Big at Heart

Big at Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Big at Heart

Every man stamps his value on himself. . . . Man is made great or small by his own will.

J. C. F. von Schiller

My best friend’s exceptionally small. We’re in the fifth grade, but Larry’s as short as a first-grader. Although his body’s small, Larry’s big at heart. He has a sharp mind, too. All the kids who know Larry like him a lot.

Sometimes he gets his share of teasing, but Larry knows how to handle it. When some smart-mouth calls him Dopey, Sleepy or Bashful, Larry just laughs and starts humming, “Hi, Ho!”

Larry loves sports, but he can’t play some, like football. One tackle and he would be wiped out. But one sport seems to be made for Larry—baseball. He’s our star player. The legs that are too short for track and hurdles can pump up and down, carrying him around those bases faster than you can see. He can slide to safety under a baseman before he’s noticed. And when he’s in the field, he catches and throws that ball like the biggest of us.

I remember when he first came to try out for our Little League team. The coach took one look and shook his head.

“No, I’m sorry, but we need big, strong players. Tell you what—we could use a batboy!”

Larry just grinned and said, “Give me a chance to try out. If you still think I’m a weak player, I’ll be the best batboy you ever had!”

The coach looked at him with respect, handed him a bat, and said, “Okay, it’s a deal.”

Well, obviously no pitcher could aim the ball inside Larry’s ten-inch strike zone! He would be a sure walk to first base every time, and the coach knew how to take advantage of that. And when he saw how fast Larry’s legs could travel and how well he handled the ball, he bent over, patted Larry on the back, and said, “I’m proud to have you on the team.”

We had a winning season, and yesterday was our final game. We were tied with the Comets for the championship. Their pitcher, Matt Crenshaw, was a mean kid who never liked Larry—probably because he could never strike him out.

Somehow we held the Comets through the top of the ninth inning, and we were tied when it was our turn at bat. As Matt passed our bench on the way to the pitcher’s mound, he snarled at Larry, “Why don’t you go back to Snow White where you belong?”

I heard him and jumped up, ready to give Matt a punch, when Larry stepped between us. “Cut it out!” he yelled, pushing me away from Matt. “I can fight for myself.”

Matt looked as if he was going to clobber Larry, but my friend held out his hand and said, “Let’s play baseball, okay? I know you want your team to win and it must be tough to pitch to a shrimp like me.”

“Chicken, you mean. You won’t even swing at the ball!” Then he stamped off to the mound as Larry slowly dropped his outstretched hand.

We had two outs when it was Larry’s turn at bat. The bases weren’t loaded, but the coach told Larry to wait for a walk, as usual. Larry held his ground for three balls. One more and he would walk to first.

Then, for some reason—maybe because Matt had called him “chicken”—Larry reached out for the next pitch. It wasn’t anywhere near his strike zone, but he swung the bat up and around. He connected. We heard a loud crack and saw the ball sail over all the outfielders. They had to chase after it, and Larry’s legs started churning. Like locomotive wheels, they went faster and faster, rounding second and third and heading for home. The Comets finally retrieved the ball and passed it to the catcher. Larry slid safely under him as he caught it.

We had our winning run, the game was over, and we were the champs. After we were presented with our winner’s trophy, we gave it to Larry and took turns putting him on our shoulders and marching around the field.

I was carrying him when we passed Matt. “Put me down for a minute,” Larry said. He walked over to Matt with his hand extended again for the handshake Matt had refused earlier.

“It was a good game,” Larry said, “and you came close to winning it. . . .”

Matt looked at Larry for what seemed like a long time, but finally Matt took Larry’s hand and shook it.

“You may be a shrimp,” he said, “but you’re no chicken. You deserved to win.”

Then Larry and I ran back to the rest of our team. We were all going to the pizza place for a victory celebration. I sure was proud to have Larry as a friend. Like I said, he’s big in the ways that really count.

Mark Schulle
As told by Bunny Schulle

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