31. Rough Beginning

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The past week had gone by like a streak of lightning.

As soon as Henry accepted the offer, Frank Bell had him whisked in a shiny black limousine to a fancy law office in the white uptown section of Hester. The lawyer, a clean-shaven man in his forties, reviewed a six-page agreement with Henry.

Yes, he would become a Pioneer.

Yes, he would be paid $200 a week.

Yes, he could get benched or let go at any time for any reason whatsoever.

Henry signed the contract before the watchful eyes of Frank Bell, a sandy-haired reporter from the Hester Gazette, and a baby-faced photographer who snapped several pictures, the loud pop of the camera bulb still fresh in Henry's thoughts as he marched across the Pioneers' field.

He looked around but there was nobody in sight. Not a single player or coach.

Henry stepped down into the dugout and stopped in front of the door to the Pioneers' locker room. The door was shut but he could hear a muffled chatter indicating their last all-white team meeting had wrapped up. Mr. Bell had instructed Henry to show up at nine o'clock sharp today so Coach Taylor could address the team one last time before his arrival. Oh what he wouldn't give to be a fly on the locker room wall.

Feeling anxious, Henry wasn't sure what kind of a reception he would receive. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He knew it wasn't going to be pleasant. If anything, it was going to be bad. In his experience, white folks treated blacks in one of two ways. They either kept them at arm's length like outcasts. Or they came at them with anger and violence. Cutting them down with hateful words. Trying to pick a fight at every turn.

Sucking in a deep breath, Henry straightened tall and started to reach for the knob when the door swung open. Instinctively, he stepped aside.

Jake Westin came out first. He wore a white Pioneers' uniform with navy blue pinstripes, a bat in his hand and a wild-eyed expression as if he might use that bat at any minute. Then Rusty Ryan stepped up beside Jake who said, "Rusty, look at who we have here!"

"Hey, it's the new bat boy," Rusty said.

Both men shared a low mean chuckle at that.

Henry pressed his lips into a tight smile. Then he met Jake's blue eyes and said, "I'm sorry, but I came here to play shortstop."

Jake's expression tensed before relaxing slowly into a cunning grin. "You know that's not how things work around here. I'm playing shortstop this season. You don't even have a shot. And even if you did, Coach isn't about to give that spot to a dumb-ass Negro like you."

Henry leveled a firm gaze at Jake. "I guess we'll just have to see who the better player is."

Jake's eyes flared as he launched forward, leaning his face in close to Henry's. "Listen boy." He kept his voice low but his words carried menace. "I don't know what you did to convince Mr. Bell to sign you, but I swear, as long as you're on this team, I'm going to make your life a living Hell."

Before Henry could fire back, his mouth open ...

"Jake Westin!"

Those booming words came from a bear of a man with silver hair, looming through the doorway. He shot a hard look at Jake. "Get your ass out on the field!" Then he turned to Rusty. "You too!"

"Aw come on, Coach," Jake said. "We were just welcoming Henry to the team."

"Quit the bullshit, Jake," Coach said, gesturing his head to the field. "Get out there ... now!"

Jake grimaced, shaking his head. "This is gonna be a big mistake." He pushed past Henry, bumping into his shoulder. Rusty followed him out towards the field. A moment later, several other players emerged from the doorway. They marched past Henry, casting quick glances but none of them uttering a single word.

Coach Taylor glared at Henry. "There's a locker with your name on it. Go get your uniform on and meet us by second base."

"Coach, I have a question –"

"I said, get dressed!" Coach interrupted, his voice booming. He looked irritated.

Henry nodded. "Alright sir."

Coach Taylor climbed out of the dugout and started across the field.

Henry entered the doorway and treaded slowly down a long darkened corridor toward the locker room. The crackle of his shoes against the concrete floor was only overshadowed by a thunderous heartbeat.

Then his heart dropped to his knees. He couldn't help the feeling overcoming him now. The feeling of being ...

... all alone.


Author's Note

As I write this on May 12th, the day before Mother's Day 2018, I decided to do a little research into this holiday. This is what I learned:

The modern holiday of Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. St Andrew's Methodist Church now holds the International Mother's Day Shrine. Her campaign to make Mother's Day a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother's Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is "the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world".

In 1908, the U.S. Congress rejected a proposal to make Mother's Day an official holiday, joking that they would also have to proclaim a "Mother-in-law's Day". However, owing to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, by 1911 all U.S. states observed the holiday, with some of them officially recognizing Mother's Day as a local holiday (the first being West Virginia, Jarvis' home state, in 1910).

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother's Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.

Source: Wikipedia

Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mother's out there! And may the rest of your 2018 be filled with peace and joy!!

Thanks,
Tom

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