"Charleston RiverDogs, Rebecca speaking, how may I help you?"
It's her. He braces. He never knows what's coming. The effects of the disease may have worsened. Or some jerk at school may have soaked the bathroom floor again and given her a shove, and then Mike will beat himself to a pulp for being 2,000 miles away. He wings it, alters his voice, hopes for the best.
"Yes, ma'am, this is Elvis Presley. I'm out here in Vegas with your father."
"Daddy! Heyyyy, Groove Thing! You're my pop! You're in--da da da da de daaah--Las Vegas! How are ya, Elvis?... Laaaahs Vegas! Did you win?... Thirty-six hundred! Viva my money!... O.K., love you dearly, but I must get back to work because the phone is ringing, and please tell Elvis I said hi. Bye-bye!"
That's Rebecca. She's working the phones. She's got retinitis pigmentosa. She's 13. She's blind.
Oh, yes, she's a ham ... with honey mustard glaze and melted cheese. She wants to be a singer and drummer in a rock-and-roll band, a Broadway actress, a dancer, a pianist, a writer, an equestrienne--"Hey, wanna see a blind kid ride a horse? I love an audience!"--and then, when she's gotten all those out of the way, she wants to be, just like her great-grandfather, grandfather and father, "a baseball guy."
Mike pockets his cellphone. His eyes cloud with tears. He hates being away from her 15 days out of the month, keeping all these crazy crap games afloat. He loathes the road. He needs the road. Was born for the road. He feels guilty when he's not out there making money and flogging the cause--raising funds and awareness of Rebecca's disease everywhere he travels. Guilty when he's not back home by her side. What's a man, the father of a jewel like her, supposed to do?
His own father is a one-legged legend, a Hall of Famer, the damnedest owner sports ever saw: Bill Veeck. The one responsible for ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley Field, for the Chicago White Sox' last American League crown, for the Cleveland Indians' last world championship, for record attendance figures, exploding scoreboards, postgame fireworks, names on the backs of jerseys, a midget pinch hitter named Eddie Gaedel, a 43-year-old rookie named Satchel Paige, belly dancers at home plate, circus acts at second base and an outfielder named Minnie Minoso dressed as a matador as he waved a cape at a fake bull on Mexico Fiesta Night--all while Bill's polishing off five books a week, three packs of cigarettes and a case of beer a day, fathering nine children and hosing down the infield before ball games in his swimming trunks on a wooden right leg.
Mike spends his toddler years living in an apartment inside a baseball stadium, Sportsman's Park in St. Louis; the bullpen's his first sandbox. He moves 11 times in his first 11 years, the new kid always trying to fit in, and then moves once more at age 16: out of his own home in Easton, Md., into the family's studio apartment a couple of hundred yards away, just to get away from his old man, the one whom everyone--rich men, poor men, sportswriters, thieves--except Mike and a dozen buttoned-down major league owners find the most engaging man on earth.