A boy with a disability is finally given a chance...
|Todd hobbled towards the playing field, sweat tickling his nose as it formed a path from his brow. The informal baseball game was already in progress with the clang of a metal bat, the soft thud of the catch, and the dirt kicking up from the slide of the runner; safe!
Saturday afternoons the local kids came together at the old baseball field to dream of the big leagues. They picked teams, one by one calling out names, but Todd was always left out - never chosen at all. His body wasn't straight and strong like the other boys. No matter how much physio he undertook, his foot refused to straighten up. The resulting limp provided much humor for the neighborhood kids. He could not run very fast and his wayward foot caused him to lose balance and fall more often that he would like.
When Todd approached the field, players noticed. Some rolled their eyes, mumbling, “Great. Here comes the clown,” or, “Not on our team.” Others ignored him completely. As usual, none of them wanted him playing. Todd was used to the sting of rejection, but it didn't make it hurt less. He continued to subject himself to the embarrassment and pain because he had hope that one day they would change their minds and let him play. When the third out was called, he optimistically headed for the dugout of the closest team.
"You can’t be on our team," a sandy-haired boy scowled, blowing a bubble with his gum and popping it loudly.
"Yeah," others chimed in agreement.
In a moment of bravery, Todd stood his ground. "I have just as much right to play as anybody."
A tall, dark-haired boy stood, towering above the others. He was a veteran player and team leader. He blocked the sun and sent Todd's face into shadow. Slapping his hand in his glove he said, "Fine! Maybe you do have a right to play. But you’ll have to do it on the other team. We already have all the players we need."
It seemed time slowed down as Todd tried to escaped the boy's giant shadow. He limped onto the field as the other team filled their positions. The chill from their icy stares sent a dagger of ice down Todd's crooked spine. Sammy, the freckled-faced pitcher eyed Todd from under his national champion baseball cap.
Sammy had moved to the neighborhood just as school was breaking for summer. He came from upstate New York where he was the most valuable player in little league baseball. His team went to State and National competitions year after year. Upon moving to Texas, his first desire was to find someone who shared his love of baseball. This did not take long because he moved next door to Todd.
The day Sammy moved in, he went out in the front yard, glove and baseball in hand. He saw Todd sitting on the steps to his house next door, daydreaming.
“Wanna play catch?” Sammy asked cheerfully.
Todd instinctively looked around to see who Sammy was talking to.
“I'm asking you, Silly! Wanna play?”
Todd could not believe luck. “Y, y, yeah!” he stammered in surprise. “I’ll go get my glove!”
Sammy noticed Todd’s unusual way of walking, but he didn't mind. As Sammy threw the ball, he also threw out pointers. He taught Todd ways of throwing to get more distance out of the ball. He also taught him catching techniques, especially for fly balls. Todd had more time on his hands than the other neighborhood boys, who were absorbed with swimming lessons or summer camps, so Sammy had plenty of time to teach him and both Todd and Sammy enjoyed each others company. After the children started meeting on Saturdays at the old field, it was soon apparent Sammy knew his stuff. He developed a quick and strong rapport with the other players and was often designated a team leader.
This was the first day since Sammy had been playing with the others that Todd had shown up.
“Can I play on your team?”
"We already have enough players, Todd."
Todd lowered his head dejectedly. Rejection was particularly harsh when it was from someone he considered his best friend and involuntary hot tears were already threatening to swell. His glove dangled from his fingers as he dragged his feet to leave the field.
Sammy squinted at the noon day sun. His red hair stuck out in places from underneath his cap as drops of sweat made streams down his face. He knew his teammates would disapprove, but he was the team leader today, and he knew Todd had the ability to do well.
"Of course, we can always use an extra in the outfield. That's allowed."
Todd whipped around wide eyed and looked at Sammy, who had a twinkle in his eye and a grin ear to ear.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Get on out there," Sammy encouraged.
Todd trotted awkwardly to the outfield, his excitement negating the disapproving sighs. Throughout the game his teammates pretended he was not there. Every once in a while, a ball would fly into the outfield, but the other boys would quickly scramble to it. Bored, Todd slumped down and put his hands on his knees. He watched the others as they hit, caught and threw the ball. Even on the field he was an observer rather than a player. To entertain himself, he took tiny steps backwards, away from the action and deep into the outfield. He stared at the dirt and pretended to be interested in little patches of weeds. He had counted twenty seven patches of dandelions and countless numbers of tiny daisies.
A loud metal clang brought Todd's attention back to the game. The big dark haired boy had hit a massive fly ball that was rocketing into the air.
“Todd!” Sammy yelled. “That one’s yours! Go for it!”
Peering up, Todd shaded his eyes. The ball was making its way down. The bases were loaded and the players ran, knowing no one could get that far into the outfield in time. The outfielders were tracking the path of the ball. Todd was a good judge of distance and knew he was the only chance for an out. He struggled to run to where the ball would land. The others held back a little just to see if he would make it.
“It’s hopeless,” the third baseman said to the short stop. “He’ll never catch that ball.”
Todd was determined to make the catch. This was his one chance to prove to himself and everyone else that he could. He was in constant motion to line himself up with the ball. The ball was inches away from his glove when his wayward foot betrayed him. Todd hit the ground hard, face down, arms outstretched. The world seemed to stop - frozen in time as he lay there, eyes closed in utter defeat.
“I've blown it,” he thought to himself.
The heat of the sun was as hot as his embarrassment. He could hear his teammates laughing and yelling. He finally managed to lift his head even under the weight of his defeat. His teammates were not jeering at him, however, they were celebrating. The ball was snugly nestled in Todd's glove. That outrageous catch had won them the game!
Sammy ran to his friend, offering a helping hand to pull Todd off the ground.
"The ball was in your glove just before you fell, Todd. I knew you could do it!" Sammy beamed with pride for his friend.
"I learned from the best,” Todd laughed with relief and appreciation. “Thanks for giving me a chance."