It was the final day of the season, championship day. A boy sat on the tiered, wooden spectator benches waiting for his turn to bat. He smelt the newly mown grass of the field and the lime used to mark out the diamond. He felt the warmth of the sun on his face. Birds sang in the sky above.
A younger boy—a good player—approached him. ‘Go home,’ the younger boy said. ‘Or pretend to be sick. Anything so that I can take your place.’
‘No,’ the boy replied. What else could he say? He was part of the team. He intended to take his place.
I will do well,he told himself.
When his turn came, he walked to the plate. Two down, one to go. Final innings, scores level. Runner on third base. The rest of the team was quiet, expectant. The boy knew what they expected; he would get out.
As he walked, he could not help but hear the chatter from the field.
‘Look who it is. This will be easy.’
‘Like a lamb to the slaughter.’
‘You can strike him out with your eyes closed.’
When he reached the plate, he tapped the end of his bat on it. The boy felt the weight of his bat in his hand. He swung it, loosening tight muscles. It met with more derision.
‘Look at him playing at being a good batter.’
‘Who’s he trying to fool?’
I will do well. I will do well. I will do well!
‘Strike two!’ the umpire called. The boy’s heart sank.
A cool breeze wafted across the field. Somehow, its touch on his face cheered him. He steadied himself.
He swung the bat two-handed, in a vaguely figure-of-eight pattern in front of himself and then settled it back over his right shoulder. It was sheer bravado, he knew. If he missed again, his teammates would mock him mirthlessly.
‘It’s the last game of the season’, he told himself. ‘Let them mock. It won’t last long; by next year, they’ll have forgotten all about it.’
The boy looked over at the runner on third base. He edged down the line, tempting the pitcher to throw the ball and get him out.
The boy saw on the runner’s face that he was desperate to get home. He also saw that the runner did not expect that to happen. Not with the boy up to bat.
The pitcher ignored the runner. The pitcher obviously thought the batter the easier option. He wound up and let fly. The boy swung and heard the sound of ball hitting bat. He dropped the bat and ran.
He did not make it to first base. The ball beat him. He was out.
It did not matter. The runner on third base had made it home. They had won. They were the champions.