Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Mentor by Ryan Shelton

Vincent Preston is in real trouble.  With absentee parents, he raises himself, barely graduating high school, and has one chance to get out of his small town: baseball.  He has a strong arm, but unfortunately he is wild, out of control. 

Thankfully, his English teacher, Mrs. Dean, introduces him to her husband, “Grandpa Dean,” a gruff WWII veteran and former Major League Baseball scout who missed his shot when he was injured in the war.  He is riddled with cancer and is looking for one last chance at atonement for carrying around his anger for so long.

Vincent’s mentor teaches him not only how to take advantage of his natural talent, but to trust in God.  He’ll need his new found faith in Christ to overcome his shady coach, the coach’s bully of a son, and the local drug dealer, all of whom are intent on wrecking his dreams.


Chapter 1

Vincent Preston never liked baked beans. He just couldn’t overcome the texture. Covered in a brown ooze, firm on the outside, and mushy on the inside, no amount of Bar-B-Q sauce could improve his outlook. It was the same with oatmeal for Vincent. Back in grade school, the only breakfast item his mother kept on hand was instant oatmeal. Again, it was an issue of texture. Whether it was flavored with maple, cinnamon, or adorned with little dehydrated chunks granny smith apples, the feeling of muck in his mouth was akin to stepping in quicksand. Once it was in his mouth, swallowing it was essentially a practice in suppressing the gag reflex.

Now at eighteen, the thought slapped him right across the face like one of his dad’s backhands, two memories long ago repressed out of necessity. But before he could lose his nerve, he bravely scooped up four baked beans, dirt-brown sauce dripping off the fork onto what appeared to be a remnant of fatty pork on his plate, and he quickly shoved them in and swallowed without the slightest thought of mastication. If he were to ever be interrogated with the threat of baked beans held against him, and his life were at stake, he was a goner.

He looked over at the popular table just in time to see Bacon Bob scoop a mountain of beans into his mouth.

Someone at the table must have said something funny because his big mouth came open in laughter and a torrent of chewed up bean shrapnel exploded forth. It sent everyone ducking for cover.

Vincent knew that Bacon Bob Rogers would eat anything that didn't eat him first, but he loved baked beans the best. He once told the baseball team during pre-game stretches that he would swim in a pool of beans, especially Bar-B-Q beans. Bacon Bob also had a problem with flatulence. After having declared his love, he had reached down to touch his toes and released one so loud it sounded like it came over the loud speaker. Its resonance had reverberations past just the world of sound. And when the smell hit the inner-circle of starters (the very kids who were now sitting at the popular table) it sent the entire team to the infield turf, gasping for breath.

This memory made Vincent chuckle. Despite his idiosyncrasies, Bacon Bob was a good guy. He just hung around with the wrong crowd. Everybody loved him like a kid loves a puppy dog in a store window and persuades his mother to take it home. Vincent knew that sometimes this bothered Bob. because he felt he could never be taken seriously, but it was the world Bob created and Bob had to live with it.

Vincent looked back down at his plate and pushed a solitary bean from one side of his plate to the other with his fork, leaving a trail of the brown ooze behind like a slug on a sidewalk. He impaled it and threw it in his mouth, choking it down only for its carbohydrate value, and chasing it with his iced tea. He needed all the energy he could muster for tonight. His hamburger was gone. He had eaten it up in a flash and would have asked for another had he not been concerned about it weighing him down for the big game. Coach Grey always said meat just sat in your stomach like a brick.

The Augusta High School Stampeding Herd baseball team was to play its first game in defense of its state title. Vincent wasn't much a part of that state title team. Oh sure, he was on the roster, but he seldom got the chance to prove himself on the field. The coach would substitute him in right field in the sixth inning when the game was out of hand so he could rest his starters. When given the chance, he got on base more often than not, but his lack of capability to repeat didn't sit well with the coach. During moments when the games’ outcomes were foregone conclusions, Coach Grey could usually be found chatting with the starters on the bench, or glad-handing a parent or reporter. That was all going to change this year.

This year Vincent was a senior and he somehow managed to break into the starting line-up. This first goal accomplished, he set his sights on leading the team in batting average. He knew what Coach Grey thought of him. Coach Grey only cared about one person, his son Jimmy. Jimmy was Coach Grey's retirement plan. Coach Grey really couldn't care about the rest of the team. He liked winning, and as for left field, Vincent knew that Coach Grey was merely making the best of a bad situation by putting Vincent there.

 At least Vincent had a strong arm. He could throw from the left field warning track, marked 297 feet on the monster fence, all the way to the plate without bouncing it once. In this regard, very few ballplayers could match his prowess, again, not that the coaches ever noticed. But his arm strength wasn't the problem. He had no accuracy. He was pure raw talent, with the emphasis on raw. Instead of a line drive, the ball took on a NASA trajectory and would land like space junk or a meteorite, usually half-way down either the first or third baseline. Vincent had worked on his skills since this first happened.

When others were out taking turns cruising Broadway on icy January weekends in Jimmy's Grey’s new Corvette, Vincent was toting his burlap bag of fraying baseballs to the fence. He would drag the concession stand trash can down the hill behind the backstop and place it on its side at home plate, open end facing the left field fence. He would then practice his aim, managing to hit the trash can one out of every twenty-five throws. He rarely put one inside the cylinder at all. No screaming fans, no newspaper reporters, no TV cameras, no encouragement. The only spectators to visit him were the bitter north wind and a hope that practice would eventually pay off. By the time the first tulips were popping their heads out of the earth, Vincent was hitting the can more and more frequently.

The fact that he fell into the starting position by default didn’t bother him. The glass had to be half-full for a regular kid with lethargic parents to be able to succeed in a town known for its loud, obnoxious… caring parents. Even when a fellow player's mom would scream from the stands to have him taken out for booting a ball, Vincent wouldn't let anyone else dictate who he was or how hard he tried. All he was concerned about was making the best of a golden opportunity and today the means to that end meant eating beans.

Vincent sat at a table littered with underclassmen, none of whom would see considerable playing time, none who dared talk. They all knew better. They all knew that if they appeared at all confident in themselves, it would be seen as arrogance, and Coach Grey had special punishment for players who thought they were better than the rest of the team. It involved railroad ties and lunges. It didn’t take but one trip of lunges around the bases with a railroad tie on a person’s shoulders to convince him that modesty was the only way to go. Vincent had wanted to sit at the popular table  the varsity table, Vincent corrected himself, but he lacked the confidence to sit with such a close-knit group of guys. They probably didn't even know his name anyway. Segregation was held in high regard with Coach Grey. He didn't like his starters having anything to do with the benchwarmers. 

About The Author

Ryan’s passion for writing began with his first letter to Santa.  He’s been writing in some capacity ever since and especially loves to write about the great outdoors and sports.  He earned his college degree from Northwestern Oklahoma State University and teaches high school English and coaches tennis. 

A family man, Ryan is active in his church and loves to serve his community.  Ryan can be seen booting routine ground balls on dusty softball fields when he’s not on a river, changing his daughter’s diaper, or helping his boys with their Pinewood Derby cars.  Ryan, his wife Angela, and their three children live in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

The Mentor is Ryan’s first published novel.

Purchase The Mentor at:

Ryan Shelton is giving away a copy of The Mentor. To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice—once on each Spotlight post for the author. Please note: The giveaway is for U.S. addresses only.

[Note from Karen: See my review of The Mentor on Writer's Wanderings]


Sharon A. Lavy said...

Thanks for visiting the book loft Ryan Shelton!

squiresj said...

Would love to win, read and review.
jrs362 at Hotmail dot com

karenk said...

thanks for the chance to read this novel :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Cindi A said...

Please enter me in the drawing to win this book. Thanks!


bonton said...

Love this storyline - would make a good Hallmark movie. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of your book!


rubynreba said...

Enjoyed the first chapter - would enjoy reading this.

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