It’s not one of Meemaw’s sayings, but it’s still a saying: when it rains, it pours.
No sooner did I get hired to work at the L****** than my phone rang. I mean I was literally still waiting for the hotel valet to bring me the shitbox when it rang. I told whoever it was that I’d have to call them back, and I did as soon as I got home.
“Hello? Yes…this is Hunter Block. I believe you called me a little while ago?”
“Ah, yes,” said a man’s voice. “I understand you coach kids in baseball.”
“Yessir,” I said.
“Good. Carter Andrews gave me your name. He says you’ve been a big help to his son.” Ok, I got real thrown like that. Carter is Lucas’ brother. Then I figured it out: our Carter (the one whose ass Keaton keeps saving) must be Carter Andrews Jr., and Mr. Andrews must be named Carter too. “My son Noah,” the voice on the phone continued, “could use some help with his baseball skills. He didn’t make the JV team this year and we’d like him to do better next year.”
I wasn’t sure who ‘we’ was…but I wasn’t sure about a whole lot from this phone call, except that it could possibly lead to my increasing my clientele….and income.
“Carter said you worked miracles with his boy…”
“I can’t say I worked miracles,” I said. I also couldn’t believe that that was what Mr. Andrews said. The man on the phone clearly liked to exaggerate. “Lucas is very dedicated. He’s worked incredibly hard.”
“How are you at motivating kids? Noah’s a decent player…but he needs motivation.”
I have to admit that I didn’t have to work so hard at motivating either Lucas or Cody: both of them were committed to baseball big time. So I wasn’t sure what to answer.
“How old is your son?,” I asked instead.
“14. He’s in the 9th grade. I told you he missed out on JV tryouts this year.”
“There’s always next year,” I said. “A lot of kids don’t make the team in the 9th grade.”
That was a weirdass question.
“No…I did, sir. But…”
“But you were good, you mean to say.”
“I…” What do you answer to that besides that?
“Which is why I want you to coach my son. I understand you’re still hitting homers in recreational games.”
Was this dude spying on Chuy’s league or something? Lucas obviously was telling his dad a lot more about me than I thought…and Mr. Andrews was remembering a lot more of it than I thought he cared about.
“Would you be interested? I’ll be happy to pay ten dollars above your going rate.”
I was happy at the idea of more baseball work (and more money)…only I had my schedule to worry about, what with the new job…and of course Lucas and Cody…to say nothing of ballroom dancing lessons with Joyce once a week…and of course the Parrots. I started to explain that I was busy…and all that happened was that I got offered more money. You know how you hear about people who don’t take no for an answer? This dude was one of them. Only on steroids. He was clearly used to getting what he wanted…and, at that moment, I was what he wanted. I don’t know why it was so important to him that I coach his kid, but it obviously was.
I reckon I could have said no, but it wouldn’t have been easy. The money was just too good to turn down. I didn’t know what my schedule at the hotel was going to be yet, but the hours couldn’t have been more unstable than the ones I worked in retail, and I was able to juggle a lot of activities with my schedule at the Gap. So I reckoned I could work this Noah kid in. Somehow.
So I said the only thing I could say, which was yes, I’d take this dude’s son on as a pupil. I did want to make sure of one thing, though: that he didn’t go to Lucas’ school, although I didn’t think that Lucas (or the Andrews) would object to my working with a kid trying to make the JV team. It’s not like Lucas was in competition with the 9th graders. (Keaton has also pointed out that I don’t have a non-competition clause in my contract with the Andrews and that I’m free to work with whoever I want to. That’s true…but I also wouldn’t want to be coaching someone who was up for the same spot as Lucas. I’m way too invested in him making it as a starter for me to be able to work with other kids at his school.)
Turns out he went to a different school in South Pasadena, so that was good. I still needed to meet the kid first, of course…and see if there was any hope for him. So far both my pupils have had baseball ability…and plenty of desire to improve. I’m not sure how I’d do with a kid with less potential. And I’d already been warned about this one’s motivation.
I arranged to meet up with Noah and his dad the following afternoon after my second to last day at the store.
(We’re pretty much all packed up, and I gotta admit the store looks pretty depressing. I’m used to seeing the place full of customers and with the shelves full; now it’s just empty shelves, which looks dang sad. I know it wasn’t the greatest job in the world, but I had some good times working at the Gap. I reckon it’s kinda sad when anything comes to an end…although I’m super lucky to already have a new job starting on Monday. Tatiana and Olga are going to be transferred to another store, so they’re taken care of, and so is our manager, while my fellow supervisor Svetlana still doesn’t know what she’s gonna do. She’s not going to be the only one of my co-workers looking at being out in the cold.)
I said I’d be at Noah’s house by 6:15, so I didn’t have time to change into anything more professional than the tshirt and jeans I was wearing. On the other hand I reckoned they weren’t hiring me as a lawyer, so the casual look with a hoodie and a Dodger hat probably made me look like Noah’s dad was expecting me to look.
Noah’s parents live in a big house in South Pasadena…the kind of house that explains why his father was willing to pay me so much money to tutor his kid. Noah’s dad was there to open the door for me. I put him at 45, 6’ and 200. The kind of dude who looks like he was athletic when he was younger but now gets most of his exercise on the golf course, if you can call that exercise lol. He looked successful…and had on what I could tell was a Patek Philippe watch. That told me a lot more about him than his build. I did check out his eyes like Joyce wants me to: they were medium brown, while his hair was wavy and what they call ‘salt & pepper’, with more pepper in his case.
He seemed plenty friendly, though…even with the bigass watch.
“So you’re the famous Hunter Block,” he said, taking my hand and trying to win a grip contest.
“I wouldn’t say I’m famous, sir,” I said, winning that round. I had a feeling that a little hubris might do well with Mr. Clarke, so I added, “at least not yet.”
“You don’t need to call me ‘sir’,” Mr. Clarke said. “You can call me Mike. Come in and sit down.”
He led me past a few rooms to a room at the back of the house which I could tell was Mr. Clarke’s man cave. There was all kinds of sports memorabilia, and one of the biggest TVs I’ve ever seen mounted over the fireplace. It was a rich man’s man cave…and I could tell it was one that was supposed to make you realize it was a rich man’s man cave. There was even a see-through self-standing humidor…not just the usual kind of humidor which is basically a fancy box. He had a PacMan machine off in a corner too, which didn’t go with the sports theme of the rest of the place, but it did look cool.
He motioned me into a super comfortable chair that would have been great to watch a Dodger game from. I kept thinking about what Joyce and Dad told me about not crossing my legs and sitting up straight, but that was pretty much impossible in that chair.
Mr. Clarke sat down on a couch facing me. He didn’t offer me anything to drink, although I wouldn’t have said no to a coke.
“So you played A-ball,” he said.
“Yes. With the Hickory Crawdads.”
“I had my assistant look you up. One season at short, batted .285 with 20 home runs. Not bad. How come you didn’t go back for another season? Or didn’t they ask you back?”
“They asked me back,” I said before I went on to explain why I decided I didn’t have a future in baseball. Mr. Clarke seemed interested enough in my reasoning, and didn’t look like he thought I was a quitter.
“Let me tell you a little about Noah,” he then said. The story was pretty much what I expected: Noah was an average little league player who his father has been pushing him pretty hard. He tried out for the JV squad at his school, but apparently did very poorly and didn’t even come close to making the team. He’s playing recreational baseball at school, but Mr. Clarke made it sound like Noah wanted more than that. Clearly Mr. Clarke did. Real bad. I could tell that by how much he was paying me. Noah was probably an infielder, but Mr. Clarke tried making a pitcher out of him last year. Apparently it got clear real fast that Noah had no aptitude for that.
“That’s good,” I said, “since I wouldn’t have the first idea how to coach a pitcher. I mean, I can throw very well for a shortstop, but pitching is another story. I don’t think I’ve stood on a mound since high school.”
“It would be great if you could make a shortstop out of Noah. That is what you know best.”
“It would depend on him,” I said. I may be old-fashioned, but I think that certain bodies are better suited to different positions. Anthony Rizzo looks like a 1st baseman; so does Max Muncy. That’s why I think Bellinger belongs in the outfield. Lucas, especially now, has a good body for a middle infielder. “But I obviously know more about middle infielders than I know about any of the other positions. Lucas Andrews wants to be a starter at 2nd base this season.”
“What are his chances?”
“I may be prejudice…but I think they’re very good. He’s worked super super hard and went to a pretty intense baseball camp over the summer. It doesn’t hurt that he grew four inches since we started working together.”
“Do you think you helped him?”
That was an interesting question. I didn’t feel there was a need for false modesty though.
“Yessir, I reckon I have.”
“We’ve fixed some bad habits he’s had…like swinging for the fences. We’ve simplified his swing, since I believe in keeping everything simple. And I like working on fielding with him; get him a ball now and he’ll get it to 1st.” I didn’t mention that I also fixed his running problem: a friend of Mr. Andrews’ didn’t need to know that Lucas used to run like a girl.
“Impressive,” Mr. Clarke said. “It would be great if you could do some of that with Noah.”
“I’ll do what I can, but I can’t make any promises. Especially without having seen what Noah can do.” I was going to go into my ‘I’m not a miracle worker’ speech, but then I thought it would be bad for business. If this Noah kid really was hopeless, I’d have time to tell his father soon enough.
I was getting real curious about Noah by this point. Finally Mr. Clarke left the room and called him downstairs. He came back a few minutes later, with headphones around his neck and looking like we’d interrupted something important.
I’ll admit that Lucas didn’t make the best impression on me when I first saw him either. Lucas was pretty shy, especially with his parents in the room, and, although you’d never believe it looking at him today, he was a scrawny kid who didn’t look like he’d be physically able to complete with bigger, stronger boys. Lucas did have a good attitude, though, and clearly wanted help with baseball.
So from that y’all probably guessed that Noah didn’t make the best impression on me either. He’s 14 and Lucas was 16, so there’s a big difference there…although this time the problem wasn’t that Noah looked scrawny, it’s that he was on the big side. I guess you could say that he looked like he was still carrying some baby fat, although he was already 5’8” and 170. He looked like the kind of kid who should be going out for football instead of baseball, but either Noah or his dad wanted baseball, and so there I was. For a lot of money per hour.
Of course Noah’s size meant I might have a slugger on my hands, although, if he was a slugger, he’d probably have made the team. It was impossible to tell anything more from just looking at him; the next step was play catch and see what that said about him as a ball player. Then I reckoned we’d head over to Chuy’s to see how he could handle a bat.
“Hey, man…I’m Hunter,” I said, putting out my hand. Noah didn’t seem too sure what to do with it, then he gave it a very tentative shake, which was weird after the handshake duel with his dad. “Your father wants me to help you with your baseball.”
“Oh,” said Noah. He didn’t look enthusiastic, but I was trying to be as enthusiastic as I could be.
“Do you have time to get started now?,” asked Mr. Clarke, definitely getting right down to business. “You guys can play some catch and we can say you were on the clock from when you got here.” He looked at the Patek Philippe. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t wave it a little extra to make sure I saw it.
“You down?,” I asked. Noah didn’t look especially down.
“Maybe he doesn’t have his glove,” Noah said, speaking words for the first time.
“No, I’ve got one. I keep one in the car just in case.”
Noah looked at me like it was the weirdest thing in the world to keep a spare baseball glove in your car. Like y’all know, I keep board shorts and a toothbrush in the shitbox too. I like to be prepared lol.
I went out to get my glove, and I reckon Noah went upstairs to get his. We met back in his dad’s room, and his dad took us out into the backyard. I had the feeling he might stay and watch, but, luckily – since I didn’t want an audience and a self-conscious teenager on my hands – he went back inside.
“Let’s start out slow,” I said, remembering how Cody had attacked our first game of catch together. I threw him an easy ball…and he missed it. I could tell he missed it on purpose, too. Nobody could have been so uncoordinated to miss that toss. Noah then looked down at the ball like it was a piece of shit or something, then he picked it up…and threw it over my shoulder. This was while we were standing 10’ apart.
If this was his attitude, no wonder he didn’t make the team…although the toss over my shoulder showed that he could at least throw a baseball 15’. I’m not dumb: I could tell he made the throw long on purpose. I just couldn’t make out why. Although the money I was being offered would have been seriously appreciated, I wasn’t going to take it under false pretenses. And, if this attitude was the kind of attitude he planned to have, saying I could help him would be false pretenses.
“Don’t think you’re fooling me, man: I can tell you’re not even trying,” I said. “So why don’t you stop pretending you suck and play a decent game of catch? I can tell already you know how to throw.”
“Ok,” he said. He was still sullen as all get out, but at least he caught the ball when I threw it to him the next time.
It got better after that. Not a lot better, but at least a little better. Noah was still giving me serious attitude, but I could at least see that he knew how to throw and catch…even if he looked like he was doing me a favor every time he caught the ball. He had some baseball skills, although why he didn’t want to use them was a good question. I got the feeling I was gonna have to use what I learned in that sports psychology class I took at MT if I was gonna get Noah’s number.
I reckon our game of catch was a draw. We didn’t get to making any kind of crazy fun throws and diving catches, but we were getting the ball back and forth standing 25’ apart. If Noah was a total klutz (that’s another word I learned from Shoshanah), he wouldn’t have been able to do that. I arranged with him that we’d go to Chuy’s on Sunday afternoon; I needed to see him bat before I could decide that I could work with him.
I gotta admit that I wasn’t at all sure about that, and asked Mr. Clarke about it flat out.
“Are you sure Noah wants to be tutored in baseball?”
“What?,” he answered. “Of course he does. What makes you ask?”
“Because he didn’t seem too into it when we were playing catch.”
“Oh…that’s just teenage attitude. He’s like that with everyone. Don’t take it personally. It’s hard enough getting him to take off his headphones at dinner. But he likes baseball, you’ll see.”
I wanted to say ‘if you say so’…but that would have been ruder than I wanted it to sound. So I just nodded and told him I’d be by to pick Noah up on Sunday after church.