Read Baseball Pals Online

Authors: Matt Christopher

Baseball Pals (2 page)

Ervie didn’t answer. He just blinked his eyes again.

“Listen, Ervie,” Jimmie said in a low voice, “I want to practice pitching. The best place is here on the diamond. I need the
practice. You want us to be ready when the league starts, don’t you? You want us to have a good team, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Ervie.

“Then will you stay awhile longer?”

“No,” said Ervie. “I want to go home. I’m hungry.”

4

J
immie walked ahead of Ervie. He didn’t look back once until he reached the corner. Ervie was about twenty feet behind him.

“You walk too fast,” said Ervie, puffing.

When they reached the corner, Jimmie took Ervie’s hand. He felt bad because he had been mean to Ervie. “Maybe you’re right,
Ervie,” he said. “Maybe it is late. Come on.”

They entered the kitchen. Jimmie smelled the cooked potatoes and ham, and his
mouth watered. His stomach felt empty now, too.

Mrs. Todd turned from the kitchen stove. Her shiny black hair hung in soft waves. She was wearing a blue shirt with white
polka dots.

“Well,” she said, “look what the wind blew in. My two baseball players!” A smile flickered in her eyes. “It seems, though,
that someone’s memory isn’t as good now that baseball season is here.”

Jimmie was puzzled. “What do you mean, Mom?”

She pointed at the clock on the wall. “Do you see what time it is?”

Jimmie looked. “It’s five minutes to five.”

“Yes. Can you remember what time I asked you boys to come home?”

“Four o’clock. But nobody had a watch, Mom,” Jimmie added hastily.

His eyes met Ervie’s, and his face turned red. He had lied again. He had not wanted to come home. He had wanted to stay. If
Ervie hadn’t insisted on coming home, he would have been at the field yet.

He prayed Ervie wouldn’t tell on him. Ervie didn’t.

Mrs. Todd ruffled Jimmie’s hair. “Well, I suppose that none of you baseball players would carry a watch with you. Daddy is
home and supper is about ready. Wash your hands, while I set the table.”

After supper Jimmie asked his mother if he could go to Paul Karoski’s house. She consented.

Paul was in the backyard, playing pitch and catch with someone. When Jimmie reached the corner of the house, he saw that the
other boy was Tiny Zimmer.

“Hi,” Jimmie called.

“Hi,” Tiny said. He was crouched behind a piece of wood that was supposed to be home plate. He took one glance at Jimmie,
then turned his attention back to Paul.

Paul didn’t say anything. He was too interested in winding up and keeping his eyes on the target that Tiny had made with his
glove. Paul’s left hand went back over his shoulder, then came around fast. The ball snapped from his fingers and sped toward
the mitt.
Plop!

“Thataboy, Paul,” Tiny said. “Right over the outside corner.”

Jimmie watched Paul throw awhile. But Paul didn’t look at him once, as if he weren’t even there.

Paul looked pretty good, Jimmie thought. But he should play first base, or the outfield. The Planets didn’t need two pitchers.
Jimmie would be the only one they needed.

Wishy Walters came up behind Jimmie. He watched for a while too, then said, “Want to come to my house, Jimmie? I have a hard
rubber ball. We can play a few games.”

“I might as well,” said Jimmie.

Wishy’s house was a block down the street. It was made of brick with a wide porch in front. Mr. and Mrs. Walters were sitting
on the porch. Jimmie spoke to them. They asked how his mother and father were. Then Wishy got his rubber ball.

“I’ll be Cleveland,” Wishy said.

“I’ll be Detroit,” Jimmie said.

They went to the side of the house, then threw fingers to see who would “bat” first. Wishy won. He stood close to the house
and Jimmie about six feet behind him. Wishy would throw the ball against the house. When it bounced back, Jimmie would try
to
catch it. If he caught it, it would mean an out. If he missed it, it would mean an error and a “man” would get on first base.
If the ball went past him and he didn’t touch it, it would mean a hit.

Wishy was ahead 10 to 6 by the third inning. Jimmie didn’t care. He wasn’t interested in the game, now. He was thinking about
Paul. Paul was his best friend, yet Paul had hardly looked at him when he was there a while ago.

Was Paul mad at him? Was he annoyed because Jimmie wanted to pitch? But he did say he’d play the outfield, didn’t he? Didn’t
he mean it? Did he still want to pitch?

But I want to pitch, Jimmie told himself. We’re only going to play one game a week. There won’t be enough games for two pitchers.
Can’t Paul understand that?

There were footsteps behind him. Jimmie
turned. Tiny Zimmer was coming down the cemented alleyway, a big grin on his moon-shaped face.

“Hi, fellas,” he said.

“Hi, Tiny,” Jimmie murmured. “Where’s Paul?”

“Home.” The grin on Tiny’s face widened. “I have some news for you guys. Paul isn’t going to play with the Planets. He’s going
to play with us. The Red Rockets.”

5

J
immie went home. He kicked a stone in the driveway. He banged the toe of his shoe against the first step that led to the porch.
Why did Paul have to play with the Red Rockets? Why?

He went inside. His mother was in the kitchen, mending a pair of Ervie’s pants.

“What’s the matter, Jimmie?” she asked.

“Nothing,” said Jimmie. He went into the living room. Ervie was playing with his toy stagecoach on the thick rug.

“Hi, Jimmie,” he said. “Will you play with me?”

“Not now.”

Jimmie turned away and headed for his room. He could feel Ervie’s eyes on his back.

He sat on his bed and thought about Paul Karoski. Paul and he were such great buddies. They were like brothers. They had always
played together, ever since they were old enough to walk. Sure, they would get mad at each other once in a while. Who didn’t?
But it never lasted long.

How could Paul do that? Jimmie thought. How could Paul turn his back on him, and on the Planets, to play on another team?

Jimmie swallowed an ache in his throat and wiped his eyes.

“What’s wrong, Jimmie?” a voice said softly behind him.

Ervie had come in so quietly Jimmie had not heard him.

“Nothing,” he said. He went to his desk
and yanked out a drawer. He took out two sheets of heavy yellow paper and a box of crayons.

He tried to think of something to draw. But his mind was filled with thoughts of Paul. Without Paul the Planets would not
amount to anything. He could hit. He could run. And if anything ever happened to Jimmie, he could pitch.

Well, thought Jimmie angrily, let him pitch for the Red Rockets! I don’t care!

He pulled the drawer out again and shoved the paper and box of crayons back into it. Then he rose and put an arm around Ervie’s
shoulder.

“Come on, Ervie,” he said. “I’ll play with you.”

6

T
he Planets couldn’t practice the next afternoon. It rained off and on and the field was too wet. Thursday morning though,
the sun came out nice and bright. By afternoon the field was dry.

The team gathered at the field. They played catch for a while. Some of the boys talked about Paul.

“Why did he quit?” one of them asked.

“I don’t know.”

“He’s going to pitch for the Red Rockets, that’s why.”

“The Red Rockets? He belongs to us, doesn’t he?”

“He doesn’t have to. He can belong to any team he wants to.”

Jimmie pretended he didn’t hear them. He wished that they would stop talking about Paul. After all, he was their pitcher.
Once he got going, he’d be even better than Paul. Just wait and see.

Mr. Nichols arrived. He was wearing a blue baseball cap and a sweatshirt. He looked like a real manager now.

“Hi, boys!” His gray eyes sparkled as he looked at the faces. “Where’s Paul Karoski?” he asked.

“He joined the Red Rockets,” Wishy said. “We’re going to miss him. He was a good player.”

“He was the best pitcher we had,” Johnny Lukon said.

“We don’t need a good pitcher,” Wishy said. “Jimmie can pitch as well as anybody. What we need are hitters.” Jimmie looked
at Wishy and felt a little better that somebody was on his side.

“Well, Jimmie Todd can be our pitcher,” Mr. Nichols said. “I think that after some practice he’ll be just as good as Paul
Karoski. Let’s hope he’ll be better!”

Some of the boys laughed. Jimmie felt like smiling himself.

Yet he wished that Paul was playing with them. It wasn’t right that Paul should play with another team. He belonged here—with
the Planets.

“Let’s have batting practice,” Mr. Nichols suggested. “Jimmie, take these three balls and get on the mound. Some of you boys
pull that batting cage closer to the plate.”

The cage was moved up.

“Johnny, Alan, and Billy,” Mr. Nichols said, “you three can start to bat. Hit five and lay one down. Okay, Jimmie! Throw ’em
in there!”

Jimmie stood on the rubber, made his windup, and threw the ball. Mr. Nichols, standing behind the batting cage, watched him.
The pitch was wide. Johnny let it go by.

“Outside!” Mr. Nichols said.

Jimmie picked up another ball, wound up, and threw.

“Too high!” Mr. Nichols said.

The next pitch hit the dirt in front of the plate.

The manager gathered up the three balls and tossed them back to Jimmie. “Come on, Jimmie, boy. Take your time. Get ’em over.”

Jimmie was careful with the next pitch. He didn’t throw it hard. It went over the plate. Johnny swung at it and the ball sailed
out to left field. The next pitch was low, but it came in easy, and Johnny swung again. He missed. “Come on! Throw ’em in
here, will you?” Johnny cried.

“I wish Paul was pitching for us,” Alan Warzcak murmured softly, but loud enough for Jimmie to hear. “He puts ’em all over.”

“I know,” Billy Hutt said. “We used to have fine batting practice when he was pitching!”

“All right, boys. Enough of that,” Mr. Nichols cautioned. “Come on, Jimmie. Take your time, boy. You’ll get ’em in there.”

But Jimmie couldn’t get them in there. After a while, Mr. Nichols went out to the mound himself and pitched.

7

T
hey practiced all the next week. First they had batting practice, then Mr. Nichols would hit balls to the infielders and outfielders.
While Mr. Nichols did that, Jimmie practiced pitching.

He had learned to throw a drop. He was proud of it. Now, if he could only get his fast throws over the plate …

At the Friday afternoon practice Mr. Nichols called the boys together.

“I’ve scheduled a game with the Pirates for tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “Everybody
be here at one-thirty. I’ll try to get a couple more games before the league starts so that we won’t plunge into it cold.”

Jimmie was up bright and early Saturday morning. After breakfast he went to Mose Solomon’s house. Mose’s mother came to the
door and said that Mose was still in bed.

“Who’s that, Ma?” Mose’s voice came from somewhere upstairs.

“Jimmie Todd!” she called back. She smiled at Jimmie. “I guess he wasn’t asleep. Just lying there. You want to come in and
wait for him?”

“Thank you,” said Jimmie.

After Mose washed, dressed, and ate his breakfast, he brought his mitt and played catch with Jimmie.

“Give me a target,” Jimmie said.

Mose held his mitt in front of his left shoulder until Jimmie could put a ball in
that spot. Then he’d change it to his right shoulder and then in front of his chest. The ball seemed to go everywhere but
where Mose held the mitt.

“Come on, Jimmie. Come on,” Mose said encouragingly.

“I’m trying!” cried Jimmie.

After a while he became tired. “Let’s quit,” he said. “I’ve still got to pitch this afternoon.”

As the hour of the game drew near, Jimmie’s stomach tightened into knots. He wanted so much to be a pitcher, but he wasn’t
doing too well. If he only had control …

He walked a man in the first inning. The next man singled, sending the runner to third. Jimmie stood on the rubber and looked
at the two fingers Mose held below his mitt. Mose was signaling for a curve ball.

Jimmie’s hands trembled. No one was out, and already two men were on. One was in scoring position. Everybody was looking at
Jimmie. They were waiting to see what he could do.

“He’ll walk you!” a voice shouted from the grandstand. “Just stand there with your bat on your shoulder, Mike!”

His heart thumped in his chest. Perspiration covered his face. There seemed to be too much going on. People were shouting.
… Mose was giving him a target …. The infielders were talking it up …. Two men were on bases …. He tried to think about everything
at once.

He wound up. The runner on third took a big lead. Jimmie stopped his windup, whipped the ball to third. The boy ran back.
Alan Warzcak tagged him before his foot touched the bag.

“Balk!” shouted the umpire, who stood behind Jimmie.

Jimmie was startled. He looked at Mr. Nichols, sitting in the dugout. Mr. Nichols nodded.

“You can’t throw a ball to a base once you’ve started to wind up,” the umpire said. “Never wind up with men on base. They
can steal on you. Okay, kid!” he said to the runner on third. “Take the base!” He turned to the runner on first. “Go to second!”

Mr. Nichols trotted out to the mound. He put an arm around Jimmie’s shoulder. “You’re all nerved up, Jimmie. Relax. Take it
easy. This is just a scrub game. About that windup and throw when a runner’s on base—do you understand it now?”

“Yes,” Jimmie murmured.

“Okay.” Mr. Nichols patted him on the shoulder and grinned. “Just let ’em hit it.”

The Pirates scored three runs in the first inning. The Planets tied it in the second. The third inning went by scoreless.
In the fourth Jimmie walked two men in a row, and the next man hit a homer that put the Pirates way ahead again. The Pirates
made two more runs in the fifth, and there the game ended. Score—8 to 3.

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