One of my roommates when I was playing in Hickory was Slater Hughes, and he probably had the worst baseball mom in the history of the game. She made a surprise visit to our apartment early in the season, and it didn’t go well for any of us.
After Slater played what was probably the worst game of his life, Mrs. Hughes spent the night on the couch in apartment 643. I didn’t want to be around her, so I hooked up with Summer after the game. I probably should have spent the night at Summer’s place, but I went back home…where Mrs. Hughes cornered me on my way to my room.
“We need to talk,” she said to me. She was sitting on the couch, which Slater had made up with sheets and a blanket and a pillow. I had a suspicion she was waiting up for me.
“Yeah?,” I asked. I was determined to be polite to an older person like I was taught, but I had very little patience for Mrs. Slater.
“I don’t like what you’re doing to my son. You’re a bad influence on him. I’m ordering you to stop.”
“I don’t want to be disrespectful, ma’am…but I disagree with you. I think I’m a good influence on Slater. There are a lot of things he doesn’t know about but needs to know about.”
“Like…girls? I presume you were with one tonight.”
“That’s really not any of your business, ma’am, I’m sorry to say.”
“I know you were. I can tell. I can practically smell it on you. I should tell the manager you came in past curfew.”
“There is no curfew,” I said to her. “There’s no game tomorrow. And, besides, I think they’d understand that I was staying out to avoid seeing you again and having this discussion…which I think is pretty dang stupid.”
“I beg your pardon??”
“Look: Slater’s an awesome ball player. Everybody likes him….now that he’s loosening up. He’s got a super nice girlfriend now…and he’s doing great.”
“Not from what I saw on the field tonight.”
I sooooo wanted to say that that was her fault, but I decided not to. I didn’t want her any angrier at me than she already was. I don’t like it when people act angry around me. It makes me super uncomfortable. It didn’t help that I knew I was right and she was wrong.
“Everybody has a bad night,” I said. “Even as good a player as Slater.”
“I was very disappointed in him.”
“I’m sure you were. But that’s not being fair to him.”
“You’re going to tell me how I should raise my son??”
I’ll admit it, I was intimidated by how she asked that question.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, to have to say this…but Slater’s 19 and out on his own now. You’re not bringing him up any more. He’s a grown man.” I knew Slater had a lot of growing up to do…but I reckoned I didn’t need to tell his mom that.
“I decide when he’s grown up,” she said. Ok, I was starting to see that there was something really fucked up in Slater’s relationship with his mother. More fucked up than just calling her ‘mommy’ and letting her give him all those powders and vitamins. And way more fucked up than just a baseball ‘parent’ would be. I was doing all I could to be a friend to Slater, but I was beginning to realize that what he needed was a therapist.
The conversation went on for at least another 15 minutes, which is a long time for a pointless conversation to go around and around. I wasn’t going to convince her that Slater was growing up and didn’t need her anymore. And that he really did need things like ice cream and vitamin F, which were going to help him with his game as much as they were going to help him as a person. And she wasn’t going to stop thinking that I was a terrible influence on her precious son. I gotta admit too that I’m used to people liking me, including my friends’ parents. It felt pretty weird that Mrs. Hughes hated me as much as she did.
Finally I was able to excuse myself into my bedroom, where I stayed. I know it sounds grossass, but didn’t even go out to brush my teeth because I didn’t want to see Mrs. Hughes again. I knew she was leaving early in the morning, after one last scene with Slater…and that was a doozy. I know that because the screaming woke me up at 6 AM.
Slater spent most of the morning in his room crying. It was so bad that I told him I’d tell the manager that he was sick and couldn’t come to practice. I told Spring to come over after she was done with work to see how he was doing and maybe cheer him up, but I don’t think that worked too well. She wanted him to come out to dinner with her (and no minor league ball player ever passes up a free dinner…ever), but he wasn’t interested.
Finally we ended up, just me and him, at the table eating ice cream right before bedtime. (We needed to make an early start the next morning as we had an away game in South Carolina that night.)
“You wanna talk about it?,” I asked. I’m not exactly into that kind of thing, but I had a suspicion Slater was hurting.
“What’s to say?,” he said. “You’ve met her. She makes me feel like I’m the worst son in the world. I probably am. Pass the chocolate syrup, please.”
We were eating neapolitan ice cream, which was his favorite. He otherwise had trouble making up his mind between flavors, but wouldn’t have two scoops of different ice cream in the same bowl. It was ok for strawberry, vanilla and chocolate to touch, as they came in the same box, but it wasn’t ok in Slater’s book to have pistachio touch black cherry, since they come in separate packages. Hey, the kid was still figuring ice cream out. He still didn’t know about ice cream bars and sandwiches lol.
“You know you’re allowed to have a life, right?,” I asked him. “And,” I continued with a shrug, “she’s not here all the time. You can do what you want…and not tell her.”
“You’re real close with your parents. Don’t you tell them everything?”
“Fuck no,” I said. Then I felt a little guilty and added “I tell them most of everything, but not everything. Dad doesn’t know that I slept with 30 chicks in 30 days my junior year in college, for example. I’m sure he’s pretty much figured out that I’m a horndog, but telling him everything would mean another trip to the condom aisle at the CVS and a long speech about how he’d kill me if I got a girl pregnant.”
“So that’s where you got that from,” Slater said. That was the first time he’d smiled since his mom had gotten to Hickory the day before.
“I may be corrupting you,” I said, “but I’m danged if I’m not going to corrupt you responsibly.” We ate a few spoonfuls of our ice cream while I thought of what else I could say. “Look, man…starting to live your own life is a part of leaving home for the first time. She’s not going to be there to tell you what to do for the rest of your life, unless you want ‘mama’s boy’ to be your nickname for the rest of your baseball career. And you have a big career ahead of you, but they’ll like it better if you stop saying ‘mommy’ before you get promoted.”
“You know I call her that?”
“Dude, every player on this team knows you call her that.”
He blushed and went back to his ice cream.
“Just live your life and don’t tell her everything. Don’t tell her about Spring, don’t tell her about this” I indicated the empty ice cream bowls in front of us “and don’t tell her about the McFlurries you get every time we stop in McDonald’s. You’ll be ok.”
I knew about as well as anyone on the team – including the coaching staff – that Slater needed to get away from his mother if he was going to get on with his career, but I couldn’t exactly tell him that. His mother may have helped him in one sense – she obviously played a part in making him into the ball player he was – but, well, I don’t need to explain to y’all how she wasn’t helping him now that he was growing up and out on his own. It’s like an extreme case of why Dad wouldn’t argue with umpires in little league: at a certain point in your career in the game you’re going to have to fight your own battles. Mrs. Hughes wasn’t letting Slater do that, not on the field and not off.
“And I’ve got a great place for you to start, McFlurry,” I said, getting up to put the chocolate syrup back in the refrigerator.
“Pretty fuckin please stop calling her ‘mommy’!”