Don't miss the exciting conclusion of the most celebrated children's fable of our generation.
"Hey there, little guy."
Mikey looked up. He could hardly see because of all the tears in his eyes. He felt someone press a cloth into his hands. It was a handkerchief. He dried his eyes with it.
Mikey could see a man kneeling in front of him. The man wore a fancy suit and his hair was very fancy. He had seen the man before. He coached another team in the advanced league. They were from the rich part of town. The rich parents who came to watch them play were very obnoxious. They wore pink hats and said they were the best parents in the world.
"Hello, mister," Mikey said. He was not sure if he should trust the man.
"You can call me Frank," said the man. He seemed nice.
"Hey, listen little guy," Frank said, "I've seen you play before. I think you're really good."
"No you don't," Mike said. He blew his nose. "No one thinks I'm any good."
"That's not true." Frank shook his head. "I think you are very good. Lots of people do."
"My dad doesn't think I'm any good. He says I'm not a run producer."
"That's not true either," Frank said. "You hit before Reggie. He doesn't hit the ball very hard, so the other pitchers don't throw any good pitches for you to hit. It's because they're scared of you."
"Reggie's my friend, but he has a disease. He was born without muscles in both his arms."
"I know," Frank told Mikey. "It's not his fault. It's not your fault either."
"It doesn't matter." Mikey rubbed his eyes some more. "My dad never lets me play."
"Well, you know, I've been thinking." The man put a hand on Mikey's shoulder. "Maybe you could come play for my team instead."
"How?" Mikey asked in astonishment.
"I've been talking to Mr. Arthur about maybe letting you come play for us. He feels bad for you, and he knows we'd like you to come play for us. We'd like it a lot. I promise."
"Is that allowed?"
"It sure is. We just have to let your dad's team have one of our players in exchange."
"He'd be glad to get rid of me," Mikey sniffled. "He probably wouldn't even want another player. He already has Jeff and Eric and Howard and Albert and Kevin. He has Brandy too, but she's a girl."
"That would just leave more players for you and me. We could be really good. We could make your dad sorry he was so mean to you."
"I wouldn't want to do that." Mikey gave Frank his handkerchief back. "I still love him. He's my dad."
"Come here." Frank beckoned Mikey to come out from his hiding spot under the bleachers. He did. They walked out to the field together. "You see that?"
It was Big Mike. He was throwing extra practice pitches to Jeff. Jeff kept swinging and missing. When he did hit the ball, he popped it high up in the air. The other children were laughing. But Big Mike kept telling Jeff to make the adjustment and find his swing. He was going to be a star one day.
"That's just Jeff," Mikey said. "He's bad at baseball."
"Does your dad look like he's going to give up on him any time soon?"
"I guess not."
"That's because your father loves Jeff more than he loves you," Frank said. "And it's never going to change."
Mikey wanted to cry again. He watched Big Mike throw another pitch. Jeff swung at it so hard he spun around and fell over in the dirt. The other children laughed at him. But Big Mike just told him he needed to be more comfortable and get into a good rhythm at the plate.
"You know," said Frank, "I've always wondered what 'get into a good rhythm at the plate' meant."
Jeff and Big Mike looked very happy together. Mikey wished he could be that happy some day.
"Maybe you're right," Mikey said quietly. "Maybe things would be better if I wasn't around any more."
"I'll tell that to Mr. Arthur," Frank said. He pulled something out from underneath his coat. "For now, I'd like to give you something." It was a pink baseball cap. "Just for good luck."
"Eww." Mikey was repulsed. "That's for girls."
"Well, maybe you could give it to someone else," Frank said. "Someone special. You know, as a gift."
Mikey thought for a moment. He looked over at the batting cage and saw Brandy swinging her whiffle bat. He was starting to have strange feelings about Brandy. Sometimes he got nervous when she was around. Sometimes he had confusing dreams about her too. It was like they were dancing, or maybe wrestling. Mikey didn't know what it was for sure, but he thought he had seen it on TV before.
"Oh," Mikey replied. He cautiously took hold of the cap. He held it the way children hold slimy lizards by the tail. He studied it carefully. He didn't see any cooties.
"Don't tell anyone," Frank whispered. "But this cap is the secret to my team's success. To our success." He put his finger to his lips. "I'm trusting you with this big secret because I like you."
Mikey smiled. "I'm good with secrets!" He folded the cap and hid it inside his jersey. "Thank you, Frank."
"Remember what we talked about." Frank put a hand on Mikey's shoulder again. "You don't have to be sad any more." He turned around to walk away.
"But Frank," Mikey said suddenly. "If I play on your team, will Big Mike still be my dad?"
Frank turned around again. He didn't speak for a moment. "You don't know about the Law?" he said at last.
Mikey gulped. The Law sounded frightening. He didn't want to get in any trouble. "What's the Law?"
"The Law says that if your father doesn't love you, after a few years you get to have a new dad instead."
"But Big Mike is my dad!" Mikey shouted. "Who would be my new dad?"
"You get to choose," said Frank. "I was hoping you would choose me."
"But I don't even know you. You're a stranger."
Frank made sure his fancy hair wasn't messed up. Then he said: "I know I'm a stranger now, but I won't be forever. Do you know where I live?"
"I live on the East Side. You know, the rich part of town." Frank knelt down in front of Mikey again. "You could come live in the rich part of town with me. You could have lots of nice things and get lots of attention. People on the East Side like to talk about themselves, and I bet they'd like to talk about you too." Frank looked in the direction of the batting cage. "Who knows? Maybe you'll even impress a special young lady some day."
Mikey turned to look at the batting cage too. Brandy saw them looking. She smiled and waved at Mikey. Mikey felt embarrassed. He grinned sheepishly.
Frank stood up. "Just think about what I said," he said to Mikey. Then he turned and walked away.
Mikey watched Frank leave the field. He was confused. He loved his father Big Mike. He didn't want to leave him. But deep down inside, he knew that Big Mike would never love him back. That made Mikey unhappy. He didn't want to be unhappy forever and ever. Still, he hoped that Frank was wrong. He hoped that one day, Big Mike would finally notice him. He hoped that Big Mike would say that he loved him.
When Frank was gone, Mikey turned around and saw Jeff playing catch with their father. They weren't paying any attention to Little Mike. They were laughing and smiling even though Jeff always threw the ball 20 feet over Big Mike's head. Little Mike grabbed his glove. He ran out to the grass where Jeff was playing catch with their father. Mikey watched them closely. He held his glove out for the ball. He waited for his father to throw the ball to him.
The ball never came.