Bat Boy & His Violin

STORY TIME

Editor's note: A boy and his violin score a home run with a baseball team and his father, the manager.

May 10, 2000|By Gavin Curtis

I sashay my bow across the violin strings the way a mosquito skims a summer pond. When the back door slams and metal cleats stomp onto the kitchen floor, I know Papa is home.

"Is-Reginald-at-it-again?" he shouts between notes.

"Hush up," Mama says, "I just love this one."

"Cooped up inside all the time, it's a wonder that boy don't sprout mushrooms."

I try to play louder than Papa's voice by sawing the music hard. He sometimes comes home in a bad mood because he's the manager of the Dukes -- the worst team in the Negro National League. So far, the 1948 season has been the toughest yet.

"You know our baby wants to be in a famous orchestra someday," Mama says, following Papa into the living room.

"Well, right now, the Dukes could use a bat boy, and I think it'll do Reginald some good to get out the house. We'll get him a uniform and everything."

I stop playing. "What about my practice?" I ask.

"You can rehearse 'tween innings. Tendin' to bats don't take up no whole lotta time."

The next morning, I ride with Papa and the Dukes to Cleveland on the team's rickety old bus. We get to the fields for our game against the Buckeyes.

Mr. Forrest, the shortstop, is the first one up. I want to do a good job, so I bring him six bats to choose from. It's too many, and they roll out of my hands and make Mr. Forrest stumble like he's skating on ice. He lands flat on his backside, making the crowd howl like they've just seen a circus performance.

"One at a time, boy!" Papa's face is all crinkled.

"I'll pass out the bats," Papa says after the umpire has calmed down.

"Can I help?" I ask.

"Why don't you relax a spell on the bench. It'll give you a chance to fiddle."

"You mean violin."

I play "Swan Lake" the way I feel -- sad and quiet. But I'm not clumsy with my violin. I'm careful, glancing only one time at the music I know by heart. In the last measure, I pull my bow slowly to hold the final note long.

"That sure was somethin' pretty," says Mr. LaRue, the center fielder who is waiting on deck. "Kinda makes the hairs on the back of my neck do a jig."

"Thank you," I say, a little embarrassed that anyone had listened.

"You're up, LaRue," Papa calls.

As Mr. LaRue steps up to the plate, I start to play again. He lets the first pitch go past him but swings hard on the next.

"RUN!" Papa yells, because Mr. LaRue sends the ball toward the outfield. Before he can reach first base, the ball leaves the park. He takes his time and does a kind of hop around the field while I play until he gets back to home plate.

Mr. Ervin, the catcher, bats next, and I play Mozart -- and the same thing happens again. It happens with the left fielder, the second baseman and the third baseman, too.

I'm bushed by the ninth inning, but the Dukes have beaten the Buckeyes, seven to four. It's the first game they win in months.

Each day I like being a bat boy more than the last.

Three weeks into our winning streak, Papa makes an important announcement. "We got us a game with the Monarchs!"

The night before the big game, Papa can't find a hotel in town that will accept the Dukes.

The next day, the sun is high and little shade can be found once the game has gone into extra innings, I play my best, but nothing seems to work -- at least not for the Dukes. The Dukes lose eighteen to seventeen.

"Son," Papa finally says on the quiet ride home, "play somethin' happy." He takes the violin down from the baggage rack and hands it to me. "We could all use a little cheerin' up."

"I ... I was afraid you wouldn't like my music anymore." I twist the pegs and make sure it's tuned.

"Shoot, when I shut my big mouth and listened, I loved what I heard. I love you, though, most of all. Win or lose -- Negro Leagues or not -- ain't no ball game ever gonna change that."

"I love you, too, Papa." I hug him and then play the "Minute Waltz" over and over again.

Excerpted from the book THE BAT BOY & HIS VIOLIN. Text copyright c 1998 by Gavin Curtis. Illustrations copyright c 1998 by E.B. Lewis. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Children's Publishing Division. All rights reserved.

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