Authors: Matt Christopher
Copyright © 1963 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
Copyright © renewed 1991 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.
First eBook Edition: December 2009
Matt Christopher® is a registered trademark of Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
Tony and Mid
THE #1 SPORTS SERIES FOR KIDS: MATT CHRISTOPHER
he score was tied, 4-4, as the Royals came to bat in the top of the fourth inning.
“Buddy! Chico! Dale!” Coach Pete Day named off the first three batters. “Come on! Let’s get a man on! Let’s break this tie!”
Buddy Temple picked up a yellow bat and walked to the plate. Chico Romez selected his favorite brown one, put on a helmet,
and knelt in the on-deck circle. Sweat shone on his face. It was a hot day for the opening game.
But it wasn’t the heat that bothered Chico. He could take the heat. He had been
born in Puerto Rico and had lived there eight years before moving to the United States. And it was always hot in Puerto Rico.
No, it was the way he played baseball that bothered him.
The best way to make people like you, he figured, was to do something that would please them. Chico thought that by playing
good baseball he would make a lot of friends. But so far in this game, he had done nothing to please anybody. Not even himself.
Buddy took a called strike. Then he blasted a single through the pitcher’s box.
The Royals fans cheered and whistled.
“Okay, Chico,” said Coach Day as he rubbed the front of his shirt.
Chico recognized the bunt signal.
Chico stood at the plate, the bat held over his shoulder. He was short and not too husky. But he was fast. If he laid one
down, he might make it to first.
The Braves’ pitcher toed the rubber and hurled in the ball. It was low, slightly inside. Chico put out his bat.
The ball fouled to the backstop screen.
The next pitch was high. Again Chico tried to bunt.
“Foul! Strike two!”
“Hit away, Chico!” said the coach.
Chico rubbed his toes in the dirt and held his hands close to the knob of the bat. He had failed to bunt. Now he just had
The tall Braves pitcher stepped on the rubber, looked at Buddy on first, then delivered.
The pitch was high. Chico let it go by.
The next one was in there. Chico swung. A drive over short! Chico dropped his bat and sped to first. Buddy crossed second
base and headed for third.
Chico touched first, then continued on toward second. The ball was bouncing out to left field. He was sure he could make it.
His legs were a blur as he ran.
“Chico!” yelled the first-base coach. “Get back!”
But Chico thought that he had gone too far to turn back now.
The left fielder picked up the ball and pegged it to second. The throw was straight as a string. The second baseman caught
it, put it down quickly in front of the bag, and Chico slid into it.
“Out!” snapped the base umpire.
Chico shook his head, then rose and trotted to the dugout, slapping the dust off his pants.
“One base was enough on that hit, Chico,” said Coach Day. “Shouldn’t have tried to stretch it.”
“I’m sorry,” murmured Chico.
“’Sorry’!” echoed somebody on the bench. “A lot of good that’ll do.”
That was String Becker. Everybody called him String because he was tall and thin. He was the Royals’ first baseman, the most
popular player on the team.
Chico blushed and sat down at the end of the dugout. Making a stupid out like that sure wasn’t going to win him any friends.
hico looked at Buddy on third. Well, if he had bunted, he might have got out anyway. And Buddy would now be on second instead
Catcher Dale Hunt stepped to the plate. He popped to third for the second out.
Frankie Darsi, the Royals’ southpaw pitcher and one of the best in the Grasshopper League, came up and drew a walk. Now the
head of the batting order was up again, shortstop Ray Ward. Ray was small. He couldn’t hit very well. But his first time up,
he had drawn a walk. The second time up, he’d struck out. This time everybody hoped he would walk again.
The Braves’ pitcher threw in two perfect pitches, putting little Ray on the spot. He hit the next one directly at the pitcher,
who threw easily to first for the third out.
“Tough luck, Ray,” said Coach Day.
The sad look on Ray’s face, though, showed that the words gave him little comfort.
“Hurry in! Hurry out!” snapped the plate umpire.
Frankie walked the first man to face him. String Becker yelled to the infielders to make some noise, and they all began chattering
A strikeout and two pop-ups ended the Braves’ chance to score.
Center fielder Joe Ellis led off the top half
of the fifth. He grounded out to short. Then Dutch Pierce smacked one out to deep center for a triple, and the fans came to
This was the Royals’ chance to break the tie. String Becker was up.
String threw left and batted left. So far he had blasted a double. His second time up, he had hit a high one to right field
that was caught. It was no wonder now that the fielders shifted to the right and stepped farther back.
String took the first pitch. A ball.
He swung at the next one.
The ball sailed high and deep . . . deep . . . deep! The right fielder went back . . . back. . . .
Over the fence went the ball for a home run!
“Hooray! Thataway, String! Nice blast!”
The fans stomped their feet on the stands. String crossed home plate, a smile on his
face from ear to ear. Every member of the team was waiting to shake his hand.
The Royals now led, 6 to 4.
Right fielder Billy Hubble walked. Buddy and Chico grounded out to end their at-bat.
“Let’s hold them!” Coach Day yelled to his boys.
Frankie worked hard on the mound. He looked tired. The sweat rolled from his face. He kept wiping it with the sleeve of his
One . . . two . . . three outs. The Braves hit each time, but into someone’s glove.
The sixth and last inning. Dale Hunt singled. Frankie lined one to short. The ball was scarcely six feet off the ground. The
shortstop caught it, pegged it to first, and Dale was out.
Coach Day had Kenny Morton pinch-hit
for Ray. Kenny singled through short. Then Joe Ellis struck out.
“All right, boys! This is it!” said Coach Day. “Plug up all the holes!”
“Let’s hear the chatter!” cried String.
The Braves’ lead-off man struck at the first pitch.
A high foul ball right over Dale’s head.
He waited for it to come down. Caught it! One out.
Then Frankie got a little careless, maybe because he was tired. He walked the next man. The next pounded out a single, a Texas
leaguer over second. String called time and walked to the mound. He said something to Frankie, then returned to his position
The Braves fans were yelling excitedly, trying hard to offer encouragement to their players.
Chico, in left field, felt his heart pounding
hard. With two men on, the Braves could tie the score and go on to win.
“Strike him out, Frankie!” he yelled. “Strike him out!”
A left-hand hitter stepped to the plate. The fielders moved slightly to the right. Frankie pitched.
The batter swung. Bat met ball, and Chico saw the little white pill soar high into the air. It sailed toward left field about
halfway between Chico and the infield!
Chico ran in hard. “I got it!” he yelled. “I got it!”
For a moment he wasn’t sure he would get it. He ran harder. Then he put out his glove, and the ball dropped into it.
“Great catch, Chico!” yelled Dutch Pierce from third.
“Thataboy, Chico!” He heard String all the way from first.
Chico’s heart tingled.
He ran back to his position.
It’s a good thing I caught that ball,
He felt so good about it, he didn’t realize which batter had come to the plate. The Braves’ number one slugger. A right-hand
Frankie breezed in a pitch, and the tall Braves hitter smacked it. The ball left the bat as if it were shot from a gun. Chico
could tell instantly that it was going over his head.
He turned around and started running as fast as he could. It wasn’t fast enough. The ball dropped and bounced on. By the time
he picked it up and pegged it in, he was too late.
It was a home run. It won the game for the Braves, 7 to 6.
Chico trotted in from the outfield. He heard someone shout his name, then say things that sank deeply inside him and hurt.
“Where were you playing for that man?
Behind shortstop?” It was String Becker. His face was red with rage.
“I was playing my right position,” murmured Chico.
“Right position, my eye!” shouted String. “You weren’t playing deep at all. If you were playing where you should’ve been,
you would’ve caught that ball easy.”
Chico stared at the others around him. One by one they turned and looked away.
Chico could see they all felt as String did. They blamed him for losing the game.
hico,” said Coach Day, “help me put this equipment away, will you?”
They put the catcher’s equipment, the bats, and the balls into the large canvas bag.
“Don’t take to heart what String and the other boys say,” advised the coach. “They don’t really mean it.”
Chico frowned and stayed silent.
“They just forget themselves for a minute,” said the coach. “They get kind of excited. I’ll talk to them about it.”
“No, Coach. Please. Don’t say anything to them.”
Chico shrugged. The sun shone brightly in his eyes, making him squint. “I don’t want them to think I spoke to you about it.
They — they wouldn’t like that.”
Coach Day smiled. “Okay. If you say so. Want a ride home?”
“No, thanks,” said Chico. “I just live two blocks away.”
The coach got into his station wagon and drove off. Chico walked, his glove swinging from his wrist.
He got to thinking about the way String had yelled at him and the way the other boys had looked at him.
Every little mistake I make, they make it sound much worse.
He was walking by Jim’s Ice Cream Shop when a voice from inside yelled to him.
“Hey, Chico! Come in. Have a sundae.”
Chico looked through the screen door and saw six or seven members of the Royals sitting at the bar, enjoying sundaes. It was
Buddy Temple who had called to him.
Chico glanced over the faces. He saw String Becker, and that was enough.
“No, thanks!” he said, and started walking faster.
A moment later Buddy was out on the sidewalk, yelling to him. “Chico! Hey, Chico!”
But Chico walked on, not looking back once.
He reached home, went to the back porch, and sat down. His heart pounded as if he’d been running. His forehead was covered
with sweat. He wiped it with his arm.
Then he looked at the glove in his hand and sucked in his breath.
This wasn’t his glove!
He rose to his feet, trembling. Whose glove was it? And what had happened to his?
A lump rose in Chico’s throat. What an opening day this was for him! He had been blamed for the loss of the Royals’ first
game. Now he had come home with somebody else’s glove.
The door behind him opened on squeaking hinges. He turned around. His mother smiled at him.
“Chico! When did you get home?”
“A little while ago,” said Chico. He turned and sat down again, his lower lip quivering.
She came and sat beside him. “Chico, is something wrong?”
He told her about the game, and the glove. Her dark-brown eyes looked at him sadly. She put an arm around his shoulder and
pressed him to her.
“Don’t worry,” his mother said. “You’ll
figure out who owns the glove, and you’ll find yours. It was only a mistake.” She stood up. “Come inside, Chico. You must
Chico washed, changed into other clothes, then sat at the table in the dining room. On the wall behind him was a large white
cloth on which were embroidered the Spanish words D
IOS BENDIGA NUESTRO HOGAR
. And underneath it, in English, G
OD BLESS OUR HOME
Chico’s father came in from the living room. His hair was black and wavy. His eyes, behind wire-rimmed glasses, were brown
“You look sad, Chico,” Mr. Romez said. “You lost the ball game?”
“Yes,” said Chico. “A home run over my head in the last inning beat us.”
“That’s too bad,” said his father. “Well — better luck next time.”
While he ate the meat and beans and the
tossed salad, Chico worried about his glove. Had somebody else picked it up? Was it the person who owned the glove he had
Chico couldn’t swallow his food for a minute. Why was he always doing something wrong?
Then he thought about his teammates. Especially String. Chico was sure String didn’t like him at all.
But he remembered something, and with pride he thought:
At least I can do one thing well. Diving! And I have two trophies to prove it!
There was a knock on the door. Mrs. Romez went to answer it.
“Chico,” she called, “someone to see you!”
Chico stared. The trembling returned.
he boy at the door was Buddy Temple.
“Hi, Chico. How about coming over later? We can play catch, and I’ll show you my electric train set.”
Chico’s face lit up. He turned around to his mother and father. “May I?”
His mother smiled. She looked at her husband. He smiled, too, and nodded.
“Good!” said Buddy. “I’ll see you later, then.” He started to leave.
“Buddy,” said Chico, “wait!”
Chico went to the kitchen and returned with the glove he had picked up by mistake.
“I brought this glove home,” said Chico. “But it’s not mine. Do you know whose it is?”
“Well, I know it’s not mine,” replied Buddy. He took it and examined it thoroughly. “No name on it. No, I don’t know whose
it is, Chico. Keep it until the next game. Somebody should claim it then.”
“Okay,” said Chico. “But somebody has mine, too. Did you see one of the guys with a different glove? Did anybody say anything?”
Buddy shook his head. “No — but don’t worry. You’ll get your glove back. And you’ll find the owner of that one, too. See you
Chico watched Buddy hop off the porch and head for home. A smile touched his lips. All at once he wasn’t lonely anymore. He
liked Buddy Temple. And he knew Buddy liked him.
He went to Buddy’s house later. They played pitch-and-catch. Then Buddy took Chico into the basement and showed him his electric
train set. It was on a large platform, the size of a Ping-Pong table, which stood about two feet off the floor. The trains
were all kinds: passenger, freight, cattle cars. Buddy turned on a switch on one of the two transformers, and the passenger
train began to move along the track. He turned on a switch on the second transformer, and the freight train began to move.
The trains crossed bridges, went through tunnels, and passed by tiny buildings.
their whistles shrilled.
Chico watched with fascination as the freight train stopped and a cargo of cattle moved off a loading platform onto a car.
“Maybe someday my father will buy me a set like this,” said Chico hopefully.
Buddy smiled. “My dad started this for me a long time ago,” he said. “Every Christmas he gets me something new. It’s lots
of fun. Especially in the winter.”
“I’ve got to go home,” said Chico. “Can I come again? I never saw a train set like this before.”
“You’d better come again, Chico.” Buddy’s eyes were warm and friendly. “Any time.”
The next day, Chico thought about his glove and the one that didn’t belong to him.
I hope it’s not String’s. And I hope he doesn’t have mine.
Then he realized that it couldn’t be String’s glove, because String’s was a first-base mitt.
Chico went to the swimming pool at the park in the afternoon. His mother went with him. There were two diving boards: one
the other high. Chico climbed up the high one. He stood on the tip of the board, the sun warm against his body.
He stretched his hands straight out in front of him, looked down at the water, and saw his reflection in it. A smile cracked
his lips, then he gave himself a spring and dived off the board.
He struck the water like a whisper, went to the bottom, and came up, blowing air out of his lungs.
“Nice going, kid!” the lifeguard said, smiling. Chico smiled back.
He stayed there a long time, diving and swimming. He forgot about String and about his glove. Being in the water took his
mind off all his worries.
But a few days later, his anxiety returned. It was the day of the second game.
When Chico arrived at the field, he saw
most of the Royals players at the first-base side, warming up. The Colts were behind third. Chico looked around anxiously.
Everybody had a glove and was playing catch.
“Let’s hit!” Coach Day yelled. “Fielders, get out there! Buddy, lay one down and hit two! Kenny, throw ’em in!”
The fielders scrambled to the field. Kenny Morton walked to the mound and began pitching them in.
Chico stood there a moment, holding the glove that didn’t belong to him. Then he started trotting out to the outfield.
“Hey, Chico!” a voice suddenly yelled behind him. “Come here!”
Chico stopped in his tracks and whirled around. Dutch Pierce was walking toward him. He had just come onto the field. He was
looking with dark, piercing eyes at the glove on Chico’s hand.
“That looks like my glove,” Dutch
snapped. He whipped it off Chico’s hand. “It is!” His eyes blazed as he looked at Chico. “Where did you get it? How long have
you had it?”
Chico stepped back. Dutch was four inches taller than he.
“I — I picked it up by mistake after our first game,” he stammered.
“By mistake?” Dutch’s lips tightened. Without another word, he ran out to the field.
For a moment Chico stood there trembling.
Where is my glove?
he thought, and began to worry more than ever.
Chico turned, and squinted against the sun at Coach Day.
“There’s a glove in the equipment bag,” said the coach. “It’s probably yours.”
Chico ran to the bag, opened it, and pulled out a glove. It was his!
“Thanks, Coach,” he murmured. “I — I was afraid I wouldn’t find it.”
Coach Day grinned. “I found it lying on the ground by the bench. If I’d known it was yours, I would have taken it to you.
Okay, get your hits now, then shag a few.”
After the Royals had their hitting practice, the Colts took the field. A little while later, the game started.
The sky was clear blue and the sun a bright, blazing ball of orange. A perfect day for baseball.
The Royals had first raps. On the mound for the Colts was Teddy Nash, a tall, freckle-faced southpaw. His warmup pitches breezed
in like white bullets.
Lead-off man Ray Ward strode to the plate. Teddy Nash made short work of him. Joe and Dutch didn’t get to first base, either.
It looked as if Teddy was going to have a good day.
Out in the field, Chico realized that he and the other fielders might have some trouble. They had to face the bright sun.
Don Drake, a right-hander, pitched for the Royals. He walked the first man and then the second. The third man hit into a
double play. Then a single scored a run. Catcher Dale Hunt caught a foul pop fly, and the first inning was over.
String Becker was first man up for the Royals. He swung two bats from one shoulder to the other as he walked toward the plate.
He tossed one back and stepped into the box. He tapped the plate with the big end of his bat, then waited for Teddy Nash to
Teddy blazed two over the plate. String swung at both and missed. Then Teddy wasted a couple, making the count two and two.
“Come on, String! Make it be in there!” said the coach.
The next pitch
in there. String belted it, a hot grounder down to first. The first baseman reached for it. The ball touched his mitt, but
then it buzzed past. String dashed to first.
“Okay, men, there’s our starter,” said the coach. “Let’s keep it up.”
Billy Hubble tried. So did Buddy and Chico. But Teddy’s arm was working for him. None of the three hit, and String died on
The game continued swiftly. Both pitchers were hot. Teddy had no curve to speak of. But he had a side-arm delivery that made
it seem as if the ball were coming from near first base. Most of the Royals players were shy of the ball, thinking it would
hit them. But Teddy’s control was fine, and the pitches were strikes most of the time.
Don’s delivery was overhand. He had learned to throw two curves. One was a screwball, a pitch that curved in toward a right-hand
batter. The other curved away. That one was better, because it had a drop to it, too.
In the fourth inning, things began to pop.
Teddy got a three-two count on Dutch, then threw an inside pitch: a free ticket to first.
String came up. So far only he had got a hit off Teddy Nash. Teddy blazed in two pitches, both balls. Then String took a called
strike. The next pitch was in there, too, and String powdered it. The ball sizzled just inside the first-base line for a clean
single. Dutch went around to third; String held up at first.
“Okay, boys,” said Coach Day. “Two ducks on, and none away. Let’s bring them in.”
Billy Hubble tagged the first pitch. It was a pop fly in the infield, an automatic out.
The boys in the dugout groaned.
Buddy waited till a strike was called on him, then socked a chest-high pitch down to short. A perfect throw to first put him
“Come on, somebody!” yelled String disgustedly. “Can’t anybody hit that ball?”
It was Chico’s turn to bat. He started for the plate.
Chico turned. His jaw sagged. He looked pleadingly at the coach.
Don’t let somebody pinch-hit for me,
I am sure I can hit that ball now.
Chico started back toward the dugout.
“No, never mind,” said the coach, waving Chico back to the plate. “Get up there, Chico. Show ’em you can do it.”
A sudden happy gleam came to Chico’s eyes. He turned, went to the plate, and dug his toes into the dirt.
Chico thought that the pitch had been a little inside, but he adjusted his stance and concentrated on the next pitch.
Then — there it was — coming in belt-high, crossing the plate almost down the middle. Chico swung.
A long, high blast going over the left fielder’s head!
Chico dropped his bat and ran. One run
came in! Another! Chico crossed first, second, and went to third. The third-base coach waved him on to home. Chico kept going,
his black hair flying wildly. Somewhere on the base paths he had lost his helmet and cap.
“Stay up, Chico! Stay up!” cried the guys crowding around home plate, waiting to shake his hand.
A home run!
“What a smack, Chico!” String said. “Nice —”
Suddenly there was silence. One of the Colts infielders was signaling to the crowd around the plate.
“What’s he saying?” Coach Day asked.
“He’s out!” cried the umpire at first.
“Who’s out?” said Coach Day. No one else spoke. Even the bleachers were silent as the fans watched, wondering what had happened.
“That kid who just hit that home run,” said the umpire, running in and pointing at Chico Romez. “The first baseman saw it,
and I saw it. He never touched first base!”
Chico stared. His heart sank to his shoes.
“What a crazy, stupid thing!” yelled Dutch. “A home run — and he didn’t touch first base!”
he score was still one to nothing in the Colts’ favor.
Chico’s heart was crushed. He wished that Coach Day would remove him from the game. He was so ashamed of the foolish mistake
he had made, he didn’t care if the coach benched him for the next two or three games.
But the coach left him in.
“Watch it the next time, Chico,” advised Coach Day. “Touch every base.”
“Yes, sir,” murmured Chico. But it was
like locking the barn after the horse had already run away.
The Colts got a man on. Their long-ball hitter was up, and Chico stepped back deeper into left.
The white pill shot toward left center field as if from a cannon. Chico and center fielder Joe Ellis raced after it.
Somebody from the infield yelled, “Let Chico take it! Let Chico take it!”
Chico reached out his glove, caught the ball, and just missed colliding with Joe. He pegged the ball in.
“Beautiful catch, Chico!” The fans applauded him.
Then a ground ball went for a single, and the Colts scored a run. Two to nothing, Colts’ favor.
In the top of the fifth, Dale singled. That gave the Royals a starter. They went ahead
and scored. String made the last out of their turn at bat.
Don’s hooks baffled the Colts’ hitters. Not a man reached first. The close game kept the fans on edge.
This was the Royals’ last chance.
Kenny Morton pinch-hit for Billy Hubble and whacked a double. Coach Day put in another pinch-hitter, Louie Carlo. Louie took
a strike, then popped up to the pitcher. One away.
Chico strode to the plate.
“Come on, Chico! Another blast! Another homer! This time touch the bases!”
The pitch. “Ball!” said the umpire.
Another pitch. Chico powdered it — a ground ball through short. Kenny touched third and went in toward home. Chico dashed
for first, the fans’ cheers ringing in his ears.
Chico made sure he touched first. He headed for second, his helmet flying off his head.
“Chico!” yelled the first-base coach. “Play it safe! Watch that throw-in!”
The left fielder pegged the ball in to second. A perfect throw!
Chico, two thirds of the way to second, came to a sudden stop.
What have I done?
he thought. The second baseman ran Chico back, then tossed the ball to the first baseman. Chico was caught in a hot box.
Back and forth the first and second basemen passed the ball, trapping Chico. Then suddenly the first baseman’s peg went wild!
The ball hit the ground and bounced to the right of the bag. Chico raced to the keystone sack. Safe!
“Wow!” murmured Chico. He bent forward and rested his hands on his knees.
was sure close!
Meanwhile, Kenny had breezed into home, tying the score at 2 to 2.
Dale was up next. He popped out. Two outs. Then Don socked one over second. It was just out of reach of the second baseman,
and Chico scored as the Royals fans cheered and applauded. His run pulled the Royals ahead, 3 to 2.
The team’s last chance at bat came to an end when Ray Ward struck out.
“Hold them!” yelled the Royals fans. “Hold them!”
“Three men to get, Don!” yelled String. “Just three!”
Don’s hook fanned the first batter. The next hitter clouted one over short, a clean hit. The batter slid in to second safely
for a double.
String called time. He went to the mound and talked with Don. Then he returned to first. Time in was called.
Don stepped on the rubber and delivered. A hot one-bouncer came right back at him! Don caught it and tossed it to first. Two
One more to get!
A right-hander stepped to the plate. Don pitched.
A long drive to left field. Chico started back, then turned and watched the white pill come down from the sky.
Suddenly it was lost in the blinding sun! For an instant Chico had a glimpse of it again. He put out his hand.
The ball struck the glove’s little finger, hit the ground, and bounced past him.
Chico ran after it, picked it up, and pegged it in. The throw was too late. The hitter was running home from third. He crossed
the plate before the ball reached Dale.
The game was over. The Colts were the winners, 4 to 3.
“How did you miss it?” stormed String, his face twisted. “You should have caught it easily!”
“It was the sun,” murmured Chico lamely. “I lost it in the sun.”
String just shook his head and walked away in disgust.
our days after the loss to the Colts, the Royals were on the field again, this time playing against the Lions. The stands
were full of fans, including Mr. and Mrs. Romez and many other players’ parents who weren’t usually at the games. It was the
Fourth of July, which meant most people had the day off from work. A brass band played in the park, adding an air of festivity
as both teams warmed up before the game.
A few minutes before the game started, both teams walked out to the field. The Lions stood along the third-base line and the
Royals along the first-base line. In front of them, standing near the mound, were the coaches of both teams. They all faced
Chico was about to ask Buddy what was going on when the brass band began to play “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The coaches and
the players took off their caps and held them against their chests. A flag was slowly raised up a pole behind the center field
Chico watched it while the music filled the park. He wasn’t sure of all the words to the national anthem. But there was something
about the song and the flag raising that made a lump appear in his throat.
When the ceremony was over, Chico cheered with the rest of the team and ran back to the dugout. But his good mood was shattered
when he caught a glaring look from String. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t
sure anybody on the team, except Buddy, gave him a glad-to-see-you look. He worried that they were still holding him responsible
for the loss on Thursday. That he had lost the ball in the sun was no excuse.
As he was picking up his glove, he heard Dutch ask String if he was going over to the pool after the game.
“Nah,” String replied. “Swimming and diving are for sissies.” He glanced over at Chico and smirked.
Chico felt his face flush. He was about to turn away when Buddy piped up. “Well, I’m going. I can’t imagine spending the Fourth
of July anywhere else but poolside. Hey, Chico, don’t forget, you promised you’d show me how to do that back dive today!”
Chico knew he had never made any such promise. But there was nothing he would have rather done today than swim with Buddy.
“You bet!” Chico replied.
thanks for sticking up for me,
he added silently.
The game started. The Royals took the field first, with the lineup the same as last time. Only today, southpaw Frankie Darsi
was on the mound.
Frankie blazed the ball in overhand and had no trouble getting the Lions out that first inning.
The Royals came up and scored two runs. In the third they scored three more to put them in the lead, 5 to 0.
“We’d better take this game,” muttered String in the dugout, loud enough for everybody to hear. “We can’t give it away now.”
Chico felt that String intended those words especially for him.
In the top of the fourth, the Lions threatened to put across some runs. Two hits in a row put men on first and third. Then
Frankie walked a man, and the bases were loaded.
The heavy hitters of the Lions were up. Frankie reared back and threw.
The pitch was smacked to deep left. Chico went after it. He knew what it would mean if he failed to catch this fly ball.
The ball curved toward the left-field foul line, but it was still well in fair territory. Chico ran as hard as he could, put
up both his hands, and caught the ball. He stopped quickly and pegged the ball in to third. Dutch caught it and tagged the
runner bolting in from second.
The runner on third had scored though, after tagging up.
“Nice throw, Chico!” Dutch yelled to him.
Five to one. Then a pop-up ended the Lions’ threat.
Chico singled in the bottom of the fourth. He ran partway to second before the firstbase
coach’s cries registered in his mind. “Get back here, Chico! Get back here!”
Chico got back to first.
Almost played it foolish again,
Dale Hunt came to bat and blasted the first pitch. The ball streaked in a clothesline drive toward short. Chico took off.
As he neared the keystone sack, he heard shouting behind him. He looked out to left field, expecting to see one of the outfielders
fielding the ball.
But the ball wasn’t out there!
Chico looked at the smiling face of the Lions’ second sacker and knew instantly that something funny had happened.
He turned and saw the Lions’ first baseman standing on the bag, the ball in his hand.
Chico’s eyes widened. “What happened?” he murmured.
“What happened?” The Lions’ second
baseman laughed. “You’re out, that’s what happened! Our shortstop caught the line drive and doubled you off at first!”
Chico stared. He slapped his helmet angrily against his thigh and ran across the diamond to the dugout.
“Chico!” said Coach Day. “Why didn’t you watch it? That ball was in the air!”
“I’m sorry,” said Chico. There was nothing else he could say. The coach just shook his head and walked a few paces away.
“Messes up practically every time!” Chico heard String say in a low voice. “We’ll probably lose this game yet.”
But the Royals, including Chico, played airtight ball after that and went on to win, 5 to 2.
After the game, Chico saw his mother and father waiting for him. They gave him their permission to join Buddy at the pool.
and Buddy arranged to meet there after they’d gone home and changed.
“You played a good game, son,” Mr. Romez said as they walked home.
Chico shrugged. “It would be better if I didn’t mess up so much.”
His parents laughed.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” his mother commented.
wenty minutes later, Chico and Buddy were splashing in the pool along with many of their teammates. Chico felt his worries
leave him as he climbed the ladder to the diving board.
“Do a somersault, kid!” he heard the lifeguard call. Chico nodded and walked to the end of the board. He knew everybody was
watching him. He took a deep breath, bounced once, then flung himself into the air and curled into a tight ball. Once, twice
around! He hit the water with barely a splash.
When his head popped through the surface, he heard cheering and applause. Buddy swam toward him and playfully tried to duck
him under. But Chico turned the tables and ducked him instead.
Sputtering and laughing at the same time, the boys swam to the edge to catch their breath. Buddy poked Chico in the ribs.
“Look who’s here!” he said in surprise.
Chico looked where he was pointing and saw String. He was sitting at the edge of the pool, his long legs dangling in the water.
His hair was still dry.
“Hey, String!” Buddy called. “I thought swimming was just for sissies!”
String looked uncomfortable, and then he shrugged. “Nothing wrong with wanting to cool off a little.” He stood up. “Besides,
I’m just here to see who wants to come to a cookout at my house later on. We can see the fireworks from my backyard.”
Chico glanced at Buddy. Was String including him in the invitation, or was it just for Buddy?
“We’ll be there, won’t we, Chico?” Buddy said.
String shrugged again. “Yeah, sure, bring him along.” He turned and walked away.
Chico felt his face redden. Darn that String! Why does he always make me feel like an outsider?
A call from one of his teammates interrupted his thoughts. “Hey, Chico! Bet you can’t do a back dive!”
Chico smiled. At least here he felt like he belonged.
He and Buddy stayed at the pool for another half hour. Chico performed jackknife dives, both forward and backward, and then
a few more somersaults. He felt happy now. He was doing something he could do well.
Perhaps someday he could do as well playing baseball.
After they left the pool, Buddy and Chico stopped first at Chico’s house to get his parents’ permission to go to String’s
barbecue, then at Buddy’s. Buddy grabbed a package of marshmallows from his pantry to bring over.
“Should I get something to bring, too?” Chico asked anxiously.
“No, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of food. I just like toasted marshmallows so much I’m likely to eat a bag of them by myself!”
Dutch Pierce, Frankie Darsi, Ray Ward, and Joe Ellis were already eating hot dogs and hamburgers when Buddy and Chico arrived.
String directed them to where his dad was standing next to the grill. “Hurry up, or you’ll miss out on all the food. Marshmallows
this year, huh, Buddy?” String glanced at Chico’s empty hands but didn’t say anything.
String’s father filled their plates with hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad. “Plenty more where that came from, boys,”
he said cheerfully.
The sky gradually darkened, and the boys all found places to sit on the lawn. Craning their necks backward and munching on
marshmallows and watermelon, they oohed and aahed at the fireworks display. Chico was spellbound at the colors and laughed
with the others at the loud bangs that thundered through the sky after each display.
Later, he and Buddy walked home together.
“Hey, Chico, I was wondering if you could do me a favor,” Buddy said. “Mom, Dad, and us kids are going to visit my uncle for
a couple of days. Would you mind delivering my papers for two mornings? You’d get to
keep all the money you earn those two days. You could come with me on the route tomorrow morning and I could show you the
ropes. How about it?”
“Sure,” said Chico. “I’ll do it.”
Chico had answered before giving it any thought. After all, Buddy was his best friend. He would help Buddy no matter what
But — deliver papers? Suddenly he was worried. Would just one day of going around with Buddy be enough to help Chico remember
all the customers?
“How many customers do you have, Buddy?” asked Chico.
“Sixty-four,” said Buddy.
“Sixty-four!” Chico’s eyes went wide.
Buddy laughed. “Some kids have seventy or eighty! It’s not too bad. They’re all within a few blocks of each other. You won’t
have any trouble, Chico. Then you’ll do it?”
Chico smiled. “Of course!”
“Thanks, Chico! Oh — you have to be up early! We pick up our papers at seven o’clock.”
“I’ll be up,” promised Chico.
The next morning, Buddy was at the front door at ten minutes of seven. Chico was up, waiting for him. They walked two blocks
to the corner of Hanley and Lincoln Streets. Four boys were there already, newspaper bags slung over their shoulders. They
spoke to Buddy, but looked strangely at Chico.
“This is Chico Romez,” said Buddy. “He’s going to deliver my papers for me the next two mornings. I’m going to be gone for
a couple of days with my family. We’re leaving really early tomorrow morning — even earlier than this!”
The guys laughed and said hi to Chico. Chico felt better.
A few minutes later, a station wagon drove up. A man got out, greeted the boys, and hauled out several piles of newspapers.
The papers had a peculiar smell. Buddy said it was the ink.
Buddy explained to the man why Chico was with him, then piled the newspapers into his bag. Chico watched carefully.
Then the man took several tickets out of his coat pocket and gave one to each boy. Except Chico.
“For the Jay Jam Circus tonight,” he said. He looked at Chico. “Sorry. These are only for our regular carriers. We don’t have
Chico shrugged. “That’s all right,” he said.
Chico and Buddy crossed the street. Buddy took the ticket out of his pocket. “Here, Chico,” he said. “You take it.”