for her if she’s not interested. I’m not giving up baseball just for some girl.”
But somehow or other, he just didn’t feel so good as he slowly walked down the street in the direction of his home.
T he game on Tuesday afternoon was played at the Macon Falcons’ athletic field. As the Hooper Red-birds rode there on a chartered bus, next Saturday night’s Chiefs game ran through Sylvester’s mind. He could almost imagine himself wearing a Chiefs uniform, playing under the lights on the bright green field.
The bus pulled in at three o’clock, in just enough time for the team to change into uniforms and practice before the game started at four.
As they left the locker room and ran out to the field, Sylvester saw Duke Farrell warming up with his catcher, Greg Jackson. A mocking grin came over the cocky pitcher’s face. Smile now, pal, Sylvester thought, because you’ll wear a different expression when I’m up at bat.
As soon as that thought occurred, he started to have misgivings. Suppose Duke does strike me out eveiy time I’m up? It could happen. The whole Falcon team, the whole park, everyone would laugh me off the field.
Especially Trent Sturgis. The Hooper team’s ace slugger this season hadn’t been hitting all that well lately and seemed to be nursing a grudge against Sylvester.
The Redbirds were up first. Jim Cowley, at the top of the batting order, fouled off two pitches, then let four balls go by to earn himself a walk. Hmm, maybe that smartmouth Farrell isn’t as hot as he pretends, Sylvester mused.
But then Ted Sobel went down in three, and Trent hit a weak grounder to short, almost resulting in a double play. Jim was out at second, but the combination of the slow bouncing ball and Trent’s speed put him safely at first.
Sylvester was up next. He let out a deep breath as he left the on-deck circle and walked to the plate, wondering what would happen. He was nervous, but he couldn’t let Duke see that. Stare ’im down, that’s what Cheeko would do.
Swish! The pitch streaked past Sylvesters stomach for a ball. If he hadn’t moved, he would have been hit. Maybe he should lean into an easy one and fake being hit, just as Cheeko had taught him. He shuddered at the thought.
“Ball two!” Again Duke zipped the ball inside the plate, forcing Sylvester to jump back several inches to avoid being hit.
He stepped out of the box, rubbed his gloved hands up and down the bat, took another deep breath, exhaled, then stepped back into the box. Sylvester fixed a hard, determined glare on the Falcons’ hurler as he wound up for his next pitch.
“Strike!” yelled the ump as the ball just grazed the inside of the plate.
It seems as though Duke saved his best stuff for me, Sylvester thought. No easy pickin’s here.
Again the ball came threateningly close, forcing Sylvester practically to fall back from the plate. Thinking again of Cheeko s lesson, he pondered letting one of them hit him. It would be a sure way of ending the tension.
He took off his batting helmet and wiped his brow, glancing into the stands. He was happy to see Cheeko at the near end of the first base line. But Cheeko wasn’t looking back at him. His eyes were fixed, almost a glassy stare, right at the mound.
Sweat made Sylvester’s vision a little blurry, but for one second, he thought he saw a sort of round, familiar face, frowning at him from high up in the stands. At a distance, it looked a little like … like Mr. Baruth. But then the man looked down and he couldn’t really tell. Sylvester shook his head and put his helmet back on.
Duke’s next pitch looked as though it was going to be high and inside, the toughest spot for Sylvester to hit. But it seemed to curve at the last second and slide right down the middle. He swung at it with all his might.
Crack! It was a solid blow. Sylvester knew the instant his bat connected with the ball that it was a goner. He’d felt that same sensation before