119. Final Inning

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It was the final inning and the Pioneers were down by a score of five to two.

Henry paced the dugout like a nervous rooster, his left ankle now wrapped in a cloth bandage that had already turned crimson. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Big Willy, sitting on a bench as he whispered a silent meditation with rosewood prayer beads in his giant hand.

Jake stood just outside the dugout, taking practice swings, and you could hear his bat, whipping through the air.

The fans were on their feet, rowdy as ever, most of them rooting for the Pioneers.

"Now batting for the Pioneers," the megaphone announcer called. "Jake 'The Cowboy' Westin!"

Jake marched into the batter's box, looking all business.

The Wolverines' pitcher was Hunter Malone. He'd played professional baseball for two years before joining Giant Steel for a lot more money. With wavy brown hair and that arrogant expression, he looked like a cocky bastard who bullied little kids in his younger days.

Malone flashed a smirk and threw a beautiful curve.

Jake pumped his arms and gave it a rip, knocking a bullet to right field as he sprinted to first base.

Garrett Hayes was up next.

Malone fired one of his patented fast balls.

Garrett caught a good chunk of the ball, hitting a line drive to the Wolverines' shortstop, Teddy McFarley.

The game should have been over, but McFarley bobbled the ball.

The opposing crowd let out a collective cry of shock, as the black and white fans shook their heads in relief.

The Pioneers still had life.

There were runners on first and second.

The Pioneers fans started to get louder. Fans tooted horns and whistles. Kids banged pots and pans. And one farm girl, wearing overalls and blond pigtails, jangled a cow bell.

After the windup, Malone threw a spit ball to Marshall Young.

Marshall hit a low-flying ball that looked like a smooth stone sailing over the surface of a pond as it zipped towards the pitcher's mound. Malone made a futile grab for it, but the ball hit the left edge of the mound, changing its direction, and it shot out to left field.

Marshall waltzed to first, and the other two runners advanced to second and third.

This was the childhood dream of every baseball player!

Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Bases loaded.

Henry headed over to the plate, bat in hand. He told himself that he could do this. He'd hit plenty of home runs before. But then, as he stepped into the box, he began to feel twinges of doubt.

What if he struck out? What if he popped up for an easy out?

Anxiety filled Henry's chest, and his heart started to beat faster.

The boos from the Wolverine fans grew louder.

Malone stood on the pitcher's mound, looking cocky as ever. "So you're the big hero, Negro Man. You're going to march in and save the day, are you?" He began to snicker.

Henry refused to give in to his taunts. A war of words would have only worked against him. Instead, he let the anger simmer, burning off his anxiety.

Malone wound up and blazed a fast ball.

Henry took a monster swing, but the ball sailed past him.

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