Late Spring of 1953 when Dad finally home from Korea the first thing Scratch wanted to do was go fishing. Fishing with Dad didn’t involve fishing. Oh, he’d weight his line all right but he never tied a hook on the end of it. Why should we let a bunch of hungry fish interrupt a perfectly peaceful evening, he’d say. Fishing with Dad fell down to seeing who could cast the farthest while talking about anything and everything. Scratch needed to talk.
He’d been playing pickup games with Mickey, Jimmy Ray and the gang prior to the start of the official baseball season. Some new kid drifted in and watched. This kid would lean against the far fence, arms folded, legs crossed, kinda shy-like, out of the way. One day Mickey’s team was one short.
“Hey, Kid! Can you play?” asked Mickey.
The kid looked surprised at Mickey’s question, “Yeah, I play. My glove’s at home.”
“You can borrow mine,” said Scratch, throwing it to him underhand. “What’s your name?”
“Right field,” said Mickey.
Well, Little Joe could play all right. He ran down everything hit his way, knew exactly where the ball was going at the crack of the bat. He had a rifle for an arm and when he hit a baseball it stayed hit for a week. Little Joe was Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and Willie Mays all rolled into one.
Scratch took to walking home with him after the game. One evening he said, “Pony League practice starts next week. You coming?”
Little Joe looked doubtful. “I heard most folks around here don’t mix.”-
Scratch didn’t quite grasp what Little Joe was talking about. He told Coach Chalmers about Little Joe. Coach Chalmers looked like he’d seen a ghost and high-tailed it over to the dugout. Over the next few days Scratch tried a couple more times. Coach Chalmers wouldn’t talk about Little Joe. Scratch couldn’t figure it out.
Mickey explained, it’s ‘cause he’s a negro. What’s that got to do with anything? asked Scratched. Dunno, said Mickey, that’s just the way it is.
The whole thing left Scratch confused so when Dad came home from Korea and asked what’d he like to do first Scratch said he wanted to go fishing.
Scratch’s casting on that trip was awful. He couldn’t get his line out half as far as Dad. They talked, mostly about Little Joe. Dad said, you’re old enough to make your own decisions. What would you do, asked Scratch. Dad told Scratch about Big Joe Thompson, Dad’s main mechanic in Korea and Little Joe’s father. Big Joe’s good enough to serve with me, but Little Joe’s not good enough to share a locker room with you, said Dad. Does that make sense to you?
When they got home Scratch asked if he could ask Little Joe over to dinner one night. Mom and Dad said, sure. Little Joe came over. Turned out he and Big Joe liked to fish too. Scratch told Little Joe how he and Dad fished. Little Joe laughed and said, some white folks sure could be crazy.
Scratch stopped going to baseball practice. After a few days Mickey dropped by and asked, “Are you all right?”
“When you coming back to practice?”
“Soon as Little Joe’s allowed.”
“You know that can’t happen.”
“Then I ain’t comin’ back.”
“What you gonna do instead of baseball?”
“Believe I’ll go fishing,” said Scratch and shut the door.