The Winning Pitcher


“Come on, Danny,” Jim called, “let’s practice diving.”

“I’m coming,” Danny replied, scowling as he read the notice beside the dressing room door at the swimming pool.

“How can a guy be in two places at the same time?” he grumbled.

Tryouts for the swim team were scheduled for two o’clock on Saturday—the same day and the same time he’d promised Mr. Duncan he would pitch in an exhibition baseball game for the boys and girls at the school for handicapped children. But when Danny had agreed to pitch for the game, he had forgotten that the team tryouts would be on the same day.

“Watch this,” Jim yelled as he dived into the pool.

Danny gave a whistle of admiration and thought, Jim will make the team for sure. I guess I’ll just have to tell Mr. Duncan I can’t pitch that game because I want to be in the tryouts.

“I hope we both make the team,” Jim said. “It means that we’d be invited to compete in the state swim meet and that we could swim in an Olympic-size pool.”

“Dreamer,” Danny chuckled. “OK, let’s practice diving. We’ve got to sharpen up before the tryouts.”

As he stood on the diving board the swinging doors leading to the pool opened and a boy he had never seen before came in with a woman helping him. His arms and hands were moving all the time and his head wobbled a little. He was having trouble walking, and his legs didn’t seem to go where he wanted them to. A lump caught in Danny’s throat as he thought, I’ll bet he’s from the handicap school.

“Let’s go in here, Richard,” the lady said. “The pool is shallow at this end.”

“OK,” Richard agreed.

Danny didn’t want to hear anymore. He quickly dived into the water and swam for the ladder. “Jim,” he said, climbing out, “I’m going to get out for a little while.”

“What’s the matter?” Jim asked, puzzled.

“I have a problem,” Danny replied. “I think I’ll go home. If you want to come along, I’ll tell you about it.”

Later, as they walked along, Danny explained his problem to Jim. Then he said, “I had made up my mind to tell Mr. Duncan I couldn’t pitch that game because I really want to try out for the swim team. But when I saw that boy who could hardly walk and might never have a chance to catch a ball. …” His voice trailed off. “Jim, what would you do if you were me?”

“Me?” Jim said. “I’d try out for the swim team. Danny, you can’t always be worrying about other people.”

“I guess not,” Danny agreed and went over to see Mr. Duncan.

“I’m glad you stopped by,” Mr. Duncan said. “I just received this letter from the youngsters at the handicap school. They’re really excited about our game.” He showed Danny the letter. “But we have a problem—we’re short of players and are going to have to find some substitutes.”

Danny read the letter, and then he felt worse than ever. Somehow he didn’t have the heart to tell Mr. Duncan now that he wouldn’t be able to pitch the exhibition game. He handed the letter back and said, “You’ll find somebody, I’m sure.”

“How about your friends, Danny? Would they help out?”

Danny shook his head. “I don’t think they can. The game is scheduled at the same time as the swim team tryouts. Most of my friends will be there.”

“I see,” Mr. Duncan said. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to keep on looking.” Then the older man put his arm around Danny and added, “We’re counting on you though, Danny. I’ll stop to pick you up on Saturday.”

Danny’s hope collapsed. “All right,” he answered and left. Now he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t think that the swim coach would change the tryout time till later just for one boy.

All the rest of the week Danny and Jim practiced swimming and diving. They worked hard, laughed, and had fun, but best of all they improved their form and strokes and were sure they could make the team. However, Danny’s promise to Mr. Duncan to play in the game Saturday kept crowding into his mind. He knew he would soon have to decide what he was going to do.

“Who did Mr. Duncan get for substitutes?” Jim asked, bobbing to the surface of the water.

“I don’t know,” Danny said. “I wish I did.”

He had a heavy, uneasy feeling on Saturday while putting on his swim trunks. He sat down on his bed, his thoughts completely mixed up. Then he thought of something that was at least worth a try, and he pulled his baseball suit on over his swim trunks.

Right on the dot, Mr. Duncan arrived in his station wagon. The same boy Danny had seen at the pool was with Mr. Duncan. Danny gulped. “Hi, Richard,” he said, and the boy’s face brightened as he returned the greeting.

Mr. Duncan nodded at Danny and then said disappointedly, “We had to call off the game because we couldn’t find enough substitutes.”

Danny looked at Richard and thought about the other boys and girls at the school who had counted on seeing a baseball game. He knew he couldn’t disappoint them. The idea that had come to him was so simple he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before.

“Mr. Duncan,” Danny said, “would you mind driving over to my school for a minute? Maybe we can have that ball game after all.”

Danny caught the swim coach, Mr. Webb, in the hall and asked if the tryouts could be held later in the afternoon so that the boys could play baseball for the handicapped children.

“I wish you’d talked to me about this earlier,” Mr. Webb told Danny. “Some of the boys are already in the pool. However, I’ll see what I can do. It sounds like a great idea to do something for those boys and girls. They have a rough time and the least we can do is arrange for a baseball game if they’ve been counting on it.”

Pushing through the double doors that led to the swimming pool, Mr. Webb blew his whistle and when the boys gathered around, he explained to them why Danny was in his baseball uniform instead of in his swim trunks.

“If any of you would be willing to go over to the school and play a quick exhibition baseball game, I’d be willing to postpone the tryouts for a couple of hours,” the coach promised.

The boys looked at each other. No one spoke for a few moments. Then Jim said, “Well, I think Danny has a great idea. Sometimes it’s good to worry about other people. I’m willing.”

“Me, too,” the other boys agreed.

“Thanks, guys,” Danny said. He smiled at Jim, who gave him an understanding wink in return, and then Danny hurried out to tell Mr. Duncan and Richard the good news.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson