The Might Have Been - By Joe Schuster

Chapter One

A long while later—after the accident that would shape his life in ways he wouldn’t understand for decades—Edward Everett Yates would feel sorry for the naïve young man he was then, the one who mistook that summer as the reward for so many years of faith and perseverance.

He turned twenty-seven and was lean and fast, in his tenth year of professional ball, playing left field for the Cardinals’ triple-A team in Springfield, Illinois—well past the age of many of his teammates, who were not much more than boys, twenty, twenty-one, with acne on their chin, two years removed from borrowing their daddy’s car for the prom. One—a nineteen-year-old, rail-thin left-hander with a wicked slider—still had a voice that broke an octave higher when he talked.

Nearly everyone he had begun with a decade earlier had moved on, up and out of the minors or out of the game itself. His roommate from rookie ball, Danny Matthias—a weak-hitting catcher—was in his fourth year with the Milwaukee Brewers, despite averages near .200. But catchers who had the confidence of a pitching staff were rare; singles-hitting outfielders like Edward Everett were not. The previous December, when Danny and his wife sent him a Christmas card, Danny had enclosed one of his baseball cards and written, “The best-looking backup catcher in America.” He’d meant it as a joke, but Edward Everett was envious nonetheless, imagining boys throughout America opening a pack of Topps and finding Danny’s glossy face dusted with sugar from the gum, along with Reggie Jackson and Hank Aaron.

The others—those who had lost patience and faith—had been back in the World for years, selling real estate or tires, finishing college, starting families. One enlisted after his brother died in Vietnam and came back minus a leg, long-haired and strident, on the evening news in his wheelchair, burning a flag.

He woke up that season, found some capacity he hadn’t in previous years when he’d played well enough to stick but not enough to push past the wall that separated the minor leagues from the majors. In the first game, he had four hits in five at-bats against Tuscaloosa, two doubles, a triple and a bunt single in the ninth, when he noticed the third baseman playing back on the outfield grass. From then on, he played what the sports columnist in the State Journal Register termed “inspired ball,” with a sureness that surprised him, settling in to what they all called a “zone” at the plate, see the ball, hit the ball, seeing nuances in a pitcher’s motion he hadn’t noticed before, often having a sense of exactly where a pitch would go and how it would move—up, in, down, out—seeming to see it even before the pitcher released it as surely as if he were living a fifth of a second ahead of everyone else on the field.

He was dating a girl named Julie, a twenty-year-old sophomore at Springfield College, who talked to him about auras, ideas he listened to because he knew if he seemed to pay attention he’d get her into bed. But as the season progressed, he wondered if he’d been wrong to dismiss her notions, because once in a while, standing at the plate, digging his spikes into the Midwestern soil and settling into his stance, he felt that in some way the entire ballpark was an extension of himself.

By the end of June, he was batting .409, forty-five points higher than the next best average, and on the third of July, after a five–four victory in Omaha, in which he caught the final out by leaping against the fence and extending his glove a good foot above the top of the wall to bring back what would have been a three-run home run, his manager called him into his office.

Three decades into his future, after he came to understand the full meaning of that moment, Edward Everett would remember it with rare clarity. And why not? He had imagined it ever since he was a boy, imagined it before falling asleep while he listened to Bob Prince and Jim Woods calling Pirates games on his transistor radio, imagined it as he knelt at Mass when he should have concentrated on the sufferings of Christ on the cross, even imagined it once while he was making out with a girl at a bonfire the October he was sixteen: noticing the shedding poplars silhouetted by the fire, he remembered that the Dodgers were playing the Twins in the Series that