Saturday, March 2, 1918
It echoed across the baseball field, the dry-clap of a bat slamming against a cowhide-covered ball. A sound quickly replaced by the roar of 4,000 screaming fans. Men sported dark suits and derby hats. Ladies were decked out in springtime dresses and brimmed hats with crowns neatly wrapped in bright scarves and flowery braids. Even the little ones were dressed in some mighty fine clothes. The white folks liked to call it their Sunday best.
Henry Louis had played baseball on Negro teams since the age of ten. Started on a sandlot team with a dozen other colored kids from the poor section of his hometown of Hester, Pennsylvania.
As a freshman at Lincoln Secondary School, for coloreds only, Henry played shortstop for the first time. In the season opener, bottom of the ninth, he stopped a wicked bullet that nearly took off his chin and threw out the game-winning run at home plate. Coach later handed him the game ball and said, "Boy, you keep this up and you might just make it to a professional team."
That night, after saying "Can you believe it?" to his smiling proud momma for the fifth time, Henry swore he'd do everything in his power to keep playing shortstop for the rest of his playing days.
Now at twenty, Henry was getting recognized by Negro teams across Pennsylvania as an up-and-coming shortstop, though not without flaws. For every two or three amazing plays, there was bound to be a head scratcher like a missed grounder, bobbled ball, or god-awful throw. That didn't sit well with Coach Brown. At a time when home runs were as scarce as food supplies due to the Great War, defense was king.
Instinct launched Henry into a full sprint like a greyhound exploding onto the track at the county fair. In his mind, he could picture the line of the ball, leaving the bat and rising over the pitcher's mound, climbing up to a bright afternoon sun on the verge of being covered by a billowy white hand. The ball would land somewhere in No Man's Land as Henry liked to call it. Too far for Old Man Charles to run down from left field. And maybe, just maybe, too far for Henry to chase down.
Henry glanced over his shoulder and saw the batter, Jake Westin, rounding first base on his way to second. The Pioneers' players cheering him on. White folks screaming victory already.
In the colored section - nearly one-third of the bleacher seats - the black folks appeared as deflated as a heap of week-old balloons. Looking over to the Rooks players looking at him, Henry wasn't going to let that ball hit the ground. Not today.
For an instant, Henry tracked the ball sailing over the infield, past the baseline between second and third, and it looked big and gibbous and filthy. That's when he knew it was beginning to happen again. It didn't happen in every game. Sometimes it didn't happen for weeks. But it was happening now.
Henry called it flow, because that's what it felt like. Flowing. Fluid. Like a dream.
The vivid colors of everything around Henry began to fade. Began to blur. Began to slow down like all creation was moving through a world-sized bowl of molasses. All the while, the thundering roar of the crowd fell to a low staccato hum. And in that moment, it was just Henry and the ball. Nothing else seemed to exist or matter.
Seventy feet. Henry covered the distance like a steam engine on a straightaway. When he looked up again, the sun cracking through the fingers of that hand-shaped cloud hit his eyes like an intense flash from a gunpowder blast.
Where's the ball?
Large dark blotches obscured Henry's vision. His heart banged against his chest, each beat an unforgiving reminder that time was running out.
Bottom of the eighth. Two outs. Bases loaded. The Rooks were down 2–1. A mistake now would mean another two runs, if not more, and a tough road for a comeback.
The world began to speed up again.
High over Henry's head, the ball finally came into view. Streaking down like a comet. The thought of the ball hitting green grass stirred the butterflies in Henry's stomach. If there was a Baseball God, he'd ask for a bona fide miracle. Ask for that fingered cloud to pluck that ball from the sky and hold on to it long enough for him to run underneath.
No! Henry reckoned the ball would drop a dozen feet ahead. Instinctively, his knees compressed like springs. Every muscle in his thighs and calves down to his feet squeezed hard as steel pipes. In one continuous motion, with the agility of a panther, Henry leaped into the air and extended his mitt toward the falling ball ... and prayed.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this chapter of "Color", please consider leaving a vote or a comment. I add a new chapter, sometimes two, every Sunday. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania so that's EST.
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Color (Completed)Historical Fiction
The Wattys 2018 Shortlist 1st Place Wattpad's The Historical Award 2019 During World War I, a black baseball player gets a second chance to play ball on an all-white steel mill baseball team, an action that shocks and divides an entire town. Targete...