When the car horn honked, Ricky jumped to his feet, grabbed his sleeping bag and his pillow, banged the front door open, and ran outside. “Bye, Mom. See you tomorrow,” he called without even looking back.
Mrs. Oglethorpe’s green station wagon sat in the driveway. Steve pushed the back door open for Ricky. “Hey, Ricky!” Steve greeted him.
Ricky had always admired Steve, who was a year older and the best athlete in their school. Although they lived on the same street, they had not been good friends until this year, when they both played for the Dodgers. All spring and summer they’d practiced together, and Steve taught Ricky how to pitch. Steve was a great pitcher. Besides having a sharp-breaking curve and a sinker, he could throw the ball so hard that it would almost knock your glove off. All of Ricky’s pitches looked the same—slow balls.
“Hi, Stever! Hello, Mrs. O,” Ricky said as he climbed into the station wagon. “Oglethorpe” always seemed to get mixed up in his mouth and never came out right.
“Hi, Ricky. All ready?” Mrs. Oglethorpe asked.
As Mrs. Oglethorpe was backing the station wagon out of the driveway, Ricky’s mom hurried out of the house. “Ricky!”
She caught up with the car, and asked, smiling at Ricky, “Didn’t you forget something?” “Something very important?” She held out Ricky’s baseball glove.
“Oh, wow! How’d I forget that?” “Thanks.”
“Don’t forget your promise, Ricky,” Mom said. “In bed and asleep by ten o’clock. No later.”
“OK. I will.”
“Remember what Dad said. ‘You don’t want to be tired for the big game tomorrow.’”
The Dodgers were in first place, and tomorrow’s game against the Giants was the last game of the season. If they won, they’d stay in first place, and with Steve pitching, they should win easily.
Because Steve’s family was leaving on vacation right after the game, Brad had decided to have a sleepover party tonight to celebrate the last game. It wasn’t a big party—just Brad, Steve, Jason, and Ricky.
The boys played catch in the backyard while Brad’s dad grilled hamburgers. The delicious-smelling barbeque smoke floated through the hot, summer-evening air. Even baseball couldn’t keep the boys’ minds off the sizzling hamburgers and the food on the picnic table. Everyone laughed as Brad grabbed his stomach and rolled on the ground, moaning about how hungry he was. Then Jason, who was getting a drink from the hose, decided to cool off Brad, Steve, and Ricky, and soon a water fight was going. It ended abruptly when Brad’s dad got soaked. It felt so good to be cool, though, that the boys didn’t mind the soggy hamburger buns and the limp chips. The coleslaw, pickles, corn on the cob, and lemonade tasted great too. Then there was watermelon—complete with a seed-spitting contest—and brownies and vanilla ice cream for dessert.
When it got dark outside, the boys went inside and started a game of Monopoly but didn’t finish it. Then they played video games for a little while. Mostly they talked baseball.
They were still talking baseball as they laid out their sleeping bags in front of the TV. Brad brought in a huge bowlful of popcorn and put a movie into the video recorder. That was when Ricky looked at the clock on the video recorder—9:59. Hey, he thought, how’d it get to be so late so early? There’s a movie and lots more fun coming. It just can’t stop now!
Ricky heard a grandfather clock chiming in another part of the house. Ten bongs. Rats! I wish I hadn’t promised to be in bed by ten. He looked at Brad and asked hesitantly, “Don’t you think it’s kind of late to start a movie?”
“Nah,” Brad replied. “Not for a sleepover party. I’ve stayed up lots later than this before.”
“But we have a game in the morning,” Ricky said, “and we can’t be tired.”
“That game’s no sweat,” Jason said. “We beat ‘em before when Steve pitched.”
“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to bed.” Ricky changed into his pajamas, climbed into his sleeping bag, and fluffed up his pillow.
“Come on, Ricky. This is a great movie. It’ll scare your socks off,” Brad said.
Ricky sighed, casting a longing look at the popcorn and the VCR, but said, “No. I’m going to sleep. Good night, guys.”
Jason threw his pillow at Ricky. “Hey, how come you’re such a party pooper?”
“He promised his mom and dad that he’d be in bed by ten,” Steve said as he got out a big bag of candy.
“Ricky, they’ll never know what time you went to bed if you don’t tell them,” Jason said.
“Yeah,” Brad urged. “We won’t squeal on you.”
“Let him alone, you guys,” Steve said. “Have some candy.”
Brad got up. “Let’s go find some more stuff to eat before we start the movie.”
Ricky rolled over, away from the glare of the TV. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. He thought it would be hard to fall asleep, but it was easy. He never even heard the rustling of cookie and candy wrappers, the opening of pop bottles, the joking and giggling, and the scary movie music.
The next day was a perfect day for baseball. The sun shone brightly on the green grass and tan dirt of the diamond.
Steve had pitched only part of the first inning before his stomachache had gotten so bad that he’d had to leave the game. Now it was the last inning. The Dodgers were ahead, 5–3, but the Giants had one more chance to bat. Jason was pitching. He walked the first four Giants, so the score became 5–4, the bases were still loaded, and there was still nobody out.
The coach walked out to the pitching mound and talked to Jason, then looked around at the other players. His eyes stopped on Ricky. He waved at Ricky, calling him in.
“Just throw strikes, Ricky,” the coach said, handing him the ball. “You’re playing well today. I know you can do it.”
Ricky threw some warm-up pitches, and the umpire asked if he was ready. Ricky nodded. The batter stepped up. Ricky looked around at his teammates and checked the runners. If he walked a single batter, the game would be tied. If two runners got in, the game would be over, and the Giants would win. Ricky looked in at the batter. The kid was grinning.
Ricky paused and said a silent prayer. Then he wound up and threw the baseball hard.
“Outside and low—ball one!” the umpire yelled.
Ricky tried another fastball.
“High! Ball two!”
The next pitch hit the dirt in front of the batter.
Ricky kicked at the dirt and looked in at the batter, who was grinning bigger than ever. Ricky could hear the Giants cheering. He thought of the times he and Steve had worked together on pitching. Steve had told him not to worry about the batter. Just think about the target. Get the ball into the catcher’s mitt.
Ricky looked at the catcher and his mitt. Then he wound up and threw.
Ricky threw another strike. The batter just watched it, expecting to stand there and be walked.
Ricky pitched again.
“Strike three! You’re out,” the umpire yelled.
The Dodger fans cheered, and Ricky heard Brad behind him yell, “Come on, Ricky! You can do it!”
The next batter swung at the first pitch and missed. He wasn’t going to just stand there. Ricky pitched again, and the batter hit it—right back to Ricky. Ricky grabbed the ball and threw it to the catcher for the force-out at the plate.
Two outs. But the bases were still loaded, and the Giants’ best hitter, Jay Cottrel, was coming up to bat. Jay was big. And he was swinging the bat like he was ready to hit the ball over the fence.
Ricky thought of the catcher’s mitt and pitched.
Crack! The ball sailed through the air.
“Foul ball!” shouted the umpire. “Strike one.”
The Giant fans yelled for Jay. The Dodger fans yelled for Ricky.
Ricky rolled the ball around in his glove. He couldn’t pitch fast enough to get the ball past Jay the way Steve could. Jay was going to hit it. No doubt about it. So don’t let him get a good hit, Ricky thought. Steve had taught him how to put spin on the ball, so Ricky grasped it on the seams the way Steve had showed him.
Ricky took a deep breath. Everyone else was standing and yelling with excitement.
Ricky wound up. He threw the ball, spinning it off his fingers.
Jay swung. The bat cracked against the ball. But the ball went straight up in the air. Ricky called for it and moved under it. Down it came—down, down and smacked into Ricky’s glove. The Giants were out! The Dodgers had won!
All the other Dodgers ran over to Ricky, patting him on the back and giving him high-fives.
“Ricky, you’re a hero!” Jason yelled.
Ricky looked over at his mom and dad in the stands. They were yelling and cheering with the other parents of the Dodgers. He couldn’t help smiling at them. He knew how proud they were of him, and he was glad to know that they could be proud of him even for things that they didn’t know about—like how he kept his promise to them at the sleepover. They might never know that he’d kept that promise. But Ricky would know. And that was even more important.