104. Last Laugh

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Henry left the ballpark feeling pumped, his mood as light as a feather, floating on a current of air.

He was heading to meet Sarah at the Rusty Rail, a new Jamaican restaurant on the South Side, when a series of popping lights obscured his sight, black spots dancing at the edges of his vision. Henry shielded his eyes, and the smell of burnt glass stung his nostrils. The scene felt oddly similar to the one that had played out on his first day of practice.

A wave of reporters rushed forward, calling out questions and swarming around him like a hoard of buzzing bees.

This time around, Henry didn't feel the same sort of apprehension. He stepped up into the circle of reporters with his head held high. He was ready to field whatever questions they might throw his way.

The tall reporter in a black suit strode forward. His name was Mitchell Cox. His thinning gray hair looked lacquered to his head. Cox gave a conceited smile, revealing large front teeth. "Henry, what did you think of the Hustler's aggressive play?"

Henry knew Cox was trying to bait him. He either wanted Henry to say something derogatory about the Hustlers, so he could tear him apart. Or he wanted to hear Henry say that what the other team had done was fine. Henry couldn't simply excuse how the Pioneers had been treated.

"The way the Hustlers play really isn't my concern. When you think about it, it's out of my control. My only focus is being prepared to play a good game. I'll let the coaches handle everything else."

"And how did Coach Taylor handle Dale Ritter getting tagged out? It wasn't too smart of him to argue with the umpire the way he did."

"Yeah!" a reporter from the back of the crowd shouted. "Do you think the umpire was right to eject all of your coaches from the game?"

Henry chuckled and shook his head. "Come on, gentlemen. I'm just here to play baseball. It's not my job to comment on anything else." Snickers stirred in the background. Henry looked past the reporters, and there was Willy, Jake, and Dale having a good ol' time.

Henry started walking again, easing his way through the throngs of reporters.

"Just one more question, Henry!" Cox said.

Henry let out a small sigh and turned back to Cox. "Sure, what is it?"

Cox quirked an eyebrow and flashed a mean little smirk. "Just something for our readers to get to know you a little better. You know? Get to know the man off the field. What's your favorite food?"

A bustle of snickers traveled through the group of reporters. Someone in their midst murmured, "Watermelon." That one word hung in the air like a noose, and Henry tensed as it became suddenly quiet.

For a moment, Henry thought that he might get upset. It was such a pointed, nasty, and racist question. His blood began to simmer, and he struggled to reign in his emotions. But then the answer came to him.

"Apples," Henry said with unwavering confidence. "Apples are my favorite food. As in hot dogs and apple pie."

All the reporters remained quiet for a heartbeat before exploding with applause.

"Great answer!" shouted a reporter in the back.

Tyler Keyes, the sandy-haired reporter from the Hester Gazette, walked up to Cox and shot him a sneaky grin. "So what's your favorite food?"

"Aw, shut up," Cox said, and everyone burst out in gut-busting laughter.

"Very good, Henry," said a baby-faced photographer as he dashed forward. "Can we get one last picture before you go?"

Henry smiled as the cameras flashed around him.

"Let's get Dale Ritter in the shot too!" one of the other photographers said.

"How about the whole gang over there?" Henry said, nodding over to his buddies.

Dale, Jake, and Willy made their way over to Henry's side and the four of them posed for several more pictures.

Click! Snap! Click!

The next morning, the four Pioneers appeared on the front page of the Hester Gazette under a bold headline.

Pioneers Win Their First Playoff Game!


Author's Note

Haha! Henry gets the last laugh after being mistreated by the larged-tooth reporter after his first practice for the Pioneers.

It just goes to show that just about every character here plays some role in Henry's story. And that story is about to shift after the very next chapter.

Thanks for your continued support!

And I hope you're enjoying a nice holiday season!!

All the best,

Tom

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