"God my knees hurt," Johnny thought as he adjusted his pads and crouched behind the plate. Another couple years of this and he knew he would be old before his time, not able to run or bike or kneel down to put ice on the shiner his son would get from a wild pitch. "One endorsement contract, just one," he thought as the first pitch smacked into his mitt. He didn't feel it. He made a sign. The pitcher shook his head. He made the same sign, a bit more emphatically. Danny Rico, the kid on the mound, had a cannon for an arm, but he still couldn't read a batter for beans. Johnny was the best at that; every pitcher he'd ever caught said so. But his bat was mediocre and he didn't look too good on camera. The game had given him a decent living, better than decent, but then his kid was born early and his mom got sick and if his wife had to put up with a ball player's travel schedule then she at least wanted to spend money like a ball player's wife, not that he blamed her, and so here he was, starting the second season after his knees had been yelling for him to quit. "Just one big endorsement contract," he thought as the second pitch, the pitch he'd called, slammed home and the umpire yelled "Stroi-eek!"
Rico's cannon had no shortage of ammo that day, and nine innings went by quick; the kid pitched a shutout and was only two bloop singles off a no-hitter, maybe the best rookie start in the history of the club. Nobody would remember, even know, how bad he'd have gotten shelled without Johnny calling his pitches. Johnny went one-for-four with two strikeouts and no RBIs.
Three hours later, Johnny was sitting in an overstuffed chair in the office of a sports drink company's advertising exec. "This is it," he thought. "It's been weeks of negotiating, but this is it. I'll sign the papers, do a bunch of photo shoots and commercial spots, and in a few more months I can finally retire."
The ad exec spoke to his agent like Johnny wasn't even there. "Look, Ned…I know we all have a lot invested in this deal, but…the boys upstairs have decided to go in a different direction."
"That's bullshit, Gus, and you know it." Ned was trying to sound offended, but he clearly wasn't shocked. "What 'direction' are they going?"
"Well, far be it from me to cause any tension in the clubhouse, but… C'mon, Ned, you know Danny Rico's a local kid, and young, great physique, great stats in the minors, tests off the charts with the key demos…"
Gus kept talking, but Johnny didn't hear it. He just hung his head. Ned pretended to negotiate for about fifteen minutes, and then they both left.
Another 161 games went by slow, no post-season, and a winter spent wondering how long it would be into next spring before he'd get traded to God-knows-where. "God," Johnny thought on opening day, "God, my knees hurt."