Coach Davis’ presence at practice on Wednesday really helped everything run smoothly. Ken found time to concentrate on the pitchers. Besides Buzz, there was a big right-handed kid named Scotty who threw a decent fast ball. They also had a left-hander named Fredrick. To no one’s surprise, everyone called him Lefty. Lefty threw a slow high arching ball that caught the strike zone repeatedly.
Coach told his pitchers. “I want you to work on mixing up your pitches. Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”
After Scotty and Lefty began throwing to each other, Ken turned to Buzz. “How’re you doing on hitting the numbers?” Ken asked.
“Pretty well, Coach.”
“OK, let’s throw a few and see if you can hit my glove.” It didn’t take long for Ken to realize Buzz had made tremendous progress.
During a break in the action, Ken walked over to Coach Davis. “We need a catcher. Do you see anyone who might make a catcher?”
Bernie surveyed the players. “Take a look at the short pudgy kid playing third base. He’s kind of slow but he seems to have good hands and a strong arm. Why don’t you talk with him?”
“One more thing,” Coach Davis. “Can you teach these kids how to bunt?”
“I can teach them. But will they be able to do it? I’ll let you know.”
Ken walked over to third base, “What’s your name kid?”
“Do I have to tell you coach?” He made a wry face. Then he told me in a very low voice, “My name’s Wendell Wallace but everyone calls me Shorty.”
“Shorty, I need a real tough guy to assume the most important position on the team.”
Shorty responded. “Well I’m pretty tough, but there’s no way I want to be a pitcher.”
“Who said anything about pitching? I’m talking about the most important position on the team.”
Shorty looked surprised, “I thought pitching was the most important spot?”
“No way, the most important spot is the catcher. The catcher calls all the pitches, he makes sure all the fielders are in the proper position. He calls the defensive strategy if runners are on base. He is without a doubt, the team leader. The catcher also has to have more guts than anyone else because he has to deal with foul tips plus plays at the plate.”
“Coach, you got yourself a catcher.”
A few minutes later, Ken huddled with his three pitchers and the new catcher. “Remember, no fancy stuff, just work on location, location, location. Here’s how we’re going to line up for the first game. Scotty you’ll start. The rules say no pitcher can go more than 3 innings. I want you to pitch two or three innings depending on the game situation. Lefty you’ll come in next. Your slow stuff should fool them for a few innings. Buzz, you’ll be the fireman, our closer. You’ll be on the mound when the chips are on the line.”
“My thinking is Scotty’s fast stuff’ll work for a while. Then Lefty’s slow junk’ll confuse em. After looking at Lefty’s slow stuff, Buzz’s fast ball’ll look like it’s going 100 miles an hour.” The boys laughed.
“Shorty, your job is to enforce the rules. If these guys try curve balls or fancy stuff, you let me know. Just give them a target. You pitchers try to hit the target.”
“Now get in a good workout tomorrow and be ready for the game Friday.”
When practice ended, Coach Davis reported, “The only kid that can bunt is Billy Riley and he’s our best hitter.”
“I was afraid of that,” replied Ken.
Peggy was frustrated. The damn ball kept banging against the side of the garage. She wanted to study at the kitchen table so she could keep an eye on Ned. How can I get any work done with that damn banging?
She took a deep breath and tried again. Silence in the back yard. He must be picking up those six balls so he can throw them again. Now let’s see where was I?
Bang! Peggy grimaced. Closing her book, she stormed into the back yard.
“Ned you’ve got to stop now. I can’t get any homework done with all that banging.”
“But Coach said I need to throw at the numbers,” Ned protested.
“Coach said this, Coach says that. I’m tired of hearing about what the Coach says. Now you come in, take your shower and get into bed.”
Ned gave his Mother a dirty look. Taking a deep breath, he went in and did what he’d been told to do.
When she went to tuck him in, Peggy felt remorse. “I’m sorry I blew up at you, Ned. It isn’t your fault the Coach insists on your throwing the ball against the garage. I shouldn’t have been upset.”
“It’s OK, Mom. You see…….I was gonna keep it a secret but I guess I better tell you. Coach said he was going to let me pitch Friday in our game. I was hoping to have it be a surprise for you when I walked on to the mound, but anyway, that’s why I’ve been practicing so hard. You are gonna come to the game aren’t you?”
His question stunned Peggy. Actually she hadn’t given his game a minute’s thought. Work or study was all she felt she had time to do. In seconds, she realized how important it was for Ned that she show up at the game.
“I’m going to do my best to get off work early, Ned. I want to see the game. And, I think it’s time I got to meet this Coach I am hearing so much about.”
Bernie and Ken selected a strong starting lineup for the Friday game. The rules stated everyone on the squad must bat, but only nine players were allowed to field at any one time. Games were to end after 7 innings.
Ken gathered the team around him. “Guys, I forgot two important things. First, we need a name for our team. Does anyone have a suggestion?”
After a few minutes, Shorty suggested, “Billy Riley’s the guy who got this team organized, why don’t we call ourselves, Billy’s Bombers? The suggestion resulted in a cheer from everyone! That decided the name issue.
Ken continued, “The second thing relates to good sportsmanship. After the game, we’re going to line up to shake hands with all the other team’s players and coaches. When we do that, I want you guys to give a firm handshake. Look each person in the eye as you shake. Tell them ‘nice game.’ Mean it. I want no soft dishrag handshakes from a member of my team. Now line up. Each man shake my hand until I pass you on firm handshakes.”
Walks, hits, errors, outs. The game progressed. Lefty came in to start the 4th inning. He pitched well. By the time Lefty left the game at the top of the sixth, Billy’s Bombers were behind by only one run, 8 to 7.
The crowd of parents at the game was rather small. As Ken returned to his third base coaching box, his eye caught sight of an attractive woman just exiting her car and coming onto the field. That’s Peggy Waldren. I wonder what she’s doing here? I bet one of these kids is her son. Probably someone on the other team. After she turned me down, I guess I better try to keep my distance.
The bottom of the sixth began for Billy’s Bombers with a walk, a hit, an out, and a single. Bases loaded. The next Bomber struck out. Bases loaded, 2 out, one run behind. Fortunately, Billy Riley was up next. The opposition infield played very deep. They knew Billy could hit.
Ken walked down the line to talk with his batter. He uttered a one word order. “Bunt.”
Billy looked startled. Then he noticed how deep the third baseman was playing. A grin split his face.
Picking on the first pitch, Billy sent a beautiful bunt down the third base line. The Bomber’s runner crossed the plate before the third baseman even picked up the ball. He threw wildly toward first. The ball went over the first baseman’s head, which allowed two more runners to score. Billy stopped at third. The next batter struck out. For the first time in the game Billy’s Bomber’s had the lead by a score of 10 to 8.
True to his promise, Ken put little Buzz on the mound for the last three outs.
As Buzz approached the pitcher’s mound, he was really scared. His arm felt like lead. He stood on the mound ready to throw a practice pitch. For some reason, he couldn’t do it. Then a soft breeze brushed against his cheek. Immediately, he thought of his dad. He remembered when they scattered his ashes Mom had told him, “Whenever you feel a breeze you’ll know Dad is watching over you.” As he remembered this, his confidence grew. He knew he would be OK.
The opposition began riding Buzz, who was really quite short. “He can’t throw it over the plate if he can’t see the plate,” someone shouted.
Ken called Shorty out. They went to the mound for a conference. “Buzz, you have to pretend there’s no batter in the batter’s box. All you see is Shorty’s glove. Concentrate on the glove Buzz, and you’ll get them out. Shorty, keep calling for low outside pitches until the hitter crowds the plate. If he does that, call for inside pitches.
“Remember this, Buzz; if you don’t believe in you, nobody will believe in you.” Ken paused a moment to let what he’d just told Buzz register. “This is what you’ve been practicing for, Kid. Bring it.” Buzz gritted his teeth.
As Buzz turned to pick up the rosin bag, he saw his mother standing near the first base line. Immediately his shoulders straightened.
Peggy couldn’t believe her eyes. Ned’s coach is Ken Lister! How did that smooth talking ladies’ man get to be a coach? And why, for heaven’s sake, is my son so enamored with him?
Ned’s control proved to be awesome. The first batter went down on three pitches. The next man popped up to Billy who caught the ball near first base. The next batter went down swinging! The Bombers won! Billy’s Bombers teammates mobbed Buzz!
Coach Davis shook Ken’s hand. “This is going to be fun, Ken. I’ll see you Monday at practice.”
Ken gave his pitcher a big hug. “I knew you could do it Buzz! Nice going!”
“Coach, you gotta meet my Mom. She’s right over there by first base.”
Grabbing Coach’s hand, he led Ken over to where Peggy was standing. Her facial expressions were a strange mixture. She was thrilled her son had done so well. She knew the coach had made a major contribution to Ned’s confidence. But what about the date he offered and she’d refused?