Also, here's an excerpt from Dropped Third Strike:
As her brisk walk turned into a slow jog, Kate plugged her headphones into the treadmill’s console and looked up at the television in front of her machine. Her feet pounded against the belt as the one-liners and laughter of The Office chased work concerns from Kate’s mind. She didn’t watch much TV, but one of the guys she briefly dated had mentioned this show. While the relationship hadn’t worked out, his sense of humor had been one of his most endearing qualities, so Kate checked it out one night. She loved it immediately, and since the episodes were only 30 minutes long, Kate found it easy to catch up and keep up.
When the credits rolled, Kate began flipping through the channels. Unable to find anything else she could get into, she finally stopped it on the MLB Network, where they were discussing some of the latest transactions. It might have been a little too work-related for what was supposed to be off-time, but Kate couldn’t resist. Even before she’d entered the baseball industry as a professional, she’d had a hunger for constant information on the sport and the business behind it. As a GM now, she was always interested to see what her colleagues were doing. Most of the topics were old news to her, as she’d received calls and e-mails about various transactions and happenings all day. However, there was one announcement that nearly made her trip on the treadmill.
“After designating him for assignment early last week, the Mets have released outfielder Reid Benjamin. A one-time top prospect, Benjamin’s stock has been steadily dropping since his debut. He hit .250 with 30 walks and 120 strikeouts in his second season as the starting centerfielder after signing a five-year contract worth $100 million. Despite tallying 89 RBI, 20 home runs, and 40 doubles last year, he has not been able to put together a full season without injury or incident. His troubles off the field have also undoubtedly influenced New York’s decision. In the last few years, Benjamin has been arrested a handful of times on charges ranging from public intoxication to disorderly conduct. Just two weeks ago, he was kicked out of a popular nightclub after punching a bouncer. That appears to have been the final straw for the Mets. Benjamin now becomes a free agent. Between the size of his contract, his offensive troubles, and the late off-season nature of his release, finding work will be quite the scramble for him.”
Kate’s gait stuttered a bit as the segment started. Fortunately, she was able to stop the treadmill and find the side rails with her feet before looking like a klutz in the near-empty gym. For several long moments after the TV had gone to commercial, Kate’s gaze remained on the screen, letting the name resonate through her brain – Reid Benjamin.
From a professional standpoint, Kate was not all that surprised by the news of Reid’s release. His off-field headlines combined with his declining value and a saturated outfielder market would likely leave Reid without a job this season. She actually felt a bit sorry for him, and that sympathy annoyed her. Why should she feel sorry for Reid? He certainly hadn’t done anything to deserve it.
Kate knew Reid well – far better than any of those scouts, managers, or GMs who had been drooling over him for years. Reid also knew her quite well – in ways she preferred not to think about. Much to her chagrin, they occasionally snuck up on her. Usually on nights when she let her mind wander a little too far into the past.
This is not going to be one of those nights.
She unplugged her headphones and went over to the free weights section of the facility. For the next hour, Kate drove Reid Benjamin from her mind with every lunge, squat, and curl. After she stretched and cooled down, she showered and headed home for a quick late dinner and bed.
Kate’s reprieve from hearing Reid Benjamin’s name didn’t last long. Even though she was at her office by the ungodly hour of six, she already had three voicemails mentioning his name. The last one was from the team’s owner. She shook her head and took a sip of her coffee as she picked up the phone to dial his number and set him straight.
“Please tell me you’ve already set up an interview with Benjamin,” Mr. Scott blurted out, almost before Kate could even say “hello.”
“I haven’t,” Kate managed to answer.
“And why not?” Mr. Scott demanded. “He would be perfect.”
“For what?” Kate asked. “You’re aware of his history, right? On and off the field, he’s a huge liability. I wouldn’t sign him as a player, and I definitely don’t want him coaching and mentoring. Even if he wasn’t such a bad influence, he has no experience.”
“Clearly, you are the one who has not looked at his résumé,” the owner replied. “During the off-seasons, he went to his alma mater and helped fine-tune the mechanics of many players there. Most of them have been or will be drafted.”
“Then why was he so horrible at the plate?” Kate asked.
“You know what they say – those who can’t do teach,” Mr. Scott said. “Interview and sign him. Fan Fest is in two days. I want to make the announcement then.”
“OK, I’ll interview him, but I can’t guarantee I’ll hire him,” Kate said.
In her mind, the possibility was very doubtful. Her personal bias against Reid Benjamin aside, she could not imagine him as a proper fit for the Pioneers – professionally or otherwise. Neither his batting stats nor his rap sheet inspired her. Besides, who was to say he would be interested in a coaching position? Regardless, the owner had given her an order. She had to carry it through. Honestly, it wasn’t as though she had many other options. The other candidates had failed to impress her. Reid was likely to follow suit, but at the owner’s command, she had to at least interview him.
Now she needed to figure out how to get in touch with Reid. His information was still in her phone contact list, but she wasn’t sure the number still worked. Years had passed since she’d even attempted to use it. Trying to shake that memory, she turned on her computer and opened her e-mail. The answer was in her inbox. More than one of the replies to her plea for help had suggested Reid and included his contact information. Some of them were time stamped before the evening announcement, so either they had insider information or they’d seen the writing on the wall. Interestingly enough, his number was still the same as it had been five years earlier. She took a deep breath and picked up the phone, dialing the number slowly.
When he answered sounding sleepy, Kate inhaled quickly. Knowing how his voice had once affected her – particularly when laced with the sexy, barely awake tone it carried now – why hadn’t she rehearsed something to say?
Fortunately, “Professional Kate” mode kicked in.
“Reid Benjamin?” she asked in a cool, even manner.
“Yeah,” he mumbled. “Who is this?”
He didn’t recognize her voice. Given their history and the time that had lapsed since their last conversation, this shouldn’t have shocked her or even bothered her. But it did. She felt a distinct and familiar twinge of pain. Somehow, she found a way to push on without sounding affected.
“Kate Marks, general manager of the Portland Pioneers,” she said. “I’d like to talk to you about the hitting coach position in our organization.”
There was a silent pause on the other end, and she wondered what was going through his head. Then she heard a rustle of fabric, which suggested he was sitting up or getting out of bed. The mental picture rattled her as much as his voice had. She closed her eyes, but that only made the image more vivid. She snapped them open and turned to look out the window, nearly pulling the phone off the desk in the process. She scurried to catch it and reposition it smoothly. She wondered if he had heard any of the clatter in his silence.
“Sorry, you woke me up,” Reid said finally. “Can you repeat that?”
Kate repeated what she had said, though she could hear a slight tremor in her voice that hadn’t previously been there. She hoped he didn’t notice it. The odds were in her favor though as Reid had never been particularly observant where she was concerned.
“Oh,” Reid said. “I guess the good news of my release traveled fast.”
She heard a catch in his voice. She couldn’t tell if it was hurt or annoyance, maybe a combination of both. Kate, in turn, felt a little bad for her negative thoughts about him.
“Yeah, I heard it last night,” Kate admitted. “I know it’s probably too soon for me to be calling you about this opening, but I felt like I needed to jump on you before someone else did.”
Kate immediately regretted her choice of words, especially when she heard him chuckle. Apparently, he heard the unintended innuendo as well.
“Well, you might be a bit late for that,” he said in a low voice, still clearly amused. “Except in terms of employment; I’m still open on that front. I could fly out next week.”
“Actually, I’d like to talk to you sooner than that,” Kate said. “I could make arrangements for you to be here this afternoon. We would cover the costs, of course.”
“This afternoon?” Reid asked. “Wow…you must really be desperate. Well, OK, but I can handle the costs. As you know, I made a pretty good living while I was employed. I’ll call the airline and get back to you with my ETA. What was your name again?”
Kate rolled her eyes and gave him her name again along with her number.
As he hung up the phone, Reid smiled to himself. He hadn’t heard that voice in a long time, but he’d recognized it instantly. He’d never heard the woman speak in such a business-like tone – but he still knew who was on the other end of the line before she identified herself. Despite the years that had passed and the substances he’d ingested in the interim, Reid had never managed to erase Kate Marks from his memory, even though he preferred to have her believe that was the case. He would have preferred that to be the case too, but it hadn’t happened. Clearly. His reaction to hearing her voice on the phone was unsettling, to say the least. And now he would have to face her in a matter of hours. He really wasn’t in any shape for a reunion or a job interview, but he had already agreed, and now he had to go. Plus, he needed a job, and for the first time in his career, there weren’t multiple teams fighting over him.
If you're so inclined, you can purchase it in paperback or Kindle.