We hit the concession stand first, and since I’d had a big breakfast and wasn’t all that hungry, I just got a hotdog, some onion rings and a Gatorade. Smiley got three hotdogs, french fries with chili and cheese, a Hershey bar with almonds and a big soft drink. He said he wasn’t very hungry either. We found a seat on the bleachers where the Lady Pirates softball team was playing and settled into our food. We’d find Jackie later, if she didn’t find us first.
“I e-mailed the Major last night,” Smiley said between bites of his first hotdog. “He says for you to just stay in your groove.”
The Major was a retired Marine Corps officer from Alabama who had a website called baseballfarming.com.
That’s where me and Smiley went for all our baseball information. He had pages and pages about how to hit a bunt, or how to pitch a slider. Smiley had started e-mailing him and he actually e-mailed back and answered all our questions. One Saturday morning when it was raining, we spent hours just e-mailing back and forth every question we ever had about baseball. The Major was a walking encyclopedia.
“Stay in my groove,” I repeated. “The ball doesn’t know one hitter from another.”
“That’s what he said,” Smiley spoke between bites. “Just relax, do your thing and have fun.”
I looked towards third base and spotted Jackie coming along the fence line. She made her way up the aluminum bleachers and as she negotiated her way, it was impossible not to notice heads turn to watch her go by. She was long and lean with long blonde hair she had pulled back into a ponytail. She wore one of my old, red, Pirates baseball caps pulled low over her green eyes. My mama said she’d never seen eyes so beautiful on a girl before. Jackie took a seat right behind and between us, close enough to grab an onion ring from my plate. Still without asking, she swigged some of Smiley’s soft drink and then grabbed another onion ring.
“What’s up guys?”
“Taylor’s adopted!” Smiley said it before I could think to ask him not to. “We think he’s from China,” he continued. “That’s why he’s such a good baseball player.”
“You can’t say all Chinese people are good baseball players,” Jackie said. “That’s profiling, and that’s illegal.”
I had learned a long time ago to sit out these conversations. Until I was dragged in.
“Ask him yourself,” said Smiley, between bites of his second hotdog.
Jackie turned those green eyes on me and without a hint of a smile, asked exactly what I thought she would.
“Taylor, do you think that saying Chinese people are good baseball players, is a form of ethnic profiling?”
“If it’s not, it certainly should be,” I said. Smiley had just taken a sip from his drink and when Jackie and I busted out laughing, he turned and spewed coke into the air. It rained back down on us along with a few people that sat nearby. That just made me and Jackie laugh that much harder, but Smiley was busy apologizing to everyone as hard as he could.
Jackie feigned annoyance as she wiped her arms off on Smiley’s sleeves. “The nerve of some people!” she said. “Were you raised in a barn?”
“Hey!” I interrupted. “Better coke, than chili and cheese!” We all busted out laughing again at the thought of Smiley spewing chili and cheese into the air and on our clothes. We knew it could have been a lot worse.
“Hey, I’ll just wipe the ball off on my arm while I’m pitching,” I said. “That should add something to my curveball.”
“Great idea,” said Smiley. “And if the ump suspects anything, you can lick away the evidence.”
“Okay, now you guys are being gross,” said Jackie.
Smiley picked out a french-fry heavy with chili and slipped it into his mouth. “So what’s new in Texas?” he asked. “Being gross is part of our charm.”
“You believe that,” Jackie said, “and you’ll have your own reality show one day!”
Linnie Moore was up to bat for the Lady Pirates and was up to a full count when she hit a smoker that bounced off the centerfield fence. Everyone on the bleachers was on their feet as she made her way around first-base and never even slowed down on the turn for second. The centerfielder finally got the ball off the ground and threw a rocket to the shortstop. She underhanded it to the second baseman and Linnie turned mid-stride and headed back towards first. The second baseman threw a perfect strike to first and Linnie found herself caught in a pickle. Stranded between first and second. She slid to a stop and dust rose from between the bases. The second baseman moved closer to her position and the first baseman slung her the ball and at that exact moment, Linnie made her decision. She charged towards first base like a pit- bull towards a meat wagon.
Somewhere in the dust storm, the second baseman had caught the ball and returned it back towards first and I don’t think a television camera could have caught what happened next. Linnie arrived at first base within the same instant as the softball. We were never sure if the ball hit inside the first baseman’s glove or tipped the outside edge, but when the dust settled, Linnie was standing on the base with the first baseman sitting on the ground and the ball on top of the home-side dugout. The ump crossed his arms to signal safe and the bleachers erupted. I’d never seen so many people go crazy for a single. Linnie wiped her face and smeared blood from her nose down the front of her uniform. My heart was racing like I’d made the play myself.
“I love you, Linnie.” Smiley’s voice could be heard above everyone’s.
Jackie looked at me and said what we all felt. “Wow!”
“Yeah, wow,” I agreed.
“That’s girl’s got heart,” said Smiley. He pointed at me. “If I ever say you play like a girl, that’s what I mean,” he said. “And that’s a compliment!”
“Yeah, that’d be a compliment,” I said. “I’d definitely take that as a compliment.”
I finished my drink and stood up and Jackie did the same. “I’ve got to go change my clothes and get ready to warm up,” I said.
“Me too,” said Jackie. “I mean, I’ve got to go sell doughnuts for the Science Club. I’ll walk with you.”
“Put my name on a box of those doughnuts,” said Smiley. “I always support the Science Club.” And then he pointed at me again. “And the next time I see you,” he said, “there better be some blood on that uniform.”
“Warm-ups can get pretty nasty,” I said. “You never know.”
“I’ll be over there as soon as I pull these ladies through this one,” he said. “You know what to do until I get there.”
Jackie and I made our way down the bleachers where I picked up my bag and we headed between the fields towards the concession stand area. She walked close by and leaned against my arm and I guessed everyone watching thought she might be my girlfriend. A nice thought.
“So, she asked, “Your parents told you about being adopted?”
“Yeah,” I said. And when she looked at me, I knew she had already known.
“It doesn’t change anything,” she said.
“It changes everything.” I stopped and let my bag slide to the ground. “I’m not the person I thought I was. And Smiley thinks I might be from China.”
Jackie’s eyes were wet with tears and I knew that meant mine probably were also. She reached down and picked up my bag and leaned into me again. We started walking again without talking until we reached the Science Club table piled high with green and white boxes of doughnuts.
I took my bag from Jackie. “You better put Smiley’s box under the table,” I said. “You know what happens if he’s got his heart set on a box of doughnuts, and then doesn’t get them.”
“We’d probably have to call the police,” she said.
“And the fire department, too.” I added.
“I’m coming to watch you pitch,” she said. “Do us proud!”
By Douglas J. Channell
Copyright Protected....look for Chapter Three comming soon....