Although I’ve started working with Cody, that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped coaching Lucas. Mrs. Andrews has me working with him twice a week sometimes, since team tryouts are coming up and Lucas is determined to be the starter at 2nd.
I’ve been working him hard, but, truth be told, his game’s in dang good shape. And so’s he. He’s not quite as ripped as he was when he got back from baseball camp, but I think the 1 inch and 10 pounds he’s put on since the end of the summer have helped his hitting. (I still have trouble getting used to the fact that the scrawny kid I started working with is now my height.) He really has worked like a motherfucker during the offseason, and, if you get to be a starter based on effort, I can’t imagine anyone at Lucas’ school who’d deserve it more. But you need skill and talent, too…and Lucas has developed into a first-rate player since he became my pupil last winter.
I know it’s all not my coaching: he put in a ton of work at baseball camp and he’s developed a whole new body. He was a little awkward from having shot up so fast over the summer, but he’s got the feel of his new body now. For a while in there he was back into his old bad habit of swinging for the fences every time. I think I figured out why: he was feeling that that, now that he was so much bigger and stronger, he should be this super slugger. It’s the reverse of why he used to swing himself out of his shoes: then he was one of the smallest guys on the team and he felt he had something to prove.
If I’m gonna become famous as a baseball tutor, I think the First Rule of Block Baseball is gonna be don’t swing for the fences. Ever. Learn to swing right…and the homers will come. Sure, power’s great, but power’s wasted if you don’t make contact. Imagine 10 ABs and think of what your batting average is gonna be if you get on base 6 of those times…compared to 9 Ks and one homer. I know I’ve written a lot about long balls I’ve hit, but the reality of my career is that I was one of those guys you could trust to get on base when he needed to…and the way you win games is by getting men on base.
I don’t want it to go to his head too much, but I’m super pleased with how Lucas is shaping up. I can’t imagine there’s a better kid in his school for the starting spot he wants so bad. And I’m liking it that he wants to play 2nd. 2nd and short are very similar positions and require similar skill sets, so I get to pass on my middle infielder secrets to him. I have him taking a shitload of ground balls, and he’s practicing throws to 1st every way but standing on his head. He hasn’t exactly mastered the trick of throwing from behind his back, but, for a kid his age, he’s getting dang good at it.
I got Travis to come along one night and he got to be our 1st baseman while Lucas was practicing throws. Travis is an outfielder and a softball player, and catches at 1st from 2nd are different than catches out in left, but he made the adjustment pretty quickly. Besides, it was good practice to Lucas to be throwing to a 1st baseman who wasn’t the greatest at his position: it meant he had to make his throws even more accurate. Travis and Lucas got on well too (and Mrs. Andrews chipped in 20 bucks to cover Travis’ time…so I didn’t have to split what I make with him.)
We’re also putting in a lot of time in the cage, since, no matter how good a fielder I make outta Lucas, it’s hitting that’ll make or break him in tryouts. It’s always that way.
The cage means that Chuy and his family are involved, and they’re almost as into Lucas making it as a starter as I am. Chuy’s watched him a lot, and has given me some advice on what I can tell my pupil – but it’s really cool that Chuy isn’t undermining my authority by telling Lucas what to do. (And, truth be told, not all of Chuy’s suggestions are things I’ve passed on. Chuy was a pitcher, remember…so he’s not the greatest source of information on how to hit.)
From the looks of it, Eric’s become Lucas’ best buddy. Nobody would have guessed that when we started going to the car wash/batting cage that night when Eric broke his arm in one of the machines…but I like it a lot that Lucas has some friends away from that rich kids’ school he goes to. (I’m not sure Mrs. Andrews feels the way I do, but she wouldn’t be the first snobby rich person I’ve met in Pasadena.) Eric’s been an alternate on Chuy’s grown-up team for a year now, so he’s a good ball player, but the sport he really loves is soccer. Maybe he’s rebelling against a house in which baseball was always the sport that counted. (Chuy’s told me a few times that he can’t stand ‘futbol’. I’m with him lol.) Eric’s usually working at the car wash when me and Lucas are in the cages, and he’s very useful to me because he never stops giving ‘the great white wey’ shit. Getting that much shit from his best buddy only makes Lucas want to hit better.
Chuy’s wife Aracely is a very serious Catholic (the whole family goes to church every Sunday), and she’s told me and Lucas that she’s praying regularly to the Virgin of Guadalupe that he’ll get to be a starter. It’s really super nice of Aracely to remember Lucas in her prayers like that. Lucas isn’t even Catholic. (The Andrews’ aren’t church-going folk at all. I don’t even know what denomination they belong to…if any.)
I like it that Aracely is supporting Lucas the way she is, but it does remind me of something Meemaw always used to say: don’t ask the Lord to help you win a baseball game. That’s not what prayer is about, since you shouldn’t get the idea that Jesus thinks less of the other team and that’s why they lose. The Lord doesn’t get involved in who wins games. He gave you and your teammates a set of athletic gifts, and it’s up to us all to make the most of those. “So,” she always says, “never extend your hands up to heaven when you’re coming round the bases after you hit a home run.” (Meemaw hates it even more when the Catholic players cross themselves when they hit a home run.) “If you want to thank the Lord about something, thank Him for having made you as good a baseball player as you are…not for having made you hit a home run or win a game.”
So there’s a whole lot of people pulling for Lucas, and even I can’t believe how hard he’s working. It’s getting so I have to warn him about overtraining and that makes me mix up our drills as much as I can. If y’all can remember, one of the first things I did with Lucas was get him to stop running like a girl. He doesn’t really need to work on running that much, but he always wants to work on something and I don’t want to give him elbow or shoulder problems like Corey Seager developed. I know he’s gonna make the team one way or another…and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t the fastest guy on the team.
I sure as heck would pick Lucas as a starter. I don’t want to get his hopes up too much, but my gut feeling is that there’s no one better than him to take 2nd at his school. It’s only a division team, and I don’t know that Lucas is good enough to be scouted anyway, but his baseball certainly oughta help him get into one of those fancyass colleges his parents want him to get into.
I helped him with his application essay, which was about baseball. No, I didn’t help him with grammar or the subject, but I was brought in to make sure he had his baseball facts right. I hope y’all think that I’m a pretty good writer, but I don’t think I’d try to get into Harvard or some place like that with one of these blogs lol.
Oh yeah…there’s something real funny that’s happened at the batting cages: Chuy has discovered the 99¢ store. He’s been in this country for a long time now (both Eric and Abelito were born here…and Eric is gonna turn 18 in a few weeks), so you’d think he’d know about it already, but he says he’s never been there until a few weeks ago. Now it’s all he talks about: it seems like anything you mention (and I mean anything) will get him to say how he can get it better at the 99¢ store. I don’t have anything against saving money when you can, but it’s pretty funny the way Chuy has gotten so carried away with getting shit for 99¢. Eric thinks it’s hilarious, but it’s driving Aracely crazy.
“He bought 5 boxes of…como se llaman?”
“Rice a Roni,” said Eric.
“Si. Parmesan cheese flavor.” (Cheese and rice?? Ew.) “I’m Mexican and I know how to make my own rice. Good arroz a la mexicana. Not that 99¢ cochinada. Now I have 4 boxes left. What am I gonna do with them?”
“Put them on the shelf with the boxes of crappy cereal he bought the day before, jefa,” said Eric, coming up to us.
“That cereal is good!,” said Chuy, coming up to us. “And it was only 99¢ for those big boxes!”
“It’s like my dad has a whole new religion,” said Eric, kinda aside to me and Lucas.
“Callate!,” said Aracely. “Don’t talk like that about the church.” (When Aracely says ‘church’ it comes out without the R.)
“Ok ok, jefa,” Eric said. “I didn’t mean he had a new religion. But he’s going to need rehab if he keeps this up.”
“One day you’ll be in charge of your own money,” said Chuy, “and you’ll appreciate getting something for a good price. Did you see the green bell peppers I got yesterday? Those were 2 for 99¢.”
“Si, mi amor,” said Aracely, “but one day you’re going to learn how to cook and learn what ingredients we use. I never use bell peppers…they’re not picante. (Lucas: “that means hot.”) One day I should cook with your stupid 99¢ ingredients and you’ll see what you get for dinner.”
“But I got that whole bag of jalapeños for 99¢ last week. You can’t tell me that was a waste of money.”
“So you buy one thing I can use for 99¢ and waste 20 dollars on cheap stuff we don’t need…and you call it una buena compra?” (Lucas: “a good buy.”)
“I’ll take you the next time I go. You’ll see all the wonderful bargains they have. You’ll never want to shop anywhere else. And everything is…”
“99¢!,” we all said together. Even me and Lucas.
“The only reason I’ll go is to stop you from buying 10 cans of some junque (me to Lucas: “I know what that one means”) I’ll never use.” She turned to us. “Don’t get me started on the tomato sauce from some brand I never heard of. Ay mi esposo se vuelve loco…” (Lucas: “my husband’s going crazy.”)
She walked away shaking her head. We went back to the cages to collect our equipment, then Eric joined me and Lucas for a walk over to the taco truck. That made for a nourishing dinner…and I like it when Lucas has real food instead of one of his beet juice and nonfat yogurt shakes. I still haven’t gotten him to have ice cream, though,, and he’s been back from camp for months now.
But we have a deal: if he makes the team, he’s gotta eat a hot fudge sundae to celebrate.