A whole week of vacation in Florida! Tom thought about all the things he wanted to do now that he was finally at Grandpa’s. He would lie on the beach, and he would go fishing. Maybe he would catch enough fish for dinner for the whole family! But something else excited Tom even more.
When he and Mom and Dad had driven in from the airport, they had passed a ballpark just a few blocks from Grandpa’s house. It was no ordinary Little League field like the one where Tom spent most of his free time back home. This was the spring training camp of his favorite baseball team. He had never been to one of their games before, because they were too far away, so he was hoping to see one of their exhibition games while he was at Grandpa’s. Grandpa had hardly gotten everyone settled in when Tom asked him if the team had started spring training yet.
“Just the pitchers and catchers are here so far,” Grandpa replied.
“That’s good enough for me,” Tom answered. “My favorite player is a pitcher, David Reaves. Do you think he would help me improve my pitch? I have a good straight ball, but not much else.”
“I doubt it,” Grandpa said. “He’ll be awfully busy getting in shape and practicing right now. But you can probably get his autograph—if you’re patient.”
Somewhat wistfully, Dad spoke up. “I sure wish I’d had the opportunity when I was a kid to meet my favorite baseball hero. Remember, Dad, the time we drove all the way to Boston to see Cal Herder pitch?”
“I’ll never forget it,” Grandpa answered. “You had a brand-new baseball, and you were hoping to get Herder’s autograph on it.”
Cal Herder. The name was familiar to Tom. “I remember hearing you talk about him, Dad. He was probably the best pitcher the team ever had, wasn’t he?”
“Sure was,” Dad replied, “but I never did get him to sign my baseball. There was a big crowd that day, and when the game was over, there was such a mob around him that I couldn’t get to him before we had to leave. I’d hoped to get one another day, but we never got there again.”
“Wasn’t he number eleven?” Grandpa asked. “As I recall, they retired his number when he stopped playing so that no other team member would ever wear it.”
“I think you’re right,” Dad agreed. “Well, Tom, maybe you’ll be luckier. David Reaves is number forty-three, isn’t he? By the way, I figured you’d want to go over to see the team, so I bought something for the occasion.” He handed Tom a small, cube-shaped box.
Tom quickly opened it. Inside it was a new baseball.
As he got dressed the next morning, Tom imagined David Reaves’s name autographed on the ball. Fishing and swimming could wait. The first thing he wanted to do was visit the training camp.
After breakfast Dad and Grandpa went out to work in the garden, and Tom ran down the street toward the ballpark. He was a little surprised that there weren’t many people at the training grounds, but then he realized that it was a school day for the kids who lived in the area. A few men Grandpa’s age stood along the fence talking to one another. Out on the field, catchers and pitchers were warming up. They weren’t wearing uniforms, so Tom couldn’t read their numbers. He recognized some of the players, though, but he didn’t see David Reaves.
He went over to the men along the fence, who were talking to a white-haired man in a coaching jacket. “Excuse me, but have any of you seen David Reaves?” Tom asked.
The men shook their heads, and the man in the coaching jacket replied, “He won’t be out here today, son. He broke his finger practicing yesterday, so he’ll be laid up for a while. But don’t worry. He’ll be in fine shape by the time the season opens.”
Tom couldn’t hide his disappointment. “Oh, no!” he moaned. “I sure hoped to see him.”
The man in the uniform smiled sympathetically, “I’m sorry. Say, I’d guess you’re a pretty good pitcher yourself, aren’t you?”
“Well,” said Tom, “I’ve pitched in Little League.”
“Why don’t you come over on this side of the fence and throw me a few balls? Maybe I can show you a pointer or two.”
Tom slipped through the gate, and the coach tossed him a ball. He made sure Tom was warmed up thoroughly, then asked him to throw his best pitch.
Tom pitched it fast and solid.
“Boy!” said one of the men leaning against the outside of the fence. “Maybe you’ll be scouting him for the team in a few years.”
Tom pitched a second ball and a third the same way.
“Not bad,” said the coach. “But let me show you how to get a little variety in your pitching so that the batter won’t know what you’re up to.” He showed Tom how to twist his wrist so that the ball would curve. “Now try it.” The ball went far outside, and the coach lunged for it. As the coach twisted around, Tom noticed the number on his jacket—number 11!
“Cal Herder was number 11 when he played for Boston!” Tom blurted out.
The coach looked surprised. “I’m Cal Herder,” he said. “I didn’t think a fellow your age would know about an old-timer like me.” He smiled.
“Oh, I sure do!” Tom replied. “You were my dad’s favorite player! But I thought you retired.”
“Nope,” said Mr. Herder. “Only from playing. Baseball’s my life, and I’ll coach just as long as they’ll let me.”
Tom threw a few more balls until he felt comfortable with the new pitch. Then Mr. Herder said, “I think I’d better go help some of the big guys.”
“Before you go, will you do me a favor?” Tom took the new baseball out of his pocket. “Will you autograph this for me, please?”
“Be glad to,” said the coach, and Tom watched with delight as the man wrote “Cal Herder” across the ball.
“Thanks a million for the help and the autograph!” Tom exclaimed.
“Glad to give you both,” Mr. Herder replied; then he trotted across the field.
Tom nearly flew back to his grandpa’s house. Dad and Grandpa were picking oranges off a tree in the front yard.
Dad looked at Tom and laughed. “From the grin on your face, I know what you have—a ball atographed by David Reaves.”
“Wrong, Dad. It’s something for you. Something you’ve been wanting for a long time.”