Wes is one of my favorite characters in The Call. I love the way his mind works, and often his voice would circle around in my head, talking about numbers and odds and the universe and his many, many sisters. When I read an article about the physics of baseball, I thought of him immediately and knew he had to be in the story. Here’s an excerpt from the book, from when he and Margie met at the umpire academy:
As Margie rounded the right-field corner, Wes Osterhaus fell in beside her. His wiry limbs matched her stride, his pale, freckled cheeks pinking from the exertion and the Florida sun. In their morning classes, Wes sat Catholic-school-straight in the chair in front of hers, bobbing his head at the instructor. He always had the right answers, and a hundred other questions. The instructors had been patient with him, but more and more they said, “Let’s talk during lunch,” or told him to go look it up in the academy’s library. The “library” was a dingy, cinderblock-walled equipment room that smelled of sweat and old coffee and contained two metal folding chairs, an old TV, and an erector-set bookshelf of manuals and videotapes. Sometimes Margie passed the room on her way to Big Al’s office and Wes would be sitting there alone, staring at the screen, scribbling notes on his pad. She felt bad for the guy. He was smart, that much was clear, and he was one of the few people in camp who would talk to her. She overheard a couple of trainees calling him “Oster-cize,” and she wanted to kick them.
“Nice day for a run, huh?” Margie said.
“Technically, no.” Wes said some stuff about dew point and relative humidity that left Margie’s head spinning. Then he trailed off, and on the left-center warning track he said, “Forty-eight.”
“Excuse me?” Margie wiped the sweat off her brow with the back of her hand.
“Sixteen percent of three hundred.” He nodded toward the group of guys practicing on the field. “That’s how many candidates will get recommended for evaluation after we’re done. Fewer still will get minor-league assignments.”
She smirked. “I think you’re gonna do fine.”
He nodded toward Rocky Anderson, who was berating some guy until he hung his head. “But that instructor is lowering our chances. He’s doing it all wrong.”
Her eyebrows hopped up. “Whaddya mean, wrong?”
“Positive reinforcement has been shown to help long-term learning better than negative reinforcement.”
“You got English for that?”
“Okay, right,” he muttered, as if giving himself a reminder to dumb-down his vocabulary for the masses. “Your strike fist. If he said, ‘nice job’ when you tucked your thumb in, instead of making you do laps when you get it wrong, research says you’d learn better.”
“What, you saying I’m never gonna learn?”
“No, Margie, I believe you will.” He paused a moment and added, “Because you remind me of Doug Harvey. He’s the best umpire in the game.”
She grinned. “Really? Doug Harvey?”
“Yes. The way you make your calls. The way you know the rules.”
Damn. “You wanna race?”
She knocked an elbow into his arm. “Aw, come on. Race me to the on-deck circle. Loser picks up the beer tonight.”
“That’s negative reinforcement. And besides, I don’t drink.”
“Okay. Winner gets to pick the game tape in the library later.”
“See? Now I’ll do it,” he said. “Because you’re offering me a learning opportunity.”
He took off. She took off after him. For the first time in Margie’s life, a boy beat her in a footrace. Probably because she let him.
The Call will be live on Amazon on September 1, but you can preorder now. The print book should be out around then, too. Or possibly sooner.