Rockets (Gold) Team Chat
(Jake, Chris, Landon, Max, Dylan, Balls (Josh), Ryan, Money (Manny), Derek, Tyler, Jimmy, Reggie)
Tyler – Wow!! That game was awesome!!!
Chris – We smoked em!
Reggie – BAM!
Jake – It was a good game
Chris – It was an ass kicking game!
Balls (Josh) – It came down to the wire!
Landon – Wouldn’t have if Coach W put Jake in
Balls (Josh) – Bro! STFU!
Ryan – Yeah man, WTF?
Derek – Nah, guys, he’s right
Jake – No way, man. U played a great game. We’re cool.
Landon – What?! No disrespect, D, but Jakey deserves his fair shake
Reggie – You’re an A hole, Lan
Landon – Just speakin’ my truth. U all think the same
Money (Manny) – Whatever, dudes. Did we kill it, or what?
Dylan – Killed it
Balls (Josh) – Dead
Money (Manny) – To the stars, Rockets!
Landon – LM(Golden)AO
Balls (Josh) – ROFL
Jimmy – LMGAO!! Yes!!!
Max – Eye roll
Chris - Spring season over! Ready for summer!
Dylan – Got to be in it to win it
Landon – Truth baby!
The groundskeeper found him at home plate, lying there on his side as if he had slid in just under the catcher’s reach for the score. The championship trophy from the night before rested in the dirt next to his head. He wore his Rockets’ uniform, the throwback jersey with their new logo that Deb, the team’s general manager, had fought for, pleading to the stodgy and smug men in the FYO (Fort Jefferson Youth Organization) Little League executive committee. Most of them didn’t even have kids who played anymore. They just enjoyed the title, the option of a Thursday night meeting with the boys to get out of the house for drinks at Flynn’s, and to torture any woman, or man for that matter, but certainly any woman who tried to mess with the status quo. In the end, it had taken Deb three years of common sense mixed with flirtatious smiling and cajoling to get them to agree to a trial with this one jersey where the R in Rockets was enlarged and looked like
it was lifting off pristine puffs of smoke.
Now that logo glared up at Donny in the early morning sun. He scratched underneath his cap that covered his balding head with long skinny fingers, blew out a deep breath and whistled low. It looked good, he noted, but it was the only thing since Coach Wayne Savage, FYO executive board member, commissioner of little league baseball and coach of their most elite team, lay sprawled out in the clay and dirt, dead on Field 2, his favorite field.
“Well, this is not good,” he said out loud. Donny spent a lot of time alone on the fields commenting to the dewy green grass and the blue skies. He leaned down for a closer inspection, and after concluding that the Coach was indeed dead, Donny sighed and ambled, with no great urgency, back to the golf cart he used to get him round from field to field. He glanced at his walkie-talkie, but there was no one at the field house this early. Joe, FYO’s program director, wasn’t due in till 9 a.m., the same time that two lacrosse games were set to begin. This had to be dealt with immediately. But who should he call? The police? 911? For a second, he considered Deb, Wayne’s right hand but then immediately thought of Faith, his wife.
Donny had witnessed a lot of crazy shit during his thirty plus years working the fields at FYO. The parents fought, the coaches fought, the umpires fought, the teams and the kids fought. Hell, they all fought with each other and plenty of them fought with him as well. There were concussions and injuries. He’d seen coaches, parents and players thrown out, and, in a few instances, banned. There were affairs and scandals. Cat fights and cat calls. But between the drama were amazing dives, catches and plays that could even stop the sentence of the most clueless, chatty mom and bring a whistle of respect from the scouts who occasionally surveyed the talent. Donny had seen it all. But the death of the most recognized coach in town? The coach of FYO’s pride, the Rockets, who were crushing it for four years running. Well, that was something else altogether. This was a thing that needed to be handled with kid gloves, not his mangy old mitts.
Making his decision, he picked up his cell and tapped in Joe’s number. Joe handled everything. He was the man who would know exactly the right call to make to deal with a situation like this. This was out of his league.
Within nine minutes of the call, two police cars and an ambulance rushed the lot, charging in with urgency, but no sirens screamed; there were only the red and blue twisting lights getting lost in the swelling sun. Donny answered their questions about what time he arrived. 7:45 a.m. And, if he had noticed anything suspicious. “You mean besides the dead coach?” he joked sarcastically. He gave them his name and short history as a native of Fort Jefferson, and star athlete in his day, although it hadn’t been his day for over four decades.
Within fifteen minutes, Faith was there, standing by the body dumbstruck. Donny didn’t know what to do with pretty little Faith, tears rolling down her apple cheeks, silently sucking in her heaves, her small chest rising and falling. He just kept nodding and tsking, adjusting and readjusting his baseball cap, and finally released his own sigh, one of deep relief when Joe’s Bronco truck pulled in five minutes later. “Joe’s here, Faith,” he soothed. “He’s gonna help figure this mess out.” Faith barely responded as Donny zoomed off in his cart to greet him.
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Joe exploded at Donny. “This is a fucking disaster.” He didn’t wait for Donny’s reply and marched out toward the field. He looked down at the body of his friend, well not quite his friend, but a close colleague in the dirty dugout of youth sports. He and Wayne spent hours, days, weeks, and years of their lives arguing and working together, and even occasionally enjoying an early morning run.
Wayne was a pain in his ass, always using him to garner the best times or fields, to make sure the best players were placed on his team despite the infuriation of the other coaches, and to be clean-up crew with outraged parents after he dropped yet another twelve-year-old who wasn’t pulling his weight. But even with the occasional controversy and drama, Wayne was a winner. His team was filled with winners, and people liked winners. Certainly, if you’re on the winning team. Or aspired to play on the winning team. Wayne’s 12U Gold Rockets team ran away with most local tournaments, even on occasion, reaching state levels, which was pretty good for a local town team. But Wayne pushed his team hard, heavy on practices and demanding excellence. He could be tough on the kids and even tougher on the parents. You loved him or hated him, often both.
Just the night before, the Golden Rockets had won the Shore League, typically the last tournament of the spring season, ranking them number one on the North Shore of Long Island for the fourth year in a row. It was a hard earned win, and, as usual, to celebrate there was chest bumping and fist pumping, hooting and hollering along with the pizza and munchkins, although the pizza and munchkins would have been there either way. The players jumped on top of each other with glee while the moms chatted and casually kept an eye on the younger kids. The coaches patted each other on the backs and looked forward to the real celebration later at the bar where they could recap the game and revel in their glory. Other teams’ members came by to offer congratulations, and there was enough cheer and food for all. Only occasionally would you hear the random gripe. “Of course he won again, he fixes the teams.” Or, “He let my kid go, too much competition for his.” But, overall, people played nice. Why not? It was end of season on a warm spring night, and there were munchkins.
“Hey, Faith,” Joe said softly, taking the opportunity to put an arm around her fragile shoulders. “Did they tell you what happened?”
“No. They haven’t told me anything.” She sniffled as they watched the men lift Wayne on the stretcher. “This can’t be real,” she said as a uniformed cop walked toward her. “It can’t be.” She looked around helplessly. “He…he has a practice scheduled later...”
“Don’t worry about any of it,” Joe comforted. “Just go talk with the police and go home and be with your family. Derek and Reggie need you. I’ll get it all straightened out.”
She nodded as an official looking man, mid-thirties with dark hair and eyes, approached and introduced himself.
“Detective Jonas,” he said. “You’re Faith Savage, his wife?” Faith nodded. The detective opened his mouth to ask his first question when a loud, red Suburban raged through the gates of Tigers Turf, the official home fields of FYO. Everyone turned as the SUV screeched to a halt diagonally in the center of the parking lot.
The small group of them watched as a tall brunette, slim but athletically built, hurled herself from the vehicle and sprinted up to Field 2. Panting, she reached them, took one glance at the body on the stretcher and fell to the ground, breaking down into loud racking sobs.
From his golf cart by the field house, Donny shook his head and continued tsking.
“Deb,” Joe tried, squatting down to her as she hovered over on the grass rocking. “Come on now, girl,” he urged. “Get it together.” Joe looked at Faith anxiously, but she rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the detective.
“Drama queen,” Faith muttered.
“Deb,” Joe said with more force, grabbing her by the shoulders, “you need to get a hold of yourself.”
Deb sniffled loudly and wiped her nose in the sleeve of her Lululemon pullover, all of a sudden looking around and realizing her outburst. Slowly, she nodded, but refused Joe’s extended hand as she stood and brushed herself off. Her blue eyes turned from liquid to ice, and like that, she was the new picture of control.
“What happened?” she asked, her voice small but accusing.
Joe ignored her tone. It was no secret Deb kind of loved Coach Wayne.
“We don’t know anything yet.”
Realizing he had nothing to offer her, she sucked up her snot and walked away from him, toward the police and Faith.
“Bitch,” Joe muttered and headed back to the field house to start making the calls and writing the email, and preparing for the shit storm that would be his day. “Donny,” he yelled as he marched up the stairs to his office. “Make sure the fields are ready for lacrosse by teams’ arrival at 8:30 a.m.”
Donny shook his head heavily and started up the cart. Just like the show, the games must go on.
The detective, an unobtrusively attractive man with piercing eyes and a poker face, was asking Faith questions that made her even more uncomfortable, a position she didn’t think possible since finding out her husband was dead not a half hour before.
“What time did your husband get home last night?
She looked at him uncertainly. She didn’t know. She had gone home after helping clean up after the big game and celebration were over, probably around 9 p.m. She was upstairs getting changed for the night when she heard the alarm chimes that accompanied the front door opening. A minute later, Derek and Reggie came up the stairs.
“Hey, Mom,” they said, and Reggie gave her a quick hug. “Dad dropped us before going out for the ‘coach’s meeting.’” He grinned knowingly. They all knew the meeting was at the bar.
She nodded. It was the regular gig—the meetings before to figure out strategy and line up, the meetings after to rehash and re-strategize, the drinks at the bar to celebrate or sulk. The games were just a side bar, a pretense for the men to hang out with their sons but really just reliving their youth alongside them. And since last night’s game was a big one, she knew not to expect him back.
“Was your husband home this morning?”
She also had no idea. When she woke up at 7:00 a.m., he was already gone. That wasn’t unusual, either. Sometimes, he took an early run. Sometimes, he went to the field to meet with Joe or drop something off, or pick something up. Any excuse to stay connected to the game. There also was the fact that he didn’t generally sleep in their bedroom anymore. He used the guest bedroom as his own. They told the kids he snored, which he did, but that wasn’t why he slept there as much as he did.
“Has he been acting any differently recently?”
Not that she had realized, but honestly, she could count on one hand the amount of times she saw him these past few weeks. With work, the games, practices, meetings and the nights out at the bar, she had seen Wayne randomly between his rushing in and out of the house, shouting at her to pack a snack bag for them, or find a missing chest guard or cup. So, no, nothing any different than usual.
“Did you kill your husband?”
That one stopped her.
She looked at the detective, who was looking at her with intent brown eyes. What was this young, slightly over-eager man’s name? “Excuse me?” she asked. “Detective Jonas, is it? Are you saying that my husband was murdered?”
“Well, Ma’am,” he said, and Faith automatically cringed at the term ma’am, “we won’t know until we get the official report, but it does look as though he was hit over the head with a blunt object.” He turned his attention to two uniformed cops carefully bagging up last night’s winning trophy. Faith’s eyes followed in understanding and then she noticed the damp patch in the dirt and the small smear of red on home plate.
“Oh my God.” She swayed a little; her hundred and ten pound body barely carrying enough weight to keep her grounded.
“What did you just say?” Deb immediately stepped between them, standing almost as tall as Detective Jonas. “What was that? Did you say that Wayne was murdered?” Deb and Detective Jonas met at eye level, and he took a beat to study her short, straight dark hair that cut a sleek line with her chin and the intensity in her red-rimmed blue eyes. She was mid-thirties, about a decade younger than the petite blonde she had just eclipsed.
“Deb, is it?” Detective Jonas sized her up. “And what’s your relation to the victim?”
Deb sniffed and stood a little straighter so she was looking down a little on the detective. “I’m the Rocket’s team manager and my son, Landon, plays second base.”
“And where were you late last night through early morning?”
Deb broke eye contact and looked off to the side and out into the left field. “At home, of course.”
“Can anyone corroborate?”
She shrugged. “Well, Landon was home but he was sleeping. He’s still sleeping.”
“What about your husband?” the detective asked.
“Divorced.” Her face pulled in with distaste, like she just sucked a lemon.
“Excuse me.” Faith cut in. “But unless there’s anything else you need right now, there’s a lot of stuff I need to handle today. I want to get home to my boys. Derek and Reggie need to hear this from me before someone texts them.”
“Derek and Reggie?” The detective raised a brow. “As in Jeter and Jackson?”
“He loved the Yankees,” Faith said flatly, over the annoying question for about a decade already, more amazed that she had already automatically switched to the past tense, ‘loved.’
“Of course.” The detective pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to her. “I’ll be in touch. And, I’m really sorry for your loss, Mrs. Savage.”
“Thank you, Detective. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She gave a little snort, maybe of emotion, maybe of distaste, as she brushed past Deb, who shrank just a little. Deb and the detective watched her small frame walk carefully away, stepping through the grass, shrewd enough to know, even under these extreme circumstances, not to walk through the field but around it.
When she was a far enough distance away, Detective Jonas turned to Deb and asked, “Are you and Mrs. Savage friends?”
Deb sniffed and shrugged. “I wouldn’t call us friends, but we get along well enough.”
“And you’re the…” He tapped his pen on his pad. “Team manager, huh? So, what does that entail?”
“Yeah, I’m the team admin, the general manager, Wayne’s girl Friday, and Saturday through Thursday as well.” She gave a short laugh. “Whatever Wayne needed, whatever the team needed, coordinating tournaments, booking hotels, making reservations for food, ordering uniforms, special belts for special occasions, fundraising, scheduling for practices, emails… what didn’t I do, really.”
The detective nodded, scribbling away.
“In fact, I have to go speak with Dan and Matt, the assistant coaches, and send out an email to the team, letting them know what happened.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell them. This is just so awful.” Her body slumped, and she convulsed into tears.
Detective Jonas stood a respectable distance from her and watched her shoulders rise and fall. They were surprisingly broad. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I can see this is very difficult for you. Why don’t you go home. If I have any questions I’ll contact you.”
Deb nodded. “Fine.” She turned to go, walking a few paces, stepping around some goose shit in the grass and continuing on, every so often letting out a loud heave of emotion.
The detective whistled low and slow at her departure. This was turning out to be an doozy of a day.
“You ain’t kidding,” Donny’s voice cut in from behind.
The detective turned and studied the sixty-something-year-old man sitting there, having somehow silently sidled up in his golf cart. He nodded agreeably. “Hey, buddy. I got some more questions for you.”
“Yes, sir,” Donny said, but he made no move toward the detective and instead waited for him to walk over. Donny had a good thirty years on the man, and although he had been a star basketball player and maintained a wiry frame, his knees were done. Even with the cortisone shots he had been taking, every step was an effort. As he watched the detective walk over, Donny considered how much he wanted to reveal. He had a lot to say. But there was a lot more he wouldn’t.
From: Deb Schnitt
To: The Golden Rockets and their Families
(Marie, Rich, Nick, Robin, Barb, Faith, Sean, Nicole)
CC: Coaches Dan Williams and Matt Bidsky
Subject: Private, important and heartbreaking news.
Team. It is with a very heavy heart that I share this disturbing and upsetting news. This morning, our fearless leader, Coach Wayne Savage, was found dead at Tigers Turf. Coach Savage was an inspiration to us all to be the best that we could be. I know he was proud of each and every one of you, and I hope you carry his life lessons with you for all your days. I can’t even begin to express my shock and surprise. This is a really bad call from the big guy up above. He totally dropped the ball with this one.
I’m sure there will be more details coming out in the coming days, but please know that we are still a team, will always be a team. I know that Coach W would want us all to stick together and continue to play and win. Because that’s what W stands for. Winning. I hope you’re up there knocking ‘em out of the park, Coach. We’ll miss you, and we won’t let you down!
I will be communicating with Coach Dan and Coach Matt to discuss how we are going to proceed. I’m sorry to be the bearer of such horrible news. Our hearts and prayers go out to Faith, Derek, and Reggie. When I hear about any funeral details, I will pass them along.
To the stars, Rockets.
P.S. Of course, practice tonight is canceled.
Coach Dan sat at his kitchen table reading Deb’s email. He already knew what had happened, having received a call from both Matt and a Detective Jonas, who was interested in speaking with him. The idea that Wayne was dead was almost unimaginable. His person in life was large. He filled a space both in stature and in personality. The minute Wayne entered a room, the room stopped to acknowledge him, and if they didn’t, Wayne made sure that his booming laugh and loud presence overpowered any other action, demanding all the attention.
Dan was used to being his number two, even sometimes bumped to number three. He was the bench whisperer. The quiet force who sat in the dugout and used his low tones and soothing words to either work the kids up or settle them down.
The boys relied on his steady force to balance out the triangle. Coach Savage (or Coach W) charged ahead, driving them hard, but also rewarding them just as hard. Coach Matt, intense and hotheaded but also full of baseball knowledge and sense, who had a way of shouting out words of inspiration that actually inspired. And he was an excellent first base coach.
Wayne and Matt always kept a bit of a distance between themselves and the boys who vacillated between awe and fear. As coaches, they demanded respect and the boys worked hard to prove themselves. In contrast, Dan played it low and on the outside, sitting quietly, keeping the book and maintaining order in the dugout. This had been his role for the last four years, and at times it was frustrating. He knew he could be a stronger driving force on the team, but you could only have so many leaders, besides he enjoyed being more on the inside with the boys. He got used to the boys tentative approaches, their quiet, questioning, “Coach Dan?” as they slid next to him to confide a hurt, seek advice or complain about one of the other players, their parents, or, on rare occasion, one of the other coaches. So even though there were times when his anger flared and he clashed with the big personalities and egos of Wayne or Matt, he quickly got it back under control.
He had his son Jake to think of. He had enough trouble playing catcher, the same position as Wayne’s son, and doing a better job of it. It was a regular struggle (for both of them) in humility and patience to get Jake his playing time and his well-earned and deserved credit. Still, he cherished his special place with the boys and on the team. With the pressures of such a competitive atmosphere, the boys naturally drifted to his gentle, soft spoken manner. What would they do now? Those poor boys. They needed him. The team needed him. Faith needed him.
Faith. She was probably a real mess. An image of her popped into his head; her hazel eyes searching, her blonde hair falling loose in her face. She was so small and sexy, and alone now. Like him. His divorce had been final for over two years already. He and his ex, Nicole, had finally come to a place where they could co-parent and coexist, if not in an amicable way, at least not in a hostile one. It had been a battle to get out, and luckily his wife had been as miserable as he was and had an affair. Of course, he was hurt and angry. Who wouldn’t be? Coming home to find her in the arms of the contractor who was already raking him over the coals for the bathroom renovations that had taken weeks longer than expected to complete. He was paying for all the extras, but the contractor was the one who was really getting them. It was a real blow to his pride and his pocketbook, and the divorce was even worse.
Now with the passing of years, after having time to process with the assistance of a lot of alcohol, maybe a therapeutic hole or two punched through his bedroom wall and some deep thinking on the matter, he no longer blamed her. He knew they weren’t happy and that given the right circumstances, he would have cheated as well. He just never had any real opportunity. Between work, coaching games, the kids, and being generally exhausted, there just wasn’t enough time or energy to even consider dabbling, except in fantasy with Faith.
But that was then. Now, he was ready to dabble like crazy. He ran a tired hand through his dark, wavy hair and glanced at the computer screen on his desk at work. 1:37 p.m. The numbers on the marketing report spreadsheet he was analyzing blurred together. Wayne drifted into his brain. His strong features and barrel chest. The way he strode on to a field; his very posture a dare to the opposing team’s coach. He was dead. Wayne was dead. It seemed impossible to comprehend, especially when he had just seen him hours before. Those poor boys of his. And Faith. Without thinking, he typed her an email.
Subject: No words
I am so sorry. I don’t even know what to say. This is unbelievable. I wanted to come by in person but I thought you might need some alone time to process, and I didn’t want to intrude. I’m here for you whenever, whatever you need. Anything, really. Please just let me know.
Not five minutes went by before Dan saw a new message pop up on his screen.
Thank you. No words is right. I am honestly in shock. I can’t even form sentences. I promise to let you know if there’s anything I need.
He tried to read into it, to find some not so hidden secret plea that would give him an excuse to drop by later, some need, but unfortunately couldn’t find any. A little disappointed and not ready to work, Dan zipped off an email to Matt.
Subject: Mind blown
Buddy, is this fucking crazy or what? I am totally… I don’t even know. I am in shock! I know we talked, but my brain is churning. I can’t stop thinking and wondering what the hell happened. Are you as completely flipped out as I am? Meanwhile, and I know this is going to sound horrible, but what are we going to do with the team? We have a tournament in two weeks. Do we go?
The computer flashed again.
Someone totally popped him. I’m writing up a list of suspects and it’s long, dude. And, fuck yeah, we go.
Dan leaned back in his chair, sucking the breath in between his teeth and wondering if he’d be on the list.
Rockets Team Chat
(Jake, Chris, Landon, Max, Dylan, Balls (Josh), Ryan, Money (Manny), Derek, Tyler, Jimmy, Reggie)
Balls (Josh) – Holy crap, guys! Did you hear about coach??
Dylan – What?
Josh – He’s dead. Dudes, Coach is dead.
Jake – WTF?!
Chris – Shut the hell up!
Money (Manny) – You’re making that shit up
Balls (Josh) – I’m not. My dad told me! And then I looked it up!!
Tyler – Googling it!
Balls (Josh) – It’s true. Derek, Reggie, I’m so sorry
Max – We’re all sorry!
Landon – This is crazy. Does anyone know what happened?
Dylan – Google says ‘suspicious circumstances’
Money (Manny) – You mean he was murdered! That is so whack! Maybe he shouldn’t have yelled so much.
Jake – Shut up, Money. That’s so rude. Derek, Reggie you guys there? I’m so sorry
Money (Manny) – You just want your dad to take it over
Jake – Stop being an asshole
Balls (Josh) – He can’t help it
Tyler – Come on, everyone knows Landon’s mom is gonna run the team anyway. She’s got the power!
Jimmy – Whoop whoop!
Manny – LMAO
Dylan – Choke!
Jake – Guys, just shut up. Derek, you there? We’re all really sorry. Reggie? Derek? You there?
Dan left work early, grabbing the 3:19 p.m. out of Penn Station, which would pull back into Fort Jefferson by 4:05 p.m.. He wasn’t getting anything done anyway and felt the need to be closer to home. Jake had a basketball clinic till 5 p.m., and his daughter Lola was on a play date, so he told his ex that he would stop by the house afterward, maybe have a catch with Jake or take them to an early dinner. He needed to be the one to explain about Coach W to Jake. He couldn’t even imagine how he would take the news. They had been part of the team since he was in kindergarten. Hopefully, the school wasn’t already buzzing about it. With all the cell phones and the Internet, you couldn’t keep anything secret these days.
With a couple of hours to kill and no idea what to do with himself, he decided to head over to Tigers Turf, hoping Joe would be there to commiserate. He parked, emerged from his car, and immediately bumped into Mikey Short, one of the parents on the team and a general psycho, although reasonably likeable when not either screaming from the sidelines at his kid or driving Wayne crazy.
“Hey, Mikey,” Dan greeted, shaking his head.
“I can’t believe it,” Mikey agreed. “I mean, I really can’t. I was set to meet him in an hour or so before the practice.”
His son, Josh, was one of their star pitchers, a lefty who threw gas with great control while Mikey was one of their star problems. Wayne used to joke especially at games where Josh was really on, that he was picturing his father’s face in the catcher’s mitt, even suggesting the visualization to Josh who just snorted and laughed.
Mikey was one of those overly invested parents who constantly annoyed him, Wayne and Matt, by second guessing their decisions and not trusting them to do right by his kid. He paced up and down the first base line like a stalker on crack, shouting encouragements, which were more obnoxious, obvious rants—“Josh! You need to pound the zone! Josh! Focus! Stay back!”—to his kid while on the mound and even kept his own pitch count. Wayne had thrown him out of multiple games for being too disruptive.