LAKELAND, Fla. — I am too old for this. I have a car in the garage and a life insurance policy and a coat and tie somewhere. I am grown up. But I am standing behind the batting cage in spring training, and that is where it always begins. “Phone call,” someone yells.

“Coming,” I say, but I do not move.

My fingers curl around the metal links. The sun is warm. I am watching the Tigers take batting practice and my eyes are closing and my mind starts to drift. I am too old for this. “You wanna take a try?” I hear the player ask.
“Me?” I say.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s see what you sports writers can do.”

I take the bat. He laughs. The pitcher on the mound is a big lefty, with tobacco juice running down his chin.

I kick at the dirt. Other players wander over. They grin. Someone passes a glove around collecting bets. I am the underwhelming favorite.

The pitcher stares at me and I stick my tongue out. What am I doing? He winds up so hard his ears twitch, and lets go a screaming fastball.

Whack. I put it over the fence. Way over. It keeps going, over the parking lot, across the street and through a Wendy’s window where four teenage girls are ordering milkshakes.

“Wow!” the players say.

“Nothing to it,” I say.

And then I blink. I am back behind the cage. The players hit without even noticing me. I shake my head. I am too old for this. I have a microwave oven and a desk and a parking space at work .

“Phone call!” someone yells again.

“Coming,” I say, a little softer. All-around natural

“I suppose you’re gonna tell me you can pitch, too,” I hear a player say.

“Me?” I say.

Suddenly I am on the mound. I am rolling the ball in my palm. The players have picked a designated hitter, and he steps to the plate. He is one of those fuzzy-cheeked farm boys with a torso the size of a Buick. He points his bat right at me. He is chewing gum. Real slow.

The players pass the glove around again. “Go for his kneecaps, Moose!” a teammate urges. Moose?

I stare him down. Then I take off my glove, hold my thumbs up to my ears and wiggle my fingers like a clown. What am I doing? A clown? There is smoke coming out of his nose.

I wind up and throw. The ball crashes into the catcher’s mitt and knocks him over and unconscious. An ambulance is called. The hitter stands there with the bat frozen on his shoulder.

“Geeez,” the players whisper.

“Nothing to it,” I say.

And then I blink. Everything is back to normal. I shake my head. I am too old for this. I have a boss and a paycheck and a basement that needs cleaning. I have a typewriter and a dictionary. I have a job to do. I am too old for daydreaming.

“YO! PHONE CALL!” someone yells.

“Coming,” I whisper. Bring on those 0000000000’s

Suddenly I am in the manager’s office. He is patting my back like a daddy. He offers me a cigar. I tell him no thanks, daddy. He grins.

“What number do you want to wear?” he asks.

“Me?” I say.

A contract is brought out. Television cameras come barging into the office. There are bright lights and microphones and a very rich man, maybe a pizza chain owner, standing around me and smiling. He hands me a pen and shows me where to sign. Right next to all those 00000’s.

“I’d like a new car, too,” I say, “something white, foreign, you know, just to tool around in. Does Maserati sound familiar?”

“Nothing to it,” they say.

I put my pen on the line and the cameras click like machine- gun fire. A cheer goes up around the office. Champagne is popped. The music swells. The angels sing. . . .

“WILL YOU PLEASE COME GET YOUR DAMN PHONE CALL?!!” someone yells.

I blink. And I am back.

I shake my head. I am too old for this. I have a vacuum and a rented TV. I have a bank loan and an expired credit card in my wallet. I have note pads and little tape recorders and an office to call and a telephone to answer. I am behind the batting cage, not in it. I am too old for this. Aren’t I?

“You a good base runner?” I hear a player ask. “Me?” I say.

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