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Authors: Paul Volponi

Game Seven

BOOK: Game Seven
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VIKING

Published by the Penguin Group

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penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published in the United States of America by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2015

Copyright © 2015 by Paul Volponi

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Volponi, Paul.

Game seven / Paul Volponi.

pages cm

Summary: “A sixteen-year-old shortstop in Cuba who dreams of playing with the pros must choose between his country and his father who defected to the U.S.”—Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-1-101-62154-7

[1. Baseball—Fiction. 2. Fathers and sons—Fiction. 3. Emigration and immigration—Fiction. 4. Defectors—Fiction. 5. Cuban Americans—Fiction. 6. Cuba—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.V8877Gam 2015

[Fic]—dc23

2014000118

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Prologue

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

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Acknowledgments

This text is dedicated to the loving memory of my mother, Mary, who was ejected from the stands during several of my baseball games by blind umpires with adequate hearing.

 

THERE ARE 108
stitches on a baseball. I should know. I've run my fingers over every one. The first and last stitches are hidden beneath the surface. But believe me, I've felt those, too.

– – –

I was up on my toes, shifting my weight from side to side. It's important for a shortstop. You don't ever want to get stuck in one spot, unable to move. So you learn to stay light on your feet. As our pitcher went into his windup, I was focused on the baseball in his left hand, following it all the way through his release.

Spinning out of his hand, it was just a seed of white to my eyes. A split second later, off the hitter's bat, it had turned into a scalding line drive headed right at me.

On instinct, I raised my glove in front of my face, almost in self-defense. The baseball stuck in its pocket, stinging my palm through the soft brown leather. Then I reached inside, gripping the ball by the seams before I tossed it around the infield diamond.

Six years ago, on my tenth birthday, Papi gave me this glove as a present. At the time it was brand-new and way too big for me.

“Don't worry. You grow into a glove. Then you'll have it the rest of your life,” Papi said as I struggled to keep it on my hand. “We'll play lots of catch together, every day. That'll help you break it in.”

Before I went to bed that night, Papi oiled the glove's pocket. He put a stone that was slightly bigger and heavier than a baseball in its center. Then he tied the fingers tightly closed around it, using string from Mama's kitchen.

“Do this every night and the ball will feel like a feather when it hits your glove,” Papi promised.

So I did.

Back then, every kid I knew was jealous of me. That's because baseball is practically a religion in my country. And Papi walked through the streets of our hometown, Matanzas, like a god, with me trailing behind. He'd been an all-star pitcher for almost a decade. Not only for the Matanzas Crocodiles, but also for the Cuban National Team—the Nacionales—in all the big international tournaments.

Fans called him El Fuego, for his blazing fastball, which no batter could touch. The only way Papi could have been more respected was if he'd been a general in the military or a high-ranking government official. But most of
that
respect would have come out of fear.

A few months after my birthday, though, everything changed.

The Cuban National Team traveled to play an exhibition in the US. I was so excited. Papi promised to bring back lots of presents, like blue jeans for Mama and my younger sister, Lola. And Papi said that if he could find a way, he'd bring me a brand-new ten-speed racing bike. I would have gladly settled for a pair of new tires and a chain for my old bike—more than most of my friends' fathers could get for them.

Every night while Papi was gone, I dreamed about that bike while the stone sat tied inside my glove.

When the Nacionales swept all three games of the US exhibition—against the Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals, and Chicago Cubs—it made the front page of every government-run newspaper in Cuba. Only Papi's name wasn't mentioned in any of the stories. I figured he might have injured his arm, or the team's manager decided to use other pitchers. Either way, I was completely disappointed and didn't know how to explain it to my friends.

The day the team arrived back in Cuba, I was waiting for Papi at home with Mama and my sister. We'd put up red, white, and blue streamers—the colors of the Cuban flag—along with a big congratulations banner that read,
FELICIDADES!
Mama even made Papi's favorite dish, fish casserole with sweet onions, green peppers, and yellow rice, for our victory feast. But the hours dragged past with no Papi and no celebration.

Mama must have screamed at us a dozen times about picking food off the plates. And as her dinner turned cold, the shadows slowly climbed the pink and purple walls of our single-story concrete house, touching our wooden front door.

Finally, there was a knock.

It was one of Papi's teammates.

Mama let him in, and I could tell by the way his eyes were focused on the floor that the news was bad. Maybe Lola could tell, too, because she buried her shoulder in the side of Mama's chest, waiting to hear. Only I stood on my own, pushing my toes hard into the ground, bracing myself.

“In Baltimore, the hotel lobby,” he said, “El Fuego walked out the revolving door, got into somebody's car, and drove off with them. He never came back.”

“Defected?” Mama asked with a twinge in her voice that sounded like a combination of amazement and fear.

Papi's teammate nodded his head. Then his eyes rose up and looked out the window, as if to check if he'd been followed to our house.

“Dios mío
,”
she said, letting go of my sister just long enough to cross herself.

That's when I realized Papi was never coming home. He couldn't. Not without going to prison for being a traitor.

I was in total shock. I could feel an earthquake starting inside of me. My legs got so shaky I had to lock them at the knees to stop the trembling from taking over my entire body.

“Right before he left,” Papi's teammate continued, “El Fuego whispered to me, ‘Tell my family I'll find a way for us to be together.'”

That night, the three of us cried in each other's arms. There were tears of joy for Papi's freedom and wondering what
our
future might be with him in the United States one day. But there were tears of worry, too, over what might happen to us in Cuba as the family of a defector. To make those worries even worse, the very next morning police officers confiscated Papi's car before we could even think about selling it.

In all the time that's passed since then, we haven't heard a single word from Papi: no letter, no phone call, no message delivered by a friend—nothing.

It took more than a year of waiting for this empty feeling to completely come over me. When it finally did, it ached more than anything I could imagine. It was like we didn't exist to Papi anymore, like we weren't his family, and like I wasn't really his son.

There are no professional baseball players in Cuba. All the Nacionales have other jobs. Papi had been given a good one, coaching baseball at a nearby school. But without his salary, we couldn't afford to live in our house anymore. Instead, we had to move into a one-bedroom apartment with sinks that sometimes back up and a toilet that overflows. Now Mama works as a maid, cleaning tourists' hotel rooms. And I stopped attending school this year to bus tables in the hotel's restaurant.

Meanwhile, I heard on free radio from the US that Papi signed a second multimillion-dollar deal to pitch in the major leagues for the Miami Marlins.

Whenever I cry now, it's always tears of bitterness.

A few days ago, the Marlins made it into the World Series against the New York Yankees. Game One of the Series was played in Miami, and Papi came in to pitch in relief. I sat alone on a dark staircase in our apartment building with a small transistor radio pressed against my ear, listening to every pitch thrown by the great El Fuego—something the police could have punished me for.

Papi threw a perfect ninth inning for the save, striking out a pair of Yankees as the Marlins won, 5–4.

When the game was over, with my blood beginning to boil, I ran into our apartment and snapped the string around my glove. Then I grabbed the stone from inside it and marched down to the shore.

It's ninety miles from Cuba to the coast of Florida. That didn't matter to me. I reared back and fired that stone as hard as I could toward Papi. And after it left my hand, all that remained was an intense burning sensation in my right arm.

BOOK: Game Seven
11.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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