Make-Believe Ball Playerby Alfred Slote, Tom Newsom (Illustrator), Tom Newsom (Illustrator)
In real life, Henry is clumsy, nearsighted, and slow to react not exactly a star athlete. But in Henry's games of make-believe baseball, he's always a winner, no matter what. Henry has played real ball, and he doesn't like it very much. Somehow, no matter how hard he tries, he ends up losing the game for his team. Imaginary games are much better: He can play any position he wants, and he can also impersonate both teams, the coaches, and even the crowd.
Then one night Henry finds himself in the middle of a dangerous situation. And as a result of the attention that follows, Henry is drawn back into the world of real baseball and is given another chance to be a real sports hero!
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No hitter in there, Smitty," Ted and Mike Kohn shouted from the outfield.
"Buncha bums," Rachel Dotson called in from right.
"No stick, babe," Gary Stillwell said softly from behind his glove at shortstop. Gary was the best ball player on the team next to me. I was the Sampson Park School Tigers' number-one pitcher. Gary was number two. When he pitched, I played short.
On the bench, Mr. Stillwell, Gary's dad, hollered out in his big booming voice: "You got a no-hitter, Smitty. just pitch away, lad."
"Let 'em hit," Tony Greene said from second, and Ed Godfrey, at third just kept, repeating: "Smoke 'em, Smitty. Smoke 'em."'
I, Henry Smith, starting pitcher for the Sampson Park Tigers, looked in to get the signal from my catcher, Casey Prince. Old Case wiggled one finger and wagged it toward the batter. That meant he was calling for an inside fastball. Joey Marshall, the Lawton School Lions' best hitter, was up. Joe, being a plate crowder, would have a hard time getting around on an inside fastball.
I pushed my glasses back. I didn't want them to fall off when I went to a full windup. I pumped, kicked, and threw inside.
Joey swung. He did not get around on it. It went off the handle of his bat. An easy pop-up right at me.
"I got it," Kevin Kline, our first baseman shouted, running toward the mound.
"Mine, I yelled. I wasn't taking any chances on someone muffing the last out of the game. The ball came down into my glove.
Cheers went up from our sideline, the subs, parents. Lots of "Way to go, Sampson Park," "Way to go Smitty," were sounding when Mom's voice cut into the shouts of thecrowd.
"Would you please stop making that noise while Mrs. Harrington is here."
"Sorry, Mom. I forgot."
It irritated me that she called my make-believe ball games noise. She was angry, because I had promised not to play when she had a customer in the house. Especially a customer like Mrs. Harrington, who was one of the richest people in Arborville.
Mrs. Harrington bought a lot of Mom's Asian folk art. Twice now my mom has gone off to Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, to buy folk art. She goes into little villages and buys sculpture and weavings and pottery and has it shipped back to Michigan, where she sells it to rich ladies like Mrs. Harrington.
I knew she was expecting to sell Mrs. Harrington the five-foot white wooden elephant from Thailand.
My last pitch had hit the mattress and rolled off into the side garden. I unhooked the mattress and hauled it to the breezeway.
Through the screen door I could hear Mrs. Harrington saying, "What on earth is Henry doing, Emily?"
"Playing make-believe baseball, Mom replied. "The boy has an overheated imagination. He hangs a mattress on the garage and pretends he is all twenty players."
Mrs. Harrington laughed. "Eighteen players, Emily. Nine to a team. But how wonderful for a child to play make-believe anything in these days of television."
"It's not wonderful at all," Mom said crossly. "The sound of that ball hitting the mattress drives me crazy. I keep waiting for the next boof. And sometimes the boof doesn't come. I relax, and then ... boof!"
I laughed. The reason the boof doesn't come in a regular rhythm is because sometimes I try to pick a runner off first or second. But there was no point explaining that to Mom.
Mom went on, I wouldn't mind so much if Henry would be just the players, but he has to be the coaches and the parents, too. He changes his voice for that. He's only ten years old. I don't think this is normal behavior. It would be a lot more normal if he went to the park and played a real game with real children his own age."
"More normal, perhaps, but not as much fun," Mrs. Harrington said. "Now, Emily, let's talk about that elephant you've been unable to unload,"
"Mrs. Harrington," Mom said with horror in her voice, "I have not offered that to anyone. In fact, I have hidden it so you could be the first to see it. I could sell the elephant at the drop of a hat."
"Nonsense. It's too big for anyone's house but mine. Secondly, you know my husband and I are crazy about- large animals. Where on earth did you get it?"
"Thailand. In a little village."
"I suppose you want an arm and a leg for it."
"Mrs. Harrington, what would I do with one of your arms or legs?"
Mrs. Harrington laughed. So did I. I could listen to Mom and her customers all day long.
"Well, Emily, what do you want for it?"
"My husband will kill me, but I've priced it at only eight hundred dollars."
I grinned. Mom was shameless bringing Dad in like that. Dad couldn't have cared less about her business. He was a surgeon. He worked nights and days at the hospital. Her business amused him. And sometimes irritated him.
Mom used to be a nurse. But after Dad started making money as a doctor, she quit her nursing job and had kids. My sister Melissa and me. Four years ago, when I was in first grade, Mom said she was going back to school to study art.
"I refuse to stay in the house all my life."
"What's wrong with the house?" Dad had said. And then he said something that got' both Mom and Melissa mad at him. He sat back and said, "Women, my dear Emily, belong in the house."
"What did you say?" Mom had asked furiously.
So Dad said it again, sitting back in his chair like a king almost. "Women, my dear Emily, belong in the house."
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