He doesn’t smile. He’s stoic and focused. He turns back to Caden and they have another word before Caden walks back behind the plate.
Brady throws a strike, finally getting the guy out. He tips his hat at me.
The next batter hits a fly ball to right field and you can hear the collective sighs from the entire stadium when the outfielder catches it. I’d hate to be the fielder who drops the ball in a game like this. He’d never hear the end of it from Brady.
Brady takes a deep breath and then looks up at me and mouths, “Who’s there?”
I hold up the next poster.
He turns back and gets his sign from Caden. He throws two strikes and then two balls. Then he strikes the guy out with his curveball, never needing my third poster.
He looks up anyway before he leaves the field. “Ineda who?” he mouths.
I hold up the last one.
I NEEDA POO
He shakes his head, laughing as he jogs off the field.
It’s the first time he’s ever asked for the joke when he didn’t need it. It’s how I know I won’t ever have to bring the large white poster boards again.
Caden and Sawyer both get a run, bringing the score up to 5-0 as they head into the top of the eighth. Two innings left. It’s beginning to seem like a real possibility. It’s closer than most pitchers ever get to having a perfect game.
I’m so nervous I can hardly stand it. I’m lucky Lexi and Murphy are here with me. Lexi takes Stryker to the bathroom when he asks to go and Murphy gets him a soft pretzel when he’s hungry. No way am I missing a second of this game.
Brady takes the field, knocks his glove to Caden’s and looks up at me. Then he puts his glove under his arm and unbuttons the first three buttons of his jersey, flashing just the top part of his shirt underneath. But it’s enough to show me. It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes.
It’s enough to make me know that this is the sign I’ve been waiting for.
Because the shirt underneath his jersey is no longer the one he’s always worn since he was eighteen. The shirt under his jersey is the one I bought him last fall. It’s his White Poison shirt. The one he kept in the box. The one he kept alongside everything else he holds dear.
I know what a monumental step this is for him. He’s letting go of the past. He’s showing me that I’m his future.
Tears blur my vision as I make a split-second decision and pull the thick black marker from my purse. Murphy and Lexi can’t hide their excitement as they watch me draw in the words on the backs of the poster boards.
But then Brady has a phenomenal inning. He strikes out all three batters. He doesn’t look up at me once. I’m not sure if that makes me happy or sad.
The Hawks don’t score any more runs in the bottom of the eighth. So as long as the other team doesn’t score five runs, we’ll win. But he still has three batters to face. And when Brady takes the field, everyone gets on their feet. The stadium is as loud as I’ve ever heard it. Everyone wants to witness history in the making.
Brady looks up at me. He’s nervous. I hold up the first poster.
He cocks his head to the side. He knows I never bring two jokes. But he doesn’t ask me who’s there.
He throws a pitch to the first batter and the ball gets fouled into the right-field stands.
Then he throws two balls.
He steps off the mound and back on. Then he steps off again. He’s trying to find his balance, his mojo. He takes his hat off and wipes his brow. Then he looks up at me. “Who’s there?” he mouths.
I hold up the second sign.
He throws a fastball right down the middle and the batter hits a line drive to left field. The fielder runs in on it and scoops it up, quickly and powerfully throwing it to the first baseman who stretches into a split to catch the ball.
The first-base umpire calls the batter out and the stadium erupts in cheers.
I have to will my heart to re-start.
Batter number two comes up. Brady takes a deep breath. The first pitch is a strike. But the second pitch is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. The batter makes solid contact, sending the ball hurdling at one hundred miles an hour right at Brady’s head. Brady barely has time to put his glove up and catch it.
But he does. He catches it for the second out.
And as the crowd goes wild, he doubles over, putting his hands on his knees.
Caden calls time and runs out to Brady. I can tell he’s trying to calm him down. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for him, considering what happened the last time a ball was hit to him like that.
As Caden returns to the plate, Brady looks up at me. “Mary who?” he mouths.
I hold up the third sign.
I think his jaw drops open. I believe I see him grasp the front of his jersey over his heart and nod his head. But I can’t be sure. I can’t see him very well through all the tears in my eyes.
Everyone is on their feet as the last batter comes to the plate—the one man who stands between Brady and ultimate glory.
I pick up Stryker so he can see the game over the tops of the heads in front of us. Murphy grabs my free hand and holds it tight.
Brady throws a strike and I scream. Well, I try to. It’s now that I realize I’ve lost my voice.
The next pitch is a ball. Brady steps off the mound and takes a breath.
He looks up at me and we lock eyes. Then he looks at Stryker. Then he throws strike number two.
My heart is beating so fast I think I will faint. Lexi takes Stryker from me and Murphy and I cling to each other. One more strike. That’s all he needs to have the game of his life.
He throws his fastball and the batter gets a piece of it, sending it flying high up in the air. Caden throws his mask off and runs over near the third base dugout. He dives for the ball, but it’s just out of his reach.
Collective moans echo throughout the stands.
I’ve never wanted a foul ball to be caught more in my life. I’ve never wanted a foul ball to be called a third strike more than I do at this very moment. But you can’t get out on a foul ball. Not unless it’s caught.
And I wonder who made up that stupid rule.
Brady shakes off a sign from Caden. Then another. Then he nods. I’ve never seen him more focused than he is right now.
He winds up for the pitch. It’s going to be his breaking ball—I know it. I watch the ball travel out of his hand to the plate. Then I watch the bat swing and miss the ball. Then I watch as Caden catches the ball in his glove and the umpire calls the batter out.
Ear-splitting screams bounce around the stadium. All of Brady’s teammates run to the mound, throwing off their gloves before they tackle him. Other players pour out of the dugout and join the fielders. Caden and Sawyer put Brady on their shoulders and carry him off the field. They carry him as he points over to me.
Crying, I hug Lexi. I hug Murphy. I hug my son.
Stryker’s too young to understand what he just witnessed. Odds are, this will never happen to Brady again.
“You realize we both got engaged at a Hawks game,” Murphy says.
“Does that make us sisters or something?” I joke with a hoarse voice.
“Close enough,” she says.
I see Brady double back, he comes over to where we’re sitting and I walk down the few rows to meet him. He puts his hands through the net and pulls me to him, our lips meeting through a hole in the netting. He kisses me while the world watches. But I don’t care. Nothing matters more than this moment.
“You did it,” I whisper.
“We did it,” he says. “Everything I do from this day forward is because we’re a we.” He looks over at my son. “All of us.”
“Come here, sport!” he yells up to Stryker.
Stryker comes down the few stairs to where I’m standing. “You won! You won!” he squeals, jumping up and down.
“Yes, we did.” He lifts up the net. “Want to come into the clubhouse with me?”
“Can I, Mommy?”
I nod my head, not having words as my eyes mist up once again.
Stryker slips under the net and Brady hoists him up onto his shoulders. “Don’t worry,” he says to me. “I’ll keep him safe.”
“I know you will.”
He starts to walk away but then he turns back. “Don’t throw away the signs. We’re keeping them.”
I smile when I watch him carefully step over the foul line as he walks Stryker to the pitcher’s mound. He stands there with my son on his shoulders, slowly turning around and absorbing every last ounce of this momentous occasion.
Murphy, Lexi and I make our way out of the stands and to the boisterous waiting area where I promptly get bombarded by reporters.
“Are you Brady Taylor’s fiancée?” one asks.
“Who is the boy?” asks another.
“How did you manage to snag the hottest bachelor in baseball?” a third one says.
I ignore their questions as we try to move away from them.
Some of the women waiting alongside us give me dirty looks and talk to each other about me.
Then two security guards walk up. “I’m Drew,” one of them says. “Brady thought you might need a little extra help today.” He escorts us to the front of the gathering crowd and past the barrier. Then the two guards stand with us until the guys come out of the clubhouse twenty minutes later.
As soon as Brady is through the door, he hoists Stryker up on his shoulders again. The reporters forget about me and go after Brady. He’s got security around him, so I’m not worried about them. I get out my phone and snap some pictures.
“Who’s the boy?” someone shouts.
Brady looks over at me and smiles. “He’s my son.”
I didn’t think I had any more happy tears to cry. I was wrong.
Murphy grabs onto me. “You have yourself quite a man there, I hope you know that.”
“I do,” I say nodding. “I do know that.”
Brady sends Stryker over to me so he can sign autographs and pose for pictures. Then he walks over and pulls me into his arms. “Come on, let’s go home.”