Power Forward - By Brian Law

Walt Johnson removed his fourth paper cup of coffee from the hospital’s vending machine, returned to his seat in the waiting room and sat down with the rest of the expectant fathers.


He was bleary eyed as he hunched forward, exhausted from the waiting and worrying. As he sipped from his coffee cup, a man slipped a business card onto the table in front of him, but said nothing. Walt looked at the man and with his interest piqued, picked up the card and read it. The card had the mascot of the local college’s basketball team embossed on it, and a name underneath it . . . Hector Cruz, recruiter.


“What’s this, mister?” Walt asked the man, holding the card up.


“Call me Hector, Walt,” the man replied, smiling. “The hospital called me when your wife went into labor, so I got over as soon as I could so we could talk a bit about your baby’s future.” Then, looking around, he suggested that he and Walt move to a more private area and talk.


“Our baby's future?” Walt wondered, still confused about why a basketball recruiter would be stalking him at a maternity ward at four o’clock in the morning.


“Confused, huh, Walt?” Cruz said, again smiling. “Most of our clients respond that way at first. It’s typical.”


“Clients? I’m not your client,” Walt responded, a tone to his voice. 


“Well, hear me out and you can decide later, Walt. But let me put you in the picture first,” Cruz explained as he corralled Walt to a separate table for just the two of them. He told Walt that the hospital had an arrangement with the local college. Pregnant women within a certain profile were identified and the college was provided with their names and their key data.


Walt nodded and interrupted, “So, because my wife and I were both college athletes, me in basketball and Helen in volleyball, and because the baby is obviously going to be big at birth, they contacted you guys, right?”


“You’re quicker than most, Walt,” Cruz retorted. “And we’d like to establish a relationship with you and your wife, an informal one.” He slid a sealed manila envelope across the table discreetly. 


 “What’s this?” Walt asked.


“Just a friendly gesture, Walt,” Cruz answered. “No strings. Just something to show you and your wife that we’re serious.”


Walt picked up the envelope and peaked inside. It was filled with a neat stack of new one hundred dollar bills with the familiar face of Ben Franklin staring back. “No strings?” Walt asked, his tone changing.


“No strings.”


Just then, someone from the hospital walked over to the table and announced, “Mr. Johnson, you’re the proud father of a new baby boy, sir. Mother and baby are doing very well.”


Walt, ecstatic, jumped up and asked, “How big is he?”


“Oh, my, Mr. Johnson, he’s a big one. He weighed 14 pounds, 2 ounces and was 30 inches long at birth. Biggest baby we’ve seen in years,” the staff member beamed.


Walt looked at Cruz, grinned, and held out his hand. “Be seeing you again, I presume, Mr. Cruz. Informally, of course,” Walt said confidently, pocketing the manila envelope.


As the two men shook hands, Cruz leaned over and whispered in Walt’s ear, “Your boy beat Shaq by two ounces and four inches, Walt. Congrats! See you about a year from now. Can’t wait to meet the boy.” 


Turning to leave, Cruz stopped and over his shoulder asked, “By the way, what are you naming the boy, Walt?”


Walt looked up and replied, “Well, we looked at hundreds of names and were thinking Benjamin, Cruz.” He paused, and taking out the envelope filled with hundred dollar bills and watching Cruz for his reaction added, “But now that we know how big he is, I’m kinda thinking we'll have to look at maybe a thousand more names. Grover comes to mind.”


Cruz, not blinking, nodded and said, "Grover is good, Walt. We can do Grover."



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