Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Caryn Rose’s new novel, A Whole New Ballgame, out now on Till Victory Press. As Rose writes regularly about baseball, the fact that her novel explores that world is not a surprise; it follows a summer in the life of Laurie Nicholson, a young woman whose travels take her across the country on a ballpark-centric road trip.
Laurie flew into her apartment much later than she wanted to, way, way later than she had planned. She had missed a series of phone calls from Peter earlier in the day, but now he wasn’t answering his phone. She tried calling him as soon as she stepped out of the office, she tried again right before she got on the subway, and then again when she emerged at Graham Avenue and started rushing home. At that point it was too late, she was already in Brooklyn, but if he answered before she got too far away from the subway she was completely prepared to head back into Manhattan and meet up with him.
If she had known where to go to watch this game, the last game of the NLCS, a game the Mets had to win in order to advance to the World Series, she would have headed there. But every bar she passed between her office and the subway either had a neon Yankees logo (“the Bronx swastika,” as Eric and Peter regularly referred to it) in the window, or the television was displaying a basketball or hockey game with no sign of baseball anywhere.
Coat still on, she turned on the television and flipped to the baseball game, which was still in the first half of the first inning. This was the last game of the series, game 7. The Mets had to win or the Cardinals would go on to the World Series. Laurie knew Eric was at the game, somewhere; she knew that his phone was off and that all she could do right then was watch, and wait.
By the fifth inning, she found herself pacing the apartment. She had forgotten to get something to eat on the way home and now she didn’t want to be away from the television long enough to throw something together. She held a bag of baby carrots that she ate like popcorn as she paced back and forth in her living room.
Laurie was on her second bag of baby carrots by the sixth inning, as she watched in horror while Scott Rolen of the Cardinals hit a long fly ball that went out to left field. She was sure it was going over the bullpen wall and would score two runs. Just as her heart sank and she was putting the bag of carrots down on the coffee table, Endy Chavez, the Mets outfielder, reached his glove over the wall. And just when she was sure that the ball had gone out and the game would have putatively been over, because it would have been almost impossible for any team to come back from that, Chavez’s glove emerged back over the wall with the ball and he fired it into the infield, where the runners were tagged out and the inning ended.
Laurie’s heart was pounding and she collapsed onto the couch as the network took a commercial break. She heard a faint buzzing and then she realized it was her phone, still in her coat pocket, her coat dumped unceremoniously on the back of a kitchen chair as she’d rushed in earlier. She ran over to retrieve it and saw P. ELLIS on the caller ID.
“Hello?” she said.
“Please tell me you saw that,” he said.
“Yes, thank god,” she said.
“Where are you?”
“I tried to call you earlier. I’m watching at a bar down in Soho.”
“I called you back as soon as I got out of work but you didn’t answer.”
“Sorry, it’s loud in here.”
“I hope Eric’s okay.”
“I’m just glad he got to see that inning in person,” Peter said.
The broadcast came back to the game and almost simultaneously they both said, “Okay, talk to you later.”
Laurie reached for the bag of carrots again as the first Cardinals batter in the inning came to the plate.
She didn’t know how Eric and Peter did it all these years, she thought, the elation followed by the heartbreak, the rollercoaster, the ups and the downs. Laurie felt like her heart was breaking and the Mets weren’t even her team. The game had been tied until the top of the ninth inning, when the Cardinals scored two runs, making the score 3-1.
No matter what they tried, the Mets couldn’t come back. She sat there praying as the Mets got two men on base and then Cliff Floyd (one of Eric’s favorite players) struck out.
They got another man on, which loaded the bases, and she unconsciously crossed herself and said a Hail Mary for the first time in probably a decade as Carlos Beltran walked up to the plate. She was sure, reasonably sure, that he of all people would be able to get the Mets out of this mess, but the next thing she knew, he had struck out looking and the game was over. The Cardinals poured onto the Shea Stadium field in celebration.
At that moment Laurie realized that no matter what team she rooted for, she would hold a deep and abiding hatred for the St. Louis Cardinals for the rest of her life.