Thrown by a curve, p.22
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.22
 

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 22

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “Why don’t you tell me how you got hurt?” she asked.

  “I’m sure all that crap’s in my chart. You read it, didn’t you?”

  “Yes, but it’s not the same as hearing it from you. I want to know what you were doing, what you remember about your body mechanics. We want to make sure you don’t reinjure yourself when you hit the mound again. ”

  He shrugged. “I was pitching. ”

  “What pitch?”

  “A slider. I reared back, threw the pitch, and felt a pinch. After that, I was sore. ”

  “But you didn’t come out of the game right away. ”

  “No. I finished the inning. ”

  “And pitched another after that. ”

  He grimaced, remembering the leadoff walk, the base hit, and the three-run home run before the coach pulled him from the game. It had been a nightmare. He knew his shoulder was hurt, knew he’d been throwing nothing but shit and there’d been nothing on his fastball. But when the pitching coach came out after the base hit, he’d promised the coach he still had it, that he could get the next batter out.

  Nothing like pitchers and their egos. They never wanted to admit defeat. But this had been different. He was hurt and he knew it, and he still continued to pitch. And it had cost his team.

  “Coach should have pulled you. And even worse, you should have told them you were injured. You cost the team three runs because of that. ”

  It was like she was reading his mind. “Wow, you don’t pull any punches, do you?”

  “I don’t see any reason to blow smoke up your ass when you know it’s the truth. One of the things I try to work on with athletes is reading the signals of your own body. When you’re injured, your recovery time can be a lot quicker if you step down as soon as you feel pain. ”

  He rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on, Alicia. If I stopped pitching every time I felt an ache or a pain, I’d be out of the game. ”

  “Don’t feed me that line of bullshit. You know the difference between discomfort, fatigue from overuse, and ‘Oh, no, I’ve really hurt myself. ’ You knew it that day, didn’t you?”

  He didn’t answer.

  She leaned back, obviously confident that she was right. “That’s what I thought. You didn’t want to come out of the game, which is normal. I understand that. My brother and cousins are hardheaded like you. They play injured. You all do. It’s part of your psychological makeup as athletes to think you’re impermeable. But look where are you now. You missed the second half of the season with this injury. You’re lucky the tear didn’t cost you your career. ”

  Irritation bristled through his nerve endings. “Not the first time I’ve heard this lecture, you know. ”

  “I’m sure it isn’t. But it might be the last time if it doesn’t sink in. How many more times do you think that shoulder’s going to take this kind of abuse? You’ve got a rocket arm and a wicked fastball. Tears like that develop scar tissue, and a repeat of an injury like this will end your career. ”

  Well, she’d painted that picture in big fucking letters on a clear blue sky, hadn’t she? The doctors had at least sugarcoated it for him with smiles and positive thinking, told him he’d be back in the rotation in no time at all.

  Only he hadn’t been back in the rotation, and all these months later he didn’t feel like he’d ever be ready to pitch again.

  And the opening of the season was bearing down on him like goddamn Armageddon.

  “Any more soft words of encouragement you’d like to give me?”

  She pushed her plate to the side. “Come on, Garrett. You didn’t choose me because I’d pat you on the head and tell you how awesome this was all going to be. You chose me because you knew I’d be blunt with you, just like I was that first day. And the one thing you can always count on from me is honesty. I’m also going to force you to be honest with yourself, and that means recognizing how important it is to learn to read your body’s signals. ”

  “I hate being pulled from a game. ”

  “Of course you do. You’re an athlete and a damn good pitcher. ”

  “But I fucked up that day, and it cost me my arm. ”

  She gave him a smile. “Not permanently. We’re going to fix it, and you will pitch again. I believe it. Now you have to believe it, too. ”

  After lunch, Alicia disappeared, claiming she needed to make some calls. Garrett went outside and took a walk on the beach to clear his head.

  Reliving the day of his injury hadn’t been a picnic. He never wanted to think about it, because when he did, it made him realize what an arrogant asshole he’d been that day.

  He should have walked off the mound as soon as he knew he was hurt. Instead, he thought he was invincible, that he could save the inning, save the game, and that nothing could stop him, not even the pain.

  What a fucking dumbass he’d been. He’d let down his team and screwed himself over in the process.

  He’d always had to learn lessons the hard way.

  Alicia was right. He had to do better about listening to his body, because he never wanted to go through this again.

  When he came back in after his walk, she was waiting for him. She’d pulled her hair into a ponytail and slipped on tennis shoes. She had a gym bag slung over her shoulder.

  “Going somewhere?”

  “We’re going somewhere. Go change. ”

  He cocked a brow. “Into?”

  “Comfortable workout clothes. ”

  What now? Burying him in the sand and making him sweat? Maybe stringing him up somewhere or stretching him out on one of those medieval torture racks? She could get pretty inventive. And scary. “Where are we going?”

  “You’ll find out when we get there. ”

  He changed, and they got in the car. He turned to her. “Where to?”

  “The baseball stadium. ”

  Now that he hadn’t expected. Dread and excitement churned in his stomach. He started up the car and headed down the highway toward the stadium. Spring training was underway, and he wasn’t part of it. God, he really wanted to be.

  “The team’s not here today, you know,” she said as he pulled into the empty parking lot. “They have an away game. ”

  He turned off the ignition. “I know the schedule. ” He knew every game, where the team was, who they were playing, and the fact he wasn’t playing with them. With every passing day he felt the season slipping through his fingers. Spring training had been underway for a while now. And he was missing it. He counted down the days until the start of the season. That had always been his target date to get back on the mound. Now that date was breathing down his neck like an ugly beast—shadowing him every damn day and making him lose sleep at night.

  She grabbed the bag and they went to the door. They showed their credentials to the guard, who let them into the stadium.

  When they stepped onto the field, his stomach twisted and he broke out into a sweat.

  Alicia took a baseball glove and ball out of her bag. Garrett’s heart leaped in his chest.

  “What is that?”

  “My glove. A ball. Kind of obvious, don’t you think?”

  She pulled his glove out of her bag and tossed it to him. He frowned. “Where did you get that?”

  “From your coach. ”

  He hadn’t brought it along, figured they wouldn’t get far enough for him to need it.

  “I thought we’d play a little catch today. ”

  He arched a brow. “You play catch. ”

  “Of course. ”

  “Like the kind of catch a pitcher can throw at you?”

  She laughed. “You’re not ready to throw a fastball yet, stud. We’ll take it slow to begin with, then start working on your mechanics. ”

  She moved behind the batter’s box and waited. Garrett stared down at his glove, then over at the mound.

  “Well?”

 
He shifted his gaze to Alicia, who was throwing the ball up in the air and catching it in her glove.

  “Let’s warm up that arm,” she said, then tossed him the ball.

  Instinct took hold and he caught it, then walked to the mound.

  He stood on the mound, the palm of his hand curled around the ball, his target a short ninety feet away. Everything was so familiar yet felt so fucking alien to him. Where he’d once felt so comfortable—the pitcher’s mound was like a second home to him, after all—he now felt like he’d never stood here before. Like this was his first time.

  In a way, it was a first time. It would be the first time he’d throw a ball since he got hurt, since he’d felt that twinge of pain that had blossomed into something bigger and threatened to sideline his career.

  Sweat rolled down his brow. He swiped at it with the back of his sleeve and focused on Alicia waiting patiently for him to toss her a simple, slow, underhanded pitch. She didn’t know, had no idea how goddamned monumental this moment was.

  Or maybe it really wasn’t a big deal at all. He was making more out of this than it was.

  Just throw the fucking ball, dumbass.

  “Everything okay out there?” she asked, her voice light and easy, but he knew she was concerned.

  “Fine. Just getting . . . my head organized. I’m a little rusty. ”

  “Take your time. I’m in no hurry. ”

  It had been a hot day like today—only the heat of summer and in Cleveland—when he’d reared back and thrown the slider that had started it all. He flipped the ball around in his hand, remembering that day like it had been yesterday instead of months ago.

  “It’s just catch, Garrett. No pressure. ”

  It was more than catch. This was his future, his career. If he couldn’t do this, something simple like this . . . it was over for him. He squeezed the ball in his hand, frozen, unable to move.

  “You want to try it again another day?” She started toward him.

  He straightened, held out his hand. “No. Just gimme a sec. ”

  She stopped, then nodded. “Sure. ”

  He’d never pitch again if he didn’t throw—if he didn’t at least try. She was right. It was just catch.

  He swallowed, or tried to—his throat had gone sand dry.

  He was sweating, and his goddamn legs were shaking, but he held his head up and nodded. “Okay. ”

  “No pitches yet. Don’t put any finesse on the ball. Just toss it to me. Start underhanded. ”

  “What? This isn’t softball. ”

  “I know that. But we need to warm up your arm, including all those muscles and tendons that haven’t gotten use in a while. We’ll throw a few underhanded, then we’ll move on from there. ”

  Not exactly the pitching clinic he was looking for, but it was a start.

  He took a shaky breath and tossed the ball—underhanded—to her.

  “How did that feel?” she asked.

  “Girlie. ”

  She rolled her eyes and threw the ball back to him. “Good. Throw me a few more girlie pitches. ”

  He did, his arm not as stiff or sore as he expected. And it didn’t hurt.

  “Can I throw one overhanded now?”

  “No. I’ll let you know when. ”

  Frustrated, he threw more pitches. Underhanded. Weakly. Twenty-six more times until his teeth were clenched so hard his jaw hurt.

  Alicia finally nodded. “That’s good. Now throw one overhanded. Gently. I can’t stress the word gently enough, Garrett. ”

  “So you want me to rocket a fastball so hard into your glove that I’ll knock you on your ass?”

  She leveled him with a glare. “Not if you want to pitch this year. ”

  He finally relaxed his shoulders and smiled, some of the tension lifting. “You have no sense of humor. ”

  “Not when I’m working, I don’t. Gently. ”
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