Fifteen Years Later
Our house was a mess of clothes, suitcases, and children running in all directions.
“Kaylee!” I snapped, popping my head in my daughter’s bedroom. “You were supposed to be packed ten minutes ago!”
“I don’t know what to wear,” the twelve-year-old whined. She was becoming more and more of a teenager every day. “I don’t have anything.”
I opened her closet and gestured. “You have an entire closet full of outfits. We’re only going to be gone for three days. If you’re not packed in five minutes, I’m choosing for you.”
That elicited a groan from the girl, but I knew it would work. The only thing worse than not knowing what to wear was having your mom choose for you. That’s the attitude she had lately, at least.
Kaylee was the eldest of our six kids. She, Kimberly, and Kevin were all fathered by Rafael—all K-names, since K was the symbol for a strikeout on a baseball scorecard. Michael was the five-year-old I had with Darryl. Rounding out the group were Joel’s boys, David and Joseph, who were three and nine respectively.
Six kids and four parents. Our family was big enough to field an entire baseball team, plus one bench player. Just how we liked it.
Aside from Kaylee, the rest of my children were packed and ready to go and their suitcases were gathered by the garage door. “Everything’s here,” Joel told me, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek. “Just need to load it up.”
“Where’s Darryl?” Rafael asked. “And Kimberly?”
I gazed around the group. “You have got to be kidding me. They were just here!”
Michael tugged on my sleeve. “They went out to the field.”
I let out a hissing breath. “We should leave them here. Like in Home Alone.”
“Kimberly does love setting traps,” Rafael said.
I glared at him. “Now’s not the time to make jokes.”
“You made the Home Alone joke first!”
“I wasn’t joking. Everyone load up the cars while I go get the two slowest members of our family.”
I marched out the back porch of our house. It was a six thousand square foot home south of the DFW metroplex on fifty acres of land. Our own little slice of paradise in the world. Most of the property was rolling Texas hills, but there was a special flat area on the back of the property where we had built something special. The one thing all three of my husbands demanded.
Our very own baseball field.
I found Darryl there with Kimberly. I stopped at a distance to watch without disturbing them. They were both at home plate, and Darryl was mimicking a bat swing. Then he flipped the bat away.
“A good bat flip is the hallmark of every slugger,” he explained to her. “Now you try.”
My ten year old daughter picked up the bat and went into a normal batting stance. Kimberly swung the bat with the expert form of the daughter of baseball players, then tossed the bat over her shoulder. It clattered on the ground and went still.
“Atta girl!” Darryl said. “Over the shoulder. I like it. Now the best part: the home run trot!”
He lifted the girl up onto his shoulders and then jogged around the bases. Kimberly squealed and bounced on his shoulders, grabbing handfuls of his hair to hold on. Darryl leaned into the turns, tilting them dangerously and making her squeal louder.
Darryl was an amazing father, both to his son and to Rafael’s and Joel’s children. It was like something changed inside of him the moment our family became a family. His entire demeanor softened. He still looked tough with his bulging muscles and tattooed skin, but he was a pushover for the girls.
He rounded third with Kimberly. “Ready to slide into home?”
“Here we go…”
Now I broke up the fun by running forward. “Don’t you dare ruin the clothes you’re wearing! We’re running late and we don’t haver time to change.”
Darryl laughed and put the girl down. “Uncle Darryl was showing me how to bat-flip!” she said excitedly. “Did you see, mom? Did you?”
“It was a very nice bat flip,” I said. “But now it’s time to go. We’re going to miss our flight.”
She ran along and I fell in beside Darryl. “She asked,” he said defensively. “How was I supposed to tell her no?”
“You’re the grown-up. Saying no is part of the job.”
“Ah, but I’m the cool uncle. I’m the one she comes to when she wants to do something fun.”
I glared at him playfully. “Don’t you dare take her to get a tattoo when she turns eighteen.”
He laughed, but then his face grew serious. “Honestly, I was glad for the distraction. I’m nervous, Nat.”
I almost scoffed at him. Almost. “The great Darryl Dingers is nervous?”
“It’s stupid. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
I held his hand as we walked back. “It’s not stupid at all. I’d be nervous too.”
He stopped and held my chin in his hand. “You know I love you, right?”
I grinned up at him. “I do, but I still love hearing you say it.”
We kissed, and even though we had been together for fifteen years it was like kissing him for the first time.
“Eww!” Kimberly squealed from the deck. “Gross!”
“What is it?” Rafael called from inside. “Another stink bug?”
“Mommy’s kissing Darryl!”
Little faces pressed against the glass windows, and then the entire house erupted in screams and complaints. Darryl pulled me into his arms and dipped me now, kissing me with my head a foot from the ground. Hamming it up for the rest of them. The squeals grew more crazy until Darryl lifted me back up.
“Come on,” I said. “We don’t want to miss the flight.”
Normally we could fit the entire family in two vehicles, but with all the luggage we had to take three cars north to DFW airport. Despite my concerns we arrived at the terminal and boarded the flight with plenty of time to spare.
We took a four-hour flight to LaGuardia, then connected to a flight to Albany. From there we rented three more cars and drove west into upstate New York. The children gazed out the window and commented on how many trees there were. We didn’t have lush forests like this back in Texas.
After an hour of driving we reached our destination: a little town nestled on the south shore of Otsego Lake. Cooperstown, New York. Darryl tapped his fingers on the console of the car while looking out the window.
“There it is!” Michael shouted from the back seat. “Dad, look!”
HALL OF FAME
“Oh God,” Darryl said. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Don’t be sick! Be happy!” Michael said.
“I’m happy, son. Sometimes when people are too happy, they get sick.”
“Like when I eat too much cake?”
“Exactly like that.”
We reached the hotel and went inside to check in. A representative from Major League Baseball was waiting there to greet us. She whisked Darryl away to prepare for the ceremony while the rest of us went to our rooms first.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame was an elite membership of the best baseball players of all time. Players were only eligible for induction after being retired for five years, and only if they had played for at least ten seasons. But getting voted into the Hall of Fame was much tougher than just those base requirements. Only three hundred and sixty-two players had been inducted in baseball’s long history.
And Darryl Bryant was going to be the three hundred and sixty-third.
He had retired from baseball five years ago, and was inducted on the first ballot—a tremendous honor among the already prestigious honor of being inducted. Rafael had only retired two years ago, so he wouldn’t be eligible for another three years. Meanwhile, Joel was still pitching at age forty—and he was better than ever. He was currently playing for the Colorado Rockies, but had been allowed two days off to come watch the ceremony.
“How are they doing?” I asked Joel when I caught him glancing at his phone.
He grimaced at me for being caught in the act. “We’re down two-to-three in the tenth. Porter was closing in my absence, and he blew the save.”
I kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t feel bad. That just means you have job security.”
We took a shuttle from the hotel to the ceremony location. It was next to Doubleday Field, a raised podium facing rows of fold-out chairs like at a wedding, but without the aisle down the middle. Joel, Rafael, and I shepherded our six children into the seats to watch the ceremony. It was a scalding hot July day, and the complaints were already beginning.
But once it was time for Darryl’s induction, all the kids quieted down. A formal-looking woman with grey hair and wide glasses approached the podium and adjusted the microphone.
“Darryl Bryant, lovingly referred to as Darryl Dingers, was a special player. I don’t need to list his accolades here—but I’m going to anyways!” She paused to wait for the laughter to die down. “A career three-thirty average. A slugging percentage of six-oh-two, the highest in the American league in the twenty-first century. The ninth player to hit over six hundred home runs in his career, and the first to do it since Albert Pujols. Four MVP awards, twelve Silver Sluggers, and two Gold Gloves. And lest you think we only care about individual achievements, Darryl also won four World Series championships as part of a Texas Rangers dynasty that dominated the American League for a decade.”
The accolades went on and on. Finally Darryl took the podium to a shower of applause and cheers.
“There are so many people to thank,” he said while smiling out at the crowd. “My agent for representing me all those years, handling the financial stuff so I could focus on baseball. All the coaches and staff who tweaked my swing whenever I slumped. But most of all I want to thank my family.”
I felt tears welling at the corners of my eyes. Rafael reached over and squeezed my hand.
“I couldn’t have done it without your endless love and support,” Darryl said, eyes locking onto mine. “Hopefully I’ll be here cheering for Rafa and Joel in a few years!”
“I’m not retired yet!” Joel shouted. The crowd laughed.
Darryl finished his speech and the Hall of Fame plaque was unveiled. It was brushed bronze with an etching of his face in the middle and a short paragraph detailing his career. Everyone in the crowd was allowed to come forward in a line and view it up-close.
“That’s a handsome-looking plaque,” Rafael said.
“It doesn’t look anything like me.”
“Exactly!” Joel added.
We all embraced and posed for photographs. Then the Darryl spent half an hour signing autographs for the fans that were in attendance. Rafael and Joel did the same, even though they weren’t the ones being inducted today.
Once all the ceremony was done and everyone began departing, our family made our way out to Doubleday Field. “This is where Abner Doubleday invented baseball back in 1839,” Darryl explained.
“1839?” Michael chirped. “That sounds wrong. I can’t believe there was baseball way back then!”
Kimberly tugged on Darryl’s sleeve. “Were you alive back then?”
Joel roared with laughter.
“I’m not that old,” Darryl said defensively.
“Hey everyone,” I said. “Who wants to play a game?”
“I do! I do!” the children all shouted. Darryl ran off to grab a bat and ball. Our baseball gloves were back at the hotel room, but we could play without them just for fun.
“We need to figure out positions. Rafael can be the pitcher…”
Rafael tossed the ball to me. “I think mom should pitch.”
“Mom can’t pitch!” Kaylee complained. She was definitely a teenager in spirit, even if she was a year shy.
“Actually, your mom was an amazing pitcher back in the day,” Darryl said.
“She played varsity baseball, and struck out all the boys,” Rafael added.
Kaylee and Kimberly’s eyes widened. “Really? Are you for real?”
“It’s true. I was pretty good. Not good enough to play in the major leagues, but still.”
My children looked at me with suspicion and pride.
The family spread out among the field. Darryl batted first, and swung-and-missed the first pitch I threw. I gave him a wicked sneer and then tossed an easy pitch right down the middle. He crushed it into center field, over Michael’s head.
“Darryl Dingers destroys the ball!” Darryl announced while jogging to first base. “He’s in the Hall of Fame and he’s still got slugger power! He’s unstoppable!”
At first base, Rafael stuck out his foot and tripped Darryl. The children all ran forward and tackled Darryl on the ground in a big dog pile. The big man finally stood up, covered in children on his arms and legs. With them attached to him he slowly trudged his way around the bases.
While the children and my husbands laughed and cheered, I smiled on the mound. We were one big happy family.