The Game Changer The Final Score
Author:L.M. Trio

chapter 7


I got through it, and I’m ready to take my life back, I say to myself the moment I open my eyes on the morning of August 20. Immediately following my talk with Mikey, I know I need help in coping with my feelings. I’m still battling the same demons over and over; three good days to four bad. I sit down with my mom, dad and Deanna, and confess to them what is going on with me. I tell them how I’m trying to work it out on my own, not wanting to burden them with more of my crap, but in return, all I’m doing is alienating everyone around me. I tell them how I’m struggling with being home and how I don’t feel as if I belong.

To my surprise, relief is written all over their faces. This is the breakthrough they’ve been waiting on since I came home. With my family’s support, along with the Rays’ organization, they get me the help I need.

I begin to work with a therapist to help me come to terms with everything that happened. I’m having a hard time forgiving myself. No matter how you look at it, I had taken a life. I pushed everyone I loved away, thinking I didn’t deserve them. More than anything, I hate what I did to JJ. I knew I should have tried to make things right with her, but I didn’t quite understand how to deal with what happened to me. I had to forgive myself first. After awhile, I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Rays’ organization has been calling. They’ve seen my pitching and want me back as soon as I’m released. Even though my pitching looks good, I know that mentally, I’m not ready to be thrown back in the spotlight.

Coach Brigg’s, my high school coach, stops by to see me. Apparently, he noticed that I was addicted to watching the guys at summer camp.

“So what did you think of my new lefty?” he asks.

“What new lefty?” I laugh, trying to pretend I didn’t know what he was talking about. He gives me a look, telling me that he knew that I was watching. “His hips; he’s using too much upper body and not enough lower. He’ll get more velocity if he rotates his hip just a bit more,” I answer.

“I could have used you this summer,” he says, smiling, knowing I was right on target.

“I can’t imagine what those guys must think of me now,” I say.

“They think you’re a superstar, that’s what they think,” he answers.

I smile. It makes me feel good to know that people still believe in me and offer their support. I continue getting my mind stronger.


The day after my release date, the Rays evaluate me, both mentally and physically. Thankfully, I pass both. Immediately they place me with the Hudson Valley Renegades.

While there, I get word from Mikey, telling me he’s been called up to the majors. I’m happy for him and it gives me the incentive to work harder than ever.

I’m able to attend two out of the three games he plays at Yankee Stadium. The feeling I get, walking into the stadium, is a feeling you can never imagine as I see Mikey standing before me in the locker room in a Rays’ uniform. He made it. I’m proud of him. Now I, too, am working towards the same goal.

After the game, I’m standing outside of the dugout with the other members of the organization, waiting to congratulate Mikey as he makes his way off the field after being interviewed. The Rays beat the Yankees two out of the three games, and Mikey is putting up some pretty impressive numbers; especially in this game. He put the Rays in the lead, giving them the win. I’m blindsided by an ESPN reporter who begins to interview me live on camera. I look around for someone to bail me out, but no one seems to notice. I face my biggest fear, being questioned about my ordeal. I barely get through it, but manage to keep my composure, answer the questions, and shift the conversation back to today’s game.

Thankfully, one of the managers notices my uneasiness and politely intervenes, giving me the opportunity to make my escape to the locker room.



I gather up a few friends to head over to the Sports Zone to watch Mikey’s game against the Yankees. It’s exciting watching him play on TV, and he’s on fire once again. The Rays are down 4-3 in the top of the ninth with two outs and a man on first. Mikey’s up to bat. As they discuss his impressive numbers, he hits the ball into the bleachers over center field, giving the Rays a two-run homer. The Rays hold the Yankees and keep their 5-4 lead for the win.

I watch the TV over the bar as Mikey is interviewed after the game. He talks about how awesome it is to be playing at Yankee Stadium and how happy he is to have his family and friends there to support him. Once the interview is over, I turn my attention back to my friends as we finish up our drinks and talk. As I’m talking, I glance up at one of the TVs over the bar, behind Frank’s head. I freeze, my body goes cold and my heart starts to pound. Four TVs are all showing the same interview. In the blue banner at the bottom of the screen, it reads: LUKE DI’ANGELO.

I don’t recognize him at first. It’s not that he looks different it’s just that I’m not expecting to see him on TV. He’s wearing dark sunglasses, his hair is a bit longer, and he has a five o’clock shadow. Luke was always clean shaven. I always thought he was big, but now, seeing him on TV, he appears larger. I barely notice that my body is trembling. He seems older. His smile is strained. I try to listen to the sound of his voice, but my heart is making too much noise and I’m unable to hear what he’s saying.

He seems uncomfortable with the interview. I don’t remember seeing him uncomfortable in an interview before. I try taking everything about him in. He looks healthy… and handsome. His white, button down, cotton shirt reveals his tanned, muscular forearms. I want to see his eyes… I want to know if he’s okay. I would know, if only I could see his eyes, but the dark glasses make it impossible.

The only words I’m able to understand are that he says he’s happy to be back. I don’t feel the tears running down my cheeks or know that Mya and Frank are watching me until I hear Frank’s voice.

“Jesse, are you okay?” he asks while glancing back over his shoulder at the screen.

“Yeah… I’m… I’m fine… I need some air,” I stutter, standing up and looking to Mya.

Mya, too, glances up at the screen, seeing Luke finish up with his interview. She stands up and tells everyone we will be back in a minute.

“Jess, that’s him, huh?” she whispers as we head out the door.

Once outside, I prop myself against the wall for support and try to catch my breath. Mya is the only one I ever told about Luke, besides Mikey and Deanna. It was during our freshman year of school, back when we used to lay around in our beds all day in-between classes. Mya would tell me about her miserable life and I would match it with my own. Mya knows how much I was affected by him. We haven’t discussed him in over a year, but I’m guessing she figured it out by my reaction.

Mya doesn’t say a word; she just lets me be until I’m able to catch my breath. After awhile, she asks if I’m okay. I nod and we head back into the bar to our table. Once inside, the TVs are now tuned in to another game. I ask Frank if he is ready to leave. By the look on his face, I can tell I owe him some type of explanation.

After stepping out of the bar, Frank asks if I’m alright. I think about lying and saying I feel sick, but instead, I decide to be honest. The sun is disappearing behind the buildings. The air is warm, but a chill runs through my body. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with air. It feels as if my throat is closed and I’m unable to breathe.

I take a few more deep breaths, hoping that once I start breathing, the piercing pain in my heart will subside. We find a bench and I decide to sit for a moment, Frank sits beside me.

“Yes, I’m fine. I was caught off guard.”

“You’re face went white as if you had seen a ghost.”

“Something like that,” I reply, giving him a half-hearted smile. “That was Deanna’s brother, Luke, on TV. I haven’t seen him in a really long time.”

“I know who he is, only I didn’t realize it was Deanna’s brother. There used to be a lot of hype about him and Mikey the year they were drafted. I take it, he was important to you?” he asks softly.

“Yes… very. At one time, we were very important to each other. I haven’t seen or heard from him in over two years.” I could tell I surprised him by my confession and suddenly it felt awkward sitting here with him, talking about this.

“I’m sorry. I read what happened to him.”

“I was there, with him, the day it happened… It was horrible… It was a terrible accident,” I say, remembering that afternoon in the parking lot. “Anyway, things didn’t end very well for him, or us. I thought we would always be in each others’ lives, but that changed when he left,” I say, looking away.

“Did it? I mean, it looks as though he is on his way back.”

“Do you mean, on his way back to baseball, or on his way back to me?” I ask, confused by his statement.

“Maybe both,” he responds quietly.

“Well, it seems as though he’s returned to baseball. But me? No. That chapter is closed. Our lives have taken us in different directions and we are not the same people we were then,” I answer definitively.

“But he didn’t leave by choice.”

“No, he may not have had a choice about going away, but he did have a choice about leaving me. I thought he would write, make things better between us, even if it was just to remain friends. We were such good friends before we were… you know… but he never did. He’s been home since spring; he hasn’t tried to contact me.”

“He knows you’re here?”

“Of course. His family lives across the street from my home in Jersey… I mean directly across the street. Our parents are friends. I would have known if he wanted to see me.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“I’ve moved past it… I came to terms with it a while ago. It just took me off guard seeing him for the first time today. He’s not the same person I knew.”

“Well, given what he’s been through, I’d imagine it could change you. I appreciate you opening up to me. It gives me a little more insight about you.”

I try to offer a smile as we rise from the bench and he puts his arm around my shoulder as we walk towards my apartment.

“You’re very guarded, you know? You never talk about your personal life,” he says, joking with me.

“Well, there you go. You got an earful tonight.” I laugh, realizing I do not mind that his arm is around me. It feels good to be able to talk about it with someone.

As we reach my apartment, I remind him that I have class on Monday and I won’t be in to work until Tuesday. While we talk, I feel the need to assure him that I’ve had a nice time with him the last couple of days. He kisses me softly on my cheek before leaving, just as he did after the game the other night.

Mya is waiting on the couch when I walk in.

“Is everything alright? I came right home. I thought maybe you needed me.”

“Yes, I’m fine. I was just shocked seeing him and all. I told Frank; it felt good to get it out. I’ve kept it in for so long, you’re the only one I ever told about him.”

“Good for you, I like Frank.”

“Me, too,” I reply before retreating to my room. I hope the pain I feel will soon fade once again, so that I can move on with my current life.



I was with the Renegades for two weeks before being called up to Double A just in time for playoffs. I feel good and I’m definitely getting stronger, mentally and physically. The Rays have been great to me. Since the interview, they’ve been very guarded and strict as to who is allowed to interview me. They’ve coached me on how to field their questions and if I find myself stuck, they taught me how to steer the conversation towards something more positive.

Mikey made a few calls to his former teammates and they greeted me as if I’d been a part of their team all season. I would love to play with Mikey again, but for now, my goal is to push forward day-by-day. I’m dominating the field like I have in the past and manage three shut-outs in my last five games.

I’m determined more than ever to have it all back, including JJ. However, right now my main focus needs to be on baseball. My loyalty is with this organization. They’ve helped me and stood by me through this whole thing. They could have easily dropped me after everything that happened. I want to prove to them that they are right for believing in me. Once I have the confidence of having my career back on track, then I will face JJ. Besides, I just got word that I’m to report to camp in Florida as soon as my season is over.



Frank surprises me when I arrive at work on Tuesday. He’s giving me top billing on his next art show. It’s scheduled to take place in early October. Besides me, there are a couple of other local artists that will be participating, but I’ll be listed as the featured artist on the billboard and advertisements. I’m ecstatic by the news and without thinking I hug Frank tightly and kiss him on the lips. Thankfully, he doesn’t make a big deal of it, laughing and telling me that I’ve earned the opportunity. I already know of three paintings that I would like to display while Frank tells me of at least another three he prefers for the show. I cut back on my schedule at The Blue Martini in order to dedicate more time to my painting; appreciative to have the work to keep me busy.

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