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With his father in jail and his mother working full-time, fourteen-year-old Billy Baggs finds himself in charge of running the family farm in northern Minnesota and having to give up the thing he loves most--baseball
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Will Weaver is an award-winning fiction writer. His latest novel is The Survivors, a sequel to his popular young adult novel Memory Boy. His other books include Full Service, Defect, Saturday Night Dirt, Super Stock Rookie, Checkered Flag Cheater, Claws, and the Billy Baggs books Striking Out, Farm Team, and Hard Ball, all of which are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Formerly an English professor at Bemidji State University, he lives in northern Minnesota, a region he writes from and loves. He is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys hunting, fishing, canoeing, and hiking with his family and friends.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Orange baseballs. A dozen orange balls flew between two lines of boys facing each other. The balls smacked into leather gloves with a continuous sound like popcorn popping. Rubber-soled shoes chirped on the maple-wood floor as the voices of eighth graders laughed and echoed in the old gymnasium.
"Get good and warm," Coach Anderson warned the boys. "You'll need it today."
There were instant groans. It was March 28 at the Flint middle school--the first day of spring baseball practice--and nobody wanted to go outside.
One boy, arriving late, stopped in the doorway. Billy Baggs was a tall, skinny farm kid with yellow hair and patched blue Jeans. He stood exactly half in and half out of the gym, his blue eyes scanning the even number of boys, all paired. One of the closest boys spotted him; he pointed at Billy and whispered something to another kid, Billy's clothes were shabby and small on him.
"Billy Baggs is here--I told you he'd come!" another voice shrilled. It was Tiny Tim Loren, the ultimate pest.
The coach looked tip from his clipboard. Oswald Anderson was a round, middle-aged, bearlike man, and with the easy jog of a former athlete he trotted over to Billy. The other ballplayers glanced toward Billy, then made it a point to look away. As, Tim hopped up and down and waved to Billy, an orange baseball whizzed and plunked him in the ribs.
"Owwww!" Tim croaked.
The other players cracked up with laughter.
"Watch the ball all the way into your glove, Tim!" the coach called back.
Tim scuttled after the ball, clutching his ribs.
Coach Anderson arrived at the doorway. "I was wondering if I'd see you today, Billy," he said with a smile.
Billy shrugged. "Thought I'd check it out," he mumbled. Because of his crooked top teeth, which this year had begun to jut out in front, he had developed a habit of keeping his mouth mostly closed when he talked.
"Glad you did, glad you did." The coach wrote down Billy's name on his clipboard, then picked up his own glove plus one of the orange baseballs. "Come on in. Let's loosen up the old hinge."
Billy stepped through the doorway. The coach pointed to a spot, and Billy got into line.
His first toss went high over the coach's head. The ball hit with a thunk against the heavy curtain of the auditorium's stage; dust puffed, and a darker spot remained on the old velvet.
"Easy does it," Coach called, heading after the ball. "Loosen up first."
"If you'd been here on time, you'd be warmed up by now," King Kenwood remarked. Kenwood was the ace pitcher. He didn't look at Billy when he talked--he didn't look much at anybody when he talked. Now he continued to throw with a round, easy motion, like a deer bounding, like a trout arcing out of the water and over a dam. King was shorter than Billy but strong in the shoulders and with darker hair, and looked older. He also wore a bright new San Francisco Giants warm-up jacket. That was because his older brother was a pitcher--a real pitcher-in Triple A ball. Billy ignored Kenwood. That was his personal goal this year. Ignore King Kenwood. Otherwise there would be trouble.
After a few more tosses the coach blew his whistle. "Okay, boys, everybody outside."
"Outside? Oh man!" There were loud groans and fake sobbing noises.
"Hey-thirty degrees is better than ten below zero," the coach replied, herding them out the door.
"You wouldn't make us go outside if it was ten below!" Tim Loren said.
"Try me," the coach said.
Outside there were snowbanks. Not snowbanks all over, for Flint was in northern Minnesota, not Alaska; however, where the sun didn't strike directly, there were thick, dirty piles of snow left over from the long winter. The sun was not shining at all.
Trotting, shivering, the boys crossed the street to the ball field. A few of the boys, among them King Kenwood, had put on cleats, which clattered sharply on the frozen asphalt. Billy had only his old, busted-out tennis shoes.
Arriving, they found the outfield fence buried in snow. Closer in, in short center field, withered brown grass showed through the frozen crust. The infield was bare, but the areas around the bases were frozen pools of mud. This was the freezing-thawing-freezing time of year in the upper Midwest.
"We can't play here--the field is lousy," someone muttered. It sounded like Kenwood.
"Who said that?" the coach called.
Everybody looked around; nobody snitched.
"Good. I didn't think I heard anything," the coach called. "Come on-shake a leg-spring is here, boys!"
There were more groans.
"I don't believe in gymnasium baseball, nossiree," the coach said as they inspected the frozen field. "First, you can't see the ball in the fluorescent lights. Second, baseballs are tough on the hardwood basketball floor, And third, baseball is an all-weather game, boys."
"You call this weather?" Doug Nixon muttered.
"Cold is the Minnesota advantage," the coach said to his shivering team. "It works for the Vikings, it works for the Twins, it's gonna work for the Flint Sparks, right?"
There were a few half-hearted cheers.
"Outfielders take your positions, infielders find your bases. I'm going to hit a few. Catch and throw home to Butch or King."
That was Butch Redbird, the regular catcher, and of course King Kenwood, who acted like some kind of assistant coach most of the time.
Jogging in place, booting, their breath puffing in the chilly air, the boys lined up. Billy took a spot in right field. Tiny Tim Loren, at the end of the line, began to make snowballs and goof off.
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Book Description Harpercollins Childrens Books, 1995. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110060235888
Book Description Harpercollins Childrens Books, 1995. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0060235888
Book Description HarperCollins Publishers, 1995. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0060235888