78. Injustice

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Game Two: Hester Pioneers vs. Frankstown Scoundrels

It was the bottom of the ninth, and the game hadn't gone much better than the home opener.

But why would it?

Frankstown, a small suburb ten miles outside of Philadelphia, was known as The City of Brotherly Thugs. The one-square mile town sat on the edge of the Delaware River across from Riverton, New Jersey. Because of its low stature, it had become the perfect center for robbers and other lowlifes.

Henry stood stoic, his left foot pressed against the second base bag. But underneath that facade, anxiety hummed throughout his chest as he glared at the scoreboard.

Pioneers ... 2

Scoundrels ... 3

Outs ... 0

Henry let out a quiet sigh. On the Rooks, he had been a leader who could get them out of tough situations like this. But on the Pioneers, he felt like another cog in the machine ... and not a well-oiled machine at that.

Still, Henry intended to score, even in this God-forsaken excuse for a ballpark. He'd seen plenty of neglected fields before, but this place was a bona fide dump. Dust swirled, lifting up the bits of white paint that had once decorated the bare wood of the bleachers. Then a gust of wind swept a trio of crumpled napkins over the pitcher's mound.

The Scoundrel's pitcher was Sam "Junk Man" Murdoch, his nickname given to him, because he threw a lot of slow, crappy pitches. His only other pitch was a fast ball, usually to intimidate the opposing batters. He'd already hit two Pioneers in the shoulder, three in the back, and one on the side of his calf.

Henry tried to stay focused. But it was tough when he had to contend with the opposing players battering him every chance they got. He'd already gotten knocked off base twice, and his ribs ached something fierce from trying to defend second base as Carl Riggs, a two-hundred twenty pound runner, plowed him over.

Still, Henry was doing his best to retain a sense of calm. Getting angry hadn't helped him any in the first game, and it wouldn't help him today either.

Looking into the colored section of the stands, Henry gave Sarah a knowing nod. Even from this distance, Henry could see her bright smile, a beacon among the tired black faces of the local factory workers and their families. She took her fist and rapped her chest, over her heart, a signal that she was rooting for him, and he nodded again.

Henry thought back to his string of recent dates with Sarah and their long walks in the park. Since Amateur Night, they'd seen each other every day. Even though they hadn't been dating all that long, it felt right in an imperfect sort of way. Imperfect was the best way to describe the life of most coloreds.

"Stay sharp!" Coach Elliot hollered.

That brought Henry back into focus. He strove to keep his composure, if not for himself and the team, then for Sarah. He wanted her to be proud of him and see that he could be a patient and steadfast man.

Henry took a daring lead off of second base, his eyes on Murdoch's back as he presided over the pitcher's mound. The Junkman was only five foot ten, but he possessed a square jaw and a brick frame that looked as solid as a wall.

The announcer, a thin man in a dusty yellow suit, strode along the first base line. He shouted into his tin megaphone, full of dents. "Garrett Hayes at bat. Three balls and no strikes."

Murdoch shot the announcer a murderous look as Garrett settled into his batting stance.

From the bleachers, spectators heaped on the verbal abuse. But their rants differed from the jeers from the Pioneers fans. During the home opener, the crowd had screamed directly at Henry. Today, they weren't doing that. They were screaming at the Pioneers.

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