The dream always started the same way. Matt stepped out of the dugout. He picked up his bat and walked to the on deck circle, where he took a few practice swings. Then it was his turn at bat. He paused to acknowledge the crowd, which gave an uproarious cheer. He walked up to the plate and swung the bat again. Finally, just like Babe fucking Ruth, he pointed. Where he pointed varied, but it was usually towards the left field bleachers.
Anytime he had the dream, he was confident that his bat would connect and he’d drive that ball out of the stadium. Everything from the wind to the velocity of the pitch was under his control. He choked the bat, he lifted it, he saw the pitch, and he swung.
What happened next was a crapshoot. Sometimes he got the home run he expected. He’d run triumphantly around the bases. Best case, the bases were loaded before he got up to bat and he became the hero of the game. That version of the game usually ended when he was hoisted up on the shoulders of his teammates. Sometimes the bat whooshed right over the ball and he woke up just after he heard the slap of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove. Sometimes the bat connected but the ball soared into an outfielder’s glove. Sometimes the ball hit him in the head.
He had the dream the night after Ignacio Rodriguez’s first game. Instead of Cruz or Roger, the person who slapped his back before he got up to stand on deck was the Rodriguez kid. Although, Matt knew even in his dream that Rodriguez was clearly not a kid, he was a man, and a sinfully attractive man at that. His touch was affectionate, supposed to be encouraging, maybe even a promise for something to happen later. It felt a little like a kiss before being sent off to war, only Rodriguez was right there in the trenches with him. More than that, Rodriguez was probably the better player, now that Matt’s knees ached, now that his batting average had plummeted. But in the dream, he was aware of these things, but they didn’t matter, because then he was at bat, then he saw the pitch, then he was swinging.
Slap! Strike 1.
“No,” Matt said. “That’s not how that was supposed to go.”
He choked the bat and held it up. He could see everything as if it were in slow motion. He saw the pitcher spit, his right leg draw up, his glove rise, saw the way his fingers fit around the ball before he threw it, saw that ball flying right for him. He had this one. He could control it. He moved the bat forward slowly, knowing it would connect. Then whoosh! Slap! Strike 2.
Matt cursed. He glanced towards the dugout, where Rodriguez waited expectantly. He could not disappoint this man. He would not. He went through the routine. Practice swing, point to the left field bleachers, Babe fucking Ruth. He had this.
And again, there was the windup. The pitch. The ball hurtling through towards him. The bat slicing through the air. And slap! Strike 3.
Matt fell forward onto his knees. He cried out in anguish. The crowd booed.
He woke up with a start.