THE MAGICAL BALL
"Strike three, your out", Billy shouted. "Man, you couldn't hit your way out of a paper bag."
Mike dropped the bat. No matter how hard he tried he just couldn't hit the ball. It just wasn't fair. All his life he had loved the game of baseball, more than anyone had. But every time he got up to bat, he got nervous. Why did he keep trying to play? He began walking home. No one seemed to notice.
He stopped at the Jackson's and picked up their daily paper and filled up a bowl of water for their cat. He entered his house quickly and ran up to his room. All these odd jobs were beginning to pay off. Two, three, five dollars and one dollar and twenty-five cents in change. Yep, he finally had enough for a brand new 1999 Sammy Sosa, rookie baseball card. With tax six dollars and twenty-five cents was exactly what he needed. He may be a worthless player himself but he did appreciated true talent. Slowly but surely Mike was compiling an awesome baseball card collection. By the end of summer he'd show all the guys his amazing collection. Tomorrow morning he would ride his bike up to Family Sports Cards to purchase the gem. Mike could hardly wait.
Mike jumped out of bed early, got dressed and made his bed. He laughed because he knew his mom would think he'd lost his mind. The sun was shining and it was a magical day. Mike ate his breakfast and even helped with the dishes. His mother raised her eyebrows at him. "OK, what's up. Has the real Mike been replaced by a clean and tidy alien," she asked?
No, it's me. Can I ride my bike up to Family Sports Cards? I promise to stay on the sidewalk the entire way. And I won't go in the pantry and get any junk food either," Mike promised
His mom gave him the pondering stare. "All right, but brush your teeth before you go"?
Mike gave his mom a tight hug and raced to the bathroom. After he brushed his teeth he put his dollars and change in his pocket. He whistled Take Me Out to the Ballgame on his ride. What a great day. He noticed a strange orange cloud in the sky. It was magnificent. For some odd reason he felt like the cloud had eyes and that it was watching him. For no reason at all he waved to the cloud and continued out loud. "One, two, three strikes your out at the old ball game," he sang in his best Harry Carey voice.
He parked his bike in front of the store. The nice young couple who owned it knew him by name. They'd probably be expecting him. But as he entered the store he was taken by surprise. It was foggy inside. It smelled very peculiar. It smelled like peanuts and hotdogs. Mike went back out side and checked the parking lot. Yep, he was in the right store. He began walking over to the glass counter where he knew the wonderful Sammy Sosa lay. A bright gleam on the shelf almost blinded him. He kept walking but looked back. It was just an old used baseball. He didn't see anyone working here. Stopping at the counter the sparkle of that old ball flashed again. Suddenly he heard an old gruff voice.
"What's your problem, boy?"
Mike looked around and saw an old man sitting in a dark corner on a bench. "Oh, nothing Sir. I just wanted to purchase a Sammy Sosa card."
"Does he play for the White Sox," the old man asked.
"No, Sir he plays for the Cubs," Mike answered. Heck everyone knew that, Mike thought.
The old man slowly stood up. "My aching back," he said. "The White Sox are the greatest team, you know"? He began walking towards Mike. He wore an extremely old hat with a large C on it. "You play ball, he asked"?
Mike hesitated. "Yea, but not very good."
"Ever play shortstop," the old man asked?
"No, they always stick me in the outfield since I'm so crummy."
"I was 0 for 28 one time and made an error every other day. But I rallied. Yep, I rallied for twenty years. Can't give up in baseball. Just ain't part of the game. Especially a boy like you, Mike," he groaned. The old man rubbed his finger. "Broke her in 1930." He lifted his leg. "Broke this here in 1938." He glared at Mike. "You here to buy something special," he asked?
"Yes Sir. I'd like to buy that Sammy Sosa, rookie card. It's right there on the first shelf," Mike pointed to the card.
The old man leaned over close to Mike and pointed to the strange ball that had caught Mike's eye earlier. "How about a magic ball, instead," he whispered "Six dollars and twenty four cents, just for you."
"No thank you. I gotta have Sammy," Mike said, kindly.
"Have it your way," the old man said as he pulled out the card. "That'll be six dollars and twenty five cents.
Mike pulled all the money out of his pocket. He began counting. Oh no, he thought. He was missing a penny. "All I have is six dollars and twenty four cents," Mike pleaded.
The old man put the card back in the case. "I guess it's the magic ball," he smiled. He reached up, grasped the ball and handed it to Mike. " You see this here ball, you'll hit it and you'll hit it good. Trust your elders, boy."
Mike grudgingly gave him the money. The old man handed him the ball. Mike examined it and it sparkled again. But it was old and it was dirty. He opened his mouth to ask for a new ball but the old man raised a hand.
"You'll see," he said as he turned and headed back to his bench. "I hit a homer when I was 75 years old. Everyone's gotta believe in magic. Now, get out of here and go play some ball."
Mike watched him sit down but the fog grew dense and he could hardly make out the old man. Thanks for the ball. See ya," Mike said.
When no reply came, Mike left the store. Clean air took him by surprise and when he looked back into the store it was so foggy he couldn't see a single thing inside. "Weird," he said out loud. He quickly began riding his bike homeward. He noticed the orange cloud and it got smaller and smaller as he watched it. Then it disappeared completely. It was official, Mike thought. This was the strangest day of his life, for sure!
As Mike rode down his street he saw all the usual boys playing baseball in the street. When he reached the game he got off his bike and looked at the old baseball. Six dollars and twenty-four cents, he got ripped. It was at least ten years old. One of the boys noticed him.
"Should we let the 'wiffer' bat," Greg laughed?
"No way," Billy shouted.
Mike tossed the baseball up and caught it. "Let's watch the girl swing," Greg said. He walked over and handed Mike the bat. Mike handed him the magic ball. Greg rolled his eyes and headed to the plastic mound. Every kid in the neighborhood was out. The team players got ready for the usual quick, three swings. Billy the catcher gave Greg the fast ball signal. Mike felt sweat dripping down his sides. Greg stepped back, lifted his leg, and threw the pitch right into the strike zone. Mike stepped on his front foot and swung the bat as hard as he could. He heard a loud pop. The ball hit the bat and soared into the sky. It kept going and going, higher and higher than anyone on the street had ever hit it before. Mike just stood on the plate until he heard someone yelling run, run, run! Still watching the ball he ran to first, then second, then third, then home. The two boys that had run after it were still running. Mike was in shock as he heard all the children laugh and cheer. Everyone patted him on the back and gave him high fives. When the boys finally returned they were exhausted and out of breath.
"Let's try this again," Greg demanded. Suddenly Mike felt unstoppable. Greg threw five more pitches to Mike and every single one went faster and farther than the one before. After the sixth homerun the outfielders begged Greg to retire for the evening and declared Mike the most valuable player of the street. For the first time in his life Mike felt proud and haughtily self-confidant. He retrieved his baseball and went home in the orange glow of a wonderful evening.
The next morning Mike walked the Miller's dog, trimmed the bushes for his mom, and washed his dad's car. The whole time he thought about the magic ball. He must go thank the old man. After a hearty lunch he headed up to the Family Sports card shop. He parked his bike and entered the familiar shop. The usual nice lady was working. It wasn't foggy and it didn't smell funny. There was no sign of the old man. The lady approached him. "Hi Mike. What can I help you with today," she asked?
"I'd just like to talk to the old man who was working here yesterday," he said.
She looked around. "I was the only one here yesterday, just me, all day," she replied.
"But," Mike said. She smiled at him. The phone rang and she went to answer it. Mike was bewildered. What in the world was going on here? He walked slowly to the back of the store. How could this be? He still had the ball. He gripped it tightly in his pocket. Yes, it was still there. His heart beat quickly. Then a small orange sparkle caught his eye. He approached a poster of a young baseball player named Luke Appling, nicknamed "Old Aches and Pains". It stated a few amazing facts. He played shortstop for the Chicago, White Sox for twenty years. Luke recorded 4,348 putouts and 7,218 assists with a .310 lifetime batting average. He was elected into the Baseball hall of Fame in 1964 and homered at age 75 in the Cracker Jack All-Star Game.
Mike could hardly breathe. In the corner of the poster he saw a picture of Mr. Appling when he was older and it was no surprise that that was the man who had given Mike the magic ball. Mike continued to read the poster, "Luke was the only White Sox player to win a batting tidal and he truly exemplified the spirit of the White Sox for two decades. Luke Appling was born April 2, 1907, died January 3, 1991." Mike leaned against the wall to support his wobbly legs. He swallowed hard. This was more than unbelievable it was impossible. Suddenly the storeowner called to him.
"Mike I have a glass ball cube here with your name on it and its all paid for." she walked back to where Mike stood. "Would you like that poster. I didn't order it and I have a Mark McGuire to hang there. I'm not sure where it came from."
"Yes, Ma'am, I uh, I'd really like it," Mike stuttered. She carefully took it off the wall and rolled it up.
She placed the ball cube and poster in a bag and handed it to Mike. He rode home feeling confused and thankful.
When he got home he examined the old ball. Using his magnifying glass he found a tiny L.A initial on it. Yep, Luke had visited him for sure. He placed the magic ball into the small glass cube. He would never hit this one again no matter how far or fast it went. It was worth too much. It wasn't just a ball to play with. Maybe the old players help the new players. No one knew better than Luke how much magic still existed in the game of baseball. Mike knew, thanks to Luke. This ball had made him feel successful, brave and proud. Even if it was only for one day. He would never again take the chance of losing this ball. It really was magic!
The following day it rained and rained but they day after that, baseball commenced on the street. With a newfound confidence, deep within and an old, chewed up tennis ball, Mike hit four beautiful homeruns and took up a new position on the team, shortstop! Yes, he thought it's a magical game!