The Red Shirt

Below is the first chapter of my novel, The Red Shirt, the coming of age story of a college student who struggles to make ends meet as a red shirt on a small Texas college baseball team.

I like Coach Alex Bryan.

You see; he let me play baseball. One of the parents on my little brother’s high school baseball team called him up and set up a tryout. I hit terribly, but I dove around and make some sparkling stops at first base and he told me that I could come work with the team. I was ecstatic. Baseball is the only thing I have ever loved outside of my family. There have been a few girls, of course, but they all treated me so bad that I do not want to count them. I am absolutely great with the ladies, unless I really like them, then they always seem to hate me.

But baseball is different. The game seems to love me too. I give my all to her, and she gives me more pleasure and happiness (and pain) than I have ever experienced. That is about as high as love can get in the movies, so I suppose that is about as high as carnal love can get you in real life.

And Coach Bryan let me come follow that love. I do not suppose that should have transferred from my four-year university where I earned a 4.0 GPA for my first to semester to a small town community college in central Texas for my second semester so I could play baseball, but Coach Bryan said I could work with the team there, so I did.

When I showed up at his office a few weeks after the tryout, I think that I he had forgotten about me, but he still told me to go the field at 1pm that day. I suited up and was there at one. The team was already there and throwing on the field. I was scared. I didn’t know anyone; I didn’t want to approach the coaches because they looked busy, so I sat by the batting cages outside the field and felt miserable. My stomach was churning and my heart was beating and I felt completely embarrassed. Finally, a group of guys split off from the main group to get some swings in the cages. They looked at me and my gear and asked me what I was doing there. I told them that I could work with the team, that I was a new Red-Shirt, and that I didn’t know where to go or what to do. They did not know either.

No one knew anything that day. It was confusing. It seems that in the fall the Red- Shirts actually did work with the team. Today, the first day of the spring semester, the Red-shirts where going to work on there own in the cages while the regulars worked on the field. That was the beginning of a precedent. Red-Shirts and regulars were to be segregated by more than talent. The Red-Shirts were to be outsiders. They would always be looking into the field from the batting cage, wondering what and why they were doing here. What are we doing here?

After practice was over I had the courage to come up to Coach and present myself. He was a nice guy. He even spoke of getting me an apartment so I didn’t have to be commuting from the family home in Houston everyday. I needed that apartment…

And a week later, that is what brings me here. I am outside the door of the apartment. I told my teammates that I would be here on this date and at this time, but they are regulars. They don’t speak to me at practice, and I had not seen them since Coach had arranged for me to move in with them. I am on time. I am at the right apartment. I am here on the right day. I know all this as surely as I am sure that my teammates have completely forgotten that I am coming. It is a funny feeling- to walk into the house that you know is where you live and expect everyone to wonder who the heck you are.

The complex is nice. There is a pool. I heave my duffel back higher on my back and struggle up the stairs. Those stairs. They sure feel steep when you are carrying everything on your back. When I make it up to my apartment door, I smell a welcome of a several bags of rotting trash sitting in front of the door. It is night, but I can see several notices form the management warning that the trash must be taking to the dumpster, or else.

Or else nothing. The notices are sitting there on the trash and are decomposing along with it.

Time to knock. No answer. I knock harder. Still no answer.

I do not have any of their phone numbers. I can hear them listening to TV on the inside. I do not want to sleep in my car.

I kick the door, and a guy comes out in his underwear. Matt, our shortstop who is recovering from a broken leg, lets me in. I am sorry to disturb him, but he waves me off with a friendly nod. He really is a laid back guy, and now he’s wondering what I’m selling.

We get it sorted out, he realizes that I’m not a salesman, that I live here, and goes back to his bed to watch TV with his gorgeous girl friend. She’s really nice too, and says “hi” to me in a musical voice that could have sold soap to six-year old boys. Shortstops always get he hottest girls. I find my room. The door is locked, of course; my roommate wouldn’t remember that I’m coming. I have not met him yet. He is a pitcher, a lefty, that did not make it and was designated to be a Red-shirt too. Here goes nothing…

I knock timidly. Louder. Loudest.

The door opens, and a round face on top of a bare body peeks out of the darkness. I introduce myself, say that I’m here to move into the room with him. His reaction is simple. He laughs, not one of those- “Oh, OK,” kind of laughs, but one of those laughs that someone might give when they are caught with their hand in the cookie jar. His round face and hairy chest disappear into the darkness.

A few minutes later, the door opens again, and I am finally let into my apartment room. There is a much less attractive girl lying on the bed next to mine, and much less friendly too. Brandon, my roommate, does not pull the same weight as Matt does. He is now clothed, as is his girl friend, and they watch as I unpack my duffel bag. I take out my clothes as fast as I can, but delay one thing as long as I can. At the bottom of my bag is a wooden Jesus bust.

Yes, that is right. I am a college student that owns a small, wood carved statue of Jesus’ head that was made in Bethlehem. I didn’t go to Israel. Someone gave it to me. This is terrible ironic. At last, there is nothing else to take out, and I set in down as quickly as I can over my bed.

When I set it down, I realize that I’m not ashamed of it. I point His eyes straight at the girl that sits in bed staring at me.

I say thanks and I leave the room.

There is a dirty couch in the living room that will be a lot more comfortable than my bed right now, but Brandon is too nice for that.

“Come-on man,” he says.

“I’m not interrupting… anything?”

“Naw! You don’t have to sleep on the couch! It’s your room too!”

“I don’t mind.”

“Come –on man,” he says.

I get up and go to my bed. The lights go off, but I do not sleep.

Neither does anyone else in the room or apartment, at least not for a while. It is too loud. It was an awkward night for me, but no one else seemed to mind. Surrounded by the intimate sounds of the bedroom, I realize that this is going to be an interesting year.


Popular Posts