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Authors: Matt Christopher

Too Hot to Handle

BOOK: Too Hot to Handle
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Copyright

COPYRIGHT © 1965 BY MATTHEW F. CHRISTOPHER

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM OR BY ANY ELECTRONIC OR MECHANICAL MEANS, INCLUDING
INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS, WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHER, EXCEPT BY A REVIEWER WHO MAY
QUOTE BRIEF PASSAGES IN A REVIEW.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

First eBook Edition: December 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-09607-2

To

Bobby, Sharon

and Gary

Contents

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

1

C
RACK! The ball was hit hard. It sped down to third with long hops only inches from the close-cut grass. David didn’t move.
The ball was coming right at him.

In that second something came over David like a shower of ice-cold water. A ball had never been hit so hard to him before.

He reached down for it. The ball brushed the heel of his glove and shot through his legs. He swung around and saw the white
pill rolling fast out to left fielder Marty Cass.

Marty picked it up and pegged it to second, holding the hitter on first.

“Block those drives, Kroft!” yelled catcher Rex Drake angrily. “Fall in front of them if you have to!”

David began to yell to drown out Rex’s words. That ball had really been hit. Any third baseman would have had a tough time
trying to field it.

The error helped the Gulls. Their next batter socked a clean single over second baseman Ken Lacey’s head that sent the runner
on first all the way to third.

Brad Lodge got the next two hitters out. The third smashed a line drive to David’s left side. David tried hard for it. He
was sure he could stop it. It was a high-bouncing ball and wasn’t traveling as fast as the one that he had missed.

But he missed it by almost a foot. Shortstop Bonesy Lane couldn’t reach it either. The ball bounced out to left field, and
the runner on third scored.

The Gulls picked up another run before the Flickers could get them out.

The score was now 4 to 0 in the Gulls’ favor.

David went directly to the bench and sat down without looking at anyone. Two grounders that he should have gotten, he thought.
Two!

Brad Lodge led off. He flied out on the two-two pitch. Then Ken Lacey put life back into the team as he blistered a pitch
for two bases. Chugger Hines socked a single to right, and Ken scored.

The Flickers’ bench was once again a beehive of excitement. This was the first game of the season. It was the bottom of the
third. Up until now the Flickers’ wings had really been struggling. But the two straight hits put them back into the game.
They were not out of it — not by a long shot.

Jimmy Merrill knocked a sizzling grounder through the Gulls’ second baseman’s legs, and Chugger went to second. Rex Drake
was up. Rex was the Flickers’ clean-up hitter.

Chugger began to yell at second to rattle the
pitcher. But his yelling didn’t do any good. Rex popped to the first baseman for an easy catch. Two away. He turned and hurled
his bat disgustedly to the ground. It bounced a few feet and almost struck little Angie Burns, the mascot.

“Watch that temper, Rex,” warned Coach Beach from the bench. “You don’t want to be taken out of the game, do you?”

Rex didn’t answer. He went to the bench and sat down, squeezing in between David and Ken. Rex was like that. Very touchy.

Marty Cass took a strike and two balls. Then he laced an inside pitch for a clean drive over the third baseman’s head, and
Chugger came all the way in to home.

Jimmy started for third. Legs Mulligan, the third-base coach, ordered him back to second.

Bonesy was up next with David on deck. Bonesy inherited his nickname from his build. He was so thin his mother had to notch
out a hole in his belt to keep his pants from falling.

He took a called strike, then swung at a pitch far below his knees. He fouled the next pitch, then let three balls go by for
a full count.

“This is the one, Bonesy,” said Coach Beach. “Keep your eye on it.”

The pitch came in, and Bonesy swung. A smashing drive to center field! The ball was hit hard. It was half a mile high, and
the Gulls’ center fielder raced back. Then he stopped, lifted his glove hand, and Bonesy was out.

Two runs, three hits and one error. David dropped his bat and ran out to third. The excited voices of the fans bothered him.
The stands were so close to third base that he could hear almost everything the people said.

He wished he could stay at shortstop. He liked it there. But he wasn’t good enough. That was why Coach Beach had him exchange
positions with Bonesy in the third inning. David had a good arm, but he was short and squat. He was not able to cover as much
ground as Bonesy could.

“Think you’ll keep up that good Kroft name, David?” a voice said from the stands.

There was humor in the man’s voice. There was nothing nasty about it. But the words burned into David’s mind.

He knew why that person had said that. Dad had been a great baseball player in his day. Dad had two brothers who were still
pretty great. They didn’t live here anymore. They had married and moved south. Both were playing baseball with professional
teams.

Don was good, too. He was David’s older brother. He was sixteen, a junior in high school and just about the best shortstop
Penwood High School had ever had. Even Mr. Wooley, the high school athletic coach, said that.

Practically everyone in Penwood who followed baseball knew that there had never been a Kroft who wasn’t a good player. A
real
good player.

And that was why the fan had asked David
that question,
“Think you’ll keep up that good Kroft name, David
?”

David didn’t answer. He didn’t even look to see who had spoken. He scooped up his glove, got into position near the bag and
waited for the practice throw from first baseman Jimmy Merrill.

Brad bore down on the first hitter. Four pitches and he had the man out of there. Then the Gulls’ catcher came to bat. He
smashed a hard grounder down to third. It took two hops and was at David before he could blink an eye. The ball bounced up
face-high, struck the top of his glove and sailed far over his head.

Another error!

“Come on, Dave!” shouted Rex disgustedly.

The fans yelled. David heard some of them talking to him. He tried to ignore them. He had learned a long time ago that a ballplayer
should never listen to what the fans said.

But two errors in one game! How long would Coach Beach stand for that?

David began to chatter, mixing his voice with the rest of the infielders’. It was a good thing Brad was a cool pitcher. It
took a lot for Brad to get sore.

The Gulls banged out a hit, but it did no damage. They didn’t score.

David led off for the Flickers. He had singled in the second inning. This was his second time at bat.

“Ball!” Inside.

“Ball!” Again it was inside.

“Ball!” Too low.

David stepped back. His heart hammered. The Flickers were trailing 4 to 2. He had to wait out the pitcher.

He stepped back into the box and saw two strikes cross the plate. Full count.

The next pitch came in. It was in there. David swung.
Crack!
A long ball to left field.
Not high enough. It was caught, and David returned to the dugout.

“Tough luck, David,” said Coach Beach. “You hit that solid. Legs Mulligan will finish the game at third, David. Warm him up.”

“Okay,” said David softly.

He went to third to pick up his glove. Some of the fans commented on his hit. He appreciated it, but didn’t let on that he
did. He and Legs went behind the stands and played catch until the Gulls retired the side.

Legs was built something like Bonesy, except that he seemed to be more legs than anything else. He spat into the pocket of
his glove and kept up a steady chatter at third. That was all he did that half inning, just chatter, for not a ball was hit
to him.

In the bottom of the fifth Jimmy Merrill walked and finally scored on a single by Bonesy Lane. In the sixth the Gulls picked
up another run to make their total 5. Then Ken Lacey
knocked another single, his third hit of the game, and Chugger walked. Jimmy flied out, and Rex singled, scoring Ken. That
was the best the Flickers could do. They came out on the tail end, 5 to 4.

“Tough game to lose,” said Dad as he, Mom, Don and Ann Marie walked out of the ballpark with David. “But it was very exciting.”

“Guess it was my fault we lost,” said David.

“Because of those errors?” Don laughed. “They were hard-hit apples, mister. I would have had trouble trying to catch those,
myself.”

I bet, thought David.

“That big mouth,” broke in Ann Marie disgustedly.

Mom looked at her. “Who’s a big mouth?” she asked, frowning.

“Rex Drake. I heard him say that it looks as if there’s one Kroft who won’t keep up the good baseball name. Only
he
would say a thing like that.”

“Forget it,” said Dad. “Just give David a chance. Isn’t that right, son?”

David said nothing. He stared at the ground and remembered what that fan had said to him. It was very much the same thing
that Rex had said.

2

D
AVID knew he might never be as good a ballplayer as Dad used to be. Dad was tall and well-built. He could throw well, hit
well and run like a deer. David could throw and hit well, too. But he wasn’t fast. He couldn’t shift to the right or left
as quickly as he should. Nor would his legs carry him as fast as they should. The sprints proved it many times. David would
always finish somewhere near the tail end.

Funny how he wasn’t born like Don. Don was like Dad. He was fast, too. And shifty. He could play any position on the ball
field with
ease. Because he was quick and had a terrific arm, Coach Wooley played him at shortstop.

Am I hopeless? thought David. Am I the one who will make people say, “Here is one Kroft who never made it”?

He practiced as hard as he could the next two days. Coach Beach had David alternate at third with Legs Mulligan. David had
worried about this before. He had been afraid that Legs might be starting at third. But Legs was a weak hitter, and David
could hit. David was sure that that was the only reason why Coach Beach had him start.

Coach Beach knocked grounders straight at David, then to his left side and his right side. David had no trouble catching the
big hoppers that came directly at him. And his throws to first baseman Jimmy Merrill were right on target.

But when the coach hit to David’s left and right sides, David had trouble. Oh, he caught the high bouncers, all right. His
trouble was catching the balls hit hard and close to the
ground. These he often missed. And if he fumbled the ball, then picked it up again, his throw to first would be wild.

“Take your time, David! Make your throws good!” advised the coach.

David had heard that advice before. Maybe he just wasn’t meant to play baseball. Could you like baseball and still not be
meant for it?

Thursday, after supper, David and Bonesy went to see the Penwood Merchants play the Atlas Redbirds. The game was at the Penwood
Athletic Field, which had a grandstand behind the backstop and bleachers behind first and third bases. A board fence covered
with advertisements surrounded the outfield.

A large crowd attended the game. It had been like this last year. During the first few games of the season the people would
come out in droves. Then, as the season wore on, the attendance wore off. It wasn’t like the Grasshopper League games. There
was always a big crowd watching them.

BOOK: Too Hot to Handle
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