I was over at Maya Bedossian’s – it’s a mansion, not a house – in San Marino last Friday afternoon to meet her two boys. It was a mutual tryout to see if I could work for Maya (as everyone apparently calls her) as part of my baseball tutoring business. I was talking to the boys’ tutor, Dr. Peterson and getting the low-down on my prospective pupils when the boys came down the house’s main staircase.
It was easy telling which kid was which. The 11 year old, Jacob was indeed an athletic specimen, already tall for his age. I could see him being able to handle a bat and a glove. The 9 year old, Matteo struck me as a little tall for his age, too, but pretty ‘filled out’ as Meemaw might have said. He wasn’t an incredibly fat kid, don’t get me wrong, but he didn’t exactly look athletic. They looked plenty different in other ways as well: Matteo had very dark hair and blue eyes, while Jacob’s hair was a little lighter and he had big brown eyes like his mother’s onscreen. They were wearing masks over the rest of their faces, and were dressed identical striped polo shirts, khakis and leather shoes.
“I’m Hunter,” I said, being careful not to put out my hand. “You’re Jacob…and you’re…”
“They told you Matteo was the fat kid, didn’t they?,” said the one who was obviously Matteo.
“Shut up,” said Jacob. “It’s not hard telling which of us is which.” He turned to me. “I heard you played pro ball?”
“Yes,” I said, “for the Hickory Crawdads.”
“Whose system is that in?”
“The Rangers,” I answered.
“What’s your position?”
“Cool…but I like playing back in the outfield and running for fly balls.”
“How about you?,” I asked, turning to Matteo.
“I hate baseball. I hate softball. I hate kickball. I’m glad for you that you played professionally, but don’t expect me to get interested in it.”
“I’m just here…”
“…to make me get some exercise because Mom’s doing a fitness segment on the show and she thinks having a fat kid is gonna make her look bad on TV.”
It wasn’t that Matteo was giving me a ton of attitude, although that’s maybe how it reads. It’s just that he was coming off as one angry little boy.
“Is that what y’all wear to run around in?,” I asked the boys.
“Those are their school clothes,” said Dr. Peterson, a little obnoxiously.
“Well…y’all should go put on something that you don’t mind getting dirty,” I said. “And some tennis shoes. And bring some baseball equipment.”
Jacob ran up the stairs to change. Matteo followed him up a lot more slowly.
“I told you,” said Dr. Peterson. “Stubborn as a mule.”
I laughed a little at that: it’s one of Meemaw’s expressions and it sounded funny coming from an Ivy League Yankee like Dr. Peterson.
“I guess all I can do is try.”
“He got the last person who had your job to quit,” Dr. Peterson said. “He’s a very difficult child. I understand that he was very unpopular when he was going to school. Maya may want to keep home schooling him even once the schools reopen.”
“You said that Bedossian wasn’t…Maya’s…married name. Where is the boys’ father?,” I asked.
“Oh, he’s around sometimes,” said Dr. Peterson “He’s involved in the business side of the operation. And that’s what it is: one big operation. It’s not like the reality cameras follow the whole family around 24/7, but they do film a lot. They come and interrupt my lessons at least once a week. It’s very intrusive and distracting for the boys. But,” he finished with a shrug, “the show pays their bills…and I’m one of those bills. You’re going to be one of those bills too.”
The boys came downstairs again, Jacob again at the front. He had on a Dodgers tshirt, red basketball shorts and white tennis shoes and was carrying a glove, a bat and a mesh bag with some baseballs in it. Behind him was Matteo, who’d changed into gym shorts, but still had on his school polo and leather shoes. He looked like a total dork, I thought, then I thought I shouldn’t be thinking about a kid like that, even if he was already pulling some passive-aggressive shit on the new baseball tutor.
“Go up and get a pair of proper trainers,” said Dr. Peterson. I was glad that I didn’t have to try and discipline the boys right away. Matteo slunked upstairs and came back a few minutes later in something like the right shoes for running around. Not that he looked like he was planning on doing a whole lot of running.
Dr. Peterson led the way out back and, well, it was more of a park out there than a backyard. There was even a fountain. And I don’t mean a little water feature like people put in their yards. It was more like something you’d find somewhere in Europe. Joyce said I made it sound like a smaller version of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. After she showed me a picture of the Trevi Fountain, I realized that’s exactly what it was.
There was also a tennis court and a huge – huge as in bigger than Justen’s up in Santa Barbara, but without the mosaic bottom – swimming pool that made me want to jump in and splash around. I thought that was something that Matteo might even enjoy. But water was going to have to wait, this was a land-based tryout.
Dr. Peterson said I was in charge of the boys for the next hour and left me alone with them. I planned for us to start off by playing catch…and then I realized that Matteo didn’t have a glove.
“Can you go upstairs and get your glove?,” I asked.
“I don’t have a glove,” he answered. “I told you: I hate baseball.”
“Shut up,” said Jacob. “You’ve got a glove. Stop acting retarded.” Matteo slunked off back into the house.
While we were waiting on Matteo me and Jacob started throwing the ball back and forth. Like Cody when I first met him, Jacob was throwing harder than he needed to, probably because he wanted to show off some. It’s been a while since I played catch with an 11 year old, but I was pretty sure that Jacob could definitely throw a baseball hard for a kid his age.
Then Matteo came back and the whole game changed. Not for the better. I just wanted us to play some gentle 3-way catch, but Matteo didn’t want to. I started out throwing to Jacob and letting Jacob throw to Matteo. I don’t know what I was thinking, and, sure enough, Jacob kept throwing too hard or too far and making Matteo miss his catches.
“Do that one more time and I’m not going to get the ball.”
Sure enough, Jacob did it one more time. Matteo let the ball sail past him and just stood there.
I caught Jacob’s eye and made a sign with my head for him to go get the ball.
“He’s the one who missed it, he should go pick it up.”
All I could think was that I was warned about Matteo. I certainly wasn’t going to cave and go get the ball, so I grabbed another one from the bag of balls Jacob had brought down with him.
“Ok,” I said. “Change of plan. I’ll throw to Matteo, Matteo, you throw to your brother, and Jacob, you can throw to me.”
“That’s no fun. He throws like a girl. He runs like a girl too. Ask him to show you.”
I’ve never had to discipline kids in my life. The closest I’ve come is watching Melanie Kate with my nephews. That didn’t exactly prepare me for this situation.
“Whoa, cowboy,” I said. The ‘cowboy’ just came out, but, hey, it works for Keaton when he’s telling Carter what to do. “That’s no way to talk to your brother. If we’re gonna work together, you’re gonna have to learn to be civil, and learn it real fast. And, you,” I said, turning to Matteo, “did nobody ever show you how to throw a baseball?”
“Nope,” said Matteo. “And I don’t need to learn. I don’t want to, either.”
Despite what he said, I then tried to show Matteo how to throw a baseball. It’s true: he had no idea how to do it. I didn’t exactly have him throwing like Kershaw after a few minutes’ instruction, but at least he was throwing the ball so it ended up in my glove most of the time.
While I was working 1 on 1 with Matteo, I had to find something to keep Jacob busy…and I realized that this job was already more complicated than I thought it was gonna be. So I had him run what I guessed were 60’ sprints to the tennis court and back from a starting line I indicated with a lawn chair. The kid could run even better than he could throw. And he liked running. He kept running back and forth even after I thought he would stop.
“Do you wanna try running for me?,” I then asked Matteo. “Just so I can see. You only need to run one sprint.”
“Get ready to laugh,” Jacob said, coming up to us panting and kinda sweaty.
Matteo gave Jacob a look that made me think of Cain and Abel.
“He’s right,” he then said. “I suck.”
“Just let me see. If we’re gonna work together, I need to know where we’re starting from.”
“Ok,” said Matteo, walking slowly over to the starting line I set up for Jacob. “Are you gonna say ‘go!’?”
So I said ‘go!’. Jacob was right: it was pretty pathetic. Way worse than Lucas when I started working with him. Matteo ran totally like a girl, by which I mean that he ran on his tippy toes. Lucas was at least relatively fast when he did that. Matteo was slow.
“Told you I sucked,” he said, after he walked back to where me and Jacob were standing. “I really was trying, too.” He was breathing hard, but he wasn’t really sweating. That didn’t stop him from using his arm to wipe off his forehead.
“You don’t like getting sweaty, do you?,” I asked.
“I hate it,” he said.
That could be a problem, I thought. Then I asked him:
“Did anyone ever tell you you don’t know how to run?”
“What do you mean?,” Matteo asked.
“Just what I said. You don’t know how to run. Your feet, your stride, even your arms – they’re all wrong. No wonder you think you suck.”
“He doesn’t just think he sucks,” said Jacob.
“Well…,” I said, thinking of a line I liked from the movie Goon, “you have to suck if you’re gonna get better. I think I can teach you to run,” I said to Matteo. “I helped a pupil with that…and now he’s so fast I won’t even bother trying to race him.” Ok, a growth spurt and baseball camp helped Lucas’ running too, but I think I laid the groundwork. “But you’ve gotta be willing to get a little sweaty. Can you give it a chance?”
“I…guess so,” said Matteo. I took that as a major success.
Then I turned back to Jacob: “let’s see what you can do with a bat.” I then added to Matteo, “I don’t expect you like batting.”
Matteo shook his head. Before one or the other brother could tell me Matteo sucked, I said:
“That’s ok,” I said. “It’s the hardest thing to do in sports, and, if you don’t do it well, yeah, it can be incredibly frustrating.” I was thinking that maybe getting in some Tball equipment would help Matteo. I didn’t ask Sandy if there was any budget for stuff like that, but, looking around me, I had the feeling that there was plenty of money. “Do you want to maybe sit in the shade while I work with your brother?”
“It’s hot out here. I’d rather just go inside.”
“I think I’m responsible for you until Dr. Peterson comes back.”
“Yeah,” Jacob said. “He doesn’t like being disturbed when he has his afternoon tea.”
I reckoned that went with the British accent lol.
So I tossed a few pitches to Jacob, and he hit as many of them as could be expected. He had a the makings of a decent swing. There was room for improvement, but that’s the thing about baseball…there’s always room for improvement and always something to learn. Remember that an awesome batting average is .300…which means you miss more than 2/3 of the time. That means that every player, from little league to the majors, is constantly working on his swing.
When I was wrapping up with Jacob, Sandy came across the lawn and past the fountain to where I was with the boys.
She was still a 10.
“Well?,” she asked. She was in another dress and heels. I suspected that Maya wanted her employees to look good when they came to work…and I wasn’t sure where that was going to leave me. “Ask the boys to show you to my office when you get back inside. It’s very easy to get lost in the house.”
So I sent the boys to go collect the balls Jacob had hit – Jacob running and Matteo dragging his feet. Then they led the way back into the house, where I said good-bye and see you later to them. Jacob then pointed me in the direction of Sandy’s office, where I found myself facing her again in the same chair as the day before.
“What’s the verdict?”
“I think I can work with them,” I said.
“Yes…I think. Did no one notice that he can’t run? He does it all wrong. Maybe if I fix that he’ll start getting better at other things. Can we use the pool?”
“Sure…as long as we’re not filming out there.”
“Maybe he’d like swimming,” I said. Y’all know I do, and I was thinking that swimming was something I could do with both boys at the same time.
“You can try. Maya has been trying to get him in the pool for years. He liked it as a little kid…then he decided he hated it.”
“The thing is….”
“Yes?” Sandy sounded like she thought I was about to make an impossible condition.
“I’m going to have to work with them separately, at least some of the time. There’s no way I can work on baseball skills with Jacob if Matteo is gonna be around complaining. They’re on totally different levels…and I’m gonna be honest and admit that I don’t know how to work with two kids like that at the same time. I think Matteo is gonna need a lot of attention, too. Is there some way we can do that?”
“I’m sure there is,” said Sandy. “Dr. Peterson can have some 1 on 1 time with one of the boys while you work with the other. It may cut into his afternoon tea hour” – something about which Sandy obviously didn’t give a shit – “but he’ll just have to manage. So shall we say you come over for a couple hours twice a week to start? We could want you more than that, if you’re free.”
“I’m plenty free now, ma’am,” I said, with the ‘ma’am’ a joke this time. “I got laid off from my job because of COVID. I work in a hotel usually. Behind the front desk. Or at least I did.”
We arranged for me to come back on Tuesday from 2-4, since that’s when Dr. Peterson gave the boys a break in their schedule. They had lessons before 2 and homework after 4, which sounded like a pretty intense day for kids that age. I know I was the opposite of Matteo when I was growing up, but I’d definitely have enjoyed getting sweaty after a whole morning spent with a private tutor. I have to admit that the whole set up struck me as kinda weird, with the private tutor and me as, I reckon, the private phys. ed. teacher at this mini-school for two kids, but everything pointed to Jacob being rewarding to work with…and I was kind of interested in the challenge of working with Matteo.
So I drove home feeling more employed than I did when I drove over to the Bedossian house. I also realized that I had still to meet Maya. I wondered how much she saw the kids on a regular day, or whether the housekeeper and Dr. Peterson – and now me – were the only people they got to see. There was a lot I was wondering about, but I figured it would all start to make sense once I started working with the boys. Joyce told me later that night that this was the beginning of a new chapter for Hunter Block: Baseball Tutor, and I reckon it is.
Even with Matteo, I had a good feeling about working with the Bedossian (or whatever their last name actually is) boys. Now, if I could only figure out who paid my September rent…