Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Hunter Brandt: Caught in the Middle

Caught in the Middle

Hunter Brandt: Caught in the Middle

Have you ever felt caught in the middle?

  • Caught in the middle of two family members who can’t agree with one another?
  • Caught in the middle of your own hopes and dreams and someone else’s expectations of you?
  • Caught in the middle of your own values and those someone else would impose on you?

I spend months writing each book in the Coach Dave series and more months editing them. In reading them over and over (and over and over), I have come to know the characters intimately. They become less a part of my world, and I become more deeply entwined in theirs. Their plot paths become less determined by me and more directed by who they have become in the Coach Dave world.

One character in the series was originally intended to be a shadow character, one that the reader didn’t really get to know personally. Hunter Brandt refused to stay in the fringes, however, begging for his own identity instead of being known as Fletcher Brandt’s son. Fletcher Brandt is the win-at-all-costs antagonist of the series. I never intended for Hunter to escape his father/coach’s shadow, but he became so likable to my readers and such a sympathetic character that he could no longer stay caught in the middle of Fletcher Brandt and the trophies that validate him.

The narrative device that I chose to bring out both Fletcher and Hunter Brandt in Coach Dave Season Three is Whitney Brandt. Fletcher’s wife makes her first appearance in the season at the middle school baseball parent meeting and upsets her husband’s apple cart by calling Gary “Rooster” Hamilton “downright charming.” Later, she takes an enormous risk by saying yes to a cup of coffee at the home of our narrator.

“Caught in the Middle” is an excerpt from Coach Dave Season Three: Middle School.

Caught in the Middle

Most of the boys showed up at our house right after school on Friday afternoon. Practically every player on the team, even the eighth graders, piled into the game room upstairs. Kate was just about to make an extra grocery run when the doorbell rang. We arrived at the front door from opposite ends of the house at about the same time. Whitney and Hunter Brandt stood on our front porch.

“Well, hello,” said Kate. “Hunter, we’re so glad you could come. “The boys are upstairs in the game room. Take the stairs and follow the noise.”

Hunter bounded up the stairs, but his mother lingered. “I wanted to thank you for going out of your way to invite Hunter to join in with the rest of the boys.”

“All Rob’s idea,” I said, “but we’re glad to have him.”

Hunter’s mother hesitated but continued, “Hunter is a good kid, but…he gets left out a lot. He’s beginning to understand that people associate him with his dad, and that has caused quite a divide in their relationship. Mr. and Ms. Baker…”

“Brad and Kate,” Kate inserted, reaching out to reassure Whitney Brandt with a touch on her shoulder.

“Brad and Kate, then. I love my husband. He hasn’t always been so crazy about winning ball games. I know how people talk about him, and I can’t really argue with them. But they don’t know the Fletcher Brandt that I fell in love with in college. He was sweet and thoughtful and…interested in more than baseball.”

“What happened?” I asked, more brusquely than I had intended. “Sorry, didn’t mean to sound rude.”

“It’s okay.”

“Where are our manners?” Kate suddenly remembered. “Won’t you come inside and sit down? We would love for you to join us for a cup of coffee.”

Determined, Whitney nodded her head once and said, “Yes, I would love to join you for a cup of coffee.”

A few minutes later, with a cup of our favorite brew cradled in both hands, Whitney Brandt picked up where she had left off. “Fletcher could never please his biological father. His real dad bailed on him and his mother when Fletcher was about six years old. He moved out to the West Coast and never called or wrote except occasionally on Fletcher’s birthday—you know, just often enough that he couldn’t completely put him out of his mind. His mom re-married, but his step-dad was a lot like his dad—hard to please. He coached Fletcher when he was in Little League and pushed him hard, really hard.

“Fletcher told me when we started dating that he never wanted to be like either one of them. He wasn’t, either, for the first few years or so of our marriage. When Hunter started playing T-ball, it’s like Fletcher’s step-dad moved in with us. The very things that he hated about him started showing up in Fletcher. In the beginning I thought it was the excitement of a dad and son being involved in baseball together for the first time. I grew up with three older brothers who all played ball for my dad, so I kind of understood. But…”

I sipped on my coffee, feeling like an intruder in the conversation. I would slip out soon, but I was more than curious to find out what made Fletcher Brandt tick. Whitney gathered her breath with a deep sigh, then continued.

“He started keeping notes in that notebook he keeps in his back pocket. Do you guys know what I’m talking about?”

“Oh, yeah,” I answered. After hearing Rooster’s diatribe about Fletcher Brandt’s little black notebook on so many occasions, I rolled my eyes involuntarily. Kate kicked me under the table.

“It’s okay. It’s no secret that my husband is the type of youth baseball coach that gives the sport a bad name in many circles. I just wish…

“I thought that he used the notebook to write out his lineups—he was always doing that, trying to come up with the most successful place for every kid to bat and to play in the field. I picked it up off his nightstand one morning after Hunter’s first season was over. I know enough baseball to know that he was writing up scouting reports on every kid in the league. Hunter and these other boys were five years old.

“Fletcher had written notes about the kids he planned to draft the next year. Every year after that, as soon as one season was over, he was listing every player that he wanted for the next year. He labeled that page his ‘Dream Team.’ I know I waited too long to say anything to him about it, but I really thought he would relax somewhere along the way.

“When Hunter was eight, I suggested that we go grab a burger after one of his games. Fletcher told us to go ahead, that he wanted to watch a little of the game after ours. He never showed up at the restaurant, and he has scouted every game in Hunter’s league ever since. That’s the night I feel like I lost my husband. He won’t listen to reason. It’s like his value in life is directly tied to his won-loss record as a coach…and in Hunter’s performance. That’s the worst part. Hunter is caught in the middle.”

More Hunter Brandt On Deck

We discover much more about Hunter Brandt in Season Three. In fact, he and Jud Franklin make a decision that guide the middle school team in a most unexpected way. From a writer’s perspective, that was the day the muse showed up, and the scene practically wrote itself. I felt a little caught in the middle myself that day, caught between the story that was unfolding in my mind and the screen upon which it appeared. Fellow writers, you understand.

Hunter’s story will continue in Coach Dave Season Four: Travel Ball. I’ll be binge writing the next in the series later this week and over Christmas Break. Will Hunter escape being caught in the middle of two coaches, two perspectives of why and how to play the game he loves? Stay tuned.

About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

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