Bernie the Early Bloomer
Bernard Willard Bloomenthall is a very serious boy. He studies hard at school, does his homework, and loves baseball. Everyone just calls Bernard ‘Bernie.’
He has two best friends, Logan and Andy. They always meet at Bernie’s house after they finish their homework. Today is no different. First Logan rings the bell. Bernie peeks out the front door and whispers “I’m almost done studying for my social studies test. And I’ve only got one more work sheet to complete.” Logan waits on the front porch. Mrs. Bloomenthall is kind of cold and Logan doesn’t want to get in her way.
As Logan and Bernie head over to the school playground, Andy joins them. “Whew! I barely got out of the house! Jody’s cat got out of the garage and we had to find her because she’s been declawed.” (Jody is Andy’s little sister.) The boys discuss the stress of their afternoons as they walk towards the ball field. The elementary school has a wonderful baseball field. The boys take turns pitching, catching, and hitting. They have been on the same baseball team at the Northeast Field ever since they were four years old. Sometimes other boys join their drills but today it’s just the three of them.
Recently, Bernie began to show signs of real potential. Of course, all the boys are going for the big leagues someday. But lately, Bernie has been standing out in the crowd. The team they’re on is named the Patriots. This season has been terrific. They are 7 and 0. The play-offs will be the only real competition they’ll have this season. Bernie and his buddies feel like they are ‘king of the hill.’ Everyone counts on Bernie for the home run to win the game or the pitch that prevents their opponents from scoring at all.
The boys discuss the upcoming try-outs for the traveling team, the Bears. They aren’t really sure if this is the year—only a couple of eleven-year-olds will make it. They’re certain that they can make the team next year, but they are going for it this year.
Bernie hits another homer out of the playground and Andy cries, “That’s it guys! I’m not chasing down another ball. Let’s wind it up!” They grab all of their equipment and balls and walk back home. As it begins to get dark, Logan asks, “Do you think we have a chance to make the Bears?” No one says anything. Then Bernie answers, “We may not make it but we’ll sure have fun trying!”
“What if two of us make it but one of us doesn’t? . . . That’s too weird to think about.” Andy looks guilty for even mentioning it. Bernie and Logan frown at him. “We’re all going to make it!” Bernie claims. They high-five and holler “We’re goin’ for it!” As they laugh and cheer, they each have their own doubts. None of them want to break up the comfortable friendship that has lasted all the way to Middle School.
Logan and Andy are dreading their homework. They wish they had just done it when they first got home from school like Bernie. Oh well! They are all in honors classes but they have very different study habits. Logan starts his homework right after school and finishes sections here and there until bedtime. Andy waits until bedtime to start studying but he concentrates and gets the job done. They all manage to stay ahead in school.
The baseball clinic starts the next week for the Bears’ tryouts. The boys couldn’t be more ready. They have to miss the Patriots’ practice but that’s understood. Practice is from 6:00 to 8:00 every night. Everything seems to go well except that over one hundred boys are trying out for only twenty spots. After the first week, fifty boys are cut. Luckily Bernie and his two buddies make the first rounds. That’s remarkable because they are the only boys under twelve who didn’t get cut.
Andy has a sleep over Friday night to celebrate. The boys have a wonderful weekend. They share dreams of playing on the Atlanta Braves. Andy wants to be short stop, Bernie will pitch, and Logan will be the catcher. When they get really famous they’ll open a pizza parlor in midtown. They’ve got it all figured out. It will be so wonderful to play together forever.
Monday morning comes too soon. The second round of tryouts are coming up, the school science fair projects are due in one week, and play-offs for the Patriots start this weekend. The bus ride to school seems too quiet. The homework load seems too heavy. Even baseball practice is tough—the pace of the ball is twice as fast as the Patriots’ practice. And there’s no goofing off.
By mid week, Andy gets hit in the forehead with a ball and has to sit out. He has a big goose-egg over his left eye. He doesn’t even feel like playing anymore. He hangs in there but Bernie and Logan know that he doesn’t have a chance anymore. “Logan, I feel really bad about Andy. He’s not going to get the attention from the coach while he’s on the bench. They aren’t going to see what a great short stop he is. Maybe we should all call it quits and wait ’till next year.” Bernie just can’t stand the thought of his friend getting cut.
“You are the strongest player, Bernie. This has always been your goal. We know that you want to make the Bears more than Andy or me. It’s o.k. Andy will be fine. It’s looking more and more like you will be the one to make the team. There are more than twenty really solid baseball players trying out for the Bears. Did you see Terry Hatchet and Don Smith pitching? Nobody could get a hit off of either one of them. It’s not looking good for us. Andy and I are almost there but not quite. Go for it, Bernie. Don’t let us hold you back. Besides, I heard some of the older guys talking about what a strong arm you have. We still have the Patriots’ playoffs and the science fair this year. Andy and I will definitely make it to the Bears next year.”
Bernie was very uncomfortable. “Thanks Logan. I still believe you guys have a chance. Let’s wait and see what happens.”
Bernie couldn’t sleep at all that night. Bernie could not stop thinking about baseball. This level of play was what they all wanted wasn’t it? Faster, harder, and tougher. It sure was making everyone nervous, including himself. He realized that they all probably wouldn’t make the team this year. Bernie worried that Andy’s injury sort of took him out. He just couldn’t concentrate like he usually did. Next year would be different but Bernie really wanted it now. He had visualized himself on the Bears ever since 3rd grade when his brother, Matt made the team. He wondered if Matt felt like he was feeling now. Matt was playing high school ball and probably wouldn’t remember.
The next morning at breakfast, Matt thumped Bernie on the head. “So, how’s boot camp?”
Bernie looked up, “Boot camp?”
“Yea, the Bears try out clinic. Isn’t it tough?” Bernie was so relieved that Matt remembered.
“Oh, Matt. I’m not sure about this. Maybe we’re too young.”
Matt insisted, “Nonsense! Go for it Bernie. You have so much more of what it takes than I did at your age. It might be a little rough at first, but when you make that first home run, you’ll never go back.” Bernie was surprised that his brother actually thought he was any good. He was too nervous to ask Matt about his friends and his feelings. He decided to wait and see.
That week continued to challenge the boys. It took everything out of them. Friday, the final cuts were announced. Andy was cut. Then Logan was cut. But Bernie made the team! Alone. He had a flood of excitement for himself and a terrible feeling of disappointment for his friends. They were really let down. But, they were genuinely proud of Bernie. “We knew you could do it, Ben!” They high-fived him and hugged him.
“Well, I’ll get this team ready for you guys next season!” Bernie told them.
The Bears all went out for pizza. Bernie didn’t really have fun because he didn’t have any buddies on the team. But he knew he would get to know these guys and make new friends. It was a long weekend. Everyone was studying and working on their science projects. Bernie had to keep his excitement all to himself.
The Patriots had their first round of play-offs in the middle of everything else. They played the 2nd place team. The boys had some real winner hits and several double plays. Bernie, Andy, and Logan had never played so well together. The game was close—they won by one run. It was magical. Bernie began to get this nagging feeling that he was abandoning his buddies. They would be fine–it was Bernie who was going to be alone. He wouldn’t have that easy communication on the field that he was so used to. The Patriots won several rounds of play-offs before they were defeated. It was a wonderful season. Bernie told himself that it was a great way to end. So now it really was time to move on.
Regular practice for the Bears began several weeks later. Bernie was the only sixth grader on the team. He barely knew any of the other boys. “Think fast!” Terry cried as he threw the ball to Bernie. Luckily Bernie caught it. “Stop daydreaming son!” Coach yelled to Bernie. At least Coach noticed him. He could hardly hit the ball because the pitches were so fast. His arm ached from throwing and catching at this new pace. He had to concentrate. When practice was over, Bernie was glad. Finally, the first week was over. Bernie told himself that if he made it through this season, he could do anything. Bernie was not having fun.
Coach didn’t play Bernie the first or second game. What a disappointment. He thought about Andy and Logan and longed to play with them again. He certainly wasn’t ready to give this up, though. He felt like everyone was watching him to see if he would make a mistake. Luckily, Andy and Logan continued to practice with him at the elementary school. They were worried about Bernie spending his season sitting on the bench. They knew he would eventually get a chance to play. They hated seeing him so down.
The week after mid semester, the relief pitcher, Terry Hatchett, didn’t make his grades and had to sit out. Coach put Bernie in. His heart raced. This was his chance. He told himself not to get nervous, just keep doing what he’s been taught all these years. If only they weren’t playing the Indians! They had a great record.
Coach put Bernie in for the eighth inning. The Bears were behind 3 to 5. Bernie holds them off with two outs. As the batter gets ready, Bernie takes a deep breath and tries not to think that one more out will get the team to the dugout. He throws a fast ball. The batter hits a solid grounder but the short stop cuts it off and throws to first!
THREE OUTS! Bernie did it. He’s walking on air.
The Bears get another run . . . then another to tie up the game. Bernie’s up at the mound again. He feels a little overwhelmed but he takes another deep breath and focuses on the ball and the batter.
S-T-R-I-K-E-2! Whew, again!
Bernie did it. He kept them from scoring in the ninth inning! The Bears really got the momentum and took 3 runs in the ninth. Bernie held them off again almost completely. One run slipped by but the Bears still won 8 to 6.
The team didn’t accept Bernie at first. He struck out over and over again and never made a run the entire season. He only played two games. He didn’t have too much of a chance to prove himself but the team accepted him. By the baseball banquet, Bernie was feeling fairly comfortable. His team surprised him by awarding Bernie the “Most Improved Player” trophy. He was stunned.
Andy and Logan made the team the next season and the boys were back together again. The season apart only made their friendship seem stronger. Someday they will all achieve their dreams.
© 1999 Karen Smith