“Thanks for inviting me to the club tonight, man,” I say to my buddy Troy as we wait near the bar to order another round.
I don’t really want to be here, but when Troy Bodine calls with an offer to hang out at the club he owns in Vegas, it’s a hard offer to turn down.
And so here I am.
“This floor is great, but the third floor isn’t really my thing.” It’s not a sex club, per se, but more of a place for the rich and famous to hang out where sex happens to take place on level three.
“I had ulterior motives,” Troy admits.
Color me shocked. Troy always has ulterior motives. “You always do.” I offer an easy laugh to dispel the accusation in my voice.
“I’m sure you’ve heard by now the expansion team was approved,” he tells me. “Las Vegas is getting a new baseball team, and they’ve given me an offer to be the manager. I want you to come play for me.”
I shake my head, maintaining my cool despite the tightness in my chest at his words. Of course I’ve heard, but I haven’t really been following the news about it. It affected my former life, I suppose, but it doesn’t affect what I’m doing now in San Diego. “Nah, man. I’ve been out of the game for years. You don’t want me.”
“Is the elbow healed?” he asks.
I nod. “Yeah. Surgery pieced me back together, but I’m far from being ready to play.” I’ve been enjoying my fair share of pizza and beer in between my work for StrongFitKids, an organization designed to offer affordable fitness to kids, and I haven’t tried tossing a ball twenty feet since my surgery, let alone the hundred twenty feet or more it takes to get the ball from third to first base.
Troy laughs. “Then it’s a good thing we’ve got five months of off-season training before we need to head into pre-season training.”
He’s not wrong. If I put in the work, I’ll see quick results. It’s like riding a bike, right? Baseball was my life from the time I was seven until I dislocated my elbow at thirty. You don’t just lose your love for the game even though you’ve been out of it a few years. “You really want me to unretire? I don’t know. I mean, I miss the game, of course. I loved every second of playing. But I’ve got some good shit going on now, too.”
“Listen, Coop. You know how these expansion drafts go. Everyone holds tight to their best players, and we get our pick from the leftovers. We need you. We need a born leader. We need someone to be the face of the Vegas Heat, and I want that someone to be you.”
“The Vegas Heat?” I repeat, a chill running up my spine as the words leave my mouth for the first time. Vegas isn’t really in my blood the way it is for some people, and I’ve been out of the game three years now. But the Vegas Heat? “That’s a kickass name.”
The couple in front of us turns around, and I recognize Tristan Higgins, a wide receiver for the Vegas Aces. “Hey man,” he says to me.
I nod a friendly greeting to the kid, and I turn back to Troy. “Let me think about it.”
I can’t just throw out a yes the second he asks when I’m half-drunk in the middle of the desert. I need to analyze it from every angle, but I also need to make him sweat it out.
“If it’s a yes, I need you here by September first,” he says.
I nod. “You’ll have an answer by then.”
We each order another drink—a beer for me, some whiskey for him—and as we’re waiting, a woman sidles up to Troy and whispers in his ear.
He glances at me. “If you’ll excuse me, I have something I need to tend to. Enjoy yourself.”
The bartender sets our drinks in front of us, and I nod my thanks.
“Thanks, man,” I say to Troy. I take my beer, drink down half of it, and bolt.
He got his words in, and as nice as the exclusivity of this club is, it’s just not the place for me.
Troy offered me his personal driver, so I have him take me back to Caesars Palace, the hotel where I’m staying on the Strip. It’s early, and I’m in Vegas. I’m not just going to head up and go to bed, so on the way back, I send out a few texts to see what my buddies in town are up to.
And I come up empty.
Baseball is in season, so my friends that still play the game are busy tonight. I know a few local football players, but they’re in preseason now and nobody’s available tonight—and a handful of them were at Troy’s club. I check in with a few other friends, but everyone’s busy.
I stare out the window at the flashing lights of Las Vegas Boulevard as we get closer to my hotel.
Could I really live here?
I was raised a Cubs fan in the suburbs of Chicago but chose to play for UCLA and eventually worked my way up from the minors to the Dodgers, where I played my entire seven-year career.
My mom is still back in the Chicago suburb where she raised me, but my life is in California now. I love San Diego even though it’s a little too close to my ex up in Los Angeles. I love what I’m doing now with StrongFitKids. I feel like I’m making an impact, and I’m working with kids—exactly what I wanted to do after I stopped playing the game.
But if I’m being honest, I’m also a little bored. I need something new and exciting to focus on.
There are certain things I wanted out of life by my age, and it feels like the decisions I’ve made along the way have prevented those things from happening.
I thought by nearly thirty-three I’d be married and have a few kids running around. Instead, I have zero prospects on the horizon. After a brutal end to a five-year relationship, I’m more than a little reticent to get back in the game. I just want to have a little fun.
I guess I’m reticent to get back into more than one game.
I wasn’t ready to be done playing ball, but when I dislocated my elbow and tore my UCL, I knew I had a long recovery ahead. The Tommy John surgery following my injury two years ago was a success, but it was only recently that I started to feel back to my old self again.
I’m nervous to pick up a ball, though.
My life is different now than it was then.
What if I reinjure it? What if I injure something else?
On the other hand, I could just ease myself back into both games. Maybe I need to look at it as a way to get a little fun and excitement back into what has become a rather monotonous existence.
It’s a risk, but everything in life is a risk. You either sit on the sidelines or play in the game.
And I think I want to play in the game again.
Talking with Troy tonight felt very much like I was in the right place at the right time.
Well, metaphorically. Coax isn’t really the right place for me, but Vegas very well could be.
I thank the driver and get out of the car. As I walk through the casino toward the bank of elevators, not sure what comes next now that I know I want to jump into not one but two games again, my eyes fall onto the blackjack tables. I glance ahead toward the high-limit area. I’m sure I could get a private table if I wanted one, but tonight…well, since I’m into playing games, I park my ass in the first chair I see and toss a few bills onto the table.