Chuck Wendig, our bearded subdeity, has this week given us the Flash Fiction Challenge of the usual “1000 words or so” using one of ten randomly generated titles. I rolled a “2”, so I got to write a story called:
THE EQUAL AMATEURS
She met him for the first time in the gym just after the start of her freshman year. She and her teammates were just starting a conditioning session in the varsity weight room as the guys from the baseball team were finishing theirs. Even in a crowd of cocky, self-assured, egocentric, Division I, nationally ranked college athletes, he stood out from the rest.
The women had the current school bragging rights. They had gone to the finals in the Oklahoma City the year before, while the men’s team had been knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
The guys hung out to “help” their female counterparts with advice and snarky comments. The ladies found various ways to tell them where to put it. He was in the thick of the banter, his mouth running a mile a minute. She was shy and quiet, unsure of her place, content to just get her work in and be ready to play when she got her chance.
Throughout the winter they would bump into each other every now and then at the training center. He was very good at telling her about his hitting and fielding skills, how it had always come so naturally to him. She would smile and be pleasant, wondering if he would ever bother to stop talking about himself.
When their seasons started in the spring, he made it only one game before tearing up his knee on a hard slide into second. The surgery was arthroscopic and straightforward, but the doctors told him he was done for the year.
She started her season strong and won the first three games she pitched. Her success helped to strengthen her growing self-confidence. She quickly became an integral part of the team, despite her lack of experience at the college level.
Coming back from an away game, she found him in the weight room late one night. Thinking someone had accidentally left the lights on she had gone to turn them off, only to find him working like a demon. He had headphones on and his back to the door, oblivious to her presence. Trying to avoid startling him too much, she flashed the lights before walking in.
He had changed. The surgery had removed his excess ego along with the ruptured tendons. “Thanks for giving me a heads up with the lights,” he said. “If the tables were turned I probably would have just tried to scare the crap out of you. Hey, I heard you won again today! You’re really doing great. How’s everything else going, besides the softball team?”
She told him about her classes, the roommate she really disliked, the way she had missed the snow, not being used to the southern winters. He listened until a custodian came in and said the building was closing.
A week later she again found him trying to get a month’s worth of conditioning into a single night. “Do the team trainers know you’re doing this,” she asked when she confronted him. “Who gave you okay to push your recovery this hard, this fast?”
He got defensive. His body would tell him what was too much and what wasn’t. He needed to be able to play again this year. He wouldn’t have another chance, even if it was only his sophomore year. Pro scouts had been looking at him the previous spring. He expected to be drafted this year. If he didn’t play he would have to wait another year.
She listened to him ramble on, before suddenly getting up and heading toward the door without a word. That got his attention. “Wait! Where are you going? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said. “You have this all figured out all by yourself. You don’t need me or any of the other people here to help you. I have work to do with my team. I’m not needed her on your solo quest for glory.” She left, ignoring his fading calls behind her.
The next women’s game was at home. It was the game in which she finally proved vulnerable, getting shelled and knocked out of the game early. Her teammates tried to cheer her up afterward, but when dusk came, she was still out in the cages alone, throwing one practice pitch after another.
When she came out, she found him sitting there, watching. “How long have you been there?”
“Long enough. Were you throwing to burn through your anger or did someone tell you what you did wrong today?”
“Shouldn’t you be off in an unmarked gym doing unauthorized strength training?”
“You’re tipping your pitches. You’re holding your glove differently when you throw the curve instead of the heat. You didn’t used to do that.”
“How do you know what I’m doing and what I used to do?”
“I’ve watched you pitch quite a bit since I got back. I know hitting and how to watch pitchers. Today I knew what you were going to throw, and so did they. Go check out some tape, you’ll see it.” He turned to walk away on his crutches.
“Wait. Why are you helping me?”
“I’m good at the game and I know it, but I needed to be taken down a notch and remember the rest of the team. You helped me see that, showed me the path to be better. You’re good, but you could be so much better. I saw a way to help you. It’s a teamwork thing.”
“So you’re going to work with the trainers and not do anything stupid?”
“Yes, I will. I’ll be here next year, the draft can wait. Will you work with your coach to fix your delivery so I can watch you win again?”
“Sure. Can I help you up the stairs on those crutches?”
“Sure. Can you give me a second chance?”
“Can you not be a jerk?”
“Maybe. Can we go out to dinner tonight?”