Play Ball!
Chapter 09

Copyright© 2016 by Ernest Bywater

Pool Talk

One Saturday in late November Mo is at the swimming pool in his building relaxing with his boarders and their families who are there for a visit. He gets out of the pool to sit in a lounger between Isolde and Anna Santos. Anna asks, “Isolde, has he asked you to marry him yet?”

Isolde laughs then says, “No! As he knows I’ll say no if he does. We’re just friends having a good time. Our futures don’t fit as I’m out of here when I graduate. I’ve already got a job lined up in Montreal for when I get my diploma next May.”

“Oh! I didn’t know that.”

“Anyway, one of my friends has got her eye on him and she plans to hog tie him when she finishes college. I also get the impression he’s in agreement with her plans and he’s just marking time until next May.”

Anna grins and asks, “Who is it?”

Mo laughs and says, “As if you don’t know what Lou has planned for next year.” All three laugh and he adds, “You should steal a march on her by starting the planning and bookings for a wedding in late November or early December next year so we can get back from the honeymoon in time for Christmas.”

“Just when do you plan to court my daughter?”

“Huh! As you know, from the day she moved in she’s been flirting with me and telling everyone I’m going to marry her.” That gets another round of laughs. “Over the last couple of years we’ve gotten to know each other well and are very good friends. We’ve done most of the formal courting type things. Right now Lou is concentrating on her studies and I’m just waiting for her to get free of the studies. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you about the talk we had just after I met Isolde. It was long and it set everything out for us.”

Anna gives a slow head shake as she says, “I’ll talk to Sophia and see about getting things started. We’ll wait until May to get Lou involved.”

“Sounds like a good idea. But I wouldn’t leave it until much after that.” Mo looks up and calls out, “Hey, Lee. I almost forgot. Jerry Wills in the club’s front office wants you to call him during business hours.” She looks up and opens her mouth so he adds, “He wants to talk about you spending the Spring Break with them as an intern and about doing some part-time work from then until you graduate. If he likes what he sees of your work he’ll put you on as a permanent member of the staff.”

Lee grins and replies, “I’ll call him Monday afternoon.”

Toni gets out of the pool and stands in front of him to ask, “And just what have you got lined up for me to do after May?”

“Me, nothing. However, Dad is always complaining about having a major issue getting decent entry level accounting staff. So you may want to talk to him about that on Monday.” Toni grins and goes back to the pool.

Anna asks, “And what about Jo?”

“She’s already lined up a job with a research company through her professor at the university.” He lowers his voice, “Sophia is hoping Toni will board with them if she qualifies for the job with Dad, which I think she will. It depends on her final exam marks. Lee can continue to board with us for as long as she wants to if she gets a job with Jerry. So they’ve got their living arrangements sorted out. Of course, Lou will stay on here as well.”

“When did you decide to marry Lou?”

Mo looks around then softly says, “Don’t tell her, but it wasn’t until Sarah pointed out I best marry her because it was obvious that’s what we both wanted and Sarah didn’t want me to get arrested for killing anyone else who asked her.”

Anna laughs, “We wondered if you noticed how she felt about you or recognised how you felt about her.” The talk drifts to other subjects.

Fourth Season

Mo turns up for the first day of the spring training camp and he gets involved with the pitching training for a few days before he’s asked to switch to position training. At the end of the fourth day of training the team manager calls Mo into his office after his shower and change of clothes. Mo enters and is waved to a chair while the manager closes the door. They both sit down while the manager says, “Mo, I don’t know how much you know about the fine points of the league rules, but this year is your last year of options.”

“If I understand it right you can’t send me back to the minors after the anniversary of the first day I was listed on a Major League team’s roster,” is Mo’s response.

“Correct. After that date in August we can’t send you to the minors unless we go through waivers and the like. If I send you back before that date you can stay there until next called up, but you can’t return after that. Understand?” Mo nods yes. “Also, this is the fourth season of play for you but we’re coming up on the end of your third contract year in June with your crazy contract expiring in June next year. I’m not sure when they’ll start to talk to you, but the front office will want to talk about a new contract before the end of the season so they can lock in what’s to happen next year.” Mo nods again. “You need to start thinking about what you want to do and how you want to handle it because we can’t keep moving you between the clubs after August. The first time you play in the majors after that you’re in the majors full-time.”

“I was aware of all that, Skip. So why the big worry now?”

“This morning we had a senior management meeting and I also had a talk with the owners after it. I wasn’t told to tell you any of it nor was I told not to tell you any of it, but some of the things I was told after the meeting makes me think the senior owner wants you to know the full situation right now.” Mo frowns so the manager knows Mo is a little lost at the moment. “Mo, you’re a hit with fans and supporters. Which means the merchandise for you sells well, which makes the accounting people happy. Also, your willingness to do PR tasks makes the PR lot happy and it helps the club with the media and the fans. The senior owner knows you provide a lot more to the club off the field than on the field, but without the field time that’ll be lost. He’s also aware of the issue in the locker room and he knows you’re not at fault there. So it comes down to how things go this year and if you’ll be able to handle things if you’re in the majors all of the time.” Mo goes to speak but is waved off. “Another item to keep in mind. The senior owner is having some health issues and he’ll have to stand down as top dog later in the year. That puts his nephew in charge as the senior owner and his attitude is you just have to suck it up to live with the situation.”

Mo’s responds, “Damn! OK. Can you get a quiet message to the Old Man for me, Skip?” Mo is referring to the senior owner. He gets a nod yes in reply and continues, “If I’m reading the financial reports right the nephew wants to buy out his uncle’s share of the club. With him having to step down anyway, maybe he should sell out and invest the money in buying the Minor League affiliate club to let his son run it.”

Skip leans back to look at Mo while he thinks it through, then he smiles while saying, “I’ll pass it on and let you know. The arrangements between the clubs will continue regardless of who owns what. Now to how we go this season. We’ll go a lot like we did last season, but I also want you to play a few more away games until I send you back to the Triple A Club in late July. I want to have the rest of the team well rested before I send you back to leave you there. OK?”

Mo nods, “Sure, Skip. Knowing the plan I can take it a lot longer since I know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. By then we should be in contract negotiations and know where we’re going for next year.”

“I know. I’m just sorry more of the team aren’t as good team players as you are. You could go far, but I realise you’re not as ego driven as the rest are and you play for fun not ego or big dollars. Good luck with the contract negotiations when you get to them. However, I think you’ll be a free agent or in arbitration at the time you sign your next contract.” Mo grins in reply. The rest of the training camp goes as expected with Mo being sent back to the AAA Club for the last week of spring training.

The season begins and goes much like they planned. Which means a lot like most of the previous year. One change is there’s a period in mid June where both clubs are on the road for a couple of weeks so the club has Mo out on loan at a baseball camp for kids as a major PR event.

For the rest of June and July Mo is playing with the Major League team. On July 30th he’s dropped from the twenty-five man roster and sent back to the AAA affiliate club.

During this time the front office makes no approaches to Mo about next year’s contract for him. He thinks they either don’t realise his contract is written in years and not seasons, like most are written, or they’re ignoring the difference in the terms. It also has the expiration date as being during the next season and not between the seasons like the rest of the contracts do. This was a mistake by Mo when he wrote it, but he didn’t change it since it would be replaced by a new contract.

In mid October the senior owner announces he’ll soon be going into hospital for surgery, but what it’s for isn’t announced. He does announce he’ll retire from active club management at the same time. To let the club management reorganise for the future he’s selling his share of the club to the next senior partner, his nephew. The deal includes the sale of the nephew’s shares in the affiliate club to the senior owner’s son. He’ll take over control of the AAA club as its sole owner due to having bought out the other owners. The deal is to take effect as of December 1st and there will be no changes to the structure or operations of either club until then. This is to allow both clubs to remain settled and to finish their post-season activities before any changes take place.

Family

Following on from their poolside discussion Anna starts making arrangements with Sophia for the November wedding of Mo and Lou. When Anna raises the matter Sophia isn’t surprised because Mo had spoken to her months earlier than he’d spoken to Anna. The only oddity about the wedding is the bride isn’t involved in the plans or told about them until after her final exam in May.

Lou’s last exam is on a Wednesday morning and Mo has approval to skip training today, but only because he’s allowing the PR people to send the cameras along. He’s in the parking lot waiting beside Lou’s car when she walks up to it with a few friends.

Seeing Mo standing beside her car waiting for her has Lou smiling. Her classmates take a moment to meet Mo before heading for their own cars. Once the two are alone Mo gets out a ring box while saying, “Lou, do you want this now or do I need to hold on to it until we have dinner on Monday?” She frowns at him so he opens the box to show the diamond engagement ring.

Lou grins and asks, “Mo, are you asking me to marry you?”

“Yes, Lou. I know we’ve not courted the way most people do. But you know me and I know you. Will you marry me?”

She grins and throws her arms about him while she shouts, “Yes!

A few people in the parking lot turn to see what the shouting is about, and they smile when they see the two kissing then they go back to what they were doing.

Mo says, “If you don’t mind I’d like to make a public announcement about our engagement at the start of tomorrow’s home game. You can now call your mother to ask her how the wedding plans are going.” He gets a frown so he adds, “In December I told her I was going to ask you today and I asked her to start planning for a November wedding.” Lou stares at him for a moment then laughs at his pre-planning.

Lou gets out her phone and talks to her mother. While she does she looks around the parking lot and notices the PR people recording them so she looks at Mo as she nods at the camera team. To which he says, “They won’t show it until the announcement tomorrow.” She smiles and continues to talk to her mother.

The next day the pair walk out onto the field before the start of the AAA team home game while an announcement is made about his engagement, then they show the film from yesterday. The crowd gives them a standing ovation.

Mo is so fired up in the game he makes a few spectacular plays.

The season goes well with the couple spending all of their spare time together. Mo is released from both teams in time to get ready for his wedding, which he arranges with the AAA Club’s PR people to record and provide to the media, which makes them wonder why he asked them and not the Major League Club’s PR people. The couple vanish from sight for two weeks of holiday at an undisclosed location.

Over Christmas the photos of their trip down the Grand Canyon lets the family know where they went and Lou leaks a few photos to the media through her mother, thus earning them both some good money.

The rest of Mo’s off-season is spent with his new wife. They also make a few advertisements for Mo’s sponsors as a couple, and they get well paid for them as well.

Contract Concerns

The new senior owner of the Major League Club spends the time between the announcement and December 1st going over all of the club paperwork and contracts. Most staff and players are under contracts for next year so there’s little to do there. In the first week of December he renegotiates the contracts for two of the coaching staff and four of the veteran players. He gets to the last contract he needs to settle for next year but he’d left to last because it still has the most time on it. All of the others should have been negotiated and signed weeks ago. However, Mo’s contract expires in June so it isn’t seen as being urgent yet.

When the owner goes to talk to Mo he finds out he’s unavailable because he’s away on his honeymoon. This is the first the new owner knows of Mo’s marriage. The club PR staff were told about it and also told why he didn’t want them involved. Mo had to call in a few favours but they went along with his plans because they all like him.

In mid February Mo turns up at the spring training camp but is busy with training activities. It’s only near the end of the camp the new owner can arrange to talk to Mo about his contract. Mo isn’t concerned about the contract because they’re past the arbitration deadline so he’ll be a ‘non-tender free agent’ on the day his contract expires and he’ll be able to sign with anyone he wants to. When he asked some of the agents of the other players they said he probably qualifies as a free agent now since he doesn’t have a contract for the whole season.

Before he goes to speak with the new owner Mo stops to speak to the team manager. He enters the office and asks, “Skip, what’s the lay of the land on my playing time?”

The manager looks at Mo, signs for him to close the door, and when it’s closed he says, “The new owner has listed you on the twenty-five man roster. He’s already sent it to the league. So it’s too late now. I can’t do anything about it. Sorry, Mo. Now, on the good side, he’s been lazy and is only now starting to learn about the contracts and how the timing works. The Old Man helped you out by not letting the nephew be in full charge until after the arbitration deadline had passed. He’s already signed all of the other players. So there’s no change in the team.”

On being told the worst of the trouble makers have been renewed Mo’s response is to groan then he says, “Well, the worst case is I’m out of here in June. I can survive knowing there is an end in sight.”

“Oh, another thing. He wasn’t happy to learn you got married and they got no PR out of it. He was also unhappy not to be able to get you in to talk in December. Watch out as he’s out to prove he’s the big boss.”

Meeting the New Boss

Mo goes to the front office and is soon shown into a big conference room. There’s a pot of just made coffee on the sideboard so he gets a cup and he sits at the table. Nearly fifteen minutes later the new senior owner and three staff walk in, because one is an older lady Mo stands. From the grin on the new owner’s face Mo knows he thinks his actions are for him so Mo moves around the table to help seat the lady. He gets a frown from the owner for showing off his good manners.

The owner passes over a new contract and says, “Here’s the contract for you to sign.” It’s clear he expects this to be easy because Mo doesn’t have an agent and in all his past contract talks he’s been dealing with the agents of the players. He thinks dealing direct with Mo will be simple.

Mo takes the contract and he starts reading it. The fact he’s reading it earns him a frown which he ignores. Most of it is the standard wording so there’s no issues with those sections, but Mo takes his time with a few altered sections and the ones on pay rates and bonus payments. He looks up and says, “I’ve three years of good play in the Major Leagues! I’m a much better player now than when I was first drafted so I’m now worth a lot more. There’s also a few other issues we need to address to make me happy to continue playing for this club. I’m not happy with the attitude of some of the veteran players. Thus I want my own locker room so I don’t have to put up with their abuse.”

“You’re a professional player, so just suck it up and play.”

“Ah, but that’s where I have a choice. If I don’t play I don’t have to worry about the hostile environment.”

The talk about the locker room environment goes back and forth for a few minutes. Mo ends it by saying, “Anyway, the locker room issue is not relevant until we get the rest sorted. I’m happy to stay with the six million for signing, but I now want six hundred thousand a month. The original contract was predicated on me being in the minors and not on a Major League salary for two years while this one is for me being in the Major Leagues all of the time. Plus my worth has increased due to all of my experience playing in both leagues. The bonus schedules should adjust to reflect the actual government cost of living adjustments. Since you want a five season contract that makes it a total of thirty-six million plus bonuses instead of the twenty and a half million you have down.”

“I’m not approving an eighty percent increase in contract. Forget it.”

Mo shrugs and says, “I’ll leave you to think on it. I’m not signing up for the same money as I had before. I’m a lot better player and of a lot more value. Also, I need to be compensated for the trouble in the locker room you refuse to fix or deal with.” Mo stands, “Sleep on it and we’ll talk again next week.”

He’s almost to the door when the new owner says, “You turn up and play when told or we’ll fine you!”

Turning around Mo says, “I never refused to meet my contractual obligations. I’ll continue to do so. We just have an issue working out what the future contract and obligations will be.” He turns and leaves.

The next week is the first game of the season and Mo is the starting left fielder. After four weeks of playing in every game he asks the team manager, “Skip, what’s going on?”

He turns to Mo and says, “I figure his royal highness is trying to wait you out. I think he figures you’ve nowhere to go if you don’t sign the contract he wants. When he works out you’re happy to just walk away I’ll be told not to play you. So I figure to get the most use out of you while I can and I’ll get the rest as rested as I can before you stop playing. At the most I’ll only get half a season out of you.” Mo laughs at his reasoning because it matches his own evaluation of the situation.

Second Meeting

The club is playing at home the same week Mo’s contract expires. On the Friday morning Mo is meeting with the front office management to discuss the contract. If he doesn’t sign today he’s out of contract when the clock strikes midnight. Mo can’t believe anyone thinks it’s smart to go right down to the wire like this. However, the meeting, as such, doesn’t happen. Mo is standing in the waiting area when the owner leaves his office. He hands Mo a document as he says, “There’s the contract. I’ve got an important meeting to go to. Leave it with my secretary when you sign it. She’ll fax it to the League Commissioner for approval for you to play tomorrow.” He turns and he leaves Mo standing there, stunned at his arrogant way of handling the situation.

Mo turns to one of the other staff and asks, “Is he serious? Does he really think he can force me to sign a contract like that?”

The woman asked, one of the club’s lawyers, replies, “I’m sorry to say so, but he really does think he can. He’s so sure he has you over a barrel and he can do anything he wants about the contract.”

Slowly shaking his head Mo reads the contract. It’s exactly the same as the one he rejected before. Looking up Mo says, “He hasn’t changed a word from the one I totally rejected!” The lawyer nods yes. Mo sighs and asks, “When will you be able to talk to him about this?”

“I doubt I can reach him on the phone until about six tonight. And that’s too late to get anything to the Commissioner before Monday.”

Mo sighs again, holds his hand out, and he shakes her hand while saying, “Well, Dani, it’s been nice to know you. It looks like today is my last day with the club.” Her eyes go wide, Mo turns and shakes hands with the secretary while adding, “I’m not going to sign this rubbish. As of midnight I’m a free agent. Tomorrow have someone explain the rules to him. I’m not going to work in a hostile environment, my ego can stand not getting the crowd adulation of playing in the majors, and I’ve made more money in my business deals over the last four years than I have from baseball. So I’ll be looking around in the morning.”

Before leaving the office area to get ready to play Mo visits all of the people he’s worked with over the last few years to wish them well while shaking their hands and telling them why he’s leaving. He’s down in the locker room in plenty of time to see all of his personal gear is packed up and taken to his car in the parking lot before he changes into his uniform to get ready to play in tonight’s game. Then he’s off to have a word with the team manager about the situation.

Last Meeting

Mo walks in on the coaching staff meeting and he proceeds to shake their hands, one by one. They all look at him with frowns. When he finishes he turns to them and says, “Thanks for all of the training and coaching over the last few years. My contract expires tonight and the one they offered me today is worse than my original contract. I’m not able to play after today’s game and I won’t be welcome here once the new owner knows I’ve rejected his latest contract. So this is goodbye. It’s been nice knowing you all and working with you.”

They all express their concerns about his going, but they all realise there’s not a thing any of them can do about it. Mo goes out to practise before the game, as per his usual routine.

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