The day was mostly overcast, but the sun would peek through every few minutes. It was a little warmer than normal because of the cloud cover and mildly humid from the moisture pulled up from the Gulf Coast by a stalled area of low pressure in the mid-west. No rain was predicted for the day, yet it was a possibility. Nevertheless, to Sammy, every day he had an opportunity to play baseball, was an awesome day.
The team wasn't exactly playing a real game; it was a simulated game. A situation where the team could get in batting practice and work on their defense at the same time. Sammy was at shortstop, but Tony had to sit out this practice. He had another day to sit out of his medically mandated week-long absence from extracurricular activities.
"Sammy, come on in and takes some swings," called Andy from the dugout.
Just what Sammy was waiting for, a chance to talk with Andy. Andy had made it clear yesterday he was gay and in a relationship. He also made it clear he would be happy to talk about the ups and downs of getting into a relationship and the joy he felt every time he saw his partner. He needed to talk to Andy about all this and more; and here was his chance to start the conversation, set a time and place where they could have a lengthy tête-à-tête.
Sammy hustled into the dugout and grabbed a batting helmet. As he placed the helmet on, he turned to Andy. "I'd like to take you up on your offer to talk. I'm confused about some stuff and I think you are the best person I know to talk to."
Andy smiled. "Sure, but not now. I also have an appointment tomorrow, so after practice would be the best time for me, at least for the next few days. That work for you?"
"Works for me." Sammy nodded, feeling he had a friend in Andy, someone he could trust. Besides, Andy had already taken the first step by trusting him in sharing his relationship with Joey.
Granted, it was only batting practice, but with the confidence boost from his short conversation with Andy, he smacked the ball all over the place. Half of his hits were out of the park, and you could tell it pleased Andy to no end. Sammy hoped for a .400 batting average for the season and believed if only the team's asshole would grow up, this team could go far in the regionals.
The surprise for the day came walking up with Coach Parker – Joey. Andy's boyfriend was dressed out for practice. He wore cleats, grey sweatpants, a University of Kentucky baseball jersey, an old Pine Hills baseball cap, and carried his fielding glove. As far as Sammy knew, no one on the team had a clue what was going on.
When Andy called in the third baseman, Christopher Lomax, to take batting practice, the coach motioned for Joey to field third base. As Joey jogged to third, Sammy glanced towards the dugout and almost reached for his sunglasses, because the smile on Andy's face beamed from the dugout and his pride in Joey clearly showed on his face.
Sammy didn't know Joey's talent level on the field, but good or bad, he was very happy to have someone else on the team who understood his feelings towards other boys. He finished his turn at bat and headed back out into the field.
As he took his normal position at shortstop, next to Joey at third base, he took stock of the boy next to him. Joey's unruly blond hair descended from his cap and hung over his ears. His eyes were presently locked onto Andy's with a smile that matched his boyfriend's. While his arms weren't huge, Sammy could see the muscles underneath. Which told Sammy two things. Joey could probably sling a ball from third to first in a hurry. And second, Joey didn't sit in front of a computer twelve hours a day like many kids of their generation.
Chris's sent his fourth swing sizzling down the third base line. Joey took one quick step to his right as the ball bounced once on the chalk line before Joey reached across his body and snagged it in front of the bag. His momentum swung his body around. He stopped after a three-hundred-sixty-degree spin, planted his feet, and threw a bullet to first that would have thrown out ninety-nine point nine percent of batters racing down the first base line. Astonished, Sammy heard the sound the ball made as it crossed the diamond, ending with a loud pop in the first baseman's glove.
Andy whooped and yelled from the dugout, while everyone else just stood and stared. Sammy's face broke into a huge grin. Yep, Joey was going to be a nice addition.
Coach Parker sent Chris to right field after he was through hitting, for the remainder of batting practice, until it was Joey's turn to take a few swings. After Andy called in Joey, the coach had Chris return to third. When Joey came into the dugout to get a batting helmet and bat, he was all smiles. Andy walked up and high fived him. Sammy watched the interaction between them and saw how happy they were. Joey was talking a mile a minute and extremely animated; while Andy smiled ear to ear.
Joey had no problems hitting Eric's fastball, but he showed to be a little rusty hitting a curve. However, after four curves in a row, Joey had his timing down and was seeing the rotation of the ball better than he ever had before. After he smoked two curves in a row - one hit the fence on one bounce, the other cleared the left field fence - Coach Parker told Eric to mix up his pitches again. Nevertheless, with his confidence at an all-time high, Joey made contact with every pitch near the strike zone, with little trouble.
Joey's last swing of the practice was a line drive caught by Sammy's leap into the air about nine feet off the ground. It hurt like hell, but made Sammy and most of his teammates very pleased indeed with the new addition to the team.
Yet, it was Sammy who Andy's praise, "Awesome catch, Sammy!"
Sammy wasn't used to praise coming from anyone but his father and uncle. He quickly made eye contact with Andy, smiled, and nodded. The smile on his face didn't match the huge smile he had internally. It felt really good to be recognized by one of his peers.
The coach had Andy call everyone in, as Coach Parker paced in front of the dugout. As the team was coming in, most were patting Joey on the back and asking if he was on the team. Joey smiled and nodded, yes.
Sammy caught up with him. "I'm glad you're coming out for the team. We'll be a better defensive and offensive team. That was a great play at third." The more Sammy spoke, the more you could hear the excitement in his voice. "With you and me on the left side of the infield, nothing getting through!"
Sammy thought about what he had just said, and not being one to put down anyone, he thought he better add, "Tony's an excellent second baseman. We'll turn a lot of… Hey? Where's Tony?" Loud enough so everyone could hear him. "Anyone seen Tony?"
Coach Parker spoke up. "He was excused from attending practice today. However, as of tomorrow, he should be released to play. That's where he's at today, at the Doctor's office getting clearance."
While the coach was talking, Sammy heard someone people talking behind the dugout. When he turned and looked, he saw James's younger brother Mike. An involuntary smile appeared on his face. About that time, Mike glanced towards Sammy, smiled and waved. Once again Sammy's tummy filled with butterflies.
"Our next game is a double-header at Floyd County." The coach continued. "The first game starts around two-thirty. We'll leave here right after the second lunch period. If you're late, you won't be going. So Be On Time." He removed the cap from his head and began pacing in front of the dugout again. Placing his cap back on his head, he stopped pacing and addressed the team again. "Their school dismisses after the fifth period, so students can attend. So expect a large crowd, like at Hazard."
He paused and tried to make eye contact with as many of his team as he could. Once he was sure he had everyone's attention, "Joey Adams has requested he become a member of our team. Normally, I wouldn't add a new member after the season has started; but to get Andy Collins off Joey's back about it, not to mention my own, I've agreed to it." Which got most of the team to giggle or hoot, and turned poor Andy's face red. "I must say, Andy didn't exaggerate about Joey's potential." Coach Parker motioned to Joey and said, "Welcome aboard."
The coach added a few more things, like which uniform to wear and such. Then the meeting broke up and everyone headed towards their cars or parents who were there to pick them up. Except the coach, Andy, Joey, and Sammy. Andy and Joey spoke with the coach, as Sammy headed toward Mike and his brother James.
"Hey Sammy," Mike said, as Sammy approached.
"Uh, hey Mike." Sammy felt unsure of what to said or how to say it. He really needed to talk to Andy.
"That last catch you made was wicked awesome. You must have jumped three feet into the air." Mike's excitedly said. "How did it feel?"
Sammy smiled at the compliment, as he bumped fists with Mike. "I don't know if it was that much, but it did feel really good making the catch. It was like I was drawn to the ball or something."
James laughed and playfully pushed Sammy. "More like the ball was drawn to you." James high fived Sammy. "Man, can Joey play ball or what?"
Sammy nodded, barely able to take his eyes off Mike. "Looks like our infield is set. In fact, I'm not sure if there's a better infield in the state."
"You may be right," James said. Then he turned to Mike and smiled. "We better head home, bro. We don't want to be late for supper. Mom's fixing pork chops tonight."
"Mmm, my favorite." Mike laughed.
James snorted. "Sammy, you should see this boy eat chops. Mom always fixes him two. Anyway, see you tomorrow, Sammy." James ruffled Mike's hair and headed to his car.
Sammy put his arm around Mike's shoulder and started walking him to the car. "It was good seeing you."
Mike blushed. "I like watching you play." He stopped walking, turned to Sammy with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Mike bumped fists with him and said, "See ya, later Thunder." With a laugh, he took off running to the car.
Sammy stood there with a grin. He could still hear that beautiful laugh which reminded Sammy of ringing bells, as Mike closed the car door behind him. As he watched the brothers drive away, he thought about how good he felt around Mike.
"Sammy." Someone called. When he turned toward the voice, he saw Andy wave him over. He took a deep breath and decided then and there, he would learn all he could from Andy about relationships with another boy and then, then he would let Mike know his feelings. As long as Mike returned those feelings, and he suspected he did, Sammy didn't care what the world thought about it.
As he walked toward Andy, he noticed Joey and Roger sitting in the dugout quietly talking. As he neared the boy with the information he sought, Andy motioned for Sammy to walk with him.
"First," Andy began. "I need to let you know that Brent is trying to stir up trouble for you and Tony."
Sammy froze in place. "What the fuck?"
It wasn't that he feared for himself, it was Tony. He had been through enough as is, with his own brother trying to kill him. His blood began to boil. He had had enough shit from Brent and wasn't about to allow Tony to get hurt again.
"What's that asshole up to now?" Sammy asked after regaining some control over his emotions.
Andy turned and faced Sammy. He placed a hand on his shoulder. "Peter Sears, the senior tackle on the football team called JT last night and said Brent was trying to get some of the team to take out the queers on the baseball team. Peter wanted to know what he thought about you and Tony. He also said that my name had been mentioned."
Andy looked Sammy in the eyes. "We don't know if Brent was able to find any support. And if he did what they might or might not plan; but Joey, Roger, and I are with you and Tony." In a determined voice, Andy added, "We stand together." He then squeezed Sammy's shoulder to stress his conviction.
Sammy saw the sincerity in Andy's eyes and knew he meant it. "Thanks. I've always been alone here at school. No friends. Only shunned or called names. For the first time, I feel like I have friends. Most importantly, Tony needs our help. He was the first friend I ever made here."
Andy went on to explain how they planned to watch out for each other and not get into trouble themselves. However, they would fight if it came to keeping one of them from getting hurt and deal with the consequences afterwards.
After Sammy understood the plan and agreed, Andy then told him how he and Joey met and all they had been through, as they began to walk around the ball field. Andy even went as far as to tell him they haven't had sex yet, so he couldn't give him any insights on that subject.
Most significant of all, Andy said, "Sammy, from what I can tell, no two relationships are the same. Everybody's different and carry their own history with them which affects how they think and react to things. I don't know how Tony will react…"
"What?" Sammy interrupted Andy and placed a hand on Andy's shoulder. "No, it's not Tony I'm interested in that way."
"Oh, I thought." Andy began. "I mean, it doesn't matter and I don't need to know who." Andy smiled and placed a hand on Sammy's shoulder as well. "Everything I said applies whoever it is. There's a lot more people in this little hick town who are willing to support us than I ever thought possible. Just be sure before you out yourself. Think about the other person, too. As couples, our decisions affect the other person as well."
"Thanks, Andy. It means a lot to me. You guys mean a lot to me." Sammy paused. He remembered something he and his uncle had talked about. "Listen, I know you don't know much about my heritage, but my uncle is coming to perform an old Indian ritual. It's called a Vision Quest. It'll help me to see what lies before me and how I should go about becoming the man I should be. I would like for my new friends; you, Tony, Joey, Roger, and maybe someone else to join me in this quest."
Andy didn't hesitate. "I can only speak for myself, but yes. I'd be honored to join you in this quest."