IT’S A RARE baseball game that ends with the star slugger being chased with a BB gun. But no one who knew Trevor Stark would have been surprised by the news. The Kilby Catfish left fielder had a certain way about him, a way that made women lose their minds and men lose their cool. It had been that way his whole life. One of these days, people often said, Trevor Stark was going to run into trouble he couldn’t get out of.
If that day had come, on a Saturday in July, Trevor had no inkling of it when he stepped onto the field at Catfish Stadium. The banks of lights aimed at the diamond lent a haze of lavender to the early evening sky. A friendly sort of roar drifted from the bleachers, a mixture of lazy chatter and cracking peanut shells. The sound system was playing some country song Trevor didn’t recognize, and the heady scent of dust and grass and leather made something inside him settle into place. He loved baseball. Loved every second on the field, and merely endured the seconds off it.
On the mound, the pitcher was warming up, the thunk of his fastballs drilling into the catcher’s mitt. Heading for his spot in left field, Trevor deliberately stepped on the chalk line between foul territory and the infield. Touching the line was known to be bad luck—unless you were one of those players who believed the opposite. Trevor believed in facing bad luck head-on, armed with cleats and a cup.
“Hey Trev.” Bieberman, on his way to his spot at shortstop, popped up next to him. Bieberman, whose real name was Jim Leiberman, looked enough like Justin Bieber to allow his teammates to torment him with that nickname. “Did you hear the news about Crush?”
Crush Taylor, former pitching legend, owned the Catfish and had been riding Trevor’s ass since last season.
“You lost me at ‘Crush.’ I break out in smallpox when I hear his name.”
“Smallpox was eradicated in 1980,” chirped Bieberman, a former med student who had all kinds of random facts at his disposal.
“I’m bringin’ it back.”
Dwight Conner, the center fielder, jogged past. Dwight was his closest friend on the team. Trevor still didn’t know how that had happened; normally he avoided friendships, along with relationships in general. “Bringing what back? Forget that, did you hear about Crush?”
Bieberman answered quickly. “I was just saying that he went on TV and promised to win the Triple A championship. He said if we don’t, he’ll sell the team to the jackass Wade family. His words.”
Trevor glanced at the owner’s box, where Crush Taylor spent most games drinking from his ubiquitous silver flask and flirting with his lady-of-the-moment.
“By the time that happens, I’m going to be outta the Catfish into the Friars,” said Dwight with a grin. “Fried Catfish, that’s me.”
As usual, the mention of the San Diego Friars, the major league team that held his contract, made Trevor’s gut roil. Most players lived for “the Call,” but not Trevor. If he had his way, he’d never get permanently called up to the Friars. He’d stay right here, where no one knew him. He wanted one thing—to keep his sister Nina safe and anonymous, which would never happen if he played in the majors.
But he couldn’t let anyone in baseball know his true situation, so he continued with his usual act. The legend of Trevor Stark, selfish, arrogant bastard. “Why should I care who buys the team?” he said to Dwight. “I care about Trevor Stark only. Trevor Stark should not be stuck here in Limbo, Texas. Hell, I don’t even like barbecue. And I can hit these Triple A pitchers with my eyes closed.”
“Hey, Gossip Girls,” yelled Duke, the manager. “Shut up and get your butts on the field.”
With a gesture of apology, Trevor sped up to a jog, parting ways with Dwight, now headed toward center field.
“Buy me a Lone Star after the game and I won’t bust you on the barbecue thing,” Dwight called as he settled into position. “That could get you shot around here.”
“You’re on.” Trevor faced the infield, where the first Albuquerque Isotope batter was just leaving the on-deck circle. He adjusted his cap to shield his eyes from the glare of the lights, and that’s when he caught sight of the homemade sign in the stands. Kilby fans were known for their expressiveness at the ballpark.
Trevor Stark, it read, but the Trevor had been crossed off and replaced with Traitor.
Traitor? That seemed like a stretch, even though Trevor knew he wasn’t a popular player like Dwight. Everyone loved Dwight; Trevor tended to inspire the opposite emotion. Let Dwight be the charmer. Let Bieberman be the cute and cuddly one. Trevor Stark was all about mental toughness, mystery, and intimidation.
Block it out. The guy was probably an Isotope fan trying to rattle the competition.
With two outs, someone finally made contact. A sharp crack carried across the field, accompanied by a rising roar from the crowd. A fly ball was heading toward the outfield.
“It’s all you, baby,” called Dwight.
Trevor loped left, then slowed to a gentle drift, tracking the ball on its spinning descent. He jogged back, back, back, until he knew the outfield wall was just behind him. The ball was taking forever up there, as if it had caught a wind current headed to the Gulf of Mexico. As it finally headed for the ground, he leaped into the air and got a glove on it. It bounced off, and he had to lunge in a kind of split-leg pirouette to snatch it back into the webbing. The crowd roared.
He held up his glove with the ball nestled inside.
“Trevor, Trevor!” In the stands, a teenage kid selling peanuts waved to him. Trevor ignored him. He knew Brian pretty well from the Boys and Girls Club. Good kid trying to bring in some extra cash for the family. But when he’d gotten Brian the job here, he warned him that was the extent of his help. What was the kid doing grinning at him like that?
Instead he tossed the ball to a little boy jumping up and down next to a pretty blond woman. “Come find me after the game and I’ll sign it,” he called to the boy—and his hot mother—as he and Dwight jogged off the field. On the way to the dugout, he caught sight of another homemade sign.
Trevor Skank. You suck.
Trevor shook his head. Bring it on, hecklers. That sort of thing just fueled his drive.
In the dugout, he left his glove on the bench and pulled on his batting gloves, since he was batting third. Duke, the manager, called over to him. “Message from Crush. He says stop flirting with the ladies in the stands and get your pretty face on base.”