Authors: Matt Christopher
Text copyright © 1956, renewed 1984 by Matthew F. Christopher
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First eBook Edition: December 2009
To my brothers
immie Todd brushed away a lock of brown hair from his forehead. He pounded his fist into his baseball glove and scowled at
“Why can’t I pitch?” he said. “I’m captain. We just voted on it, didn’t we? And can’t a captain play whatever position he
“But you’re no pitcher,” said Johnny. He was a long-legged boy with brown eyes and fire-red hair. He was wearing a brand-new
first-base mitt. “Why don’t you let Paul pitch? He’s a lefty, and lefties make good pitchers.”
“Sure,” said Alan Warzcak, sitting on one of the legs of the batting cage. He was small but could run faster and hit better
than most boys his age. “You never pitched before. Let Paul pitch. He’s taller than you and he has a good curve.”
Jimmie clamped his teeth over his lower lip. His eyes darted fire. He thought of a lot of things he could call Johnny Lukon
and Alan Warzcak. But he didn’t. His younger brother, blue-eyed, sandy-haired Ervie, was standing beside him. He didn’t want
Ervie to go home and tell his mother he’d been quarreling with the boys on the ball diamond.
“I can pitch, too,” Jimmie said stubbornly. “I’ve been practicing ever since the weather got warm.”
Ervie’s big blue eyes rolled around to him. Jimmie’s ears reddened. Ervie was sort of
chubby. He wore blue overalls that dragged at the heels of his shoes. He hardly ever said anything. His eyes always did the
talking. Every time Jimmie told a fib, those eyes would look up at him, and Jimmie would feel guilty.
“Well, almost ever since then,” Jimmie corrected himself.
The blue eyes rolled away. Ervie never even smiled.
“If we want a team in the Grasshoppers League, we’d better make up our minds now what positions we’re going to play,” said
Jimmie. “I’ll pitch. Johnny Lukon will play first base.”
Then he turned to his best friend, Paul Karoski. Paul was the nicest kid he had ever known. He never said much. He never argued.
He was the tallest one around, too. He was a good pitcher, although Jimmie
thought that Paul would make a better first baseman. But now that Johnny Lukon had a first-base mitt, there was only the outfield
for Paul to play.
“I know what you could play, Paul,” Jimmie said, his eyes sparkling. “You can play the outfield, can’t you?”
Paul shrugged. “Yes. I suppose so.”
Jimmie’s brows arched. “Will you?” he pleaded. “You can play center. That’s where most of the flies are hit.”
If he made Paul believe that playing center field was as important as pitching, maybe Paul wouldn’t mind the change.
“If you say so,” Paul said.
Jimmie’s face brightened. He looked at Johnny, Alan, and the faces of the other players standing around. His expression clearly
said, “I told you so, didn’t I?”
He felt good. Everything was settled now.
He was going to pitch. All winter long he’d been thinking about it, while he read a book on big-league pitchers. He used to
think a pitcher had to be tall and able to throw a ball faster than anyone else on the team. But that wasn’t so. The book
had told about pitchers who weren’t very tall and were still great hurlers. It had told about pitchers who weren’t the fastest
throwers on their teams, but were smart and could throw hooks that struck men out like anything.
That was the kind of pitcher he wanted to be. Smart, and throw a lot of hooks. Jimmie smiled happily. He looked at Ervie,
who was standing beside him with his hands in his pockets. But he couldn’t tell whether Ervie was happy or not.
Something about him made Jimmie lose his smile. Something about the way Ervie was looking at Paul Karoski.
immie took a deep breath. He turned away from Ervie and tried not to be bothered by him. He wished he could leave Ervie home.
Then he wouldn’t be afraid to tell the boys anything. With Ervie around, he had to be careful what he said and what he did.
His eyes roved over the faces again. They settled on a boy a little taller and fatter than Ervie. His face was moon-shaped.
His nose was like an old-fashioned shoe button.
“Hey, Tiny! Are you going to catch for us this year?”
Tiny Zimmer shook his head. “No. I’m going to play with the Red Rockets.”
“The Red Rockets?” Jimmie’s forehead knotted into a frown. “Why? Don’t you want to play with us?”
Tiny shrugged. “They asked me last week. They’ve already given me a jersey.”
“Well, how do you like that?” Jimmie said, disgusted. “What are you doing here if you’re playing with the Red Rockets?”
Tiny shrugged again. “I came with Paul.”
Jimmie glared at him. Tiny wasn’t a good player, but he had nerve to stand behind the plate. Jimmie couldn’t think of anybody
else to take Tiny’s place. Nobody had ever asked for the position. It was a tough one to play. Besides, Tiny was the only
boy who owned a catcher’s mitt.
Jimmie kicked the short-cropped grass with the toe of his sneaker. “A fine start this is! How are we going to play in the
Grasshoppers League if we don’t have a catcher?”
The Grasshoppers League was starting soon. In order to join, a team had to have at least nine players. Their names had to
be in on a certain date. If the names weren’t in, the team’s chance to enter was lost.
Jimmie wet his lips. He looked at Ervie. If only Ervie was four or five years older, he thought, then he could catch.
“Well, are we going to have a team in the league, or not?” Jimmie snapped. “We need a catcher. Who’s going to catch?”
“I’ll catch,” a soft, deep voice spoke up from the rear of the group.
Jimmie rose on his toes. “Mose Solomon? Do you own a catcher’s mask and a mitt, Mose?”
“My big brother does. But he’ll let me take them. He bought a new outfit.”
Jimmie breathed a sigh of relief. “Will you go after them, Mose? Then we can play a game.”
“Okay!” Mose ran off.
Most of the kids had their gloves with them. So did Jimmie. He had also brought a ball and bat, hoping there would be enough
players to choose up sides.
“What are we calling our team?” Wishy Walters asked. “The Planets?”
“Sure. The same as last year,” Jimmie said. He was anxious to play ball. He wanted to get on the mound and pitch. He wanted
to prove to those boys who wouldn’t believe he could pitch that he was as good as Paul Karoski—or even better. “Let’s choose
up sides!” he said.
Johnny Lukon chose with him. Jimmie tossed his bat to Johnny, who caught it near
the middle. Then, hand over hand, the two boys worked to the top of the handle. Johnny won first choice.
“Paul,” he said.
“Mose,” Jimmie said.
The two teams were picked at last. There weren’t enough players, so Jimmie asked Ervie if he’d like to play.
“Sure,” said Ervie.
“Okay. You play right field.” Jimmie pointed to where he meant.
“I know,” murmured Ervie quietly.
Jimmie and Johnny chose for last raps. Jimmie won. Mose Solomon arrived with a mask and catcher’s mitt. The batting cage was
pulled out of the way and the game began. Jimmie was glad Mose was catching. It would be almost like a real game.
The leadoff hitter stepped to the plate.
Jimmie put his right foot on the rubber and wound up. He threw one fast toward the plate. It was a foot outside. The batter
let it go.
“Put it over!” somebody yelled.
He threw another wild pitch. Then one was close to the inside corner, but the batter didn’t swing at it.
“What’re you waiting for?” Jimmie cried.
“Put ’em over the plate!” Johnny Lukon wailed.
He was ready to pitch when Wishy said, “Jimmie! Here comes Mr. Nichols! Ask him to umpire.”
“Good idea! Mr. Nichols!” Jimmie shouted across the field. “Oh, Mr. Nichols! Will you umpire for us?”
Mr. Nichols was a tall, dark-haired man with a quick, happy smile. He often came to the park to watch the kids play.
He waved a greeting. “Sure, Jimmie,” he said. “I’ll be glad to.”
He stepped behind the pitcher’s mound and the game resumed.
“Ball one!” said Mr. Nichols.
Jimmie pitched again.
“Ball two!” said Mr. Nichols.
Jimmie grew worried. Why couldn’t he throw that ball over the plate? The home base looked like a big, flat dish up there.
It should be easy to throw the ball over.
But Jimmie walked that man, and he walked the next.
“Take it easy,” Mr. Nichols advised him. “Don’t throw so hard.”
Maybe that was the trouble, Jimmie thought. He threw easier.
The ball sailed over second base! A run scored. The
runner on first stopped on third. The hitter stopped on second. A two-bagger!
Jimmie’s heart sank. This wasn’t the way it should be. He had plenty of speed. He had a hook. Those batters weren’t supposed
to hit his pitches.
At last Johnny’s team made three outs. The score was 4 to 0, and the first inning was only half over!
Jimmie’s side scored two runs.
The second inning was a repetition of the first. Johnny’s team was knocking Jimmie’s pitches all over the lot. Before three
outs were made, four more runs had been scored.
Jimmie came to bat. He stepped into one of Paul’s fast balls for a line drive over short. The ball sailed deep into the outfield.
Jimmie raced around the bases and stopped on third. A smile tugged at the corners of his
mouth. That hit had felt good and solid. It made up a little for those bad throws and the men he had walked.
Someday he would be a good pitcher, he thought. He’d throw the ball wherever he wanted to. High, low, inside—anywhere. All
he needed was practice.
r. Nichols,” Johnny Lukon said, “we want to play in the Grasshoppers League, but we need a manager. Would you be our manager,
Mr. Nichols smiled. His gray eyes twinkled as if he had just been honored by something very important.
“You sure you want me to be your manager?” he asked.
“Yes. We talked about it. Would you manage us, please, Mr. Nichols?”
Mr. Nichols chuckled. “Okay. I’d be glad
to. I know most of the boys who run the Grasshoppers League, and we will get our team entered as soon as possible.”
He looked at the hot, anxious faces around him. “Now, do you have a captain?”
Jimmie stepped forward. “I’m the captain,” he said.
“Okay. Suppose you come to my house tonight, Jimmie, and give me the names of your players so that I’ll know who’s on our
“What about bats and gloves? Does everybody have them?”
“Most of us have.”
“What about balls?” Billy Hutt asked. “Those are furnished by the league,” Mr. Nichols said. He glanced at the mask and mitt
in Mose Solomon’s hands. “Are those yours, Mose?”
“Good. Can you boys be here again the same time tomorrow? We’ll go through fielding and batting practices.”
“Sure!” the boys said happily.
Jimmie felt a tug at his sleeve. He turned.
“I want to go home,” Ervie said.
“Oh, please, Ervie,” said Jimmie. “Not yet. We have plenty of time.”
“I’m hungry,” Ervie said.
“Hungry? Is that all you want to do? Eat?”
Ervie blinked his eyes. “I think we should go home. It’s late.”
“You go home if you want to,” Jimmie replied gruffly. “I’m staying here.”
Ervie peered up at him. There was hurt in his eyes. Jimmie turned his back to him, hoping Ervie would go home. But when he
looked around, Ervie was still there, gazing at him with those haunting blue eyes.
“Look, Ervie,” he pleaded, “I’m captain of the Planets. I’m supposed to stay here. I can’t go before the others go. Can’t