Authors: Dan Gutman
A Baseball Card Adventure
Dedicated to Nina,
my all-American girl
The Last Request
Boys and Girls
Slip Me a Mickey
Chicks and Chickens
A Real Chicken
A Strike for Freedom
The All-American Girl
Play Like Men, Look Like Girls
Alone at Last
Hooray for War
Enemies and a Friend
WITH 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.
YOUR FATHER HAS BEEN IN A CAR ACCIDENT
I almost didn't hear the words. Or, if I heard them, I chose not to believe them.
“Did you hear me, Joey? I said your father has been in a car accident.”
She used to call him “your dad.” After they got divorced a few years ago, she switched to calling him “your father.” My mom's voice came over the phone with a seriousness and urgency that I wasn't used to hearing.
Before the phone rang, I had been rushing to put on my Little League uniform. Running late, I was trying to jam my legs into my pants with my spikes on. I stopped.
“Is he okay?” I asked.
“He's alive,” Mom replied. “That's all they told me.”
“Was he drunk?”
Dad always liked his beer, sometimes a little too much, I thought.
“I don't know.”
“Was it his fault?”
“I don't know.”
“Was he wearing a seat belt? You know the way he hatesâ”
“I don't know,” my mother replied, cutting me off in mid-sentence. “Joey, listen to me carefully. I need to go pick up Aunt Liz and your cousin Samantha. I'll take them to the University of Louisville Hospital. You know where that is. I need you to ride your bike over there. I'll meet you at the emergency room waiting area. Have you got that?”
“I got it.”
“Repeat it back to me.”
“I got it, Mom.”
“Take your baseball glove and stuff with you. You can go straight to your game.”
“I'll be at the hospital as soon as I can.”
When I hung up the phone, it was like I was in a trance. My game that afternoonâprobably our most important game of the seasonâdidn't matter much anymore. It's funny how something can seem so important, and then something else comes along that turns your whole world upside down and you feel silly for being worried about the first thing. Just a silly baseball game.
I never expected my dad to live forever, of course.
But he wasn't even forty years old! For the first time in my life, the thought seriously crossed my mind that he could die and I would have no father.
Mechanically, I finished putting on my Yellow Jackets uniform jersey, went downstairs, locked up the house, and hopped on my bike. The University of Louisville Hospital was two miles away. I didn't bother taking my bat or glove with me. There was no way I could play ball today.
The emergency room at the hospital had no bike rack. I dropped my bike on the grass by the front door and ran inside. My mother wasn't there yet. When I told the lady at the reception desk that my dad's name was Bill Stoshack, she directed me to Room 114 down the hall. It took a few minutes to find it.
“Your father is a very lucky man,” I was told by a tall doctor in blue scrubs.
Dad didn't look very lucky to me. He was unconscious and had tubes running in and out of him, and all kinds of machines were beeping around the bed. His face was banged up and bandaged so I could barely recognize him.
“Is he gonna be okay?” I asked. I felt tears welling up in my eyes but fought them off.
“We hope so,” the doctor said. “We won't know with certainty for a couple of days, after the swelling goes down.”
My father was not drunk. But the driver of the car that hit him was, according to the doctor. It had
been a horrific head-on crash a few blocks from where my dad worked as a machine operator in downtown Louisville. Several other cars had been involved in the collision, and a bunch of people were hurt.
“We believe your father had a subdural hematoma,” the doctor told me. “It's a blood clot between the skull and the brain. If he hadn't been wearing a seat belt, he would be dead for sure.”
That was a shock to me. My dad always hated the seat belt law. He said it took away people's freedom.
An emergency operation had already been performed to drain fluid from inside my dad's skull, the doctor told me. There could be other problems. Dad was being given painkillers and drugs through an IV tube. A male nurse came into the room.
“He has been going in and out of consciousness,” the doctor told us both as he made his way toward the door. “Don't be alarmed if he wakes up and says something that doesn't make sense. That's just the drugs talking. I need to check on some other patients, but I'll be back shortly.”
I pulled up a chair next to the bed and leaned my head close to Dad's until I could hear him breathing softly.
“He'll be in good hands here,” the nurse told me. I ignored him. What else was he going to sayâ
It looks like your father is going to die any minute
I took Dad's hand in mine. It was totally limp.
He didn't squeeze my fingers at all, the way he usually did. But he opened his eyes.
“You okay, Dad?”
“Butch,” he said quietly. He always called me Butch. “C'mereâ¦. I needâ¦toâ¦tellâ¦youâ¦something.”
I leaned closer.
“Mickeyâ¦Mantle,” he whispered.
“Is your father a baseball fan?” the nurse asked.
“Yankee fan,” I corrected him. “He loves the Yanks. What about Mickey Mantle, Dad?”
“Hisâ¦card,” Dad said. He was struggling to get each word out. “Theâ¦rookieâ¦card.”
I knew exactly what he meant. Mickey Mantle's 1951 rookie card was the most valuable card printed since World War II. It was worth more than $75,000. My dad had started me collecting baseball cards when I was little, and he taught me just about everything I knew about the hobby.
“Why is he telling you this?” asked the nurse.
“What about the Mantle rookie card, Dad?”
“You have one? Where did you get it?”
“Shhhh, listen,” he said. “Iâ¦hid it. Underâ¦theâ¦floorboard. Left sideâ¦ofâ¦yourâ¦bed. Underâ¦theâ¦rug.”
I realized immediately why he was telling me about the Mantle card. He thought he was going to die. My father never had much money. The Mantle card was going to be my inheritance.
“You're going to be fine, Dad,” I assured him. “Fifty years from now you can give me that card.”
“No,” Dad croaked. “Writeâ¦thisâ¦down.”
He looked very frail and weak, but he was summoning up the strength to speak. I grabbed a pen and pad from the drawer next to the bed.
“Go ahead, Dad.”
“World Series. 1951. Game Two. Fifth inning. Willie Mays hit a soft fly ball to centerfield. DiMaggio caught it.”
“So?” I asked, jotting down the information.
“Mantle was running overâ¦to back up DiMaggioâ¦. His right cleat got caughtâ¦on a drain cover. Mickey collapsedâ¦like he'd been shot. They carried him off on a stretcher.”
“Why did they have a drain in the middle of the outfield?” I asked. “That seems pretty stupid.”
Dad shook his head, as if to say he had something more important to discuss.
“Before the accident, Mickey was the fastest player in the game. He could run to first base in three seconds. After, he was never the same. His legs were shot. Who knows how good he would have been if he hadn't stepped on that stupid drain? Who knows how many homers he would have hit, how many records he would have broken?”
I put the pen down. I had an idea of where Dad was heading.
“And you want meâ”
“To stop him,” Dad said, completing the sen
tence. “I've been thinking about it for a long time, Butch. Go back to 1951. You can warn him. Should be easy. You know how. You're the only one who can do it. That's why I gave you the card.”
“Mickey collapsed like he'd been shot.
They carried him off on a stretcher.”
Dad closed his eyes. He had used all his strength to say what he had to say.
“He's hallucinating,” the nurse told me. “It sounds like he thinks you can travel through time.”
“Ha-ha-ha.” I laughed. “That's ridiculous.”
In fact, I could travel through timeâ¦with baseball cards.
Ever since I was about five years old, I noticed that baseball cards had an effect on me that they didn't seem to have on other kids. When I picked up a cardâparticularly an old cardâI felt a strange feeling in my fingertips. It was a tingling sensation, a gentle buzz that reminded me of the feeling you get when you brush a finger against a vibrating guitar string.
I discovered that if I held the card long enough, this tingling sensation would travel up my arm, across my body, and the next thing I knew, I would find myself in 1909, 1947, 1932, or whatever year was on the baseball card. The card, somehow, had transported me to another time and another place. I would always end up somewhere near the player on the front of the card.
This was my little secret. I had hardly told anybody about it.
My mom always says everybody has a “special gift.” Some people are great musicians or brilliant mathematicians. Some people can fly planes or save people trapped in burning buildings. My special gift was that I could use baseball cards to travel
Dad opened his eyes.
“And get yourself a haircut,” he murmured, closing his eyes again. “You look like a girl.”
“He needs to rest,” the nurse told me, escorting me to the door.
It seemed kind of silly, going back to 1951 to warn Mickey Mantle about some dumb drain cover hidden in the outfield of Yankee Stadium. But as I looked at my dad lying on the hospital bed, I had the feeling that this might be the last thing he would ever ask me to do. So I would try to fulfill his request.
Unfortunately, as it often happens in the imperfect science of time travel, things don't always turn out as you expect them to.