85. Turning Point

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That first practice with Big Willy was the turning point for the Pioneers.

That was the only way Henry could think to describe it. Somehow the Pioneers had become more united. Maybe the players had finally realized how strong the team could be when they worked together.

Outside Union Steel Ballpark, the air was humid with the smell of coal from the mill. Henry climbed aboard the team bus, a rickety wooden dinosaur on wheels, and settled into the back seat. The players used to force him to the rear of the bus with all the bags. But not anymore. He'd just gotten used to climbing to the back; habits like that are hard to break.

Dale, Big Willy, Carlos, and several of the other guys settled near Henry. Up front, Marshall and Rusty started singing Old McHenry Had a Farm. All the other players busted out laughing. Well, all of them except for Jake. The Cowboy watched the antics but refused to participate. Henry supposed he shouldn't care. And yet, he wanted the Cowboy to tear down the wall that separated him from the rest of the team.

"Want to play some cards," Dale asked. "Maybe a game of War?"

"Maybe later," Henry said. As the bus pulled off, he retrieved a black leather journal from the duffel beside him and flipped through the entries until he reached a blank page.

With a fountain pen in hand, Henry started writing as images from the past several weeks ran though his mind ...

Henry had hit his first home run with the Pioneers in game three against the Latrobe Lionhearts. The feeling of passing over home plate with the crowd cheering brought chills.

Those white folks made a lot of noise, but it was a different kind of noise now. If Henry didn't know better, the fans seemed to be on his side.

The sight of Sarah's vivid smile in the stands, well, that was better than churned butter on sweetbread.

In retrospect, Sarah attended every game, clapping and cheering with the colored crowd. She was writing poems about the ball games for the Hester Gazette. And Mrs. Bell thought it only fitting to send those inspirational poems to the boys overseas.

That win over the Lionhearts was the first of many!

Over the next few weeks, the Pioneers had continued to improve.

Henry was leading the charge with ten home runs and fifteen stolen bases. And Jake wasn't too far behind him with nine homers and twelve stolen. Everyone on the team was contributing. Best of all, the players were getting along much better and trying their darndest to help one another improve.

Surprisingly, the umpires were becoming less of an issue too. The home crowds had changed their tune, and now they heckled the umpires if they made any bad calls. Those crowds were becoming bigger too. Each week, the Hester Gazette published another Pioneers' win, and those stories were drawing spectators from all over Pennsylvania.

Things were starting to look up. Henry couldn't believe it – the racial tensions were starting to die down. Was it possible that all Hester had needed was a united baseball team? Maybe all anybody had needed to see was how unstoppable blacks and whites could be when they worked together.

And boy were they ever a force.

The Pioneers were in the midst of an incredible season of ten wins and two losses.


Author's Note

This chapter was the montage scene. It's a sign that Henry and the Pioneers are on the right track. It's a "feel good" scene.

But those "feel good" times won't last very long.

Henry's headed for the biggest fight he's ever faced in his life. This is the quiet before the proverbial storm.

A storm that will either destroy Henry or re-create him.

Have a great week!

Best Regards,

Tom

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