It all begins when Bailey ties his shoes to the dugout bench. . . .

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Will the Hornets win? They’re a shoe in!

Bailey began to fiddle with his shoelaces. It was a habit he had when he was depressed or nervous.It was the bottom of the ninth. Bailey trudged in from right field and slumped behind the dugout fence. The Hornets were losing to the Mudlarks, fourteen to nothing.

Bailey began to fiddle with his shoelaces. It was a habit he had when he was depressed or nervous. He was next up to bat, and he knew he’d strike out. No matter what advice Coach gave, the Hornets always struck out.

“Grab that bat like you mean it, Bailey!” Coach would holler. Baileys grip would turn to goo.

“Loosen up, Jones!” Coach would holler. Jones would stiffen like a starched shirt.

“Bend your knees, Martin!” Coach would holler. Martin’s legs would snap straight as stilts.

At least the game was almost over, Bailey thought as he fiddled with his shoelaces. The Mudlarks took the field.

“Batter up!” the umpire boomed.

Bailey tried to get up and plopped back down. Tried again. Plopped again. Tried. Plopped. Without realizing it, Bailey had fiddled his shoelaces into knots around the bench!

“Batter up, Bailey!” Coach hollered.

The more Bailey tried to loosen his laces, the tighter he made the knots. He looked around in panic. The guy next to him was Jones.

“Quick, Jones!” Bailey hissed. “Give me your shoes!”

“Forget it,” said Jones.

“Just for a second,” Bailey begged, wriggling free of his sneakers. “As soon as I strike out, I’ll give them back.”

Jones handed over his shoes. They were smaller than Bailey’s. Bailey forced his feet into Jones’s shoes and limped to home plate. The pitcher wound up. Bailey squeezed hard on the bat to take his mind off his aching feet. When the ball crossed the plate, he smashed it into left field. By the time he made first base, Bailey’s feet didn’t hurt anymore.

Jones was up next. He looked around in panic. The guy next to him was Martin.

“Quick, Martin!” Jones hissed. “Give me your shoes! You’ll get them back when I strike out.”

Martin kicked off his shoes. They were larger than Jones’s shoes. They felt pretty good, Jones thought. He strode up to the plate, his feet nice and loose. Suddenly all of Jones was nice and loose. He socked the ball into right field and was safe at first. Bailey gave him a thumbs-up from second.

Martin was up. He looked around in panic. The guy next to him was Harris.

‘Quick, Harris,’ Martin hissed. ‘Give me your shoes. You can have them back as soon as I strike out.’

Harris’s shoes were too wide. But if Martin bent his knees, his feet seemed to spread a bit. That helped. Martin slammed a high fly to center, which the outfielder missed. When Martin got to first, he waved to Jones on second. Jones waved to Bailey on third.

The guy after Harris was Miller. Miller already had his shoes off and was putting on Johnson’s. Harris took four balls in Miller’s shoes and walked. Bailey scored.

Miller walloped the ball out of the field in Johnson’s shoes. Johnson doubled in Bronson’s shoes. Bronson smacked a line drive to center in Smith’s shoes. Smith homered in Elliot’s shoes. Elliot borrowed Jones’s shoes from Bailey and hammered a grounder just inside the third-base line. No one had bothered to free Bailey’s shoes from the bench. When Bailey came up to bat again wearing Martin’s shoes, he hit a pop fly over the pitcher’s mound. The pitcher dropped it.

When Johnson scored the winning run in Smith’s shoes, the game was over. The coaches shook hands and scratched their heads. The Mudlarks stashed their gear and scratched their heads. The fans whooped and hollered and scratched their heads. The Hornets collapsed on the field in a big rolling spaghetti hug.

But deep in the center of that spaghetti ball, one Hornet smiled knowingly and wiggled his toes, in Martin’s shoes.

Just maybe, the Hornets’ losing days were over.