Authors: Dan Gutman
“Stosh, you can do it, man!”
Why does this always happen to
? I looked around the stands trying to find my mom, but I couldn't see her. She was probably hiding her face. If it wasn't me up there, I wouldn't want to watch either.
Before I could walk up to the plate, Flip climbed
slowly out of the dugout and put his arm around me. It was just reassurance. There was nothing he could teach me at this point that he hadn't already drilled into me a hundred times before.
“Okeydokey, Stosh,” he said quietly. “Relax. Hold yer bat nice and loose. If the first one looks good, take a rip at it. Whale on that baby. Nice level swing. Just like I taughtcha. Now go get 'im.”
I picked up my bat, a 32-ounce Louisville Slugger. I used to swing a lighter bat, but Flip told us the heavier the bat, the harder you can hit the ball. I always follow Flip's advice. He picked out this bat especially for me.
I glanced down the foul lines as I walked up to the plate. Two hundred and twenty-five feet. I had hit a ball that far once or twice. It would be cool to slam a walk-off homer. That would be the high point of my life.
But right now I just wanted to get a single. Advance the runner. Even a walk would be okay. Let somebody
be the hero.
Jose looked at me. He certainly knew what I had done so far in the game: a strikeout in the third inning, a pop-up in the sixth. His first pitchâoverhandâmissed outside. I looked at our dugout to see if Flip was going to give me a sign, but he was just clapping his hands and shouting encouragement.
I decided to take the next pitch and hope for ball two, but Jose grooved itâsidearmâover the inside corner. One and one.
Okay, he wasn't going to walk me. And I sure wasn't going to go down looking. He knew that. Jose threw his change-upâoverhand againâand I was way ahead of it. Strike two.
I was down to my last strike.
were down to our last strike. Everybody on the bench was yelling and screaming. People in the stands had rally towels over their heads because they couldn't bring themselves to watch. I took a deep breath. So did Jose.
Protect the plate,
I told myself.
And relax. But be aggressive.
It was all a head game now, between Jose and me. Would he come in over the top with a hard one? Or sidearm it in slowly? High or low? Inside or outside corner? Would he waste one off the plate, hoping I'd go fishing for it?
Stop thinking so much,
I yelled at myself.
Just see the ball and hit the ball.
Jose went into his windup, and this time he was throwing
. It took me a millisecond to process that information and make the slight adjustment. I would have liked to let the pitch go by. But it was looking like a strike, so I had to swing.
Late. Air. Nothing.
Strike three. End of game. Final score: 1â0.
The Dominican kids jumped all over each other. Every camera was pointed at them celebrating, not at us looking depressed. I dragged my Louisville Slugger back to the dugout. A few of the guys were crying.
It was all over so fast. I felt that I had snapped my
fingers in the first inning, and now it was the ninth inning.
There would be no walk-off home run. No come-from-behind heroics. No miracle finish.
My dad once told me that Yogi Berra said, “It ain't over 'til it's over.”
Well, it was over. We lost, and that was that.
T TOOK A FEW DAYS FOR LIFE TO RETURN TO NORMAL AFTER
we got back from Williamsport. Me and the guys weren't celebrities anymore. We had to go back to cleaning our rooms, mowing our lawns, doing our summer readingâboring stuff like that.
I was playing Nintendo in the living room a couple of days after we got home. My mom was paying the bills in the den. She was all worried because she'd read an article in a magazine that said it costs over $100,000 to send a kid to college for four years, and she doesn't have anywhere
that kind of money.
“I don't have to go to college,” I told her. “I'll get a good job.”
“You're going to college,” she insisted. “That's how you'll
a good job.”
My mom is a nurse, and she works in a hospital here in Louisville. My dad is currently unemployed.
I was going to tell Mom that I could get a baseball scholarship to college. But after my performance in the Little League World Series, that didn't seem very likely.
I looked up from my video game when I heard a car door slam in the driveway.
“You expecting anybody, Mom?” I asked.
We both got up to peek through the blinds. There was a guy getting out of the car. He looked like he was around 30 or so. Crew cut. He was wearing a black suit, black tie, and sunglasses; and he was carrying a black briefcase. His car was black too.
“He looks like an FBI agent,” I whispered.
My mother giggled.
think he could be an FBI agent?”
“Nah, can't be,” I told her. “FBI agents only dress like FBI agents on TV. I bet
FBI agents dress like normal people so nobody will know they're FBI agents. This guy is probably selling insurance or something.”
The guy jogged up the front steps. He looked like he worked out every day. My mom ran to wipe her hands on a dish towel and started fussing with her hair like she was getting ready to go out on a date or something.
When the guy knocked on the door, I opened it. He had taken off his sunglasses.
“Excuse me,” the guy said politely. “Are you Joseph Stoshack?”
My mom stepped in front of me protectively.
She blocked the doorway like she didn't want this stranger coming into our house.
“Who wants to know?” she asked.
“Graham Pluto,” he replied. “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
an FBI agent!
He flipped open his wallet and stuck his badge in our faces, just like they do on TV. It was a real badge too, not one of those phony plastic ones you can buy at a Halloween store. He looked serious.
Why would the FBI come to our house? We never did anything wrong.
Then it hit me. Flip had asked me to carry the flag at the Little League World Series, and I'd turned him down. I had committed an un-American act. I was totally unpatriotic, and stupid too. The FBI probably suspected that I was a terrorist.
“I'm really sorry!” I blurted out. “I didn't mean it! Really. I won't do it again.”
again?” my mom asked.
My mind was racing.
This could ruin my whole life
, I thought to myself.
I'll never get through airport security again. I'm probably on a no-fly list already. It will be on my permanent record. I might go to jail. Or be deported. They might send me to one of those countries that tortures people to make them talk. I would never see my parents again.
Flip must have tipped off the FBI about me not carrying the flag, I figured. Or maybe it was one of my teammates.
I felt like I might start to cry, but I fought against the tears.
“Did my son do something wrong?” Mom asked, tightening her hold on me.
“No, no, of course not!” Agent Pluto said, a tiny smile appearing above his square jaw for the first time. “May I come in, Mrs. Stoshack?”
Mom ushered Agent Pluto in and offered him coffee, tea, a sandwich, Fig Newtons, and just about everything she had in the refrigerator. But he said he just wanted to talk for a few minutes.
We went to the living room. I sat on the couch next to my mom, who held my hand. Agent Pluto sat stiffly on the wing chair across from us.
“Let me get right to the point, Joseph,” he said. “We at the Bureau know about yourâ¦uhâ¦shall we sayâ¦
I glanced at my mother, and she glanced back at me. Suddenly I felt hot. My forehead was sweaty.
“Gift?” Mom said innocently. “Did you get a birthday present that you didn't tell me about, Joey?”
“I'm really sorry,” my mother said, “but we don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Pluto.”
“I think you know
what I'm talking about, Mrs. Stoshack,” Agent Pluto said. “Joseph, we know that you can travel through time using baseball cards.”
I exhaled. I must have been holding it in for a long time.
He was right. The jig was up. I
travel through time with baseball cards.
Here's the story in a nutshell: Something must have happened to my brain when I was born. I remember picking up one of my dad's old baseball cards. I couldn't even read yet. After a few seconds, I felt this strange tingling sensation in the tips of my fingers. I dropped the card right away, but I was fascinated. When I picked the card up again, I held on to it, and the tingling sensation moved up my arm. It was a pleasant, buzzy feeling, but scary at the same time. I dropped the card again.
I kept experimenting in my room, and then one day I decided not to drop the card. As I held on to it, the tingling sensation moved across my body. I closed my eyes. I felt myself getting lighter, like I was being lifted up off my bed.
And then I was gone.
When I opened my eyes, I was in another place, another time, another
A baseball card, I discovered, was like a plane ticket to me. It would take me to the year on the card.
I started going on adventures to the past. I met famous players like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente. But those are stories for another day.
At first, nobody else knew that I had this power. Then my mom had found out, of course. I told my dad, who lives in an apartment on the other side of
Louisville. I ended up telling Flip too. Only a few other people knew. But now this FBI agent knew. And if he knew, how many other people in the government knew? Maybe
. The information must be in a database somewhere.
“How did you find out that Joey can travel through time with baseball cards?” my mother asked Agent Pluto.
“It's our job to find things out, Mrs. Stoshack,” he said. “Gathering intelligence is what we do.”
“If you're so good at finding stuff out,” I asked, “then how come you didn't know about 9/11 before it happened?”
“Joey!” Mom scolded me. “It wasn't
fault. He was probably in high school when 9/11 happened.”
“It's a fair question, Mrs. Stoshack,” Agent Pluto said, “and I'll answer it. Joseph, the FBI is not infallible, unfortunately. We make mistakes. Sometimes bad mistakes. And yes, I was in school on 9/11âin New York City. I was in science class. I remember it very clearly. It was horrible. In fact, that was the reason I joined the Bureau in the first place. I wanted to help prevent
“So why are you here today?” my mother asked. “Why is the FBI interested in my son?”
Agent Pluto leaned forward in the chair and clasped his hands together. He lowered his voice slightly, as if there was somebody in the next room. My Uncle Wilbur was home, but he was upstairs sleeping.
“Time travel is a subject that has been of interest to our government for a long time,” Agent Pluto said slowly. “We've spent a lot of money, and a lot of time, researching it.”
“I'm not sure I like where this is going,” my mother said.
“Please hear me out, Mrs. Stoshack. You can imagine how time travel could be used to our country's benefit. If we made a serious mistake sometime in the past, we might be able to correct it. Or we could go back and revise the historical record, just like you can revise a document on a computer. If there was something that happened in the past that we didn't like or approve of, maybe we could go back in time and do something so that thing never happened in the first place. Do you see? Time traveling could be a very valuable tool.”
“In other words, you want my son to change history for you,” my mother said, a worried look on her face.
,” Agent Pluto replied. “For America. You see, despite all the effort we've put into time-travel research, nothing productive has come out of it. Even our top scientists had come to the conclusion that time travel was a physical impossibility. Until now, of course.”
He was looking at me.
“So you want me to go back in time?” I asked. “What do you want me to do, kill Hitler or something?”
“That's not a bad idea, Joseph,” Agent Pluto said, chuckling.
“My son is not going to kill
,” my mother said sternly. “Not even Hitler.”
“Of course not,” Agent Pluto said, smiling again. “The FBI would
send a childâor an adultâto assassinate anyone. We don't do those sorts of things.”
“I got it,” I said excitedly. “You want me to
an assassination, right? Is it John F. Kennedy? Or Abraham Lincoln?”
“Neither,” Agent Pluto said. “It's bigger than that.”
“Bigger?” I asked. “What could be bigger than preventing the assassination of the president?”
Agent Pluto looked me in the eyes.
“I'll try not to bore you, Joseph,” he said. “But I need to give you a little history. In the spring of 1938, Hitler and the Nazis took over Austria. The next year they conquered Czechoslovakia and Poland, and World War II was on. In 1940, they swept over Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France. The Nazis controlled most of continental Europe. They were bombing England. They had teamed up with Italy and Japan. Joseph, do you know what happened on December 7th, 1941?”
I thought for a minute. It didn't ring a bell. Agent Pluto opened his briefcase.
“Pearl Harbor,” my mother said.
“That's right,” he said, taking a newspaper article out of his briefcase and handing it to me.
I had learned a little bit about Pearl Harbor in
Social Studies. It was an American naval base in Hawaii, and it was attacked by Japan on that day. The next day America declared war on Japan, and we were in World War II.
“Wait a minute,” Mom said, holding my hand tighter. “Are you expecting
my little boy
to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor?”
“I'm not that little, Mom,” I protested.
“Not prevent it, no,” Agent Pluto corrected her. “You see, Joseph, it was a surprise attack. Nobody knew it was coming. If the president, Franklin Roosevelt, knew that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7th, we could have been ready and waiting for them. We would have blown those planes out of the sky like it was a turkey shoot.”
I went to give the newspaper article back to Agent Pluto, but he told me to keep it.
“So you want me to go back in time and warn President Roosevelt that Pearl Harbor is going to be attacked?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Agent Pluto said. “Joseph, do you have any idea how many lives would have been saved if our government had known in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941?”
Agent Pluto took a calculator out of his briefcase and started punching buttons.
“First of all,” he said, “more than 2,400 American soldiers were killed at Pearl Harbor that day. If the attack had been prevented, we probably would
not have dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a few years later. Those bombs killed approximately 200,000 people. Furthermore, it's very possible that America would have never even entered the war if there had been no Pearl Harbor. And do you know how many American soldiers died in World War II? 416,000.”
“Wow” was all I could say.
“You can change the world, Joseph,” Agent Pluto said, looking at me seriously. He punched the final numbers into the calculator and held it up for me. “You can saveâ¦618,400 lives.”
He let that sink in for a moment.
“But isn't it going to be dangerous?” my mother asked. “I mean, what if Joey changes some little thing in the past, and it sets in motion a series of events that change things for the
? What if he, uh, steps on a twig or something in 1941, and as a result millions of people died? I've read about that sort of thing in science fiction books.”