Toby felt like an impostor in his own city. His city. His home. The hot New York breeze drifted over the foreign sea of royal blue baseball caps, but carried a farrago of familiar smells-bubble gum and roasted peanuts, worn leather and freshly manicured grass, sour sweat and light beer. But Toby frowned at the muted green of the outfield grass, the orange seats, the orange foul poles. Tino stepped to the plate wearing gray instead of pinstripes amid a collective low grumble rather than a cheer.
Toby pelted the ground with a handful of peanut shells. "Did you do this on purpose?"
Beside him, Josh raised his eyebrows as he swallowed his last cluster of Cracker Jacks. "I'm sorry?"
"Did you know that this whole section would be full of Mets fans?"
"Well, we're in Shea Stadium, Toby," Josh said, dropping his empty Cracker Jack box under his seat and wiping his hand on his leg. "I know it's crazy to expect a stadium full of Mets fans at their home field, but-"
"Look around, Josh," Toby said, twisting around in his seat to gesture toward the stands. "The place is half-full of Yankee fans! But you managed to buy two tickets in the only section filled entirely with Mets fans! Did you ask the box office if-"
"Did you ask the box office to plant us in the middle of a section filled exclusively with your people?" Toby ground a peanut between his teeth, fixing Josh with a hard stare.
"Mets fans," Toby explained. "They're your people. Not my people."
"No! Toby, I-you know, I'm touched, by the way, by your gratitude. I am. I'm really touched."
"There are probably twenty thousand Yankee fans in here, and you-"
"I-I bought tickets!" Josh said, leaning forward and flexing his fingers as if he were trying to strangle the air in front of him. "I bought tickets for the most popular baseball game of the season and I asked you because-"
"Because Sam doesn't follow baseball, and Donna doesn't care about it?"
"I-no. Because-" Josh set his jaw and paused, glancing toward the field as Hershiser delivered the pitch. "Listen, just take comfort in the fact that these fans won't harass you for the whole game for wearing the other team's hat."
Toby tossed another peanut into his mouth, not interested in hearing Josh's motivations any more than Josh wanted to share them. If Toby cared to guess, he'd put cold cash on the square that mentioned a misguided attempt to bond, try to forge common ground beyond polling data and ad buys, just in case Bartlet won in November and the crew of them ended up in the White House in January. Misguided and perhaps unnecessary.
"I'll take comfort," Toby said, "in the fact that I'll be the only person leaving this section not cringing from the bitter taste of disappointment."
"The Mets are ahead by two. Did you miss the last inning? I'd be happy to recap."
"It's only the fourth. Lots of game left." Toby stretched his legs as far as he could, his knees touching the seat-back in front of him. Tino had pushed the count full, and Toby waited for the pitch.
"Well, sure," Josh said, slumping back against his seat. "But, before you know it, the Yankees are down by four in the top of the ninth, go down one-two-three, and you're forced to realize that they can't win 'em all."
Toby held his reply as Tino pulled the ball to right with a looping swing, stopping at second with a double-good start to the inning. Bonus points for the opportunity to weaken Josh's confidence. Toby nodded toward the field. "It seems that destiny may not agree with you," he said, amused with Josh's tense squirm. "But it may surprise you that I do, in fact, already realize that they can't win them all."
"And yet," Josh said, the sarcasm in his voice heavier than he'd heard it all day, "you seem sure that-"
"They'll win this one? Yeah."
"You shouldn't be."
Josh sniffed. "Because they lost the first two games of the series along with their momentum. They might have a few good moments, but they're not coming back. Not today, anyway."
"A few good moments," Toby mumbled to himself, grinning softly at the ground. "I'll tell you what, Josh." Toby waited until Josh turned his head to look at him. "Whoever spends the whole night rooting for the losing team has to wear the opposing team's hat tomorrow."
"So if the Yankees win, I wear a Yankees hat, and, if the Mets win, you wear a Mets hat?"
"Yeah," Toby said, partially drowned out as Brosius connected with the pitch, driving the ball deep to right. Another double. Toby squeezed his fingers around a handful of peanuts and pumped his fist; he would have clapped if his hands had been empty. "Yeah."
Josh huffed, avoiding eye contact as he glared at the field.
Toby relaxed in his seat. "If you want to back out-"
"I'm not backing out. I win, you wear a Mets hat. You win, I get the Yankee hat," Josh said.
"You know," Toby said, his voice smooth with nonchalance. "We're flying to Boston tomorrow."
Josh's body stiffened, his fingers curling into a tight fist. "We're-flying to Boston tomorrow?"
"Does that make you nervous?"
Drawing a deep breath, Josh straightened up in his seat and raised his chin. "No."
"That was just two doubles in a row, you know."
Josh waved it off, but pulled the bill of his cap lower. "It's fine."
Toby cracked another peanut, carelessly flicking the shell onto the ground. "Defending World Champions, Josh."
"Defending World Champions."
"What's your point?"
"You're going to lose the bet," Toby said, a ghost of a smug smile threatening to spread wide across his face. "That's all I'm saying."
"Is this your version of trash talk, because-"
A solid, sweet crack made Toby and Josh-the entire stadium full of fans along with them-jerk their heads. Toby's grin broke over his face as he followed the path of the ball-a rocket off Ledee's bat and over the right field wall. Yankees ahead by one.
"Oh, come on!" Josh yelled, joining force with the legion of angry Mets fans. Suckers. They'd picked the wrong team in New York.
Toby angled his head and glanced at Josh, who had hunkered down in his seat, quiet now and scowling at the right field wall. "So what's your hat size? Seven? Seven-and-a-quarter?"
"It's not over yet."
The next morning, Toby ambled through the cabin of the plane en route to Boston and, as he passed his seat, slapped the navy blue cap onto Josh's head.