By Micky Fan

The janitor pushed his whisk broom slowly down the stone floor lobby. Sun filtered gently through the multi-paned glass arched door. The tile floor was spotless. The janitor’s slow movements seemed more reflective rather than purposeful. Outside, a child’s laughter rang out, joined by another.

The janitor smiled. He walked through the arch door on the east side of the lobby into a large, high-ceiled room. His stride was quick and strong. He didn’t even glance at the dozens of historical displays that chronicled the great sport of baseball over the past nearly two centuries. He had lovingly dusted each one over the years and knew every single display by heart.

When he got to the end of the long room, the janitor turned left. In the back of the room, behind a display of bats, was a tiny door. The janitor removed a strange looking key from his pocket and unlocked the odd-shaped key hole. He quietly turned the handle, opened the door, stepped inside the tiny room and shut the door behind him.

The room was no bigger than a powder room. The walls were plain whitewash and a plain fixture on the wall opposite the door held one bare bulb that looked like one of the first light bulbs Edison ever made. It gleamed dimly in the tiny room. The only other light, which wasn’t much, came from the slivered window up at the top of the ceiling on the eastern wall. The wooden floor was covered with sawdust and in the middle of the floor stood a trophy case. The case looked as though it had been made by hand a long, long time ago. On top of the wooden base was a glass case so completely covered with dust that it hid whatever was inside.

The janitor moved forward. He removed a rag from his back pocket and carefully cleared the dust from the front pane of the glass cover. Revealed under the glass was nothing more than an ordinary, and very old, baseball.

The janitor smiled.

~ * ~ * ~

“Come ON!” Roger pulled Oscar’s arm. “Let’s get a look inside! I want to be the first one in!”

Oscar good-naturedly followed his enthusiastic friend. They ran from the parking area to the front of the beautiful, red-brick building; the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

“Roger stop tugging me!” Oscar complained. “I’m not a dog on a leash. Besides, they don’t open the doors for another…” He tugged his arm away from his friend and checked his watch. It was 8:10 AM. “…50 minutes! Geez. I’m already freezing.” Oscar shivered and rubbed his arms.

Roger bounced up and down on his toes with agitated excitement. “Come on it’s not bad.” Roger said. “LOOK at this place! It’s amazing! This is it my man. This is where it all began.”

“Oh nice. Now you’re a poet.”

“Hey, yeah!” Roger laughed and Oscar joined him.

Both boys looked up at the imposing red brick building. White-shuttered windows adorned the brick evenly like rows of eyes. The building was old but beautifully kept. Each of the long white windows in the front of the building was accentuated by an iron railing sporting two crossed baseball bats. The fences along the visitors’ ramp where the boys now stood also displayed the crossed-bat design. Roger leaned at the fence and ran his hand along the ornamental, metal baseball bats.

“We need to get a fence like this. I should ask my dad.” He glanced behind him. Roger’s parents and sister walked slowly toward them. Roger and Oscar had raced ahead of his parents and sister as soon as the Hall of Fame came into view and had ignored the calls to wait. Roger knew he had a little leeway. After all, today was his birthday.

Roger grinned and looked around in wonder. Finally, here they were. The trip here had been fun and the first time any of the children had flown. They checked into the hotel the night before and, as soon as the kids heard about the pool, they’d made a beeline there. Even with all the traveling and swimming, Roger was awake before dawn that morning, too excited to sleep more. Once he had rousted his sleepy and grumbling family, they had a great birthday breakfast at the hotel and then headed straight to the Hall. Roger wanted to be in line first before anyone, so they had arrived nearly an hour early.

Oscar frowned down at the pamphlet in his hand, History of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’d been pouring over it since he found it in the hotel lobby the night before.

“According to this,” he said, “the idea for baseball was invented right here in Cooperstown in 1839 by…”

“Yeah, Abner Doubleday. I know,” said Roger. “That’s one story anyway.”

Oscar looked up at his friend, puzzled. “One story? What do you mean?”

“Well see, there was this guy right? You know the Spalding stuff my dad sells in his store?”

“What like the tennis racket stuff?”

“Yeah, that guy. His name was Albert Spalding. He’s in the Hall of Fame you know.”

“Oh wow.”

“Yeah, he was a baseball player and then he started that sporting goods company with his brother. He was pretty important in baseball. Like he was one of the first guys to use a glove for fielding – and that was one of the things his store sold too.”

“Pretty smart!” said Oscar.

“Yeah. So after he retired he was pretty famous. He started the National League too and he was the one who made sure that story in that pamphlet was the story people believed. He wanted to prove to the world that baseball was an American game. So he hired his pals to make this fancy committee to vote on the true history of baseball. But the thing is, he pretty much knew how they’d vote. And they all voted like he wanted and it was all decided on one letter by one guy about 50 years before their time. He wrote a letter that said Abner Doubleday started baseball. They didn’t even know the letter writer or that Doubleday guy.”

“That sounds dubious,” said Oscar.

Roger stared at him. “Yeah? Well it sounds a bit fishy to me. See this letter writer guy, his name was Abner too, I forget the last name. He wrote somebody a letter, something like, “Dear Joe. Today I saw this guy Abner Doubleday behind the tailor shop. Some kids were playing marbles there. He drew a diamond in the dirt and invented baseball.”

Oscar stared at his friend. “What the heck? So they decided the history of baseball on that one letter? Didn’t anyone question this man Spalding?”

“Oh yeah. See there was this other guy, a baseball writer named Henry Chadwick. My dad told me all about him. He was like the Daniel Boone of Baseball writing see? And he wrote this thing once that baseball was like the game called rounders that he played in England.”

“I never heard of rounders.”

“Yeah it’s a different game but it has a lot of the same stuff like innings, and you bat the ball, you have two teams…”

“That sounds like baseball.”

“Right well there’s a lot the same rules, but some stuff is different. Anyway this Henry Chadwick guy wrote this article saying baseball was based on “rounders” right? Well Spalding got really mad about that.”

“Why?” Oscar asked.

“Good question Oscar,” said a voice behind the boys.

“Mr. Hunter you scared me!” said Oscar. By then Roger’s parents, Jack and Robin Hunter and his sister Jackie joined them at the front of the line. More people began to walk toward them from the parking area.

“So,” said Mr. Hunter, “Do you remember why Spalding got mad at Chadwick, Roger?” His dad smiled at him.

“’Course.” Roger grinned. “See, Spalding took two teams and went on a world tour to promote his sporting goods company. They went to England and Australia with the Boston Red Stockings…

Oscar snickered.

“Funny old name right?” Roger laughed. “And the Philly Athletics went too. While they were there, the American teams got boo’d at everywhere they went. They said that Americans stole their game rounders and just named it baseball. Well Spalding got mad at that and wanted to prove that it was an American game.”

“Right,” said Roger’s dad. “He also claimed that baseball started in the colonies in the 1600’s based on a game called “One Old Cat.”

Oscar laughed. “One Old Cat?”

Jack Hunter chuckled. “I have a book at home called “Baseball Before We Knew It. There’s a story in it written in the Atlantic Monthly from October 1866. ‘One Old Cat’ was supposedly played by three boys. Boy A throws the ball at Boy B. Boy B, and I quote, ‘Smites the Ball.’ And Boy C catches the ball if Boy B misses.”

“Smites the ball?” said Roger’s sister. “Sounds kinda Biblical.”

Roger and Oscar laughed and grinned at each other. “’Whataya mean, Biblical?’” they said together.

“Oh not again!” Jackie groaned.

“’What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff!’” quoted Roger.

“’Exactly!’” said Oscar.

“STOP!” Jackie yelled.

They ignored her. Roger was next: “’ Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling!’”

Roger’s mom, Robin, joined in: “’Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!’”

Mr. Hunter grinned and said, “The dead rising from the grave!”

Oscar continued, “’Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!’”

Jackie threw out her hands. “’Enough! I get the point!’” Everyone laughed and Jackie rolled her eyes and groaned. “Geez you always suck me into your lunacy.”

Roger and Oscar laughed. “Our task is done,” said Oscar.

‘So yeah, “smite”! said Roger. “I always loved that word. It’s like Samson’s up to bat.”

Oscar laughed so hard he snorted. He glanced at Jackie and blushed. She didn’t seem to notice.

“Some historians think that the “Cat” in ‘One Old Cat’ is short for ‘Catapult.’ But no one really knows for sure,” said Mr. Hunter.

“But!” said Roger, “One thing they do know for sure is that the baseball rules used today were invented by a bank teller.”

“Nah ah,” said Oscar.

People were beginning to line up behind them. Roger stood on his tiptoes to see over his father’s shoulders. “Wow look! Already people are coming. It doesn’t open for…” He looked at Oscar.

“Forty minutes.”

“Wow!” said Roger. He pumped his fist. “Almost time! So anyway, this guy named Cartright…another name that started with an ‘A…” What was it dad?”


“Right. Alexander Cartright. He came up with the rules for teams of nine, batting orders, bases the same distance apart and three outs every inning. So then in…1846?”

“Right,” said his dad.

“The first game of modern baseball using those banker guy, Cartwright’s rules, was played between the Knickerbockers and the NY Nine. The Nine plastered ‘em 23-9.”

“Where was that?” asked Oscar.

“Elysian Fields,” said Jack Hunter. “Not too far from here. They say that ‘Cooperstown is the birthplace of baseball but that Elysian Fields is its cradle.’ The first game was played on June 19, 1846. I sure wish I could have been there.” Roger’s dad glanced off, lost in thought.

“Oh yeah me too!” said Roger. “Wow. Imagine that. THE first game ever of modern baseball.”

“So why is this place here?” asked Jackie. She pointed at the Hall of Fame.

“Oh! I know that too. Let me tell it Dad?” Roger asked.

“Sure,” Mr. Hunter smiled at his son. Some of the people in line behind them were listening too. A few nodded and smiled at Roger.

Roger looked a little nervous and cleared his throat. But since this was one of his favorite stories, he remembered it in detail.

“Remember that letter-writer guy Abner?” he asked Oscar.

“The man that wrote the letter about the tailor shop?”

“Abner Graves” said his dad.

“Right him. Well maybe 100 years after he lived someone in this town in Fly Creek found an old trunk of his. Fly Creek is about three miles from here. So here it is 1934 and somebody finds this guy Abner’s old trunk in his attic. Remember people already believed what Spalding and his committee that published that report …what was the report called again dad?”

“The Mills Report, 1904.”

“Right that. So here it was, thirty years after this Committee says, “Baseball was invented like this,” and it’s all official so people believe it. So then they find this trunk and inside is a baseball. And…I don’t know who… somebody decides that THAT ball is the ball that Abner Doubleday used to explain the first game of baseball to those kids behind the tailor shop.”

“That…what?” Oscar frowned. “Was there any evidence?”

“I don’t think so really,” said Jack Hunter. “Just speculation, maybe some wishful thinking.” He smiled.

“Yeah but the idea stuck,” said Roger. “So you know the guy that started the sewing machine company. Singer?”

“Oh yeah my mom has one of those.”

“Yeah him. He buys that old baseball for five bucks and puts it on display on the fireplace of the athletic club here in this town. And people started showing up from all over the place to see this baseball right? So the bigwigs in Cooperstown got to thinking, “Hey maybe we can bring some people into our town this way.’”

“Pretty smart,” said Oscar. He gazed in awe at the beautiful building and surrounding grounds.

“Yep. So they decided it’d be a great idea to make a baseball museum.”

“Cool!” said Oscar.

Roger looked around. The crowd was bigger now. He glanced at the Hall and grinned. He almost felt like pinching himself to be sure this was real. The sun reflected off the triple arched doors inset into the old brick. The building and the grounds around it was quite impressive. Roger was so filled with excitement he lost his train of thought.

“So then what happened?” asked a guy behind them. He grinned sheepishly when everyone turned to look at him. “Sorry I was eavesdropping but this is pretty interesting.”

Roger laughed and his dad smiled at the man. “Not a problem. I think it is too.” He turned to Roger. “Go ahead son.”

“Well,” Roger frowned, concentrating. “The Cooperstown people took the idea of a baseball museum to the National League President at the time, Ford Frick.”

“So that’s who that guy is!” said Oscar. “I saw his name on a lot of pictures.”

“Yeah he was behind this place.” Roger looked up. “He loved the idea and he really pushed for it. So for that he did good.” Roger frowned a bit.

“What’s wrong?” asked Oscar.

“Nah nothing,” said Roger. “Another story. Anyway this all happened during the depression. It was also close to the 100-year birthday of baseball. So Ford Frick has this bright idea to open this place to celebrate Baseball’s birthday and get people interested and help the town get some income. They raised money for it. They built Doubleday Field and this place. That Singer guy’s great-grandson had the baseball now, and he put up half the money. How much did it cost to build Dad?”

“Over $100,000 which in our day would cost several millions of dollars.”

“Wow!” said Oscar.

“Well the good thing is, it was a big hit. People loved it. When they opened, all the players that had been inducted that were alive all came to the ceremony. Like Babe Ruth and Connie Mack, Cy Young… a bunch of big names were here. Think about that — all those great baseball guys standing right here!” Roger looked around and everyone seemed to ponder the thought.

“We’ll be here when they induct the new members this year,” said Roger’s dad.

“We’re coming for that too,” said the first man who’d spoken behind them in line. His twin sons, both wearing Phillies jackets and caps, hid behind their smiling mother and peeked at them shyly. They were about five years old, both with big brown eyes and curly brown hair.

“So,” asked the twins’ dad, “Who picks these guys for the Hall of Fame?”

“I was wondering that too,” said his wife. They all laughed. “Do you know?” she asked shyly, and smiled.

“Sure!” said Roger. “My dad told me all about this. It’s really hard to get in. It’s like 70 to 1 odds or something.”

“Those are some high odds!” said Oscar. He glanced at his watch. “Geez only 15 minutes until they open!”

“Yes!” Roger jumped up and pumped his fist in the air. This was going to be one amazing day. Roger was wearing his Yankees cap and jacket and the pin his father had given him the night before.

~ * ~ * ~

“It’s a little early, I know” his dad had said the night before. “I know your birthday is tomorrow. But I wanted you to have this ahead of time.” He handed Roger a square box with a lid. Roger lifted it carefully. Nestled on the cotton in the box was a Baseball Hall of Fame Membership Pin and a Junior Member card. The card had a photo of Cal Ripken, Jr. on the front of it.

“Oh Dad thank you so much!” Roger said. “That’s so cool that you got a Member Card with the Iron Man!”

“It’s not the lifelong membership. Not yet.” His dad winked. “I will be getting the family membership though so that we can come back and take our time in the summer…”

“Whoa! We’re coming back??” asked Roger. His voice cracked on his last word and it sounded like he was singing it.” Oscar laughed.

“Yes,” said Roger’s mom. She smiled down at her son and ruffled his hair. Normally he hated that but this news was too amazing to make anything bother him. “We don’t want to miss the induction ceremony in July.” Roger’s parents grinned at him.

“YES!” Both Oscar and Roger jumped up and yelled at once.

“Oh, I mean…” Oscar blushed. “Sorry I guess you meant your family.”

“Oh I’m sure your mom will want you to come too. It’s a lot more fun with your best friend along.”

Jackie groaned and flopped back on the bed and covered her head with the pillow. “Great! An entire year of baseball!” Her muffled voice dripped with sarcasm.

“Jackie.” Robin Hunter stared at her daughter. Softly but with warning in her voice, she said,” Don’t spoil Roger’s gift. You’ve got so much to be grateful for and we certainly never neglect to make your birthday special.”

Jackie shrugged. “Sorry,” she said. “It could be worse I guess. At least we’re not going to the Barney Petting Zoo or something.”

“Shaddap!” Roger picked up the other pillow from the bed and launched it at his sister. “I was 4-years old for that!”

Jackie squealed and jumped out of the way. “Ha! You wanted to go until last year!”

“That’s a lie!” Roger’s voice cracked again. His balled fists were jammed straight down making his body totally rigid. He glared at his sister.

“Enough,” whispered Jack Hunter. Everyone stopped. When Dad whispered, that meant they were one step short of being in serious trouble.

“Sorry,” Roger and Jackie mumbled.

“Of course…” Roger’s dad said, his voice friendly again, but he frowned a little.

“What Dad?” asked Roger. He still stood rigidly.

“Yes sir?” asked Oscar. He gulped a few times and glanced nervously between Roger and his father.

“Well, we’ll probably get the year membership in the spring when I get vacation and hopefully your mom can get some time off too, Oscar. But…and this is a big “but…”

Oscar ribbed Roger and snickered but Roger was too intent on what his father was saying to notice.

“But we need to see some really good grades this year and no more attitude about chores – Roger. I know you’re good about that Oscar. Mostly.” Mr. Hunter winked at his son’s friend.

“Oh yeah! Definitely no problem, Dad!” said Roger.

“Easily done, Sir,” said Oscar.

“Wait a sec, even math?” said Roger. He looked sheepishly at his father. “I kinda stink at math.”

Jack Hunter smiled. “I want you to do your best. If your grades are A’s and B’s I’ll be happy…”

“But Dad I can hardly get a C in math!”

“…and if you need help, I’ll be happy to help you. Come on Rog’ – you love baseball right?”


“Well there’s a lot of math in baseball. Think about it. Box scores, all the players stats…you can rattle those off without thinking. You have a good memory for that.”

“Yeah but my math teacher is a …uh…she’s hard to get along with.”

Oscar nodded, no longer laughing. “That’s true Mr. Hunter. She has no patience if someone doesn’t get what she teaches right away.”

“Hmm…” said Jack Hunter. “Well, let’s take it one homework assignment at a time. Okay? Come to me if you get stuck and I promise to set aside an hour a night at least to help you if you need it – unless I’m out of town of course. Deal?”

“I can help too,” said Robin Hunter, smiling.

Oscar said, “I can help too Rog’.”

“Don’t look at me!” scoffed Jackie.

Everyone laughed, and even Jackie couldn’t help cracking a smile.

“Cool,” said Roger. “Thanks…uh…” He grinned at his sister “…almost everyone. I guess I’ll be learning math this year.”

Roger lifted the red and blue Member’s pin from the cotton.

“This is awesome! I’m wearing it forever. Thanks so much Mom and Dad.” He pulled both his parents into a hug. Next Oscar joined in and, reluctantly, because everyone was staring at her, so did Jackie.

~ * ~ * ~

Roger chuckled now, remembering, and touched his jacket where he’d fastened the pin last night.

“Oi. Earth to Roger,” said his sister.

“Oh sorry!” Roger laughed. “Sorry, So well the rules for induction changed a lot but now it’s six guys – and these guys have to have all been baseball writers for more than ten years – who decide every year. Some years one or two people get picked, but one year they picked seven. There are all kinds of rules for it. It’s pretty tough to get in.”

“Sports writers huh? That’s interesting,” said another man in line behind Roger’s dad. “I would think players or coaches would be the ones to pick.”

“Nah writers,” said Roger. He lifted his baseball cap and scratched his head and stared up at the sky. He replaced his cap and said to the man: “They really study the game and all the players too. So these writers have kinda like a birds-eye view on it and are mostly impartial. That writer, Hendry Chadwick, is the only writer in the Hall of Fame, right Dad?”

“Oh! The one that had that argument with Spalding about how the game started?” asked Oscar.

Jack Hunter nodded. “That’s right. The rest are managers, players and umpires.” He glanced at the front doors. The guard began unlocking the doors. “Looks like it’s time to go in.”

Roger and his family quickly moved toward the door and the crowd surged behind them. Excited chatter filled the air. Roger jumped up and down repeatedly on his toes. This was it! The moment he’d been waiting for!

~ * ~ * ~

The rest of the day was a blaze for Roger. He took hundreds of photos with his digital camera and filled up both spare memory cards. His father took pictures of him in front of his favorite displays. One was next to the shoes of Shoeless Joe (named “Shoeless” when he was a kid because he couldn’t afford shoes.). Then there was Babe Ruth’s bowling ball, Christy Mathewson’s piano that had baseball bats for legs, Moe Berg’s medal for wartime spy service, a crown given to “King Carl” Hubbell and lots of others. The Ball Wall was one of Roger’s favorite displays – a huge wall with signed baseballs by some of the greatest players in the game. He took at least a dozen pictures there.

Everyone, even Mr. and Mrs. Hunter, enjoyed the Sandlot Kids Clubhouse. Roger’s favorite part of that room was the height charts. He couldn’t believe how short some of those major league players were. He was almost as tall.

It was late afternoon. After lunch they’d explored even more of the museum for hours. It was the end of the day. Roger, his friend, sister and parents had walked all over the hall and the grounds. They were tired, but Roger had never been happier and he could tell that the others were having fun too. Roger knew his dad was right. There really was no way to see the entire place in one day. Roger grinned happily when he remembered they would be back in the spring and then again in July for the induction ceremony. Maybe he’d know this year’s inductees. He speculated about who it might be.

“Roger,” said his dad, “I hate to say it but it looks like they’re closing.”

“Aw man already?” said Roger. It seemed to go by so fast.

“Yes but don’t worry.” Jack Hunter smiled. “They’ll be open for an extra four hours next time we visit. Ready to head to the car?”

“Yeah okay sure Dad.” Roger sighed. Even the best times had to come to an end. Roger put his hand up to touch his Hall of Fame Membership pin.

“Oh no!” He pulled the jacket out and stared at it. A sliver of medal fell and hit the floor. Roger bent to pick up the silver fastener for his pin. “I lost my pin!”

“Okay hold on a second,” said his mom. “Calm down and think about it. Did you take your jacket off any time recently?”

“Oh yeah in the bathroom!” said Roger. “It might have fallen. Can I go look?”

“Sure but hurry Roger. We’ll wait here.”

“Be right back.”

Roger sped down the hall and through the arch to the main building. A few people walked toward the lobby but the Hall was mostly deserted. He pushed open the men’s room door and ran to the sink where he’d washed his hands. Nothing was there. He remembered he’d taken his jacket off because he didn’t want to get it wet. It was a little big on him, and the sleeves hung down past his fingers. He had taken it off briefly and put it on the baby table next to the sink. Roger searched the table to no avail and was starting to panic when he happened to spot something shiny under the sink in the corner. His pin!

“Gotcha!” He scooped it up and held it close to him. He took the pin fastener from his pocket, hooked it to the back of the pin and put both in his pocket. He wasn’t taking any chances with it. He decided to put it on his bulletin board at home rather than wear it.

Roger walked quickly back toward his parents. As he neared the lobby, something moved in the corner of his eye. He turned and looked down just in time to see an old, tattered baseball roll across the floor toward him slowly. He watched, almost mesmerized, its slow progress. The ball stopped when it hit his shoe.

“What the heck?” he said aloud. He looked around, but the room was deserted. He looked at the displays but none looked like it was missing a baseball. Besides, this ball looked ancient and ready to fall apart. Roger bent down to pick it up. It was surprisingly heavy despite its ratty appearance. The leather was hand-stitched. No manufacturer name was printed on the ball.

Roger held the ball in his hand and pondered what to do.

It has to be part of a display, he thought. Doesn’t it? But wow, what a cool looking ball It looked old enough to be that Abner guy’s baseball. Still…

“Got something there son?” asked a deep voice behind him.

Roger spun around. He held the ball behind him and looked up at a tall man with a broom. The man wore an old denim jumpsuit with the word, “Janitor” printed on the right pocket. He looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. His face and hands looked like they were carved from mahogany, old but very strong. He had close-cropped black hair with grey at the temples and his dark eyes looked stern. Roger gulped. Reluctantly he held the ball out to the man.

“I found this on the floor,” he said.

To Roger’s surprise, the janitor smiled and nodded. “So you did,” he said. “The ball chose you then. And because you told the truth, you get to keep it…for a time.”

“What? I don’t understand,” said Roger.

“Just keep it safe.” The janitor smiled at Roger and he suddenly seemed a lot less threatening. Roger smiled back, still hesitant.

“But…” Roger began.

“Just keep it safe,” the janitor repeated. He moved off, pushing his broom.

Roger looked down at the ball in his hand. It chose me? he thought. What the heck does that mean?

“Hey mister, what…” he started to ask, then stopped. The janitor was gone.

“Weird!” said Roger to the empty room. He shrugged and put the ball in his pocket. For now, he decided to keep this to himself until he gave it some more thought. He patted his jeans pocket. Roger suddenly felt a very strong desire to keep the old baseball safe from any harm. He decided he wouldn’t mention this to anyone – not even Oscar. Not yet.

He walked to join the others.

“About time!” said his sister impatiently. “I’m hungry and I need a shower.”

“We were thinking pizza and maybe bowling tonight or hanging out at the pool, unless you’re too tired,” said Robin Hunter to Roger.

“Woot! Pizza!” Roger, Oscar and Jackie said at the same time.

“We have a majority vote!” said Jack Hunter. “Pizza it is.”

“And the pool! And the arcade room!” said Roger.

“Sure son.” He deepened his voice and said, with a gruff British accent: “It’s not every day your young man turns 11.”

Robin Hunter laughed, and all the kids made various groaning noises.

“What?” Jack Hunter looked slightly hurt. “I thought you guys loved ‘arry.”

“We only heard that line all day!” said Roger.

“Oh well. I guess I am a little corny.”

“It’s okay hon, I love your accent.” His wife kissed him and all three kids covered their eyes and groaned again.

~ * ~ * ~

It was two days later, early evening on a Saturday night. The family was home from their trip and everyone had agreed it had been one of the best times of their lives. Roger must have thanked his parents a hundred times during the trip for his birthday gift.

Roger held the ball from the museum in his hand as he often did now when alone and spun it between his fingers. The weight and roughness of it felt good to him and, because he’d done it so often, very familiar now. He still hadn’t told anyone about the baseball or his strange encounter with the janitor.

Roger flipped through his baseball card book and stopped on one of his most treasured cards, his 1982 Cal Ripken Jr. card, #98T. This was the year Cal Ripken, Jr. was named Rookie of the Year. The next year he would be named American League’s MVP; so, the ’83 card was worth more. But Roger liked this card just fine. He liked to think about him as a rookie player, new to the major leagues because that was exactly how Roger envisioned his own future. Roger loved the Yankees, but Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. was one of Roger’s favorite players. His dad owned the great man’s books and last year their family went to see the new Orioles Stadium at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Roger still remembered that day. The new stadium was beautiful and it seemed gigantic to a young boy’s eyes.

Roger glanced down at his #98T. Cal Ripken Jr.’s first game happened long before Roger was even born. Roger knew that Cal Ripken’s father would end up managing the Oriels and that his brother Billy would play too. How cool would that be to have him and Oscar in the same game while his dad managed. I wish I could have seen the first game the Iron Man came to the plate back in Old Memorial Stadium. Roger spun the ball between his fingers. He closed his eyes and pictured the rookie Cal running out to the plate in Memorial Stadium on a fair spring day. Had Roger looked down at the ball just then, he would have noticed a light seeping between the seams of the crude stitching.

Roger grinned as he thought of it, and he could almost hear the crowds chanting and smell the popcorn and concessions. The sun felt warm on his skin, especially on his left hand where he held the ball…

Roger gasped and dropped the ball. His eyes popped open. For a split second, he could almost swear he saw blue skies and cheering crowds. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. His eyes landed on his digital clock – 10:00 PM. It was a Saturday night in January, not a sunny spring day in April, but Roger could still almost feel that warm sun on his skin. He glanced down at the floor and saw the ball had rolled to a stop near his dresser. He leaned over and picked it up. It still felt warm! So strange.

He stared hard at the ball. I wonder… thought Roger. He closed his eyes again, and this time he tried to really concentrate on what the park would have looked like. He listened for the announcer’s voice and the cheer of the crowd. He imagined the warm sun again, and the breeze ruffling his jacket. The guy in the chair next to him moved too close and jostled his arm and nearly made him spill his drink.

“Sorry kid,” the man said.

“No problem,” murmured Roger. His eyes popped open but this time he held onto the baseball with all his might…

~ * ~ * ~

Roger’s mom knocked on his door and listened.

“Roger?” she called. “Who are you talking to? I’m coming in, I’ve got your clean clothes” she said. She cracked open the door and looked inside and what she saw froze her in place.

For the briefest moment Roger’s mom (who would only much later be calm enough describe what she saw) gazed in shock at a boy-shaped, faintly glowing shimmer in the air of her son’s room. Clutched in the boy’s left hand was a baseball that was glowing like a beacon in the dark. Jets of light rolled from it too fast for her eyes to take in.

In the next beat of her heart, the light winked out, and the room was empty.

Roger’s mom dropped the laundry basked and screamed.

~ To Be Continued ~