” Trent said to Muddy as he entered the dugout. Muddy nodded and went to the on-deck circle to take some practice swings as Walt threw his five warmup pitches.
Muddy was eager to hit the stuffing out of Walt’s slow stuff. Instead, he ended up twisting himself like a pretzel when he got fooled by a slow curve on a 2-2 pitch. Scott then grounded out to second and Miles hit a soft fly ball to left for another quick inning.
The third was another quick inning. Aiden put the side down in order. Riley picked up a two-out single for the Goats’ first hit but Gordy flied out to left to end the inning.
Skyler evened things up with Aiden by hitting a one-out single in the top of the fourth. This time it was Aiden’s turn to tip his hat. Darren, the cleanup hitter, then got hold of a bad pitch by Aiden and hit a deep fly that sailed over Rusty’s head in left. The ball bounced off the fence and Rusty quickly picked it up and turned to the infield.
He saw that Gordy was set up as the relay man. Because of the length of the throw from deep left field to home, Rusty would be hitting the relay man who came out to relay the throw as opposed to Scott, the cutoff man, who was set up in the infield to throw the ball where Lenny directed. Rusty saw that Skyler had hit third and was heading for home. He got ready to throw home when the words ‘hit the cutoff’ echoed in his brain, reminding him of his mistake in the first game.
Rusty, who had a strong arm, knew he could hit Scott in the infield and threw the ball on a line to the cutoff. Scott heard Lenny yell “CUT FOUR!”, turned, and fired a perfect throw to Lenny, who caught it and tagged Skyler on his left foot before it touched the plate for the second out. Darren, the hitter, alertly took second on the play. The Mayfield fans cheered loudly as did the Goat players in the dugout at the completion of the perfectly executed play.
“That was exactly like in practice!” Mac yelled from the dugout. “Good job, dudes!” Even though Lenny hadn’t played a lot since school ball, he worked as hard as anybody in practice. Not only was Kevin’s working with Lenny’s catching fundamentals paying off, but so was the encouragement he always got from Mac. Aiden then struck out Kelly, who was hitting for Greg, to end the inning. Rusty felt proud when he received multiple pats on his back and a couple on his ass when he ran off the field.
The reason Lenny yelled for Scott to throw the ball to four instead of home was that one of the instructions the catcher might tell the cutoff was to hold the ball if there wasn’t a play to be made. Home and hold sounded close to each other and could easily be confused in the excitement of the play; hence home plate became fourth base for the sake of the play and the catcher called for the ball to be thrown to four. If there had been no possible play at home, he could have called out “Cut two!” indicating that Scott should throw the ball to second base.
The Monte coach had planned to have Walt pitch the first three innings and then have Greg relieve him. Even though Walt had only thrown 32 pitches the coach stuck to his plan and Greg took over the Bulldog pitching duties in the bottom of the fourth.
“Why is the coach changing pitchers?” Paul asked Larry. “The kid was pitching well.”
“My understanding is that this is their strategy for this game,” Larry replied. “With one of their starters hurt, the coach decided to go with two relief pitchers since neither one had put together enough innings to get his arm stretched out.”
“Nice that the coach is watching out for their young arms in the league championship game.”
“That’s part of it. But he also doesn’t want to have a tired pitcher on the mound when he has a fresh one, who is probably just as good, available.”
“That makes sense.”
Greg threw harder than Walt and the Goat hitters had to adjust. The Goats liked the harder thrower better than the soft tosser and mounted a threat of their own going into the bottom of the inning.  Aiden got things started with a one out walk. Coach Hallion elected not to use the designated runner since Aiden was one of his best baserunners. Muddy then hit a solid single to right center and Aiden scooted from first to third. Scott popped up to third for the second out but the threat appeared to continue as Miles followed with a walk to load the bases. Lenny took a nasty 1-2 pitch on the inside corner for a called third strike to end the threat and the inning.
In the fifth, Aiden did a three up and three down on the Bulldogs. Rusty led off the Goats’ half of the inning with a walk - he had hoped that the karma from good play in the field would carry over to his at bat and that appeared to be the case. But he was left stranded as Greg fanned Riley, Gordy, and Trent with filthy pitching. The game went into the sixth still a scoreless tie.
“Aiden’s really been on his game,” Cal said as Aiden took his warmup pitches for the sixth inning.
“He’s been mixing his pitches like a pro,” Nolan responded. He knew that his boyfriend had to outsmart the hitters to be successful, and he certainly was doing that this game. While he had a lively fastball that had good movement, he wasn’t a hard enough thrower to make it a consistent weapon. But, when thrown in combination with his changeup and an occasional breaking ball, he was a master at keeping hitters off balance. “Now our hitters need to figure out how to hit that Bulldog rag arm who isn’t half the pitcher Aiden is.”
Larry and Phil were both proud of their son’s pitching performance. He was throwing one of his best games ever. But even a good pitcher on top of his game and throwing well can give up a run or two, and that is what happened in the top of the sixth, just like sometimes a mediocre pitcher (or in the case of this game, pitchers) can become hard to hit over the course of a game.
Aiden would be facing the top of the Bulldog order to start the sixth. Marvin, the leadoff hitter, hit the first pitch thrown to him for a single. Two pitches later he stole second base. Aiden struck out Zeke, which brought Skyler to the plate. Skyler knew it was late in the game and what needed to be done. He worked a full count and then fouled off five pitches before Aiden made a mistake and left a fastball up in the zone. His release had been poor, and the pitch had no movement. Aiden knew he had thrown a mistake pitch to a great hitter and wasn’t surprised when Skyler clobbered it to left center for a run-scoring double. This time there was no tipping of the cap—this was crunch time and the game was on the line.
Darren then hit a grounder to Miles at second who flicked the ball to first for the second out. The grounder advanced Skyler to third—it was what was known as a productive out. But advancing Skyler didn’t lead to a run because Steve, the next batter, hit a routine grounder to Gordy at shortstop. Gordy fired a bullet to Trent at first for the third out.
The game went into the bottom of the sixth with the Bulldogs holding a 1-0 lead. Aiden led off with a hard-hit grounder up the middle for a single, bringing the Mayfield fans to life. A chant of “Let’s go Goats” filled the third base bleachers. Aiden was hoping to get a steal sign and concentrated on Coach Hallion flashing signs from the third base coach’s box.
Once again Coach Hallion didn’t use the designated runner. As soon as Aiden reached first, the coach knew he was going to set the game in motion with a steal attempt. He wanted Aiden to be that runner since he had already made up his mind to have Max pitch the seventh inning. Aiden was 11 pitches from the maximum pitch count and since he would no longer be pitching, the coach had no qualms about giving him the green light to steal.
After taking a couple of practice swings, Muddy stepped into the batter’s box. Greg threw the ball to first a couple of times to keep Aiden close. As soon as Greg started for home, Aiden was on his way to second. The pitch was a ball that was outside. The catcher reached out, caught it, and fired the ball to second. The throw was off target and the second baseman had to step away from the base to catch it. Aiden slid in safely for a stolen base. Muddy then showed why he was the cleanup hitter when he hit a line drive single to left. Aiden took off for third as soon as he verified that the ball wouldn’t be caught. He saw Coach Hallion waving him home and ran like hell. The left fielder threw the ball to the relay man who fired it home from his place on the outfield grass. The throw was hard enough but a little offline and the catcher had to reach to his right for it. Aiden slid past him to score the tying run, setting off loud cheers from the Mayfield bleacher section.
That ended the scoring, however, as Scott flied out to center and Miles popped up to shortstop. Lenny then grounded out to the third baseman. The score was tied as the game entered the seventh, and hopefully final, inning.
Coach Hallion let everyone know who would be playing where in the seventh, and the defensive players ran to their positions. Max was now pitching, and Mac was catching. Max took Miles’ place in the batting order and Mac took Lenny’s spot.
Aiden moved from pitcher to second, taking Miles’ place on the field. Aiden had pitched well, giving up five hits and one run in 6 innings. He struck out five and walked none.
The first batter Max faced in the top of the seventh was Greg, who had re-entered the game in place of Kelly. Max fell behind 3-0. Greg received the take sign on the next pitch which Max threw down the middle, making the count 3-1. Max’s next pitch was down the middle as well, only this time the take sign wasn’t on. Greg swung and got all of the pitch which went sailing over Grant’s head in right, landed fair, scooted into foul territory, and ricocheted off the fence. The Yard Goats caught a break, however, as the spin of the ball shot it directly into Grant’s glove. He grabbed the ball and fired a bullet to Trent, the cutoff man. Trent saw Greg bearing down on the plate and fired a bullet to Mac who applied the tag to the sliding Greg. The Bulldogs had come within an eyelash of scoring an inside-the-park homer - instead it was a triple and out number one.
Max shook off the almost-homerun and put the next two batters down. The top of the seventh ended with the score still tied at 1-1.
The Bulldog and Yard Goat fans were standing up and cheering their teams on. A Mayfield run would end the game. Monte brought in Warren Shelton, their best reliever, to keep the game tied and force extra innings. Like Coach Hallion, the Bulldog coach’s strategy was that the opposing team would have to beat his best reliever in order to win the game.
Rusty led off the inning, which produced loud cheering from the Goat fans when he laced a 1-1 pitch to left center for a single. During the top of the inning, Coach Hallion had discussed strategy with Eric and Kevin. The big topic was what their tactic should be if Rusty got on base. He thought the choice was an obvious one but wanted to get the input of his young assistants who, in many ways, were more experienced than he was. Since Rusty was not an adept base stealer and Riley, the next hitter, was an excellent bunter, they quickly agreed a sacrifice bunt attempt was the way to go.
Kevin had told Rusty what the sign would be before he went out to the on-deck circle to wait for the Bulldog pitcher to finish his warmup tosses. As a result, Rusty was not surprised to see Coach Hallion flash the bunt sign. The Bulldog coach, anticipating a bunt, had Skyler, his third baseman, come in a few steps. The first pitch to Riley was low and he took it for ball one. Riley squared to bunt on the next pitch, but bunted foul. His next attempt was a perfect bunt between Skyler and the pitcher. Skyler fielded the ball, could see that he had no play at second, and then threw Riley out at first. The sacrifice had worked to perfection—it had put the winning run in scoring position with one out. Riley knew he had done his job and he received enthusiastic fist bumps and high fives as he returned to the dugout.
Gordy hit a grounder to the shortstop, who easily threw him out at first. Rusty had to stay on second since trying to advance from second to third on a grounder hit in front of a runner on second almost guaranteed that he would be thrown out at third.
Mayfield now had two outs and a runner on second. Trent got set in the batter’s box as Warren engaged the rubber with his pivot foot.  He and Warren exchanged glares declaring they were each ready for the big at bat. The Mayfield players were standing in their dugout intently watching events unfold on the field. Everyone in the ballpark could feel the imminence of a game changing moment.
Warren’s first pitch was outside and high for ball one. Trent then took a knee-high pitch on the inside corner for strike one. The next pitch was a breaking ball in the dirt, making the count 2-1. That was followed by a fastball in the middle of the plate, a meat pitch, that Trent fouled back. It was a fat hitter’s pitch which Warren knew he had gotten away with. Trent mentally kicked himself for not barreling up a pitch he should have hit hard and driven in the winning run. The count was 2-2.
After shaking off one sign, Warren’s next pitch was high and tight, driving Trent a couple of steps back from the plate and making the count full. Warren knew that walking Trent wasn’t a problem since his run was meaningless, but he didn’t want to have to face the big bat of Muddy with the winning run in scoring position. The catcher gave the sign for a fastball on the outside corner.
Coach Hallion reminded Rusty that there were two out. Rusty could run as soon as the ball was hit since a fly ball would end the inning. Warren caught a little too much of the plate and Trent raked a single to left field. Coach Hallion checked the position of the ball and the fielder and felt that with his speed, Rusty could beat a throw home. He pointed home with his right hand and frantically waved his left hand, signaling Rusty to bust his ass and run home. Rusty obeyed the sign and turned on the jets. While he wasn’t an adept base stealer, he was a fast base runner and, with the roar of the screaming Mayfield fans filling his ears, he was zooming home with the winning run.
Darren, the left fielder, had a strong arm and uncorked a perfect throw home where Steve, the catcher, was waiting for it. Rusty and the ball arrived almost simultaneously. Rusty slid by the back of the plate to avoid a collision with the catcher. He reached out with his left hand and felt the catcher’s glove tag him on the shoulder. He was certain he’d touched the plate before Steve tagged him but before he could analyze it any further his left arm struck the catcher’s shin guard. Just as he heard the umpire hollering “SAFE!” he felt a pain shoot from his lower arm through his elbow and he cried out in agony. Rusty’s daring baserunning had won the game 2-1. As soon as he stopped his slide he saw his teammates rushing to home plate to mob him.
The umpire had seen Rusty’s arm hit the shin guard at an odd angle and heard his cry of pain. He held up both hands and successfully stopped the onrushing herd.
Coach Hallion ran down from the third base coach’s box to join the celebration. “What a great slide, Rusty!” Then he saw Rusty holding his arm. “What happened? Are you okay?” the concerned coach asked.
“No, I hurt my arm,” Rusty moaned.
“He’ll be fine,” Coach Hallion said. “You champions go celebrate and he’ll join you soon.” Eric and Kevin could tell that Rusty had seriously hurt his arm but understood that Coach Hallion didn’t want anything to put a damper on the championship celebration.
“Yeah, go, go, go, do it,” Rusty yelled out trying to encourage his teammates. The herd of Goats ran to the pitcher’s mound and started jumping on each other and hugging and patting backs and butts and wrestling on the ground.
Rusty turned away and looked at his coaches. “I think I hurt it bad,” he said as the tears started flowing. Rusty’s mother had come down from the bleachers.
The umpire, who had waited for her, told her what he had seen. He then turned to Rusty and placed his right hand lightly on the boy’s right shoulder. “That was one hell of a great slide, son. A championship slide. Congratulations.”
He turned to leave the field when Coach Hallion stopped him. “Thank you, Mr. Umpire, for a great job and for your words to Rusty. It meant a lot.” The umpire nodded and left.
The Goat players saw the Bulldogs looking on, waiting to shake hands. In silent agreement they pulled themselves together and formed a handshake line. When Aiden met up with Skyler and Greg he traded hugs with both and accepted a kiss on his cheek from Skyler.
“I wish I was going to California with you guys. You’re a great team and, wow, you pitched a wicked game. It was absolutely filthy.”
“Thanks, Skyler. It means a lot coming from you. You’re a good friend and we’ll find a way to have an overnight. But, enter August 30th and 31st in your phone calendar. I’m having a big overnight birthday party and I want you and Greg to be there.”
“Consider it done. Congratulations champion. I better go join my teammates so we can all cry together.” Aiden had noticed that Skyler was fighting tears. He knew that he would be shedding some had the Goats lost. “Hey, how is the kid who scored the run?”
“I don’t know, but I think he hurt his arm pretty bad, or he would have come out to celebrate with us.”
“That sucks. I mean that was a wicked slide and it won the game for you guys. Steve said he felt the kid’s arm hit his shin guard all weird like. But, hey, you guys kick some serious ass in Cali. You’ve got a great team with kick ass pitching with Nolan and Calvin. I’ll think of you while I’m in sunny Yakima.” Skyler ran off to join his teammates. He’d held his tears back long enough—he wanted to share the tear-filled hugs he’d observed behind the first base dugout with his teammates.
As for Rusty, Coach Hallion and Eric were with him as he was being given first aid treatment by Gene McClain, the head athletic trainer at Centralia Community College. The league had hired him to be available to deal with injuries. Gene was putting a splint on Rusty’s lower left arm to keep it stabilized. Larry had taken the workshops on athletic training and injuries that were required for school coaches. He was certain Rusty had suffered a broken arm and wanted to help any way he could. He was pleased to see Gene on the scene performing first aid; he knew Rusty was in good hands.
“He needs to be taken to the emergency room at Centralia General for x-rays,” Gene told Rusty’s mother.
She nodded. In one day, Rusty had gone from what was a happy birthday, which she felt Aiden Miller had a lot to do with, to a pregame party at Aiden’s house, to winning two baseball games and the league championship with him scoring the winning run, to having to go the emergency room at the hospital.
“I’ll be happy to drive you and Rusty to the ER,” Larry offered. “There is plenty of room in my minivan for him to stretch out.”
“And if you give me your keys, I’ll drive your car there,” James Hallion said. “My wife will follow in our car,” he added as if it had all been arranged. It hadn’t but he knew his wife, who was standing with Nolan’s mother and the twins’ mother a few yards away, was, without a doubt, waiting to volunteer to help.
Eric had been standing in the background, ready to help if he was needed. Kevin was busy rounding up the celebrating Goats, instructing them to clear their gear and the team’s gear out of the dugout and leave the field. “Remember, practice at eleven on Saturday,” he reminded them more than once to make sure everyone heard.
In the stands, Garry Wilson and Frank Peters, two of the students in the broadcast crew, stepped in where Phil, Eric, Nolan, and Cal were waiting for Aiden to get off the field. They introduced themselves and asked if Phil and Eric were Mayfield coaches. Eric said he was an assistant coach. 
“We’re looking for somebody to do a quick interview,” Garry said. “And maybe you could pick a player for us.”
“Not a problem,” Eric said. “I’ll grab somebody coming off the field.” He didn’t have to look hard since Aiden walked right up to them. “And I think this is the one,” Eric grinned.
“The one for what?” Aiden asked.
“For a postgame interview.”
“No buts,” Phil told him. “These guys are on a deadline, and you’ve been picked to help them out. Now go.”
Aiden went with Eric and the two students up to the press box where he met Andrew Orson, the lead broadcaster and the students’ communications professor. “Have a seat gentlemen. This will be quick and painless. We’ll be back from commercial break in two minutes.” He looked straight at Aiden and said, “Pretend like you’re just talking to me, and you’ll be fine.”
He quickly got their names. “Are you the Eric Simmons of perfect game fame?” Andrew asked Eric.
Eric never ceased to be surprised by how many people in the county still remembered that game. “Yes, I am.”
“And Aiden, you were the starting pitcher in the IF game,” Andrew verified. Aiden said he was.
They were soon on the air. Andrew started out interviewing Aiden and asked what it was like to pitch in a championship game, what other positions he played, how their overall season went, and so forth.
When Andrew asked Aiden if he had any final comments, Aiden said, “I want to thank my teammates for being the best teammates anybody could ever play with. You guys have always been champions.”
“Well said, young man.” Andrew had been impressed by Aiden’s poise during the interview.
He asked Eric a couple of questions about how the coaches prepared a group of tweens and young teens for a summer of baseball and what they emphasized in practice. Eric said, “We emphasize playing good, solid, fundamental baseball and playing together as a team. The Yard Goats are good solid kids who really like each other. They are like a big family of friends.”
Andrew finished by asking what they were going to do next now that their championship season was over. Eric answered the last question by saying that the team would be flying to California to play in an invitational tournament in San Marcos.
“That’s near San Diego,” Aiden added, trying to be helpful.
“That is fantastic. Good luck to the Yard Goats. I have a feeling you will be ready to show those California boys how the game is played,” Andrew said.
The interview concluded with a brief discussion of Rusty’s injury and get-well wishes for Rusty from Eric, Aiden, and the KCLC broadcast team. Andrew thanked them for the interview, congratulated Aiden on his championship and complimented him on his poise during the interview.
“That was easier than facing Skyler Winsley at the plate with the go-ahead run on base,” Aiden said as he and Eric started out the door.
Since Phil’s pickup was a crew cab, Aiden, Nolan, and Cal were able to ride with him. He thought he would be driving them home, but they said they wanted to go to the hospital to support Rusty. “He’s our teammate and our friend,” Aiden emphasized.
Phil and Larry had thought of Rusty as being as much of an outcast as a player could be on a team where everyone seemed to get along. They agreed that the problem was Rusty isolating himself and hanging out with Max rather than a conscious effort by his teammates to ignore him. They encouraged him in practice and cheered him as hard as anybody in games, but otherwise he stuck to himself. However, things had changed during the last couple of weeks of the season. They thought Aiden reaching out to Rusty had as much to do with the turnaround as anything.
When they arrived at the hospital, they saw Larry, Eric, and Trent sitting in the lobby. Martha Hallion had gone to the ER to give support to Rusty and his mother. Phil took Aiden with him to the ER to check on how Rusty was doing while Nolan and Cal sat to wait out the process.
They saw James and Martha Hallion at the back of the room and walked over to them. “How’s Rusty doing?” Aiden asked right away.
“He says his arm hurts a lot, but not horribly,” Coach Hallion answered.
“I think it’s a clean break,” Martha said. She worked in health care and was speaking from experience.
“He’s really worried about not being able to go to California,” Hallion said. “If the doctor clears him to go, Martha and I are going to do everything we can to get him on that plane. There’s no doubt he won’t be able to play, but there are ways he can be part of the team without playing.”
“Is anybody going to take his place on the team?” Aiden asked.
“I’d like to have a fifteenth player, but I’m not sure we can pick one up. Your dad is my expert on tournament rules and protocol. Do you have ideas who might be available?”
Even though he didn’t know what the tournament policies were or what Coach Hallion had planned, Aiden had given the idea of adding a player to the roster some thought on the ride to the hospital. “I do. I did some thinking about it. Since you asked me, I guess we can pick up a player.”
“Your dad’s pretty sure we can with certain limitations. He’ll look it up when he gets home. Who are you thinking of?”
“I was thinking of Skip Emerson,” Aiden stated.
“I recognize the name, but I don’t know him. He’s kind of young for us, isn’t he?”
“He’s eleven and going into middle school. Everybody says he is the best player on the Explorers.” The Explorers were Mayfield’s 11 and under team. “But most important, he knows our team and the guys on it. He’s been to some of my swim parties with the team and he totally roots for us. He was at all three games in the championship series. He knows us and we know him.”
“You make a pretty good case. I’ll discuss it with your dads and see what they think. I’ll talk to Trent and Scott about it as well.”
The door to Rusty’s exam room opened and Rusty stepped out with his mother. His left arm was in a sling. Martha Hallion and the doctor exited after them. “Hey, Rusty, how are you feeling?” Aiden asked.
Rusty’s frown turned into a partial smile when he saw his friend waiting for him. Once again, he realized he was not alone—that he had a real friend. “It hurts but nothing horrible. The doc gave me some pain meds.”
“What’s the prognosis?” Coach Hallion asked no one in particular.
The doctor glanced at Laurel O’Rourke, Rusty’s mother, who nodded her okay, giving him permission to speak freely. He knew the man standing in front of him was Rusty’s coach. He introduced himself as Dr. Hamilton and told them what he had found and what would happen. Rusty had a non-displaced fracture of his left ulna, one of the two bones in the lower arm. While the bone didn’t break all the way through and the two sides of the break were aligned, he highly recommended putting a cast on it.
“The splint is a good temporary fix until tomorrow when he will come back here to get the cast applied. I told him and his mother he should be able to travel with his team next week, but he won’t be able to play ball until the bone heals completely.”
“Will I still be able to go even though I won’t be able to play?” Rusty asked Coach Hallion plaintively.
“Absolutely,” Hallion replied. He knew that if they were allowed a replacement, they would have to find a way to get Rusty’s replacement to California. But he also knew the hurt inside Rusty’s soul was more intense than the hurt in his broken arm. The boy had just turned thirteen the day before, and today he had executed a beautiful run from second to home to score the winning run in the league championship game. If he told Rusty he couldn’t travel with his team it would totally break the boy’s heart, and there was no way he was going to do that. He had confidence that his wife, Martha, who had been handling the team’s traveling arrangements, would find a way to get everybody to California.
“Thanks, coach. And thanks for being here, Aiden. Thanks for being a friend. I’ll see you soon.” He walked out the ER with his mother, fighting tears, but feeling thankful that he had people like his mother, Coach Hallion, and Aiden Miller in his life.
Next: Preparations
 Mayfield Yard Goats vs Monte Bulldogs at Centralia Baseball Complex, Field 1. IF game and Championship game of the Southwest Washington 13 and Under League.
1.) Gordy-SS (6)
2.) Trent-1B (3)
3.) Aiden-P (1)
4.) Muddy-DH batting for Mason
5.) Scott-3B (5)
6.) Miles-2B (4)
7.) Lenny-C (2)
8.) Rusty-LF (7)
9.) Riley-CF (8)
Mason-RF (9)