Playing the Field: Batter Up

Playing the Field: Batter Up by J.M. Snyder
When the Wildwood Waves come to the Richmond Diamond, Rob Ritchie sneaks into the ballpark to watch them practice. He's spotted by the team's short stop, Mike Hennessey, a sexy man who takes a liking to Rob. Baseball banter turns into a date, and that evening Rob takes Mike to his favorite gay bar in the hopes of scoring a home run later in Mike's hotel room.

Somehow, amid the flirting and the sex, Rob conveniently forgets to mention he plays for the home team.

It isn't until Mike spies Rob on the baseball field facing off against the Waves that he realizes he slept with the enemy. Rob knows Mike's upset, but can he talk his way back into the short stop's bed after the game?



The pitcher runs through another couple players, then trades off with another for his own time at bat. Rob only half-watches -- most of his attention is on the guy against the cage. All Rob sees is a profile, but it’s enough to suggest the man’s not hard on the eyes. Tall, Rob likes that. Lithe, definitely a ball player, with those long arms and lean legs. Aquiline nose, square jaw, chiseled cheekbones, high brow. A crop of dusty blond hair curls behind his ears and under the brim of the baseball cap he wears.

Rob isn’t aware he’s staring until the crack of a bat sends a ball whizzing into the air and the other guy looks up, up, up, turns, following the ball, and sees Rob looking at him.

Quickly Rob leans back and downs the rest of the peanuts. He sees the ball -- a pop foul -- fly over the cage and into the upper level of stands above him, where it bounces off one of the concrete seats, arcs into the air again, and heads down.

Straight for Rob.

He scrambles out of his seat, glove ready. The ball lands a few rows behind him, so he drops the empty cup and hurries after it. Supposed to be invisible, remember? he reminds himself as he chases after the ball. Watching the team practice while you’re on break. That’s your story. Stick to it.

Behind him, from the direction of the field, he hears the squeal of hinges and groans. Someone’s coming after the ball, which means someone will speak to him, ask him what he’s doing here, who he is, what he wants ... Rob ducks between the seats and snags the ball as it rolls along the concrete floor. If he’s lucky, maybe he can head back up to the concourse and leave without incident.

He isn’t lucky.

“Hey,” a voice calls out. Rob turns -- it’s the guy from the cage. He used the door in the fencing to leave the field, in pursuit of the ball, and now stands a few steps down from Rob, hands on his hips.

This close Rob notices he’s kind of cute, even though the brim of his hat shades his eyes. Nice lips, wide mouth, even teeth. Am I staring again?

He thinks he might be.

“Hey yourself. Looking for this?” Rob tosses him the ball, which the guy catches in both hands. “I should get back.”

He doesn’t say to work, but it’s implied. But when he takes a step towards the exit, the guy comes closer. “Wait. You work here?”

Rob sort of shrugs. It isn’t no, exactly, but it really isn’t yes either. “I should go.”

The guy advances, ball held out like an offering. When Rob reaches for it, he finds his hand caught up in a hearty shake instead. “I’m Mike. Mike Hennessey, short stop. Come on, sit down a minute. You like the game?”

That’s an understatement, but Rob lets himself be led into the nearest row, where he sinks down onto the concrete bench. Mike scoots in next to him and hands over the ball. “This is yours, man. You went after it, fair and square. If this was a game --”

“It’s just practice.” Rob takes the ball anyway, and as he does, he notices an elastic support bandage wrapped around Mike’s wrist. Pushing his sunglasses up onto his forehead, he asks, “What’s wrong with your arm?”

Mike flexes his fingers. They’re long and thin like a pianist’s, with short, blunt nails and part of a star tattoo on the back of his hand, half-hidden by the bandage. “Ganglion cyst,” he explains. “I had it cut out earlier in the season and missed most of our games. You probably notice I didn’t bat.”

Rob nods. Because they’re looking at the bandage, he thinks it won’t appear too bad if he takes Mike’s arm in hand and kneads it a little. Strong, muscled. When he accidentally brushes over the thumb, Mike’s skin feels electric beneath his. “Will you be able to play this week?”

For a long moment, Mike doesn’t answer. Rob glances up and sees the baseball cap Mike wears is pushed back, exposing his eyes. Hazel, an odd shade somewhere between blue and brown, the laugh lines etched in his skin giving him the look of a permanent squint. He stares at Rob’s hand where it holds his, and bites one corner of his lower lip between his teeth. Watching, as if mesmerized. Lost in thought.

Rob suspects he isn’t the only one who felt the jolt when they touched.

With a gentle squeeze on Mike’s hand, Rob brings him back to the present. “How long are you in town?”

A slow grin spreads across Mike’s face. This close Rob realizes what he thought were shadows on Mike’s cheeks is the hint of stubble. When Mike’s eyes meet his, Rob sees his own thoughts mirrored in their bright depths. “A week or so,” he admits. “You from around here?”

“Born and raised,” Rob says. He still holds Mike’s hand. The bandage has grown warm beneath his touch.

“What’d you say to showing a new guy around tonight?” Mike asks. It sounds casual, but there’s an undercurrent to his words Rob hears loud and clear. “Maybe there’s a place we can grab a bite to eat, get to know each other a bit better. Somewhere quiet, where we can be alone ...”

Yep, Rob knows what he’s hinting at. A thrill runs through him at the thought of getting a piece of action later. “There’s a bar in the West End I think you’d like. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking ...”

That grin cranks up a notch; those eyes glisten flirtatiously. Mike curls his fingers around Rob’s. “I’m pretty sure we’re on the same wavelength here.”

“When’s practice end?” Rob asks. Not soon enough.