The kids walked down the main entrance of the ball park, dust pluming behind as they talked and bragged in the humidity. Heat laid on Mahalia like a wool blanket. The park, a 1950s project with concrete dugouts, a concession stand and curved rail bleachers, opened before the boys with a promise of another great summer. It was 7:45 am but every kid was drenched with sweat as their fathers smiled and talked equipment, stats, and potential. Eugene sucked in his belly just enough to slip in unnoticed down by the left field fence. There was a break in the chain linkage between the sign for “Amelia’s Pottery Shop” and the one reading “World Series Champs, 1961”. He wore a red half-sleeved shirt with magic marker stains on the back. Eugene’s hat, a camouflage military softcap, pushed his red-orange locks out over his ears like horns. His blue plastic glove, oiled the night before with vegetable oil, shone from beneath his arm like a waxed helmet. He had no bat. The flyer had demanded every player bring his own equipment. Eugene knew he wouldn’t make the cut. His twelve short years on earth taught him some make it, some don’t.
But I’m the son of a strong man, he thought. Maybe they’ll see that, or let me bat boy or something.

He saw Chipper Hunt from across the field. Chipper was a head taller than any other kid around him. His perfect hair cut wreathed a cut jaw line that would make a razor jealous. Boys flocked around Chipper.
“We were in Florida last year. Travel ball team. They picked me even though I was only eleven. Coaches said I’ll probably end up in the pros.”
“They let twelve-year olds in the pros?” one nervous looking pale kid said.
“No dummy. When I get older. Dad said I had to come today to make it look good to the other parents but everyone knows I’m starting pitcher for the Lions. Dad’s coaching them.”
“I hope I’m on the Lions.”
Chipper heard the sporadic voices around him. Short kids with no talent. Just sponging off me like Dad says all the time. Don’t waste your time Chipper. These kids are nothing. If you hang with them, you’ll be just like them. Nothing.
“Hey look, it’s the fat pumpkin Charlie Brown!” Chipper said pointing towards Eugene.

Everyone laughed as Eugene came near.
Eugene avoided their gaze. Rich kids with no talent. Just trying to keep me from being famous like Mom says all the time. Don’t waster your time Eugene. These kids are nothing. If you want to be like them, you’ll end up like them. Nothing.
“Hey Pumpkin, why don’t you take a bath sometimes, wash those poop stains off your elbows?” the boys laughed. Adults standing near looked over, smiled briefly and went back to talking. Eugene felt his face flush the color of his hair. Deep inside, the pangs of shame twirled making curly ques of his stomach. A rash of fear covered his body. The boys, like sheep dogs, smelled the fear.
“Maybe cause he ain’t got no money. His momma ate it all.”
“Yeah, she puts it on a poop sandwich and eats all their money.”
“They ain’t got none. Look at that glove.”
Laughter. More laughter.
“Yeah, Pumpkin boy where’d you get that glove? The toy section at the thrift store? Some kindergartener got too big for it, huh?”
Eugene sat on the bleachers nearby, looking out over the ball field. The dirt streaked with rake marks. Grass, smooth as glass, covered the outfield. Eugene ignored the boys.
“Like he’s gonna make the team.”
“Yeah, probably thought he’d get some leftovers from the concession stand. Please Mister, I need a hot dog really, really bad!”
Laughter.
He watched the field intently. His lips quivered as the voices began to grow quieter. Staring through the chain link fence he wondered why he couldn’t fence up his tears. Why sometimes, just sometimes, all you want to do is cry, no matter where you are?
“He ain’t even got a bat.”
“His momma probably thought it was a sausage.”
Laughter.
Eugene’s chubby hands gripped the bleacher’s edge tight. His knuckles were white. As his brown, misty eyes stopped moving at the right field fence he saw Skinner painting a fence.
“Maybe his fat momma choked on it and he’s too stupid to notice.”
Skinner turned, squinting into the sun.
Eugene stood up to leave. No use trying out. Just no use.
Skinner watched the boy walk along the left field fence and suck in his gut to get away.
“It ain’t the bat pumpkin Boy. It ain’t the bat.”

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