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Authors: Chris Ballard

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One Shot at Forever

BOOK: One Shot at Forever
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ONE SHOT AT
FOREVER

A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season

Chris Ballard

Dedication

To Alexandra, Callie, and Eliza,

who make this all worthwhile

Epigraph

“Chris Ballard finds the heart in the heartland, in this inspirational tale of a small-school ball club that reaches for glory.”

—Edward Achorn, author of
Fifty-nine in '84

Contents

T
ITLE
P
AGE

D
EDICATION

E
PIGRAPH

I
LLINOIS

P
ROLOGUE

Part One
Welcome to Macon

P
RELUDE

1 B
EGINNINGS

2 S
HARK

3 W
RITE
Y
OUR
O
WN
O
BITUARY

4 “P
RACTICE
I
S
O
PTIONAL”

5 L
OST IN THE
C
ORN

6 H
E
A
IN'T
G
OT
S
HIT

7 I
T
O
NLY
T
AKES
O
NE

8 T
HE
A
NNOUNCEMENT

9 L
ONG
S
UMMER
N
IGHTS

10 U
N
-A
MERICAN, OR
U
NPATRIOTIC

Part Two
The Forever Season

P
RELUDE

11 A
NOTHER
S
HOT

12 H
IPPIES
, T
APE
D
ECKS, AND A
S
ILENT
I
NFIELD

P
HOTO
I
NSERTS

13 T
HE
F
IRST
S
TEP

14 W
E'VE
O
NLY
J
UST
B
EGUN

15 B
IG
C
OOP

16 R
IDING INTO
P
EORIA

17 T
HE
B
ASEBALL
F
ACTORY

18 T
HE
D
RUMS

19 O
NE
S
HOT

20 J
UNE
1971

Part Three
Ghosts

21 N
EVER THE
S
AME

22 T
HE
R
ETURN

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

A
BOUT THE
A
UTHOR

N
OTES

P
RAISE

C
OPYRIGHT

A
BOUT THE
P
UBLISHER

Illinois

Prologue
Macon, Illinois, Spring 2010

Out in the corn country of central Illinois the clouds stretch forever, thick and soft, as if painted onto the sky of an old-time movie set. Below them lies Route 51, two lanes that'll take you to Chicago in three hours or St. Louis in two if you really gun it. Years ago you had no choice but to drive through each of the rural outposts along the highway, but now the road has bypasses, so the towns wash past, invisible but for a water tower, maybe a church spire. Moweaqua. Radford. Dunkel. They're just names on turnoff signs.

Macon appears no different. It flashes by in less than a minute, marked only by an exit and a sign that reads A C
ITY OF
P
ROGRESS
B
UILT ON
P
RIDE
, E
ST
. 1869. A glance down the streets, beyond the town marker that reads P
OPULATION
1,200, suggests progress has slowed of late. The Macon Motel, hard by the highway, is a run-down, one-story building with a plastic billboard that, in listing the amenities, reads only
PHONE
. A bit farther down the road, the battered façade of the Whit's End, the town's only restaurant, is visible, promising C
ARRY
-O
UT
B
EER
.

It's worth pulling over here, though, just off the exit at Andrews Street. Head into the P&V Quickstop, the one next to the Dollar General store, and look past the tank-topped blonde at the cash register, the one with the sad eyes who's working her gum as if she needs it to last the whole afternoon. Keep going, above the dusty disposable cameras and the C
OPENHAGEN
sign, and you'll see it, up on the highest shelf, scuffed and dulled, its miniature batter frozen in midswing.

The cashier doesn't even know the trophy is there, just shrugs and chews when it's pointed out. Then again, she's never heard the story of the Macon High Ironmen of 1971, knows nothing about their unlikely coach and the most improbable, magical season in the history of Illinois high school baseball. Plenty of people around here don't.

After all, a lot's changed in Macon since then. Many of the family farms have been bought up by big business. Commuters moved in from Decatur, twenty minutes to the north. Schools consolidated. When Macon High became Meridian High in 1994—the same brick buildings just with new signs slapped on them—the basements and trophy cases were emptied of memorabilia.

Now the story of the Ironmen must live on in other ways. Through the white-haired man down at the Whit's End, the one with stacks of old news clips. Through the stooped newspaper reporter up in Decatur. Through the third base coach in the dugout of the Atlanta Braves, the one who still listens to the team's old fight song on the drive to spring training every year. And most of all, through the quiet, hazel-eyed man, his hair now gray, his hips rickety, who sometimes stops by the P&V late at night to steal a glance up at the piece of his life that remains on that shelf.

Standing there, peering up, the man sometimes wonders how one long-forgotten season can hold so much power. How its memory can lift up some men but haunt others. How it can continue to change so many lives.

Part One
Welcome to Macon

BOOK: One Shot at Forever
9.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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