Campaign has ended. This book was not selected for publication.
We will let you know if this book becomes available on Amazon. Want to know if this book becomes available on Amazon?
Back to top

First pages



I think a good sign that it’s time to retire is the desire to punch a mascot.


And, no, I don’t mean one of those funny punches like they lay on you, un-uh.


I’m talking one of those “rip off that stupid cartoon head and punch that minimum wage


dickwad right in his face” punches.


That’s what I wanted to do to Louie.


Louie, for those of you who don’t know, is a thing. Really. He makes the Philly


Phanatic look like a God-designed creature. He’s green from head to toe, his hair is pink,


his nose covers half of his enormous face.


And he was shaking his ginormous ass right in my face.


The crowd was laughing. I was counting to ten, then twenty, then just plain hiding


my face under my hat.


“Why, Matt?,” you ask, “Why punch out a beloved figure like good ol’ Louie?”


Well, it’s like this, folks. I was looking at the back side of 34, of 12 years of


minor league bus rides, never getting higher than Triple-A ball, and only briefly then, and


I’m on the bench, in Bowie, Double-A ball, behind some 20-year-old kid.


Looking at my future was bleak enough. Looking at Louie’s green backside only


served to piss me off.


They even gave him my uniform number, double-zero.


OK, they gave me his uniform number, he was there first, oh, forget it, you get the


point. I was depressed, I was angry, and I had had enough.


The only thing that kept me on that bench, in late August, on a nowhere team in a


nowhere organization in the middle of nowhere was my sense of professionalism.


Be the first to arrive, my father’s voice rang in my brain, and the last to leave.


So, I’m on the bench, haven’t even had a single at-bat in two weeks, and there I


am, watching like I care.


The shortstop, a weak-hitting little guy from the Dominican, he rolls it over to


second base, like he does just about every time at bat, and the game is over.


Nice guy, that Santiago. Knows two words in English (“pizza” and “pussy”),


knows how to get both, can’t hit to save his life.


Yet…he’ll be on his way to Baltimore to play out the string with the Orioles as


part of the 40-man roster, because they love his glove.


He’s been in pro ball all of two years. If and when he gets in a game to help mop


up the end of a blowout, he’ll officially have more of a major league career than me.


I’d never wanted a game to be over with more in my life than that one.


“So, Matt,” the tall blond kid that’s stepping on my heart at first base asks, “know


any good places to eat in Baltimore?”


Now that I think of it, I can’t think of a thing to hold against Santiago, but this


smug prick…


“Don’t know, Simmons,” I say, “never been there.”


Ever notice how some people just can’t seem to avoid being assholes? There’s that overdressed jerk two desks down from you at work, the cop who still writes you that


ticket even when you beat them to the meter, Terrell Owens. Simmons was one of those




The kid looks like a major leaguer, he hits like a major leaguer, he’s just biding


his time, and he knows it. He knows it so much that he whoops like a kid at hearing the


broke-down never-was say that, right in my face.


“Well, my man,” he said, chuckling, “I’ll let you know when I get there.”


He walks, I wonder how he’d look with Louie’s big green head on.


“Well, Dad,” I say, looking up, a cold one in hand, right under that clearly printed


“NO ALCOHOL PERMITTED IN CLUBHOUSE/Ningún alcohol permitió en el club”


sign, “I’m the last one to leave.”


Downing half the bottle in one pull, I sit at that stool in front of my locker and


look around it. Takes all of two seconds to take it all in. There’s two pair of spikes, a few


bats (MATT BERNARD burned in gold into the black wood of the head), my one


professional baseball card, when I was with the Padres organization three years into this


train wreck, a couple shirts, a couple of gloves.


I pick up that bubble gum card.


There I am, what I was.


There’s a kid, hair still a solid brown, eyes clear, holding one of the long-gone


forefathers of the bats in my locker now. He’s a left fielder, bats right, throws right, six


feet two inches tall, 185 pounds, hometown Caplan, Nevada.


He smiles, a wide smile, the future spread out in front of him, looking as good as


Miss July waiting in bed.


I turn the card over, and there’s one of those wonderful little stories they tell about


the person on the front of the card. Stuff like “Ozzie takes infield practice for a full hour


every day to stay sharp,“ or “Jim’s favorite meal before a game is spaghetti and


meatballs,” or my personal favorite, “Roger’s been hit by more balls than any man in the


last three years.”


I’ve met Roger. It is an apt description.


Anyway, the wonderful scribe that had the great misfortune of writing me up only


managed this witty line: “Matt had more doubles in the ninth inning (6) than anyone else


on his team last season.”


And that’s the highlight right there.


My life is now in a beat-up Baltimore Orioles duffel bag. The cab is waiting


outside the clubhouse entrance. The guys at Prince George’s Stadium are glad I’m finally


on my way, so they can get home.


In my hand is my cell phone. The list of contacts is a graveyard. There’s my


agent’s number. Actually, that should read “former agent.” I just can’t bring myself to


delete it.


There’s a number for the minor league director’s office of the Texas Rangers, my


last organization before crashing in Bowie. And the Chicago Cubs. And the Chicago


White Sox. And the Seattle Mariners. And three others.


And the one I’m getting ready to call, that 410 area code in front of the Orioles’


front office number.


I’m still looking at it when the cab drops me off at the little budget dive just off I-


295 that had been home for the past six months.


I step into the room, flip on the lamp by the bed, and, of course, the bulb decides


to blow out, so I’m just as in the dark now as when I came in. Fitting.


So it’s over to the bathroom. A sniff in the air brings me a familiar, and much


wanted, smell to my nose, but I wave that off as hoping for things that can’t be.


I run the water in the tub, slip out of my clothes, and sit on the toilet while I wait


for the ancient basin to fill up.


And still I’m looking at the number.


Do I want to do this?


I hear it all the time, that timing is everything.


You tell a joke about bombs in the airport, you could find yourself in jail.


You sign that contract for the car, then find out a week later you could’ve got it


for less.


In my case, I happened to sign with the Kansas City Royals at the same time


Johnny Damon did. Guess who they picked between us?


I played a little while with Johnny. Always a great teammate, a little nuts, but


charming. Didn’t think much of his arm, I could outthrow him left-handed. All he could


do better than me was run, hit, hit with power, cover ground on defense, and steal bases.


Needless to say, I was trade bait once I got a little value.


That’s when I led that wonderful Single-A Padres farm team in ninth inning




On to the Mariners then, and that was just after they cleaned house, getting rid of


those pesky Hall of Famers like Griffey and Johnson. Clear shot to the majors, I thought.


Two things stood in my way there: Jay Buhner and a ruptured Achilles tendon.


What little speed I had was gone, and if I wanted to keep playing, it would have to


be somewhere that didn’t require a lot of running.


So I ended up at first base.


First basemen are huge, hulking creatures that hit balls that don’t land for weeks,


guys like Mark McGwire, and I know what you’re saying. Didn’t they have a little help?


Perhaps. And maybe I should’ve taken it, too.


Me, I’m more like a pop gun, spraying the occasional single here and there,


maybe finding a gap for a double, then, sometimes, getting thrown out by a mile at third


going for a triple. Made me quite the popular guy in that job market.


But I thought, hey, I’m with the St. Louis Cardinals now. Tino Martinez is on his


way back to the Yankees, they’ll need someone with a good glove and a horrible bat to


fill that spot! Yeah, I was big on self-delusion.


No delusion, small or large, was going to help me once they found themselves


some guy named Albert Pujols to play over there.


So I packed my duffel bag and headed to the Orioles organization.


Oh, no, by the way, it’s not this time I’m talking about. This is my third time with




Then the White Sox, who signed Jim Thome right after I went into the hospital for


another knee surgery.


Then to Cincinnati, who traded me back to Baltimore as part of a trade that no one


important was part of and no one knows about now. Baltimore let me walk, because even


they get one right once in a while, and Texas picked me up.


Somehow I managed to make their Triple-A team in Oklahoma City. For two


innings. That’s when some kid’s near-100 mph fastball found my face, and that cost me


the rest of my season and just plain fucked up my chances at the cover of GQ.


And it was back to the Orioles and into this bathroom staring at my phone


contacts list.


You know there are times that I wonder who I pissed off to get these kinds of


breaks. I’ve been pretty good about how I deal with others in my life. Yeah, well, OK,


there was that. And maybe a little wish that Pujols had a soap accident in his shower, but


I only wished for a little one.


Other than that…


OK, maybe I just suck at baseball.


I was on the sixth of the 12 pack when it struck me. The hell with


professionalism. People get fired over the phone, by express mail, get dumped by


boyfriends, girlfriends, and hunting clubs (oh, how I wish I could take back that drunken


night with the deer head and the tub of butter) by answering machine, damn it, I’m


texting my way out of professional baseball.


I’ll do it right: no lol or lmao or anything like that.








There, that oughta do it.


It must be part of a motel’s way to make you feel worse about yourself to put a


full-length mirror right behind the door. “Hey, folks, guess what? Not only can’t you


afford somewhere where the toilet paper doesn’t feel like sandpaper, but this is what you


look like! Have a nice day!”


What I saw in the mirror on the day I left pro ball didn’t upset me that much. It’s


my body, I’ve gotten used to it. Got a little paunch going, but, hell, I’m 34, and I’ve seen


worse from younger guys. Still got a good tone to my arms, well, my forearms, at least.


Little gray at the temples, but no bald spot yet. My green eyes a little red around the


edges, but I have the Busch family to thank for that.


No ass, but that runs in the family.


A woman could do worse…


That smell is back. I know that smell, what is that?


On my way to bed that night, my foot found something slick on the floor, and I


skated across the room like Dorothy Hamill if someone shot her up with crack, and


crashed onto the bed. That’s where I was until morning.


Beer number five? Still functioning.


Beer number six? I officially enter “I Can’t Do Shit Land.”


Man, was I glad not to have a roommate then.


I woke up, towel open, ass hanging out, mouth feeling like someone snuck in and


filled it with those puffy cotton balls, and a purple envelope sticking onto the bottom of


my left foot.


Still trying to pull myself up out of the wreckage, I managed to sit up Indian-style


on the bed, and then, and only then, was I able to dislodge the envelope from my toes.


I sniffed it (The envelope, you sick freaks!) and that’s when I found out where


that smell came from. The combination of beer and a love of this mystery smell kept me


there for a few extra minutes than it normally would to open an envelope.


The infatuation over (OK, on hold), I got it open and read the little card that was




Dear Matt,


We understand you are about to leave pro ball. We’ve heard of your special skills


and feel that you would be a great addition to our little league.


If you think you’ve got one more year left in you, we’ve got a sweet deal for you


here. Accept our offer to join the Leopaki team in the Dream Isle Baseball League


and spend a year playing ball in paradise!


No one signed it, and that almost made me throw it out. Plus, they thought I was


good, which made me wonder just how much they knew about baseball.


Until I found the plane ticket inside.


I picked up the envelope again, held it under my nose like a wine taster getting the




Well, I told myself, not like I’ve got a million options here. Why not play one


more year in paradise?





I had time to think about Hawaii. Hell of a long time on a plane, you know.


What I thought about instead was, well, everything else. About my former Baysox


teammates, and, yeah, I got a little bitter.


The Orioles were in New York then, in front of those famously hospitable fans at


Yankee Stadium. So Santiago, Simmons, and the others were possibly getting their first


listen about all the different kind of bitches and sluts their mothers were.


And I, the no-name never was, was specially invited to play in Hawaii, for the


Leopaki, whatever that was. Point to me!


That helped ease my pain somewhat.


Then I thought about where I would stay in Hawaii. Couldn’t count on a lot of


money from this team, by the look of this airline. This was the one the discount airlines


called cheap. And, since I was going to Tourism Central, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t find


a place like Starlite Motel, and if I did, it’d probably be four-star rates for my one-star


digs, not to mention my half-a-star budget.


Fuck it, I thought, it’s still Hawaii, I’ll worry about that when I get there.


Why, thank you, yes, I will have a beer.


Yes, I will have another.


Sorry, gotta pass this time, only have a twenty on me.


Then I tried to place that smell again, even went so far as to get the envelope out


of my, er, luggage, that battered Orioles duffel.


Should’ve seen the look on the old lady’s face next to me as I sniffed it like a


convict with a used pair of supermodel panties.


But she must’ve really wanted someone to talk to, because she tried to strike up a


conversation. Why not mess with her?, I thought.


By the time five minutes with her new best friend had passed, the lady tried


looking anywhere but in my direction. Guess I shouldn’t have shared the nasty rash on


the underside of my testes on the first talk.


Back alone with my thoughts wasn’t much fun either, though. Read some of the


airline magazine, thought I saw someone duct-taping a plane door in the background,


decided to put it down.


Finally, I had an idea of how to pass the time. A little trick I learned years ago to


put me right out. I’d think of the one at-bat I had against Randy Johnson in spring


training one year, hear that 95-mph fastball whistle past my left ear like it was yesterday,


and scare myself to sleep.


Worked like a charm.



I got off the plane and had a dream come true.


I got lei’d in front of a planeful of people.


Sorry, couldn’t help it.


Yet another life experience I can cross off my bucket list was having to deal with


the lost luggage office of a third-rate airline in Honolulu, Hawaii, and having to explain


the contents of my baseball bag, including its three bats and assortment of leather goods


and wonder if the clerk there was mentally running through a list of terrorism suspects in


her head.


“Trust me, lady,” I said, “I know what you’re thinking, and you don’t have to


worry about me. I don’t feel strongly enough about anything to take offense, much less


take over anything.”


“What’s with the bats then, brah?,” she asked.


“I’m a bat salesman. Thought I’d make a sale while on vacation.” After her cross


look, a look she must have practiced in a mirror to make someone feel three feet smaller,


I added, “I’m a baseball player, I’m joining the Dream Isle league.”


“The what?


“Never heard of it?”

Again, that look. “No, man, I enjoy asking stupid questions, and I see I’m not the


only one. What’s the bag look like?”


After 10 hours on a plane and two hours in claims, finally, me and my weapons


were reunited and I was on my way.


I stepped out onto the curb and finally got to feel some of that world-famous


Hawaiian sunshine on my face. Thinking the warm tropical breeze was right behind it, I


took a deep breath and got me a lungful of some nice bus exhaust.


It was easy to blame that for what I saw next, that being a little girl across the


busy road in front of Honolulu International Airport. Cars were zipping by at a more than


decent rate of speed, and this girl locked eyes with me, and started to move.


“No, no! Stop!,” I yelled.


The girl did, and I got a closer look at her. She had the classic Hawaiian look to


her, long dark hair the color of night, with dark eyes to match, slightly slanted at the


corners. In a little girl, it adds to the cuteness, in a grown woman, to the allure and the


nighttime fantasies of many of man, this one included.


The big difference was that she looked to be a faded blue color other than that.


Her skin was paler than paler, like cigarette ash, only less healthy looking.


But her eyes had the power of magnetism, I think, because I couldn’t pull my


gaze away from them.


Which was why I didn’t see her moving right away. And stepping into traffic.


Until it was just about too late. One foot was on the road, and the other was off the


sidewalk, and here came a semi.


“No!,” I yelled, and did the only thing I could think to do right then, which was


close my eyes to keep an image of a little girl getting torn to shreds by Detroit’s meat


grinder on wheels from burning itself in my mind.


I heard no squealing brakes, no horn, no nothing, so I looked up. My thoughts


were that she was supernatural-like pale, maybe she was super fast, too.


Nope, no such luck. She just walked through traffic.


Please feel free to read that sentence literally, by the way. She just walked through


cars, buses, and could’ve topped the act off by juggling pineapples on the way across for


all I know, because that’s all I saw before I showed her my unique “two elbows and an


asshole” style by running back into the airport, freaked beyond anything Timothy Leary


could’ve dreamed up.


I ran past a couple of Jews for Jesus, a few homeless looking for some change,


and one Hare Krishna, bald head, orange robe and all, heard none of it.


Past the ticket counters, heard a few security guards yell at me, didn’t stop.


They came in chase, but it wasn’t them that had me kick it into another gear.


I looked back and saw my little pale blue friend, walking like she was just looking


for seashells in the waves and not stalking me for my eternal soul.


I lost the puffy guards pretty quick, took a left here, a right there, and found


myself in a very deserted corner near a ticket counter being remodeled. I dropped the


bags, my back found the wall, and I slid down it like a ball of slime until my butt hit the




My eyes now closed, I took a deep breath, and, out loud, I said, “That was


nothing, just the beers and the fumes talking to me. I’m good, I’m good, time to get back


out there and get where I’m going.”

I opened my eyes and found two deep browns staring into mine from pale blue


skin-covered eye sockets.


Like a valley girl forced to get a job, I screamed, jumped up, and tried to run, but


something icy ran up and down my spine.


“That’s just the start,” a voice said, tiny in volume, but huge in impact, “I can do


more to get my point across if you’d like.”


I just shook my head no.


“Good,” she said, in a stage whisper, “go ahead and sit down, haole.”


“What’s that?,” I heard myself say as I sat.


“Any newcomer to the islands,” she said, and now I could see her again, and she


smiled, which was just about the scariest thing I’d ever seen to that point, “you, in other




“Doesn’t sound nice.”


“It isn’t. Shut up and listen.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The little girl crossed her legs and floated in mid-air, keeping herself at my eye


level, and I got a closer look at her.


Everything I’d thought I’d seen before, hair, eyes, skin, was right on. Around her


body was wrapped a silver and blue dress, patterned with flowers, looked just like any


Hawaiian shirt I’d ever seen, just prettier. Her teeth were white, stunningly white, even


against the near-whiteness of her skin, and her little bare feet had silvery toenails on




And maybe my nose was beating the rest of my body to being senile, but now I


got another strong smell, that of fresh-cut flowers.


“Guess what I am?” After I said “What?” like the perfect moron I felt like, she


said, “Well, you’re looking at me like there’s 5000 questions that come down to just one,


so let’s get it over with now.”


“You’re a ghost.”

She put a tiny finger to the tip of her nose, crossing those deep brown eyes as she


did it, looking every bit like the silly little girl. I found myself smiling despite the world-


blowing weirdness of it all.


“Been one for about 50 years now. Now a question for you, Matt Bernard, did you


really think you, a has-been ballplayer with no wheels in the first place, could outrun a


ghost, lolo?”


“Will you give me credit for not asking how you knew my name? And what’s


with the ‘has-been’ crack, eh? I got contacted by the--”

“Yeah, yeah, brah. We need to talk.”


I crossed my arms. “I don’t talk to strangers.”


“How rude of me. My name is Tehani. And you’re an asshole. So, there, we’ve


met. Oh, wipe that stink eye off your face, I’m old and dead enough to cuss.”


I just nodded.


“OK, now listen. This league you’re so proud of, baseball’s just the small part of


it, and you’re in for quite the trip. There are lessons to learn, sonny, and you need to learn




“Like what?”


“I’m here to make you work, not throw you a fat one to put in the basket.”


I looked at her, she at me, then laughed.


“That’s not a baseball term, is it? I’m still learning this stuff. Now, sure, you’ll get


to hit your touchdowns, but the idea is to make things in your past right.”


“By playing baseball?,” I asked.


She did the right thing by going on like I didn’t even speak.


“There will be pain, there will be choices to make, and there will be more


questions than answers at times, but you must…are you listening to me?”

“Yes, yes, pain, choices, got it. Can you tell me what that smell is on the




“Very self-centered, are we?”


“OK, you’re right. What’s that other smell, is that you?”


“Yeah, Matt, it’s flowers, my name means ‘floral caress,’ will you focus, numb


nuts, or what?”


“I’ve never been cussed at by a kid.”


“Keep it up and I’ll make you think Alfred Hitchcock was well adjusted, haole.


Shut…up…and listen.


“Lesson number one,” she said, putting her middle finger up at me.


“Wrong finger,” I said.


“Nope,” she said, dully, then kept on, “Lesson number one”-hand to the face now-


“is that you are not the center of the universe. That is the most important one, but no one


thinks you’ll learn it too quickly, considering your past.”


“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”


“Lesson number two,” she said, now throwing up the other middle finger, “is that


in any paradise, from Eden to Waikiki, there’s a serpent, and you must do all you can to


resist the apple.”


“Something tells me there isn’t a lesson three,” I added.


A third hand popped out of her forehead and formed a middle finger, and she


laughed while I screamed.


“Very Dickens of me, huh?,” she said, then popped the hand back into her head.


“Oh, uncover your eyes, lolo, I put it away.”


“OK, I think I’ve heard enough for now,” I said, “you can go now.”


She gave me the cutest, most hate-able little laugh.


“You’re stuck with me for quite a while, Matt,” Tehani said, “I’ll be there, just


like those linebackers you play with on the rink.”


I had to chuckle.


“Am I getting close?,” she said, making a sheepish face and kicking her feet on


the ground, er, above the ground.


“No,” I said, “but it’s cute.”


“Think that’s cute?,” Tehani said, “Wait until you find out you’ve been staring at


the road and arguing with yourself for the last five minutes.”


“What?,” I yelled out.


“I said, ‘Do you want a cab?,’ and you said something about no lesson three. You


feelin’ alright, brah? Looked like you went holoholo in your head.”


Looking around, I saw that I was still on the curb, my bags still in hand, and that I


hadn’t moved at all, just like Tehani said.


I had a feeling she was going to be a real pain in the ass.


And now I looked at the man standing next to me, a red and blue Hawaiian shirt


and white shorts, and felt like an idiot.


“Yeah, how far away is Kailua?”



“So, brah, you’re saying there’s a ballpark here? Did you get hit in the head or




I looked out the cab’s window again, and it was hard to argue with the Hawaiian


Freud’s diagnosis.


“It’s just like the directions said, I…I think.”


Out of my bag, I fished the directions for the 40th time in this 30-minute drive.


“Go moo oka…,” I started.


Ma uka,” the driver corrected, also for the 40th time.


“Yeah, what you said, until Kailua, then Ewah--”



“--til you come to a wood tiki, three heads high, on the corner.”


“That’s it.”


So, again, as if I was hoping for Kevin Costner, a corn field, or at least a voice, I


looked out the window, and only saw a grass field and a small man in a (say it with me)


Hawaiian shirt and, to mix it up some, jean shorts.



About me

I live in Essex, Maryland, just outside Baltimore, married to a wonderful woman, have two great kids, so somehow I have to punish myself, and therefore I'm a Baltimore Orioles fan.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
I've always wondered what would happen if the supernatural, or gods, or what have you, decided to literally play games with us. And what if someone all too human needed to be taught a lesson and was too stubborn to learn otherwise? And baseball, because, well, it's baseball!
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
The North and South Trilogy, written by the incomparable John Jakes, among the first books I ever read. Also a big fan of Dave Barry, whose casual sarcasm is a true pleasure to read. Pick up anything he's ever written, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
My talented artist daughter, Kimi Cook (check her out on YouTube!), designed the cover. Being a huge baseball geek, I wanted a baseball card-type design, with the ghost girl scaring Matt, and she ran with it, and did a great job.

Next in:
Literature & Fiction
Saints and Sinners
How would you feel if it happened to you?
Nina's Nebulosity
In full darkness, a ray of light brings hope.
Welcome to the Bigtime, Cutie
Two girls' quest for heavy metal stardom