Authors: Matt Christopher
To Matthew F., who batted .300, at least
Copyright © 1997 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
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he ball was coming straight toward him, right down the middle. It looked like it was doing ninety miles an hour. He had to
go for it.
Sandy Comstock, center fielder for the Newtown Raptors, lifted his left foot, pulled his bat back, then swung at the round
He felt the vibration of the bat as it hit the ball squarely and shot it into right field.
“Go, Sandy, go!”
“Dig it out! Dig! Dig!”
The cries from the bench and from the stands urged Sandy past first and on to second. He slid in a split second before the
second baseman nabbed the throw-in.
“Safe!” the umpire called.
Sandy stood up and dusted off his pants, a wide grin on his face. Nothing felt better than playing good baseball on a sunny
day. The past year had taught him that. It was something he hoped he’d never have to relearn, because it had been a painful
As he readied himself to react to the next play, he thought back to where he had been the year before. Back then, his jersey
. Although it was only the next town over, Grantville seemed like a world away from Newtown.
There was no way to explain to anyone in Newtown what Grantville was like. Or what it had been like to grow up there. Newtown,
with its neatly painted houses and freshly mowed lawns, sometimes seemed like another planet to him.
In Grantville, most of the houses were duplexes or triple-deckers split into apartments. Sandy’s family had occupied a five-room
apartment on the top floor of a three-story building that housed six other families. Besides the kitchen—dining room combo
and living room, there were two bedrooms. One had been partitioned to make space for Sandy’s twin sisters to sleep on one
side. His bed was on the other.
With such cramped quarters, it was a relief to be outside. That’s where Sandy and the other Grantville kids had spent most
of their time. Only the worst weather kept them indoors. Instead they’d played on the streets and in the dusty backyards.
The only real patch of green worth playing on in Grantville was the ball field near the elementary school. Sandy had always
loved the feel of the grass under his feet in early spring. He loved being out in the open space of the field with the warm
sun blazing down on him. That was why he’d gone after an outfielder’s slot on his first team.
It was hard to remember that he had come close to throwing all that away. But he had. And it would have been no one’s fault
but his own if he had lost it forever.
ou’re up first, right?” asked Skip Chessler, the Grantville Raiders’ left fielder. He and Sandy were trotting toward the team
dugout at the bottom of the final inning of their game with the Daytown Dazzlers. The Dazzlers had managed to hold on to a
one-run lead as the game wound down to its conclusion.
“No, I’m on deck,” said Sandy. “Billy leads off.”
“That’s a sure out,” murmured Skip, taking his seat on the bench.
Sandy laughed harshly. “Yeah, but what can you do? He’s our one southpaw pitcher. We gotta play him.”
Billy Ligget had pitched a solid game, but his hitting wasn’t as good. He made Sandy tense every time he came to the plate.
“Do your best, Billy,” said Coach Samuels. “That’s all I’m asking.”
The rest of his team settled back to watch him fly, foul, or fan out in three pitches. Billy surprised everyone. He connected
with the first pitch. The ball soared just over the head of the first baseman. It dropped in front of the right fielder, and
Billy managed to trundle his way to first for a stand-up single.
The Raiders’ fans went wild. Sandy Comstock, their leading hitter, was coming up next.
Sandy took a few swings with the two bats he’d been holding in the on-deck circle, then tossed one away. He strode to the
plate, adjusted his batting helmet, and choked up on his bat. Then he narrowed his eyes and stared down the pitcher.
The Dazzler returned the stare, shook off two pitches, then reared back and released. It was a wild pitch coming straight
at Sandy’s head. Sandy jerked back. The catcher scrambled to retrieve the ball, then called time out.
“Tell your pitcher to watch it,” Sandy muttered fiercely as the catcher started down toward the mound. He noted the catcher’s
look of surprise with
Bet he will tell him, too
, Sandy thought.
What a wimp
After time in, the next pitch started down the middle. But it curved midway and ended up well outside the strike zone.
“He’s afraid of you!”
“Eye on the ball, Sandy!”
“You’re ahead of him now!”
C’mon, give me something I can hit
, Sandy thought, gritting his teeth. This time, the pitcher did. It was a little high and a little bit of a reach, but Sandy
raised his bat and swung.
Billy took off from first base as the ball soared into the air between center and left fields. It landed between the two outfielders,
who both scrambled for it. Billy rounded second and made it safely to third moments before the ball thudded into the third
Sandy landed on second base with no trouble. He nodded over at Billy, who was giving him a thumbs-up sign. He didn’t bother
looking into the stands, though. He knew that no one from his family was there.
Skip, a solid hitter, was up next. Sandy took a few steps off the base, ready to sprint.
Hit it, Skip. Send me home so we can send these losers home
Four pitches came and went without a hit. Then, with a count of 2 and 2, Skip sent the next pitch out to the center field
wall, just short of going over. He trotted down to first base as Billy, then Sandy, crossed home plate for the win.
The Raiders yelled and cheered.
“We showed them, didn’t we? We sure showed them who was boss! They thought they could push us around, but we showed them,”
Sandy cried over and over. The ferocity in his voice drowned out all the others.
andy replayed each moment of the win on his way home. But once he walked up the steps to his family’s apartment, he stopped
thinking about it. It had been a long time since anyone here had asked him about baseball. He no longer tried to tell them
He had barely set foot in the door when his mother shushed him.
“Shhhhh! Sandy, quiet!” she hissed, raising her finger to her lips. “The twins are asleep!”
She shut the door to the bedroom, then pulled him into the kitchen. Whispering, she explained.
“I don’t think it’s serious, but they both came home from school feeling sick to their stomachs,” she said. “They looked flushed,
too, so I took their
temperatures. Margaret has a slight fever, but Mary’s is normal. I put them to bed, and they just nodded off a few minutes
“They don’t sound so sick,” said Sandy.
“No, and I’d like to keep it that way. So try not to make any noise,” said Mrs. Comstock. “I have a million things to do before
I get dinner going, so please don’t bother me.” She picked up the phone with one hand and shut the door to the small room
she used as a study with the other.
Don’t bother me. Try not to make any noise
, Sandy mimicked to himself.
Whatever happened to “How was your day
He dropped his school things next to the bedroom door.
So what am I supposed to do, anyhow? I can’t move in this crummy apartment without bumping into something, and the walls are
so thin I can practically hear the twins breathing
He stood for a moment, listening to his mother laughing on the phone. Then he left the apartment, resisting the temptation
to slam the door after him.
The sun had dropped behind the treetops now. Although it was mid-spring, it was chilly outside.
Sandy tugged his Raiders baseball cap down lower over his ears. He decided to wait for his father to come home before going
There was only a fifty-fifty chance of that happening anytime soon. Mr. Comstock had been working extra hours for over a year
now. Business at the trucking company that he managed was good, and, as he said, “You have to make it while you can.” His
overtime pay went into a special account — savings for a house someday, he told Sandy.
“Someday” seemed pretty far away.
Sandy slumped down on the steps in front of the apartment building. For a few minutes, he watched cars go by. But that was
boring. He had to
something. He decided to take a walk to the convenience store and check out the magazines. He didn’t have any money to buy
anything, but using your eyes was free, wasn’t it?
But when he got to the store, he had trouble getting near the magazines. A tough-looking group of kids was hanging out right
in front of them. One of them, a muscular boy with red hair, seemed to be the leader. Sandy thought he looked a little familiar
and wondered if he went to Grantville Middle School.
Sandy saw a magazine he wanted to look at, but the redhead was standing right in front of it. He tried to muscle his way to
the sports rack, but the kid moved as if to block his path. Exasperated, Sandy finally just reached behind him. When he pulled
the magazine free, his elbow brushed the kid in the head.
The redhead yelped and spun around, an angry look on his face. “Watch it!” he said dangerously.
“I barely touched you!” Sandy replied hotly.
The redhead narrowed his eyes. “Then I’ll barely touch
,” he said. With a lightning-quick move, he shoved Sandy backward. Hard.
Sandy careened into the rack. Magazines flew everywhere. The one in his hands tore in half as he tried in vain to keep from
falling to the floor.
The store manager came running over. “Out! Out, all of you! I told you punks before to stay out of my store. I’m calling the
cops if you don’t leave.” The boys made a few wisecracks, then split up and sauntered down the aisles. A few looked over their
Sandy picked himself up, his baseball cap askew and the torn magazine still in his hands. “Give me that and get out,” the
store manager said angrily. “Go join your buddies and cause trouble elsewhere.”
Sandy didn’t bother telling the manager that the boys weren’t his “buddies.” He just hurried outside. He turned the corner
toward home, then stopped short. There in his path stood the group of kids. The redhead stepped out in front of them.
Sandy tensed, his face forming a deep scowl. “What’s the big idea?”
“Relax, baseball boy,” the redhead said. “We just wanted to thank you.”
The kid laughed harshly. “If you hadn’t come along, we would have had to figure out a way to make off with all this stuff.”
After glancing around surreptitiously, each boy quickly showed Sandy items concealed in his jacket: a handful of magazines,
a bag of candy, a bottle of soda. The redhead had a package of cigars. “Instead we had the perfect fall guy — you!”
Sandy blinked. “You stole that stuff?”
“We had to get supplies for our hangout. It’s not
like our parents are going to give us money to pay for stuff like this, you know? That guy’ll never miss it. And even if he
does, we’ll be long gone! But first —”
The redhead grabbed the magazines, leafed through them, then pulled one out. It was a copy of the same sports magazine Sandy
had been reading. “Here, take it.” He tossed it at Sandy.