Read Baseball Pals Online

Authors: Matt Christopher

Baseball Pals (3 page)

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Nichols said as the boys gathered their bats and gloves and headed sadly for home. “We have a good team.
Once Jimmie finds that plate, nobody will beat us.”

Jimmie kept his eyes straight ahead. I’ll find it, he thought. I have to find it, or we might as well not join the league.

8

T
he Planets played a game Tuesday afternoon against the Mohawks. Jimmie felt a little more confident before the game began.
He had practiced a lot. His control was improving. Mr. Nichols said so himself.

The first two innings went by without a man reaching first base. Lou Rodell, the Planets’ shortstop, hit a grounder to short
in the top of the third inning. The Mohawks’ shortstop caught it and threw it over the first baseman’s head. Lou ran to second
on the play.

Jimmie stepped to the plate. He batted fifth in the batting order. He pulled his helmet down tight on his head, gripped his
bat near the end of the handle, and dug his toes into the dirt.

The ball came in. It was low. Jimmie let it go by.

“Ball!” cried the umpire.

The catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher. Jimmie waited again. The pitcher stretched his hands high, brought them down.
He looked over his shoulder at the runner on second, then threw the ball toward the plate.

It came in chest-high. It looked like a strike. Jimmie stepped into it. He swung.
Crack!
The ball sailed toward left center field. Lou scored. Jimmie rounded second, then third.

“Go! Go!” yelled Mr. Nichols, who was coaching third.

Jimmie ran like a deer. He crossed the plate for a home run!

“Thataboy, Jimmie!” Wishy Walters shouted. “Win your own ball game!”

The homer made Jimmie feel good. They were ahead now—2 to 0. If they could just hold that lead …

Kippy Lake flied out to center. Wishy struck out. George Bardino popped a fly to the pitcher. Three outs in six pitched balls.
Boy, that was quick, thought Jimmie.

The Planets ran out onto the field.

Jimmie pitched. “Ball!” said the umpire.

“Ball two!”

“Strike!”

“Ball three!”

“Ball four! Take your base!”

Jimmie trembled. He couldn’t walk any more men. He couldn’t. …

He stretched, pitched. The batter held
out his bat. He bunted the ball down the third base line. Jimmie raced after it. He picked it up, made a motion to throw to
second. Too late there! He heaved it to first.

“Out!” yelled the base umpire.

But throwing out the man didn’t help Jimmie’s control. He became wilder and wilder. He walked in runs. When he came to bat,
he didn’t feel like hitting. He wished the ball game was over. He wished they would call it off.

Mr. Nichols talked with the Mohawks’ manager during the fourth inning. Then he came to the dugout and said:

“This is the last inning, boys. At the rate we’re going, we’ll be playing all day.”

The Mohawks won, 14 to 4.

Jimmie walked home with Ervie. The rest of the team paired off by themselves.

“You lost, didn’t you?” Ervie said.

“Yes,” said Jimmie. “The Mohawks swamped us. But we’ll win the next one,” he added quickly. “You wait and see.”

He thought of Paul Karoski. If Paul played with the Planets, things would be different. He’d feel more like playing if Paul
was on the team.

He missed Paul a lot. He missed Paul’s nice, quiet manners. He missed Paul’s coming over to watch television with him. Paul
used to come almost every day, and Jimmie would go to visit him, too. Even Mrs. Todd missed him. Every once in a while she
asked about him.

“Do you think the Planets are good enough to play in the Grasshoppers League, Jimmie?” Ervie asked in his easy, quiet way.

Jimmie looked at him, startled. “Why? Don’t you think so, Ervie?”

Ervie was younger than he. He couldn’t
know very much about it. But deep in his heart Jimmie knew that whatever Ervie said meant a lot to him.

“No,” Ervie replied. “I don’t. The Planets aren’t going to win any games. They don’t have a good—I mean—” Ervie paused.

“They don’t have a good what, Ervie?” Jimmie said, and held his breath.

Ervie’s eyes met his squarely. “They don’t have a good pitcher, that’s why!”

9

T
he following Friday, at the supper table, Mr. Todd said, “I’m going fishing in the morning. How’d you like to come along,
Jimmie?”

Jimmie’s heart leaped. “Sure! Where are we going, Dad?”

“To Spring Lake. The boys at the shop say the pikes are really biting.”

Jimmie clapped his hands. “Oh, boy! We haven’t fished in weeks, have we, Dad?”

“Last time was about a month ago,” Mr. Todd said with a smile.

They were up at five o’clock the next morning. Mrs. Todd made a basket of sandwiches, a quart thermos of coffee for Dad, and
a pint thermos of milk for Jimmie.

“Why don’t you come along, Mom?” Jimmie asked.

“What—and leave Ervie home?” She smiled and pulled his ear. “No, never mind. We’ll plan a picnic soon for the whole family.
I’m not much of a fisherman, anyway.”

Mr. Todd rented a boat at a place called Kam’s Boat Landing. The boat was equipped with a motor. He and Jimmie put their fishing
gear into the boat and chugged out to where the lake was smooth as glass and deep.

They baited their hooks with minnows that Mr. Todd had bought at the landing. Jimmie baited his own hook. His father had
taught him how to do it. Then they cast their lines into the water and sat there and waited for the fish to bite.

Seagulls flew in the still air around them. A crow cawed in the distance. Once in a while the sun peeked through a crack in
the gray clouds.

Jimmie grew restless. They had sat here all morning and they hadn’t caught a fish yet.

“What happened to all the fish those men were talking about, Dad?” he asked.

His father grinned. “I don’t know. They must have seen us coming and swum off. What’s the matter? Getting tired?”

“Well—kind of.”

“Have a sandwich,” his father suggested.

Jimmie took a sandwich out of the basket and poured himself a glass of milk. He liked this part of it. It was fun to eat out
here in
the boat. His father ate too, but steadily watched his line.

Another half hour dragged by.

Jimmie straightened his back, stretched his arms, and yawned. “We’re not going to catch any fish, Dad,” he said. “Let’s go
home.”

“Now, hold your horses,” said Mr. Todd. “We’re not going home yet. Let’s try another spot.”

They tried another spot. It didn’t seem any better.

“I’m getting tired, Dad,” Jimmie murmured.

“Yes, I know. And impatient, too.”

Just then the red and white bobber on Jimmie’s line plunged down into the water! Jimmie gripped the rod.

“I caught one, Dad! I caught one!” he cried excitedly.

He wound the reel and felt the fish fight on the end of the line. He wondered what it was. It felt like a big one.

Finally, a long wriggling fish leaped from the water.

“A pike!” Mr. Todd shouted. “And a beauty, at that!”

Mr. Todd grabbed the leader, removed the pike from the hook, and dropped it, still wriggling, into the creel.

“See?” he said. “Isn’t this catch worth all that time you spent waiting?”

Jimmie’s heart throbbed. He grinned happily. “It sure is!” he said.

“Patience,” Mr. Todd said. “It’s an important thing in fishing. It’s the same in baseball or anything else. When you want
something, you have to keep at it. But you can’t be in a hurry. Suppose I had become discouraged earlier the way you did and
wanted to quit?
We would’ve gone home with nothing. That would be a fine way to greet Mom, wouldn’t it?”

Jimmie smiled. “I guess you’re right, Dad,” he said.

10

T
hey had fish for supper. Mr. Todd had caught two, right after Jimmie had caught his, so there was plenty to go around.

Early in the evening Jimmie began to think about Paul again. Lots of times on Saturday nights Paul would come and watch television
with him. Sometimes his mother and father would come, too. Now it was more than two weeks since Paul had been here.

It was Tiny Zimmer’s fault, Jimmie told
himself. Tiny was the one who had asked Paul to play with the Red Rockets.

Suddenly, Jimmie had an idea. Maybe if Mr. and Mrs. Karoski came, Paul would come, too!

He went to his mother.

“Mom, why don’t you invite Mr. and Mrs. Karoski over? It’s Saturday night, and they haven’t been over in a long time.”

“I thought about that, too.” His mother smiled. “I’ll call them right now.”

The telephone was in the living room. She dialed a number.

“Hello? Josie? This is Lynn. How are you?”

They talked a bit. Finally Mrs. Todd invited Mrs. Karoski and her husband over for the evening.

“Tell them to bring Paul, too!” Jimmie whispered.

“Bring Paul with you,” Mrs. Todd said.

She hung up, smiling. “They’ll be glad to come!” she said.

Forty-five minutes later Mr. and Mrs. Karoski came. But Paul wasn’t with them.

“Where’s Paul?” Jimmie asked Mr. Karoski.

Mr. Karoski was a middle-aged man with a mustache and horn-rimmed glasses. He shrugged his shoulders. “He’s home. He didn’t
want to come.”

“Why not?”

Mrs. Karoski answered. “I don’t know. He just didn’t want to come. I don’t understand that boy. Sometimes he won’t say anything.”

“I know why,” a small voice said.

Jimmie looked at Ervie. Something that felt like wire clamped around his chest.

Ervie looked up at Mrs. Karoski. His blue
eyes seemed bigger than ever. “He’s mad at Jimmie,” he said. “Paul wants to pitch, and Jimmie wants to pitch. They both want
to pitch for the Planets.”

Jimmie bit his lip. His face flushed.

“Thanks a lot, Ervie!” he cried loudly, and ran out of the room.

11

T
he whole Todd family went to church Sunday morning. Afterward, Mrs. Todd cooked steak, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, and
corn. She cooked onions with the steak, too, but neither Jimmie nor Ervie liked onions.

Jimmie helped his mother with the dishes. Then the family drove to the park.

It was a nice day. The golden sun splashed its warmth over the green grass, trees, and everywhere. The park was crowded with
families. Children laughed. Mothers wheeled baby carriages.

Mr. Todd parked the car. Everybody piled out. They walked on the grass that felt like a carpet under their feet. They stopped
and talked with friends.

Then they walked up a small hill. Here and there rosebushes and geraniums decorated the park. Chestnut trees loomed into the
sky. Gray squirrels jerked their tails as they hopped over the grass.

“Look, Mom!” Ervie cried. “Squirrels!”

Cries and yells echoed from beyond the hill.

“Sounds like a baseball game,” Mr. Todd said.

They reached the top of the hill. A ball game was going on in the field beyond.

Jimmie saw that boys of his own age were playing. He recognized some of the boys from his team. Then he saw who was pitching,
and he stopped in his tracks and shoved his hands hard into his pockets.

“What do you want to watch that game for? It’s just a scrub game,” he said.

“Paul Karoski is pitching,” Mr. Todd said. “Let’s just watch a few minutes.”

They went closer to the field. They stopped beside other people who were watching. Jimmie remained behind. He didn’t want
any of the boys to see him. They might ask him to play, and he didn’t want to. Not with Paul there. Paul was annoyed at him.
He’d probably quit if Jimmie played.

Paul went through his windup. His left arm went back. His right leg lifted. Then his arm came around and the ball snapped
from his fingers. It sped toward the plate like a bullet. The batter swung.

“Strike three!” the umpire shouted.

Mr. Todd chuckled. “Say! Paul looks good, doesn’t he? He has beautiful form for a kid. That boy will make a great pitcher
someday.”

The words stung Jimmie. They hurt more because his father had said them.

“One of these days I’ll be as good as he is,” he said stiffly. “I can throw faster than he can now. All I need is control.”

His father looked at him. “Oh? You told me you were pitching, but you didn’t tell me you were that good.”

Jimmie’s face colored. “Well, that’s what Mr. Nichols said.”

He met Ervie’s eyes. His face grew hot and sweat shone on his forehead. He had said the wrong thing again. He could tell by
the look Ervie gave him.

“Let’s go,” he said. “I’m getting tired standing here.”

His father patted him on the shoulder. “Okay, Jimmie. We’ll go.”

12

O
n Monday morning Jimmie sat on the steps of the back porch. He was alone. Ervie was somewhere in the house, playing by himself.

Jimmie had never been so unhappy in all his life. Just because he wanted to pitch, he thought. What was so wonderful about
pitching, anyway?

If he had let Paul pitch for the Planets, everything would be all right. They would have a good team, and he and Paul would
still be pals.

At last he went into the house and brought out a tennis ball. He stood in the driveway, threw the ball against the wall of
his house, and caught it on a bounce. He did this for a while, then he yelled for Ervie.

“Ervie! Will you come out?”

A few minutes later Ervie came out of the house. “Did you want me, Jimmie?”

“Yes. Will you get my bat and hit some grounders to me?”

“Sure!” Ervie said, and scampered back into the house. He came out with Jimmie’s yellow bat. Jimmie handed him the tennis
ball.

“You stay here,” he advised Ervie. “I’ll get down by the fence. Just hit ’em on the ground.”

Jimmie trotted to the fence at the edge of the lawn. Ervie tossed the ball up with his left hand, then tried to hit it with
the bat.
The ball dropped to the ground before he could swing the bat around. “Come on, Ervie! You can hit it! It’s easy!”

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