35. Disaster

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Henry should have known disaster would strike.

In the morning, Coach Taylor put the team through a slew of defensive drills. Henry could hardly believe it but the man was an encyclopedia of baseball knowledge. He had a training exercise for every hitting scenario paired with every combination of men on base.

Each drill was done by the book too. Run, catch, glove, tag, throw and repeat. And if you messed up, Coach was sure to let you know.

"Henry! You can't let that ball get past you!"

Henry felt his stomach turn inside-out. He was covering third when Cletus Barker blasted a vicious ball in his direction. But it took a bad hop, and skipped off the tip of Henry's glove. By the time he chased the ball down, arm cocked to throw it in, Jake was already tagging home plate, and wasted no time to send Henry a smart-assed grin for good measure.

"Sorry, Coach," Henry said, lowering his head.

"Sorry don't cut it!" Coach Taylor's voice boomed. "Better start making plays if you want to start."

Henry lost track of how many times Coach yelled at him. Truth is, Coach Taylor yelled at everyone. Henry wondered how the man even had a voice as practice wore on.

Drill after drill, the hours seemed to blend together as the sun drifted across the blue sky towards the waiting clouds in the horizon.

For the most part, Henry kept to himself. Jake and the other white players didn't bother him except for the occasional chimpanzee hoots, monkey scratching, and jabs when passing by.

"Hang in there, buddy," Dale said. "They'll warm up to you eventually."

"Right," Henry replied. "Like in the next century."

At five o'clock, the shadows grew long as day light was waning, and still baseball practice was in full swing.

Coach Taylor seemed intent on working the team to exhaustion. Maybe he was doing it to see how all the players operated now that Henry had joined the team. Coach kept moving the players around. Making changes here and there. Hell-bent on testing each player against the others. And there was only one word to describe his practice:

Intensive!

"Let's go!" Coach Taylor hollered. "Next drill!"

Henry took up the shortstop position, slightly closer to second base than third. He leaned over in the ready position.

Coach continued. "Man on first. One out."

Jake led off first base, daring to run to second. On the mound, Dale blazed a fastball, and Garrett Hayes knocked a grounder to the right of the mound. Marshall Young snared the ball and tossed it to Henry at second base for the out.

Henry ripped the ball to first for the double-play when he felt a shoulder ram into his gut. He grunted as his back slammed into the ground. A cloud of dust ballooned into the air, and Henry looked up to see Jake glaring down at him.

Anger crawled up Henry's spine. He knew if Willy were here, he would only tell him to turn the other cheek. But Henry couldn't turn the other cheek. He just couldn't. If he did, incidents like this were sure to happen again. No, he had to stand up for himself and he had to do it now.

Henry got up and marched up to Jake. "What's your problem?"

"Well, if you can't take a little hit," Jake said, grinning, "maybe you should hang up your glove."

"You call that a hit?" Henry said.

Jake gave a smug nod. "Your mama must have taught you how to play 'cause you sure do hit like a girl."

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