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On any other day, Miranda Callahan would have brushed off the threat being hurled at her through the phone like a fastball, high and tight. This was baseball, after all, a man’s game, and threats were as common as fly balls. But this wasn’t any ordinary day and it wasn’t any ordinary threat.
“You have no choice, Ms. Callahan. Our consultant will be there today.”
They were taking over her team. Coming in to tell her what to do. She’d had more than enough of that from her father, Seamus Callahan, Managing General Partner of the Georgia Knights and her boss. He’d watched his chance at the playoffs slip away last season and had told her she had one job this spring—
Get the Knights to the World Series.
She sighed and leaned back in her scarred leather chair. It protested with an ominous creak. “We don’t need a consultant, commissioner. And you have no right to take over our team like this.”
“I’m not taking over your team, just putting a consultant in place to assist you in getting back on your feet.”
“Tell that to Los Angeles, whom you took over and forced a sale. No thanks. We can handle our situation by ourselves.” She was proud that her voice was firm and resolute, even as she knew the truth.
“You’re very close to defaulting on your loans, including the ones major league baseball gave you. You’re a small market team acting like you’re in a big market, buying your way to playoffs, signing big names, gutting your farm system. You need to move into the new world of baseball. The old ways are done. You can’t compete. A consultant can help you.” Commissioner Roger Martinelli flatly laid out the situation facing the Knights, just as firm as she’d been. “And we have every right. There are plenty of teams who’ve needed our services, including Texas. You’re a franchise and the other owners have concerns about the financial stability of your team.”
He sighed and, when he spoke, his voice was gentler. “Ms. Callahan. Miranda. I know you understand this. I also appreciate your situation. As president of the team, you have a responsibility to the team and the shareholders. Your father is not managing the team responsibly.”
Her conviction wavered for a long moment. Other small market teams were having more success by building their teams differently, using unconventional statistics, and what was otherwise known as small ball. It hadn’t worked for everyone, but it was better than trying to compete with teams who had unlimited money and a willingness to spend it. Seamus Callahan had a willingness to spend the money, but that money was quickly becoming depleted, and with losing season after losing season, the fan base was also leaving. Even though the Knights made it to the playoffs last year, a feat no one had ever expected, it wasn’t enough for the fans to believe in them, or believe it could happen again. With several players leaving for free agency, they were relying on young, leaderless players and minor leaguers who they hoped were ready. They might be able to handle playing in the big leagues but they were not admired enough to draw the crowds. And once the fans abandoned the team, sponsors would leave, too.
It was a vicious cycle, one her father knew well. But they differed on how to overcome it. He wanted instant results, a big name to be an instant draw. That would be great, but one player would not be enough, and they had nothing to draw that player to Savannah. The team was projected back in the cellar; and the fans were streaming out, changing allegiance to the other Georgia team, whose name shall never be mentioned in the Knights offices. Not as long as Seamus could hear it.
Maybe a consultant would be a good idea, another point of view to convince her father the less expensive way could work. It had almost worked last year. If they had stayed the course with Cole Hammonds, their general manager’s, advice, maybe they would be doing better this season. But Seamus had gone back to his position and refused to make offers to some of the free agents and lowballed others. None of them wanted to deal with the cantankerous owner, so they left. Granted it was only a few positions to fill, but they were critical. First base. Catcher. Starting pitcher. Middle relief.
The last thing she needed was another finger in the pie. Based on the financials she had seen and their talent pool, she needed a miracle to fulfill her father’s demands. And if her father was unhappy, everyone was unhappy. Nobody wanted that.
She smothered her irritation at his use of her first name. He was trying to appeal to her. Again, she’d seen all of the tricks. Working for Seamus, she had been raised on the tricks. “Thank you, Commissioner Martinelli.” She put a slight emphasis on his title. “But I think we’ll be fine.”
“You mistake this conversation for a negotiation, Ms. Callahan. The decision has been made. Lucas Wainright will be there this afternoon, if he isn’t there already.”
Her blood froze in her veins. “Lucas Wainright?”
She could hear the frown in his voice. “Yes, I believe you know him. Wasn’t he from Savannah?”
Oh shit. Her father was going to have a stroke.
Her father might not have had a stroke but it was a close call, judging by his red face and bluster. Miranda had consulted with legal and then headed to a meeting with her father and other player development staff, including Cole, the team manager, Sam Monteleone, from spring training in Florida, and Jason Friar, head of player development. Instead of discussing players, as intended, her father was raging against the injustice of the league and how they were out to get him. And she hadn’t even had a chance to tell him who had been assigned.
Lucas Wainright. While she wanted to believe the tingle that coursed through her at the mention of his name was irritation at having someone sent to second guess everything she did, deep inside, it was a lie. Fifteen years ago, Lucas had fueled many of her teen-aged fantasies, with his short, blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a body her then fourteen-year-old self could only dream about. It had been ten years or so since she’d last seen him. She wondered how he’d aged, if he’d married, what he would think of her.
Seamus’s hand slammed against the table, shaking her out of her thoughts. “I won’t let them steal my team.”
“They’re not trying to take away the team. They just want to help us. And we could use it.” Miranda held her breath.
She hated parroting the commissioner’s words but, honestly, he had a point.
Seamus snorted. “They fooled you, too. They’re not interested in helping us. They want to force me out and sell my team to someone else. They’ve done it before and will do it again.”
“You’re being paranoid. They can’t take that action without more evidence. But if we don’t work with them and our financial situation gets worse, we might not have a choice.” Cole leaned forward. “What can it hurt to work with them? They can’t control everything we do. We just play along, include their representative at times until they get tired.”
“Really? Do you honestly think they’re going to just get bored? They’re not toddlers.” Seamus snarled.
“We’re not saying that.” Miranda broke in. “Maybe just tone down your animosity. Try to get along.”
Cole was already shaking his head and Jason was smothering a laugh behind a strangled cough and a discreet sip of water.
Miranda shot them a dark look. “Not helping.”
Cole shrugged then a thoughtful look passed over his face. “Here’s a thought. I know you like to run everything, Mr. Callahan, but why not let Miranda liaise with the representative? She’s the president and handles most of the day-to-day operations. She could keep him mired in daily duties where he might be able to help. Baseball operations can stay as they are.”
Miranda stifled the flash of annoyance at the suggestion that, yet again, she should not be included in baseball operations, players, trades, and so on. After earning her MBA, Miranda had worked her way up through the organization. Partly out of love of the game, but mostly seeking her father’s approval, fruitless as that effort had proved to be. He’d hired her because she was his daughter, but he never gave her credit for understanding the game or industry as well as spreadsheets and budgets. To him, the “real” baseball stuff should be left to the men. He didn’t seem to notice how all the men had mucked it up, including himself.
Seamus’s eyes grew pensive. “That’s not a bad idea, Hammonds. I like it. Miranda, you’ll work with whomever they’re sending and we’ll get the team back on track. Perfect.” His hands clapped together once and everyone jumped. “Now, what about our catcher situation?”
“Hang on.” Miranda raised her hand, then lowered it when she realized when she’d done. “I don’t think this is the best idea.”
Her father cocked an eyebrow. “You have a better idea? The consultant would be thrilled to cut costs in some of our operations. And we probably could use it. As long as he doesn’t touch my team.”
She inhaled sharply and leaned forward, lowering her voice for her father to hear. “I’m the team president, not the vendor manager. We discussed me taking more team responsibilities on from you, like other presidents. I disagree with this approach.”
He narrowed his gaze. “Not open for discussion, Miranda. Now, on to our catcher situation. Not to mention our first baseman. This is becoming a common theme. Last year we lost Suarez and then signed Friar, who barely lasted a couple of months.”
“Sorry for helping your team get into the playoffs, not to mention you only offered a three-month contract,” Jason said, a former first baseman for the Knights. Well, for a few months at least.
Miranda shot him a sympathetic smile. If anyone in the room understood the cheap shots her father slung like hash in a diner, it was Jason Friar, victim of her father’s insults throughout the second half of the previous season. He was rewarded, or some said punished, with an offer of employment. She still didn’t understand why he took it, but was grateful he was there to lead their young players in their first steps of big league fame and fortune and the pitfalls that come with a major league baseball contract. Before she became president, she headed up public relations. In that role, she was often called upon to deal with the fallout from some stupid stunt a player had pulled when out with friends the prior night. Jason had made those same mistakes and knew how to guide the young players towards a better route. And it helped that his fiancée was now the head of publicity, trying to get ahead of any bad press.
Seamus barely glanced at Jason. “You got your reward. Besides, you did abandon us. You and that bum shoulder.”
“That’s not the issue.” Cole stepped in smoothly before the conversation could turn even more adversarial. “Right now, we still need a first baseman. Lockhart is still not quite up to snuff fielding or in the batter’s box.”
“He’ll be fine. His swing is solid and his fielding is outstanding. He worked this off-season. He deserves the chance,” Jason stated. “More importantly, he’s cheaper than someone else.”
Cole nodded. “True. We signed him to a big contract out of high school four years ago and he’s been on a steady climb. He was even named one of the Future All-Stars two years running. Besides, our Triple-A team sucks. He’ll be wasted down there.”
Seamus snorted. “He’s a kid. We need a big name. Trade him for Mendoza. He’s a proven player, both in the field and in the box.”
Jason leaned forward, red seeping into his face, a vein pulsing in his jawline. “You’re wasting good talent. You need him and other guys to build a solid, long-term team. Not keep trading them away. And Mendoza adds too much to our payroll. We can’t afford his salary.”
Cole, again, inserted himself in the middle. “Jason’s right. Lockhart’s perfect.”
Seamus growled but shuffled some papers in front of him. “Why didn’t you sign a free agent like I asked?”
“The price was too steep and no one was worth it. We can’t afford to compete with the Yankees, Sox, or almost anyone else. And they’re the ones who signed the big fish. Most of the other players stayed put this year.”
“Then make a goddamn trade. Make something happen! You’re the damn general manager. I pay you for more than excuses.” Seamus’s hand slammed on the table, knocking over his water glass.
The silence that followed was as deafening as the yelling before. Only the buzz from the lights filled the space. The water slowly, inexorably drifted closer to the conference speaker phone. Seamus’s bushy eyebrows were furrowed and he scowled fiercely at each person, but no one said anything. At that moment, there was a knock at the door and Ruth, Seamus’s assistant, poked her head in. Anyone else would have ducked, expecting something thrown at the door for the interruption, but Ruth had been with Seamus since his early days and she knew his moods and knew he would never do anything to her.
“What is it?” Seamus growled.
For the first time Miranda could remember, Ruth hesitated, looking from her to Seamus. “The league’s representative is here. A Mr. Lucas Wainright?”
For another long moment, there was silence, with Seamus staring at Miranda.
Slowly, recognition dawned and his face paled. “Wainright? Is that—”
Before he could finish his sentence, Miranda stood. “Please show Mr. Wainright to my office. I’ll be right there.”
Ruth nodded and slipped out the door, closing it softly behind her. Miranda grabbed a few napkins and cleaned the water. When in doubt, do something. It always filled any awkwardness, at least according to her mother. When she was done, she tossed the soggy remainder in the garbage and gathered her things.
“Yes, father. It’s Lucas Wainright.”
He growled. “I’ll be damned if I let that young pup take over my team.”
“Afraid karma’s going to kick you in the ass, Callahan?” A man’s voice drawled from the doorway where he stood, with Ruth’s anxious face behind him.
Somehow she didn’t think they’d seen the worst of Seamus’s rage yet.
End of Excerpt