I got my baseball glove for two bucks at Goodwill. I found the Mariners cap I wear. I don't have an authentic jersey or any kind of cleats. I've never been to a major league baseball game. My mom can't afford cable, so I've only seen a few baseball games on TV.
None of that matters when I'm on the mound. Because I can pitch. I mean really pitch. If your bat isn't quick, I'm going to pour my fastball right past you, and all the money you spent trying to look like a baseball player won't do you any good. You're going down. If you do happen to have a quick bat—and not many guys do—then you might hit a soft ground ball or a little pop fly somewhere. But actually squaring up one of my fastballs and driving it far and deep? To do that to one of my pitches takes take a fast bat, a great eye, and luck.
I go to North City High, where lots of the guys come from families that are even poorer than mine. When people talk about North City, especially kids from rich neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, you'll hear them call it the armpit of Seattle. And compared to Laurelhurst, it's poor--but nobody ever calls it boring, which is what Laurelhurst is.
You walk the streets of North City and you see the world. There are guys like me and my half brother Antonio, guys whose families have been in America for a while. But lots of the people are new to America—from Africa, Asia, South America, Europe—everywhere.
Still, North City High has athletes—really good athletes. Our nickname is the Eagles, and our baseball team should have and could have soared, but I'm the only guy who truly loves baseball. The other guys don't concentrate on every play, and they don't put in the time to improve their game. I don't blame the guys from Somalia and Eritrea who don't really know the game. But even Antonio--a solid shortstop who could be great--would rather hang out with druggies like Garrett Swink than practice. He doesn't keep his head in the game, so he makes stupid errors. I got on him, but nothing changes. That's just how things are at North City High.
At the start of last season we had an okay team, but as the weeks rolled on, everybody else in our league got better and we got worse. Our left fielder, Trey Lister, was ineligible after he flunked all his midterms. Our third baseman, Rafer Valdez, stopped coming to practice and got kicked off the team. Ty Hinton, a guy who could hit for power, moved away without telling anyone he was leaving, not even his girlfriend. By May first, we had just eleven players left, and May mattered.
At least to me I did--because that was when we were going to play the Laurelhurst High Cougars.
Their star was a kid named Ian Brooks, a centerfielder who was All-league as a freshman, All-state as a sophomore, and was probably going to be Player of the Year as a junior. He had all five tools: he hit for average, he hit for power, he ran like the wind, he caught everything that came anywhere near him, and he had such a great arm that—whenever Laurelhurst played somebody tough—they had him pitch.
It seemed like every couple of weeks the Seattle Times ran an article about him, and I read them all. I knew his height, his weight, his time in the fifty-yard dash. I knew the college scholarships that had been dangled in front of him: Arizona State, UCLA, USC, and a half dozen other top schools were waiting for his decision. And I knew there was something not completely right about the guy, too. The reporter always threw in a line from some coach like When he matures . . . or Once he learns better focus . . . or With improved practice habits . . . Nobody coach said stuff like that about me.
I probably sound like some sort of stalker, but it wasn't that. Brooks had major league potential. That's what everybody said. He destroyed all the pitchers he faced. Even when they got him out, he hit the ball hard. He didn't know me at all; nobody did. We lost most of our games because of errors, mental and physical. Why should the Seattle Times writer pay any attention to me.
Whenever Ian Brooks played, the eyes of baseball were on Ian Brooks. The Seattle Times writer would be there, and probably some major league scouts. It was just another game for him; it was the chance of a lifetime for me.