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Dad says it's wrong to make up scenarios for real life. (As though I didit on purpose.) He says real life has a way of telling you off.
He's talking about Mr. Henry, of course.
Mr. Henry is the custodian where I used to go to school. My name isJason Ross. I'm eleven years old and I live in Arborville, Michigan.
There's no reason you should have heard of me. But there was, I thought,every reason you should have heard of Mr. Henry. Not under that name, ofcourse. But under his real name -Buck McHenry.
I'm jumping the gun now. Dad says that if I insist on telling thisstory, "which doesn't do you a lot of credit, Jason," he adds, I oughtat least to start at the beginning.
, The beginning was when I got kicked off the Baer Machine baseballteam. And that happened during our last intrasquad practice game of thespring. I was the batter and I'd just hit a hard ground ball down thethird-base line.
"Run, Jason, run!" the guys on my side yelled. (We'd divided the team inhalf for this practice game.)
I ran hard. If I beat out, the ball for a hit, Greg Conklin would scorefrom third and we'd tie them and go into extra innings. I knew I couldbeat it out too, because as I took off for first, I watched Art Silver,our third baseman, back up on my ball. Ahead of me I saw Tim Corrigan,our first baseman, stretching to receive Art's throw. It would be closebut I could make it, I thought. I lunged for the bag and hit it with myright toe just before, I thought, the ball arrived.
"Out," Mr. Borker called. He's our coach and was umping from behind thepitcher.
"Out?" I couldn't believe it.
"Yes, out, Jason. When youshould've been safe. For Pete's sake, whenyou run that slowly to first, are you thinking about something?"
"Jason's thinking about baseball cards, Coach," Pete Diaz, our centerfielder, said running by us to the bench.
"Jason's always thinking about baseball cards," Greg Conklin laughed.
Kevin Kovich chimed in, "Jason was thinkin'
that soon as practice was over he was goin' down to The Grandstand andbuy more cards."
."Okay, guys," I said, getting down on the bench with them. "Take iteasy, huh?"
I try not to let their taunting get to me. Some athletes collect cards;others don't. I'm one who does. Baseball cards are an important part ofmy life.
Mr. Borker shook his head. "Ballplayers, don't think about baseballcards while they're playing, Jason."
I wanted to tell him that I wasn't thinking about baseball cards. Iwasn't thinking about anything except beating Art's throw to first. But Ihad the sense to keep my mouth shut. You never get anywhere arguing witha coach. In any sport. Coaches are always right. Even when they'rewrong.
"Daydream while you're playing ball, Jason," Mr. Borker went on, "andyou'll never win a game for your team."
That stopped me. Not the daydream part but the way he said, win a gamefor your team, as if my team wasn't Baer Machine. As if Baer Machinewasn't our team. I guess I should have sensed then what was coming. ButI didn't.
"All right, everyone down on the bench and let's have some quiet," Mr.Borker said, even though he was the only one talking.
He looked at his clipboard. "Next Wednesday we've got our first realpractice game. Against the Bank team. Who cannot make it?"
No one raised their hand. He looked at me. "III be there," I said,wondering why he was singling me out. Did he not want me to be there? Iwas the backup catcher. If Tug Murphy ever got hurt, I'd be taking hisplace. Of course, I'd get into the game anyway. By league regulations,everyone has to play at least one inning. If we're way ahead, Mr. Borkerlets me catch the last inning. If it's tight, he sticks me in rightfield.
"We'll all be there, Coach," Tug said. "This year we're gonna get thoseBank guys."
"We shoulda got'em, last year," Tim Corrigan said.
"That's right," Mr. Borker said. "We should've taken them last year. Butthis year we will. We've got the pitching, the hitting, and the depth."His eyes roamed from one player to another. "Maybe too much depth," headded, and once again those eyes settled on me.
And still I didn't think anything of it. I was wondering how a teamcould have too much depth. In the major leagues depth helps a teamovercome injuries. You don't have too many injuries in Little League.But what you do have are kids going on vacations. Vacations are LittleLeague injuries. So even in Little League you need extra bodies.
"We've got fourteen players," Mr. Borker said. "A team in theeleven-year-old league shouldn't carry more than thirteen. Most of theother teams have extra players too. Last night we had coaches' meetingand Chuck Axelrod, our new league president, said-"
"Chuck Axelrod, the sportscaster?" Art Silver interrupted.
I was glad Art had the nerve to ask. I think we were all wondering that.Chuck Axelrod was Channel 4's top sportscaster. His Saturday nightSportsline show was the most popular sports show on TV. None of us couldbelieve someone as famous as Chuck Axelrod would live here inArborville.
"That's right, Art," Mr. Borker said. He seemed annoyed at the idea ofChuck Axelrod living here in Arborville and being involved with ourleague.Finding Buck McHenry. Copyright � by Alfred Slote. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.