First Pick

“First Pick,” Friend, Mar. 1985, 35

First Pick

After school Doug dashed home and pounded up the steps into his family’s new apartment. He could hardly wait for the baseball game to start at the park.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” asked his mother as he sped from his room, carrying his baseball glove and aluminum bat.

“Across the street to play ball,” Doug said. Eric, from one of the other apartments, had told him that a group of boys got together after school to play baseball. Doug hoped he could make some friends in the new neighborhood.

“I want to go, too!” Doug’s younger brother, Jimmy, shouted as he dashed into the room.

“You know what’ll happen, Jimmy. Why don’t you stay here and play Baseball Master with Dad?” A game board version of real baseball, Baseball Master was won by a player’s knowledge of baseball strategy. Jimmy loved it.

“I don’t know about that,” called their father. “Jimmy’s too good for me.”

It was true. At Baseball Master Jimmy could outhit, outsteal, and outscore almost anyone.

Doug glanced at his watch and hustled off. He hoped that Jimmy would take his advice. It would save them both a lot of embarrassment.

Jimmy didn’t. Doug cringed as Jimmy trotted up to the group of boys in the park and asked to play. Jimmy looked over at Doug and grinned, but Doug ignored him.

Doug ended up playing second base for one team, and Jimmy played right field for the other team. Doug hit a home run his first time at bat. Jimmy struck out. Doug made his catches look easy at second base. Jimmy missed every ball that came to him in right field.

Doug felt sorry for his brother when Jimmy was yanked from the field by his team captain and replaced with another boy. Doug wished Jimmy would go home, but he didn’t. Jimmy stood behind the backstop, cheering for everything his team did.

When Doug hit his third home run to win the game. Eric and the other boys from the apartments slapped him on the back and chose him to be one of the two captains for the next game.

Doug heard some of the boys on the other team complaining, “We might have won if that clumsy kid hadn’t shown up.” Doug avoided looking at Jimmy. What if they knew that that “clumsy kid” was my brother? he thought.

Doug played catch with his new friends for a while and then walked home.

Jimmy was sitting on the apartment stairs, his head down. “Doug, how come I’m no good?” he asked.

Doug shrugged. Jimmy had always been awkward. The doctors blamed it on poor hand/eye coordination. There wasn’t much Jimmy could do about it. It was a shame, too, because he loved baseball. And he knew more about it than anyone else Doug knew.

“After supper I’ll help you with your catching and hitting,” Doug offered.

After eating, they headed down the apartment steps toward the park. Suddenly Doug spotted Eric and a couple of his new friends on the baseball field. He froze. “Um, Jimmy, let’s go play out behind the apartments. It’s too crowded over there.”

“I saw those boys,” Jimmy mumbled as they turned around. “You’re ashamed of me. That’s why you didn’t talk to me at the game today, isn’t it?”

Doug didn’t answer. He worked with Jimmy until it was nearly dark, without much success. “Why don’t you be our cheerleader?”

Jimmy shook his head. “I want to be part of the game.” He looked up at Doug as they walked back to the apartment. “Are you going to pick me on your team tomorrow?”

Doug was silent. How can I pick Jimmy? he wondered. What would the other guys think?

Before bed that night Doug walked past Jimmy’s bedroom and heard him praying. “Heavenly Father, why can’t I play sports? Why am I so uncoordinated?”

Doug wondered the same thing. Why did Jimmy have to sit home studying baseball while everyone else was out playing it? It didn’t seem fair. There had to be something Jimmy could do on a team besides cheering.

In his room Doug prayed about it. But no answer came to him.

The next day Doug waited at the park as the other boys arrived. He’d already decided which ones he wanted. They’d be the best. Maybe after choosing them, he’d pick Jimmy.

When Jimmy joined them, pounding his glove, several guys groaned.

Eric poked Doug in the ribs. “Who is that kid anyway? Do you know him?”

Doug pretended that he didn’t hear Eric, but it made him feel strange inside. Doug didn’t like the feeling. He realized he’d been acting ashamed of Jimmy because Jimmy had a problem with his coordination. That wasn’t Jimmy’s fault.

“He’s my brother!” Doug said loudly. “And he probably knows more about baseball than any of us.”

The other boys stared at him.

Eric snickered. “Him?”

“You don’t have to be able to hit home runs and make dazzling catches to know how the game is played.”

“All right,” said Eric impatiently. “Let’s get the game started. Pick, Doug.”

Doug looked over the group, but he couldn’t seem to decide. Every time he saw Jimmy’s eager face, his picks got all jumbled around in his head. Sure, he knew the guys who could hit, but hits didn’t always win games. Sometimes strategy did. Suddenly he knew the answer to his prayer.

“My first pick is Jimmy,” Doug announced, pointing to his brother.

“He can’t play,” someone said.

“Not to play,” Doug said, as Jimmy proudly scurried to his side, “but to be my manager and to plan strategy.”

There were some laughs. But when Doug’s team won the game by ten runs, no one was laughing. Jimmy’s strategy had worked.

Eric was chosen as one of the captains for the next game. Doug saw him eyeing Jimmy. “I already know who my first pick will be,” Eric said.

Doug smiled at Jimmy. “So do I.”

Illustrated by Richard Hull