The Aging Hero sat on his stool and stared down at the black trunk. To anyone else, there was nothing special about that trunk. Barely larger than a suitcase – the old style suitcases, that is, not one of those stupid things with the wheels that tried to pretend to be small enough to be a carry on and not one of those monster things on wheels that took three people to haul off the conveyor belt. It was just your average sized trunk. No wheels. No telescoping handle. No side pockets. Just your run of a mill black trunk with brass hardware riveted to the corners to protect them, brass trim and a wooden handle. The original wooden handle had broken when he was a rookie and he fixed it with a piece of wood from the bat with which he had hit his first home run. He ran his hands over the World Series patch that he had riveted in place to cover a hole in the trunk. Some of the colors from the patch were bleeding out from the champagne that the trunk was splashed with in the clubhouse.
He opened the trunk and stared inside. On the inside cover, there was a sticker for every team he had ever played for, from high school, through the minors, the majors and even his stint in Japan last year. They were all there and there was no more room for any other stickers. He looked around to see if anyone was watching and then rubbed his hand along the inside of the trunk and pulled off the false wall his brother had built into it. Inside the false wall was a small piece of cardboard with a picture of him as a senior in high school glued to it. On the back were crudely written statistics. The lifetime totals were .315 average, 1721 RBI and 431 HR. He smiled when he saw the career win/loss record and lifetime era. His brother joked that he would be the next Babe Ruth when he gave him the card, but had said he would focus more on pitching throughout his career so he wouldn’t hit the number of home runs that the Babe hit. Of course, he never did pitch a single professional game. He let his thumb rub at the home run total a little bit.
His older brother had given him the trunk when he got drafted just out of high school. He had already put his high school sticker in it and had tucked the card inside the compartment as a reminder to always set goals and to go after them. “Even if you don’t reach those goals, you’ll never be lost as long as you try.” In the opposite corner of the trunk was a stack of real baseball cards held together with a rubber band. He grabbed an envelope from his locker and pulled out another card. His friend who worked at the company had sent him a preview of this years card. He flipped it over and starred for a moment at the lifetime totals listed on the back. He let his thumb rub the number 430 next to home runs and sighed. He put the card with the rest and put them back in the trunk.
He slowly took his stuff from his locker and put them in the trunk. He was tired and aching and felt like he could sleep forever. The uncertainty of his immediate future was wearing him down more than the 20-something kids with 96 mph fastballs. The club was bringing him north for the final two exhibition games. There was one spot left on the roster and he was battling some kid that played in the minors last year for it. He was out of options, both in a technical baseball sense and a career sense. There were two games left to decide whether he would continue to play or retire. Twenty one years and all he wanted was one more month…one more week…maybe even just one more at-bat. All he wanted was that one last home run.
Before closing the lid, he grabbed a handkerchief and polished a fireman’s shield on the inside wall of the trunk, opposite the false wall. He had secured it in place to cover the hole he had put in the trunk with his baseball bat the night he found out his brother had died in the line of duty. His brother was the hero…He was just the guy who hit little white balls with a stick. His brother was the one that ran into that burning home. He was just the guy that ran home. His brother was the guy that saved a little girls life. He was just a guy who’s life was saved by the sacrifices of an older brother.
He carefully made sure to clean the number on the fireman’s shield – 431. One more at bat, thought the aging ballplayer…then the rookie could get his shot. And he could retire and maybe, one day, he would get The Call…The call that would bring him, the number 431 and his brother to Cooperstown.