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Pitch Perfect

By´╝ÜSierra Dean

Pitch Perfect_ Boys of Summer, Book 1 - Sierra Dean

Chapter One

Spring Training

What goes up must come down.

It was as true of life as it was of physics. Every triumphant swing of the bat might send a ball sailing through the air, but eventually that ball came back to earth. So, too, the career of a baseball great could tumble down from the most towering heights.

That cheerful thought weighed heavily on Tucker Lloyd’s mind when he rolled out of his lumpy hotel bed and sauntered over to the window to inspect an already bright Florida morning. The sunlight looked different here than it did in San Francisco, more buttery, like it was warmer somehow. Granted, February in San Fran was far from warm on its best days, so maybe his opinion of the light quality was skewed.

His whole world felt a bit skewed.

Tucker ran his palm over a fresh crop of stubble on his jaw, his calloused skin snagging against the hair, and let the curtain fall back into place over the window, shutting him into darkness once more. There used to be a time spring training made him giddier than a teenager on a first date. The thrill of the early preseason weeks where rusty skills were honed sharp and coaches could test the water with new players had been the part of the year he looked forward to the most.

In the past it had reminded him of playing for fun, the good old little league days where a love for the game was rooted. Sure, spring training games mattered in their own way, but most of it was about brushing the cobwebs off and getting back into the swing of things. So to speak.

That excitement wasn’t there this year. Tucker’s arm ached from the mattress, which was a bad sign considering he was once the biggest-name pitcher for the San Francisco Felons and he’d just come off a year of recovering from Tommy John surgery to replace a worn-down ligament in his elbow.

He’d had to choose between early retirement and the surgery, and opted to spend a year of physical therapy and painful healing to get his arm back into throwing shape.

Now he was thirty-six and hoping he had a shot in hell of being a star pitcher again.

In any other job being thirty-six wouldn’t be a sign he was coming to the end of his career. But baseball was a different kind of job, especially major league ball. With teams recruiting right out of high school, Tucker was an old man in baseball terms.

In response to the thought, his joints groaned. He hadn’t played a single day of ball, yet his muscles were protesting like they’d been to hell and back.

A knock on his door yanked him out of his miserable, circle-jerk of a thought process, and he went to greet his guest wearing only his boxers. Whoever was knocking at six in the morning could deal with seeing his underpants.

“Goddamn.” Alex Ross, the Felons’ ace catcher, held a hand in front of his face and thrust a Starbucks cup in Tucker’s general direction. “It’s bad enough I have to get up at the ass crack of dawn, dude, I don’t need to see Little Tucker too.”

“First,” Tucker responded, grabbing the coffee, “there is nothing little about Little Tucker. And second, what the hell do you want?”

Alex feigned a hurt expression, his round cheeks sagging into a great imitation of a pout. The whole thing was ruined by the mischievous gleam in his brown eyes.

Tucker and Alex had been teammates for a decade, since Alex had come up from the farm league. In that time they’d learned to read each other like psychics, and it made them nearly unbeatable in games. It also meant Tucker knew when Alex was full of shit. Which was about ninety-nine percent of the time.

But he’d brought coffee, so he wasn’t a total prick.

“What do you mean what the hell do I want? Has old age made your brain soft?” Alex took a swig from his own coffee and came into the room while Tucker searched for a T-shirt. “First day of training means first day of Alex and Tucker pretending to be healthy and going for a run every morning.”

Ah yes, that old kettle of fish. Last year the Alex and Tucker running club had lasted exactly two weeks.

“Can we not and say we did?” Tucker pulled a well-worn gray-and-orange Felons tee over his head. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he noticed the shirt had made his dark hair stick up worse than the pillow had.

“No such luck. Winter has made me paunchy.” Alex rubbed his belly as if this would prove his point.

“Being fat made you paunchy. Winter just made you pale.”

“Ouch.” Alex wasn’t really fat, but he was one of those guys who would never look trim and cut no matter how much he worked out. The roundness of his youth hadn’t faded, giving him a cherubic look that helped get him into a lot of trouble, but also made him stand out next to all the tall, lanky players who filled out the roster. At five eleven he wasn’t short, but with the other guys pushing six five, he didn’t exactly fit in either.

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