Excerpt: The Closer by Jason Smith

After snorting up his first-overall pick money and wrapping his Ferrari around a telephone pole, Casey’s baseball days are unambiguously over before they’ve even begun. That is, until the general manager of his hometown Toronto Blue Birds pays him a surprise visit, making an unlikely offer. The team is eager for Casey to sign, but on one condition: he is to be the personal catcher for the team’s star closer, Phil Reardon, a seven-foot-tall lumberjack of a man with a bad attitude and even worse manners. The two form a pact: Reardon will help Casey stick with the team if Casey promises unwavering loyalty. Uneasy with the terms but ultimately agreeable, Casey shakes on it, figuring no harm could come of it. But as he settles into his role on the team, it becomes clear that Reardon is hiding a secret that threatens to derail both Casey’s career and the team’s championship ambitions. Bawdy and brawling, comical and crude, The Closer offers a gritty, uncensored glimpse into the grind of professional baseball.

The Closer will be released by NoN Publishing in October 2022.

Spring Training

By the beginning of February, there were manifest signs of Spring Training’s imminent arrival. Almost everybody ­associated with the team was in town, and though some of the players had opted for condo rentals with their families over in Clearwater Beach, the majority of Casey’s new teammates were now residing at the hotel on the Birds’ dime. The steady trickle of players had pushed all the families and octogenarians out. By the end of the month, the team had taken over the entire third floor.

Now that camp was approaching, Reardon was a permanent fixture in the hotel room. He spent his evenings stretched out on his bed with his nose in some repair manual or else some other boring, overly practical text. Sometimes Casey would amuse himself by watching Reardon from across the room as his eyes darted first left, then right, then back again in a steady, unbroken rhythm, soaking up the information contained in those lines the same way Casey used to soak up lines of coke from toilet lids with rolled up twenty-dollar bills. Sometimes he would would turn on the TV and crank up the volume to see if Reardon would notice, but he never did. He just keep on reading, only pausing to lick the tip of his finger and turn the page.

At other times, the closer would shut the book violently and throw it onto the nightstand. Then he’d sit up, turn toward Casey, and just start talking about whatever thought happened to have made the mistake of wandering into his head. During these diatribes, Casey would drift in and out of the “conversation” and allow his thoughts to be carried away in some other direction. At other times, try as he might, he couldn’t help but become an active participant, and they’d spend hours just shooting the shit.

Reardon was awful curious about Casey’s time with the Cheesesteaks, back when, as far as the closer understood, the coke and hookers had been plentiful. However, Casey could never seem to satisfy him with his recollections. “Don’t you know how to tell a goddamned story?” Reardon would ask after being regaled. “When you get to the part where the truth is kind of boring, you’re supposed to just make shit up.”

When Casey called it a night, Reardon was even polite enough to leave the room and wander off to do whatever Reardonish things he did while everyone else was asleep or at work. Whenever Casey questioned Reardon about his sleep habits, the closer maintained he never slept more than four hours a night.

“On account of my condition.”

What condition that could be, Casey never was able to puzzle out. All he knew was that, by the time he woke up, Reardon would already be wide awake, brewing a cup of coffee in the room’s miniature coffeemaker, and reading the local paper dropped outside their door that morning.

For his part, Casey was usually too drunk with sleep to engage in any conversation, let alone any reading. Instead, he’d mechanically slug back a mug of black coffee while staring down at the hotel pool. From this vantage he could see past the pool to the parking lot, which might as well have been paved with gold for all the money sitting on it. There were LaFerraris, Mercedes S-Classes, BMW M models, a neon green Lamborghini Huracán, more Porsches than Casey cared to count, and many top-trimmed pick-ups. Against the backdrop of these exquisite ­automobiles, Reardon’s beat-up old Volkswagen, with its flame decals and hood scoop, was conspicuous and, frankly, absurd—a teenager’s beater amongst all these dignified examples of taste arranged around it in orderly rows. The thing was an eyesore.

Since that first drive home it had somehow been understood between the two men that Casey could catch a ride with Reardon, so long as he was ready before 09:00, and since then Casey had yet to miss the boat. It was thus a very unfortunate discovery when, on the morning that pitchers and catchers were expected to report to camp, his body woke up independently of his alarm, his phone display already reading 09:30.

He skipped the shower along with the continental breakfast and had to run in order to catch the last of the morning shuttles. As he approached the Safari, he could hear chatter inside the vehicle. Those inside must have heard him approaching, because when he arrived at the van’s side door their discussion halted abruptly. In the back sat two men identical in every detail, even down to their clothing. In fact, the only way they could be told apart were their shoes: one wore a pair of purple New Balance while the other sported the same model in lime green.

After Casey had climbed aboard and fastened himself in, the two men resumed whatever conversation they’d been having prior to his arrival. They spoke a thick, nasally French that Casey recognized as Québecois.

One of them leaned forward and tapped Casey on the shoulder. “You are the one. Casey, right?”

“That’s what they call me,” said Casey, turning around. “How’d you know.”

“Hoho, how could I forget? Your face was in all the papers, no? You’re the one who drived their auto into the pole. Yes?”

“That seems to be my claim to fame,” Casey sighed, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.

Jason Smith is both a writer and a hardcore fan of baseball. While he currently resides in Lakefield, Ontario, he was born and raised in Scarborough, and his fiction reflects the sights and sounds of the place in which he grew up. The Closer is his debut novel.