Slater Hughes was our 1st baseman the year I was playing with the Crawdads. He was only 19 when he got to Hickory, and was pretty retarded socially, thanks to his dominating mother. I helped Slater get a girlfriend, which was great…until Slater let the cat out of the bag to his mother one night when we were out with the girls.
The morning after that happened, I slept later than Slater, like I usually did. When I came into the kitchen to make breakfast, he was on the phone with his mom, and I could tell she was laying into him.
He looked miserable. It was reminding me more and more of Tangled lol. I probably should have gone back in my room, but I was hungry for breakfast and it was getting late if we were going to be on time for BP.
He just sat there at the table listening to her yell at him. He wasn’t even saying ‘yes mommy’ and ‘no, mommy’…he was just sitting there…and looking fuckin green. I’m not kidding. Finally it was over, he told her he ‘loved her most’ (I told you this sounded like Tangled!) and he hung up the phone.
At least he didn’t cry. But he was fixin to.
“You want this?,” he asked me, looking at his protein shake. “I’ve lost my appetite.”
“How about you have some of this,” I said, meaning the eggs and country ham I was fixing.
“Mom would kill…” He stopped short. She was already ready to kill him, from what I could tell. “What am I going to do, Hunter?”
“Dude,” I said with a shrug, “you just gotta keep doing what you’re doing. You wanna keep seeing Spring, don’t you?”
“Then maybe you just shouldn’t tell your mom about her.”
“But I tell Mom everything…I don’t want to keep secrets from her.”
“If you don’t keep secrets from her it’s gonna be like this morning every morning. You’re not doing anything bad. We’re not robbing banks or shit like that. You’re just seeing a nice chick who happens to be hot and who happens to like you.”
“And eating dairy like she says I’m not supposed to.”
“Do you like the ice cream?”
“Fuck yeah.” He said it in a small voice, but I didn’t know he had even that in him.
“Then just don’t tell your mom. I know it sounds like a cliché, but what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
“But I feel like I’m being bad…”
“Dude, if you put another scoop of ice cream in this shit of yours,” I said, pointing to the undrunk protein shake after I tasted it, “it wouldn’t be half bad.”
So that was the end of the conversation that morning, but there were many more over late-night ice cream. Slater really was torn between his mother and all the things he was discovering now that he was on his own. That’s pretty normal; everybody goes through that. But since his mother was so overprotective for 19 years, and he never once rebelled in all that time, he was having a lot of trouble breaking free.
Finally Mrs. Hughes went totally over the top and showed up on the doorstep of apartment 643 one morning. She actually drove for 15 hours straight from Dubuque (where Slater grew up) to Hickory to check up on him and what all we were doing to her precious son. She said she was concerned about Slater’s game, but the fact was that his stats were great and, like everyone expected, he was one of the best players on the team. He was batting over .300 and was maybe the most athletic 1st basemen I ever played with. Remember the kind of 1st baseman Bellinger was before they moved him to the outfield? Slater may not be of Bellinger’s caliber, but he played the same way. (Of course, we hadn’t heard of Cody Bellinger in the spring of 2016.)
So I’d say there was Mrs. Hughes banging on our door at 6 in the morning, but the fact is she had a key to the apartment and let herself in. Then she woke all 3 of us up. Poor Jesus had no idea what was going on, because Mrs. Hughes started talking real fast and real loud real quickly, but me and Slater understood her well enough and why she was there.
She came to BP that morning and laid into our manager and batting coach …and did it in front of the whole team. Poor Slater looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole – I still remember the look on his face – but the team was behind him. Lots of guys on the team in Hickory had to contend with baseball dads in their pasts, so they knew what it was like to have a parent embarrass you in front of the coaching staff and your teammates. Of course Mrs. Hughes was different, since she was interfering with her son’s pro career instead of his little league one. The only good part was that, by that point, the guys on the team had realized that Slater was pretty cool in his own way after all. Nobody regretted the pranks we pulled on him, but he wasn’t acting like a dork anymore…at least when his mom wasn’t around…and he was eating the same ‘normal’ shit we were all eating on the road. (Yes, the rumors are true: minor league ball players eat gas station sushi, grossass though it is.) He was even getting laid more than a lot of the guys on the team…and I’ve already explained to y’all how that helps your cred in the locker room.
We even came up with a cool nickname for him. He actually had never had a baseball nickname until I called him the ‘Ice Cream Kid’ one day in the locker room which gave someone the idea to start calling him ‘McFlurry’. They’re still calling him that in Nashville (which is where the Rangers’ current AAA affiliate, the Sounds, is located.)
Mrs. Hughes tried to push our manager around – her big issue was that he wasn’t arguing with umpires enough, which if you know anything about baseball is pretty fuckin crazyass. She couldn’t really complain about how Slater was being treated. He was playing in nearly every game and there was talk about moving him up to Advanced A before the end of the season. (They didn’t, although he did get moved to AA Frisco the next year, and then to AAA Nashville last season.) I think one reason they left him in Hickory in 2016 was that he still needed to grow up some…and get his mother to stop coming into the locker room. And, yeah…she came into the locker room, embarrassed the living fuck out of everyone and stayed there making demands until the coach almost had to throw her out bodily. Y’all know what a Karen is? Ok, Slater’s mom was a baseball Karen on steroids.)
But the real reason she came down was to Hickory was to spy on what Slater was doing off the field. She literally searched our apartment, and freaked when she saw all the ice cream in the freezer.
“I hope you’re not eating any of that,” she said, pointing into the freezer like it was filled with poison or something.
“It’s mine, Mrs, Hughes,” I said. “I love ice cream. I can’t go to bed in summer unless I’ve had some.”
“Oh,” she said, giving me the look she’s been giving me all day. It wasn’t the kind of look that made you feel good about yourself. “Well, what you do with your body and your diet is your business. But maybe you should remember you’re an athlete.”
I wasn’t going to get into it with her. First off, she was older than I was, and I was taught to respect my friends’ parents. Second off, what was the point? I wasn’t going to win the argument…and I didn’t want it coming out that we introduced Slater to McDonald’s and all the other junk we ate while we were on the road.
After she went on some more about food and gave Slater some more bottles of vitamins, she asked me:
“Could I be alone with Slater? I have some important things to discuss with him.”
“Sure,” I said, going into my room. We were supposed to be resting up for the game that night, and I usually took a nap around then anyway.
What Mrs. Slater didn’t know is that the doors were about as heavy as the walls in apartment 643, and that I could hear every word she they were saying in the living room.
She started right in:
“What has that boy been doing to you?,” she asked.
“Your roommate. What’s-his-name.”
She knew dang well my name was Hunter.
“What do you mean what is he doing to me?”
“He’s…corrupting you. He’s turning you into someone I don’t know.”
I was real flattered when he said that. When I got to thinking about it, I realized Slater was my best friend on the team too.
“I thought I was your best friend,” Slater’s mom said.
“I know, mommy…of course you are my best friend. I just meant…here Hunter’s my best friend. I’ve never…”
“Some kind of friend. So he gets you girls. That’s not a friend, Slater, that’s a pimp.”
I know I shouldn’t’ have been listening, and I know that I was brought up to respect my elders, but I was ready to go outside and give Mrs. Hughes a piece of my mind. She fuckin called me a pimp…when I was trying to save her son from social retardation and ridicule from his teammates
“He’s not a pimp! How can you say that about him?”
“I’m not at all sure about this place,” she then said. “I don’t think it’s good for you to stay here. I’m going task them to send you up to California.” The Ranger’s Advanced-A affiliate was the High Desert Mavericks of the California League that year. “And make sure you get a more responsible roommate.”
“They may not want to promote me, mommy.”
“Why wouldn’t they? You’re good enough. You’re too good for this team. I saw them at BP today. You’re the best player they have, Slater. Still,” she continued, “if that doesn’t work, at least I can move you out of this apartment.”
There was a super long pause. I couldn’t see Slater, so I didn’t know if he was fixin to cry or getting angry or if he was just sitting there, ready to do like she was telling him.
Finally the answer came:
“I beg your pardon??,” Mrs. Hughes said. It scared even me the way she said it.
“I said no. I want to stay here in apartment 643.”
“That’s not even its number.”
“That’s what we call it. Hunter came up with…”
“Hunter, Hunter, Hunter! That’s all I hear from you. Like you don’t have a mind of your own to make up and to choose the right kind of friends.”
“Do you want me to go back to the way I was in high school and not have any friends at all?”
“You have me. I’m all the friends you need, Slater. And you can’t waste your time on friends if you want to make it to the big leagues.”
I think Slater’s mom was as wrong about that as she was about everything else (especially me lol.) I mean, yeah, if you want to make it to the show you do have to concentrate on your game, but baseball’s a team sport…and to really be part of a team you have to have friends on your team. The teams I’ve been on are where I met most of my friends, starting with Gardner and Turner. I don’t know how it was for Slater in high school not having friends and being a sports star but unpopular, but it must have gotten in the way of how the team worked. They must not have hated him, since he got scouted and made it to Hickory, but there was a lot about team dynamics Slater needed to learn. And a lot about friendship, too.
And maybe I was the first real friend he had. That sounded real depressing, seeing as he was already 19, but I could believe it. And there was his mother trying to come between us.
I could tell she was winning because Slater wasn’t saying anything. I think that first ‘no’ took most of what he had in him out of him.
And dang did it show in the game that night. He probably played the worst game of his life: he went 0 for 3, all Ks and all looking, he kept missing catches, and he made a really bad error in the 7th. That’s when our manager took him out of the game, which was a mercy. He knew – we all knew – that Mrs. Hughes was in the stands. Even Conrad Crawdad felt bad for him and came out and patted him on the back when we were coming in from the field between innings.
There was still more to come from Mrs. Hughes that night. She could have driven home to Dubuque after the game…but unfortunately she didn’t.