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Chapter 21

It was Ken’s first day on the job. He felt more than a little nervous walking into the admissions office. He need not have been.

Mrs. Hennessey greeted him with a big smile. She took him over to introduce his new boss, Ms. Charlotte Adams. Ms. Adams was a tall, rather good looking woman, about 60 years old, with blonde hair going gray. Ken noticed a ‘25 year service pin’ on her blouse. Later he found out she had been Director of Admissions for over twenty years.

She reviewed the job obligations with Ken. He was to conduct his first ‘campus prospect tour’ that afternoon.

At the end of the discussion Ms. Adams added, “Someday, if you feel the need of a home cooked meal, you should come over for dinner.” Ken noticed her eyes twinkle. She added sotto voice, “Rest assured, if you come to my house, I do not have a daughter to push.”

He felt himself blushing. They both laughed.

He told Ms. Adams about his little league coaching job. “I need to get off work early for practice today and Wednesday. The last game of the season is Friday. After Friday I can work whatever hours are required.”

“Ken, the University encourages its employees to participate in local activities. It helps create a favorable image among the community, which is quite important. It’s one of the reasons we have flextime. All you have to do when you leave before 5:00 is to come in early or stay late another day to make up the time.”

When he sat at his desk for the first time he decided his first call should be to Peggy.

“Mrs. Waldren please,” he asked the Bank operator in what he hoped was a business like voice.

After Peggy answered he asked, “Mrs. Waldren, would you please tell me when my first mortgage payment is due? I know the information is in my documents; but I would rather call so I can talk to you.”

Peggy replied in her business voice, “I will have to look up this information on the computer, one moment please.”

“I’ve been missing you,” he whispered.

“Me too” came a returning whisper.

“Anything happening?”

“Negative. I’m wearing my blue jacket and thinking of you.”

The business voice returned. “Your first payment will be due on September 25th. Do you want to know the amount?”

“No, I need an excuse to call you tomorrow.”

“Please call anytime, Mr. Lister.”

He managed to get through the first ‘campus tour’ by 1545 hours. There was barely time to get to practice. The boys were excited about the last game, scheduled for this coming Friday.

He worked an extra fifteen minutes with the three pitchers on Monday and again on Wednesday. After Wednesday’s practice, Ken asked Buzz to wait for a few minutes until the others left.

“Are you still throwing at the plywood, Buzz?”

“Whenever I’ve a minute. It’s a lot different now that school has started.”

“After the last game Friday, I want you to take the whole bag of practice balls home with you. They’ll sit around all winter at my house. If you have them handy, it’ll make throwing against the plywood a lot easier. Now you can throw the entire bag of balls before you have to stop to pick ’em up. It should help you work on your rhythm.”

“Gee thanks Coach.”

“You know Buzz; we don’t give awards away at this little league level. But, if we did, I want you to know, in my book you would be a ‘shoe in’ for the ‘most improved player’ award!”

It was too much for Buzz. He threw his arms around his coach. “Thanks so much for all the help you’ve given me this year, Coach.”

Buzz looked up. Did he see tears in his Coach’s eyes?

On Thursday afternoon, Peggy’s phone rang at the bank. It was Ken. “I want to talk to my banker.”

“Why Mr. Lister, how can I help you today?” she asked in her business voice. Shenever knew who listened nearby.

“I want to know the balance in my checking account and my savings account. When you get the information, I want to discuss a problem I have,” replied Ken.

“One moment please, while I look up the information.” She whispered into the phone, “If you keep calling me at work and ‘you know who’ walks by, you could get me in big trouble.”

Ken whispered back, “we’ll just have to take that chance. I simply can’t go all day without talking to you.”

The information came onto Peggy’s computer screen. She replied in her business voice, “Your checking account balance is $6,489. Your savings account is $22,357.”

“Thank you,” replied Ken. “Now I need to discuss a problem with my banker. I have a wonderful girlfriend. I enjoy giving her little presents. She keeps telling me I have to stop. My question Mrs. Banker is…. do I have enough money to keep giving her presents?”

Peggy dropped her voice back to the whisper level, “Ken this is very unfair. I told you to stop giving me presents.”

“Are you speaking as my girlfriend or as my banker?”

“She whispered into the phone, “Ken Lister you are impossible.” She switched back to her banker voice announcing, “Anyone who can read numbers knows the answer to your question, Mr. Lister. Thank you for calling.” She went back into her whisper voice, “Don’t call me here again.”

After she terminated the call she thought, I hope he knows I didn’t mean it.

The game on Friday started out as a major disaster. Their usual starting pitcher, Scott, called in sick with the stomach flu. Coach Ken called all the players around him. He put the problem directly to the team. “As you know we play 7 inning games. The rules say we can only use a pitcher for 3 innings. We will start Lefty for the first 3 innings. I think Buzz can come in and finish the last 3 innings. But, without Scott, we need someone to pitch the 4th inning. Does anyone want to volunteer to pitch the 4th?”

Coach’s announcement about Scott was a major downer for the guys. A long silence followed…… Everyone looked at each other. Finally, Billy Riley spoke up. “If I pitch the 4th can I go back and play 1st base for the last 3 innings?”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Coach agreed.

“OK, I’ll pitch the 4th, but don’t expect too much.”

Coach told the boys, “Remember guys, it’s not what happens to you in life that counts; it’s what you do about what happens to you that counts. We lost our starting pitcher. It’s no big deal. Let’s go out there and play our best game ever!”

The little speech must have helped. Lefty never pitched better than he did those first 3 innings. The Billy’s Bomber’s hitters seemed to sense the urgency of the pitching problem. They sprayed hits all over the place. Even Buzz got a single. It was his first hit of the season. Buzz scored when Glenn Gleener hit a triple. At the end of the 3rd inning, Billy’s Bombers were ahead 10 to 3.

Billy started the 4th by walking the first three men. After that, he started simply throwing the ball over the plate. He got pounded. By the time the top of the 4th ended, the Bombers trailed 15 to 10.

The team seemed to lose heart after that disastrous inning. They went down 1,2,3 in the bottom of the 4th.

As Buzz took the mound to begin the top of the 5th, coach pulled him aside. “The boys are kind of discouraged Buzz. We need a strong performance this inning to get their morale up.

“I want you to pretend this is the last inning. Give it everything you’ve got. I know this is the first time you’ve ever pitched more than one inning. Don’t try to save your arm for the 6th and the 7th. If you can do really well this inning, maybe the hitters will wake up. If they do, the last two innings will take care of themselves.”

Buzz felt scared. Somehow, he managed to bluff himself into thinking he could do what Coach wanted. “Gotcha Coach,” he said pretending he meant it. He put a grim expression on his face as he walked to the mound.

The hecklers in the stands started the usual “he’s too short to even see the plate,” nonsense. Buzz had heard that a million times by now, so he paid no heed to the hecklers. He glared at the hitter.

In the top of the 5th, all his practice against the plywood in the back yard seemed to come together. As the saying goes, ‘He just reared back and threw’.

The first batter struck out on three pitches. The next batter worked the count to 2 and 2. Then he took a called 3rd strike. The next man hit the first pitch back to the mound. Buzz managed to knock it down. He quickly picked up the ball in time to throw him out.

Nine pitches, three outs, exactly what he needed to do.

Coach figured it right. Billy’s Bombers were upbeat as they returned from the field. It reflected in their hitting. They got three runs in the bottom of the 5th. The tying runs were on base, but their last batter struck out. Now it was the top of the 6th, and Billy’s Bombers trailed by only two runs, 15 to 13.

Coach caught up with Buzz before he walked out to the mound to start the 6th. “Don’t be giving me any of this ‘I’m tired Coach’ stuff. You threw only nine pitches last inning. I counted them. Just keep humming it low and outside.”

The first batter hit a rope down the first baseline. Fortunately, Billy Riley snared it. One pitch, one out. Buzz could sense the team’s excitement. With a 2 and 2 count on the next batter, Buzz threw one too far towards the center of the plate. The batter swung. He hit a soft fly over Billy’s head. It dropped into right field. The batter rounded first heading for second. The right fielder, who hadn’t made a decent play all year, picked up the ball and threw a dart to second. The shortstop made the tag as the runner slid into the base.

“Out” screamed the umpire! The Bombers went ballistic! Buzz then managed to strike out the next batter on four pitches! Coach told Buzz he counted again… “ten pitches, 3 outs. Fantastic!”

In the bottom of the 6th, the Bombers got two runners on with no outs. The next batter grounded out to first base, but, the runners advanced to second and third. A single would tie the game. Billy Riley, the team’s best hitter approached the plate! Would they pitch to him or walk him? The opposition coach signaled to pitch to Billy. No sense putting the potential winning run on base.

Coach told Billy, “Fake a bunt on the first pitch. That will bring the third baseman in close. Then wait for your pitch and hit away.”

Billy did exactly as Coach ordered. He faked a bunt and took the first pitch, a ball. The next pitch also missed the plate. With an 0 and 2 count, everyone knew the pitcher would come in with the next one. When it came, Billy hit a rope into left center. It went clear to the fence. The score was tied! Billy stood safely on second base!

Shorty came up next. Wham! He hit the first pitch over the fence in left! A two run homer. The Bombers led 17 to 15!

Three outs to go. Buzz looked so determined Coach said nothing before he walked out to the mound. Unfortunately, he got nervous walking the first batter on four pitches. Coach called Shorty out from behind the plate as he walked to the mound for a conference.

“My fault Coach,” admitted Shorty. “The hitter scared me. I made the target too far outside.”

Coach retorted, “Shorty, the way Buzz is throwing, there’s not a batter in this league he can’t strike out. Just call for strikes. Let Buzz do his job.”

What Coach told Shorty, made Buzz’s confidence soar! He squared his shoulders as a big smile spread across his face. Buzz thought, No one, except Mom, had ever praised me like that, at least not since Dad died. At this moment, Buzz felt certain Coach truly trusted him.

Would all Buzz’s hard practice pay off? Now, for the first time in a long while, he somehow knew he could do it. It didn’t matter what ‘it’ was. It could be a baseball game or some other part of life.

Buzz began to realize…. I’m a person who has what it takes!

He glared at the next batter, then threw a strike. The batter popped up on the next pitch, one out.

Buzz pitched like a demon. He kept throwing fast pitches right in the strike zone. The next batter fanned on three pitches. Suddenly, the runner on first took off to steal second. Shorty wound up throwing the ball over the second baseman’s head. Before the ball returned to the infield, the runner scored. It was 17 to 16.

Buzz knew he had to display leadership. He needed to keep the team’s spirit up. He yelled, “The run doesn’t matter. All we need is the next guy.”

To compose himself, he walked off the mound and looked out toward center field. A faint breeze came up brushing against his cheek. He remembered what his Mom said when they had scattered his Dad’s ashes at the Mississippi River. Whenever you feel a breeze you will know your Dad’s nearby.

Now the little guy’s confidence grew even more.

He threw strike one. Strike two followed. Shorty gave Buzz an outside location hoping to get the batter to go for a bad pitch. Buzz disagreed. He shook Shorty off. Shorty changed the location to the inside corner right under the batters hands. Buzz nodded. The pitch hummed. The batter swung.

“SSTRIKE THREEE,” yelled the umpire, as the batter swung and missed. They won! The Bombers won!!

As the celebration ended, Buzz approached Coach. Before he got there, Mr. Davis walked up.

Buzz overheard Mr. Davis say, “Great game coach. You made all the right calls. Whatever you told those kids worked like magic. Are you going to coach again next year?”

“I will if you’ll continue to be my assistant.”

“You can count on it,” replied Mr. Davis. He asked, “Did you ever consider being a full time baseball coach?

“Once in a while,” Coach replied, “but it’s just a pipe dream.”

“You may think of it as a pipe dream; but you’ve a real talent for it. You’re a natural coach. You seem to have a gifted way to grow the self-confidence of your players. Building self-confidence in the players is a major part of coaching.”

Coach replied, “Thanks Bernie, but self-confidence building probably only applies to these youngsters. It wouldn’t be as important with high school or college kids.”

Mr. Davis smiled. “I’ve coached at high school and college levels for over 30 years, Ken. Trust me; building confidence in your players is a major part of the job at any level.”

Mr. Davis headed for his car.

As the crowd drifted away, Coach turned toward Buzz.

“The other night you gave me a hug,” Coach said. “Tonight I’m going to give you one.”

“Ah Coach, I think we need to hug each other.”

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