Wally Pipp and Me
I felt sick. All morning, I felt like I was going to throw up. It must've been something I ate. As much as I love baseball, I really didn't feel like playing today.
"Hey, Stosh, c'mere! I need to talk to you 'bout somethin'."
It was my coach, Flip Valentini. He always calls me Stosh. Most people do. Flip is a really old guy, and he's a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, so I do what he says. I dragged my tired body off the bench and went over to where he was standing near the backstop.
The rest of the team was straggling in to Dunn Field on their bikes. Kids were tying their shoelaces and stretching. The sound of baseballs popping into gloves was starting to echo across the grass. Louisville can get pretty hot by the end of April. It felt like it was already 90 degrees.
"I need to talk to you too, Flip," I said.
The coach put an arm around my shoulder. I supported some of his weight. He's been like a father to me ever since my parents split up.
Flip wasn't always a Hall of Famer. What happened was that I took him back in time with me, to 1942. When we got there, Flip was a teenager. We met the great pitcher Satchel Paige, and Satch taught him how to throw his famous Hesitation Pitch. After that, some nut tried to kill us; and I was forced to leave Flip in 1942. Long story short, Flip got to live his adult life all over again in the past; and when I got back to the present day, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Time travel is funny that way. You never know what's going to happen when you start messing around with history. But that's a story for another day.
I was all ready to tell Flip I didn't feel well enough to play, but he didn't give me the chance.
"Stosh," he said, "Billy Hoobler's mom called me an hour ago. His uncle died suddenly, and they gotta go to Texas for the funeral."
I felt bad for Billy. He is a good pitcher and a good guy. I met his uncle once. He came to one of our practices and showed us the right way to slide.
"Who's gonna take Billy's place?" I asked Flip.
"You are," Flip told me. "I need you to pitch today."
Me? Pitch? I'm a shortstop. I've always played short.
"I—I can't pitch, Flip," I sputtered. "Why can't Johnny or Zack pitch?"
"'Cause Johnny and Zack can't hit the broad side of a barn," Flip whispered so they wouldn't hear. "I need somebody who can get the ball over the plate."
"Oh, man," I complained. "I feel like crap today, Flip. I'd probably give up ten runs."
"Stosh, ya know who we're playin' today?" Flip asked.
I looked across the diamond. It said shimojima on the other team's uniforms. That's the name of an optician in town.
"Those bums can't hit their way out of a paper bag," Flip told me. "They only have one good hitter, that kid Cameron Considine. You can pitch around him."
"I have a headache, Flip," I whined.
"Oh, I know a foolproof cure for headaches," Flip told me.
"What is it?"
"Pitch two innings and call me in the morning," Flip said. "Come on, Stosh, I'm beggin' ya! You got a good arm. Just give me two innings. Six lousy outs. Tell you what. If you pitch, I'll take you and your mom out for ice cream after the game."
"I really didn't want to play today at all," I told Flip. "Can't I sit this one out?"
"Sit this one out? Sit this one out?" Flip shook his head and raised his voice. "Did I ever tell you the story of Wally Pipp?"
"Here we go again!" Somebody behind me chuckled.
Flip is always telling us stories about the good old days of baseball. For an old guy, he has incredible recall. Flip can't remember where he left his glasses, but he can remember who was the on-deck batter when Bobby Thomson hit his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951.
(It was Willie Mays, by the way.)
Everybody gathered around: Colin Creedon, Luke Lee, Matt Connelly, Ryan Riskin, Dylan Wilson, Sean-Patrick Racaniello, and the other guys on our team. With a name like Wally Pipp, you'd think that at least one of us would have heard of him.
"Wally Pipp was a great first baseman," Flip told us. "Played for the Yanks in the 1920s. Led the league in homers. Twice. Anyways, Pipp got a lotta headaches ever since he got creamed in a hockey game as a kid. Then one day in 1925, he asked for a couple of aspirins 'cause he had a splittin' headache, and the manager said he could take the day off."
"So?" I asked. It sounded like a pretty lame story to me.
"Y'know who replaced Wally Pipp at first base that day?" Flip asked us.
"Who?" we all said.
"A 22-year-old kid," Flip said. "His name was Lou Gehrig. Ever hear of him?"
"So Lou Gehrig got his shot because Wally Pipp had a headache?" Matt Connelly asked.
"That's right," Flip said. "And Gehrig was so good that he became the new first baseman. The Yankees sold Pipp to Cincinnati. So what's the moral to the story, boys?"
"You're gonna send Stosh to Cincinnati?" asked Ryan Riskin.
What a dork.
"Okay, okay," I said. "I'll pitch."
"Attaboy!" Flip said, clapping me on the back. He put a clean, white baseball in my glove.