March 3, 1918
Spring arrived early to Hester bringing with it hope that the harsh winter had come to an end. Union Steel Ballpark overflowed with energized fans. The smell of freshly roasted peanuts and hot dogs drifted along a breeze of burning coal and molten pig iron from the steel mill next door.
In the box seats behind the home dugout, Frank Bell clapped encouragement for his team. He wore a casual navy-blue suit, matching waistcoat and trousers. At forty-five, hair peppered gray, he was the youngest general manager of the eight-team steel mill league. He squinted walnut-brown eyes behind wire-rim glasses and shouted, "Come on, Pioneers!"
On the field, Jake Westin, the Pioneers' ace, stepped into the batter's box and took a couple practice swings. Even from this distance, Frank could tell something was missing in those old blues, something that made Jake's eyes look cold and dark.
Frank had played baseball at Western University, and he hated to admit, in the previous century. On a full athletic scholarship, he hit .380 over four years while majoring in business. In his senior year, he was defending second base when a runner slid into him, metal spikes impaling his left knee. Pain. Blood. Fear. Teammates carried Frank off the field, loaded him into a horse-drawn beer wagon, and rushed him to Mayview Hospital. Eventually he would regain his ability to walk. But his dream to play professional baseball had died.
"This game is an embarrassment." The baritone voice came from behind.
Frank managed a slight smile and turned to his father. "I didn't think you'd show up."
Richard Bell was the image of stout – stout face, stout frame, and stout of mind – a complete opposite of Frank who looked like he could still play ball. And while Richard was loathed by his steel mill employees, Frank was held in the highest regard by everyone in Hester.
"Of course you didn't," Richard said with a thin scowl encompassed by a neatly trimmed beard. He took a seat beside Frank, withdrew a Cuban cigar from inside his suit jacket, and waggled it between his fingers.
"I didn't think you cared much for baseball," Frank said.
Richard grumbled. "I don't care for petty games," he said. "But I do care about the company."
The company. Frank knew his father meant Union Steel, the company he built from the ground up. In January of 1871, Richard purchased thirty acres of fertile land in the heart of Hester and started working with architects on his master plan. In total, he invested $160,000 of his own money. Over the next two years, Richard orchestrated the construction of a state-of-the-art steel mill based on the renowned Bessemer process, allowing him to produce inexpensive steel and sell it at competitive rates.
In 1873, Union Steel finally opened its doors, creating 2,000 new jobs and fueling Hester's rise to become a bustling industrial town. According to the Hester Gazette, Richard Bell's empire flourished, generating an impressive forty percent return on Richard's original investment, as America's demand for steel rails and ship plates increased ten percent annually.
Richard placed the cigar to his lips and lit it with a match. He took a puff before saying, "And the company team might end up losing to a bunch of monkeys in uniform."
"They're people," Frank said but lacking force.
"What did you say?" Richard demanded.
Frank's lips pressed thin. "You heard me. They're people too."
The crowd suddenly erupted. Cries of elation. Frank stood up. Jake had just clubbed a deep fly ball over the third base line. The white fans were on their feet but their cries turned into disappointed sighs as the home plate umpire signaled foul left.
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Color (Completed)Historical Fiction
WATTYS SHORTLISTED! 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. Targeted by opponents, his own team, and mysterious vigilan...