One for the Griffins
“Strike three,” shouted the umpire.
Cam trudged into the dugout.
“We lost because of you, again.” Vinny blocked his way.
“Yeah,” yelled the other kids, crowding around.
“Break it up guys,” said Coach Johnson. “Pack up your gear. I ordered pizza for us at Joey’s.”
“Pizza! Pizza!” The boys chanted, charging onto the field.
Cam lingered in the rundown dugout. He patted the lucky baseball card in his shirt pocket. It sure wasn’t working. If he carved a notch on his bat for every strikeout, there would be nothing left.
“Aren’t you going with the rest of the boys?”
Cam looked up to see the groundskeeper. “I don’t feel like pizza.”
“You should stop swinging for the bleachers.”
All of Cam’s frustration boiled over. “What do you know? You just mow the lawn.” He pulled the baseball card from his pocket and waved it at the man. “You see this card? It’s Mike Schmidt. My dad got his autograph.”
“Schmidt hit a lot of home runs and was a fine third baseman. But a single can be just as valuable,” said the man.
“Cam?” His mother leaned into the dugout. “How was the game?”
“Ask him. He saw it.” Cam bolted up the steps and ran past her to the car.
“Bill Dobson, new groundskeeper.” He extended his hand. “Keeps me busy since I retired.”
“I’m Cam’s mother, Emily Greer. He’s not usually so rude.”
“They lost. Cam struck out in the last inning.”
“Oh.” Cam’s mother sighed. “I tried to make the game, but I had to work. It’s been hard since Cam’s father died. They spent all winter huddled over my husband’s old baseball cards. Then an icy road…” She stopped blinking back tears.
Cam kicked at the loose gravel with his sneaker. Why didn’t the old man go mow the lawn or sweep out the dugout and leave them alone?
“Cam, Mr. Dobson says he needs help. I told him you’d be happy to come over after school a few days.”
Great. Now he’d not only be a loser, he’d get to sweep up after the winning teams.
But Cam soon found himself looking forward to the afternoons with Mr. Dobson.
“This old field has seen better days, Cam. But with two of us working, we’ll bring it back to its former glory.” He handed Cam a sanding block, paintbrush and paint. “Work on the bench in the visitors’ dugout first.” He winked. “Always good to impress the opposition.”
Cam learned how to chalk the field, rake out the pitcher’s mound and make sure the bases were the regulation distance. Mr. Dobson even took pride in the way he mowed the outfield, cutting the grass in a checkerboard pattern.
At games, Cam noticed a difference. There was a new sense of pride. The team seemed energized. The Griffins scored more runs. Maybe just maybe they would win a game.
Weeks passed. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, Cam and Mr. Dobson worked on the field. Mr. Dobson told Cam about players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris.
Whenever they finished a project, he would say. “Cam, we better try it out. Don’t want any surprises during a game.”
Cam would grin and grab his bat. He never missed during these sessions. He relaxed and swung the way his dad had taught him.
After they repainted the scoreboard, it looked bright and fresh, but the Grenville Griffin was gone. “Mr. Dobson, I know the paint was faded and peeling, but it was the team mascot.” Cam frowned at the large white space.
“Don’t worry, Cam. Just keep hitting the way you’ve been doing. I think the Griffins can win this weekend. Mascot or not.”
On Saturday, Coach Johnson stepped onto the field before the game. “We all appreciate the volunteer work Bill Dobson has done for us. We owe him a big round of applause for getting this field back in shape and he has one more surprise for us. If you’ll look toward the scoreboard…”
Cam’s heart fell. A cloth covered the big blank space he and Mr. Dobson had painted a few days ago. He squeezed his eyes shut; waiting for the yells when people saw the missing Griffin.
“Go Griffins! Go Griffins!” People cheered.
The cloth was gone revealing a new griffin with flaming red and gold feathers. It reared on its hind legs, clutching a baseball in its beak and a bat in one of its claws.
“Now let’s play ball!”
When Cam ran in from the field, he passed Mr. Dobson. He took the baseball card out of his pocket and handed it to him. “Hold onto it for me. I don’t need luck today.”
He stepped into the batter’s box and stared at the pitcher. As the ball came toward him, Cam kept his eyes on it. He swung and connected. The ball flew out past second base and Cam ran hard. He beat the ball to first for a single.
The rest of the inning, Cam waited for someone to hit him home, but it never happened. The next time Cam was at bat, he flied out. No one on either team managed to score.
It was the ninth inning and Cam stepped up to bat for the last time. Vinny was on second base. If Cam made a hit, Vinny would score and win the game.
“Strike one,” yelled the umpire. “Strike two!”
Cam felt his stomach knot up as the pitcher got ready to throw the ball. He stepped out of the batter’s box. He thought about playing ball with his dad and the afternoons with Mr. Dobson. He took a deep breath and stepped back up to the plate.
Crack! This time he connected. The ball sailed over the fence. Vinny scored. They won! As Cam trotted around the bases, he gave a high five to Mr. Dobson.