Authors: Dan Gutman
A Baseball Card Adventure
To Ray Dimetrosky, Howard Wolf,
and Craig Provorny
His weakness was his anger, and his anger was his strength.
âLeigh Montville, in
Ted Williams: The Biography of an
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over
Kill Three Birds with One Stone
The Point of No Return
A Little Incentive
Where Am I?
I Told You So
The Absolute Truth
On the Road
If You're Gonna Do Something, Do It Right
The Happy Zone
Visiting a Friend
An American Hero
ILLIAMS WAS KNOWN FOR USING
. I wanted to bring him to life, but I didn't want to put curse words in this book. When you see the occasional “!@#$%!,” that's Ted cursing. If you're reading this book aloud, I suggest you replace “!@#$%!” with “bleep” or “bleeping.”
Please, no angry letters.
ITH A BASEBALL CARD IN MY HAND
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.
“Ready as I'll ever be.”
I never thought in a million years that I would get the chance to play in the Little League World Series. Some kids dream of playing in the majors or the Super Bowl, or taking that last shot to beat the buzzer in the NBA Finals. Not me. None of those things ever crossed my mind. I figure only the best of the best get
I mean, I'm a pretty decent ballplayer, don't get me wrong. I can hit, field, throw, and run better than most kids. But let's be realistic. I'm not even the best in the 13-year-old age group. There are kids who are way better than I am, much stronger and bigger than me. I can't compete with them. Those are the kids who'll make it to the top, I figure, if they're lucky and
don't get hurt along the way. All I ever hoped to do was play in the Little League World Series.
And here I was.
Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Every August, the best Little League teams gather here to see which one is the best of all. And it's truly a
series. It's not like in Major League Baseball, where the “world” consists of a bunch of American teams and the Toronto Blue Jays. In the Little League World Series, there are kids from Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, Japan, South Americaâall over.
It had been a long road. First I was picked to play shortstop for the all-star team in my townâLouisville, Kentucky. We have this one lefty pitcher, Kyle, who can throw over 80 miles an hour consistently. I've had to hit against him when we played his team, the Exterminators; and he is just about untouchable. We nicknamed him the Mutant Man because he's six feet tall and his arms are just about that long too.
Anyway, with Kyle on the mound, we swept through the district, sectional, and regional tournaments. That got us into the World Series, where we had to compete against fifteen other teams. Kyle threw a couple of no-hitters; and the next thing we knew, we were facing the Dominican Republic in the Little League World Series Championship game. For me, it was a dream come true.
WELCOME TO VOLUNTEER STADIUM
the sign said as our bus pulled into the parking lot. When we walked
through the gate, all these people were clapping and cheering.
“Is somebody famous here?” I asked, craning my neck to look around and spot some celebrity.
“Yeah,” said our catcher, Cubby Abrams, “
I don't think I ever saw that many people in one place at one time. Cubby said he heard that the stadium could hold 45,000 spectators. Back home we had some games with ten parents watching us play, and most of them would just sit there talking on their cell phones or texting the whole time. I started to feel that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Out past the outfield fences I could see lots of people sitting on the lawn. Some of them were holding banners:
There were signs in Spanish too.
My mom was in the stands, down the third-base line somewhere. She had driven over ten hours to Williamsport with my aunt Liz and cousin Samantha. My dad is wheelchair-bound, and he couldn't make the trip; but he would be watching on TV. It was okay. My folks split up a few years ago, and it's better for everybody when they're not together. They just start arguing.
While we warmed up, people were pointing cameras at us and asking us to sign autographs. We were drinking it all in. ESPN was there. They had these robotic TV cameras on wires that were swooping all around to film us. Millions of people were going to be watching the game. The Goodyear blimp was
“We are superstars, dude!” our third baseman, Tyler Harvey, said to me.
Coach Valentini told us not to look over at the Dominican players as they warmed up on the first-base side, but I couldn't resist peeking at them. Some of those guys were
. It was hard to believe they were all younger than 14. But then, some of our guys were pretty big too. Like Kyle.
Flip Valentini is really old, and we had to help him into the dugout so he could give us his usual pregame pep talk. If Flip fell down and broke his hip or something, it would be horrible.
The previous night at the Econo Lodge where we were staying, Flip called me into his room after dinner. He told me this would probably be his last season coaching. He said his arthritis is getting worse, and he is finding it harder and harder to get around. He put his arm on my shoulder and told me I was sort of like a son to him. I told him he was sort of like a dad to me. We didn't cry or anything, but it was pretty intense. And then Flip said something that took me by surprise.
“Stosh, when they play the national anthem before the game tomorrow,” he said, “how 'bout you carry the flag out there?”
I didn't know what to say. To be honest, I didn't want to do it. I mean, it's a big honor and all, but I didn't deserve it. I'm not the best player on our team. And besides, I didn't want everyone staring at me. It
would be embarrassing. What if I tripped and fell or something and the flag hit the ground? Of course, I didn't want to let Flip down either.
“Do I have to?” I asked hesitantly.
“Fuhgetaboutit, Stosh,” he replied. “Kyle can do it.”
But I could see the disappointment in his eyes as I left the room.
Now the whole team was huddled around Flip in the dugout. He reminded us that the last time Louisville made it to the World Series was 2002. A long time ago. They'd won it that year too. Now it was our turn.
“Y'know how many kids play Little League ball?” Flip asked us.
“How many?” asked our leftfielder, Josh Cresswell.
“How should I know?” Flip said. “Zillions. Fuhgetaboutit. A lot. Point is, those kids ain't here today.
are. Win or lose, you're gonna remember this day for the rest of your lives. So don't screw up. 'Cause if you make some bonehead play, they're gonna show it on TV tonight.”
Flip isn't so great at pep talks. He went on for a while. Some of it was inspirational. Sometimes we had to cover our mouths with our gloves so Flip wouldn't see us giggling. But Flip is Flip, and we love him.
We ran out onto the field and lined up along the first-base line. The Dominican team lined up on
the third-base line. When Kyle came out carrying the American flag, I felt a little bad. That could have been me. I didn't look at Flip.
A marching band played the national anthem. A veteran of the Iraq War came on the field to throw out the first pitch. He only had one leg, but he threw a strike, anyway. Everybody gave him a standing ovation.
We were the home team, so we ran out to our positions for the first inning. While Kyle warmed up, I took a minute to look around. It was a beautiful field. The infield was perfectly groomed. It wasn't like the crummy fields we've played on back home. I smoothed the dirt around my shortstop position, anyway. There wasn't a pebble to be found. I wouldn't have to worry about a grounder taking a bad hop and hitting me in the face.
It didn't matter. I didn't field a ball in the first inning. Kyle just mowed them down. Nine pitches, nine strikes. He was on fire. The Dominican kids looked like a bunch of chumps.
We were feeling pretty good until we got a look at
pitcher: Jose. He wasn't a big guy, and he didn't throw all that hard. But he had this weird, deceptive motion. Sometimes he released the ball overhand, and on the next pitch he'd cross you up and throw it sidearm. He threw each pitch at a different speed, and he had pinpoint control. It was hard to pick up the ball. We went down one, two, three. I didn't get the chance to hit in the first inning because Flip put
me eighth in the batting order.
I finally got a chance to hit in the third inning. Jose started me off with a straight fastball right over the plate, which I swung over for strike one. I took a hack at the next one too, but it was a little outside and I missed it. I tried to think of everything Flip had taught me about hitting with two strikes.
Guard the plate. Choke up a little. Just make contact.
None of it mattered. Jose blew a fastball by me, and I almost fell down swinging at it. I didn't feel that bad. Nobody else on our team was hitting the kid either.
It was shaping up to be a real pitcher's duel. Kyle would go out and make the Dominicans look silly, and then Jose would do the same to us. We managed one dinky hit through six innings, and Kyle was still working on a no-hitter in the seventh.
He walked the first batter, which is always dangerous. The next guy bunted him over to second. One out. Runner in scoring position. I edged a little over toward the second-base bag to keep the runner honest.
Kyle was rattled and threw the next pitch in the dirt. When the ball got away from Cubby Abrams, the runner dashed to third. This was getting serious now.
Kyle looked determined, and he struck out the next guy on three pitches. Two outs. We were looking good, but there was that runner on third. One little mistake on our part and he would score. And in a
game like this, one run could be enough to win it.
Their next batter was a lefty, so I shifted over a few feet closer to second base. This kid had already struck out twice, so I wasn't too worried about him.
“No batter,” I hollered. “You got this guy, Kyle.”
Kyle threw a strike and a ball, and on the next pitch the batter took a swing and sent a grounder skittering up the middle. Kyle stabbed his glove at the ball as it went by, but he couldn't reach it.
I reacted instinctively, running to my left. When the ball skipped off the pitcher's mound, it changed the trajectory just a little bit, as I knew it would. I also knew it was going to be a tough play.
“Dive, Stosh!” somebody yelled.
Nobody had to tell me that. If I could just stop the ball and knock it down, I could pick it up and throw the guy out at first. That would be the third out, and the run wouldn't score. I had made this play plenty of times.
But I didn't make it this time. I dove, stretched my arm as far as I could; but the ball ticked off the end of my glove and rolled into the outfield. The runner from third scored, and we were behind, 1â0. The official scorer didn't give me an error. The play was ruled a hit.
I kicked the dirt. One more inch and I would've had it.
One more inch.
Flip always tells us that baseball is a game of inches.
After Kyle got the third out, everybody in the dugout was trying to make me feel better, telling me to
forget about it.
“Nice try, Stosh,” Flip said. “Good effort.”
But I knew that I could have reached that ball. If only I had a better jump on it. If only I had a bigger glove. If only I was an inch taller. Flip always tells us that if you can touch the ball, you should be able to catch it.
We went into the ninth inning still trailing, 1â0. I looked at the lineup card on the wall of the dugout. I was due to bat fourth. So if nobody got on base, I wouldn't get another chance to hit. And if one of our guys
get on base, I could be in position to drive in the run and tie the gameâ¦or make the final out.
Part of me wanted to get the chance to be the hero. Part of me, I must admit, hoped we'd go down one, two, three so I wouldn't be our last batter with the game on the line.
be getting tired, I figured. He had thrown over a hundred pitches. Somebody was warming up in the Dominican bull pen. They could replace Jose at any moment.
Raul Perez, our second baseman, led off. He launched a high fly ball to leftfield. We were all holding our breath in the dugout, but the ball was caught a few feet in front of the fence. One out.
Tyler Harvey was up. He got the ball up in the air too, but just to the infield. The third baseman grabbed it. Two outs.
We were down to our last out. Cubby Abrams was up. I walked out to the on-deck circle.
“Save my ups, man!” I shouted to Cubby as he stepped up to the plate.
It was a lie. I didn't want Cubby to save my ups. I wanted him to make the last out so I wouldn't have to. I don't like to admit it, but it's true. Nobody wants to make the final out.
Cubby took a ball and a strike; and then as the next pitch was coming in, he did something that blew everyone's mindâhe squared around to bunt!
The third baseman was playing way back, guarding the line to prevent an extra-base hit. He had no chance to pick up the ball as it rolled a few inches from the foul line. The pitcher was too far away to get it. Cubby wasn't a fast runner, but he was digging for first. The catcher tore off his mask and pounced on the ball. He made a great play getting the ball to first just as Cubby was crossing the bag.
“Safe!” yelled the umpire.
Oh, no. We had a runner at first. That meant Cubby represented the tying run, and I represented the winning runâ¦or the last out. Everybody on our bench was going crazy.
“Go get 'em, Stosh!”