After a couple of practices at third, the soreness from Rich’s arm, because from the long throws across the diamond disappeared. Howie did just fine. After he learned to shed the catcher’s mask on pop fouls without tripping over it, he looked like he’d been doing it all his life. Mr. Hawk patiently coached him on the finer points. Howie was rabbit quick making the throw to second and coming out from behind the plate on bunts.
Things were looking up for Rich and Howie.
The last school event of the year actually happened after the school year was over. It was the first Friday and Saturday after the last day of school. It was a carnival of grand proportion for the Blue Lick Township community. Rides, games, and concessions dotted the school grounds. It was a fundraiser sponsored by the Dad’s Club to pay for summer events and sports equipment for the various athletic teams.
All the baseball teams played on Saturday to allow the township folk to see how their money was spent.
Rich’ team, the Slabtown Reds, played a city team Saturday at noon. Rich knew most of the players on the city team because he lived in the city up till two years earlier.
When the starting lineup was announced by Mr. Hawk, Rich batted second.
Rich and Howie played pitch and catch as the other team had infield practice.
“Howie,” Rich said, “the first time up, I’m going to bunt down the third base line and not stop until I get to second.”
“You so full of it,” Howie said, “it be comin’ out your ears.”
“Wait and see,” Rich said.
The game started. Rich came to the plate after the first batter struck out. The first pitch was thrown to Rich. The bunt was perfect. The third baseman did not get rid of the throw to first until Rich was nearly on the bag. Rich rounded first and dug his cleats to second. The first baseman initially did not know Rich was taking off for second. Then he had a hard time removing the ball from his glove and when he did it dropped to the ground and he had a hard time picking it up. By the time the ball was picked up in his throwing hand, and his arm cocked to throw, Rich was better than halfway to second. He held on to the ball because neither the shortstop nor the second baseman were anywhere near to covering the bag. Rich stopped at second standing up. It was ruled an infield double.
Rich always thought it was easier to steal third than second.
On the first pitch, he streaked for third. He made it to third without a throw from the catcher and rounded the bag as if to come home.
He smiled at Howie.
Howie cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Candy from a baby.”
Rich called back, “I don’t want to get my uniform dirty.”
As the pitcher wound up to throw Rich dashed toward home and stopped quickly. The pitcher, confused, held on to his throw to home.
Rich smiled. “Who let the chickens out?” He croaked like a chicken and flapped his arms, “balk, balk, balk, balk, balk.”
The umpire called the balk on the pitcher and Rich trotted across the plate.
Howie proved his worth by hitting a home run his second time up and threw two runners out at second.
The Reds won the game easily.
After the game, Howie and Rich rode their bikes to Mr. Coleman’s home and changed clothes. They rode back to the carnival and watched the Blues play.
They were polished. Larry Coleman pitched four innings and did not allow a hit. John Morris their shortstop dazzled everybody with his glove and Wade Workman made incredible catches in center field. Tommy White, their left fielder, hit a ball onto the football field—a home run by any measure.
Deep inside, Rich wanted so badly to be a part of that team. He knew they were winners.
Rich played five years of baseball and had never been on a winning team. He wanted to know how it felt.
A combination of prejudice, class discrimination, and snobbery was going to rob Rich and Howie of the rewards and jubilation of a winning season.
Rich and Howie meandered through the crowd at the carnival. They spent time hanging out with friends and teammates. Eventually, they separated. Howie drifted with the group from Dog Patch and Rich clung to his friends who played for the Blues.