"Don't blow this one, Pioneers!" someone shouted from the center field stands, his voice filled with mock fear.
Cries of real fear were not uncommon at a ballpark. Just last April in Vernon, California, two gunmen exchanged fire at a ballgame between two semi-professional teams, one white and one black. Police later discovered the two men were fighting over a lousy bet. That sparked a nationwide debate: Should whites and blacks be allowed to play baseball together?
Richard shook his head. "No. They're savages, that's what they are. They don't get a seat at the table with our kind. There's a natural order to all living things. You wouldn't invite hyenas into your home. So why should God-loving Americans invite Negroes into their lives as equals? They are a threat to people and to society. And the fact that the Pioneers can't score more than two runs against them is a disgrace to this game and to what this game stands for."
Frank didn't say a word. Thought it was better that way. He thought about his father's words ... what this game stands for. Frank's attention shifted to the scoreboard, three balls and one strike. It shifted to Jake; swing and a miss. It shifted back to the scoreboard, and to the operator on the platform swapping magnetic numbers; two strikes now. Then his attention trailed down and under the scoreboard, a red, white, and blue banner swayed gently against a light wind.
TODAY'S EXHIBITION GAME
SATURDAY, MARCH 2, 1918
THE HESTER "NEGRO" ROOKS
OUR UNION STEEL PIONEERS
HONORING OUR BRAVE SOLDIERS
LEAVING TO FIGHT IN THE GREAT WAR
Frank met his father's eyes and for several breaths it felt like they might be sharing the same sad thought.
Richard sighed, a wistful smile playing out across his ancient expression. "In only eight weeks, my grandson leaves for France." He pointed his stogie toward the adjacent box where four youths in army uniforms were sitting, laughing and just having a plain old good time. He steadied the glowing end of his cigar in the direction of the boy in front.
My God, Frank thought, reality setting in. Peter is heading to a World War.
Frank looked over to Peter, a sandy-blond crewcut atop an ivory face, a stick-slim build in a loose army uniform. Frank followed his son's gaze out to the shortstop – a young black man, maybe twenty, almond-brown face brimming with intensity, hand and glove on his knees in a ready position.
When Frank turned to his son again, Peter was looking at him, a distant fleeting look in sea-blue eyes. He nodded with a half-smile and turned back to the game as the crowd started to get louder again.
That sent Richard into a rant – this time about how the Pioneers were losing him money. Only half-listening, Frank smiled and nodded along. He took a deep breath to try to shake the nerves that had overcome him, but he just couldn't. It was surreal watching baseball knowing his only child would be leaving in only two months.
Frank's heart plunged to his gut as a grim thought occurred to him.
My son will be fighting in a war, and he might not come back.
Frank imagined troops under fire as they charge across a smoke-laden battlefield. An American unit trying to storm an enemy trench. Peter dashes off to take an unmanned machine gun set on large wooden wheels. A German soldier tackles Peter on his blind side, scrambles to his feet, and fires his sidearm point blank at the center of Peter's forehead.
The faraway crack in Frank's mind was muted by a sharp crack on the field and the entire ballpark erupted – people cheering, clapping and shouting at the tops of their lungs.
Frank scanned the field: Jake gunning to first. Ball climbing as if it had wings. And even though it hadn't reached the top of the arc, he knew where it would land. And from the bottom edge of his vision, he saw him running. That black shortstop was racing out to left field, to that spot, chasing that catch, running so fast that he might just have a shot at it.
And Frank wondered if he might be on the verge of witnessing something special.
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
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...