On the road Avery and Sanders have turned their teammates on to the handheld Nintendo system called Game Boy. What he plays is what he is. They call him the Kid, but Avery really is—always has been—Game Boy. His first nickname was Kanga, because as an eight-year-old he challenged all comers in the neighborhood to footraces: They could run, he would hop. On Saturday nights, in the driveway with a basketball, he played one-on-one all by himself, keeping score for two teams in make-believe megatilts. When his father gave him a baseball glove for his sixth birthday, Steve cried—until Dad exchanged it for a soccer ball. When he finally fell hard for baseball, the frail boy would pile Wiffle balls in his front yard, hit them over the roof of his house and repeat the process from his backyard, hour upon hour.
"He's very single-minded," says his father. "Extremely stubborn. But he can also set things aside. That's how he survived 1990." The boy was called to the big leagues in June of that year, two years out of high school, and suffered through a 3-11 season for a hideous Braves club. "Anyone who hasn't gone through something like that before is going to think. Maybe I don't belong here," says Avery. "I never doubted my ability, but I didn't know if I was ready yet."
Such are the experiences that have made Steve Avery the person he is today, and today that person is Bret Saberhagen. Avery and his buddy Donahey are playing Nintendo baseball in the den: the American League All-Stars of 1985 versus the Detroit Tiger team from the same season.
Donahey's Tigers hit a home run. "Who was that?" asks Avery. "Herndon? He always hits 'em." With Avery's All-Stars trailing 3-0 in the first inning, the video game mysteriously resets itself. "We'll have to start over," says Avery.
"He's the worst loser," says Donahey.
Avery, as Mark McGwire, hits one over the fence. "McGwire," he says. "Hits 'em out every time up on this game."
Donahey, as Sparky Anderson, is pitching Eric King instead of Jack Morris. Why? "Because he doesn't know what he's doing," Avery says of his nemesis.
"For some reason," says Donahey, ignoring his opponent's couch-jockeying, "King does better starting, then I bring Morris in from the bullpen."
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," says Avery.
When the game ends and the TV comes back on, the reception is fuzzier than it was before. Donahey has left the room momentarily. Avery fiddles with the set, then says of his absent friend, almost as if whispering an aside onstage: "He broke the cable."