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"But I'm not very good at baseball," Violet said to Henry. It was early evening and the Aldens were sitting on their front porch in Greenfield.
Henry, who was fourteen, gave his sister an encouraging smile. "Don't worry, Violet. All you need is a little practice." Ten-year-old Violet was a shy girl with long brown hair and a sweet personality.
"I'm excited!" Jessie said. "I was hoping someone would start a team in Greenfield."
"Who told you about it?" Violet asked.
"Michael and Nicole Parker," Henry said. "They just moved in down the street. They said the real estate agent told them about the team!"
"We have new kids to play with?" Benny asked excitedly. He tucked his legs under the porch swing and set it rocking. "How old are they?" Benny, age six, loved to make new friends.
"Michael's twelve and Nicole is ten," Jessie said. "They want us to go to the dugout with them tomorrow morning."
"What's a dugout?" Benny asked.
"That's the little shelter where the players sit while they wait for their turn to bat," Jessie explained.
"Are Michael and Nicole really good at baseball?" Violet asked. She still felt a little uncertain about playing.
"I don't think so," Jessie said, hoping to reassure her sister. "I think they just want to make friends with all the kids in the neighborhood."
"I think we should do it," Henry said. "It will be fun!"
"I want to be a pitcher," Benny chimed in. He jumped off the swing and threw an imaginary ball.
"It's too bad Soo Lee is away," Jessie pointed out. "She likes sports." Soo Lee was their cousin, and she had gone fishing with her father.
"I think it's time for us to make a trip into town to get you some equipment," their grandfather said, rising from his chair. Watch, the family dog, scampered happily toward the driveway. He loved riding in the car with the children.
"Yippee!" Benny grabbed Grandfather's hand. "Can I buy a baseball cap, too?"
"Of course," Grandfather said.
"We should make a list of what we need," Jessie said thoughtfully. Jessie was twelve and always liked to plan ahead.
"I can use my Hank Aaron glove," Jessie said excitedly. Aunt Jane had given Jessie the old autographed glove for her birthday, and Jessie treasured it. Although it was a little too large, she used it whenever she had the chance.
"I think a ball and bat will be enough," Henry said. "Mr. Warren said that the kids share equipment."
"Who's Mr. Warren?" Benny asked. He jumped in the front seat the moment Grandfather opened the car door.
"That's the coach. Michael met him earlier today," Henry explained.
"We have a real coach!" Benny was thrilled. He was going to be part of a team!
The next morning was bright and clear as the Aldens gathered around the kitchen table. "I want everyone to have a good breakfast," Mrs. McGregor said, passing Benny a plate of pancakes. Mrs. McGregor was the Aldens' housekeeper and had been taking care of the family for years.
"These look good!" Benny loved to eat. He filled his plate with pancakes and scrambled eggs.
Jessie noticed four new water bottles sitting on the kitchen counter. "Thanks for filling those with ice water," she said to Mrs. McGregor. "I was going to do that after breakfast."
"You can help me finish the lunches if you'd like," Mrs. McGregor said.
"What are we having?" Benny asked, eyeing the clock. He decided he had time for one more glass of orange juice.
"All your favorites." Mrs. McGregor checked the brown paper bags. "Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, and brownies."
Benny grinned and pushed back his chair. "I can hardly wait till lunch!"
Ten minutes later, the Parker children knocked on the front door. Michael was tall with a friendly smile. His sister, Nicole, stood beside him, her long hair pulled back in a ponytail.
"Ready to go?" Michael asked.
"Yes we are," said Jessie eagerly. She and Henry had been throwing a ball around as they waited.
"Ready as I'll ever be," Violet said uncertainly. She was still a bit nervous.
"I know how you feel," said Nicole. "I'm not much of a ballplayer either."
When they reached the field, they found a large group of children milling around. Violet noticed that all the girls and boys seemed to be at least ten years old. She glanced down at Benny. Was he too young to play? He was very proud of the bat and ball Grandfather had bought him, and she didn't want him to be disappointed.
Just then, a tall, sandy-haired young man approached them. "Hi there. I'm Chuck Roberts, the assistant coach." He was carrying a clipboard and had a pencil tucked behind his ear. "I need your name, age, and what position you want to play. Let's start with you." He pointed to Nicole.
"Ohmigosh." Nicole looked flustered. "I'm Nicole Parker, I'm ten years old, and ..." she glanced at her brother. "What position do I want to play?"
"You haven't played much baseball, right?" Chuck was looking at her thoughtfully.
"Neither have I," Benny piped up. He tossed his ball in the air and caught it. "It looks like fun, though."
"It is." Chuck handed the clipboard to Nicole. "Just write down your names and ages, and I'll tell Coach Warren we've got some beginners."
"How do we know what position to play?" Nicole asked curiously.
"It all depends on what you're good at," Chuck said.
"What do you mean?" Benny looked up, squinting his eyes in the bright sunlight.
"Well, if you have a strong arm, you might want to be a third baseman, but if you've got quick feet and quick hands, you might want to play second base." Chuck waited while Benny carefully printed his name. "Does anyone know what a shortstop is?"
"The shortest person on the team?" Benny offered.
Everyone laughed. "The shortstop stands between second and third base," Jessie called out.
"That's right," said Chuck.
"I have a lot to learn," Nicole said. She traced a circle in the dust with the head of her bat.
"Don't worry, that's what we're here for." Chuck started to move away, but Benny tugged on his arm.
"What do we do next?" he asked.
"After you've signed up, get in line for tryouts," Chuck told him.
"Tryouts?" Nicole and Violet exchanged a look.
Nicole was worried. "If this is a test," she muttered, "I sure hope I pass."
The Aldens, along with Michael and Nicole, lined up as Coach Warren led the tryouts. He watched carefully as the children took turns pitching.
"Remember," Chuck called to a shy-looking girl, "you need to throw hard, and you need to throw with confidence." He waited until she pitched three balls in a row and then pointed to Violet. "You're next."
Violet gulped. The new ball felt slippery in her hands, and she dropped it as she moved into position.
"Just a second," Chuck said, walking toward her. "Do you have a good grip on the ball?"
Violet looked up nervously, clutching the baseball tightly.
"Hey, relax," Chuck said. "Look, this is how you throw the ball." He demonstrated for her.
"Oh no!" Violet cried as her ball went only a few feet and then dropped to the ground.
"That's okay." Chuck looked sympathetic. "You'll get the hang of it in a few days. You just need some practice." He walked back toward Coach Warren.
Next it was Jessie's turn. She pitched three balls, and even though they didn't go as far as she wanted them to, Chuck seemed satisfied.
"I wish I could pitch like that," someone said behind her a moment later.
Jessie recognized the shy-looking girl who had been pitching before. "Thanks. I play a lot — I love baseball." She stuck out her hand. "I'm Jessie."
"My name's Ann." She had pale skin, with tiny freckles sprinkled across her nose. "I just hope I do better at hitting than I did at pitching."
"That's a nice bat you have."
"Thanks. It belonged to my father. See all these little notches?" She ran her hand along the polished surface. "Each one means he got a home run."
"Wow." Jessie peered at the bat. "He was a good hitter!" She glanced over at Violet who was standing at home plate, wielding her new baseball bat. "That's my sister," she said, nodding toward the field. They watched as Violet swung and missed three balls in a row. Jessie sighed. "I don't think she's got the hang of this yet."
"She'll be fine," Ann said. Both girls cheered when Violet hit the fourth ball with a loud whack. "See what I mean?" Ann asked with a grin.
"Lunch break, everyone!" Chuck Roberts yelled.
Jessie and Ann began walking around the edge of the field toward some picnic tables in the shade.
"I'll introduce you to the rest of my family," Jessie offered. "And to two new friends of ours."
"I'd like that," Ann said quietly. "I don't know anyone here."
"You will," Jessie assured her. "Just remember, we're a team!"CHAPTER 2
A Special Job for Benny
"Do you think we'll make the team?" Jessie passed Benny a water bottle and watched as he tore into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All of the kids were sitting at picnic tables having lunch.
"I'm already on the team. I'm a batboy," Benny said proudly. He wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but he knew it was an important job.
"Benny's going to be helping Mr. Jackson, who's in charge of the equipment," Henry explained. Benny was too young to play on the team, so Coach Warren had decided to give him a special job to do.
"That will be lots of fun, Benny." Violet was happy that her younger brother was going to be included, but she wondered if he would like working with Mr. Jackson. She had met him a few minutes earlier and he seemed like a very cranky old man.
"But what about the rest of us?" Jessie persisted. "Do you think we have a chance?"
"I don't think I do," Ann said sadly. "I didn't pitch very well, and I missed two balls when it was my turn to bat."
"Don't be discouraged, Ann. Trying is what counts." Henry reached for one of Mrs. McGregor's brownies. "Chuck told me that Coach Warren looks for kids who are good team players. That's even more important than talent."
"What about you, Henry?" Michael spoke up. "I didn't see you doing any pitching or hitting today."
"I'm not going to be on the team," Henry began.
"What!" Violet was crushed. How could her big brother not make the team! He was much stronger than anyone else on the field.
Henry chuckled. "Relax, Violet. I'm not going to be on the team, but I'm going to be part of it." He paused and looked around the table. "They decided that since I'm older than the other kids, I could help out. So I'm going to be Chuck's assistant."
"Wow!" Benny's eyes were wide with excitement. He was very proud of his brother.
"Then you can tell us what's going on," Nicole said. She twisted a lock of dark curly hair in her fingers. "Are they going to make the announcements after lunch, or will there be more tryouts?"
"No, tryouts are over. Chuck said that he and Coach Warren are going to go over the notes during lunch and come to a final decision."
"I feel nervous," Ann said quietly.
"Me, too," Nicole agreed. She looked at her brother, Michael, and knew that he was thinking the same thing. Now that they had made some new friends, they didn't want to lose them!
"Ready for some work?" Chuck appeared and patted Benny on the back. "I could use some help with the equipment."
"Sure thing!" Benny wolfed down the last bite of brownie and scrambled to his feet.
"Have you — I mean, has Coach Warren made up his mind yet?" Violet was so nervous her heart was thumping.
"He's still working on it," Chuck said casually. "We're going to post the list in half an hour or so, so you can relax for now."
"Relax!" Nicole blurted out. "You've got to be kidding!"
"Let's go, Benny. I'm going to give you your very first job to do."
"I'm ready!" Benny swung his legs off the bench and leaped to his feet. This was going to be fun!
They walked to the dugout, a small building that was open on one side to the field. Benches lined the open side, where the players sat during the game. Inside the dugout were several metal lockers and a cabinet to hold the equipment. Mr. Jackson sat on a bench inside, cleaning a glove with an oily rag. He was tall and thin, with wavy gray hair. He wasn't very friendly. When Chuck introduced Benny, he grumbled hello and then went back to what he was doing.
"Do you know much about baseball equipment?" Chuck asked.
"I know you need a ball and bat," Benny said.
"There's something else you need," Chuck said seriously, "and that's a batting helmet. Coach Warren wants everyone on the team to have one by tomorrow, and we're going to keep them in here." He pointed to a wooden cabinet. "For your first job, why don't you dust the shelves." He handed Benny a soft white cloth.
"Why do we need helmets?" Benny said, working quickly. He was glad that Chuck had chosen him to help out and wanted to do well.
"To protect your head when you're at bat or running the bases," Chuck explained. "You don't want to get hit by a ball." He coughed as a cloud of dust drifted up in his face.
"Sorry," Benny said. "These shelves are really dirty."
"That's okay. They haven't been touched since last season."
"There's an old bat in here," Benny said. He lifted it out and examined the knob. "Look, it must be a lucky bat. It has a number seven on it."
Chuck laughed. "It might be someone's lucky bat, but that's not what the number seven means. It means that the bat is twenty-seven inches long. That's about the right size for most kids."
Benny looked surprised. "I didn't know they came in sizes."
"They sure do. Never buy a bat that's too long. They weigh more, and they're hard to swing quickly."
"I'll remember that," Benny said eagerly. He loved working with Chuck. He was going to learn a lot!
"And buy a wooden bat. Aluminum bats cost a lot and you'll be changing bats as you get bigger."
"And never, never try to bat without your helmet. Coach Warren will really drum that into you."
On the field, a blonde-haired girl walked over to the other Aldens as they were finishing their lunch. "Hi, I'm Susan Miller," she said with a friendly smile.
Henry scooted over for her to sit down, and everyone introduced themselves. "I saw you pitching before," he said. "You were very good."
"Thanks. I played a lot of baseball at camp last summer." She looked at Violet and Nicole. "What positions do you play?"
Violet looked embarrassed and Nicole giggled. "We're just beginners," Nicole explained. "We're laughing because people have been asking us that all morning."
"Sorry," Susan said. "I guess Coach Warren will figure out where to put everyone."
"Susan! Susan! I've been looking all over for you!" A tall woman rushed over to the table. Behind her was a woman who looked just like her except for her dark curly hair.
"Hi, Mom. Hi, Aunt Edna. I was just getting to know some of the kids." She introduced her mother and aunt to everyone at the table. Jessie noticed that Susan seemed a little downcast when her mother appeared, and suddenly got very quiet. Her mother, however, never stopped talking and asked everyone their names, ages, and how much playing experience they had.
"Are you one of Coach Warren's assistants?" Nicole asked.
Mrs. Miller's jaw dropped. "Why no, why would you ask that?" She flushed a little and Violet knew that she didn't like the question.
Nicole calmly answered, "You seem so interested in everything. I thought maybe you were helping to choose the team."
"Well, I ... of course not!" Mrs. Miller said abruptly. "I'm just a parent." She put her arm around Susan. "My daughter is an excellent player, and I'm here to watch the tryouts." She looked impatiently toward a folding table where Coach Warren and Chuck were poring over scribbled pages of notes. "I wish they'd hurry up and make up their minds."
"Mom, this takes time," Susan said quietly. "They want to make sure they pick the right people for the right positions."
"How long can it take?" Mrs. Miller snapped. "I can think of several positions that you could play."
Susan managed to change the topic and Jessie was relieved. It was obvious that Mrs. Miller liked having things her way!
"Do you want to walk around the field with me?" Ann stood up. "I'd like to walk some laps while we wait for the news. It makes me edgy just sitting doing nothing."
"Sure, I'll come with you," Nicole said, gathering up her napkin and paper cup.
"Me, too," Violet said, jumping to her feet. Being around Mrs. Miller was making her very nervous.
"How do you like Greenfield so far?" Violet asked Nicole a few minutes later. The three girls were walking briskly around the outer edge of the field. Each one knew that if she were chosen for the team, she'd soon be running two or three miles along the same path every day.
"I like it a lot since we met all of you," Nicole said. "I thought it would take a long time to make new friends, but Michael said joining this team was a good way to get started."
"I'm glad he thought of it," Violet said. "But we'll still be friends, whether we make the team or not."
"Oh, I hope we do," Ann said suddenly. She stopped and peeled off her jacket. "I'm going to put this with my bat, and I'll catch up with you later, okay?" When she left, Nicole told Violet about her family, and Violet told her all about Grandfather and how he had found the Aldens living in a boxcar.
Nicole looked surprised. "You mean you were orphans, living on your own?"
Excerpted from The Boxcar Children Summer Special by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER. Copyright © 2007 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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