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When Joe Stoshack hears about Shoeless Joe Jackson -- and the gambling scandal that destroyed the star player's career -- he knows what he has to do. If he travels back in time with a 1919 baseball card in his hand, he just might be able to prevent the infamous Black Sox Scandal from ever taking place. And if he could do that, Shoeless Joe Jackson would finally take his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But can Stosh prevent that tempting envelope full of money from making its way to Shoeless Joe's hotel room before the big game?
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"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 play-off 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.
Shoeless Joe & MeBy: Dan Gutman