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Authors: Dan Gutman

Ray & Me

BOOK: Ray & Me
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Ray & Me

A Baseball Card Adventure

Dan Gutman

To Sweet Adeline Berlin

I knew that the sight of his silent form would haunt me as long as I live.

—Carl Mays

Contents

1

Wally Pipp and Me

2

Keep It Simple, Stupid

3

Two Weeks Later…

4

The Best Pitcher I Never Heard of

5

The Ultimate Sacrifice

6

Home Games

7

Sweet Adeline and the Great Houdini

8

Babe & Me

9

A Simple Solution

10

All Part of the Game

11

Nice Hat

12

The Good Old Days

13

A Serious Disturbance

14

Troublemaker

15

Visitors

16

The Deathball

17

Makeover

18

Ruckus in the ER

19

The Future

20

The Decision

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.

—Joe Stoshack

1
Wally Pipp and Me

I
FELT SICK
. A
LL MORNING
, I
FELT LIKE
I
WAS GOING TO
throw up. It must've been something I ate. As much as I love baseball, I really didn't feel like playing today.

“Hey, Stosh, c'mere! I need to talk to you 'bout somethin'.”

It was my coach, Flip Valentini. He always calls me Stosh. Most people do. Flip is a really old guy, and he's a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, so I do what he says. I dragged my tired body off the bench and went over to where he was standing near the backstop.

The rest of the team was straggling in to Dunn Field on their bikes. Kids were tying their shoelaces and stretching. The sound of baseballs popping into gloves was starting to echo across the grass. Louisville can get pretty hot by the end of April. It felt like
it was already 90 degrees.

“I need to talk to you too, Flip,” I said.

The coach put an arm around my shoulder. I supported some of his weight. He's been like a father to me ever since my parents split up.

Flip wasn't
always
a Hall of Famer. What happened was that I took him back in time with me, to 1942. When we got there, Flip was a teenager. We met the great pitcher Satchel Paige, and Satch taught him how to throw his famous Hesitation Pitch. After that, some nut tried to kill us; and I was forced to leave Flip in 1942. Long story short, Flip got to live his adult life all over again in the past; and when I got back to the present day, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Time travel is funny that way. You never know what's going to happen when you start messing around with history. But that's a story for another day.

I was all ready to tell Flip I didn't feel well enough to play, but he didn't give me the chance.

“Stosh,” he said, “Billy Hoobler's mom called me an hour ago. His uncle died suddenly, and they gotta go to Texas for the funeral.”

I felt bad for Billy. He is a good pitcher and a good guy. I met his uncle once. He came to one of our practices and showed us the right way to slide.

“Who's gonna take Billy's place?” I asked Flip.

“You are,” Flip told me. “I need you to pitch today.”

WHAT?

Me? Pitch? I'm a shortstop. I've always played short.

“I—I can't pitch, Flip,” I sputtered. “Why can't Johnny or Zack pitch?”

“'Cause Johnny and Zack can't hit the broad side of a barn,” Flip whispered so they wouldn't hear. “I need somebody who can get the ball over the plate.”

“Oh, man,” I complained. “I feel like crap today, Flip. I'd probably give up ten runs.”

“Stosh, ya know who we're playin' today?” Flip asked.

I looked across the diamond. It said
SHIMOJIMA
on the other team's uniforms. That's the name of an optician in town.

“Those bums can't hit their way out of a paper bag,” Flip told me. “They only have one good hitter, that kid Cameron Considine. You can pitch around him.”

“I have a headache, Flip,” I whined.

“Oh, I know a foolproof cure for headaches,” Flip told me.

“What is it?”

“Pitch two innings and call me in the morning,” Flip said. “Come on, Stosh, I'm beggin' ya! You got a good arm. Just give me two innings. Six lousy outs. Tell you what. If you pitch, I'll take you and your mom out for ice cream after the game.”

“I really didn't want to play today at all,” I told Flip. “Can't I sit this one out?”

“Sit this one out? Sit this one
out
?” Flip shook his head and raised his voice. “Did I ever tell you the story of Wally Pipp?”

“Here we go again!” Somebody behind me chuckled.

Flip is always telling us stories about the good old days of baseball. For an old guy, he has incredible recall. Flip can't remember where he left his glasses, but he can remember who was the on-deck batter when Bobby Thomson hit his “Shot Heard 'Round the World” in 1951.

(It was Willie Mays, by the way.)

Everybody gathered around: Colin Creedon, Luke Lee, Matt Connelly, Ryan Riskin, Dylan Wilson, Sean-Patrick Racaniello, and the other guys on our team. With a name like Wally Pipp, you'd think that at least
one
of us would have heard of him.

“Wally Pipp was a great first baseman,” Flip told us. “Played for the Yanks in the 1920s. Led the league in homers. Twice. Anyways, Pipp got a lotta headaches ever since he got creamed in a hockey game as a kid. Then one day in 1925, he asked for a couple of aspirins 'cause he had a splittin' headache, and the manager said he could take the day off.”

“So?” I asked. It sounded like a pretty lame story to me.

“Y'know who replaced Wally Pipp at first base that day?” Flip asked us.

“Who?” we all said.

“A 22-year-old kid,” Flip said. “His name was Lou
Gehrig. Ever hear of
him
?”

“So Lou Gehrig got his shot because Wally Pipp had a headache?” Matt Connelly asked.

“That's right,” Flip said. “And Gehrig was so good that he became the new first baseman. The Yankees sold Pipp to Cincinnati. So what's the moral to the story, boys?”

“You're gonna send Stosh to Cincinnati?” asked Ryan Riskin.

What a dork.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I'll pitch.”

“Attaboy!” Flip said, clapping me on the back. He put a clean, white baseball in my glove.

2
Keep It Simple, Stupid

I
WALKED OUT TO THE MOUND
. O
UR CATCHER
, L
UKE
L
EE
, squatted behind the plate and gave me a target. I tossed in a couple of easy warm-up pitches, bouncing both of them in the dirt two feet in front of the plate. Flip was right about one thing. My headache was gone. I had other things to worry about now.

It's weird throwing off a pitcher's mound. You're so
high
. I tried to get comfortable up there. Each warm- up pitch came a little closer to the strike zone.

I glanced to my right. The kids on the other team were leaning against the backstop, checking me out and whispering to each other. I looked off to the bleachers on my left until I found my mom in the third row. She was easy to spot because she was wearing her white nurse's uniform. She must have just gotten off work.

Mom gave me the thumbs-up. My dad was nowhere
to be seen. He makes it a point not to be around if my mom is there. And vice versa. They don't exactly get along.

I pumped in a few more warm-up pitches to Luke. The umpire took a swig from his water bottle and brushed off the plate with a whisk broom.

“You ready, son?” he asked me.

“Ready as I'll ever be,” I replied.

“Let's get this party started. Play ball!”

Luke trotted out to the mound and dropped the ball in my glove.

“Okay, Stosh,” Luke said. “You know the KISS signs?”

“KISS signs?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

“KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid,” Luke said. “If I put down one finger, it means you throw the fastball, okay? Two fingers, you throw the curve.”

“I don't have a curve,” I told Luke.

“I got news for you,” he replied. “You don't have a fastball either. Just try to hit my mitt, okay? We'll get you through this.”

Luke was right. I've got a decent arm, and I can throw accurately; but my hands are small. I don't throw that hard.
What was I doing out here?
I asked myself. I glanced over at Flip. He just nodded to me.

Luke went back behind the plate. Everybody got into position. The first batter dug a toe into the batter's box. I took a deep breath.

“You can do it, Stosh!…You're the man!…One-
two-three, baby! Just throw strikes!…No batter!…Let 'em hit it, Stosh! We'll cover you.”

Infield chatter is so meaningless. I never noticed until people started yelling it at
me
.

I went into my windup and threw the first pitch as hard as I could. It sailed way over Luke's mitt and slammed into the backstop behind the batter's head. A few kids snickered. The batter stepped out and called time.

“Settle down, Stosh,” Flip called out. “Nice and easy. Just throw strikes, babe.”

I was trying too hard. I threw the next pitch much slower, and the kid actually swung and missed. He missed the next one too, and the umpire called the pitch after that a strike even though it was a few inches outside. The kid didn't complain.

“One out!” called the ump.

I turned around and threw a secret smirk at my infielders. Hey, I struck a guy out! Who says pitching is so hard?

The batter must have freaked out when I threw my first pitch so wild.
Hmmm,
I thought. Maybe I should chuck the first pitch to
every
batter behind his head. That would keep 'em on their toes.

Focus on the
now, I told myself. One out. Nobody on.
If the ball comes to me,
I reminded myself,
throw it to first base.
Luke trotted out to talk to me again.

“You're doin' good,” he told me. “That guy thought you were throwing change-ups. He kept waiting for the fast one.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Lucky he didn't know I don't
have
a fast one.”

“It won't take the rest of 'em long to find out,” Luke said. He pulled his mask down and trotted back behind the plate.

The next guy swung at my first pitch and hit a wicked shot right up the middle. I dove out of the way. Man, the ball comes at you a lot
faster
when you're on the pitcher's mound! You got to have quick reflexes.

The batter stopped at first base with a single, and the number three batter came up. He swung at my first pitch too, and hit an easy one-hopper right back to me. I gloved the ball cleanly, whirled around, and threw it to Dylan Wilson covering second. He stepped on the bag for the force play. I thought he might have had time to throw to first for a double play, but he decided not to risk it. That's okay.

“Smooth!” Flip said, clapping his hands. “Nice play, boys!”

One more and we'd be out of the inning. The cleanup batter was up. I had never met the kid, but I knew his name. Cameron Considine. Everybody calls him Hammerin' Cameron. He's only 13, just like the rest of us, but the guy looks like he's in high school. Nobody deserves to have muscles like that. Our out- fielders moved back until they were standing right in front of the fence. Luke came out to the mound to chat again.

“This guy hits the ball
hard
,” he told me. “Let's
walk him. We'll get the next guy easy, and that'll be the third out.”

“Oh, come on,” I told Luke. “That'll put the runner into scoring position. Besides, intentional walks are lame.”

Luke sighed. “Just don't give him anything good to hit, okay?” he instructed. “Make him swing at a bad pitch. If he lays off, he'll walk and we'll get the next guy.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.

I took a good look at Hammerin' Cameron as he tapped the dirt off his cleats with his bat. He had rolled up the sleeves of his uniform to show off his muscles. Probably a jerk, I figured.

Hammerin' Cameron didn't look so tough. I was starting to feel a little cocky, I guess. You know—the bigger they come, the harder they fall. I decided to see what would happen if I threw him a strike. So I grooved my first pitch right down the middle of the plate.

Cameron just looked at it.

Strike one. Ha! Everybody is so afraid of this kid, they don't challenge him. He never expected me to throw him a strike.

So I threw him another one. Right down Broadway.

“Strike two!” called the umpire.

Ha! Just as I thought. Hammerin' Cameron was a big wus.

“You got 'im now, Stosh!” somebody hollered. “One more!”

“Protect the plate, Cameron!” yelled somebody from the other side.

Luke came running out to the mound for another conference. I wished he would just stay behind the plate and catch. I was on a roll. He was throwing off my rhythm.

“What are you, crazy?” Luke said to me. “Do
not
throw another pitch over the plate! This guy will hit it into the next county!”

“Okay, okay,” I assured Luke. “I was just messing with his mind.”

Luke went back and set up a target with his mitt a foot off the outside corner. He wanted to make Cameron go fishing for the next one. Gee, don't be
too
obvious!

Cameron pumped his bat across the plate and glared at me. He was P.O.'d now. I went into my windup and aimed for Luke's mitt.

I missed it. I don't know what happened. The ball sailed inside. It was going right over the plate.

Cameron swung at it.

I heard the crack of the bat.

The ball was coming right toward me.

It was mesmerizing. I was hypnotized.

I couldn't move. I
wanted
to move, but I guess those cells in my central nervous system didn't fire. In the few milliseconds it took for the ball to reach me, my eyes didn't have time to tell my brain to DUCK! Or GET OUT OF THE WAY! BAIL! DIVE! GET YOUR GLOVE UP! DO SOMETHING!

And then the ball hit me.

It sounded like a bomb going off in my head.

Everything went dark.

The last thing I remember was hearing somebody yell, “Call 911!”

BOOK: Ray & Me
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