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“Sorry. Do you mind if I squeeze in here?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” she replied scooting over to make room. “I’ve never seen this many people at a Little League game before, have you?”

“No. But this actually the first time I’ve watched one in years so I really don’t have anything to compare it to,” he told her.

“Is your son playing?” she asked, sure he was old enough to have a son that age.

The man sort of raised his eyebrows then said, “No. I…I was just driving by and decided to stop and watch. I used to love baseball. In fact, I pretty much lived for it until high school.”

“Did you get tired of playing or something?” she asked before hollering, “Come on, Teddy! Strike him out!”

“No, not really,” he told her. “I was a pitcher and my elbow started hurting my junior year, but the real reason was discovering how much more I liked girls than baseball.”

The girl, or maybe young woman sitting next to him, laughed in an understanding way.

“Ah. I see. So girls were your downfall, huh?” she said in a humorous way.

“It was…an equitable trade,” the older man said with a faint smile. “As much as I loved playing baseball, I found that I liked girls a whole lot more.”

“And you couldn’t do both?” she asked still being very nice.

“I tend to be a bit obsessive about the things I like. Baseballs, girls, work, exercise. When I commit to something I kind of go hog wild.”

“Strike three!” the umpire called loudly.

“Atta boy, Teddy! Keep mowin’ ’em down!” she yelled.

He wasn’t sure how old the girl next to him was, but he was very sure she couldn’t possibly be the mother of a Little Leaguer. These boys (and two girls) looked be around 10 or 12 although he wasn’t sure about that, either. Regardless, it seemed very unlikely she could have even a ten-year old child.

“I take it you know the pitcher,” he said not wanting to ask if she could somehow be his mother.

“Yeah, that’s my little brother, Teddy,” she told him.

“He’s got a smooth motion and a pretty good fastball,” the man told her.

“I guess in at least one sense, my brother is like you used to be. He lives for baseball. In fact, it’s about the only thing he enjoys these days.”

The man squinted and looked at the boy on the mound and could tell he was fairly overweight as he once was, and he also was pretty sure the boy’s teeth protruded the way his once had.

He noticed the girl was glaring at the kids on the other team’s bench. They were chanting something, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. It sounded like ‘huck, huck, huck,’ or maybe ‘yuck’ but he couldn’t quite understand.

“Kids can be so cruel,” he heard her say. “I can’t understand why their coach let’s them get away with that.”

“What are they saying?” he asked.

“They’re making fun of my brother because of his teeth. They’re calling him ‘buck’ for bucked teeth, and it kills me because he’s so sensitive about it now,” she said still glaring at the other team. “There’s no way we can afford braces, but if I could, I’d get them for him tomorrow.”

“Then he and I have something else in common. My teeth were even worse when I was his age,” he told her. “I was nicknamed ‘Bucky Beaver’ from elementary school on and got razzed about it pretty much every day until the start of my senior year.”

She turned and looked at him then said, “Your teeth are perfect. You had to have had braces.”

“I did. I wore them for two years,” he told her. “I was also um…pretty heavy…and I took a lot of ribbing for that, too. You know. Fatty, fatty, two by four and a whole lot worse.”

She looked at him again then said, “That’s really hard to believe. I mean, you’re well…you’re a very nice-looking man who doesn’t seem to have an ounce of fat anywhere.”

“Oh, thanks,” he said modestly. “I owe a lot to my my parents, my orthodontist, and a wrestling coach who took a personal interest in me. I guess I owe the Navy the rest of the credit.”

His comment about the Navy went right past her.

“I wish I knew what to do for Teddy,” the girl said. “It just breaks my heart to see him hurting like this. He’s such a nice kid, but the teasing is relentless. This was the one place where he could come and forget about it, and now we’re getting this…crap…here, too. It just makes me so…angry.”

“I take it your parents aren’t here?” he asked.

“Um…no,” she said quietly. “They were both killed in a drunk-driving accident last year.”

“I’m so sorry,” the man said with utter sincerity. “I really am.”

“Thank you. I’m handling it okay now, but Teddy is still really struggling with it and then this…mess…gets piled on top of it. It’s just so unfair, you know?”

“Would you save my place?” he asked politely.

“You gotta use the restroom already?” she teased.

“I’ll be right back,” he said after smiling at her comment.

Lloyd Mullens was 43, and although that might seem ancient to a girl her age, he wasn’t old enough to need to take Flo Max or anything like bahis firmalar─▒ it. Still, it made him chuckle to think he was old enough for someone to even joke about it. She was obviously teasing, and that was fine, but more importantly she’d made him laugh, and he honestly couldn’t remember the last time he had.

The girl wasn’t model-beautiful, but she was very cute with a lean, lithe body and short, dark hair, with the brightest blue eyes he could ever remember seeing. Adding to her appeal she seemed like a genuinely pleasant person. If she was raising her little brother on her own she was also more than likely very responsible, as well. The fact that she could maintain a sense of humor through the tragedy of losing her parents on top of all that was one more huge plus in her favor.

He stood up then slowly walked around the back of the bleachers then made his way to the other side of the field. He opened the metal gate then walked right into the other team’s dugout and stood next to their coach.

“Can I help you with something, buddy?” the younger man said with a heavy dose of attitude when he saw Mullens standing next to him.

“Yes, you could. I’d like to ask you to tell your players not to pick on the other team’s pitcher for something he can’t help.”

“If you don’t get the hell out of my dugout on your own, you’re going to need help getting out,” the coach hissed.

Lloyd ignored the threat then said just as calmly, “I’m asking you nicely, coach. It’s okay to pick on something he can control, but his teeth aren’t one of them. So please ask your kids to stop, okay?”

The coach, who looked to be around 30 or so, and who was rather well built, turned toward the visitor who was a couple of inches taller and obviously quite a few years older than him, but at least equally well built if not more so.

He put his finger in Lloyd’s chest and began pushing as he spat, “Are you fucking hard of hearing, asshole?”

“Please don’t swear around these kids,” Lloyd said quietly and calmly.

“And what are you gonna fucking do it about it, asshole? Huh? That little buck-toothed-fat fuck out there pitching for the other team needs to toughen up. It’s snowflakes like you trying to coddle him that are chickifying this country I spent four years in the Army protectingÔÇösomething pissants like you wouldn’t understand!”

“The Army? I see. That explains a lot. I only spent a few years in the Navy so….”

“Oh, okay. A fucking squid. That fits. Too afraid to join the real military, huh?” the coach spat.

Teddy’s sister was watching intently, and along with everyone else, heard every word the coach said as it gradually grew quieter by the second. Her body tensed up when the coach pulled his finger back and went to jab Lloyd in the chest.

As he did he said, “So squid boyÔÇötake a hike!”

“Um, I’m also asking you nicely not to touch me again, okay?” Lloyd said with utter calm.

“You are one dumbass squid. Get lost, shit for brains!” the coach said as he drew his hand back to jab Lloyd in the chest again.

Before she could figure out what was going on, the coach’s hand went from Lloyd’s chest down to his side, and his face was screwed up in sheer agony.

It looked like his hand was pinned against leg, but if it was she couldn’t see how as Lloyd appeared to be standing there doing nothing.

In fact, the coach’s wrist was indeed being held in place and bent back to the point where it was very close to breaking, and Lloyd was doing the holding.

He held it there and said very quietly, “Don’t cry out like a little girl or I’ll break it. Nod if you understand.”

The coach nodded 2-3 times quickly and kept quiet.

“Very good. Now tell your kids to stop calling him names. Please.”

The coach had never been in that kind of pain before in his life, and although he wanted to say or do something else, all he did was grit his teeth and holler out, “Okay. Knock off the comments about their pitcher.”

Every eye in the dugout was now on them, but even the kids sitting right next to them couldn’t tell what was going on or figure out why their coach looked like he was about to cry.

“Thank you,” Lloyd said. “And please don’t let me hear you use profanity around these kids again, okay?”

He waited until the coach nodded then said, “Give me your word.”

“Okay! Okay!” he said as Lloyd increased the pressure ever so slightly.

“Well, that was easy,” he said with a smile. “Thank you for doing the right thing, and you have yourself a nice dayÔÇöcoach.”

He released the pressure, tipped his hat to the younger man, smiled, then walked away.

As Lloyd did so, the coach stood there massaging his wrist which was obviously still in pain as he stared at the man who’d just humiliated him in public although no one else really knew what had happened. The other side of the field erupted in applause as Lloyd made his way back to where he’d been sitting. He didn’t acknowledge the clapping or even look at anyone as he took his seat.

“What ka├žak iddaa in the world did you just do?” the boy’s sister asked, her eyes opened wide in disbelief.

“I politely asked him to stop the name calling, but he needed a little…persuasion,” he told her calmly.

“That guy is the biggest….” she leaned in close then said quietly, “dick…in this entire league. No one can stand him. I don’t know what you just did, but thank you.”

“My pleasure,” he replied. “We all need a little help now then, right?”

Neither of them spoke for several minutes then Lloyd leaned over and said, “You know, your brother is doing really well, but if he could throw a curveball, no one could touch him.”

“And if bullfrogs had wings….” she said with a smile. “I don’t know much about baseball and I certainly can’t teach him anything like that. If I could, I’d be happy to show him how, but….”

“I could have him throwing curve balls for strikes in half an hour,” he told her.

It was obvious to her he wasn’t bragging, he was just making a statement of fact.

“Would you…do that?” she asked not sure if he was really serious.

“Sure. I’d be happy to,” he told her.

“I know Teddy would love to learn how to throw a curveball. There’s one other Little League pitcher who’s a year older who can, and Teddy thinks he walks on water. If he could do that, too….”

“It’s not that hard. Really. I learned how in just a few minutes, and the next game I pitched, I threw a no-hitter.”

That too, was just a statement of fact.

Lloyd smiled as he remembered one kid after another chopping at the first curve balls any of them had ever seen and striking out one after the other. Seventeen out the 18 opposing batters struck out while one lucky player had weakly grounded a ball to short. Since then a pitch count had been instituted, and no one Teddy’s age could throw more than 75 in one day. It was still hypothetically possible to throw a complete game if the pitcher threw four or less balls to each batter during the six-inning game, but that was a very tough thing to do.

“I’d give anything to see my brother’s face after something like that. He’s such a sweet boy and he’s smart, too. He does really well in school, but this bullying and teasing stuff is killing him there, and it’s affecting him here now, too. So if you would do that for him, I’d be very grateful.”

“I will. Just let me know when and where,” Lloyd told her.

She sat there for a few seconds then looked back over at him and said, “Listen. Um…well, since I don’t know how else to pay you back for what you just did, we all…I mean, some of us parents or whatever….we go out for pizza after the game with the kids. You probably don’t want to hang out with a bunch of kids or with me…but I’d be happy to buy you a slice.”

The look on her face and the tone of her voice told him she was genuinely thankful, and Lloyd was touched by her kindness and generosity as well as her obvious level of maturity. He had nowhere to go and nothing to do and thought it might be kind of nice to be around other people for a change. After all, he’d stopped to watch as a way to try and begin reintegrating himself back into society so…why not?

“I like kids so that’s not the issue,” he told her.

He smiled at her then said, “I’m just wondering if an attractive young woman your age wants to hang out with a guy who, you know, has to run to the restroom all the time.”

The girl laughed loudly and apologized for her previous comment.

“I was totally kidding. You know that, right?” she said.

“I was pretty sure,” he told her. “But I am getting up there in years so….”

The girl laughed again then said, “I’m Shelby, by the way. Shelby Claypool.”

She offered him her hand so he shook it and replied, “Lloyd Mullens.”

“Nice to meet you, Lloyd,” she said as she shook his hand firmly.

She was smiling happily then glanced down and saw a wedding ring.

“Oh, I um…I didn’t know you were married. I wasn’t, you know, flirting or asking you out or anything. I just wanted to….”

Lloyd laughed politely then told her, “I knew exactly what you meant, Shelby. Besides, no cute girl your age is gonna flirt or ask a guy my age out on a date so…no problem.”

Shelby sighed loudly then said, “It has nothing to do with age. The truth is I don’t ask anyone out.”

She paused for a moment then said, “Or…get asked out for that matter. I’m not complaining, mind you. I just don’t have time to date. It’s hard enough just finding the time to get to Teddy’s games let alone have any kind of meaningful relationship.”

She smiled at him then said, “Maybe someday, right?”

“He’s lucky to have a sister who cares about him so much,” Lloyd told her.

“Yeah, I really do love that kid. I’d do anything to take away his pain,” she said forlornly.

Neither of them said much the rest of the game, but Lloyd found himself cheering for Teddy and his team and each time he struck a batter ka├žak bahis out, he and Shelby gave each other a high five.

When it ended, the score was 4-1 with Teddy’s team, the Lions, winning the game. The only run the other team scored was after a walk and then two errors in a row. Teddy only gave up two hits during the five innings he pitched and only walked two batters.

“I’ll just wait here, okay?” Lloyd said when Shelby went to collect her brother.

“Nice game, stud muffin!” she said offering him a high five.

He returned it but didn’t say anything. He did hug her back when she put her arm around him, and Lloyd heard someone call out, “Look at the little mama’s boy!”

Shelby shot the kid a dirty look but didn’t address the comment. Instead she told him she had someone she wanted him to meet.

“Who is it?” he asked as she led toward a rather large man in a ball cap sitting in the bleachers.

“Teddy? This is my new friend, Mr. Mullens. Lloyd, this is my brother, Teddy.”

Lloyd offered his hand and Teddy shook it but didn’t look at him.

“Is he your boyfriend or something?” the boy asked looking up as his sister.

“What? No! He’s just a nice man who’s going to go have pizza with usÔÇöif that’s okay,” she said her arm around his shoulders.

“I guess,” Teddy replied.

Shelby leaned down then said, “Lloyd used to be a pitcher, and he wants to show you how to throw a curve.”

Suddenly the boy’s eyes lit up, and he looked at the man now standing in front of him and said, “For reals?”

Lloyd smiled but didn’t laugh as he said, “Yep. For reals.”

“Cool!” Teddy said smiling for the first time revealing a set of protruding teeth that reminded Lloyd of his when he was that age.

His parents hadn’t had much money, and he’d put up with an ungodly amount of teasing for as long as he could remember. And like Teddy, he’d been more than a few pounds overweight. And also just like the boy standing in front of him, Lloyd had been a decent pitcher and a very good student, his two redeeming graces. The connection he felt was both strong and immediate.

“So I guess I’ll just follow you then?” Lloyd suggested.

“Sounds good. I’ve got the little blue car right over there,” she said pointing to a Ford Fiesta that looked like it might have been blue in the distant past.

“Okay. I’m in the black truck over there,” he said pointing to a 2016 Toyota Tundra with a V8 engine and four-wheel drive he’d rarely driven until retiring from the Navy two months ago.

Teddy looked over and saw the rig with tinted windows and the extended cab and said, “That is so beast! Can I ride with Mr. Mullens, Shell? Please???”

“It’s okay with me,” Lloyd said as he saw the boy forget about his teeth and smile happily again.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, I do know him, but I don’t really….know him, know him.”

“I understand. I wouldn’t let my son ride with a stranger, either,” Lloyd said as Teddy’s smile disappeared. “But…I could give you both a ride.”

“Can we? Can we, Shell? His truck is so cool!”

She looked over at her own car then said, “I don’t suppose anyone is going to try and steal that piece of junk.”

She turned to Lloyd and said, “Well, if you really don’t mind…I guess we could do that.”

Teddy immediately hollered, “Shotgun!” causing the adults to laugh.

Lloyd opened the passenger doors then helped Shelby step upÔÇöway upÔÇöinto the back but let Teddy pull himself into the front leather seats.

“Awesome!” he said as he checked out the entire cab while Lloyd walked around.

“I’ve had it for almost two years now but don’t even have 5,000 miles on it,” he said as he started it up.

“Gee, I drive that much in 2-3 months,” Shelby said.

“Do you just sit home all day and let your wife take care of you?” she teased politely.

She was smiling happily as she said it so Lloyd smiled back. He didn’t feel like explaining why that wasn’t case.

“Naw. I just retired from the military and I was gone quite a bit,” he told her instead. “Now I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”

Shelby laughed politely while Teddy got even more excited.

“Cool! What were you in? Did you drive a tank or fly jets or anything?” Teddy asked as he fastened his seat belt.

“No, nothing that cool,” Lloyd told him. “I was in the Navy and I was an enlisted guy so no jets. But I did ride on a lot of helicopters. Does that count?”

“You did?” the boy said no in awe of the man sitting next to him.

“Yes, I did. I even parachuted out of a few planes but never flew one.”

As they pulled out of the parking lot Teddy asked, “Have you every seen the movie Navy SEALS?”

“I have,” Lloyd told him. What he didn’t say was that he’d been a Navy SEAL for 25 years and that the movie was hard to watch because it was so far from the truth in too many areas. It was great for anyone who didn’t know how a SEAL team functioned, but it was too nothing but cheap entertainment for anyone who did.

“That movie was awesome! It was better than Predator or any Terminator movie or Top Gun or….”

“Teddy’s watched pretty much every action movie ever madeÔÇöseveral times,” Shelby explained.

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