It’s late afternoon when we leave Wichita. A couple of hours earlier, while I was packing, Mike, my team manager, called and told me I’d be driving one of the three minivans home. “You’re the oldest player,” he said.
I hung up and realized what that meant: I was no longer one of the young guys, and I never would be again.
We came to Wichita to play in the NBC World Series, a baseball tournament for semi-professional teams made up of college players. During the drive from California to Kansas, I stayed silent while the other guys talked about the colleges they’d be returning to in the fall. But I had already graduated. For me, the trip was different. For me, it was a last chance.
Three months prior to the trip, I was cut from a professional team in Michigan. Playing pro-ball had always been my dream, and for a few weeks I knew what it felt like to hold that dream in my hands and call it real. When it didn’t last, I came home to California lost, ready to give it up. But then Mike called asking me to play for his semi-professional team. I said I was done with the game, that I was too frustrated. He told me to stick it out a little longer. “If we make it to Wichita,” he said, “see if any scouts talk to you.”
And so I agreed.
But Wichita didn’t work out: we lost in four games and no scout talked to me.
* * *
Within an hour of leaving, nearly everyone in my van is asleep. The empty nothingness of the Midwest passes by outside. Flat and calm, the opposite of my mind, which is constant with thoughts and worry. And fear. When I turn on the radio, John Mellencamp sings about growing up and moving on, and though I don’t believe in signs from above, I wonder if this might be one.
And so I drive. Afternoon fades away and dusk creeps along, and then night, ushered in like a bruise on the western horizon that I drive toward.
While the night darkens and the radio goes to static, I feel the tears running down my cheeks.
But that’s not the end of the story.
In New Mexico, I watch the most brilliant sunrise I’ve ever seen. Night is erased, and I find myself thinking of my girlfriend, Amanda, who is flying home that night from a study abroad trip in England.
I’ll meet her at LAX and surprise her with roses. I’ll wrap my arms around her, and I’ll realize in that moment that baseball was never my only dream.
Over the next ten years, life will continue. I’ll marry Amanda, and we’ll have two children: a son and a daughter. In that time, I’ll find a love of literature, and I’ll lose myself within characters and plots and find that these stories bring me a sense of contentment, a way to understand my world. And I’ll follow this passion like I once followed baseball, and I’ll become a teacher of literature and publish stories and books. That’s not to say all will be good in those ten years: Amanda will have four miscarriages, my mom will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and my brother will have a stroke, and this will change him and my family forever.
Often in those ten years, I’ll find myself trying to reconcile the good and the bad, and I’ll realize how that drive from Kansas gave me a microcosmic understanding of the world: You drive through the dark knowing that the light will be there eventually, and it will wrap you in its arms and allow you to understand that the darkness is not all there is. There is also hope. There is always hope.
Brandon Daily is the author of the novel A Murder Country, which was awarded the Silver Medal for the Georgia Author of the Year Award--First Novel in 2015, and The Valley, a 13th Annual Best Book Awards Finalist--Literary Fiction. His collection of short fiction Darkening will be published in the fall of 2019. His short fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and magazines. Brandon currently lives in Southern California. He supports the National Park Foundation, which seeks "to protect and enhance America’s national parks for present and future generations."