Episode 56 — Chapters 62 & 63
April 15, 16, 17
Atlanta at Miami
The force of hot water streaming onto the top of his head felt soothing and comforting; it helped rouse him after another restless night of sleep. He had spent yet another game gathering splinters on the bench, watching the Braves and Fournier beat the Marlins in the first game of the series. Cobb reflected on the first time he had experienced the sensation of a hot shower; it had been during his first year with the Tigers when he had stayed at the Palmer House in Chicago—it hadn’t been much more than a light spray, but it had been a sensory sensation he had never forgotten. He lathered his head with shampoo and began rinsing when he heard a muffled ringing sound. He turned the water off.
The phone inside his room was ringing.
Still naked and dripping with water, Cobb grabbed a towel and hurried to the phone.
“Ty, it’s Savannah. How are you?”
“I’m all right,” Cobb breathed a sigh of relief to finally hear her voice again. “I’ve been trying to reach you.”
“I know, I got your message and tried to catch you in New York. I’m glad I finally tracked you down. So tell me, how are you?”
The line went silent for a moment and Cobb searched for what to say. “I don’t know, Savannah. I feel lost here. You probably noticed from the box scores, I haven’t played a lick during the past few games. I’m not welcome here. Carpenter and my teammates want me gone.”
“Carpenter is such an idiot not to use you. Bolt would do well to fire him.”
“I just feel I’m wastin’ my time, when I should be doin’ everything possible to find my way back… try to find my family…”
“I know, Ty. But you need to hang in there a bit longer. I think Carpenter’s on thin ice—there’s a lot of speculation that he won’t last long, especially if the Braves don’t start winning.”
“Well, they’ve won the last couple of games without any help on my part.”
“Look, Ty, you’ve only been on the team a little over a week. Things are bound to change for the better. You’ll see. They can’t keep a talent like you under wraps.”
“We’ll see, I reckon. So, enough about my troubles, how are things with you?”
“Well, after the splash of the anniversary article–thanks to you–I’ve been very busy here.”
“I’m happy for you,” Cobb paused for a moment. “Any chance I’ll see you soon?” He regretted the remarks as soon as the words emerged, fearing it made him look weak and dependent. “I mean, it would be nice to see you again.”
“I would love that,” Savannah responded enthusiastically, brightening Cobb’s mood.
There was an awkward pause.
“I wonder when the Braves play in St. Louis,” Savannah finally said.
“I don’t have any idea.”
“Hold on. I can check it on my phone.” A few more seconds passed. “Oh my Lord! They don’t come here until July. That’s the Braves’ only trip here all year. I guess that makes sense, since the Cards are in a different division.”
“That’s three months from now,” Cobb said in a plaintive voice.
“We will definitely connect before that, I promise. What I need to do is get you a mobile phone, so we can communicate more easily. I’ll bring you one the next time I see you.”
“When do you think that will be?” Cobb grimaced as soon as the words came out; he felt so pathetic and feeble.
“I’ll check my schedule and let you know. Now, I want you to stay positive. Give things more time. Just make sure you’re ready when your number’s called.”
Hanging up the phone, Cobb felt more distant than ever from Savannah. Her career was on the rise and it was clear she had little time for him.
Savannah pounded the pedals hard on her stationary bike at the fitness center on the second floor of the Sport Resort high rise; that was one of the perks of working for the sports magazine, complimentary use of the extensive and well-equipped exercise room. Her mobile phone started vibrating twenty minutes into her run, interrupting the morning sports talk radio show of Victor Pope. She looked at her cell phone and, for a split second, didn’t recognize the name: Ike Hughes. Then it dawned on her. Of course, the coach of the Georgian Bulldogs. She stepped off the bike, grabbed a towel, and spoke into her headset, still breathing hard.
“Hello, Savannah Cain speaking.”
“Hi, Miss Cain. Coach Hughes here. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I’ve had my hands full readying the team for the spring season. What can I do for you?”
“Well, as I said in my message, I’m a journalist from Sport Report. Sorry,” Savannah said between breaths. “Sorry, I’ve been working out.” She walked into an empty handball court a short distance away to lessen the outside noise.
“No problem. I wanted to tell you I enjoyed your article about how the game has changed over the past hundred years. Right on point, in my opinion.”
“Thank you, coach. I was hoping to discuss one of your former players, Chase Ripley.”
Hughes chuckled. “Yeah, I heard some media-types were suggesting he’s this Ty Cobb fellow. Pretty hilarious, if you ask me.”
“Oh, I don’t think anyone has taken that seriously. But I was wondering if you know where Ripley is? He was apparently an extraordinarily talented player, but I can’t track him down anywhere.”
“Fabulous talent, but a tormented soul. I don’t know how much you know about him.”
“Nothing at all, really.”
“You’re not going to quote me, are you?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.”
“Well, off the record, Chase had one of those fathers we see from time to time in sports, who try to live their dream through the son. But this guy was apparently way over-the-top. I don’t think Chase had any joy playing the game at all. That’s probably why he left the team after his father passed away. He didn’t exactly say that, he rarely said much at all. He just told me, ‘My heart’s not in it.’ Believe me, I did my best to talk him out of it—I’ve never come across a player with more talent. He told me he was through with baseball, period.”
“Through? Wow! What a shame.”
“Chase was raised in a batting cage. He told me once how he’d bat until his hands were bleeding when he was a young kid. Nothing seemed good enough for his father. I remember back-to-back games where Chase didn’t make an out. He told me afterwards, ‘At least my dad hasn’t chewed me out during the last two days.’ I didn’t think much of it at the time, but a week later Chase went three for four; he struck out with the tying and winning runs on base for the final out. I was sitting on the bus on the ride back to the hotel… and he was on the phone talking to his old man. You could tell his father was reaming him for the strikeout, forgetting that Chase had put us in a position to win the game by earlier driving in four runs. It was a terrible thing, listening to Chase endure a tongue-lashing when he’d played a fabulous game. I’ll never forget the hurt and humiliation painted on his face. He was nearly in tears.”
Savannah shuddered. “How awful! I can’t imagine a parent treating a child like that. Have you heard from him since he left the team?”
“No, but I wouldn’t have expected him to check in with me. I think he wants to close that chapter on his life and anything else that reminds him of it.”
Savannah paused for a moment, “Is there anything else about him you might share with me?”
“Well, I’ll say this, Chase had great baseball instincts. Would have made a fine major leaguer someday. Maybe even an All-Star. But he was not a happy guy. He was a haunted, troubled kid. He worked hard at the game; but that’s all it was for him—work. You know, most guys who’ve played for me really love the game. Not Chase. For him, it was all about pleasing his old man. Always wondered what he could have done, what he might’ve become, if he’d had a real passion for the game.”
“How’d he get along with his teammates?”
“He was a loner. Didn’t easily make friends. Other than Gil Garcia, our third baseman, he didn’t have any real friends. Had a short fuse, though. God, I remember him blowing up when someone smeared peanut butter on his clean underwear before a game. His teammates learned never to monkey with him again.”
“Does he have any other family?”
“Not to my knowledge. I know he was an only child. I don’t think he had any relationship with his mother.”
Savannah thanked the coach for his time. Seemed like just another kid whose father pushed too hard; there were countless examples of that in sports. Savannah recalled how shocked she had been years before by Andre Agassi’s autobiography, when he opened the book by explaining how much he hated tennis, due to his father’s obsession to make him a star. It was a plague too common in sports.