Thursday, April 2, 2020

Write or Die

A couple months ago I decided to enter a writing contest through the Chickasaw Nation. If that seems random, allow me to explain that through my mother's side each of us are citizens of the Chickasaw Nation and on the Dawes Rolls. Because the Chickasaws have been so, so good to me over the years I always try to vote in the elections and be as active as I can living outside of the nation's boundaries.

That being said I entered the Anoli' Creative Writing Contest. Today I was informed I got 2nd place! Of course I am elated, although admittedly I would always want to be first. :) The Chickasaw Nation may choose to publish the winning entries this fall, but I do retain all rights to my work. is the 2nd (should've been 1st) place entry in this year's Chickasaw Nation Anoli' Creative Writing Contest. (Original work by me---did steal some small truths from some of the guys we know)

The Grind

By Avery Pullin

Idiot. I just threw two strikes on the paint, lighting it close to 93. I need to throw my curve. I’m solid with my curve. And this idiot is calling a slider? I haven’t thrown my slider all season. Let’s get out of this game and on the road.

I shake my head wanting him to see in my eyes the cuss words running through my head for him.

A changeup? You gotta be kidding me, Golder. How are you here?

It’s the bottom of the ninth, and although I’m usually middle relief I’m closing tonight. We have two outs and the only runner on base I inherited from the new guy who just got moved up from Low A. He didn’t even make it a third of an inning. Young guys. They always think they’re something until they get here. Especially hotshots like him drafted out of high school.

I shake off Golder until he calls my curveball.


Ball game. I come off the mound beaming. I’m shocked when I hear the 14 fans in the crowd explode into applause. Then I see Sammy the Seagull and Rusty the Fishhook on top of the home dugout doing a bobblehead giveaway of one of the Astros players. I shake my head. I barely remember when fans came to watch me play baseball.

Winning tonight put us one game ahead of the Hooks for this half of the season. Golder marches in complaining about what in the world I threw him with that last pitch. “A strike. I threw a strike.” I walk off.

In the locker room my bullpen buddies pat me on the back. Like me they’re thankful to get out of the blistering heat and humidity of Corpus Christi. It is time to go home, wherever that is anymore.

This is my fourth season in minor league baseball. I have consumed approximately twelve hundred peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a few homemade meals from my host family, “food” the clubbie makes and one dragonfly hamburger. The burger wasn’t bad after I pulled off the dragonfly, but I didn’t realize I left a wing until I got extra crunch in that one bite.

A quick shower and back to the bus. It has been a long road trip, and I am ready to sleep all the way back to Midland. Gosh. All I can think is that if I don’t sleep on this trip, the little guy I share a house with will be up playing Legos about 2 hours after we roll into town. I like the kid. I might even love him. But how he can make Legos the loudest toy in the universe at 7 am is about the most annoying thing in my life.

My host family really is great. I make $1,500 a month for a few months a year, so I do appreciate that they let me stay there for free. They even make meals. My host mom is a little over the top always wanting to come say hi after the games and pretends to take a picture of me with the kids. I know she just wants to chat with my teammates. She doesn’t realize how old she is now. But they’re great. They are really great. At least my host dad gets me on the golf course during the All-Star break. And they have casseroles stocked for me. Most of the time.

I had just dozed off when the lights of Buc-ee’s startled me. Thank, God. The only two good things about the Texas League is the occasional Buc-ee’s stop and Whataburger. Other than that these road trips are a grind. Finish a game, shower, get on bus for 10 hours. Every week. Just when I think I hate minor league baseball and bus trips with guys playing poker at 3 am and I have a draft email to my agent I’m about to send, we always manage to pull into Buc-ee’s.

I spend more time than is appropriate smelling the cleanness of the Buc-ee’s bathroom. Minor league clubhouses sound like they’d be fun with buddies joking around and playing baseball all day. In reality they are about as sanitary as a sewer line. No. Sometimes I’d rather change in the sewer line.

This clean bathroom gets me every time, and I run out with barely enough time to grab some beaver nuggets for the rest of the trip. I had 10 bucks left, but the nuggets were worth it. Might as well spend the last six on one hand of poker. I’ll get paid in two weeks. That’ll be the paycheck I save for school next semester.

Oh, yeah. I’m still in school. I spent four years playing for the LSU Tigers. We made two college world series appearances. I shined in Omaha my last year. But it was my last year, at least in eligibility, and teams knew that. The A’s took me in the 8th round, gave me a $9,000 signing bonus, and said they’d pay for college. I didn’t know a) how fast $9,000 goes and b) that “paying for college” had a limit.

I’m surprised when I see a text from my girlfriend. She is usually asleep by this time. After college she did the successful thing and started working at a bank. She’s smart. She’s beautiful. In college I loved her because she kept me humble, reminding me I maybe wasn’t the stud ESPN raved about. In the minor leagues I keep loving her because she is about the only person I know who stays up to listen to my games. Her and my parents. Everyone else has pretty much forgotten the All-SEC kid from 4 years ago. Now she reminds me that the grind will one day be worth it and that I really am what they always said all those years ago.

Life has become two seasons. Baseball and the off-season. I get frustrated because I hate them both. During baseball season I want to be back home in Mobile working a 9-5, getting married, chilling with my friends. Then off-season comes, and I spend my days paying someone more to train me than I make actually doing the job I’m training for. And, well, I miss the grind. For the life of me I don’t know why I miss chugging expired milk from my ice chest. I guess I was born for this. At the end of the day being poor playing baseball during the season is better than being poor as a host at Applebee’s during the off-season.

That’s right. I’m 25 years old, a full grown man, and I’m not even a server. It used to embarrass me when tables asked for refills, and I had to go get the college freshman to take their order. Now I just go with it. If they find out I play professional baseball, sometimes they get excited and want to talk. Once I tell them we grill cheap steaks on an electric gridle in the hotel bathroom and I park my ‘07 Nissan Versa next to one of the 40-man guy’s Range Rover, they lose interest.  

“Wake up, Shortstop!” I hear as Tuesday punches me in the arm. I’m not a shortstop. I actually have never played shortstop in my life. Not a single inning. But my dad was my high school coach, and I’ve caught crap ever since. Only coaches’ kids play shortstop.

For what it’s worth, my buddy’s name isn’t Tuesday. His last name is Mundee, but we can’t call anyone by their actual name. This. Is. Baseball.

I slap the door frame of the bus as I climb off. I have to. I did it once in 9th grade after throwing in my first varsity game. I had pitched three innings with no runs and 4 strikeouts, so in excitement I slapped the door frame of the bus when we got home that night. I have had to do it ever since. I can’t not do it.

My beaver nuggets didn’t fill me up like I had hoped. It’s four in the morning when I try to tiptoe with my travel bags through my host family’s house. I’m starving. I pass the refrigerator on the way to my room. I sit on the bed trying to remember where we were last night. I can’t get over my hunger. I decide to raid the refrigerator. Afterall, they said to make myself feel at home.

Bingo! My host mom has a casserole sitting front and center. She knew I was coming home! Sometimes I am so thankful she tries to be the cool host mom. God, I feel sorry for her kids when they get to be 14. But they won’t go hungry. These casseroles are amazing. They’re the kind you get at the Baptist church on potluck day. I pull out the casserole and grab a fork. I don’t even need a plate.

Beans? A whole freaking pan of beans? Why is this woman wacko?

I look back into the refrigerator. Absolutely nothing else except sliced cheese. I grab two slices and go back to my room.

I am completely zonked in the middle of the best sleep of my life. I hear my phone buzz, but even my girlfriend will have to wait. And now there go the Legos, straight for the wall I share with the playroom. My sleep is ruined.

When I grab my phone to call my girlfriend back, I see it was our manager. Crap.

I can barely breathe as I call him back. Am I getting released? Just because I won’t throw my slider?

“Shortstop, pack your stuff.” I knew it. This is it. I try to hold back the tears. “You’re heading to Las Vegas. Flight is at 2:00 this afternoon. Congratulations!” I sit in shock. I just got called up to Triple-A.

It is bittersweet saying goodbye to my host family. Little guy gives me a fist bump, and I make him promise to come watch me later that summer. My host mom won’t quit crying like I’m her actual child and I just died. My host dad shakes my hand and offers me a ride to the airport. I accept. It’s then I realize they are the only people I know in this entire town. I don’t know anyone in Las Vegas. Man, this might be harder than I expected.

Triple-A is better than Double-A. We take a plane everywhere and not a bus. Our pay is a tad higher. Guys in the major leagues come down for a game or two at a time for various reasons, and they usually cater a nice meal. And I am one step. One solitary step from the show.

Two days into my Triple-A career and the manager called down and said a few choice words about my backside and to get it up and move. I scrambled. Words will never describe my love of the adrenaline that runs through me when I’m warming up in the bullpen. My first Triple-A game. We are in Salt Lake, and I don’t even know if I’m breathing as I trot to the mound.

Strike. Ball. Ball. Strike. Home Run.

Dang. That ball flew really far.

This happens three more times before I get my first out. With that I’m pulled. At least I struck out one guy. And, well, I didn’t let the guy behind me inherit any runners. Baseball is all about almost every statistic except the final score, so you can make it look any way you want. All in all it was a rough night. I’m pretty sure the balls were juiced. Or maybe it was the elevation. I know it probably wasn’t me. I am actually a great pitcher. I am really something. At least I was until I got here.

Gosh, I love baseball.