This was the day I had dreaded all week.
“Hey, Willie, did you bring your ball and glove? Tryouts this afternoon,” shouted Nick from across the street while shaking what Grandmother Hop calls that “mop of hair” out of his face so that he could even see me. “You’ll make the team this year!”
“Naw, don’t think that’s goin’ to happen,” I answered, my heart not in it. I crossed the street with Gracie in tow to join him. Craig, Zeke and Jeter, Zeke’s little brother, were waiting with Nick to see where this talk would go. I wasn’t keen on having this conversation.
“Why not?” shouted Craig, suddenly wearing a bigger than usual frown. “You’ve practiced a lot. I know you want to play.”
Nothing like having my problems broadcast over the entire neighborhood. Gracie, my little sister, was all ears. I walked her to school and back home every day. I’m sure she couldn’t wait to blab this conversation to Mom when we got home that afternoon.
Craig worried about everybody. That might be because his mom died when his little sister was born. It’s been hard for Craig. Pastor Joe helped Craig talk through his problems, and he wasn’t going to let my answer pass.
“Zeke, tell him,” Craig pressed. “Tell Willie he stands a chance!”
Zeke eyed me with those big, brown Greek eyes, enlarged even more by those Coke‐bottle eyeglasses he wore. Zeke, my best buddy and next‐door neighbor, looked at me as if to ask for permission to discuss my situation in public.
Hearing my silence, Zeke explained, “I think Willie should do what he wants to do. Willie plays with a lot of heart. He works hard in our games down at the bottom. But, in the end, trying out for tournament baseball is up to him.”
Nick begged, “Come on, Willie. Just come sit on the bleachers with us and see what Coach has to say.”
“I’ll come and watch you guys try out. How’s that? I can root for you.” There, finally I was able to put an end to the conversation.
I had trouble concentrating on school work that day because I really wanted to play for the Piney Bluff tournament team called the Badgers. To my relief, the end of the school day finally came. I agreed to walk Gracie and Jeter home. Jeter was in the same class as Gracie.
On the walk home, Gracie broke the silence, “Willie, aren’t you going to the tryouts with your friends?”
“Well, I want to play, but I just don’t play like my buddies. Zeke is what you call a ‘scrapper’ because he never saw a play he couldn’t make. Zeke has a grin as broad as a Cheshire cat’s. That grin cements a team together.”
Zeke’s grin reminded me of Gracie when she used her fingers to stretch her mouth into a Cheshire cat grin. “Alice in Wonderland” was her favorite movie.
I continued to explain, “Now, Nick is a star in every sport he tries. He even has the takedown record in wrestling for our age bracket at Toby’s Gym.”
Jeter asked, “What about Craig?”
“Well,” I said with more enthusiasm than I felt, “Craig is a lot like Nick. He and Nick never had problems getting picked for any sport team they tried out for. Craig is good to have on a team because he likes to work out a problem, especially an argument, by talking it out. And, Craig plays for ‘the guts and the glory’!”