33. Mr. Lanky Arms

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Mr. Lanky Arms met Henry's gaze through copper-brown eyes. He had dark brown hair that looked as unruly as his mustache and beard. He gave a big toothy hillbilly grin, and Henry bit his lower lip to keep himself from losing it. Henry flashed a tentative smile and made his way over to the man.

"I guess it's you and me," Henry said.

"I reckon so," the lanky man said, extending a lean hand. "Name's Dale Ritter."

Henry stared at the chalk-white hand, wondering if Dale might yank it away at the last second. Henry tensed as he reached out, but Dale didn't pull away. Clasping onto Dale's hand, Henry gave it a firm shake.

"I'm Henry Louis," he said, relieved. Then he made a mental note how letting his guard down would be a huge mistake. If he started to get too comfortable, it would only make it easier for these white players to take advantage of him.

The two men headed out to the right field grass. Dale trotted about half way out, and Henry took up a spot a few feet away from the infield. They stood about a hundred and twenty feet apart. Not a far distance for catching, but close enough for talking.

Is that what Dale wanted to do? Talk?

Dale plucked the ball from his glove and threw it.

As Henry caught and returned Dale's throws, he found himself wondering why this man had taken such an interest in him. Did he have some sort of motive?

"Hey!" Henry shouted. "How come you don't mind catching with me?"

Dale raised an eyebrow at him and sent another long-armed throw back. "I don't know. Why should I mind? I mean, we're on the same team and all. We're supposed to be working together."

Henry caught the ball on its return and lowered his arm. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm black. And you're white. Blacks and whites aren't supposed to mix. That's not how things work around here."

Henry launched a high flying ball. Dale raised his glove and caught the ball over his head.

"Last I checked, the keys on a piano seemed to work pretty well together," Dale said.

"Piano keys don't disagree," Henry said. "They don't punch and kick. Blacks and whites are like pigs and chickens on a farm. Keep them apart and everything's fine. But put them together and there's bound to be trouble."

"Then what are you doing here?" Dale asked.

Henry caught the ball that Dale sent speeding his way. He felt the force of the ball thud into the leather of his mitt.

"What do you mean?" Henry asked.

He took a couple of steps forward, lessening the gap between them.

"I mean," Dale said, walking towards him, "why put yourself through all this trouble if you don't think it can work?"

Henry considered those words.

Dale said, "Jake and the other guys don't much like you. You must know they're going to hassle you every chance they get. Now, there will always be guys like them out there. But it sounds like you believe the trouble between blacks and whites is natural. If that's how you feel, why not just stay as far away from white folks as possible? Why throw yourself right in the thick of it and join a white baseball team?"

Henry sighed and tossed the ball back to Dale.

"I've been asking that question myself," Henry said. "I almost didn't take Mr. Bell up on his offer. But I guess I just love baseball. There really isn't anything else I want to do."

A big smile opened up on Dale's face. "I'm with you on that. Baseball is everything to me too. I couldn't imagine making a living any other way."

Henry returned a wary smile. He was beginning to think maybe he and Dale could be friends. Laughing softly, he shook his head at the thought. Well ... maybe in another universe ... one in which Dale was black.

Dale rolled the ball in his hand. "I don't know if I agree with you about blacks and whites not being able to mix."

"Oh yeah?" Henry said, brows knitted in doubt. "And what makes you say that?"

Dale gave a mischievous grin as he pointed an index finger at Henry and then a thumb back at himself.

"Just look at us," Dale said. "You're black, and I'm white. And we're mixing."

Henry couldn't stop himself from letting loose a thunderous laugh.

"You are one funny white boy!" Henry said, chuckling. "Anybody ever tell you that?"

"Well, I've been told I'm funny looking," Dale said, grinning. "Does that count?"

The two men looked at each other before they burst out laughing in unison. Henry doubled over, tears filling his eyes.

For a heartbeat, Henry wondered. Maybe playing for the Pioneers wasn't going to be so bad after all. Maybe it was possible for blacks and whites to mix. Maybe he could be happy here. Maybe he'd make friends and be able to bond with his new teammates.

Henry gripped his knees, still hunched over laughing. When he raised his head, the optimism quickly drained from his face.

From across the field, Jake and the other white players glared at him. Their mouths were drawn and tight. Their eyes bore into him with and unmistakable emotion.

Resentment.


Author's Note

Sometimes it's tough to find pictures that match your characters. But yep, that's Mr. Lanky Arms up there in the chapter picture.

And as I'm re-reading the last chapter (32), I'm wondering a few things:

1) Should Coach Taylor introduce Henry to the team?

2) What's a better way to introduce the other white players?

3) Do I need to add elements of weather, temperature, sun, smells, etc.? (not all of these but at least one or two)

The last chapter needs a little more work, but hopefully it conveys that as far as the white players are concerned (except Dale), Henry is NOT a part of the Pioneers' circle.

Again, thanks for reading not only this story, but my many random ramblings.

All the best to you!

Thanks,

Tom

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