Coming Monday, July 6th: Donny’s Perfect Game

Coming Monday, July 6th, on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Donny’s Perfect Game, M. L. Shochet’s debut novel, follows Donny Shapiro as he navigates through the challenges of baseball, school, and playing alongside his archrival… on his quest to pitch the perfect game!

Be sure to watch the trailer, and scroll down to read a sample!

Donny’s Perfect Game: Chapter 1

“Donny, wake up!”

I let out a low groan and slightly lifted one eyelid. “What?”

“Donny, wake up now! You’re going to be late for school,” my mom said firmly.

I pulled myself out of bed, slowly walked to the bathroom, washed my hands, and put on the outfit for school I had picked out the night before.

I had the dream again last night. This was the fourth night in a row. Maybe that’s why I was still feeling tired, even though I had gone to sleep early.

I walked into the kitchen, grabbed a bowl and a spoon, and poured myself some cereal and milk. As I ate my breakfast, my mother walked into the room, tousled my light brown hair, and gave me a kiss on the forehead before starting to make herself some coffee.

“Mom, I had the dream again,” I said.

“What dream, honey?” my mom asked, her back turned to me.

“Mom, you know. The nightmare I’ve had every night this week.”

“Oh, honey, I don’t know if I’d call it a nightmare.”

“It sure feels like one to me.”

The dream was always the same. I am pitching for my little league team, which I love to do. I’m pitching great. My fastballs are fast. My changeups keep the batters off balance. My curveballs go exactly over the corner of the plate. Strike one. Strike two. Strike three. Then a ground out. Then another strikeout. Everything goes great, inning after inning. I’m pitching a perfect game!

A perfect game, that is, until one of my pitches goes wild. My curveball accidentally curves a little too much, and causes the batter to jump out of the way to avoid getting hit. In my dream, the batter gets up off the ground and glares at me with anger in his eyes. And that’s when the dream becomes a nightmare.

I can’t calm down and get control, no matter how hard I try. All my breaking pitches start to miss the plate. My fastball slows down, and my changeup doesn’t fool anyone. I give up two walks, then a single and two doubles, and then finally a home run. And just like that, my perfect game has become a six-run inning that I just can’t get out of. The manager takes me out of the game.

Then I wake up in a sweat.

That’s how the dream has happened the last four nights.

“Oh, Donny, I’m sorry that you have been having that bad dream over and over again. Maybe you could talk to Coach Max about it later,” Mom suggested.

“I can’t tell Coach Max!” I said loudly, almost yelling. “He’s going to think I never got over what happened at last year’s playoff game, and he’ll never let me pitch again!”

“But you didn’t get over it, honey,” Mom replied calmly. “That’s why you keep having the dream.”

“Well, yes, but…he’s not supposed to know that,” I said. “And besides, the dream has to stop sometime, right?”

HONK! HONK!

The loud horn of the school bus interrupted our conversation.

“Donny, you’re late for the bus again! Hurry up! It’s waiting for you!”

 I took one last bite, stood up, and got my backpack on. As I was about to walk out the door, my mom stopped me.

“Donny, your pants look short. Have you been growing?”

The fact was, I had been growing. I was already pretty tall for my age. At my last doctor’s appointment, I was measured at 5’2”, but I felt like I had grown at least an inch or so since then. But now wasn’t really the time to talk about that.

“Mom, I gotta go. Can’t talk now,” I quickly said, and kept walking to the door.

“Maybe we can go out to look for new pants one evening this week,” my mom said, ignoring the fact that I was already late.

HONK! HONK!

“Mom, I have to go! Love you! Bye!” I called as I ran out the door.

Order your copy from Amazon today!

BENchwarmer, Chapter 6

This is the sixth chapter of the BENchwarmer serial, published exclusively on wholesome-stories.com. Make sure you have read the earlier chapters before reading this chapter.

The first half concluded with a loud buzz from the scorer’s table, and I looked up at the scoreboard. There must have been more scoring while I had my head down, because our team was up by even more, 30-16.

No thanks to me, I thought.

Everyone went to the bench to get their water bottles and listen to Coach for a few minutes while they caught their breath before the start of the second half. Coach stood up, while the players all sat on the long, metal bench facing him. I personally didn’t have much of a need to catch my breath, as I had barely been in the game. In fact, since Allen Walker and Kevin Levine had stayed in the game until the end of the first half, I had played the shortest amount of anyone on the team.

Coach Jones congratulated us on what we did well, and reminded us to not let our guard down and let the other team go on a run and get back into the game. 

“Box out and crash the boards,” Coach said, as he always did, reminding us to get into good position for rebounds, and to rebound aggressively.

“Keep that ball moving on offense. Let’s just keep playing our game, guys. Everyone’s doing great.”

Yeah, except for me.

“Okay, here’s the lineup to start the second half: Ben Taylor is starting at the one, Allen Walker is the two, Michael Lopez is still in at the three, Kevin’s in at the four, and John Green is our center. Gerald, William and Josh are starting on the bench, but we’ll get you guys in soon.”

I was excited to start the second half, even though I realized that Coach always put in the backups to start the second half. Even so, it was sort of a fresh start, and another chance to put a positive mark on the game. I hopped a little in place and moved my arms a bit to warm them up.

“Go get ‘em, Ben,” William said to me, and bumped my fist.

FWEET!

The referee whistled to signal the end of halftime, and stood at the baseline, waiting to hand the ball to the Sharks to pass it inbounds.

Since our team had won the opening tip-off, the Sharks started with the ball. With Number 22 on the bench to start the second half, Number 16 brought the ball up the court. I met him just beyond half-court in my defensive stance. He tried to dribble around me to the right and then the left, but I stopped him both times. Number 16 turned away from me and passed it to his shooting guard, who had come up near half-court to help him. Then, Number 16 surprised me by bolting toward the basket, obviously hoping for a pass back from his teammate. I ran after him. Sure enough, the shooting guard threw a strong, over-the-head pass in his direction. 

I stuck my arm out in the direction of the ball, and the ball hit my hand, bounced on the court, and then went out of bounds.

FWEET! “Out of bounds! Blue ball!” The referee said, pointing in the direction of the Sharks’ basket.

As the referee handed the ball to the Sharks forward standing out of bounds so that he could pass it in, I took a few steps away from Number 16, who was standing in the center of the court at the three point line, what we call “the top of the key.”  

Seeing his teammate so open, the Sharks forward threw a soft, arching inbound pass out to Number 16, and I seized the opportunity to jump in front of my opponent and snatch the ball from the air. I streaked down the court with no one in front of me. As I got to the basket, I slowed down a little as I prepared to jump up and lay the ball in. 

As I attempted the layup, someone slammed into me from behind, knocking me down to the floor and making my shot miss wildly.

Ouch, I thought to myself, lying on the floor for a few seconds. Guess I shouldn’t have slowed down. Coach always tells me not to…

FWEET! “Personal Foul, Blue Number 16! Two shots!” The referee shouted.

I got up off the floor, and looked back at Number 16, who was now staring at me. He looked like a mean guy. Not scary or anything. Just mean. Maybe he was frustrated his team was losing so badly. Either way, I wasn’t scared of him, nor was I going to let him think that he intimidated me. I walked to the foul line, staring right back at him.

I stood behind the free throw line as the Eagles and the Sharks players lined up at the spots around the painted area. The referee bounced me the ball. I followed the same free throw routine that Chris Paul always does. Dribble the ball once. Catch it. Adjust my hands on the ball. Bend my knees slightly and shoot.

Swish!

“Nice, Ben!” Coach called out from the bench after my first shot. 

I caught the ball again from the referee and went into the same routine. Dribble the ball once. Catch it. Adjust my hands on the ball. Bend my knees slightly and shoot.

Swish!

As we continued playing for the next few minutes, everything felt so good and normal again. True, I didn’t have all the starters playing alongside me, especially my best friend William, but I was still able to get into a groove on offense and stop my man on defense.

The Sharks called timeout to regroup, and I looked up at the scoreboard. We were winning, bigtime, 42-20 with fifteen minutes still left to play. It was shaping up to be a real blowout.

In our huddle, Coach Jones congratulated the players on a job well done so far, and said that the same players that had been on the floor would stay in the game.

Yes! I thought. I’m finally going to get some decent playing time.

Coach told us not to let our guard down, though, and reminded us that the game wasn’t over yet.

The Sharks came back out on the floor with all five of their starters, which meant that I would be covering Number 22 again, the same guy who had given me some trouble before.

It was likely that the Sharks had called timeout and brought back in all their starters in order to make one last strong push to catch up before the game was totally out of reach. We could expect their very best effort in the minutes to come.

Continue to Chapter 7

BENchwarmer, Chapter 5

This is the fifth chapter of the BENchwarmer serial, published exclusively on wholesome-stories.com. If you haven’t seen them yet, make sure to read Chapters 1 and 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4 before reading this chapter.


Since I had fouled Number 22 while he was trying to shoot, he would have the chance to take two free throws.

Number 22 stood at the free throw line, and the most of the players from both teams stood around the edges of the painted area on the court beneath it so that they would be ready to get a rebound if Number 22 missed his second shot.

William and I, the guards, stood behind the shooter on each side of the three point line. We weren’t particularly good rebounders, and were staying back in order to get a head start on a possible fast break in case our team got the rebound.

While everyone was getting set up in their positions, one of the Sharks’ guards walked up to me and started talking to me.

“Hey, isn’t your name Ben?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Weren’t you the starting point guard for your team last year? You were pretty good, from what I remember.” He continued.

Wow, way to rub it in, I thought.

“I was. But now we have a new kid to play point guard, and Coach chose him to start over me,” I told my opponent.

“I see,” said the Sharks guard. “I have to admit, he seems like a special player. Really strong and quick, and he’s got skills, too. Seems like he’s going to be in the lineup to stay. Good for your team, but tough break for you, man. Sorry.”

Wow, way to rub it in even more.

I just nodded and looked away. If this guy was trying to make me feel better, he was doing a terrible job at it.

Looking back to the free throw line, I saw Number 22 swish his first free throw through the hoop for one point. His teammates and coach clapped for him.

Suddenly, I heard the referee’s whistle to signal a substitution, and I heard Gerald call out from behind me, “Ben, I’m in for you!”

I couldn’t believe it! I had just gotten in the game a few minutes ago, and now I was being taken out again?!

I turned toward Gerald and asked him quietly, “You sure? I just got in!”

Gerald nodded his head and said, “Sorry, man. Coach’s orders.”

I sat down on the bench alongside William and Josh Martin, who had also just come out of the game, and looked at the game clock, which now showed 1:57, one minute and fifty-seven seconds left in the first half. Each half was sixteen minutes long, and I had entered the game when there were a little more than five minutes left in the half. Doing a quick calculation in my head, I realized I had been in the game for just over three minutes! I hung my head down and just stared at the floor. This was so different from last year.

In the meantime, Number 22 had made his second foul shot, and Gerald started taking the ball up for our team to start our offense.

Coach came over to me on the bench during the action and put his hand gently on my shoulder for a second before removing it. 

“Sorry, Ben. You just picked up two quick fouls out there, and we don’t want you to foul out, in case we need you later in the game,” Coach Jones said.

I understood my coach’s explanation, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I just kept staring at the floor, trying not to cry.

Continue to Chapter 6

BENchwarmer, Chapter 4

This is the fourth chapter of the BENchwarmer serial, published exclusively on wholesome-stories.com. If you haven’t seen them yet, make sure to read Chapters 1 and 2, and Chapter 3.

As we waited for Josh to take his second free throw shot, I surveyed the court around me. 

I was obviously the point guard on the floor for our team, and William, who had started the game, was the shooting guard alongside me. I flashed a smile to William, who smiled back at me. Allen Walker, who could play at either guard or forward, had just come into the game to play the small forward position. Josh Martin, about to shoot his second free throw, was obviously still in the game as the power forward, and Kevin Levine had subbed in for John Green at center.

The opposing point guard on the Sharks was jersey number 22, who I would be guarding on defense. While he was supposed to be one of their best players, he didn’t seem so intimidating to me. He was only a little taller than me, so that size shouldn’t be an issue. Also, he had been running up and down the court since the start of the game, and I had just entered with fresh legs. I was confident I would be able to keep up with him. 

Josh made his second free throw shot, and we all ran back on defense.  I bent my knees, leaned a little on the balls of my feet, and crouched a little into a defensive stance, waiting just behind the half-court circle as Number 22 brought the ball up the court. 

He sure looks calm, considering his team is losing by 13 points, I thought to myself. Maybe a little too calm. Let’s see if I can catch him off guard and steal the ball away. That would get Coach’s attention.

As Number 22 crossed over half-court, I reached with my left hand toward his right side to poke the ball loose. I was too slow.  Number 22 did a crossover dribble and drove to his left, which was my right.  As he made the move, he bumped my right shoulder, which sent me falling to the floor and him stumbling a few steps forward.

FWEET! The referee’s whistle blew, stopping the play. My feet were not set when Number 22 bumped me, so the ref was definitely calling a foul on me.

“Blocking foul, White, number 3,” called the referee to the scorer’s table.

That was me, alright.  I always chose number 3, after my favorite player, Chris Paul. He was my favorite since I started watching basketball even before I started playing, and was the player whose style I most tried to emulate.

Okay, I guess I’m being a little too aggressive, I thought to myself. Let me just play my normal game.

The Sharks passed the ball in to Number 22 again, and instead of reaching for a steal, I just played my normal, shutdown defense. The guard tried to make a move, but I beat him to the spot, and he couldn’t get past me. He passed the ball to one of his forwards, who took a guarded mid-range shot, and missed.

Kevin Levine leapt, caught the rebound above his head and quickly passed it to me.  I turned my head up court to see Allen Walker starting to sprint up the right side of the court, unguarded. I threw a strong chest pass in his direction. It bounced once before Allen caught it in stride, dribbled it once, and went up for the layup. The ball bounced lightly off the backboard and through the hoop!  Two points!

As Allen ran back to the rest of us on defense I heard Coach Jones yelling from the bench, “Attaway, Allen! Great finish!  Nice pass, Ben! Good rebound, Kevin! Keep it up!”

It felt great to make the assist to Allen, and also great to hear Coach cheering for us on the sideline.

Alright, let’s do this again, I thought to myself as Number 22 brought the ball up the court again.  Let’s stop them again.

Number 22 passed the ball quickly to his shooting guard, then ran, planted his feet, and stood firmly right next to William Lee on the right side. I immediately recognized what was going on. Number 22 was trying to set a pick on William, blocking him so that the shooting guard could dribble around William and get open to take a shot or drive to the basket.  

In situations like these, we had a several options. First, William and I could switch the players we were guarding. Another possibility was that William could try to stay with his man and fight through the pick. Or, William could take a step back to go “underneath” the pick, and then quickly step back up again to guard his opponent. In some situations, we could surprise the other team by double-teaming the player with the ball and trying to steal it away. Each technique had its strengths and weaknesses. 

Since we had to both know what was going on, it was important for us to communicate verbally. Otherwise, William might think we were switching while I would think he would try to stay with his man, and then we would end up with his man being unguarded.

As the shooting guard made a quick move to go left around the pick and evade William, I quickly called out, “Switch!”  

I immediately stepped up to guard the shooting guard, slowing him down.  Stopped, He turned left and fired a pass back to Number 22, who was now guarded by William.

Number 22 made a sharp move to his left, then did a crossover dribble to his right side, catching William off-balance. Number 22 drove to the middle of the lane, and shot a running floater over Kevin Levine, who had tried to come up and stop him. The ball bounced off the middle of the backboard and went in. Two points for the Sharks.

Josh Martin picked up the ball off the floor, ran to the baseline, and passed the ball inbounds to me to bring the ball up the court.

Hm, I thought to myself as I dribbled upcourt. Maybe they were planning that the whole time to get me away from guarding Number 22. If they try that again, I’m not going to call a switch.

I brought the ball to the top of the key and passed left to Kevin, who was standing on the right elbow. Kevin caught it and passed it up to William, standing at about the three-point line, who passed it down to Josh Martin.  Josh turned his back to the basket and dribbled backward twice toward the basket while his man stood strongly behind him, making it difficult for him to advance.

Josh turned and made a move like he was going to shoot, and then quickly passed the ball back out to William, who fired a three-pointer as his man jumped out at him. My teammates, not relying on William to make the shot, immediately ran in for the rebound, as I took a few steps back in order to get back on defense more quickly in case William missed.

Sure enough, the ball clanged against the back rim and bounced a long way, in front of me to my left, but out of my reach. Number 22 grabbed the ball and started streaking up the court toward me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another blue jersey start to run down the other side of the court as they tried to create a 2-on-1 fast break. I turned and ran back to set up to try to stop the two players myself.

Standing a few steps underneath behind the foul line,, I tried to position myself between Number 22 and where I thought the other player would go, so that Number 22 would not be able to pass the ball to his teammate. Number 22 kept dribbling upcourt, and as he got just past the foul line, I made my move and ran toward him, still sort of blocking his passing lane to his teammate. Number 22 made a move and tried to go up for a layup. I jumped up to try to block his shot, and…

…missed, and slapped him on the wrist instead.

FWEET!

The referee’s whistle blew again to call another foul on me. Number 22’s shot, altered by my foul, fell short of the basket.

The referee held his right hand up with his fist clenched as he called out, “Personal Foul, number 3. Two shots.”

I had stopped the fast break, but that was my second foul.  Three more in the game and I would foul out, and would be disqualified from playing in the rest of the game.

Continue to Chapter 5

BENchwarmer, Chapter 3

This is Chapter 3 of BENchwarmer, a serial novel published exclusively on this site. Readers are advised to read chapters 1 and 2 before reading this chapter.

As Coach Jones walked away, I thought about our five starting lineup positions. Maybe there was someone else I could replace…

Obviously, Gerald Moore was our new starting point guard, or “one”.  Tall, strong and fast, his responsibility was to take the ball down the court, run our offensive plays, and make good passes.  As Coach had mentioned, he also had the ability to drive through the crowded lane and score.

William Lee was our shooting guard, or “two”.  William was an inch or two taller than I was, was super quick, and specialized in scoring.  He didn’t excel in running the offense like a point guard, but when he caught the ball, he was a threat to score from anywhere on the court.  While William himself wasn’t our best defender, he could dribble around almost any opposing defender, and had the most accurate 3-point shot on the team as well.  I guess I couldn’t replace our biggest scoring threat.  Besides, William was my best friend on the team, and I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to take away his starting spot.

Michael Lopez was our small forward, or “three”. Lopez was about 8 inches taller than I was, was a good defender and rebounder, and was a threat both to drive to the basket and score mid-range shots.  At my size, I definitely couldn’t rebound or drive the lane like Michael could.

At power forward, or “four”, we had Josh Martin, and at center, or “five”, John Green.  Both guys were around six feet tall and much stronger than me.  Unlike my style of play, their job was to play on the inside on offense and defense, trying to score up close and getting tough rebounds against similarly-sized opponents.  No way I could replace one of them.

I guess Coach was right. Still sad, I halfheartedly jogged back onto the court to join the team for the last few minutes of warm-up drills. 

William, my best friend, came up behind me in the layup line and patted me on my right shoulder. 

I turned my head back a little toward him and said, “Hey William, did you hear the news?” I tried to smile so that I wouldn’t start crying.

 “Yeah, I heard that Gerald got the starting spot.  It’s gonna be okay, Ben. You’ll still get your chance to show how great you are,” William said.

“Thanks, William,” I said, only half-believing him, and turned around to catch the ball as I moved up in the line.

It was my turn in the layup line.  I dribbled toward the basket, jumped up off my inside foot, extended my right hand to gently shoot the ball off the glass backboard, and watched as the ball hit the backboard and the left side of the rim before bouncing out. I caught the ball and stood for a second before passing the ball to the opposite line and running to take my place in the back of the line. I was shaking my head. I had missed a layup. Me, Ben Taylor, who practices layups every day and never misses an open layup. But did it even matter any more? The team barely needed me, anyway, it seemed.


Now, shaking my head again as I sat on the bench during the first ten minutes of our game against the Sharks, I felt even worse. Watching the game, it was obvious that the team didn’t need me at all. Gerald really was quite good. He had already scored eight points of his own and assisted on several other field goals. Our team was winning 20-8, with a quarter of the game already in the books.

Suddenly, I heard Coach’s voice call out, “Ben, Allen, Kevin! Get ready! You guys are subbing in at the next whistle. Gerald, Michael and John are coming out.”

Subbing in? The words sounded so strange to my ears. I stood up, stretched a little, and tucked in my shirt as I waited at the scorekeeper’s table for the next whistle.

Less than a minute later, Josh, our power forward, tried to go in for a layup, and was hit on the arm by one of the Sharks. The referee blew his whistle to call the foul.

“Foul, Blue number 24. Two shots,” the referee yelled to the scorer’s table.

Still watching from the sideline, I saw as Josh shot his first free throw. It hit the back of the rim, then the right side of the rim and bounced out.

The referee blew his whistle again and gestured to us to come onto the court. We ran onto the court, calling out the names of the players we were replacing. I called Gerald’s name, and gave him a high-five as he jogged off the court and passed me.

I was finally in! It was time to prove that I deserve to have the starting spot.

Continue to Chapter 4

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Beginning Readers: AD and AP Words

Reminder: The short “a” sound is in the beginning of the word “apple”.

Recommendation: An adult or older sibling should read the main parts of the story, pausing to allow the early reader to read the bold words.

Brad and His Dad: AD words

Brad was feeling sad.

Brad was feeling sad because his dad was mad.

Brad’s dad was mad because Brad had done something bad.

Brad had drawn a picture of his dad with a crayon

on their house’s newly-painted walls.


The Trip: AP words

Steven put on his cap.

Steven took out his map.

“Let’s go!” Steven said to his dad.

“Go where?” his dad asked.

Steven said, “Over there is a gap.”

His dad asked, “Why do you have your cap and your map for a walk to a gap

between our neighbor’s houses?”

“Because it’s fun!” Steven said, and gave a clap.

“After this, I’m going to need a nap,” Dad said.

Beginning Readers: OP words

Reminder: The short “o” sound is in the beginning of the word “Octopus”

Recommendation: An adult or older sibling should read the main parts of the story, pausing to allow the early reader to read the bold words.

Stop the Mop

Bob started to mop.

Bob did not stop.

Stop!” cried Tom.

Stop what?” asked Bob.

Stop the mop!” said Tom.

Drop the mop?” asked Bob.

“Yes,” said Tom.

Bob did drop the mop.

The mop did not go plop, flop or pop.

It went bang.

“Why did I need to stop and drop the mop?” asked Bob.

“I don’t like wet floors,” said Tom.

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BENchwarmer, Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 1

I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it.

From when I was six years-old, I, Ben Taylor, was the best basketball player in my class. In fact, I was the only one who was able to shoot the ball into a ten-foot basket. As we got older, I was always the one picked first for recess games, and I was always one of the best players of my recreation league basketball team. The starting point guard, of course.

I wasn’t the fastest guy around, but I had skills, and I practiced a lot. Every day after school I shot and dribbled outside for at least an hour, working on set shots, jump shots, free throws, you name it. I earned my spot.

I was no slouch on defense, either. I prided myself on being a lock-down defender, and keeping the player I was guarding to a minimum of points.

And now? Now? Now I was in seventh grade, it was our team’s first basketball game of the season, and for the first time in my life, I was a backup.

There was another point guard this year on our team, the Ridgeview Eagles, who had moved in from out of town. His name was Gerald, and I had to admit, he was pretty good. We had been competing for the starting point guard spot since team practices had started in late fall, with Coach Jones always telling us whenever we asked that he hadn’t yet made his decision on who would be the starter. Just last week, Coach Jones had told us the rest of the starting lineup, but said that he would have to let us know on game day who would be the starting point guard. Gerald was good, but I never believed that he would actually get the starting spot.

And now? Now? Now I was sitting on the bench as the game began, watching the team play the first quarter from the sidelines.

Chapter 2

Just fifteen minutes before, during layup drills, Coach Jones had taken us both over to the bench to speak with us privately.

“Listen, guys,” he had said, “You both are really great players, and have both earned your spot on this team. There can only be one starting point guard, though. It was a really tough decision, but I have decided to make Gerald the starter. Nothing against you, Ben, but Gerald’s just a little bigger and stronger.” Coach paused for a second before concluding, “Okay, go back out there and finish warm-ups, guys.”

I watched as Gerald ran back out to the team and said something I couldn’t hear to some of the guys. They gave him high-fives before walking back into the layup lines. I needed to speak to Coach Jones.

“Coach?” I asked with a tone that wasn’t as polite as it should have been.

“Yes, Ben?” Coach responded.

I stared down at the floor while I said, “You know this is the first time in my life that I’m a backup. Why am I not the starter? I’ve always been a starter.”

“I know, Ben,” Coach said, looking me in the eyes, which were tearing up. “And your fundamentals and court awareness are really great. It’s really nothing against you. Gerald’s just a little bigger, stronger, and faster, which makes him harder to stop. But don’t worry, Ben. You’re going to get some playing time, also.”

The truth was that Gerald was more than a little bigger than me. The last time I measured myself, I was 4 feet, 7 and three-quarters inches tall, which made me the shortest guy on the team. Gerald must have been almost six feet tall, and loomed over me when we stood together.  And he had real muscles, too, while I was as skinny as a rail. It was true that his size and strength gave him an advantage, but I didn’t give up trying to change Coach’s mind..

“But maybe we could both start, and someone else could sit on the bench,” I said to Coach Jones.

“I thought about that also, Ben, but I don’t think there’s another player you could replace that would leave our starting lineup with the pieces that it needs,” Coach responded. Then he added, “It’s going to be okay, Ben. You’re going to get your time to play and contribute as well.  Besides, it’s what’s best for the team that’s important, right?”

“Right,” I said meekly, feeling discouraged. Coach was of course right that what was best for the team is what was best, even if it meant me losing my starting spot. But that didn’t mean that it didn’t still hurt for me to start the game on the bench. And besides, maybe Coach wasn’t right that the team was best off with me on the bench…

BENchwarmer is a new serial novel published exclusively on this site. Subscribe below to receive notifications when each chapter is released!

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Story and a Recipe: Muffin Surprise

Jamal liked to eat almost everything. Almost everything, that is, except bananas. He didn’t like the look of them. He didn’t like the smell of them. He didn’t like the feel of them. He had never tried them, but if he had, he wouldn’t like the taste of them either.

It’s pretty easy to go through life without eating bananas. Jamal enjoyed eating other fruit like apples, oranges, grapes and blueberries. He even enjoyed vegetables, too, like broccoli, carrots and green beans. He liked both light and dark meat chicken, tuna fish, and even mushroom quiche. But not bananas. 

Jamal’s mother tried to get him to try bananas. She was sure he would like them if he tried. She made him a banana milkshake, and even a banana split with three scoops of ice cream, but Jamal refused them all.

Most mornings, Jamal ate oatmeal for breakfast. One morning when he woke up, though, he smelled something delicious coming from the oven.

“Ma,” Jamal said, “what’s that smell?

“It’s a special breakfast treat,” his mother answered. “Muffins. Would you like to try one?”

“Sure!” said Jamal.

Jamal’s mother gave him a muffin on a small plate with a napkin and a glass of milk.

Jamal took a bite. 

“Wow, Ma, this is delicious! What kind of muffin is this?”

“It’s a surprise, Jamal. I’ll tell you how I made it after you’re done eating it.”

Jamal kept eating his muffin until he was almost done.

Then Jamal asked, “These are banana muffins, aren’t they, Ma?”

Jamal’s mother nervously nodded her head, and said, “Yes. What do you think, Jamal?”

“I think they’re delicious,” Jamal replied. “I guess bananas are pretty tasty, after all.”

Want to make your own banana muffins? Check out this recipe from tasteofhome.com!

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Beginning Readers: AT Words

Reminder: The short “a” sound is in the beginning of the word apple. A is for apple.

Recommendation: An adult or older sibling should read the main parts of the story, pausing to allow the early reader to read the bold words.

The Cat and the Rat

Cat, AT word

One day, a cat spoke to a rat.

“Hi,” said the cat.

“Hi,” said the rat.

Rat?” said the cat.

“Yes, cat?” said the rat.

“You are my lunch,” said the cat.

And with that, the rat ran away from the cat.

The Baseball Player

The baseball player put on his hat, and got up to bat.

He carried his big, fat bat

He got ready.

The pitcher threw the ball.

He swung his big, fat bat!

Off flew his hat!

The big, fat bat hit that ball!

The bat hit the ball high in the air.

The other team caught the ball.

The batter was out.

His coach gave him a pat on the hat, and down he sat.

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