I LIVE IN A SINGLE-WIDE in Jet City, a trailer park in Seattle. I got my baseball glove for two bucks at Goodwill and found my Mariners cap in a garbage can by the RapidRide E bus stop on Aurora Avenue. I don’t have baseball cleats or an authentic jersey. I’ve never been to a major-league baseball game, and we don’t have cable TV. I follow the Mariners on my radio.
My mom has worked as a custodian at Northwest Hospital for so long that she has her name—Timmi—stitched on her uniform. She named me Lazarus because I almost died while I was being born, and there’s a guy in the Bible named Lazarus who came back from the dead. I’m not good at school, and I’m not good at talking, probably because I was born two months early. When I get nervous, I tilt my head sideways and my eyes roll back, and that’s how I stay until something frees up and the words move again. I went to speech class all through grade school, and that helped some. Still, if I’m with Antonio, my younger brother, I let him do the talking for both of us.
When I’m on my game, none of that matters, because my pitching speaks for me. The hitters all look more like baseball players than I do, but their fancy gear does them no good. My arm is free and loose like a whip, and everything slows. Everything except the ball coming out of my hand. The batter might slap a soft ground ball or manage a pop fly, but squaring up one of my fastballs and driving it far and deep?
When I’m in the zone, I know I’m good enough to get drafted by a major-league team, and maybe even good enough to make it all the way to the major leagues. But to take even one step down that road, I need a scout to see me when I’m on my game. Until that happens, nothing happens.
My school, North Central High, is a tough school. The kids are poor like my brother and me. Some are immigrant kids who don’t speak English at home. Some are in gangs, or are gang wannabes. Teachers and coaches desert North Central first chance they get.
Mr. Kellogg coaches our baseball team, and he does it alone. No assistant coaches, no parent volunteers. Just Mr. Kellogg. He was a third baseman in high school, so he knows hitting and fielding, but not pitching.
That’s nothing new for me. I’ve never had a real pitching coach. I’ve had games when my stuff is unhittable, but when I’m not in the zone, I guide my pitches instead of letting them fly. I don’t know if my stride is too long or I’m releasing the ball too soon, and there’s never been anybody to ask. My fastball comes right down Main Street, and it isn’t all that fast. Then I get hit, and hit hard, which is why my overall stats are mediocre.
Major-league teams don’t draft mediocre pitchers.
MY LAST NAME IS WEATHERS; my brother Antonio’s last name is Driver. Since we have different fathers, it’s no surprise that we don’t look alike. I’m six-two, long-armed, skinny, have light brown hair and a little peach fuzz on my face. Antonio is four inches shorter but fifteen pounds heavier, has dark hair and eyes, is thick through the chest, and could grow a beard in a week.
It’s not just looks—our personalities are different, too. My stutter makes people uncomfortable, and that makes me uncomfortable. Antonio’s the guy who lights up a room when he walks in. Partly it’s because he’s fast and funny with words. But it’s more than that. It’s as if he got an extra dose of life, so people want to be near him, talk to him, hear him talk.
It’s baseball that has held us together. I pitch; he plays shortstop. Half brothers, but full teammates.
We’ve both always known that our mom isn’t like most moms. Her last name is Medina, which makes it seem as though she’s not related to either of us. She smokes a pack a day, except for when she’s quitting. She has tattoos of barbed wire on her arms and neck, and her hair always has purple or green streaks. Antonio once asked her to wear a long-sleeved, high-necked shirt to back-to-school night to cover up her tattoos. “You got the mom you got,” she said. “Get used to it.”
When we were in middle school, some high school kids started hassling Antonio and me as we walked home. “You know why you’ve got different last names, don’t you?” a wiry-haired kid called out.
I looked over, not getting it, but Antonio understood. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on the street or in the classroom—he always understands before I do.
“Shut up,” he shouted.
“You do know, don’t you?” the kid said, pointing at him and grinning. “But Laz there doesn’t, because he’s stupid. Isn’t that right, L-L-L-L-Laz?”
Moments like that are the worst for me. When I really want to say something, I can’t. Antonio jumped in. “I said, shut up.”
The kid kept his eyes trained on me. “It’s because your mom’s a slut. You do know what that means, don’t you? Or do I need to explain it to you?”
I’m older by eighteen months, so it should have been me who went first, but it was Antonio. He flew at them, fists windmilling. I followed. We took some punches and got some cuts and bruises, but we gave out punishment, too. I must have caught one of those guys solid, because my right hand hurt for two days.
When Mom saw our bloodied faces, she was mad. “What do you mean you had to fight?” she barked at Antonio.
“They said stuff about you.”
“What did they say about me?”
“Stuff,” Antonio repeated.
Their eyes locked, and Mom went quiet. Then she took a breath and exhaled. “All right. If you had to, you had to. Just don’t be out there looking for trouble. You hear me?”