54. Pride

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Henry was the last player to make it onto the field. The sun gleamed bright against the clear blue, and heat waved across the tan dirt of the diamond. If the previous practices, not to mention Coach Taylor's rants, were any indication, Henry probably wouldn't make shortstop when the season opened. Most likely that would mean a position in the outfield. Maybe out in left field, like Old Man Charles use to play on the Rooks.

"Thanks for joining us!" Coach yelled. "Glad you decided to grace us with your presence."

Across the way, Jake and his white buddies looked over at Henry and cackled. Henry didn't care. What did it matter to him if he was the last one onto the field?

Pride swelled into Henry's chest. He would show them. He would show all of them by outplaying the white players at their own game.

"All right," Coach Taylor said. "In case you forgot, our first game is coming up this Saturday. Final practice! Assistant coaches are going to choose Red and Blue Teams. Make this scrimmage count. Come on. Get going!"

The two assistant coaches were Murphy and Hastings. Their names sounded like a law office. No fee unless we win. Murphy picked for the Red Team. Hastings for the Blue. They selected round robin, and as usual, Henry was the last man standing.

Henry drifted over to the Blue Team. Dale shot him a quick nod. Some of the other men gave Henry tight glances out of the corners of their eyes, but nobody said anything to him.

Thankfully, Jake and all his chums were on the Red Team. Playing against Jake and the other malicious Pioneers players reminded Henry of his days playing for the Rooks. How many times had he taken the abuses of other white teams while wearing the Rooks uniform?

"Okay boys!" Coach Taylor pointed at Jake's group. "Red Team bats first!"

Coach rounded up the Blue Team. He called out field assignments, and the players took off to their positions until Henry was the only one remaining. "Henry, you're at shortstop." He said it with a wink.

Henry stared at Coach, and then his face lit up with a smile. "Yes, sir."

Jogging into position between second and third, Henry felt his spirits rising for the first time this morning. He had another chance to show these guys just how good a shortstop he really was. He had a chance to prove himself to Coach Taylor again. He couldn't blow this opportunity.

Henry dropped into a ready position, hand and mitt pressed to his knees. Henry focused all his attention on Garrett Hayes as he stepped into the batter's box. On the mound, Dale wound up and threw a curve that landed dead-center in the catcher's glove without even a flinch. Strike!

It was the same story for three innings. Dale's pitching was as loose as a whip, lashing through the air and taking out batters one after another.

With each throw of the ball, Henry found himself growing more impressed with Dale's skills. He never appeared tense or nervous. On the mound, his face took on a new demeanor. It was nothing like the easy-going expression Henry had come to associate with Dale. No. On the mound, Dale Ritter was a warrior.

Dale struck out twelve batters before a ball was hit. It was Jake who cracked his bat into a fastball.

The ball streaked over the infield between Henry and the third base line. Henry flew into a full sprint, his feet barely grazing the ground. In one swift motion, he leaped up and snared the ball in a backhanded catch. His cleats touched the grass, and he spun to his teammates, holding the ball up.

"You're out!" Coach Taylor hollered.

Jake came to a stop, halfway to first base.

"Great play, Henry!" Coach Taylor shouted. Then he turned to the other players. "That's what I want to see from you knuckleheads. Each and every play. Just like that!"

Henry smiled, but the smile melted away when his gaze fell on Jake. The Cowboy's eyes looked like stones he could pluck out and throw across the field.

Jake sent a heated glare at Henry.

As if Henry had been the cause of all his problems.

As if Jake would find a way – someway, somehow – to make him pay.

Author's Note

They say if you declare a goal publicly, you're more likely to achieve it. So here goes.

This writing goal serves two important purposes:

1) I want to finish Draft 2 here on Wattpad as soon as possible.

2) I really want to get the entire story out to YOU, because you've stuck with this story and with me. I can't say enough times how much I really appreciate it. Without your reads and votes and comments, this story would have died a long time ago. Seriously!

So ... There are 68 written chapters remaining. Chapters 55 - 122. I think the number of chapters will end up being around 132. For example, I need to break up a few existing longer chapters and add some new ones. Also, a few minor characters may get some additional parts in the story.

So here's my goal:

Publish all 132 chapters here on Wattpad by January 31, 2019.

To put this in perspective, I need to publish at least 3 chapters (on average) each week, starting next week. It's a tall order, but I'm committed to it. I may not start out publishing 3 chapters a week, but I'm hoping to pick up momentum.

Over the past week, I've reviewed and made notes on Chapters 55 - 122. Most of the scenes are all planned out and just need some straightforward revisions. But there are several tricky scenes, like the baseball scenes that need to be fleshed out better and in a way that focuses on the characters (not on the baseball) and what the characters are going through ... physically and emotionally.

Lastly, for you writers, and for readers interested in this behind-the-scenes stuff, I'll posted periodic updates on my progress and challenges.

Well, that's all I got for now.

Until next week!

Take care,

Your friendly neighborhood word-slinger

Your friendly neighborhood word-slinger

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