'The Magic Home Run Bat'

Matt was no good at softball. When he tried to hit the ball, he did not hear Thwack! Instead he heard Ka-ping or Ka-pop. But, more often, only Sw-i-i-ssh, as the ball whizzed by. When it came time to choose up teams, Matt was always the last one picked.

"Maybe I need a new glove," Matt told his father. "Or a new bat."

"All you need is practice," said his father.

One day Matt went to the park to watch the older boys play. If he watched closely, he could find out the secret of hitting the ball with a Thwack!

A boy in a red cap came to bat. He swung at the ball. The bat went Cr-aack! even better than Th-wack! The ball sailed high in the air and over the fence. The team cheered. He had hit a home run. The next time the red cap came to bat, there were two men on base. Cr-aack! Another home run. The team cheered. And so it went all afternoon. The boy in the red cap, with five home runs, was the hero of the day.

After the game, the boy in the red cap got a drink and sat on the bench next to Matt.

Matt said, "Good game!"

Red Cap said, "It was OK."

"You hit a lot of home runs."

The boy said, "I always do."

"Must be fun!"

"It gets boring." He stood and turned to leave.

"Hey, you forgot your bat," said Matt.

"You can have it," said Red Cap. "I'm taking up basketball." Head down, he left the playground.

Matt took the bat and swung it. The bat felt very light. How could Red Cap have hit all those homers? That night, Matt showed his Dad the bat.

Dad shook his head. "Waste of money. All you need is practice."

Matt shrugged. "Will you toss me a few balls before dinner?"

At dinnertime Matt and his father came in, exhausted. They had been chasing balls that Matt had hit through trees, over fences, into ponds — every one out of the park.

"You mean," said Dad, "that you never get chosen to play?"

"Once in a while I get to pitch hit."

Dad attacked his mashed potatoes."One of these days you'll show them!"

The next day after school, Mr. James, the playground coach, began tossing slow pitches to the boys for warm-up. Thunk. KaPop. Whack. And then threw to Matt. CRRRACK! The ball flew out of the playground.

"Matt," he called. "That was a good hit. But will you try to keep the ball inside the playground?"

Matt socked another ground ball that went under the fence. And when it came time to choose up sides, Matt became first pick. When Matt's team, the Flyers, played the Vikings, their team won by ten runs. Against the Rangers, nine runs.

In no time Matt was a hero. He got invited everywhere, made a dozen new friends. Which was fun. For a while. But one day, after they'd beat the Hornets, the league's best team, Matt found himself getting depressed. What fun was a game when he always knew the outcome?

The season ended. At the awards dinner, the Flyers were presented with a large winged trophy. And Matt was honored with a plaque as Player of the Year. His Mom and Dad clapped loudly. Matt tried to look happy and excited as he accepted his award. But in his heart Matt knew he didn't deserve this honor. All his success was due to that crazy bat.

The next day Matt saw coach Jenks in the hall. The coach stopped to congratulate him once more. Matt reached into his locker and pulled out his magic bat. "Here, he said. "Give this to the team."

Coach looked puzzled. "But Matt. You'll need it to practice over the summer.

"Naw," said Matt. "Next season I'm trying out for basketball."

Look for the author's new book "Monsters, Mind Your Manners," in stores this month.

Special thanks to Laura-Susan Thomas for her illustration. To see more of her work, visit childrensillustrators.com/illustrator.cgi/lsseismiccow

For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids . Under Short Stories, there are two more baseball stories ? "The Boy Next Door" and "The Ramona Gardens Sluggers."

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