Read Willie & Me Online

Authors: Dan Gutman

Willie & Me

BOOK: Willie & Me
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Willie & Me

Sometimes you can change history.
And sometimes history can change you.

Dedication

To Ray and Eric Dimetrosky

Acknowledgments

T
HANKS TO MY EDITORS OF THIS SERIES SINCE
1996—Andrew Harwell, Barbara Lalicki, Rachel Orr, Elise Howard, Stephen Fraser, and Stephanie Siegel. Also my deepest gratitude to Liza Voges, Nina Wallace, Howard Wolf, Craig Proturny, David Kelly, Eric Levin, Robert Lifson, Joanne Pure, Pat Kelly and the good folks at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, SABR, Zach Rice, Steve Chorney for the fantastic covers, and Joshua Prager. And, of course, all the folks at HarperCollins.

Epigraph

Now it is done, now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.

—Red Smith,

New York Herald Tribune,

October 3, 1951

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Epigraph

Introduction

1. Flip Flops

2. Happy Birthday

3. One Lousy Pitch

4. “I Ain't Dead Yet”

5. Another Visitor

6. For the Fun of It

7. You Only Live Once

8. The Right Thing to Do

9. Baseball Is a War

10. Trapped

11. The Butterfly Effect

12. A Good Day

13. Unintended Consequences

14. A New Mission

15. Like Magic

16. Another Birthday Present

17. Sometimes History Can Change
You

Facts and Fictions

Back Ad

About the Author

Books by Dan Gutman

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

Introduction

W
ITH A BASEBALL CARD IN MY HAND
, I
AM THE MOST POWERFUL
person in the world. With a card in my hand, I can do something the president of the United States can't do, the most intelligent genius on the planet can't do, the best athlete in the universe can't do.

I can travel through time.

—Joe Stoshack

“Y
OU
'
RE THE MAN
, S
TOSH
!”
MY TEAMMATE
L
EON
G
REENE
shouted through cupped hands from second base. “Let's
do
this thing, and get outta here.”

It was drizzling when I came to bat in the sixth inning at Dunn Field. I hate playing in the rain. You can't dig your feet into the dirt of the batter's box, and it's easy to slip in the mud when you break for first base. I wiped my hands on my pants. The bat was slippery.

But then, so was the ball. I looked up at the Ace Hardware pitcher. He was a lefty, like me. His name was Lenny Breakowitz, or something like that. He didn't look too thrilled about playing in the rain either. His first pitch had bounced ten feet in front of the plate. Ball one. He was blowing on his fingers, trying to dry them off.

Now he was ready, and so was I. The pitch looked
fat. I took a rip at it, but missed. Swung too early. One and one.
Take a deep breath.

The rain seemed to be coming down harder. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve.
Why doesn't the lady ump call the game?
It's not like it's the World Series or anything. The game doesn't
mean
anything. Let's go home.

Breakowitz looked in for his sign, nodded, and went into his windup. The pitch looked outside to me, so I let it go. Fortunately, the ump agreed. Ball two.

“Drive me in, Stosh!” Leon hollered from second. “Come on!”

I had almost forgotten that Leon was there, because I was looking at my new cleats. They were soaked all the way through. My mom was going to go ballistic. She just bought the cleats for my birthday yesterday, and they were already messed up. I glanced up toward the parents' section of the bleachers. It was empty. She must be waiting for me in the comfort of her car, like all the other parents who had any sense.

Focus, Stosh
, I told myself. Two outs. Runner on second. Last inning. We were down by one run. A single could tie it.

I stepped out of the batter's box to wipe my hands and glance over at our coach, Flip Valentini, in the dugout. Flip's a really old guy who knows more about baseball than just about anybody. He's got arthritis and heart problems and a bum leg, but he's still out there every day coaching us. He just loves the game.
Honestly, I think it's what keeps him going. Flip could never retire.

I got ready for the next pitch. It was armpit level, but the ump called it a strike anyway. She probably wanted to go home as much as I did. I shouldn't be so choosy. Two and two.

“Okey-dokey!” Flip hollered at me, clapping his hands. “Fuhgetaboutit, Stosh!”

To the other team, that might have sounded like meaningless baseball chatter, but “Okey-dokey, fuhgetaboutit” is Flip's signal for a hit-and-run play. Now Leon's job was to run on the next pitch, and my job was to try and poke the ball through the infield.

Flip loves signs and signals. He's constantly inventing new ones for us to memorize. He also loves stealing signs from our opponents. Nothing makes him happier than when he can let us know what the other team is about to do, and then we stop them from doing it. I think it makes him feel more like he's part of the game.

One time I asked Flip if stealing signs was cheating, and he told me, “It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught.” According to Flip, cheating has been going on in baseball since the very beginning, when Abner Doubleday got credit for inventing the game even though he never played baseball in his life. But that's a story for another day.

Breakowitz took off his glasses and started wiping them on his sleeve.

“Just like I taught ya, Stosh,” Flip said, clapping
his hands. “Go get 'im. It's all you, babe. All you.”

Flip and I have a long history together, in more ways than one. Once, I took him back in time with me. No,
really
, I did. We got a Satchel Paige baseball card and went back to 1942 with a radar gun to see if Paige could throw a fastball a hundred miles an hour. We never did answer that question, but Satch taught Flip how to throw his famous hesitation pitch. He would swing his arm around like a windmill, and it seemed like the ball would leave his hand an instant after he released it. It must have been some kind of an optical illusion or something. But it threw off a batter's timing and was
really
hard to hit.

The other thing that happened while we were back in 1942 was that Flip fell for this cute waitress named Laverne. Her dad wasn't too happy about that, and he chased us around with a shotgun. Flip and I got separated, and I had to leave him in the past. It was pretty scary.

But there was a happy ending. When I got back to the present day, Flip and Laverne were married, and Flip was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame! It turned out that he lived his adult life all over again in the past, and the hesitation pitch made him a great pitcher. He won 287 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, and Pittsburgh Pirates. It just goes to show.

But that's another story for another day, too. In the meantime, Breakowitz finished wiping off his glasses, and he was staring in for the sign.

My brain was on overload trying to remember all of the advice Flip had given me over the years.
Head up. Elbows in. Bend your knees. Relax. Focus. Guard the plate. Don't try to kill the ball. Just make contact.
And of course, that old chestnut:
Keep your eye on the ball.

Duh. Where
else
would I possibly keep my eye?

“Just meet the ball, Stosh!” Flip shouted.

TMI. Too much information. My head felt like it was about to explode.

The rain was coming down harder. At this point, I didn't care if I got a hit or not. I just didn't want to look bad. Anything is better than a strikeout.

I pumped my bat twice. Breakowitz went into his windup. Leon took off from second. The pitch looked hittable. So I swung.

It wasn't any great wallop, I'll tell you that much. I made contact, a little bit up the barrel of my bat, too close to the handle. The vibration stung my hands. But I didn't care about that. I was digging for first.

I know we're supposed to watch the first-base coach and not look at the ball, but I couldn't resist. It was a little squib toward short, bouncing crazily. The shortstop had to scramble to his right to try and field the ball. It skittered past his outstretched glove, barely making it through the infield. I would be safe at first for sure and Leon was probably going to score and tie up the game. And if I could make it to second, I'd be in position to score the winning run. It would be a gamble, but maybe a gamble worth taking. I'm
fairly fast, and our first-base coach, Leon's dad, was waving me around.

“Go! Go! Go!” everybody was screaming.

I knew the base path was muddy, so I was really careful not to slip and fall making the turn around first. I jammed my right foot against the left side of the bag to get an extra little boost toward second.

The left fielder was charging in to pick up the bouncing ball. I knew he had a choice. He could throw it home to try and get Leon, or throw it to second to get me. That option made more sense, and we both knew it.

“Slide, Stosh!” somebody yelled.

I love sliding. Sometimes I slide into a base even though I don't have to just because sliding is fun, and it looks cool, too. But I
had
to slide this time. I hit the dirt two strides in front of the bag and let my momentum carry me the rest of the way. The second baseman was crouched over the base, waiting for the throw.

One problem I hadn't thought of—you slide farther on a wet field. I felt myself moving too fast in the mud, past the bag. I tried to hook my foot on it, but it was too late. Then I tried reaching back with my hand to grab the base, but the second baseman's foot was blocking my way. He caught the ball cleanly and slapped the tag on my arm.

“Safe!” shouted the ump, who had run over to make the call. “I mean . . . out!”

That was it. The game was over.

It was my fault. I knew I was out fair and square, so I wasn't going to argue the call. I brushed some of the mud off my pants and jogged back to the dugout with my head down. But Flip's eyesight isn't that good anymore, and he just about freaked out in the dugout.

“Are you out of your
mind
?” he screamed at the ump. “He was
in
there!”

Flip jumped off the bench like a wild man and charged up the three steps to get to field level. He moves pretty well for an old guy with a busted leg from a spill he took back in his playing days. But like I said, his vision isn't so great and he must have misjudged the last step. Or maybe he just slipped.

BOOK: Willie & Me
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Forgotten Fragrance by Téa Cooper
Double Deuce by Robert B. Parker
Patriot Pirates by Robert H. Patton
The Forest by Edward Rutherfurd
Veiled Rose by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
In the Arms of an Earl by Small, Anna
HCC 115 - Borderline by Lawrence Block
Pia Saves the Day by Thea Harrison