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Authors: Dan Gutman

Shoeless Joe & Me

BOOK: Shoeless Joe & Me
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Shoeless Joe & Me

A Baseball Card Adventure

Dan Gutman

Dedicated to the great kids,
teachers, and librarians at the
schools I visited in 2000

Contents

1

No Fair

2

Bad News

3

An Idea

4

The Impossibility

5

Have a Nice Trip

6

Another Mission

7

Slipping Away

8

Don't Bet on It

9

The Bad Old Days

10

Room with a View

11

Katie and Joe

12

An Offer

13

Dirty Money

14

Scrap Paper

15

Wake-up Call

16

The World Series

17

The Fix Is On

18

The Meeting

19

Alert the Media

20

A Different World

21

The Right Thing

22

The Favor

23

An Old Friend

24

Life Isn't Fair

 

I CAN TRAVEL THROUGH TIME
.

Oh, I know what you're thinking. You've seen dozens of science fiction movies and you've read books where people travel through time. But I can really
do
it. The difference is that I don't have any time machine.

I do it with baseball cards.

In the movies, time machines usually look like a booth, sort of like a bathroom stall. Somebody steps inside, and they turn a bunch of dials on a control panel. They push a button, and
zap
, they disappear and reappear conveniently in 1492 or 1776 or whenever they intended. The next thing you know, they're helping Christopher Columbus discover America or they're fighting the British with George Washington.

Well, it doesn't work that way. At least not for
me. I don't have a time machine or some fancy car like that kid had in
Back to the Future
. My baseball cards serve as my ticket to another time. And they don't always work the way I want them to.

You don't have to believe me. I don't expect you to. But one day I happened to be holding a valuable 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card, and I began to feel a strange tingling sensation in my fingertips. It was like I had slept on my arm all night or something. But it was more of a pleasant, buzzy feeling.

The tingling moved up my arm and washed over my body. About five seconds later, I was in the year 1909. I swear to you, it
happened
. I actually got to meet Honus Wagner, the Hall of Fame shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me.

Finding myself in 1909 was exciting and more than a little frightening. I almost didn't make it back home. Luckily, I happened to be carrying a few new baseball cards at the time. I used one of them to send myself back to the present day.

Since that experience, I've taken other journeys through time. I got a 1947 Jackie Robinson card and watched him become the first African American in sixty years to play in the major leagues. I got a 1932 Babe Ruth card and watched him hit the most famous and controversial home run in baseball history.

I thought I was getting pretty good at traveling through time with baseball cards. But none of those trips prepared me for what happened when I went on a journey to the year 1919. That's what this story is about.

Joe Stoshack

1
No Fair


I'LL GIVE YOU FIVE BUCKS IF YOU GET A HIT RIGHT NOW
, Stoshack,” our shortstop Greg Horwitz yelled to me. “I'm late for my soccer game.”

I wiped my nose on my sleeve and knocked the dirt off my cleats. Yeah, I was going to get a hit. I could feel it in my bones. And we needed one pretty badly.

The guys on my team didn't call it “Little League” anymore. We were all thirteen now, and we were in the majors. That doesn't mean major-league quality or anything like that, but we could play the game.

In our league, you didn't see kids getting bonked on the head by easy pop-ups like you did when we were in the minors. You didn't see kids crying when they struck out. You didn't see kids standing around the outfield watching planes fly by. We
came to play ball. By this time, the kids who couldn't hack it had switched to playing musical instruments or doing art or whatever kids do who don't play sports anymore.

I live in Louisville, Kentucky, which in case you don't know is just across the Ohio River from Indiana. The Kentucky Derby—a famous horse race—is held here each May. But since I'm a baseball fan, my favorite part of town is the Louisville Slugger Museum on West Main Street. They've got a baseball bat outside that's six stories high.

I wiped my nose again and looked over at Coach Tropiano standing in foul territory near third base. He clapped his hands together twice, then rubbed the palm of his right hand across the words “Flip's Fan Club” on his shirt. The swing away sign. Good. No way I want to be bunting at a time like this.

I wiped away some more snot and wished my nose would stop running. I was just getting over the flu, but I hadn't quite shaken it yet. My mom didn't want me to play until I was all better. But it was the play-offs! If I waited until I was all better, the season would be over.

“Five bucks, Stoshack,” Horwitz hollered as I walked up to the plate.

“Give ya ten if ya strike out,” the catcher cracked.

“And I will eject both of you young men from the game if you continue this line of discussion,”
warned the umpire, Mr. Kane, the science teacher at my school who umpires some of our games in his spare time. The catcher and I looked at him, and then at each other. What a spoilsport! The guy has no sense of humor.

I got into the batter's box and dug my right cleat into the dirt five inches from the plate.

“C'mon, Joey,” my mom shouted from the third-base bleachers. “Blast one outta here, baby!”

It had taken a long time, but I had finally taught my mom enough baseball chatter so she wouldn't make a fool of herself. Used to be, she would shout the lamest things when I came to bat. Stuff like, “Hit a touchdown!” Sometimes I would have to pretend I wasn't related to her.

I wiped more snot off my nose and glanced at the scoreboard. 5-5. The bases were loaded. One out. Bottom of the sixth. Last inning of a one-game playoff between us and Yampell Jewelers. Nothing like a little pressure to get a guy motivated.

If I could drive in Chase, our runner on third, we'd win the Louisville Little League Championship. If I couldn't, the game would end in a tie and we'd have to play Yampell again next Saturday. The Little League officials are convinced that our thirteen-year-old bodies are too frail and fragile to play extra innings. Me, I could play all day.

The pitcher stared at me. I pumped my bat across the plate a few times to show him I meant
business. Mentally, I counted the seven things that could happen that would get that winning run home.

 

1. I could get a hit and be the hero, of course. That would be my preference.

2. I could draw a walk and force the run in.

3. Somebody could make an error.

4. The pitcher could throw a wild pitch.

5. There could be a passed ball.

6. I could fly out to the outfield, and Chase could tag up and score.

7. I could ground out, and the runner on third would score on the play.

 

The pitcher looked nervous. I licked my lips.

“Let's go, Matthew!” somebody yelled from the first-base bleachers. “Strike this guy out.”

“If you ever get a hit in your whole life,” Chase yelled through cupped hands, “get one
now
!”

I blinked my eyes hard a few times in the hope that I wouldn't have to blink when the ball was coming toward the plate.

I really didn't want to have to play these guys again next Saturday. Half the guys on our team would be away at a soccer tournament in Lexington. They happened to be our best players. The soccer coach hates baseball and gets crazy if any of his players miss a soccer game to play baseball. But baseball is the only game I play. I really wanted to
end the game
now
.

The pitcher went into his windup and reared back to throw. When the ball was about halfway to the plate, I suddenly realized there was another thing that could happen that would bring the runner on third home.

 

8. I could get hit by a pitch.

 

The ball was coming straight at my head.

I don't know if you've ever been in a situation like this, but there's no way to think rationally. You just let your instincts tell you what to do, like a wild animal trying to survive in the jungle.

I bailed out of the batter's box, my bat flying one way and my helmet flying another way. The ball whizzed past my nose as I flopped in the dirt. When I looked up, the catcher had the ball in his glove.

“Did it hit me?” I asked Mr. Kane hopefully.

“No such luck, Mr. Stoshack,” he replied. “Ball one.”

When it was clear that I wasn't hurt, my teammates started razzing me.

“Oh man, Stoshack! Why didn't you let it hit you?”

“Yeah, how about taking one for the team, Stosh?”

“Shut up, Miller.” I got up and spanked the dirt off my pants. My biggest fear was that my mother might run out of the stands to see if I was okay. She stayed put, knowing full well that if she put one foot on the field, I would be so humiliated that I would
refuse to speak to her for a week.

I took my time collecting my bat and helmet. My heart was beating fast. I forgot all about my runny nose.
If the next pitch is close
, I thought to myself,
I'll let it nick me
.

Mr. Kane walked halfway to the mound. “In light of the situation,” he informed the pitcher, “I will assume you were not trying to hit Mr. Stoshack with that pitch. Is that correct?”

“It got away from me,” the pitcher explained.

“See that it doesn't happen again, young man,” Mr. Kane warned. “We have not had a fatality all season, and I do not want one now.”

“What's a fatality?” the pitcher asked.

“Look it up when you get home,” Mr. Kane grumbled as he walked back to brush off the plate.

“Throw another pitch like that,” the catcher shouted, “and I'll kill you.
Then you'll know what it
means.”

The pitcher fidgeted and looked in for the sign. I got set in the batter's box.

The pitch came in, but this time it was so far outside that the catcher had to dive for it. He made a spectacular stop. Chase came halfway down the third baseline, then scampered back to the bag.

“Ball two!” called Mr. Kane.

“Nice stop,” I muttered to the catcher.

“Hit the mitt, will you?” he barked to his pitcher as he returned the ball. “What is your problem?”

“It got away from me,” the pitcher explained.

“See that it don't happen again,” the catcher
barked.


Doesn't
,” corrected Mr. Kane. “See that it
doesn't
happen again.”

“Get it over, Matthew!” somebody yelled from the bleachers.

I got ready again. 2-0 count. Big advantage to me. He
had
to throw a strike on the next pitch or the count would be 3-0 and he would
really
be in danger of walking in the winning run.

“Your pitch, Stosh!” Chase yelled from third.

It
was
my pitch. Right down the middle of the plate, about belt high. Juicy as a Fuddruckers burger. I attacked it, just like the coach told us to. The faster the bat moves, the harder it hits the ball.

I made solid contact, smashing the ball up the middle. It took a hop about halfway to the pitcher. He ducked, throwing his glove in front of his face in self-defense. As I dug for first, I saw the ball hit his glove and roll down the back of the pitcher's mound.

“Second base!” screamed the catcher.

The pitcher pounced on the ball and flipped it underhand to the second baseman.

At that point, I didn't see the rest of the play. I was digging for first with everything I had. If they made the force play at second, that would be two outs. Then the second baseman would throw to first and try to make a game-ending double play. If I could beat the throw, Chase would score from third and we would win. I pushed myself to run faster than I had ever run before.

As I streaked toward the bag, I saw the first baseman stretching and reaching with his glove. It was going to be close. I strained to get my foot on the bag before the ball reached him. A split second after my foot hit first base, I heard the pop of the ball smacking into the first baseman's glove. I was safe.

“You're out!” Mr. Kane shouted.

“What!” I turned around and charged toward him.

“I was safe!” I screamed. “I beat it!”

“Mr. Stoshack,” he replied calmly, “I would eject you from the game for that remark, but unfortunately the game is over. The final score is 5-5. Next Saturday, you had better show some respect and sportsmanship or you will be ejected in the first inning.”

“I was safe,” I insisted. “What are you, blind? Oh, man, we would've won the game! That's not fair!”

BOOK: Shoeless Joe & Me
13.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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