Author's Note: I dedicate this story to the memory of my father. Baseball was always his favorite sport, and the Detroit Tigers were his favorite team. They were his one true love, win or lose. I can remember many nights last summer, and even early in the season this year, before he passed, listening to him screaming at the TV when the Tigers botched a game, and singing their praises when they did well.
Whenever people met my father, if they were willing to talk about the Tigers or baseball in general, they had a friend for life in him. He encouraged me to start writing again a few years ago and you could say he was my best and my worst critic. He loved reading what I wrote and giving me ideas to take stories in directions I never would've thought of on my own. He also told me when he didn't like a particular character or scene and gave his feedback on what I could improve.
While this story contains fictional characters, it is based on real teams. Keep in mind, I know very little about how the major leagues and minor leagues work behind the scenes so please forgive any inaccuracies. I know I'll never have a love for baseball the way my father did, but I hope wherever he is, he'll read this story with a smile on his face. I miss you, pop. This one's for you.
"Why the hell did they pull me up from Toledo if they didn't intend to use me?" Steve Strathmore sat on the bench in the dugout at Comerica Park in Detroit, watching as the fans slowly filed out of the ballpark.
He'd been called up from Triple A Toledo for a month while one of the Detroit Tigers' star players recovered from an injury, and since his arrival two weeks ago, he'd played exactly two games. He loved the game, had since he was a kid. This was his shot at the big leagues.
This had only been his second season playing professional baseball, a dream he'd had since he was a child. He and his father had never missed a game when Steve was growing up. They'd either head on down to Michigan and Trumbull, where the legendary Tiger Stadium used to be, or if they couldn't make a game in person, they'd always catch it on TV or radio.
It didn't matter if the Tigers won or lost, he was a die-hard fan, and once he'd made it to high school, he'd worked hard to get onto the school's baseball team. He'd led his team to two championships, one when he was a junior and one in his senior year, and had even had offers of scholarships from several colleges and universities.
He was one of the best players in the minor leagues. He'd worked hard and waited patiently for his turn to be called up to the major leagues. He remembered the conversation with his coach as if it had just happened.
_Manager Lonny Parker motioned for Steve to take a seat across from him.
"You wanted to see me, Lonny?" Steve asked, feeling his heart thunder in his chest. He'd heard the Tigers needed someone to fill in for an injured player, someone coincidentally who played second base and had an excellent batting average.
Lonny ran his hand over his beard stubbled face and sighed. "I really don't want to lose you right now, Steve. Not when we're doing so well this season, but they need someone to take over for Guillen for a month. Think you're up for it?"
Steve couldn't suppress the smile on his face. "Hell yeah, I'm up for it."
"I thought you would be. As I said, they only need you for a month, but this is your chance to go to the show, albeit it temporarily. Show them what you've got."
Steve rose to his feet and shook hands with his manager. "Thanks, Lonny. I won't disappoint you."_
Now, two weeks later, he'd played only two games and watched as the Tigers fell further and further from first place in the American League Central. He knew he could've helped them to play better; he knew his batting average spoke for itself, yet they'd decided against using him. Instead, he was a glorified bench warmer. Picking up his glove and hat, both of which he'd tossed on the ground at his feet after the game, he rose to his feet and made his way to the locker room. He didn't know what he could do to convince the Tigers' manager to let him play.
Suzanne Mahoney watched as her all-time favorite minor league player slowly rose to his feet and headed toward the locker rooms. She'd been following his short career since he'd joined the Toledo Mud Hens, and she was surprised and ecstatic when she'd seen his name on the roster for the second base position for the Detroit Tigers. She'd managed to snag tickets for the past few home games for the Tigers and this particular game had been a night game at Comerica.
She'd loved baseball since she was a little girl, much to her mother's chagrin, and had made sure to follow her favorite two teams, the Detroit Tigers and the Toledo Mud Hens. When she learned her high school crush would be playing for the Triple A Toledo team, she'd managed to find herself an apartment halfway between Detroit and Toledo. She chuckled at herself, thinking if people knew about her secret crush on the young second baseman, they'd think she was either stalking him or seeking him out for his money.
She didn't care about any of that. She loved watching him play. He was one of the best players she'd ever seen. Suzanne could see from the look on his face when he was on the field that he dearly loved to play the game. She didn't know much about him, other than what she'd learned from when they were in high school together. She asked around or did research on the Internet too, but she did know without asking, his heart belonged to baseball.
As she'd sat and watched him sitting in the dugout after the game, she wondered why they'd called him up from Toledo. She knew he'd only played two games since he'd been in Detroit and the look of disappointment on his face told her he'd been wondering the same thing.
Gathering up her empty soda cup and her purse, she made her way toward the exit. Pausing once she reached the main concourse, she saw a sign indicating where the locker rooms were. She wondered if Steve Strathmore was still in there, then wondered if he'd be willing to give her his autograph if she asked. She also wondered if he'd even remember her, the geeky girl who used to always cheer him on at their high school games.
Suzanne walked slowly toward the locker room, smiling at the tall, lanky security guard standing nearby.
"I'm sorry, miss. You can't go any further. This area is restricted."
"Oh, I know. I'm sorry, I just wanted to see if — oh, never mind, it's silly." She blushed like a schoolgirl and turned to leave.
"You wanted to see if what?" the security guard asked.
Suzanne turned and smiled at the man again. "I wanted to see if Steve Strathmore was still here."
The security guard cocked a brow at her. "Is he expecting you?"
"Well, no. Uh, we went to high school together and I'd just like to say hi." She paused and blushed again. "He probably won't even remember me." Suzanne shifted nervously from one foot to the other. She tucked a wayward strand of blonde hair behind her ear and turned her eyes away from the security guard.
The security guard smiled. "Let me see if he's still here." Turning, the man pulled a set of keys from his belt loop, flipped through them then unlocked the door, pulling it open and stepping inside. Suzanne heard the click as the lock snapped back into place once the door closed again.
She fidgeted with her purse strap while she waited. Unconsciously, she began nibbling at her thumbnail, a nervous habit she'd had since she was a child and one her parents were never able to break. After about ten minutes, she realized she hadn't given the security guard her name. She knew Steve probably wouldn't come out anyway so she turned and made her way toward the exit when a deep, sexy voice stopped her in her tracks.
"Suzanne? Is that you?"
She turned slowly to face the object of her desire since she'd been a teenager. Smiling, she moved slowly toward him.
"You remember me?"
"Of course I remember you." Steve moved closer. "It's been a few years, and you look different, but when Marty told me there was someone here to see me, I knew it had to be you. You were always my biggest fan." He smiled again and reached out his hand. "How've you been?"
Suzanne took his hand and fought the powerful reaction she felt by simply touching him. "I've been good." She smiled. "I see you finally made it to the big leagues."
"Yeah." Steve sighed and reluctantly pulled his hand away. "Only temporarily though, I'm afraid."
"But you're here! You've played baseball — professional baseball — for your favorite team, Steve. You're living your dream. Not many people can say that."
He glanced around, noticing the place was clearing out fast. "Can we go somewhere and catch up?"
Suzanne felt her heartbeat kick up a notch. "Where did you have in mind?"
"The food court is still open. Why don't we go there?"
Steve reached for her hand and sighed contently when she took his and tangled her fingers with his. They walked at a leisurely pace while chatting and getting to know each other a bit.
He wasn't lying when he said he remembered Suzanne from high school. He smiled, remembering she wasn't all that popular and well, she was kind of nerdy, but she'd always managed to make it to every baseball game, and she'd always cheered the loudest when he was at bat or when he'd made a particularly good play.
.... There is more of this story ...