A few weeks after Haley Lovell’s third birthday, her dad buckled her into her car seat outside the old Milford post office, kissed her forehead, and stepped backward into traffic. He never closed Haley’s door, and the utility van that smashed into him also managed to catch the corner of that open door, which caused it to separate from its hinge. Something—a rivet or screw or piece of door panel—flew inside the vehicle and sliced Haley’s forehead. The resulting cut required four stitches and left a small scar.
As Haley grew older, her scar became nearly invisible, though she still felt the raised furrow of skin almost every time she fixed her hair. When she was anxious or nervous or a little of both, she’d rub her scar, which often made people think she wasn’t paying attention or didn’t really care, but she mostly was and always did.
Haley Lovell’s scar was a little like a grass stain on a baseball; it couldn’t simply be polished or rubbed away. Being Haley Lovell wasn’t the hardest thing in the world, but it sure as hell wasn’t easy.
Haley always had trouble sleeping. For as long as she could remember, her sleep had been broken, her nights restless. At 13, thoughts and worries, anxieties that she couldn’t quite name tugged at her, kept her awake. She’d rub her scar, softly and slowly, until she finally fell asleep. By the time she was 15, the same thoughts and anxieties began to plague her while she was awake. When she finally turned 16, she began to wonder what it was that killed her dad.
See, no one ever told Haley Lovell the truth.
She knew her dad died tragically, but she didn’t know how it happened—something involving a car was all she’d been told.
Haley’s mother thought it was best to shield her daughter from the truth. Cecilia Lovell never told Haley that her father killed himself. Cecilia was too angry for the truth—too angry at the truth—so she chose to tell her daughter a version of the truth. And as easy as it is to second-guess Cecilia’s decision, to imagine doing something is a lot different than actually doing it.
But none of that might’ve mattered except for a U.S. History project Mr. Darling assigned Haley and her friend, Chelsea Hamilton.
Mr. Darling—whose first name was Tyne—had only taught at McCauley for a little over a year. Haley didn’t find him all that attractive, but most of the girls at McCauley, including Chelsea Hamilton, crushed hard on Mr. Darling. Haley found him more interesting than good-looking, though she wouldn’t have argued that he was anything close to ugly. He played for the New York Yankees for a single game, but for a number of reasons that orbited around a concussion and broken jaw, he never played for anyone after that. Haley asked him about it once because her friends begged her.
Seriously, Haley, they said. Just ask him. Ask him about baseball. He’ll talk to you, they added. Everyone talks to you.
And they were right—people talked to her all the time. People told her things, private things, things that sometimes made her uncomfortable.
So when Haley finally asked Mr. Darling about what happened with the New York Yankees, she actually wasn’t surprised that he told her. Still, she was a little surprised how honest he was. His honesty caught her off guard.
“I remember going up to the plate,” Mr. Darling said.
He smiled, and the weather in the room changed.
“I had thousands of at-bats by then.”
He paused and looked at Haley.
“But,” he added, “I’d never been up to bat at Yankee Stadium.”
“The pitcher,” Mr. Darling recalled, “was a guy named Sammy Carbeens.
Mr. Darling shifted, leaned back against his desk.
“When Carbeens stepped on the rubber, every thought in my head evaporated.”
“Jason Litner was the Red Sox’s catcher, and when he settled in behind me, I swear I could hear the dirt beneath his cleats.”
Haley Lovell hung on Mr. Darling’s every word. She’d never heard anyone speak the way he did and mean it. Lots of people talked like Mr. Darling, she thought, but most of them were full of shit. Mr. Darling wasn’t.
“Carbeens wound up and hurled,” Mr. Darling continued, “and I watched as the stitches tumbled backward out of his hand.”
“The baseball looked so big and perfectly white. I swung—I couldn’t help it—and the sound,” he recalled, “was incredible.” He paused, then continued. “Even though,” he added, “I didn’t actually hit it all that well.”
Mr. Darling smiled.
“I ran out what they call a Baltimore chop—a high-bouncing ground ball—for my first Major League hit.”
“The next guy up was an outfielder named Luis Franco. I took my lead,” Mr. Darling said, “and then it hit me: Right then was everything, everything I’d hoped and wished and worked for, and I suddenly realized it.” He shook his head. “My dreams split themselves right down the seams. They weren’t dreams anymore. They were something else. They were real.”
Mr. Darling stopped and sat down.
“But,” he said. “as a left-handed hitter, my left ear was open, uncovered in the single-flap helmet people wear in the Big Leagues.”V
Mr. Darling looked at Haley, and she nodded. She knew what a single flap was.
“The signs came from third, and I cheated even more with my lead. I had a sign for a straight steal.”|
“I broke for second on Carbeens’ leg kick.”
Mr. Darling nervously ran his fingers through his dark hair. He checked the clock and continued.
“I slid headfirst.”
Mr. Darling paused, longer this time, and Haley shifted in her chair. She reached her hand toward her forehead but stopped and pretended to stretch.
“And Jason Litner’s throw tailed short. The ball smashed right into the side of my face.”
Mr. Darling stopped and rubbed his jaw. The words he spoke collided with Haley’s ears. They came slowly, as if they were somehow heavier than their predecessors.
“I could’ve been anywhere,” he said. “I remember wondering about the noise and the sky and the people shuffling above me.”
Haley wanted to say something, but she couldn’t manage a single word.
“The trainers checked me out, got me to my feet, and into the clubhouse. The next thing I knew, I was at New York-Presbyterian, and that was that.”
Mr. Darling stood up, walked around the desk, then sat back down.
“Have you ever wanted something so bad,” he said finally, “that you almost can’t think about anything else?”
He gazed over Haley’s shoulder out the classroom windows.
Haley didn’t know what to say. She could imagine exactly what Mr. Darling was talking about. Somehow—and she wasn’t exactly sure how—she could imagine it precisely. She couldn’t find a way to communicate it to Mr. Darling, though. She really, really wanted to, but she just couldn’t manage.
Haley never told anyone what Mr. Darling said. Telling people didn’t seem right. Telling people felt like a betrayal, which made Haley wonder if Mr. Darling had actually shared something special with her or if she made it special because she needed something to keep secret and protect.
She couldn’t be certain.
Haley thought about that story for months. She thought about it all the time.
When Haley was in grade school, her grandfather often watched her in the late afternoon until Haley’s mother got off work. He talked to her about ballplayers, told stories about people like Duke Snider, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, and Josh Gibson. Eventually, he taught her to throw and hit and most importantly, to take pitches that weren’t thrown just right. Haley’s grandfather was a rangy, well-armed outfielder, and he might’ve been something except for the war. He was shot down over Dresden and held as a POW. When he got back Stateside, he found his body just couldn’t quite work the way it had before he’d left. Still, he managed to play for a handful of barnstorming clubs and even trained with the Reds a few springs. But he knew his best days had never been, and whatever shot he had probably got blasted right out of the sky with him over Dresden.
Haley’s grandfather stoked a fire in her that kindled an appreciation of baseball from the inside-out, of minding intangibles and thinking about the sport not just in terms of strikes and outs but as one long, seemingly never-ending, variation equation. When Mr. Darling gave the U.S. History assignment, Haley knew it was an opportunity. But she was partnered with Chelsea Hamilton who insisted they write on FDR since FDR was Mr. Darling’s favorite.
Chelsea persisted about FDR. Finally, Haley agreed because she just wanted to get the assignment done and for Chelsea to shut up about FDR and how hot Mr. Darling was. Chelsea and the rest of them had really been getting on Haley’s nerves. Lately, they seemed different. Lately, Haley felt different.
Mr. Darling was going to get a half-dozen reports on FDR. He deserved something special, Haley thought, and she could provide that.
But Chelsea wouldn’t go for it, so Haley continued to work on the FDR report.
Then, when Chelsea had to fly to Sacramento for her grandfather’s funeral, Haley knew it was her chance.
Haley took the FDR report and told Chelsea she’d turn it in.
“It’s a fantastic report,” Haley said.
But Haley Lovell had no intention of submitting a report on FDR.
She’d have been honest with Chelsea, but she was sure Chelsea wouldn’t understand.
Haley needed Mr. Darling to know she understood the precious story he’d shared with her, so she wrote a report on Dean Stone and handed it in.
“Huh,” Mr. Darling said when Haley slid the report onto his desk. “Dean Stone.”
He furrowed his brow, and a thin smile broke across his face. “The ballplayer?”
“Yep,” Haley answered.
Mr. Darling nodded, and Haley took her seat.
He understood, she thought. He knew.
“Who the fuck is Dean Stone?” Chelsea screamed. She threw the report down on the cafeteria table where Haley sat, a red A scrawled on the cover page. The cafeteria was crowded, and all of their friends stared.
“I mean, what in the fuck?” Chelsea growled. “What about FDR?”
Haley Lovell stared at the report, her eyes fixed on the hastily scrawled red A that hovered right above Dean Stone’s name.
“Where’s our fucking report?” Chelsea pressed once again.
Haley shrugged. “I dunno,” she followed. “I got rid of it.”
Chelsea exploded. “Got rid of it?”
“Yeah,” Haley said.
Haley didn’t see Chelsea’s hand coming. She never expected it. Chelsea’s hand came at Haley in the shape of a fist, and when it collided with Haley’s face, Haley wasn’t sure what she felt or what she should do. The only thing that concerned Haley Lovell was the blood streaming from her nose. But before she knew it, she was on the floor, and soon Haley felt herself smashing Chelsea’s face with her own closed fists.
It was Sr. Robers and Mr. Zehring who finally managed to pry Haley off of Chelsea Hamilton. As Haley followed Mr. Zehring to Principal Keely’s office, she became intimately aware of the pain in her knuckles and hands, the awful aching in her forearms and wrists.
Chelsea was still on the lunchroom floor, the nurse tending to her as Sr. Robers worked to clear the cafeteria. The bell had rung. Lunch was over, but no one moved.
Haley knew what she’d done wasn’t okay. There’d be hell to pay here at school and from her mother at home. She was more concerned, though, with the fact that the whole thing felt fake, as if it had happened to someone else. In fact, if it weren’t for the blood and the pain in her hands and arms, Haley might’ve wondered if any of it happened at all.
But Principal Keely made sure Haley Lovell was completely aware of exactly what she’d done.
“What I want to know,” he said, finally, “is how it all began?”
Haley looked up at Principal Keely. He hovered over her like a storm. But Haley was a thunderbolt.
She sighed. “Dean Stone.”
“Dean Stone?” Keely shifted and adjusted his tie. “What,” he pried, “was this some sort of boyfriend thing?”
Haley laughed. “No.”
“Then what’s going on, Ms. Lovell?” he pressed. “Who is Dean Stone?”
“He was a ballplayer, Dr. Keely. A pitcher,” Haley added. “And not a particularly good one. His career record was something like 10 games under .500.”
Principal Keely stared at her.
“.500,” Haley repeated. “Like an even win-loss record.”
“I know what .500 is, Ms. Lovell,” Principal Keely snapped. “That’s not what’s bothering me. What’s got me,” he continued, “is that you and Ms. Hamilton were just rolling around on the lunchroom floor trying to beat one another senseless, and you’re telling me it’s because of some baseball player?”
“Ms. Lovell,” he continued, “you better get to the point, and I’d advise you to do so expeditiously.”
“Dean Stone pitched for a bunch of Big League teams,” Haley replied. “Finished his career in Japan.”
She shifted in her chair, took a breath, and got rolling.
“By all intents and purposes, Dean Stone wasn’t anything more than a below-average Major League pitcher in an era when pitching was nothing like it is now.”
Principal Keely looked impatient. Perhaps, though, he was furious.
“Except,” Haley pushed, “in 1954 Dean Stone won the All-Star game without throwing a pitch.”
Principal Keely’s brow furrowed, but Haley kept speaking.
“He came on in the 8th with two outs to face Duke Snider.”
Haley smiled but only to herself.
“Stone was pitching for the AL, trailing 9-8. But before Stone’s first pitch, Red Schoendienst—who was on third—tried to steal home.”
She leaned forward and placed the palms of her hands together as if she was praying.
“But here’s the thing: Stone threw Schoendienst out at the plate, and boom,” Haley said, triumphantly, “three outs, no pitches.”
Principal Keely cleared his throat, but Haley continued.
“The AL was still down by one run,” she added.
“But,” Haley said, “the AL scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth and ended up winning 11-9.”
Haley paused. A wide smile broke across her face.
“You see,” she continued, “Dean Stone won the game without throwing a single pitch.”
She looked up at Principal Keely.
But Principal Keely just stared down at Haley.
She knew before she started to tell him about Dean Stone that Principal Keely probably wouldn’t get it. He couldn’t possibly understand or appreciate Dean Stone the way she and Mr. Darling did.
Mr. Darling knew what it meant to have a chance: a crude and uneven mixture of talent, hard work, luck, and timing. Haley Lovell knew this, too. She wasn’t sure how, but she knew it. Haley thought that probably Dean Stone knew, as well. It didn’t seem, though, that Principal Keely knew. Chelsea Hamilton certainly
didn’t, and Haley was pretty sure that none of her other friends did, either. But Mr. Darling did. Haley was absolutely certain that Mr. Darling knew.
When Haley’s mother arrived, her face did something that Haley hadn’t ever seen. But it wasn’t really Haley’s mother’s face that did it; it was her eyes. They revealed something Haley never expected: Her mom didn’t know. And that bothered Haley far more than she expected. In an instant, Haley began to wonder something she’d never wondered before, something that suddenly made her feel so empty and hollow that she was afraid that she would simply break apart: Her father might not have known, either.
She’d never even considered it.
Maybe most people didn’t know. Maybe most people didn’t understand the importance, the extreme vulnerability of a chance. Maybe her dad was no different than her mom and Chelsea Hamilton and Principal Keely.
Haley suddenly grew short of breath. Her head spun, and she tried to steady herself. Could it have been, she wondered, that her dad’s accident hadn’t really been an accident, at all?
Haley could barely stand the weight of the question as it rumbled through her mind.
Her mom and Keely talked at her, and she nodded.
Then, they left.
Haley paused in the parking lot as she pulled the handle on her mom’s car door. She noticed her hand with its swollen fingers. It didn’t seem to belong to her. It didn’t seem to belong to anyone.
At home, in her bed, tucked under a thick duvet, Haley watched her mom’s thinly parted lips shape words. Haley tried, but she couldn’t quite make them out. Haley thought about telling her mother what happened—telling her mother the truth—but she couldn’t. She just didn’t want to.
Haley closed her eyes until her mother’s voice finally cut through, sharp as a butcher knife.
“Just rest,” her mother said.
Cecilia Lovell fussed with the already folded duvet. “We’ll talk later,” she whispered. “There’s plenty of time to talk.”
Haley nodded and stared at the ceiling. Tears welled in her eyes. She knew there was plenty of time, but there were no words with which to talk.
The door of Haley’s room closed and obscured her mother’s outstretched arm. Haley let the tears roll salty and warm down her cheeks. She didn’t even try to hold them in.
© Tommy Vollman
Tommy Vollman is a writer, musician, and painter. For many years, he was a baseball player. He has written a number of things, published a bit, recorded a few records, and toured a lot. He has some black-ink tattoos on both of his arms.