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Chapter 10

Last Wednesday when Mrs. Riley introduced Ken to his little league team, it started to rain. Ken was forced cancel the practice. Which meant on Friday, game day, Ken didn’t have a clue as to who to play where. He decided to let the guys decide for themselves where to play. Everyone went to the position Mrs. Riley had assigned the previous week.

Ken’s ostensible right fielder was a tiny little guy. When Ken saw him standing way out close to the fence he motioned him to play in closer. A few pitches later, Ken’s wisdom bore fruit. At least it should have.

The opposing team’s batter hit a soft line drive that flew over the first baseman’s head into right field. The batter charged up the first base line.

Ken’s tiny right fielder started running toward the ball. His legs were so short it seemed to take forever. The ball landed about ten feet fair, took two hops, then stopped in the long grass of the little league right field.

The runner was already rounding first base when the little guy picked up the ball. Reaching way behind his back, he heaved it as best he could toward the second baseman who had run into the outfield to take the throw. The ball went sixty feet. Twenty feet up, twenty feet down and twenty feet in the general direction of the second baseman.

The throw was so far off line, the second baseman, whose name was Glenn Gleener, had to run to retrieve it. By the time he reached it, the runner was rounding third on his way home.

Glenn, who seemed to possess a rather mean streak, yelled at the tiny guy, “Nice going mop head, you just played a single into a home run.”

The right fielder, Ned Waldren, was Peggy Waldren’s son. Coach Ken had no idea that was the case. The team list he had been given only supplied the first names of the boys.

Ned shrugged off his bad throw the best he could. His shoulders drooped as he slowly made his way back toward his position. He’d picked right field because he figured no one would hit it there. Unfortunately, on his first day of little league …… someone did.

He brushed his long hair away from his face as he prepared for the next pitch. I hate all my hair, especially in this hot weather. Mom likes it though, but it’s really a pain. They tell me my eyes are as blue as the sky; but I’m sure there is sadness in them. I feel so lonely since Daddy died.

Loneliness has become a part of me. When I’m in my room I’m lonely. When I’m with Mom both of us are lonely. Now I’m in a crowd and it feels even lonelier. Sometimes I feel more lonely when I’m with people than when I’m all by myself.

Before Dad died, it was great having Mom home every day. Now she has to work at the dumb bank. Going to Gram’s house after school is OK, I guess, but I liked it better going straight home. I hardly get to see my neighborhood pals any more.

I never should have joined the little league team. I only did because Mom and Gram gave me a huge push. They kept saying, “Ned, you need to get out in the sunshine.” Well, I’m in the sunshine…….only all the other kids wish I’d stayed home.

Dad was my best friend. We played Tickle Monster and lots of other games together. We had a lot of fun fishing. Sometimes Dad let me go to the accounting office when he worked on Saturday mornings. Then we would go out for a ‘father/son’ lunch.

One time when we rented a boat and were fishing in the lake, I hooked a big one. When dad moved over to help me land it, the boat swamped. We both fell into the water. How we laughed when we looked at each other sopping wet. Of course the fish got away.

When we went to Disney World on our trip to Florida, my legs got tired of all the walking. So Dad picked me up and carried me on his shoulders from place to place. We had such fun that day. I miss you Daddy.

I always helped him put up the Christmas tree. I can still remember the reflection the Christmas tree lights made in Daddy’s eyes.

The empty, lonely feeling in my tummy never leaves. Tears are never far away. I try to hide them from Mom. She has too many tears of her own. If it wasn’t for Snug, I don’t know what I’d do. Snug is my only friend. She plays catch with me and snuggles against me in bed.

I know nothing about baseball. All the other guy’s fathers play catch with em and teach em how to hit. I don’t have anybody. Mom’s a great comfort and friend. But when it comes to guy stuff, I’m all alone.

Last spring there was a disaster at the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. Each scout made a model race car to run down a track in a competition with the other scouts. When I came in with my clumsy model, the other kids laughed.

It turned out the fathers helped their sons. Their sanded and painted models looked gorgeous. Graphite on their wheels helped their race cars go fast. My model lost badly. I left the Pinewood Derby sobbing.

Loneliness seems to hang over me. The tears simply won’t stop…….

A shout awakened Ned from his reverie. The game was over, finally. The new coach called everyone to a team meeting at the pitcher’s mound.

Boy it’s really hot. The stupid game has lasted for over an hour.

As Ned approached the pitcher’s mound, he gave the new coach the once over. His brown eyes seem friendly. His smile seems OK. Is that a Chicago Cubs cap on his head? If he’s a Cub’s fan, he can’t be all bad.

One nice thing, Coach didn’t yell. He waited until everyone stopped chattering. Finally, everyone shut up.

When all was quiet, Ken spoke in a soft voice, “OK guys, enough for today. Everyone be here next Monday at 1700 hours.”

“What time is 1700 hours?” asked Billy Riley the first baseman.

“That’s Five P.M……. You know, you guys should learn military time. It’s much easier once you’re used to it because you can never get days and nights mixed up. You tell the time same as you always do up until noon. Beginning at 1:00 P.M. just add 12. That makes 1:00 P.M. 1300 and 5:00 P.M. 1700. Midnight is 2400. One minute later it is 001.”

“Cool, see you at 1700 next Monday, Coach.”

The guys split up in all directions. Some walked, some rode bikes. Others had rides.

Ken spotted a bumper sticker, which made him smile:

“If a woman’s place is in the home,

why do I spend so much of my time in the car?”

Ned couldn’t see his Mom’s car so he hung out around third base. Out of the corner of his eye, Ned could see Coach heading his way.

Coach asked, “Where’s your ride home, Young Man?”

“I’m not sure. Mom’s probably still at work.”

Coach asked, “Want to play a little catch while you wait?” .

“I’m no good at baseball.”

“Don’t feel bad, kid. Everyone has to start someplace.”

After a few tosses Coach made a suggestion, “Kid, I can see a way to help your throwing. You’re not getting your body into the throw. You’re simply using your arm. Take your right (throwing) arm back and stop. Next, lift up your left foot. Correct. Now as you throw with your arm bring your left foot down. Let your body flow through with the motion until all your weight is on your left foot.”

Somehow, Ned managed to follow Coach’s instructions perfectly. The ball flew way over Coach’s head. It had to be the farthest Ned had ever thrown a ball!

The little guy exclaimed, “Wow, I didn’t know I could throw that far!”

Coach retrieved the ball. “It makes a lot of difference if you get your body involved, doesn’t it? Now why don’t you practice this week with your dad so you can get the entire throwing sequence into one flowing motion?”

“I don’t have a dad.”

“Wow, having no dad is tough. Tell you what, if you come early next week, we’ll work on your throwing together.”

“Could we, Coach?”

“Sure, be here at 1630 hours.”

Ned thought a minute. “I think you mean 4:30 right?”

“You got it kid.”

“Oh, there’s Mom. She’s over by the left field fence. See you next Monday!”

Ned bounced happily across the field.

The second he open the car door, he burst out with the news. “Mom, guess what? The new coach taught me how to throw, and I threw the ball a mile. I never dreamed I could throw so far! Then coach told me to practice with my dad. After I told him I didn’t have a dad, he asked me to come early to practice next time so he could work with me.”

“Ned, you have a dad…… He’s just not with us anymore.”

“I know…. I just didn’t want to talk about it.”

A long silence followed. Finally Ned added, “I really miss dad.”

The two drove along in silence. At the stop light, Peggy reached over patting his knee. Their eyes met. Both of them were crying.

She pulled into a super- market parking lot, turning off the car. She looked her son squarely in the eyes. “I’m guessing you’ve been feeling sorry for yourself again haven’t you?” After he nodded, she said, “Well, I’ve been feeling sorry for myself too. It’s so hard without Peter. Thank goodness I have you, so I can cry on your shoulder while you cry on mine.”

They spent a few sad minutes hugging each other there in the parking lot. After a while, she started the car again. No one felt like talking the rest of the trip home.

When they came to their street Ned asked, “Mom, my long hair is really hot. Could I get a butch cut? Lots of the kids have them, even Billy Riley. I can grow it out in the winter. Please Mom?”

The request hurt Peggy. No mother wants her son to grow up. Sometimes mothers want to put a lid on their sons so they can stay 10 for the rest of their lives. Especially if the boy happens to be her only child.

Peggy took a deep breath. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Yeah Mom I really do!”

“Well……. OK, we’ll go to the barber shop tomorrow.”

“Yeah! Thanks Mom, you’re the best!”

As they drove into their driveway Ned asked, “Mom, there’s an old piece of plywood in the garage. Could I put it against the garage wall and throw balls at the plywood?”

“Sure you can, Son. Just don’t break any windows.”

Soon Peggy heard a ball banging against the plywood. There was a fairly steady rhythm to the banging for a few minutes. Then silence. She peaked out the window. Ned was attempting to teach Snug to retrieve the ball and return it to him.

Snug would chase the ball to the plywood, scoop it up and then dash away to the corner of the yard. Ned wanted her to bring the ball back to him. Snug wanted to play keep away. In a few minutes a discouraged Ned dragged a reluctant Snug back into the kitchen.

“Mom, you better keep Snug inside till I finish throwing. She’s supposed to be a Golden Retriever but I think she’s a Golden Remover!”

Peggy laughed. Then she handed Ned a handful of dog biscuits. “Use these, Ned. When Snug returns the ball, hand her a treat. She will catch on quickly. Training a dog takes patience.”

“Ok I’ll try.”

Peggy stood at the window unobtrusively observing. Ned achieved some success with the dog, but not a whole lot. As she watched, she realized Ned needed someone to catch his throws. She decided to make scrambled eggs for dinner. That would save her enough time to play catch with him for at least a few minutes.

After dinner, she found Peter’s baseball glove and started playing catch with him.

“Mom, you’re not throwing right,” Ned exclaimed. “You put the wrong foot forward. If you throw right handed, you put your weight on your left foot.”

“Oh, I no one ever told me that.”

“Yeah, that’s the trouble.”

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