When the tragic, separate deaths of his parents leave Jed Stone an orphan at seven, he embarks on a volatile path fueled by bad choices. After Jed is befriended by a youth pastor who takes him to see a 1943 Chicago Cub World Series game, an errant baseball lands in the bleachers next to them. Among a stampede of wild fans, Jed snags the baseball and later hides it in a secret place.
As Jed grows older, the youth pastor, Peter, attempts to share the concept of God's unconditional love with the boy who will have none of it. As Jed's checkered path leads him from reform school into a life of crime, Peter never wavers in his support of him. When a judge orders Jed to enlist in the Marine Corps, Jed entrusts Peter with his secret and asks him to keep the coveted baseball hidden. Despite all of Peter's efforts and Jed's heroism as a marine, his choices eventually leads him to dark days and eventually full circle where he will make a decision that shines a much-needed ray of hope on two unsuspecting souls.
In this inspirational tale, a troubled boy sets out on a coming-of-age journey where he learns about the power of a baseball, God's love, and his own generous heart.
It was an overcast day in Chicago. It was October 1943. An overhead view of Wrigley Field portrayed a packed stadium, fans warmly dressed to combat the Fall chill. A variety of paraphernalia adorned the whooping crowd. Usually it displayed a large red "C"-- the logo of their beloved home team Cubs.
The wind was blowing from home plate out toward right field in gusts of 25 m.p.h. Players blew on their hands between pitches warming themselves to react to the next pitch. People held radios to their ears trying to splice audio commentary to the view on the diamond. It was a drama on grass as two teams awaited history.
Outside the ballpark the world was immersed in a great war. This game was a respite for those in attendance from the angst and rigors of everyday life in an uncertain world. On any other day they had to feed their family, worry about the future, toil at some job (usually in support of the war effort), keep coal in the furnace, and have milk in the refrigerator.
The game offered an anodyne--an oasis in the midst of a desert. Would this be the day? The pitch? The victory? A positive outcome, although only ephemeral, could fill a void in the emotional depths of onlookers so hungry for an uplifting--a torch in a world darkened by war.
It was the 1943 World Series. It was the seventh and deciding game. Two teams--the hometown Cubs and the odious Bronx Bombers had played six nail-biters in a row, and the Series was tied three games apiece. It was all on the line now!
During this Game 7 the lead had changed several times. But now, going into the bottom of the ninth inning, the bedeviled Bronx Bombers led 6-3. Cub fans had doom in their eyes while the cocky Bombers winked confidently across the diamond at one another.
With two outs in the ninth, the Cubs put together a last straw rally. A ground-rule double, infield single, and walk loaded the bases. Hope and expectation revisited the die-hards. Max was at bat. Now, according to the Chicago Tribune, Max was the leading candidate for the National League MVP . He was a slugger and had led the league in both homers and RBI's. The right man was at the plate. However, Max had also led the league in striking out with 172 whiffs--he was known to be a sucker for a curve on the outside corner.
With the game on the line and Max, a left-handed hitter waiting to bat, the Bomber manager brought in his ace relief pitcher. This left-handed reliever had a nasty curve considered almost unhitable.
The count on Max got to 3 balls, 2 strikes. Max backed out of the box while the Bomber manager strolled to the mound for a conference. A lip reader would have seen the manager tell his reliever, "throw that good, late breaking curve to the outside corner, he'll jump out of his shoes trying to hit it....he'll miss..and we'll be World Champs."
The pitch comes. A curve, low and breaking outside. Max lunges and weakly grounds it down toward the third base coaching box. Here we go again. Push the rewind button. Now, the collective must regroup and undergo yet another psychotic moment.
Pitcher winds and fires. Same pitch. Same lunge. Smack! Contact. Solid contact. A high drive to deep right. Right fielder back against the ivy. He leaps...glove outstretched. Ball gone. Home run. Cubs win the World Series. World Champs.
A nine year old boy, Jed Stone, sat in the bleachers that day. He sat, side by side, with a 20 year old man named Peter, a divinity school student serving an internship at a relatively new Chicago church.
When Max hit the blast heard round the world in that climatic ninth inning, Jed saw it all the way. A wild chase for the errant ball ensued. In the melee Jed snagged it quickly, pocketed it, and sat back down. Game over. Fans gone. What happened to the ball? That is what the Cubs, Max, millions of fans, and the Chicago Tribune wanted to know.
Jed knew the whereabouts of the ball. Only Jed knew.
John Heath served in the navy for four years and subsequently enjoyed a diverse career as president of a corporation, addictions counselor, and treatment center supervisor. Heath has degrees from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (MBA), Western Illinois University (MSE), Iowa State University (BS).Now retired, he lives in Bettendorf, Iowa, where he enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren, and writing. Heath also completed seven marathons after age fifty.
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