Play to Win!


Bert was left fielder on the Cubs Little League team. But most of the time he just sat on the bench. So when he did get a chance, he knew he had to do his very best—he had to be a winner.

One day during a game their left fielder kept dropping the ball. Suddenly the coach hollered, “Bert, get out there. I’m taking Fellini out of the game.”

“Does he mean me?” Bert asked in surprise. He clutched his mitt, thrilled and half scared.

“Sure, sure,” answered a teammate, poking Bert to make him move. “Hurry!”

Bert sprang up from the bench. “OK, coach!” He hustled out to the field. The coach wants me in now, he puzzled, with a Sox player on first and the score tied?

Bert ran toward the third baseman, a boy named Harvey.

“Be ready,” Harvey said. “They’ve got some big hitters coming up.”

“You bet,” Bert declared, punching his mitt hard with his fist. He’d show them. He just had to do a good job. And if he could, it would be the greatest feeling in the whole world. Suddenly he felt confident about his playing. All week he’d been practicing snagging flies and scooping up ground balls. He remembered what their coach always said—“Play to win: that’s what counts.”

The coach motioned to Bert to go farther back. A strong hitter must be coming up, the boy decided.

The Giant player, number eleven, came up to bat—a big guy. The pitcher wound up and zinged one over the plate. Number eleven swung … and missed. But there was plenty of power there. If he connects with the ball, it’ll really go, Bert thought. His hands felt hot and slippery. The batter swung again. What luck! Strike two. Then there was a foul ball. But what a crack of the bat! The ball went so far over the fence they had to send two kids out to hunt for it.

The batter took his time now. He rubbed his hands and hiked up his pants. Bert shivered in his shoes.

Suddenly the batter swung again, and snap went the bat. He had hit the ball, and it was coming like a bullet … straight toward left field. It was coming right toward Bert now, high and fast. Bert leaped in the air, reaching. It was like trying to catch a bird out of the sky. Then he fell over backward, rolling and rolling.

“Oh no!” Bert cried, his face full of dust. But he got back on his knees, and his hands were still clamped together. Everyone was shouting. He stood up. He held out his mitt and there was the ball cradled in it. Am I lucky! he thought excitedly. What a miracle. It could have been a homer—should have been, really.

Harvey ran over and pounded him on the back. “Great catch, Bert. He almost had a homer!”

“Yeah,” Bert said with a grin. “It was a lucky catch, wasn’t it?”

“Way to go, Bert!” the coach called, smiling.

Boy! Being a winner’s the greatest, Bert thought.

But just then Bert saw the batter walking back toward his team. He was all slouched over, and his cap was pulled down low over his face. He gave a quick rub to his eyes. And Bert realized that even winning isn’t one hundred percent perfect … for everyone.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn