I don’t know why it took so long for him to come over, but Keaton finally took one of his days off to spend the day with me and the boys at the Bedrossians. I’ve been going over to Keaton’s place pretty frequently to watch baseball and hang out, but he’s never taken advantage of the pool house, and, especially, the pool. He’s said it’s because he doesn’t want to be on TV, but the reality of reality TV is that the cameras leave us alone most of the time. But I get it: Keaton’s pretty sure that the drug dealers he was working for in Amsterdam don’t care about him anymore, but it probably is still smarter not to publicize his whereabouts on international TV.
So we finally set the date for him to come over this past Friday, but then it looked like we were gonna have to cancel because the weather was cloudy and cold all week long. But Friday turned out to be perfect swimming weather, hot enough to make you want to cool off in the water, but not so hot that you ended up sweating when you weren’t in the pool.
Maya always said I could have guests; Keaton’s just been slow taking me up on it. Maya even came out at one point and said hello, although she was probably also making sure he looked ‘safe’ to be around her kids. So Keaton got to meet my famous boss. He agreed with me that, even at her age, she’s pretty dang hot. And he noticed that perfume she wears too.
This was actually the first time I’ve hung out with Keaton by a pool. He doesn’t have my thing for water, so he didn’t jump right in, but he’s a good strong swimmer, and, yeah, I got him into racing me a few times…until he got pissed off when I kept winning lol. But, hey, he can probably kick my ass, so it’s only fair that I can kick his ass swimming.
It was a chill morning with just the two of us in and out of the water. Keaton likes lying in the sun more than I do (I kinda see time by a pool when you’re not in the pool as wasted lol), so we just hung out, thanks to plenty of sunscreen. We both have blue eyes, but I’m a lot fairer than Keaton, so I do less well in the sun. Maya gave me some sunscreen the first time she saw me sitting out by the pool, some French brand that probably costs a shit ton of money. Keaton took one look at the tube and said it was gay. That didn’t stop him from using some of it, although he then said it was gay all over again because of how it smelled. (I think it just smells nice.)
Belen offered to bring us sandwiches by the pool, but I wanted Keaton to meet the boys (and vice versa), so we all had lunch in the kitchen. Even Dr. Peterson ate with us, which he doesn’t always do. The boys were excited to be having a guest, especially one they’d heard a lot about from me.
Keaton and Belen got to talk plenty of Spanish, and apparently discussed the differences between Tex-Mex and real Mexican cooking. Belen treated us to a lunch of Mexican sandwiches on those sandwich rolls that look a little like bearclaws, and Keaton must have eaten at least a dozen of her awesome pickled jalapeños. (Meemaw used to be really into canning – so I know a great homemade pickle when I taste one – and Belen’s jalapeños are totally bombass, hot but not too hot, although I’m discovering that I’m starting to like more chile in my food now that I’m living in a house with a Mexican cook. The boys eat chile like they’re Mexicans, which is kinda funny to watch, especially when they start slathering on the Salsa Tapatío at breakfast.)
I think even Dr. Peterson liked Keaton, although y’all might not have guessed that they’d have hit it off. We have a lot of conversations about the Constitution when Dr. Peterson is around, so I wasn’t surprised when he and Keaton got into a pretty involved discussion about the new Georgia voting law and MLB pulling the All Star Game from Atlanta. Dr. Peterson doesn’t usually care about sports, but there was a political principle involved with the All Star Game…and that meant he had a lot to say about it. I’ll admit it felt like him and Keaton knew more about it than I did , but it’s not like the whole conversation went totally over my and the boys’ heads. I agreed with Keaton and Dr. Peterson that MLB was super wrong to have moved the game…and, personally, I don’t see why it’s such a big deal that you should have to have ID to vote. I mean…you need ID to adopt a pet, and voting seems a lot more important than that.
After lunch, me and Keaton hung out by the pool some more while the boys had their afternoon school time. Then, in honor of our guest, we did something that we don’t usually do: the four of us got together for sports time. Since the weather was awesome, I decided to blow the gym off (I told y’all I wasn’t following the Beverly Hills Institute of Advanced Bullshit’s exercise plan for Matteo anymore anyway) and we all just played outside.
I knew Keaton and Jacob would get on, but I wasn’t too sure how he and Matteo would be together. Matteo can get real stubborn and show quite a bit of attitude when athletic stuff is involved; I wasn’t sure how much patience Keaton was gonna have with that. I can usually get around Matteo’s stubbornness, but, well, y’all know he can get pretty mean…remember he got the dude who had my job before me to quit. I know Matteo likes me, and I’ve even gotten him to trust me…but that doesn’t mean I can get him to take BP whenever I suggest it.
It turned out that Keaton and Matteo hit it off and Keaton even got him doing things I usually have trouble getting him to do. Like taking BP with the pitching machine. Me and Jacob both love having the machine and use it all the time, but Matteo’s always been afraid of it. I get it…I mean, every ball player starts off afraid of getting hit by a pitch, but you get over it, partly because you realize you’ve got reflexes that can get you out of the pitch’s way most of the time, and partly because you realize that, most of the time, getting hit by a pitch doesn’t hurt too bad.
On the other hand, I can get how it can look scary to a kid to have this big machine that can fire baseballs at 90mph facing you. I always make sure to let Matteo set the machine before he goes to take BP with it…anything to make sure that he’s not afraid of the ball…but it doesn’t always work.
“What are you afraid of, scout?,” Keaton asked Matteo after he ducked rather than swung a few times.
“Getting hit by a ball traveling straight at me at 40 miles per hour, duh,” Matteo said.
“Why are you afraid of it?”
“Because it’s gonna hurt when it hits me.”
“You think so?”
“I know so,” said Matteo. It was kinda funny seeing a kid Matteo’s size standing up to Keaton like that. I think Keaton liked it.
“Will you try something?”
“What?,” Matteo asked, making it clear that he thought he wasn’t gonna like Keaton’s suggestion.
“Let a couple hit you.”
I’ve tried getting Matteo to let a ball hit him, but he always ducks out of the way. Letting a ball hit you is one of the best ways you learn not to be afraid of getting hit by a pitch.
“No it’s not,” said Keaton. “I’ll take one and then you’ll take one, deal?”
“Yeah, but you’re a lot bigger than I am. It’s gonna hurt a lot less.”
“Then we’ll have bubba turn up the speed for the one that hits me. Fair?”
Matteo thought about it. I could tell he didn’t really like the idea, but I could also tell that he didn’t want to appear like a coward in front of Keaton.
“Ok,” he said, pretty timidly.
“Ok bubba,” Keaton said, as I walked over to the pitching machine, “let me have it.”
So I let him have it. Not at 90mph, but at 60, which seemed fair for a dude Keaton’s size to get hit with.
Keaton took the pitch full on. Y’all know by now that he wasn’t going to indicate that it hurt, if it did.
“Yeah. Now get hit by another one.”
So I fired the machine again at him, and this time he didn’t even stand with a bat or anything. He just faced the machine and took the ball in the gut.
“Your turn,” Keaton then told Matteo.
“He’s not gonna do it,” said Jacob from the sidelines. “Watch.”
I turned the machine down to 40mph, which I figured wouldn’t hurt Matteo too bad if it caught him in the solar plexus or something.
Matteo didn’t look too sure of himself, but I reckon the combination of Keaton encouraging him and Jacob about to call him retarded flipped some kind of switch, since he said “ok, Hunter…I’m ready.”
So I fired the machine at him.
He flinched, but he took the pitch in his upper arm, which is a pretty good place to get hit by a flying baseball.
“Now do it without flinching,” Keaton said. If it were just me out there, Keaton would probably have said “and stop looking so fucking gay”…but he wasn’t gonna say that in front of the boys. (Since y’all know how Keaton usually talks, y’all may be surprised to learn that he didn’t drop a single F-bomb in front of them all day.)
Matteo did better getting hit by the second pitch, although he still flinched some.
“C’mon, scout,” Keaton said, “you can take a baseball without having to act like you’re afraid of it.”
“But I am afraid of it.”
“How about one more?,” I suggested.
“Yeah, man,” said Jacob. “It’s not that bad, you’ll see.”
Keaton caught my eye and I fired the machine at Matteo before he could set himself up to flinch. It caught him on the thigh.
“Not fair,” he said, “I wasn’t ready.”
“But did it hurt? That’s the question,” Keaton said.
Matteo had to think about it, which was a good sign.
“Well…,” he finally said, “not…really.”
“See?,” Keaton told him with a man-sized slap on the back, “nothing to be afraid of. So no more ducking when bubba is trying to get you to take BP.” He paused. “Now let me see what this machine of yours can do. How hard can it throw?”
“90,” I said.
“You ever try it that high?”
“90 is super hard,” said Jacob. “Hunter let me feel what its like when a fastball that fast goes by you. I don’t know how they hit them. Hunter can get them though…some of the time.”
“That’s why Hunter played pro ball,” Keaton said. “I just wanna try it out. I don’t think I’ve ever faced pitching that hard.”
So I turned on the machine and let Keaton try and hit a bunch of 90mph fastballs. They went zooming by him, and I could tell he wanted to say his favorite word a few times, but he managed not to. He finally made contact with one and signed for me to turn the machine off.
“I surrender,” he said, laughing.
“Now let’s watch Hunter hit a few,” said Jacob.
“I’d better make this good,” I said.
I did make it good and hammered a bunch of fastballs over towards what me and Jacob call ‘home run alley’. I had an advantage over Keaton, and it wasn’t just because I played pro ball and was used to pitching that hard – I was also used to the machine and I’ve been using it on its 90mph setting when I’ve been out by myself on what was the tennis court and is now our batting cage.
After that, Jacob took a turn and made some good contact, although he needs to learn more control with where it goes after it leaves the bat. But that’ll come.
Then it was Matteo’s turn. He was back to looking tentative.
“Are you doing what bubba tells you to do with the bat?,” Keaton asked him as he got himself situated in the box.
“I try. But it doesn’t work. I just…”
“Don’t tell me you suck and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Keaton said. “You don’t need to be a total jock like those two over there” – he indicated me and Jacob – “but anyone can be a competent athlete. And if you got to be halfway decent, you wouldn’t hate it so much.”
“That’s what Hunter keeps telling me.”
“Don’t you trust him?”
“Yeah,” Matteo said, “I trust him a lot. Didn’t he tell you I got the teacher who had his job before he did to quit? I’d never pull that kind of stuff on him.”
“What can an 8 year old kid do to make a grown man quit his job?,” Keaton asked.
“You’d be surprised how stubborn my kid brother can be,” said Jacob.
Keaton shrugged. I could tell he didn’t think much of whoever the dude was who used to have my job. In Keaton Penner’s world, little kids don’t make grown men quit their jobs. I agree with Keaton on that one. I’ve had to put up with plenty of Matteo’s attitude, but it never once made me want to tell the job to go fuck itself. But then I really like Matteo, and I’m still determined to make what Keaton called a “halfway decent” athlete out of him.
So Matteo took BP…and he didn’t suck too terribly at it. There was a lot of swing and miss, since he basically swung at everything, but he made some contact and even hit a couple balls pretty decently.
“See, scout?,” Keaton asked. “You don’t suck that bad. Listen to bubba and you’ll see. You realize that most people don’t get picked first or last, right? All you gotta do is be in the middle somewhere. Not everybody has to get a tryout with the Dodgers before they turn 10.”
Matteo looked at Keaton with a super puzzled look on his face. I reckon Keaton gave him a lot to process in that little speech of his.
Then Jacob wanted to show off the base path we’d built in front of the pool house. He’s gotten dang good at sliding both feet- and head-first, although I keep reminding him that it’s better to slide feet-first. That’s what my high school coach told us – you’re less likely to get a finger stepped on if you slide feet-first – and I’ve stuck with that advice ever since. Of course, Jacob hasn’t done it in a real game situation as yet, so he has still to learn to judge when to go into a slide, but he’s got the mechanics down, including getting back up on his feet without using his hands. I think I was a little older than Jacob is now (he’s turning 12 this month) when I figured out how to do that.
I told Keaton to bring spikes, since I had a feeling that sliding practice was gonna be part of the day’s activities. I offered him a pair of baseball pants, but he said he’d stick to jeans (“it’s gonna take more than a few slides to ruin a pair of Wranglers.”)
Turns out Keaton took more than a few slides. His technique needed a few pointers, and he really ought to be able to get back up on his feet without using his hands. Me and Jacob finally had him doing it, but it took him at least a dozen tries.
Up till now, Matteo hasn’t wanted to have anything to do with sliding (“if I can’t hit and get on base, why do I need to know how to slide?…and, besides, I’m just gonna get dirty.”) I agree that it’s kinda scary the first time you do it: you have to throw yourself off balance and fall down on purpose…and Matteo hasn’t been able to get past that part. You need to let your body go, and that’s not something Matteo is good at. He likes being in control of his body at all times, and that’s one of the things that gets in the way of a lot of athletic things with him. He’d be a better swimmer if he glided more, but he tends to flail away in the water when he doesn’t need to. So it’s part of an overall problem he’s got that I haven’t known how to solve.
But something happened that afternoon. I think it’s because we were all out back together and me, Jacob and Keaton made sliding look so much fun. Plus there was the fact that Keaton wasn’t as good at it as me and Jacob…so maybe Matteo figured it wouldn’t be totally embarrassing if he couldn’t do it.
Still, I was totally surprised when he asked:
“Can I try, Hunter?”
I guess I shouldn’t have said “really?”, but I was that surprised.
His “yeah…I think so” was a little more tentative, but I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass us by at that point.
“You think you know how to do it?”
“I’ve been watching you guys for half an hour,” he said. “My brain understands…I’m just not sure my legs do.”
“Only one way to find out, scout,” Keaton said.
“Ok,” Matteo said. “Here I go.”
And there he went. I was afraid he was going to chicken out at the last minute, but he didn’t and dropped into the dirt, even if he didn’t generate enough forward momentum to get to the base. (We’ve taken to calling the two bases on the base path 2nd and 3rd, so Matteo would have been sliding into 3rd.)
“Let me try again,” Matteo said, getting up and trying to dust himself off. Matteo doesn’t like sweat and he really doesn’t like dirt, so I could tell he was uncomfortable with having Terra Cotta Brick & Clay’s Infield Mix all over himself, although he wasn’t the only one: me, Keaton and Jacob were all covered with it.
The cool thing is that he tried again. Several times. He even made it to the base the last time, and he looked dang pleased with himself afterwards.
“I guess it takes more practice,” he said, slowly getting back on his feet. “But…”
“But?,” I asked.
“Well…it was kinda fun.”
That was one heck of a huge breakthrough. Me and Keaton exchanged a very pleased look and then took terms slapping Matteo on the back. I’m not sure where it came from, and there were probably going to be some steps backward in the midst of the steps forward Matteo was taking, but saying that trying to slide was “kinda fun” was one super giant step forward for him.
After that, the four of us got out of our dirty baseball clothes and into board shorts for some time in the pool. I wasn’t sure if Matteo was gonna make a fuss about appearing in front of Keaton in a bathing suit (he still hasn’t done it for the cameras), but he was cool about it. So we could say it was exercise, I got the boys to swim a few laps, then we all got in the pool and just enjoyed ourselves . We played water polo for a while (me and Jacob vs. Keaton and Matteo – I let Matteo pick the teams), but I kept losing track of the score. Keaton kept saying they were kicking our asses, though…which I kept saying I doubted. I reckon we were making a lot of noise, because Maya came out (and her office is on the other side of the house from where the pool is) to see what was going on. That’s when she met Keaton.
“I slid, Mom!,” Matteo then said, swimming up to the side of the pool where Maya was standing.
“Slid?,” she asked.
“Like in baseball,” Matteo explained.
“That’s great,” she said, in a good way, although I didn’t get the feeling she realized just how big a deal it was that Matteo was willing to try it.
Then she went back into the house and we went back to splashing around and making noise. I think that anyone seeing us probably wondered who was having more fun, the adults or the kids.