Read Baseball Pals Online

Authors: Matt Christopher

Baseball Pals (4 page)

Ervie tried again. The same thing happened. At last he did hit it, but the ball dribbled so slowly that it stopped before
it was halfway to Jimmie.

Jimmie shook his head.

A boy walked by the end of the driveway. Jimmie caught a glimpse of him before he got behind the next building.

“Wishy!” he shouted. “Wishy Walters!”

Wishy poked his head around the corner and waved. “Hi, Jimmie!”

“Come here!” Jimmie motioned.

Wishy came forward. His heels clicked on the cement driveway.

“Would you like to hit me some grounders?” asked Jimmie.

“Grounders?” Wishy’s forehead puckered
in a frown. “You’re a pitcher. Why do you want me to hit you grounders?”

Jimmie thought a moment. He didn’t know whether to tell Wishy. But Wishy was a good friend. He could trust Wishy with a secret.

“If I can get Paul back on the Planets, I’ll play an infield position,” Jimmie said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be a pitcher,
Wishy.”

“Oh, sure, you will,” said Wishy. “All you need is control. You have a lot of speed, Jimmie.”

“But time is going fast, Wishy. The day when we play our first league game will be here before we know it. And we’re not ready.
We’ve lost every practice game we’ve played.”

“But we’ve only played two,” argued Wishy. “Anyway, Paul won’t play with us now. He’s going to stick with the Red Rockets.”

Jimmie paled. “How do you know?”

“He told me,” said Wishy. “And when Paul says something, he means it.”

Jimmie stared at the ground. “But—he was my best friend. He’ll play with us if I tell him he can pitch. I’m sure he will.”
The thought of it excited him. “Come on, Wishy. Hit me grounders!”

“Okay,” said Wishy. “If you want me to.”

Wishy tossed the ball up just as Ervie had. But he hit it. Jimmie caught the ball on a hop. He threw it back to Wishy, who
caught it, and hit it back to him. At first he hit it easy, then harder. The tennis ball would bounce across the lawn like
a wild rabbit. Sometimes Jimmie missed it. But most of the time he caught it.

He began to like it.

“Wait!” he said. “I’ll get my baseball and glove!”

This was more like the real thing. A couple of times Wishy hit the ball over the fence and Jimmie sent Ervie after it.

Finally Jimmie had to sit down.

“Boy, I’m tired!” he said. He sprawled out on the lawn. His chest heaved.

When he caught his breath he sat up. “Will you come over after supper, Wishy?”

Wishy nodded. “Sure.”

“Thataboy!” said Jimmie.

13

T
he Planets had batting practice that afternoon. Jimmie pitched to four men. He didn’t do any better than he had before, so
Mr. Nichols asked Johnny Lukon to pitch to the batters. Johnny was good at it. A lot better than Jimmie.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you,” Mr. Nichols said as Jimmie waited for his turn to bat. “I thought your control
was improving, but I guess it isn’t. You have speed, and a nice curve. If you had control, you’d be the best pitcher in the
league.”

Jimmie didn’t say anything. What Mr.
Nichols had just told him didn’t make him feel bad. He wasn’t worried, or hurt.

His turn to bat came. He swung at the first four pitches without missing. The fifth throw was high and he missed it by a mile.
He knew he shouldn’t have swung at it. But he felt as if he could hit anything today.

After the boys hit, Mr. Nichols had the infielders practice. Jimmie sat on the bench and watched them. He knew the routine.
The third baseman would catch the ball and throw it to first. The first baseman would throw it home. Home to third again,
and back around the horn.

He watched Lou Rodell at short. Lou seemed to be afraid of grounders. He would back up a lot. Jimmie noticed that Mr. Nichols
didn’t hit the ball too hard to him.

After infield practice was over, Mr. Nichols called the boys together.

“I’ve arranged another game with the Pirates,”
he said. “They didn’t beat us as bad as the Mohawks did. The game will be played here tomorrow afternoon at two o’clock. Tell
your folks to come if they’d like to.”

Jimmie didn’t tell his mother and father about the game. He didn’t want them to see him pitch. Anyway, his father couldn’t
go. He had to work. Jimmie was glad of that.

The game began. This time the Pirates had last raps. Johnny Lukon led off with a single. Alan flied out. Then Billy Hutt hit
a grounder past third for a two-bagger. Johnny stopped on third as the fielder threw in to cover home.

Lou grounded through second, scoring Johnny and Billy. Jimmie came to bat. He let a knee-high pitch go by.

“Strike one!” said the umpire.

The next two pitches were balls. Then another strike.

Jimmie pulled his helmet down tight,
braced his feet in the dirt, and waited for the next pitch. The ball sped in, chest-high and over the heart of the plate.

Jimmie blasted it. It sailed high into center field. The fielder ran back, caught it, and threw it in!

“Get back! Get back!” yelled the coach on first to Lou.

The Pirates’ second baseman caught the throw-in from center field and snapped the ball to first. It reached there before Lou
could tag up.

“Out!” shouted the umpire.

Three outs. The Planets took the field.

The first batter grounded out to third. The ball was hit solid. That was just luck he hit straight at Alan, Jimmie thought.
Jimmie would have walked the next hitter, but the batter swung at bad throws and struck out. The third man flied out to center.

“Nice going, Jimmie!” Lou yelled.

“Nice pitching, Jimmie!” Alan said.

After that things weren’t so good. Jimmie walked a man in the second inning, and in the third he hit a man on the shoulder.
He began to worry. The Pirates started to hit him hard. When they didn’t hit, Jimmie helped them by walking their men.

In the fourth, Mr. Nichols went out to the mound. He called Johnny from first.

“I think Jimmie is wild because he’s worried he might hit another batter,” Mr. Nichols said. “You two boys switch positions
for the next two innings. We’re only playing five. Okay?”

“Okay,” Jimmie said.

He didn’t care. Matter of fact, he was glad.

He liked first base. He moved into position and mixed his cries with the other infielders’.

“Come on, Paul!” he shouted. “Come on, P—!”

His throat caught. He looked around hurriedly. He hoped nobody had heard him yell Paul’s name instead of Johnny’s.

14

D
uring practice the next day, Jimmie went up to the manager. “Are all the names of our players in yet, Mr. Nichols?” he asked.

“Not yet. I’ll have to have them in before Thursday.”

“Thursday?” Jimmie’s brows puckered. “Is that when we play our first Grasshoppers League game?”

Mr. Nichols nodded. “That’s right! Better work hard on your control, Jimmie. Winning that first game is important!”

“I know,” murmured Jimmie.

After practice, Jimmie didn’t go home
with the others. He asked Wishy Walters to stay with him.

“I want you to hit me some grounders, Wishy,” he said. “Will you?”

“Sure,” said Wishy.

“Hit ’em hard as you can!” Jimmie said, and ran out to shortstop position.

Wishy hit five grounders to him. Jimmie caught them all. Then Mr. Nichols, who had been watching, picked up Wishy’s glove
and went to first base. He watched Jimmie run behind the grounders and catch them as if it was easy. Jimmie saw Mr. Nichols
on first and pegged the balls to him. His throws were good. They seldom were directly over the bag, but they were close enough.
Once in a while he made Mr. Nichols stretch for one, but not often.

Finally, Mr. Nichols exclaimed, “Say! You look sharp out there! How long have you been playing infield?”

“I played infield last year,” Jimmie said. “The last few days I’ve been practicing at home.”

“Oh, you have?” Mr. Nichols seemed surprised. “What about pitching?”

Jimmie didn’t answer right away. He thought a moment, then said, “I’ll tell you about that tomorrow, Mr. Nichols. I have to
find out something first.”

15

T
he next morning Jimmie and Ervie went to Paul Karoski’s house. It was eleven o’clock. Paul should be home, Jimmie thought.
He wanted Ervie along because even though Ervie was a little guy he was somebody. Jimmie didn’t want to go alone to see Paul.

He knocked on the front door. His heart beat so loud he could hear it.

The knob turned. The door opened. Mrs. Karoski stood there, her hair in a bun, a comb pressed into it. Her nose wrinkled up
as she smiled.

“Jimmie and Ervie Todd!” she cried. “How are you?”

“We’re fine, Mrs. Karoski,” Jimmie replied. “Is Paul home?”

“Paul?” Mrs. Karoski’s smile faded. “Isn’t he at your house?”

Jimmie shook his head. “No. Isn’t he home?”

Mrs. Karoski lifted her shoulders. “No! Maybe he went to play with somebody else. I don’t understand what happened to that
boy. Doesn’t he play with you anymore?”

Jimmie looked away. “Well—I’ve been busy practicing baseball. I guess he has, too.”

She looked at him curiously. “Don’t you play for the same team?”

“No. Paul plays with the Red Rockets. I play with the Planets. That’s—that’s what I wanted to see him about.”

Mrs. Karoski shrugged. “Well, I don’t
know where he is. If he comes home soon, I will tell him you’re looking for him.”

“All right, Mrs. Karoski. Thank you.” Jimmie took Ervie’s hand. “Let’s go to the park,” he said. “Maybe he’s there.”

The park was four blocks away. They walked around the swimming pool, then up the hill to the baseball diamond. Nobody was
playing ball. Only two or three kids were around.

“He’s not here,” Jimmie said. “Let’s go to Tiny Zimmer’s house. Maybe he’s playing catch with Tiny.”

But Tiny said he hadn’t seen Paul all morning. Why didn’t they try some of the other boys’ houses? They went to Mose’s house,
then to Johnny Lukon’s, then to Billy Hutt’s. They tried every house they thought Paul might possibly go to—but nobody had
seen Paul.

“I wonder where he could be, Ervie,” Jimmie said worriedly. “Let’s go home. Maybe while we were gone he came to our house
to see me!”

They hurried home.

“Was anybody here to see me, Mom?” Jimmie asked anxiously.

Mrs. Todd shook her head. “No. But where have you been? Aren’t you going to eat lunch?”

“I’m not hungry, Mom,” he said, his heart sinking in despair. “We’ve been looking for Paul Karoski ever since eleven o’clock.
He’s not home, and he’s not at any of the boys’ houses we’ve been to. I think he’s lost, Mom.”

“Lost in the city? Don’t worry. He must be somewhere around. Relax, and eat something. It’s after one o’clock.”

They crunched on toasted cheese sandwiches
and drank a glass of milk each, then went outside again.

Wishy Walters was coming up the walk.

“Hi, Wishy,” said Jimmie. “Have you seen Paul Karoski today?”

Wishy thought a moment. “Yes. I saw him this morning.”

“You did?” Jimmie’s heart cartwheeled. “Where? When?”

“About ten o’clock. He was getting into a car.

“Whose car?”

Wishy shrugged. “I don’t know. I wasn’t close enough to see.”

Jimmie breathed fast. “What color was it? Maybe that’ll help.”

Wishy thought again. “Brown. No—blue.”

“Blue? You sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure. Blue.”

“Blue. Blue.” Jimmie repeated the word over and over again, trying to think of someone who owned a blue car.

It dawned on him. “Don Perkos!” he shouted. “Don has a blue car! And Don is Paul’s cousin! I bet it was his car!”

He ran to the street corner as fast as his legs could carry him.

“Jimmie!” Ervie yelled. “Wait for me!”

“No! You stay there! I’m going to find out if that was Don’s car!”

When the light turned green, he ran across the street and down the two blocks to where the Perkos family lived. He stopped
in front of the large front door, half out of breath.

Mrs. Perkos answered his knock. She was a tall, thin woman. She looked at Jimmy curiously.

“Mrs. Perkos,” Jimmie gasped, “do you know where Don is?”

“Sure,” she said. “He went to the lake.”

“Which lake?”

She tilted her shoulders. “I don’t know. He just told me he was driving to the lake. There are so many lakes around, I don’t
know which one. I’m sorry.”

Jimmie’s throat knotted. “Okay. Thank you, Mrs. Perkos.”

He walked to Paul’s house. “I think that Paul went with his cousin Don,” Jimmie said to Mrs. Karoski. “I saw Mrs. Perkos.
She said that Don drove to the lake but doesn’t know which lake. And Wishy Walters told me he saw Paul get into a blue car.
Don has a blue car. That’s why I think Paul—”

Mrs. Karoski’s eyes filled with tears, and her lips quivered. “Why didn’t he tell me where he was going? Why didn’t he tell
me?” she cried.

Just then a car drove up to the curb. Jimmie turned quickly, hoping to see a blue car.

But it wasn’t blue. It was gray.

16

J
immie recognized the boy in the front seat. His heart jumped. “It’s Paul!” he cried.

He leaped down the steps and across the walk. Paul climbed out of the car. He glanced at Jimmie, then looked up at his mother.
A smile lighted his face.

“Hi, Mom!” he said.

“Paul!” Mrs. Karoski opened her arms and hugged Paul tightly to her. “Where were you? Four hours you’ve been gone! Why didn’t
you tell me you were going someplace?”

“It’s my fault, Aunt Josie,” Don said. He looked about eighteen. He was neatly dressed, but his black hair was mussed and
there was a smudge of grease on his pants. “I was driving to Orange Lake,” he explained. “I saw Paul on the street and asked
him to come along. I just wanted to drive down and back again. It wouldn’t have taken us more than half an hour. That’s why
I told him he didn’t have to run to the house to tell you.”

“So what happened?” Mrs. Karoski asked. Tears no longer filled her eyes.

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