A Hidden Talent

By Grace LaFrance

xas Longhorns to victory. He was a designated hitter and could hit the ball harder than anyone. He never wanted to retire from baseball. However, when he was diagnosed with stage 1 pancreatic cancer, he had no choice. He spent the last five years of his life spending as much time with family as possible.

Now, as Dominic Chapman threw the baseball to his best friend, Kyle Anderson, he remembered his Uncle Henry. He loved baseball because of his uncle who taught him everything he knew. Uncle Henry would always say, “Dominic, one day you’re going to be better than me.” Dominic used to always wish that he could be as good as his Uncle Henry. Now, however, he wanted nothing to do with being a baseball star. He felt that he was replacing his uncle in a way. His Uncle Henry was a baseball star, and Dominic has the skills to become one. They even look alike. They both have the same dark hair and blue eyes. Everyone tells Dominic that he is just a smaller version of his uncle.

“Good throw,” said Kyle. He caught the ball and threw it back to Dominic.

Kyle Anderson was Dominic’s best friend. They did almost everything together, including baseball. They are both 14 years old and play for their school’s eighth-grade baseball team. Kyle was easily their best pitcher. Their coach, Coach Murry, wanted Kyle to play with their ninth-grade team. Kyle, however, requested to stay on the eighth-grade team. He said that he liked playing with the eighth graders better. However, Dominic knew that he only stayed on the eighth-grade team because of him.

During practices, Dominic does not try to do anything better than a seventh-grade level. His family does not know this. They just think that Coach Murry does not realize talent when he sees it. Kyle is the only person who knows that Dominic does not use his full potential at practice. Since Dominic does not do well during practice, he does not get played during games. Only occasionally does Dominic get in a game to play. He wants his Uncle Henry to always be remembered as the baseball star of the family. Dominic does not want to take that title away from him.

Kyle always tells Dominic that he could be playing with the tenth graders if he showed Coach Murry his skills. Dominic always replied, “Henry was playing with the ninth graders in eighth grade, not the tenth graders.” The conversation always ended there.

It was the eighth-grade baseball team’s second practice of the baseball season. Everyone was trying their hardest to impress Coach Murry. Everyone except Dominic.

“Dominic, go hit,” said Coach Murry. “Kyle, you pitch.” Dominic and Kyle headed onto the field.

“You can hit this ball,” Kyle whispered to Dominic. “You can show them all what you’ve kept hidden. I’m not saying you have to hit it but think about it.”

Dominic already knew what he was going to do. He was going to miss it. But he knew that Kyle was only trying to help. “I’ll think about it,” replied Dominic.

Dominic walked over to home plate and positioned himself while Kyle walked over to the pitcher’s mound. Kyle pitched the ball. As the ball was coming toward him, Dominic knew that he could make a good play on this ball. His instincts told him to hit it, but he purposely missed it. Dominic looked over at Coach Murry, trying to look apologetic. Coach Murry ran a hand through his hair.

“Kyle, nice pitch,” he said. “Alright everyone, bring it here.” Everyone huddled around Coach Murry as he ended practice.

As everyone started walking towards the dugouts to grab their water bottles, Coach Murry motioned for Dominic to stay behind. “Dominic,” he said. “A word.”

Dominic looked at his coach. “Yes Coach,” said Dominic.

“You confuse me,” said Coach Murry. “I see so much potential in you, but you fail to present it.”

Dominic looked at the ground. He knew that Coach Murry had been thinking about this for a long time. It was only a matter of time before he said something. “I know,” replied Dominic. “My uncle was good and I’m not.”

Coach Murry took a deep breath. “That’s not what I meant,” said Coach Murry. “You go up to bat when you already know that you’re going to miss. I just don’t think that you’re trying as hard as you can.”

Dominic was afraid he would say this. “I’ll try harder,” replied Dominic.

Coach Murry smiled at him.

Dominic looked at the ball in Kyle’s hand. It was a nice day for practice, and everyone was working hard. Even Dominic was working harder than he normally did. He decided that to keep his act going, he would have to hit the ball at least once. Today, he planned to hit the ball, but he would hit it foul. As he stood at home plate, he looked over his shoulder at Coach Murry. His coach nodded at him, and he looked back at Kyle.

Kyle pitched the ball. Dominic instinctively swung the bat. He was halfway through the swing when he realized that he was supposed to hit it foul. He purposely turned his shoulders at the last second. The ball flew almost 430 feet, then landed out. Kyle looked at Dominic, shocked. Dominic had not told him that he was planning to hit it.

Coach Murry rushed over to Dominic. “Dominic, that was amazing,” he started. “If you hit that straight, it would’ve been a home run!”

Dominic looked at his shoes. He was not planning to hit it that far. “It was a lucky hit,” he replied.

Coach Murry looked completely surprised. “Dominic, that was a great hit,” said Coach Murry. Kyle and the rest of the team ran over. Kyle still looked shocked. The rest of the team was ecstatic. “Okay everyone, let’s end practice,” said Coach Murry. “Everyone knows that we have a tournament in Houston this weekend. We have one more practice tomorrow, and then it’s time to show everyone what we’ve got.”

As Kyle and Dominic walked home that day, Dominic explained how Coach Murry had told him to try harder. “So that’s why you hit the ball,” confirmed Kyle.

Dominic nodded. “I wasn’t planning to hit it that far,” Dominic said.

Kyle kicked a rock in front of him. “It was a fastball,” Kyle said.

Dominic looked at Kyle. “What?”

Kyle readjusted his backpack on his shoulders. “I pitched you a fastball,” Kyle said. “Most people aren’t able to hit my fastballs, but you can. You can make some of the best plays with them. That says something about you.”

Dominic thought about this. Maybe Kyle was right. Maybe he could be playing with the tenth graders if he showed Coach Murry his skills. They started walking up Kyle’s long driveway. “I’ll race you up the rest of the driveway,” Dominic said with a smile.

“You’re on,” replied Kyle. Both boys started sprinting up the driveway.

There were three days until the tournament in Houston. Coach Murry just ended their last practice of the week. “Dominic,” Coach Murry said.

Dominic walked over to Coach Murry.

“Talk to me,” said Coach Murry. “You didn’t hit a single ball today. Don’t tell me that you were trying your hardest. I know you weren’t. When you were batting, it was almost like you were avoiding the bait. When you hit the ball yesterday, your form was perfect up until you turned your shoulders. You were using your instincts up until the last second. You didn’t use your instincts once today. You were avoiding them. Why?”

Dominic was utterly surprised. He had never been confronted like this before. He did not know what to say.

“Henry was one of the best baseball players I’ve ever seen,” Coach Murry said.

Dominic was confused. Why would Coach Murry mention his uncle? “Fan of his?” asked Dominic.

Coach Murry pulled out a photo from his pocket. He handed it to Dominic. It was a team photo of the Texas Longhorns the day that Henry Chapman led them to victory. There were six players standing in the back, and five players kneeling in the front. “I played with him,” replied Coach Murry. “That’s him there.” He pointed to a player in the front row. He looked very much like Dominic and had a big smile on his face. “That’s me,” he pointed out a tall, scrawny player in the back.

“I can tell that you have instinct,” Coach Murry continued. “I’ve been a coach for a long time. I can tell by that one hit you had yesterday, that you have potential. It’s up to you to use it.”

Dominic looked at his coach. He did not know what else to say. Coach Murry looked over his shoulder. Kyle was standing on the sidewalk. He was waiting for Dominic to walk home with him and looked bored out of his mind.

“I think Kyle needs some company,” said Coach Murry. “I want you to keep that.” He pointed at the picture.

“Thank you,” said Dominic.

It was the day of the tournament. They had won against every team they played so far. Dominic was in the dugout; he had not played once today. His McMullen Bears uniform was still clean and fresh. The championship game would be the McMullen Bears against the Denton Eagles.

“Alright, this is just another game,” Coach Murry told his players. “If you play like you have been, you’ll do just fine. We’re hitting first, so Adam, you’ll be starting us off.”

Adam stepped out onto the field. Dominic could see that Adam was nervous. The first ball was pitched. Adam swung. He missed by an inch. That was one of the fastest pitches Dominic had ever seen. It was even comparable to Kyle’s.

“It’s okay, Adam,” said Coach Murry. “You got this one. Just focus on the ball.” Adam nodded.

The second ball was pitched. Adam swung, but the ball didn’t hit the bat. The ball made contact with his hand. Adam yelped and dropped the bat. He knelt down and held his injured hand. Coach Murry hurried onto the field.

“Do you think he’ll be okay,” Kyle asked Dominic. Judging by the speed of the ball, Dominic did not think so.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

Coach Murry walked into the dugout. He faced his team. “Adam’s not going to be able to play,” he told them.

“Who’s going to bat then,” they all asked at the same time.

Coach Murry looked around the room. Dominic knew he was the only option he had. “Dominic will,” he said.

Dominic walked out of the dugout. He would be first up to bat. Coach Murry grabbed his arm as he walked by. “Dominic,” he said. “I should’ve told you this earlier, but you need to know this. Henry always talked about you. He had so much faith in you. He always hoped that you would follow in his footsteps.”

Dominic looked at his coach. “They’ll forget about him,” he said. “He won’t be remembered as the baseball star of the family anymore. I will.”

His coach looked at him. “You could never replace your uncle,” Coach Murry said. “No one could do that. Your uncle would’ve wanted you to do your best. He’d be proud that he had a chance to teach you before he passed. You’ll be carrying on his legacy. His memory will be carried with you. Whenever someone thinks of you, they’ll think of him.”

Dominic thought of this as he walked to home plate. He positioned himself, ready to bat. He realized that Coach Murry was right. He would be letting his uncle down if he threw this game. He needed to make his uncle proud and do his best. The pitch was thrown. Dominic swung with all his might, focusing on the ball.

Smack! The ball flew through the air. It landed 460 feet from Dominic. It was a home run! The crowd jumped and screamed. The score was one to nothing.

As the game proceeded, the score stayed close. Dominic felt that his uncle was with him throughout the whole game. Every time he batted, he remembered how much faith his uncle had in him. The final score was eight to seven. The McMullen Bears had won. By the end of the game, Dominic had four home runs with seven runs batted in. He had shown his talent.


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