Ryan’s First Game

So the Parrots have themselves a new pitcher. Ryan’s had one heck of a complicated life, even if he’s only 23. He’s been ‘clean’ from drugs for getting on 4 months now, works in a little Mexican restaurant, and lives in a ‘sober living’ in Eagle Rock. He’s doing a dang good job of getting his life back together after – y’all just have to read the blog I wrote about his history, and even then you might not believe it. Adam met him at an AA meeting where Ryan said that one of the things he most liked doing was playing softball…right when we just happened to need a pitcher.

Ryan pitched dang well at his tryout (once he got his stuff going again, but he was bound to be rusty after everything he’s been through.) We voted for him unanimously, although, admittedly, some of us were concerned whether he’d be reliable given his history. Like many of y’all may have guessed, though, he was the first to show up at our next practice. Adam assured us that people like Ryan who are in ‘early recovery’ are some of the most devoted and reliable people in the world. Ryan’s working dang hard at his life. I think all he wants is to be just another dude with a job, an apartment, some buddies to play softball with and maybe a nice boyfriend. The things so many of us take for granted.

Ryan did have one softball-related problem: he didn’t have any equipment. He’d borrowed a glove for his tryout, so we didn’t realize that he didn’t have one of his own. I think I noticed it first, since I was early to that practice too and I noticed he wasn’t changing shoes, so I thought maybe we could all pitch in and get him a glove and some softball spikes.

Adam was one step ahead of me, and showed up a few minutes later with a Big 5 bag with a glove and a shoebox inside. He gave it to Ryan very discreetly. It was real cool how he did it, too.

“How did you know he needed equipment?,” I asked him, taking him off to one side, trying to be discreet myself.

“Didn’t you see him at the tryout? That was my glove he borrowed.”

I missed it, I’ll admit.

“I realized it today,” I said, “and I was thinking maybe we could all pitch in and…”

“You don’t want to embarrass people when it comes to something like that,” Adam explained. “The fewer people who know, the better. Ryan knows me, he knows I can afford a glove and a pair of shoes, and it’s all taken care of. You don’t even need to tell anyone about it.”

“I won’t,” I said, thinking I might tell Meemaw about a good lesson learned though.

Ryan’s first game wasn’t all that important, which was good for everyone. Far from playing the Kung Paos, our opponents were the Killer Barracudas, who are consistently the worst team in our league. (The name is a joke. They know how bad they are lol.) Playing them was a good way for Ryan to start out slow and get used to everything – all of which was new to him, from the field to his teammates to the umpire to his glove to our opponents.

The Killer Barracudas’ captain is a great guy with a great sense of humor. He loves to play and knows that he just can’t get a winning team together. The thing about the Killer Barracudas is that everyone likes them: if there was a prize for the best-liked team in the league, it would probably be the them. The captain’s name is Manny and he always comes to talk to us before games.

“Just promise me one thing,” he said to me, Josh and Adam, as we were getting into our equipment.

“What’s that?,” asked Josh.

“If you get ahead by 10 runs you’ll stop hitting homers off Leo.” (Leo’s their pitcher. He throws a lot of meatballs, but always with a smile. Sometimes you do feel bad hitting them out of the park.)

“If you take it easy on our new pitcher too,” Josh said.

“New pitcher?”

“Yeah, he’s over there warming up.” Josh pointed out where Ryan was standing.

“Dang,” Manny said, “that boy looks like he can throw hard.”

“We’re not entirely sure. This is his first game.”

“Don’t worry, man,” Manny said, “we’ll go easy on him. We go easy on every pitcher we face. You can say a lot about us Barracudas…but you can’t say we’re not polite.”

We all laughed.

The game went well. Ryan was shaky in the first couple innings and gave up 4 runs, but he pulled himself together after that and those were the last runs the Barracudas scored. We were expecting him to pitch a good game; what we weren’t expecting was what a good hitter he was. He looked good at the practice he attended, but he was even better in a game situation. We had him batting 10th, so he only got up 3 times, but he doubled twice and walked once with 1 RBI. Meanwhile the rest of us played well too and the Parrots put 7 on the board, although it’s not like everyone didn’t expect us to win.

A bunch of the Barracudas gave Ryan a slap on the back after the game, and Manny came over to Josh.

“Looks like you guys made a good offseason acquisition,” he said.

“Seems like it,” said Josh. “We’ll see how he pitches when he’s playing a real team.”

“Fuck you, man,” Manny said with a big smile. “Any of your men down for a beer?”

“You’re only askin because you know we’re gonna buy because we feel guilty for kickin you guys’ ass again.”

“7-4 is pretty good for us, bro.”

“You coming, Hunter?”

“Sure. Rocco’s?”

“Yeah. Spread the word.”

So I did. Keaton had already run off to work, and I went up to Ryan.

“Not sure I should ask this,” I said, “but we’re going out for a beer. It’s kinda traditional to buy a round for the Barracudas since they suck so bad.”

“They didn’t suck so bad in the first two innings,” Ryan said. I could tell he was mad at himself about that.

“Don’t sweat that, man. We won, didn’t we? And everyone is willing to cut you some slack as you settle down to play with us. That’s unless we’re playing the Kung Paos.”

“Kung Paos? What kind of a dumbass name is that for a softball team.”

“It’s a dumbass name for a team of jerkoffs,” I explained. “You’re welcome to come join us…but we’ll understand if being in a bar will make you uncomfortable.”

“Yeah…” I could tell he was torn. “I’d love to hang out…but my sponsor is real rigid about going into ‘wet places’. That’s why I’m living in a sober living. So…” He looked disappointed.

I had an idea. “Don’t go anywhere, man.”

I went back to where Josh and Manny were still giving each other shit.

“I’m actually pretty hungry,” I said. “Why don’t we go invade the taco truck instead of going for a beer?”

“Yeah,” said Manny, shrugging yes. “Sounds like a plan. But you guys are still buying.”

“Change in plans,” I said, going up to Ryan. “Taco truck instead of Rocco’s.”

“Sounds great,” he said. “Could you give me a ride home afterwards?”

“No worries.”

So that’s where we all went, and we had a good time. Ryan got to socialize with a great bunch of guys (that includes the Barracudas), and I think we did a good job of making him feel welcome.

It’s true that Eagle Rock was in the opposite direction of home for me, but it wasn’t that far out of the way. So I got to see what a ‘sober living’ looks like from the outside. I didn’t know what to expect; it looked like any other house on the block in what looked like an ok neighborhood. Nothing fancy, but not a slum or anything like that.

“It’s not much,” he said, seeing that I was looking at the place, “but it’s a real home. At least for the time being. One day at a time, though.”

“Right.” I knew that ‘one day at a time’ was a big AA thing.

“I had a real good time,” he said, getting out of the car. “Playing’s as fun as I remember.”

“You lucked into a great team,” I said. “You’ll see as you get to know us better.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Take care, man. And thanks for the ride.”

“Anytime,” I said.

He closed the door and I pointed the shitbox back in the direction of home. I was wondering whether I should have offered to give him a lift to the next game, when I realized I didn’t even have his number. Maybe Adam had it, I thought. Or I could ask him at the next game.

In any event, Ryan’s made his Parrots debut and pitched a dang good game. It’s good to have him onboard. He seems like the pitcher we needed, and, hey, if we can help him a little in his ‘recovery’, so much the better.

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