Three years working at the sports outlet store and I don’t know how to fit this kid with soccer cleats. His little sister is yelping and mom is getting a look. She says, “I don’t think you have what we’re looking for, thank you.” And they walk off. My manager pulls me aside and reminds me my love for the products needs to show in the pitch I make. If I can’t show this, he’ll have to think about reassessing what I’m doing here.

Yeah, well.

“It could be worse,” Coach Allen tells me over the phone. I’m taking my ten in the break room. “You could be working with Sutton and all those wash-ups. Just be glad you aren’t there, listening to Sutton talk your ear off about when he coached his team to a state championship.” My manager is in the doorway. He looks at me and then his watch and then walks out.

“And the discounts are pretty nice,” Coach Allen says. “Speaking of which, I need a few more balls at that price we talked about the other day.”

“Sure thing,” I tell him.

“Bring them over when you’re done,” he says.

After I get off the phone with Coach Allen, I find the little red straws bunched together in a Styrofoam cup. I pour some coffee for myself and, after really thinking about it, decide the hazelnut creamer is what’s going to make my day special.

Six hours later, I put together Coach Allen’s order and throw it in the back of my truck. I was planning on lifting weights today, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get some pitching reps in instead.

I’m twenty-one. This is my last chance.

Tryouts for the Boise Hawks, our minor-league baseball team, are in three weeks. I’m shooting for a spot in the bullpen, maybe middle relief. My fastball is hovering around 84 mph, a little slow, but it has some movement and my curveball is breaking better than it ever has. Coach Allen thinks I’m peaking, says I’m pitching the best he’s seen since I got banned from high school ball.   

I park my truck in Coach Allen’s driveway. His backyard is a makeshift baseball compound, complete with a batting cage, bullpen, camera setup and small film room. He calls it the facility.

He walks out the front door, Mariners cap cinched around his head, backwards. His skin is tan and rubbery. It’s like that year-around. “Turner!” he says and shakes my hand with a crushing grip. “Glad you could make it. How about those baseballs?”

I hand him a box of twenty new baseballs, still in the packaging.
“Look at those,” he says. For a second, it’s the only thing that has his attention.

Larry Allen was my old high school baseball coach. As he serves the last year of his three-year suspension from officially coaching high school, he is now a northwest regional scout for the Seattle Mariners. He scouts everyone in the Treasure Valley, from Boise all the way to Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell. It doesn’t matter if it’s high school or little league, if he hears about some kid pitching a no-hitter or parking two homers in a game, he’s all over it, making observations and talking into a recorder.

“What’re you doing this Thursday? I’m checking out Mason, this new phenom in Meridian. He’s supposed to be a vacuum in the gap and has hit seven home runs already this season.” he says.

“I need sixty bucks for the baseballs.”

“Put them on my tab.”

“It’s getting up there.”

“I’m good for it.”

“If you’ll catch me a bullpen, we’ll call it even.”

“Get your spikes on.”

Coach Allen looks at his watch.

“We’ll have to make it quick. The kids are coming in 45.”

We warm up, tossing to each other back and forth. After that, Coach Allen squats behind the plate while I get on the mound. We do the same routine: 10 fastballs on both corners, 20 curveballs and 20 changeups. It’s situations after that: Coach stands in the batter’s box, both right and left-handed, and I pitch him counts. As the second batter, with a 2-2 count, I throw Coach a fastball that should’ve been off the plate outside. Instead, it creeps to the middle of the plate. “That’s a double. Or a homerun,” Coach Allen says. “It’s a mistake.”

Placing a baseball exactly where you want it to go is the single hardest job a pitcher has.

We go through an entire situational lineup like this until the kids come. They trickle in one by one, little pieces of a team, the North Boise Giants, no older than nine, ten, gloves on their hands, baseball caps crooked on their heads. They line up on the fence, watching us. Coach Allen tells them to start warming up. They pick out the new baseballs, feel the weight of them in their hands, and start throwing to each other. When there are enough of them there, Coach Allen stops. “I’m Coach Allen and this is Coach Turner,” he says. “You do what we tell you, pay attention to what we do, play fair, play smart, you will become a better ballplayer.”
I’m home in my apartment, wrapping a bag of ice around my arm when I get a call.

“Turner,” the guy says on the other end of the line. “How are you?”

This call has come the same time the past three years—right before I try out for the Boise Hawks.

“No comment, Don,” I say.

“Just writing this year’s follow up,” Don says. “Making sure you are still calling it an accident.”

“Nobody’s interested anymore,” I say.

“Are you still hanging around Larry Allen?”

“I said no comment.

“Are you still instructing kids?”

“I’m a good person,” I say. “Put that in your article for once.”

I hang up the phone and see what’s on TV.

Thursday and Coach Allen and I are making the fifteen-minute drive from Boise to Meridian in his truck. We get there and I notice the parking is now paved. I haven’t been on Meridian’s baseball field since high school. The scoreboard is electric, the once-all-dirt infield is grass, and the lighting system is new. Sutton is still Meridian’s coach. He’s in the dugout, pacing back and forth. He has the hunch of an eighty-year old. I don’t want him to see me at all. We sit down behind home plate in the first row of the bleachers. Coach Allen speaks into his recorder, “It is sunny and hot on May 22nd, here in Meridian, Idaho. Tracy Mason is up third in the lineup. He is about 6’1” and looks to be 160 to 170 lbs. He is timing the pitcher’s pitches and seems to be concentrating on his at-bat.” Coach Allen bends down and fumbles through his bag. He hands me a pen and a pad. “Keep his strike count,” he says to me.  

I’m constructing a makeshift pitch count chart on the yellow-lined paper when a man with a lazy eye stands in front of us. He’s put on a few pounds, has a few more tattoos, but still has the familiar blonde-beyond-platinum hair and the milky skin tone of an albino. His haircut is still high and tight, something the military would be proud of if he were allowed in the military, which he almost assuredly isn’t. The socket with the lazy eye is, as always, wet with discharge around the rim. The pupil, instead of being black, is an opaque purple. When he blinks, only one eyelid shuts. It still gives me the heebie-jeebies.   

“Turner?” he says to me. Only his right eye is focused on me.

“Kurtz!” I say. “I hardly recognized you. What are you doing here?” I give him a hearty handshake. He still crushes hard. 

Kurtz points to the dugout. “My kid brother’s in there,” he says. “Almost as good as Mason.” He focuses his eyeball on Coach Allen. “Coach Sutton’s been working with him, but maybe Coach Allen could give him a look.”

“What do you know, Kurtz?” Coach Allen says and then watches Mason prepare, speaking softly into his recorder.

“What do you think?” Kurtz says to him, “Does my kid brother have it?”

“We’ll see,” Coach Allen says. “We’ll see.”

Kurtz turns back to me, “Trying out again?”

I don’t like how he knows this. “In a couple of days.”

“Still at it,” he says.

The first batter of the game strikes out. The catcher throws the ball around the horn. Coach Allen speaks into his recorder, though I can’t hear what he’s saying.

“Better get back,” Kurtz says. “My wife and the little guy will be wondering where I am.”

“How are they?” I ask.

“They’re my everything. You should look into it—a family.” He slaps my shoulder.

“It’s great to see you,” I say.

“Let’s catch up sometime.”

“You have my cell.”

I hope he won’t call anytime soon. Mason is up to bat. Coach Allen begins talking into his recorder. I stop him.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was going to be here?” I ask.

Kurtz was muscles in pinstripes back then. First inning, he was in the on-deck circle timing my pitches. At sixteen, I hadn’t quite figured out my curveball. So when I hung one a little high, Kurtz went yard on me, putting his team up by two. He stood in the batter’s box, watching the ball as it flew over the left field fence, his hands above his head in triumph. Then he flexed those pumpkins for biceps in front of our dugout, his one tattoo, a tiger, dancing in front of all of my teammates. Coach Allen called time, walked out to the mound and watched Kurtz strut around the base paths.

“See that?” he said. “Next time he’s up, put one in his ear hole or you’re out of here. Not his thigh, not his shoulder, don’t try to strike him out. Put it in his fucking ear hole.”

The next two innings I struck out the side. I pitched on autopilot, running scenarios through my head, thinking about the quickest way to throw a punch if Kurtz charged—I had never been in a fight before—and wondering if D. Lowe, my catcher, would stop Kurtz before he could get to the mound. Kurtz was going to be the first batter of the third inning. If I hit him then, with no outs and no one on base, everyone would know it was on purpose.  In the dugout, while our team was batting, I walked over to Coach Allen and told him I didn’t think I was up for hitting Kurtz.

Coach Allen looked out onto the field and spat. “You’re the one pitching, Turner,” he said.

When I walked out to the mound in the bottom of the third, Kurtz was timing my pitches again in the on-deck circle. After my last warm-up, Coach Allen called time, asked for a new ball from the umpire and walked out to the mound.

“That asshole jacked one out of the park on you and flaunted it in front of everyone and you want to let him get away with that?”

When I didn’t say anything, Coach Allen looked directly at me. “You need to show him who owns the plate. He’ll do it again if he knows he’s better than you. The difference between great players and the wash-outs is the wash-outs don’t do what they need to do to get it done.” He looked around the field making sure nobody heard him. “You pitch to him the way you like. But, I swear to god, he even puts the ball in fair play, I’m yanking you.” He held up the new ball and shook it in my face. “This is your opportunity, Turner. This is part of the game,” Coach Allen said and dropped the little white sphere into my mitt.
They’re called pearls: baseballs that have never been used before, straight out of the box like Christmas bulbs on the fifth of December. The white of the leather clings to the oil on the pads of your fingers. The stitching patterns, in tight U shapes, run like blood vessels over the surface. You can feel the friction when you run your fingers over them. Some pitchers will rub pearls in the dirt or work them over in their sweaty hands, stretching the leather, breaking them in. I never did that. I liked them untouched.

I palmed the baseball in my mitt. The leather felt smooth against my thumb; I swept my fingers across the bumpy seams. D. Lowe got the sign from Coach Allen. He crouched, got situated and threw down his middle finger to me, the go-ahead to earhole Kurtz. I nodded, said to myself, you better get out of the way, wound up and let that motherfucker sail.
You can only see a baseball for the first fifteen feet after it leaves the pitcher’s hand. From then on, your brain takes over, postulating where the ball is going to end up; it’s like taking a picture with a shutter speed that is too slow. Great hitters are great guessers. I don’t know what Kurtz saw for those first fifteen feet. I must’ve overestimated his ability to react. The pitch might’ve gotten away from me, a few inches to the right of where I wanted it. He was crowding the plate, I’m pretty sure. I’m positive I didn’t want to hurt him, didn’t even want to hit him. He was probably expecting junk pitches low and away, nowhere near him. It’s no one’s fault: that’s why it was an accident—the situation got out of my control.

Kurtz didn’t turn fast enough and the ball hit his cheekbone instead, under his left eye. He squirmed on the ground, making throaty noises and holding his entire face, trying to contain the blood from what I later found out were burst arteries around his crushed eye socket that were staining the batter’s box an almost beautiful dark purple. I walked towards the batter’s box to see what happened. A small crowd gathered around home plate. Kurtz kept on screaming, “I lost my eye!”

Sutton was yelling at Coach Allen. Many of the parents from the other team were calling for my head. When the ambulance arrived, I found the few seconds alone I needed to escape to the public restrooms. I closed the stall and threw up so hard that some of the chunks missed the toilet and soiled my uniform.

Kurtz had to go through five reconstructive surgeries and lost all vision in his left eye. He was finished playing competitive sports.

That night, as our team got off the bus, Coach Allen pulled me aside. “What you did was the right thing,” he told me. “Tonight, you write a letter to the Kurtz family, apologize, and see Kurtz in the hospital a couple of times.” He put his hands on both of my shoulders. “This wasn’t anything against Kurtz as a person, understand? This is how you play baseball, especially if you want to take it to the next level. I’m not doing you any favors by telling you otherwise.” I nodded in agreement. “Just do as I tell you,” Coach Allen said, “and they may let you back in after this.”

Coach Allen must’ve seen that I hadn’t expected to be punished.

 “Sutton is bringing this to the league. You’ll probably be out for a while. Maybe indefinitely.”

I was angry. I was scared. I didn’t know any better. I started to cry.

“Here,” Coach Allen said. I thought he was reaching for some Kleenex or a handkerchief in his pocket. Instead, he handed me a wad of cash. Later, I counted it. He gave me one hundred and fifty dollars. “You’re a smart kid,” Coach Allen said. “You have the mindset of a professional. You should be paid like one.”

Don was one of the parents on the other team. His story jumped the sports section and made it to 1A, a long rant on the relationships and responsibilities of coaches to their players. People tell me the reason Coach Allen was suspended for only three years and not indefinitely was because I refused to be interviewed, tacitly taking the bullet that was aimed for his head.

In the last inning, Mason hits his eighth home run of the season. He runs around the bases slowly, carefully. He makes sure that it looks like it wasn’t a big deal to him. He tips his hat to the crowd as he walks back to the dugout. “I’ve never seen such a performance by someone that young,” Coach Allen says to me. “The kid’s good.” I’ve seen enough.

“Let’s get out of here,” I say.

Before Coach Allen drops me off, we stop at McDonalds. Coach Allen orders a hamburger and fries with a banana milkshake. I’m not hungry. I order a Diet Coke. We sit down. Coach Allen squirts packets of ketchup over his fries.

“Mason has control up there—poise. You don’t see that with kids his age.”

“Nope,” I say.

“I talked to Mason after the game. I told him he should come to the facility, take some batting practice.”

“That’s nice,” I say.

“I want you to pitch to him.”


“Now, hold on, Turner. I’ve invited some other scouts from all over the Northwest, so if you do well, it will generate some buzz for tryouts in two weeks. Don’t think you’re the only one putting your neck out there.” Coach Allen finishes his hamburger. “You take your shots. That’s what you do. If you don’t, you end up a wash-out.” Coach Allen leans back and rests his arm against the back of the flimsy red booth we are in. “Sutton never understood that. He’s a good coach, but he doesn’t have what it takes to be great. Talent will only get you so far, Turner. You’ve got to be hungry. You see an opportunity, you grab it. Why do you think Kurtz never gunned for you after you plunked him? Why his family never came after you financially? He knows how the game is played. You know it. And this Mason kid sure as shit should know it.”
“But Sutton doesn’t?” I ask.

“It’s time to grow up,” Coach Allen says.

After I get home, I go out for a seven-mile run. My pace is better than it has been since I was in high school. I’m flying. I’m not short of breath and my legs are feather-light. I’m not breathing heavily and I can feel my heart rate maintain a steady rhythm.

Then I hit the weights. I bench three sets of eight reps at a hundred and ninety pounds, the first time I’ve ever done that, and then I squat three-hundred and pounds five times. I ice everything down afterwards.

I get a call. It’s Don again.

“No comment,” I say and hang up. He calls again. “What,” I say.

“My follow up is coming out tomorrow,” Don says.

“Can’t wait.”

“Next year Coach Allen will coach high school again. He’s already starting the process this summer. Thoughts?”


“I talked to someone who knows who his assistants are going to be. You aren’t on that list. My source says that Allen doesn’t want to attract unnecessary attention.”

“Bullshit,” I say. “I’ll be playing for the Hawks.”

“I hope so,” Don says. “I hope so.”

There are more people here at the facility than I thought there were going to be. Mason is here, of course, as well as Coach Allen, three scouts and a team of little leaguers dotting the fence. “What are they here for?” I say.

“Schedule conflict,” he says. “They’ll learn something here, though.”

We make our introductions. Of the scouts, two are for the Angels, one is for the Cubs.

“Turner, start getting your arm warm. Throw with Mason. The adults need to talk.”

Mason grabs his glove. He’s eager, because he’s trying to look not eager. Whatever he is doing, I can tell he’s nervous as shit. I’m going to mow these pitches by him.

“I heard you played for Allen,” Mason says.

 “Yeah, I did.”

We throw for about five minutes. My arm is humming, so I put a little extra on a few of the tosses. Mason must be able to tell.

“He says I could probably learn some things from you,” Mason says. He wings one pretty hard himself.

“I doubt it,” I say.

“Allen said maybe we should sit down sometime and talk.”


“I think I’m ready,” Mason says. “Are you?”

Mason and I get into the batting cage. I walk to the mound and he to home plate. Coach Allen makes his announcement: “I’m Coach Allen and today, these are my assistants.” He points to us. “You see these three men? They are scouts from the major leagues. You do what we tell you, pay attention to what we do, play fair, play smart, maybe one day these men will come to watch you. How does that sound?”

The setup is two scouts behind Mason, watching him hit and one scout and Coach Allen next to me near the mound. “Give him everything you got, Turner. We want to see what he’ll do to a fastball, curveball, and a changeup. We’ll be clocking your pitches, as well.”

I throw a few balls off the plate on purpose at first. See if the little guy will bite at anything bad. Anything he does poorly makes me look better, so I’m trying to win a few easy points. But he doesn’t swing at any junk. I figure, fuck it, let’s see what he’s got and give him some mustard, a fastball low and inside. He swings and it comes screaming right back at me.

“Throw another one of those, Turner,” Coach Allen says.

I wind up and send one to the outside part of the plate. Mason swings and takes it the other way, just like he’s supposed to. The scouts behind home are writing furiously. “Told you,” Coach Allen says to the other scout. I don’t like the tone of that comment.

“Throw a few more fastballs, Turner. Paint the plate both outside and inside. Then mix it up a bit.”

I throw my two-seam. I throw my four-seam. I throw my cutter. Mason pelts almost every single one. I set him up with a high fastball, which he doesn’t swing at, and then drop in my curve. Mason takes my curveball right over my head.

I throw him a changeup. He doesn’t bite. I throw him another changeup. He hits it foul. After that, I bring a fastball, really rear back, and try to put it by him. He hasn’t swung and missed yet but I figure he won’t be able to catch up with this fastball after seeing a few changeups. He swings.

I don’t even want to know where that pitch would’ve ended up without a cage surrounding us.

Coach Allen and the scouts are talking in vicious whispers. I can’t hear what they are saying. “Ok,” Coach Allen says. “We’ve seen enough. Mason, they want to talk to you.”

“Wait,” I say. I’m probably finished. But I can’t help myself. “Just a few more,” I say.

“They’ve seen what they need to see,” Coach Allen says.

“Just one more. A situation. You owe me one.”

Coach Allen turns to the scout and says something that I can’t hear. He opens the batting cage and says to me, so that no one can hear, “I don’t know what you’re trying to do here, Turner.”

“One more,” I say.

He walks towards home plate and turns his hat around backwards. I throw the first pitch. “Ball,” he says. Second pitch is outside, just missing the corner. “Ball two.” Third pitch is a fastball towards the middle of the plate. “That one would’ve been a homerun,” Coach Allen says.

“No, it wouldn’t have,” I say.

“That’s it, we’re done.”

“One more.”

Coach Allen looks at the scouts. He says, “You better give them something they’ve never seen before.” It’s all the justification I need. I wind up and send one screaming.


Erik Evenson was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. He moved to Seattle when he was 18 and has stayed there since. He has published work in PANK, The Rumpus and Spartan Magazine, among others. He lives with his wife, Susan, and their three chickens.