NT Franklin - I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
Me and Bart and the Baseball Team
It was a crisis. Not a crisis in the making, but one right now. Tommy Agee was moving away at the end of the school year. One month from now. We liked Tommy. He was the best hitter on the team and made sure everyone knew it. The crisis was his dad supplied equipment for our summer baseball team. Catcher’s mask, chest and shin protectors—the lot. He even bought a few extra bats and lots of balls for the team. No Tommy Agee, no baseball team. We needed Tommy, or at least his equipment, but everyone knew it was me and Bart’s team. Without a baseball team this summer, what would me and Bart do?
Me and Bart were on Tommy’s baseball team. We didn’t have enough kids to make more than four teams, and sometimes not four whole teams. We practiced almost every day. Really, it was more like playing a game with whoever showed up at the diamond. But every Wednesday and Thursday we had real games at one and three PM. We got to use the scoreboard at those times. One year the town recreation department provided a retired teacher for an umpire for the games, but we liked it better without one because he didn’t understand all of our rules. Like imaginary runners when Dale Owen’s mother showed up and took him home in the middle of a game. A ball into right field, it was an out. Stuff like that. It was pretty clear to all of us. Me and Bart were about the only ones who never missed a game. I don’t know how many games we won or lost, but some of the time we were better than Stinky’s team and once we beat William’s team. I think. William wasn’t there and neither were some other really good players, but I’m pretty sure we beat them. William’s team never seemed to lose; they had the biggest and best players.
But what would we do with no baseball? We could still play if we were a little shy on players but had equipment. Mom said to quit moping around and that baseball wasn’t life. Like she’d know. She never played.
The news buzzed through junior high like mad. Guys on the other teams were worried because even though our team didn’t always have enough players, they at least played every Wednesday and Thursday. Can’t do two games with only three teams. I guess stuff happened in class that week, but I don’t remember.
Me and Bart racked our brains for answers. None came. Baseball, not bedtime was important since Bart was sleeping over, we had all Friday night to come up with a plan. He spent Saturday over too. When his dad was gone on business, which was a lot, his mom had lots of parties and people over. She was really pretty and dressed in the latest styles, not the way my mom did. I thought my mom was pretty, but everyone thought Bart’s mom was pretty.
All weekend, we got no ideas, no nothing. Another week at school and another one hundred questions about if we were going to have a team.
The whole week was like that, but Friday night Bart came tearing across the road to my house.
“We got a baseball team!” he shouted.
“What? Really?” I asked.
“Yup. And we’ll have the coolest uniforms ever.”
“Uniforms? Nobody has uniforms. Are they even legal in the league?”
“Who cares? They’ll be so cool. A guy visiting my mom asked what was wrong and I told him about Tommy Agee moving and the team and all that. He spoke right up and said it seemed like our team needed a sponsor.”
“A sponsor! Like the major leagues?” I asked. But Bart continued right on.
“The shirt’ll have sleeves that are a different color than the shirt, and they’ll say “Family Grocery” on the front. And catcher’s gear and new bats.
“The sleeves that don’t go all the way down, just like the major leaguers?”
“Yup,” Bart said. “And we can get a smaller bat so Robert’s little brother might be able to get a hit this year.”
“This is going to be the best season ever. Wait until the other teams get a load of our uniforms,” I said.
School finally ended for the year so it was baseball time. Me and Bart didn’t tell anyone about the uniforms so the other teams wouldn’t go out and get a sponsor. We knew William’s dad would sponsor his team. His dad sold new cars in town and had more money than everyone else in town put together.
The team met at Bart’s house before the game and he handed out uniforms. Boy, did we look sharp. We rode our bikes to the baseball diamond at school and heads turned the whole way. We rode real slow so everyone could get an eyeful. I was so proud it was hard to steer my bicycle. We were a team.
As usual, we were slaughtered by William’s team the first game, but we looked good and were happy. They piled on runs when they didn’t need to because they were fuming mad about our uniforms. Robert’s little brother wouldn’t even slide because he wanted to keep his clean. Our moms had to wash the uniforms but that was no problem.
The games went great. The whole team, even Dale Owen, never missed a game. It was the uniforms. We won about as many games as before but looked good doing it. Robert’s little brother got a hit in a couple of the games, so that was a big win. Even William’s team settled down and didn’t run up the score on any team.
Tragedy hit the last week of the season. We couldn’t wear the “Family Grocer” shirts any longer. We could keep the bats and gear.
“What? That can’t be,” I said. “We have two games left in the season. We need our uniforms. The sponsor told you we have to give them back now?”
“He didn’t say that, my mom did,” Bart said. “I haven’t seen around him for a while. But I have a plan. We’ll wear them for the next two games and then give them back. Mom said we have to have them to her before Dad comes home.”
“At least we’ll have had them for the season,” I said.
“Well, they wouldn’t fit next year anyway. That’s what we’ll tell the guys.”
We kept them for the next two games. Everyone met up at Bart’s house after the last game and rode home shirtless. His mom put them in a black garbage bag and that was the last we ever saw of them.
It was the best baseball season ever because of the uniforms. And there is always tomorrow.
Me and Bart and the Fourth of July
July was here and it was swimming and baseball weather. But me and Bart had no time for that because we were making big plans. The Fourth of July town festival was in two days—it was like the county fair without the rides and cows. The parade was always great because they blew the horns and the sirens on the firetruck most of the whole way. Sometimes my fastball hit the mark at the dunking booth and someone dropped into the water.
The watermelon-eating contest was my favorite event to watch. It was such a big event that nothing else was going on during it. Everyone watched the contestants. Now that we were teenagers, we could enter. Jimmy Polaski lived one block over and won the contest last year. He was one year ahead of us in school, wasn’t very nice, and could hit a baseball farther than anyone else. If that wasn’t bad enough, all we heard in school and on the baseball field was he won the watermelon-eating contest.
“Boys, you old enough to enter the contest this year? Hey you two, will your mom’s let you enter the contest? You old enough to play with the big boys?” Was all me and Bart heard from Jimmy.
“Yeah, we’ll be there. And I’m gonna spit some watermelon seeds on you when we beat you,” Bart finally shouted back.
Now there was no turning back. After Bart challenged him, we had to not only enter the contest but we had to beat Jimmy and everyone else. Me and Bart were going to enter and win this year. Now that would be an accomplishment to be proud of. The ribbons for the three fastest times were the biggest ones of the whole festival. One of those ribbons would look so good on my bulletin board.
Bart had a plan to win and we had two days to get ready. His mom bought six watermelons for us so we could practice. Bart cut one-inch center slices and put one on a paper plate, just like in the contest.
“Okay, how many years have you watched the watermelon-eating contest?” Bart asked.
“As many as I can remember, I guess.”
“Then eat the slice, just like you see everyone doing it in the contest.”
I put my hands behind my back and started chowing down. Five minutes later, I was just over half done.
“Never going to win like that,” Bart said.
“It’s hard to get started in the middle and eat the red all the way to the rind. Spitting out the seeds is slow,” I answered.
“So watch me. Time it,” Bart said as he sat down to paper plate with a watermelon slice on it.
At the sound of “GO,” Bart took a bite of the rind and spit it out. Three times. The red watermelon was exposed! He ate the watermelon like munching rows of corn on the cob.
“One minute and thirty seconds. That’s a winner! But where are the seeds?”
“Chewed ‘em up,” Bart replied. “Faster that way.” Bart looked funny with red bits of watermelon on his nose and a seed stuck to his cheek. But one minute and thirty seconds was fast.
“Let me try.”
I managed to get my slice eaten in under two minutes, so I was pretty happy with myself. The seeds weren’t as bad as I thought they would be and if I didn’t let the rind stay in my mouth long, it wasn’t very bitter. And breaking two minutes was fast, too.
“We’re goin’ win ribbons our first year in the contest. My mom’s gonna be proud.”
“Come on, we have to practice more,” Bart said.
We practiced more after lunch and managed to eat three of the watermelons between us.
“Tomorrow after lunch, same thing. You need to pick up your time.”
I really wasn’t hungry for supper but tried to eat something. Because I wanted to surprise my Mom with a ribbon from the summer festival, I couldn’t let on about our practicing or entering the contest. She had to work during the festival so it be a total surprise.
The next afternoon was more of the same. Bart got his time down to one minute fifteen seconds but I couldn’t break one minute forty-five. I was still pleased because I cut over fifteen seconds off my time.
“Let’s not do the last watermelon,” I said to Bart. “Your mom might want one and I’m full of watermelon anyway.” If the truth be known, having eaten five in two days, I was ready to never see a watermelon again.
“Okay, the contest is tomorrow morning; we need to be there early to sign up and to scope out the competition. I know fat Kenny Williams will be there,” Bart said.
Being early for the contest wasn’t a problem because it was fun to walk around the festival. Besides, we were the first two to sign up. And then Jimmy Polaski came strutting up.
“You’re the third person to sign up. That’s the best you will finish this year,” Bart was really letting Jimmy have it.
Eyes bulging and arms down his sides with clenched fists, Jimmy had to unclench his teeth to speak, “You little punks. You know the last’s year’s winner always signs up first.”
“No such official rule. I checked,” Bart volleyed back.
Jimmy stomped off and I exhaled. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. “When did you check the rules?”
“I didn’t,” Bart answered while smiling.
The time for the contest came and thirty places were at the long tables all set up facing the audience. This was going to be great. There were even girls this year. We had to beat them. And Jimmy Polaski.
Bart had the first seat so Jimmy sat next to me. Two girls sat in the seats beyond Jimmy. After that, it was a blur.
“Make sure you don’t get beaten by a girl, Jimmy,” Bart called over. After that, Jimmy looked mean staring at his plate. Oh boy, just what I need, more pressure.
The announcer talked and made jokes with the crowd while a thick slice of watermelon was placed on each paper plate in front of every contestant. They looked like fat Frisbees. I’ve never seen grownups move so slow when me and Bart needed to move fast!
Finally, the announcer said: “Eaters, on your mark, get set, GO!”
Bart chomped down and spit out the rind and was into the red in no time. He munched his way through his slice and was blowing everyone away. I was doing okay, too. There were actually people cheering for the contestants. Bart stood up, raised his hands and opened his empty mouth.
“One minute eleven seconds,” was the cry from the announcer. The crowd cheered.
The watermelon wasn’t as tasty as the practice ones and I almost gagged on the third bite of rind. It was so bitter I thought my tongue was going to roll up and stay in the back of my mouth. And seeds, I wasn’t sure if there weren’t more seeds than watermelon on my slice. I thought about sneaking a peek at Jimmy, but didn’t. You make errors in baseball when you take your eye off the ball. I’d hate to lose to Jimmy because I took my eyes off my plate. I had to bear down if I was going to get a ribbon. Nerves were agitating my stomach.
I stood up and opened my mouth after what seemed like ten minutes.
“One minute, forty-two seconds,” was the announcement. The crowd was cheering for me. I won second place! Jimmy hadn’t hardly broken through the middle of his piece. He was soundly beaten by both of us.
Sally Miller finished a distant third—she was over three minutes! Me and Bart were first and second and were going to get the two biggest ribbons.
Me and Bart and Sally got to stay standing while the others finished their slices. Only Bart didn’t just stand there quietly.
“Jimmy, I see a girl beat you. Maybe you should make room on your baseball team for her,” Bart said. The more Bart went on, the more the crowd laughed and the redder Jimmy’s face became. I smiled so I wouldn’t laugh.
Bart quieted down and the last three gave up with half still on their plate. It was cool to stand there smiling to the crowd as winners. By at the end when the last eater gave up, Bart didn’t look so good and I didn’t feel so good.
Me and Bart and Sally were paraded to the grandstand to get our ribbons. Sally was grinning from ear to ear, but Bart still didn’t look very good and I didn’t feel any better. While the announcer was going on about Stewart Farms donating the watermelons for the contest, Bart started wrinkling his nose. I stopped listening at Stewart Farms have more watermelons for sale at their stand and watched Bart wrinkle his nose more and bend over and then straighten up.
“ACHOO!” Bart let loose a sneeze like you’ve never heard. I even saw a watermelon seed come out of his nose land in Sally’s curly red hair. I wasn’t going to say anything.
The crowd went silent and all eyes were on Bart bending over on stage. He straightened up and then he sneezed again. This time, chewed-up watermelon shot out from his nose and spewed all over Sally’s yellow dress smearing down the front of it.
“GROSS!” Sally screamed. She wailed “Get it off! Get it off!” between screams of “EWWW!” Sally was shaking her hands in the air and looking even paler than usual. The more she screamed, the more upset my stomach became. I didn’t have a strong stomach and it was really gross. And she didn’t even know about the seed in her hair. My stomach was half-way up my throat and threatening to continue up, even without thinking about the seed in her hair. But there it was, shiny black with bits of red watermelon stuck to it. It seemed to pulse in her curls when she screamed and I swear the seed was getting bigger threatening to fling off her head.
The scene was escalating into chaos when, WHOOSH, I threw up all over the stage. Well, partly on the stage, but mostly on Sally’s dress. I had no idea girls could make such high-pitched loud noises. Then everything went quiet.
The announcer dove and caught Sally as she passed out. I don’t think she would have hit anything on her way down, but the announcer gently laid her on the stage and yelled, “Paramedics!” Not knowing what to do, Me and Bart stood still on the stage. With the help of two paramedics, Sally came around in about a minute, looked at her dress and promptly started screaming again in the ear of one paramedics. He jumped back holding his right ear and tumbled off the stage. He let out a shriek when he landed on his ankle wrong, still holding his ear. Sally settled down when her mother came on stage and calmed her. This allowed the other paramedic to tend to his injured partner.
With Sally quieted, we were quickly escorted off the stage. I think there were more cheers for us as we left than for us during the eating contest.
Totals for the event were: one ruined dress, one shattered ear drum and one badly sprained ankle, but we all got our ribbons. I was wearing mine on my shirt when mom came home and she gave me a big hug. She couldn’t stop sneaking looks at me and smiling at me all evening. I was proud, too. It was the first thing I’d ever won. Me and Bart, taking the top two places, no one can take that away from us. I’m sure my mom would hear about Sally and the paramedic from someone, so I figured there was no need to tell her right away.
I hung my ribbon on the bulletin board in my room. I’ll always be proud of it ‘cause I did win it fair and square. No one seems to remember that, they only talk about me barfing all over Sally at the ribbon ceremony. That will live on forever. Still, it was a good day and who knows, there is always tomorrow.