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That teased me last night too.

Thoughts I can’t allow.

Before Luke can even respond to Nate’s dare, I cut in with a big laugh that, I hope, defuses the possible tension. “Yeah, good one,” I say, then lift my beer glass and offer a toast. “To Nate the comedian.”

Luke’s nothing if not quick on his feet, so I don’t even have a second to read his reaction to Nate or to me, since he’s lifting his glass and following my lead. “Be sure to tip your waiter on the way out,” Luke says.

As we all clink, I yawn. Big and so wide, it becomes real. After I take a drink, I set down my half-empty glass. “Guys, I’m beat. Only one of us has a game tomorrow, so I’m calling it an early night.”

Baseball’s given me a lot of things in life. And right now, the punishing 162-game-a-year schedule is giving me the out I need.

This is not a conversation I want to have. I’m just not ready for it.

Luke pops up from the booth, giving me room to scoot out. “See you around,” he says, all casual, like Nate didn’t just suggest something that rattled him.

Because it didn’t. Hell, maybe it only rattled me.

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do tonight,” I say to the guys, and I leave as Luke calls out, “That doesn’t leave much.”

“Always has to have the last word,” I mutter as I go but not at too low a volume.

“I heard that,” he calls again.

“You were supposed to hear it,” I reply with my back to him.

“Sleep well!”

Holy shit. His stamina is endless. “I will,” I shout, then round the corner.

Ha, I got the last word, so I take that victory in my endless last word game with Luke and clutch it close.

It’s a reminder that we’re friends, and that some dares you just ignore.

Two nights later, my team has finished its series with San Diego, with two losses in a row. Both were close games, especially today’s when I struck out on a deceptively enticing curveball. But I refuse to let the losses eat away at me. Ten years in the majors has taught me that you’ve got to leave each game behind you. No point dwelling on losses, or wins for that matter. There’s always another game to play the next day.

My dad played in the majors and taught me everything I know on the field, and everything I know mentally about the game.

Like how to breathe and move on to the next one, and the next, and the next.

Before you know it, all those nexts add up to a career.

Tonight, I do my best to apply those baseball skills to my personal life. Put Nate’s last dare behind me, and zoom in on the next thing, as in…the auction.

It’s another chance at the plate, and I really need to put my positive dating attitude on so I can take my swing. I should be better at this whole relationship thing by now. Lord knows I have enough examples of healthy marriages in front of me in my parents, my older sister, and soon my little brother. Zach gets hitched next month, and my sister wants to set me up with a friend of hers for the wedding.

I’m definitely not opposed, since the apps aren’t the way for me to meet someone who wants more.

But maybe I’ll meet the right guy at the auction. Men who attend those kind of things tend to be philanthropists, not star fuckers. And I give a lot to charities, in part because I can, but also because I want to. I’m not looking for a man who’ll give the same amount I do. I don’t need to compare dick lengths either. But I’d like a guy who’s not afraid to crack open his wallet and his heart to help others.

At my apartment, I shower even though I showered at the ballpark this afternoon. But that was for washing away the loss.

This is an I’m about to put on a hot suit and parade around on a stage kind of shower.

Once I’m dried off, I slap on some of my favorite aftershave, even though I didn’t shave. But this stuff smells good, and I might as well work it tonight. Just like I’m working the scruff look this summer.

I run a towel over my damp hair then comb my fingers through it. It used to be short, almost military style, but I let it grow a couple inches. Most guys like a little length on top. Something to hold on to. I guess that makes me a generous lover, giving a dude something soft to grip hard.

And on that note, I’m getting into the optimism zone once more. I try to stay there, riding that hopeful wave as best I can as I hang up the towel, then get dressed, finishing with a rich blue tie covered in illustrations of golf clubs.

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