of the seven a's games i've seen so far this year (two in nyc, two in sf, three in oakland), they're 0-4 when i see them on the road and 3-0 when i see them at home. the moral of the story would be that i am moving into the coliseum.
as my brother said when i woke up and went upstairs to find him watching the game: 'the a's announcer guys are totally in love with barry zito, there have been like a million cutaway shots to him in the dugout.' although the idea of flossy ray fosse having a crush on anyone, ever, including his wife, is just weird, it was still a nice thing to hear right out of bed.
i am tired, and employed, and apparently grown-up despite the fact that i had fruit-by-the-foot for breakfast. sigh.
and this certainly didn't help. also, in what world did zito look "like he knew what he was doin'?" that's sweet to say, huddy, but no need to tell a lie.
Bound to Happen
On Barry Zito’s twenty-fifth birthday, he woke up to the smell of old coffee and cheap red wine, wearing a shirt that used to be too big on Tim Hudson and was now too small on him, boxers and socks, and his apartment was empty in a way that it had not been the night before.
There was a bagel on the kitchen table, though, with a blue cake candle jammed into it, and the newspaper had been brought in, the bathroom mirror was still steamed up. Zito checked his driver’s license and the Far Side calendar, sure enough, twenty-five years old, and the sliding door to the balcony had been left open and now the whole place was freezing.
The puncture-spot in the bagel tasted waxy and gross, but he ate it anyway, and drank three glasses of water, and brushed his teeth, and waited for his phone to ring.
On the Fourth of July of that year, they played a night game and Zito didn’t make it to the pier in time for the fireworks. He had been pretty sure he wouldn’t, told his friends not to wait up, and ducked through the crowd at Jack London Square, everybody older than him except the little kids. Nobody recognized him because they were all looking up, a pale sea of upturned faces like fingerprints. The fireworks were green and red and blue and sometimes made smiley-face shapes.
He couldn’t find his friends anywhere, and his cell phone kept losing the signal, and Hudson kept calling him, but Zito couldn’t call him back.
He ended up by the water, zipped up his hoodie against the wind and stared up into the colors, totally lost for a moment. He thought that he should have gone home to San Francisco and watched from his rooftop, where likely he would have been alone and able to see every fireworks show from there to Marin.
Zito got found, eventually, as always happens, tackled around the waist and brightly demanded of, where you been, man, where you been? He got shoved in the back of a car and felt kidnapped until someone handed him a glass flask of whiskey, then he just felt awesome.
He slept in the front hallway of his apartment that night, his USC beanie under his face, and got woken up by knocking at nine in the morning, foot-shadows visible under the door, less than six inches from his face, the fifth of July and a good day to try and run away.
In October, a few days after they got knocked out again, Zito mourned the loss quickly and efficiently, mostly drunk, and he must have been blacked out when he called Hudson.
Hudson showing up at his apartment was a surprise, anyway, but then, every time Hudson had ever showed up had been a surprise, even when Hudson said he’d follow Zito home.
Zito must have been deeply out of it.
“Shouldn’t you be in Florida,” he tried to ask, but Hudson had his hands on him at that point, had Zito pressed down on the wall with Zito’s collarbones dented into Hudson’s palms. So Zito didn’t say anything, never said anything, wasn’t allowed. Tim Hudson had always been off-limits, always.
Zito had a bad dream that night, something real enough to have a title put to it, and he thrashed off the bed, landed hard on his pitching shoulder, which flared and rang a moan from him. He opened his eyes and he could see Hudson’s strong ghostly hand hanging off the edge of the bed, and Zito had to catch his breath because Hudson never stayed.
He reached up and touched Hudson’s fingers with his own, and Hudson’s fingers twitched, curled, twisted around Zito’s and Zito thought maybe everything would be different, and all he had to do was get back up on the bed. From that angle the bed might have been two hundred stories up and Hudson might have altitude sickness, but it was the last thing Zito would ever have to do, so he could make it.
Then Hudson’s hand jerked in his and Zito heard him wake up, heard him swear and pull his arm up, check his watch and swear again. Hudson jumped over Zito and swiftly put on his shorts and his pants and shoes, stuffing his socks into his pockets.
He didn’t seem to notice that Zito’s eyes were open, down there on the floor, but Hudson never missed anything, and he dropped to one knee, put his hand on Zito’s chest and kissed him.
“See you next year, kid.”
Then Hudson was dragging his T-shirt on and hurrying out. He had a plane to catch.
Zito stopped by the side of the road outside Phoenix and called Hudson, the desert under his feet the color of mound dirt, the sky blue enough to hurt. Zito figured, like he’d been figuring every day since he’d been a rookie and Hudson’s hand had slipped off his shoulder and onto his chest, that probably they were done now, but Hudson laughed and invited him over like it was nothing, so maybe not.
Hudson answered the door holding his daughter, looking the exact same. Zito gave him an awkward aborted hug with the little girl between them, wrapping a sticky hand in Zito’s hair and babbling at him.
“She’s talking in full sentences now. That’s real advanced for her age,” Hudson told him, and smiled.
“Should I call Harvard,” Zito asked, and Hudson set his daughter down, caught Zito up in a real hug with Hudson’s face against his neck, and they weren’t done at all, not close.
By the All-Star break, it was already the worst season of Zito’s life. He hadn’t known it could happen that quickly.
He slept in the spare bedroom of the Walnut Creek house a lot, and woke up one morning to the sound of Harden and Crosby playing basketball out back, scuffling sneakers-on-concrete, slap-clang of a missed shot, pitiful trash talk.
Zito got a cup of coffee and checked his messages in the kitchen, a quick little thrill in his stomach to hear Tim Hudson’s voice, something he hated but had gotten used to. Mulder came in while he was returning Hudson’s call, leaving a message of his own, and Zito stuttered when he caught Mulder’s eyes, stared down at the linoleum and his own bare feet.
He finished the call and was just quietly drinking his coffee when Mulder said without inflection, “he’s still married, man, remember?”
Zito looked up and Mulder was sitting there being all perfect in that way he had, and Zito wanted to hit him as badly as he wanted anything (almost anything), but Mulder was carrying the team and Zito didn’t know how to throw a punch, anyway.
Hudson grinned at him in September and licked Zito’s shoulder, pushed him down on the bed. Nine thousand hotel rooms behind them and this one right now, blue-patterned wallpaper and thick black-out curtains, the creases of the pillows starched so sharply Zito feared blood would be drawn on his arms and face, but that was probably just the drunk.
Hudson slid in behind him, slick teeth on the back of his neck and Zito reaching back with his hand, finding Hudson’s hip and Hudson’s side and the spot where Zito imagined he could still feel the chill of the ice. Zito turned his face into the pillow and bit down on what was available to him, and Hudson got a hand into Zito’s hair, pulled his head back.
After a night like tonight, and the game sinking heavily into his back and legs, it was all Zito could do to lie there and not lose consciousness as Hudson fit against his back, fit against him like the piece of Zito that had gone missing two years ago.
The last game of the season was tomorrow, and it would be meaningless, the Angels had already clinched, but Zito was pretty sure Hudson was going to win it anyway, because that’s the kind of guy Hudson was.
It didn’t matter. Everybody was in a kind of incredible amount of pain. It was paralyzing. It kept Zito in place, sitting in the tunnel with his knees pulled up and his arms wrapped around his legs. He was down by the batting cages, and most everybody else had already left, except Mulder, who’d been locked in one of the trainer’s rooms since right after the final out.
Zito should be icing his arm, and getting his stuff, and clearing out, but he needed to get the crowd out of his eyes first, needed to get his head on straight and remember how to walk properly again.
He’d done well tonight and no one could blame him, though most everybody would, and it didn’t matter at all.
There were footsteps and he didn’t look up, and there were straight legs in jeans in his peripheral vision, dirty white Nikes with laces in careful double knots. Zito wouldn’t have expected anyone else, and he sighed, closed his eyes, tipped his head back on the wall.
He heard Hudson sitting down next to him, and Zito’s shoulder throbbed, perfectly in time. Neither of them said anything until Hudson touched Zito’s knee, closed his hand and played the seam of Zito’s jeans like a splitter grip, said, “bound to happen someday, kid.”
Zito let his head roll over onto Hudson’s shoulder, which was an uncomfortable place to rest his head, all bone and scratchy shirt, but he could rest there for a minute, Hudson’s thumb rubbing on his kneecap, and believe for just that long that everything was going to stay the same forever.
In December, Hudson got traded. Zito was supposed to be expecting it, Hudson had warned him to be prepared, but it blind-sided him and knocked the wind out of him and he didn’t talk to anybody for four days, by which point Mark Mulder was gone too, salt in an already fatal wound.
He was sleeping in the back of his car, somewhere in the desert halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, ten thousand dollars in cash in a shoe box in the back. The plan, admittedly fueled by liquor and weed, was to play every lucky number he had until he was rich enough to buy his own goddamn team, and keep who he wanted.
His cell phone rang to the tune of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme music, and woke him up before he could get arrested or eaten by a coyote. The list of people Zito was refusing to talk to was pretty long, and included Billy Beane, Mark Mulder, his father, and every sportswriter in the country, but it wasn’t any of them.
Zito won’t remember much of the conversation he had with Hudson, the sun through the tinted windows ill-defined and colored like amber, because he’d been doing his best to remember as little as possible about that week.
For the rest of his life, though, Zito would remember how Hudson had said, “you’ll be fine, you don’t need nobody.”
He’d remember that forever and ever and ever, because it was the first time he was sure that Hudson was lying to him.
Zito started badly, tripped out of the gate and fucked up his knees and his hands, didn’t get his first win until the first of May. He maintained calm and did his very best not to show anything in public, and kept waking up expecting the sky to have changed color, this unfamiliar new world.
Hudson was, of course, immediately beloved in Atlanta. Zito recorded Braves’ games off TBS and watched them every night when he got home, not just Hudson’s starts but every game, because he could fast-forward to shots of the dugout, get what he came for.
He drunk-dialed Hudson from Cleveland and got hung up on, which was to be expected. It still broke his heart enough that he called Mulder, called him a cocksucker on his voicemail and then passed out.
He woke up with it still dark outside, the curtains open and the sick industrial moonlight draining the color out of the room. He moved down onto the floor, pulling a pillow with him, and lay there staring up, imagining that the brush of his hand on the carpet was someone shifting up there on the bed, imagining that this was just one more bad dream.
They got to Atlanta for interleague in June, and by then Zito was doing better, though it was hard to tell, which meant he wasn’t doing all that much better.
Hudson came down into the visitors’ clubhouse with his shirt buttoned up and his sleeves rolled to the elbow, and Zito didn’t trust his legs to hold him, breathed through it until Hudson ambled over, smiled down at him, pulled him up. Hudson clapped him on the back, said, “fuck I missed you, kid,” loud enough for the whole team to hear.
After the game, Hudson took him to some bar in Atlanta that had two hundred different kinds of beer, a twelve-page menu organized by country of origin that made Zito’s head spin. They sat outside, on picnic tables with chipping green paint, and Zito could feel his shirt sticking to his back, his hair plastered down on his forehead. Hudson’s hand was heavy and unwanted on the back of his neck.
Zito said, “gotta be seven hundred degrees out here,” and Hudson laughed, “summer in Atlanta, baby.”
Zito drank good imported beer until Hudson was just another guy next to him, at which point he was too drunk to do anything but go where Hudson led him.
Hudson drove them somewhere, out of the city, down a road that got skinnier and rougher, until the streetlights were miles apart and Zito was hugging himself anxiously, elbows held in his hands, scared of the dark. Hudson kept looking over and the corners of his mouth would curl up and he looked just like he always had, clean hard Tim Hudson.
They went past deserted plantation homes, white wooden walls falling apart and peppered with buckshot, shattered window-glass laid out like starlight. Zito focused on breathing, focused on not saying any of the things he wanted to.
Hudson stopped the car out there in the middle of nowhere, crow-black night and Hudson’s hands were invisible on Zito’s face, his shoulder. There was no need to close his eyes; there was nothing to see.
Hudson said his name, drew him near, his mouth hot as the air on Zito’s throat, and Zito thought with terrible lucidity, at least nothing’s changed.