This story is by Sarah Barrick and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The t-shirt gun swiveled in my direction. Sure, I thought, it’s probably a ripped up “Death Grip” t-shirt. With my luck it’ll land in my lap.
The cameras followed the gun, and there I was, slumped behind the third-base dugout.
Beside me, my little sister gasped. “We’re on the Jumbo-Tron!”
I slumped further. The t-shirt gun thumped. Sunny gasped again.
“Rainy,” she squealed. “It’s coming right to us!”
Her excitement spurred action. I threw my hand up and grabbed just as the t-shirt bounced off the arm in front of us. I caught it. What?
My hand-eye coordination had never before allowed me to catch anything. Not a dodgeball in the hell we called PE, not a pen tossed in study hall, not a hat or scarf pitched from the closet by mom digging for a pair of gloves.
Yet, here it was. A t-shirt. Clutched in my left hand.
Surprise and delight lit Sunny’s face. “You caught it!”
I pulled my arm toward me, the black roll in the literal death grip of my clawed hand.
“Can I see it, Rainy?”
I dumped the t-shirt in Sunny’s lap. There, in neon green letters was scrawled “Seattle’s Best Seaweed Buffet.”
“Great. Advertising,” I grumbled, as black clouds rolled in.
Sunny flipped the shirt over. A bobble-headed Raoul Ibañez, one-time Mariners outfielder, pronounced Seattle’s Seaweed Buffet a “Ra-eeeel Delight!”
“Great,” I grumbled again. “I’ll have Raoul on the left boob and a conversation bubble on the right.”
Sunny held up two slips of bright green paper. “These fell out of the shirt.”
The coupons offered one free trip through the Seaweed Buffet.
“Can we go? Please, Rainy?”
“Why not, Sunny girl,” I said. “May as well make this a complete day of firsts: first baseball game, first seaweed, first catch ever, in my entire life, and it’s this crappy, three-sizes-too-large t-shirt.”
Sunny’s giggle broke through my cloudy mood. Our parents had sure hit it right when they saddled us with these crazy names.
“Hey, cool! A Ra-ooooool Ibañez t-shirt!” The voice came from behind me.
I twisted and found myself looking at a kid roughly my age. His laughing brown eyes filled a light brown face that reminded me of Sunny – it was meant to smile.
“Yep, it’s Raoul…advertising seaweed apparently.”
The smiling kid was undeterred. “Have you ever tried it?” His enthusiasm was….interesting.
“Nope. But we’re gonna,” Sunny piped up.
Smiling Kid shifted his focus and, predictably, his grin grew even wider. “Oh, yeah? When?”
“Right after the game, right, Rainy?”
“Yep,” I answered, sighing. “Right after the game, which, by the way, we’re missing right now!”
Smiling Kid and Sunny giggled at my grumpiness.
I groaned as the Padre batter sent a ball deep into right, advancing the base runner to third. With the game tied in the eighth inning, any runner in scoring position threatened to make my first Mariners game a loss.
“Great,” I grumbled. But Smiling Kid and Sunny were having none of my stormy predictions.
“Don’t worry, Rainy. We’ll hold ‘em,” Sunny promised.
“Yeah, Rainy,” Smiling Kid added, “We’ll…”
“Hold on,” I interrupted. “Who said you could call me by name?”
“Sorry,” said Smiling Kid. “I’m Sunshine.”
Sunny’s squeal drowned out my response.
“I’m Sunny!” she shrieked. “We’re like…family!”
“Oh. My. Gosh, Sunny! We don’t even know this kid.”
A sharp crack whipped my head back to the field as the ball flew in a line drive to left. The third baseman leapt, but the ball ripped over his mitt toward the outfield.
The left fielder was playing too deep to catch the ball, but one-hopped it in his bare hand and hurled it toward home in one motion. The play at home was close and the crowd collectively gasped – silent for a second – till the umpire’s fist pounded the air. Amid cheers, Seattle fielders ran toward their dugout.
Sunny grinned at Smiling Kid. “What a throw, huh?”
Smiling Kid nodded. “Yeah, but my dad would’ve caught it.”
Heat filled Smiling Kid’s cheeks and a frown teased his eyebrows, but the smile didn’t waver. “Uh, yeah, um…”
“Did your dad play professional baseball?”
“Yes,” he said, pointing at the t-shirt beneath Sunny’s feet.
My eyes traveled from t-shirt to Smiling Kid.
“Right.” I said, flatly. “Your name is Sunshine and your dad is Raoul Ibañez.”
“All true,” he smiled.
I hadn’t really looked past Smiling Kid’s sparkling eyes and contagious grin, but now he raised his lanyard.
There it was in black and white. Sunshine Ibañez. Courtesy field pass.
“Maybe we could start over. Hi, I’m Sunshine Ibañez.” Silence. “And you are…?”
“Sunny Day,” pronounced the little one, “and she’s…”
“Rainy Day. Really?” Smiling Kid was laughing now.
I wanted to wipe the smile right off that cute…wait, did I just think of Smiling Kid as cute? I shook my head and turned toward the field. In my head, I called the game: 2-2, bottom of the eighth, with the heart of the lineup coming to the plate.
Seattle’s third baseman faced the pitcher.
“His stance is a little wide.”
Before I could stop myself, I nodded. “He has too much weight on his forward foot.”
Sunshine grinned…again. “So you really know baseball?”
Sunny giggled. “Oh, she knows baseball…she just can’t catch.”
“She can catch,” Sunshine protested. “I watched her snag that t-shirt.”
Enough, already! Couldn’t the two little rays of UV light just watch the game? Storm clouds gathered.
“Oops,” said Sunny. “Time to watch the game before the thunder rolls.”
Sunshine checked out the clear sky, then caught Sunny’s warning. “Oh-h-h. Got it,” he stage-whispered, cracking the two of them up again.
Then, for a blessed second, silence. CRACK! A foul ball screamed our way. Before I could move, a leather glove appeared in front of me.
Sunshine raised his mitt in triumph, and there we were again, two smiling kids and a thunder cloud, on the Jumbotron.
The announcer was lauding Sunshine’s great catch, and all I could think was still 2-2, the windup, the pitch, a fast ball on the inside, Seager loads up, and connects. It’s a long fly ball into left, it’s going, going…
“Gone!” I screamed, as Mariner’s fans celebrated and then settled back into their seats.
Sunshine’s voice penetrated my self-constructed baseball-only zone.
“Are you still here?” I growled. “I’m trying to watch the game.”
“Yeah, it’s just…with that stance, how do you explain the homerun?”
“I think…” I hesitated, then took a deep breath, for courage. I’d never talked baseball with anyone other than my dad. “I think he shifted his from left foot just as the pitcher wound up. Did you notice?”
“Honestly, I was a little distracted,” he said, with a shy smile.
Was Smiling Kid flirting with me? Now I was distracted, and for the first time, I found it difficult to concentrate on baseball.
For as long as I could remember, baseball had been my first love. I had memorized statistics, spent hours watching MLB and Sports Center. I had learned to score a game sitting on my dad’s lap listening to radio broadcasts before dad’s cancer had reduced him to bones that threatened to break through his fragile skin. Baseball was all I had left of him.
I had spent every penny of my babysitting money on these tickets, to introduce Sunny to the game our dad loved. I guess I thought that bringing her to the game might help her feel some connection to him.
But now, in the top of the ninth, with Seattle up 3-2, here I was, flushed and flustered as Sunshine awaited my response. The pitch count was 0-1. It had been a fast ball, high in the strike zone, and I’d never even seen it coming. I didn’t do relationships; I did baseball.
“It’s just that I’ve never met someone…a girl, I mean…who really knows baseball,” Sunshine said.
“So my baseball analysis caught you by surprise?”
I was giving him a way out, but the still Smiling Kid wasn’t taking it.
“That, too,” he grinned.
Sunny had clearly had enough of the awkward conversation.
“He likes you, Rainy, okay? And she like you, too. So make a date and let’s get on with it.”
Sunny’s exasperation and audacity broke the tension.
Any other time, I would have melted into the green plastic seat in embarrassment, but Sunshine was laughing.
“It’s true,” he said. “My part anyway.” His eyebrows asked the question.
Above us, a single ray of light broke through the clouds. The pitch count was 0-2.
“So, Seaweed Buffet? After the game? Me and you?” Sunshine said.
“And me?” added Sunny, suddenly worried that her matchmaking might leave her stranded.
“Yes, you, too,” I said. “Yes,” I repeated, looking straight into the Sunshine.
The pitcher sent a fast ball right down the center. The Padre’s batter went down swinging. But Sunshine connected for a base hit, and somewhere, my dad was smiling at my first real catch.