Lots of big news this week if you’re a sports fan. There are Olympics going on. NFL-bound player Michael Sam came out of the closet. My beloved Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter announced he’s retiring at the end of the upcoming season. And today is not just Valentine’s Day but also the day that pitchers and catchers report for baseball Spring Training. So I thought, what better way to celebrate than a short visit with Matt and Iggy? So here you are! Enjoy!
Matt frowned at Iggy’s giant suitcase, half packed and laying open on the bed. Iggy hadn’t even left the city yet, but the apartment already felt empty. With a heavy sigh, he left the room and walked into the kitchen, where he put a half-hearted effort into making a sandwich.
He was half eating, half reading the sports news on his phone when a snow-covered Iggy blew through the door.
“Don’t go outside,” Iggy said.
“Not planning on it.”
Iggy dropped his shopping bags by the door first, and they landed in a haphazard plop on the floor. He pulled off his knit cap and coat and hung them on the hooks by the door before wrestling off his snow boots. Then he plopped down next to Matt on the couch.
“How’s your leg?” Iggy asked.
“Not great, but I’ll live.”
Iggy nodded and then leaned back and sank into the sofa. “It’s really icy outside, so definitely don’t go outside if your leg is acting up. I realized as I was coming up the elevator that I forgot to buy milk while I was out, but we can just get it delivered.”
Iggy’s bones seemed to go gelatinous as he relaxed into the cushions. He sighed and poked at his belly. “Think the Eagles’ staff will have words for how much weight I’ve gained in the off-season?”
“What? The three extra pounds you put on when you ate too much of my mom’s struffoli at Christmas?”
“Hush. I’m flabby.”
Matt laughed. “If that’s flabby, I don’t want to know what I’ve become since I retired.”
Iggy turned his head and gazed at Matt. “You look fine.”
“So do you.” Matt reached over and lifted Iggy’s sweater. “If I can still see the definition of your abs, you are not flabby.” He poked at Iggy’s hard, muscular body. Not a bit of flab on him, as far as Matt could tell.
He got sort of stuck there, rubbing Iggy’s skin instead of poking at it, all of Iggy still as much a marvel to Matt as it had been the first time they’d come together for a dirty quickie in the locker room. Sometimes that felt like yesterday and sometimes it felt like a million years ago, but it didn’t matter how long because Iggy was here warming up the living room on a cold blustery day.
But not for long.
“Jones called while I was at the store,” Iggy said, putting an arm around Matt. “Mostly, he was calling to rub it in, I think. Seventy degrees and sunny in Tampa.”
“Fuck him,” Matt said, pressing his face against Iggy’s neck, breathing in his scent, futilely hoping to keep Iggy here in New York instead of letting him leave for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers had reported to the Brooklyn Eagles’ training camp in Florida the day before, signaling that Iggy’s long trip out of town was imminent. Matt had considered going with him and figured he’d be welcome enough among his former teammates, but his leg had hurt something awful all winter and he needed to stay home and near his doctor and physical therapist if he had any hope of continuing to walk like a normal person.
“It’s awful out there,” Iggy said, stroking Matt’s back as they settled into a tangled snuggle on the sofa. “I can’t say I’m sad to be leaving this nonsense. What a terrible winter.”
Matt knew better, but it was hard sometimes not to feel left behind. Matt’s retirement from baseball was a few years behind him, but Iggy’s career was thriving, and he posted better numbers each year than he had the year before. Matt’s name was starting to get floated for Hall of Fame inclusion, which made him feel old instead of honored. And now Iggy was off to Florida for Spring Training before another undoubtedly stellar season, and Matt would have to stay home and watch from the couch.
Iggy pointed to the coffee table. “Is that a sandwich?”
“Is the roast beef from your cousin’s deli still in the fridge?”
“Oh, my god.”
Iggy was up and in the kitchen before Matt had time to react. He didn’t turn to look, but Matt could hear Iggy go about making a sandwich. He closed his eyes and tried to savor this quiet, domestic moment of simply living with and being together. Instead of savoring, thought, he just felt sad.
Iggy returned a moment later with a massive sandwich on a plate with some chips. He sat down and looked like he was about to dig in when he turned and looked at Matt. He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“What? Nothing’s wrong.”
“Is it your leg? Are you not feeling well? Did you want me to save you some of the roast beef?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“Matt. I have eyes. I can see your face. You are not fine.”
Matt sighed. He thought about the half-filled suitcase in the bedroom. “You’re leaving,” he said softly.
Iggy put his plate on the coffee table. “Just for a few weeks.”
“I know, and it shouldn’t be a big deal. I’m a big boy, I can take care of myself while my boyfriend goes away for work for a few weeks. I just…”
Iggy smiled and cupped the side of Matt’s face with his hand. “I’ll miss you, too. A lot.”
Matt leaned his forehead against Iggy’s. “You always take something away with you when you leave town. Not just you, but it’s like you take my whole life with you, and I’m left here behind to watch it on TV.”
Iggy pulled back and looked at Matt with a furrowed brow. “Matt, I—”
“No, don’t say anything. I’m just in a rotten mood. I’ll be fine while you’re gone.” And he would be. Matt had friends he could call, and physical therapy, and he was very slowly writing a second book about baseball that he figured he’d have plenty of time to work on while Iggy was away.
“You know,” Iggy said. He extracted himself from Matt’s grasp and stood up. “Today is February Fourteenth.”
It was? The days had been blending together. “Shit. I forgot.”
Iggy let out a dramatic sigh. “I’m not… look, we never really do anything for Valentine’s Day and I honestly do not care. I love you, you love me, we both know it, and I can’t eat chocolates right now anyway if I want to get back in fighting form. So if you forgot and didn’t do anything, it’s not a big deal. I’m not upset or anything.”
Matt disagreed. He sat up on the couch, feeling now like the biggest asshole of them all because he’d forgotten Valentine’s Day completely, and, yeah, they loved each other and they both knew it, but it never hurt to express that.
Iggy walked back toward his abandoned shopping bags. He’d gone out earlier to buy some odds and ends he’d need when he went to Florida—hence the abandoned suitcase on the bed—and he’d acted with a strange sort of urgency when he left. In fact, Matt had been trying to get Iggy to just sit still all day. The weather outside was frightful, the apartment was warm and cozy, why couldn’t they just stay in bed, or snuggle on the couch with a movie? Why did Iggy feel the burning need to go out and buy new undershirts during a blizzard?
Not that any of this was news. One of Iggy’s weird quirks was that he hated being trapped inside by the weather. They’d been living together for two whole years before Matt had picked up on that, even. Iggy could spend days in the apartment without leaving if the weather was sunny and warm outside, but if a snowstorm hit, he suddenly felt an urgent need to go biking in the park or whatever.
Now he dug through his shopping bags, muttering something Matt couldn’t hear. He stood back up and reached across the room, handing Matt his cell phone. Then he went back to digging through the bags. “Look at the photos,” he said.
It took Matt a moment to recall Iggy’s password, which was dumb because it was “MATT.” “What am I looking for?” he asked.
“That sports equipment store on Seventy-First was having a vintage jersey sale. I was looking through them just to see what was available. Of course I got recognized.”
Matt looked up to see if he could catch Iggy’s facial expression, but Iggy kept looking down and digging through his bags. Iggy’s tone had been glib, but Matt knew how much he resented the extra attention he’d gotten after coming out of the closet. His face had been plastered all over so many tabloid covers for weeks—the speculation about who he was dating had been especially maddening to Matt—that everyone in New York knew Iggy Rodriguez even if they weren’t baseball fans.
“Anyway,” Iggy said, “one of the kids at the store asked who my favorite player of all time was, so I said, ‘Matt Blanco,’ because obviously. Then that happened.” He stood up and pointed at the phone.
Matt opened the photo app, and right there was a photo of Iggy in a Blanco jersey, his body facing away from the camera but his head turned to look back at the photographer.
It was touching in a way. It was a good reminder both of the circumstances under which they’d met but also that Iggy had always believed in Matt, even when Matt hadn’t believed in himself.
“Then the store manager went a little crazy and made me sign a bunch of merchandise. That was part of what took so long. Then she asked me if I had a valentine, so I held up the jersey, because, you know. You’re my valentine, of course.”
Matt smiled at that.
Iggy grinned. “I mean, maybe I’m biased on the whole greatest-player-of-all-time question. Because you’re the greatest person I know, period.”
Matt shook his head, feeling bashful, but he was moved. It was hard to stay sad when Iggy said things like that.
“So this happened,” Iggy said before he tossed Matt a tee-shirt.
Matt unfolded it. It was an Blanco tee-shirt, his name above his old retired number printed on the back, but someone had written in black magic marker, “Rodriguez ♥” above the name.
“That’s corny,” Matt said, though he loved it.
“I know,” said Iggy with a shrug. He bent down and rifled through his bags again. “Where the hell is… oh, here we go.” He stood, something small in his hand. “This is also corny, fair warning.”
“What is it?” Matt asked.
Iggy handed Matt a small jewelry box. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
So Matt opened it. Inside was a simple gold chain with a number hanging from it—Iggy’s jersey number.
“So you can keep me close to your heart when I’m away,” Iggy said.
Matt let out a little burble of delighted laughter. “That’s… that’s really corny.”
“I know. But—”
“I love it, Ig,” Matt said. “I love you.”
Iggy smiled. “I love you, too. I’ll miss the hell out of you at Training. But I’ll be back in your hair again before you know it.”
“I know. And I’ll be here when you come home.”
Iggy kissed Matt and it was a nice reminder of everything good between them, even on days when Matt’s depression got the better of him, even when Iggy was away playing baseball, even when it was just the two of them eating sandwiches together in the living room.
Iggy pulled away slightly and smiled. “I thought about buying you a Rodriguez jersey, but I know you’ve got three tucked away in your closet.”
“What can I say?” Matt said. “You’re my biggest fan. And I’m yours.”