Brooks, Bruce Throwing Smoke

ISBN 13: 9780064407748

Throwing Smoke

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9780064407748: Throwing Smoke

The members of Whizs beloved baseball team -- the Breadhurst Newts -- need help in a bad way. They're losing to the worst teams in the league! But then Whiz has an idea at his after-school printing job: What if he prints baseball cards with imaginary star players for his team? And what if they come to life?

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About the Author:

Bruce Brooks was born in Virginia and began writing fiction at age ten. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972 and from the University Of Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1980.He has worked as a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, newsletter editor, movie critic, teacher and lecturer.

Bruce Brooks has twice received the Newbery Honor, first in 1985 for Moves Make the Man, and again in 1992 for What Hearts. He is also the author of Everywhere, Midnight Hour Encores, Asylum for Nightface, Vanishing, and Throwing Smoke. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The bumpy, tufty patch of ground where the Breadhurst Newts played was defined as a baseball field only because someone at the small school, many years ago, had built a rickety backstop at one corner. Even calling the backstop’s place a "corner" implied too much geometry. The field covered an irregular oval space with wavy edges. Barney, the Newts’ center fielder, had once observed that the shape was exactly what you might get when you cracked an egg onto a hot skillet.

Two boys came over a hummock in what would be deepest right field. One was fairly tall, with hair that looked like pine shavings. He swept the field quickly with green eyes and drew his brows together with a frown.

"Where is everybody?" he asked. "I don’t like this."

"Well, at least the field’s still here," said the other boy. He was short, thickly built, with long dark hair and black-framed spectacles. He too looked the field over, but his cheerful expression did not change. "Don’t sweat it, Whiz. The team will show."

The boy called Whiz seemed to relax a bit, but the worry didn’t leave his face. He sighed. "They’ve got plenty of reasons not to come back for another season."

"And only one reason to come. Fortunately, that one reason is baseball."

The stocky boy–called E6–grinned and pointed; over the far hill that bordered the first-base line, four more kids moved into view.

Whiz narrowed his eyes. "Are they trudging, E? I do believe they are trudging."

E6 squinted, shading his eyes with one hand. "No way, Captain. In fact, I see evidence of a certain, well, dignity in their strides, an assured kind of pace–"

"I wonder where they bought the dignity," said Whiz. "They sure didn’t get it from our performance last year."

E6 maintained a respectful, funereal silence, fixing his eyes on an especially nasty clump of dry, hard bumps in short center field. The joke around the league was that this field, with all its scruffy irregularities, was exactly suited to the play of last year’s woeful debut of the Breadhurst Newts. The Newts had managed to pull together four girls and eight boys to form a new team in the town’s otherwise snazzy Little League, with an indifferent geography teacher listed as the manager. The kids had banded together with a common spirit of rebellion: All but two of them had been cut from other teams and denied the chance to play the game they loved. Then Whiz had gotten the bright idea that they could "represent" their small private school and wedge their way into the league as a unit.

It did not take long, during that first season, for the Newts to discover that loving the game was not the same as playing it. By the time they had stacked up their fourth loss in a row by more than ten runs (with their "manager" long gone in disgust), they admitted to themselves that perhaps the coaches who had cut them had been pretty wise. The trouble was, each Newt was capable of doing one thing very well, too well to be easily tossed away. Barney could run down long drives to the alleys and glove them backhand in full stride, but he got only three singles all season. E6 played shortstop because he had no fear facing hard-bounding grounders; however, he handled those grounders miserably, and racked up a record thirty-three errors in eighteen games. At the same time, he batted over .450 and led the team in RBI. As for Whiz–he was the pitcher, because he alone had the gift of being able to throw the ball into the strike zone every pitch. Too bad he threw it relatively slow, and perfectly straight, so that opposing batters drooled waiting for his pitches to arrive, then whacked them to the far horizons.

Phoebe, a tall girl at first base, could catch even the most errant throw from her infielders but bobbled everything that came off a bat. Dragon, in right field, lost sight of any ball hit into the sky but told excellent jokes that made all the losing less painful inning by inning. So it went with all of them–one talent, many holes in fundamental technique. For the most part, they had woven a pretty strong web of friendship from the strands of talent, leaving the gaps in silence.

The final record of the first-year Breadhurst Newts: 0—10. In the round-robin playoffs: 0—2 and out. All the players had secretly uttered thanks that their parents and siblings lived many miles away and had never seen them play.

Now, Whiz thought with a shudder, the second season’s start was just two weeks away. True, he and E6, the unofficial captains, had talked with all ten Newts to make certain they were coming back for more, beginning with today’s practice. But Whiz still felt uneasy counting on the turnout. Losing twelve games, by an average margin of about nine runs, had a way of making you go out for the track team.

"That’s the spirit!" said E6. One of the players with a bat and ball had lifted an easy fly to Dragon in short right. Before the ball landed forty feet behind him, Dragon shouted something that made the others double up in laughter as he ran to retrieve the ball.

"Well, at least we seem to still be funny," Whiz said sarcastically.

"There are worse things to be when you lose a lot," said E6.

"Name two."

"Illiterate and hungry."

Whiz was silent.

The players hollered greetings as if they had not all been together in school two hours before but, rather, had not seen each other since the last game of the previous season. In addition to Dragon, Phoebe and her twin sister, Wren (third base), had come, along with a large, visibly earnest boy named Josiah. Josiah insisted he was a catcher, though in a full season he had never quite mastered the art of putting on all his equipment correctly. He couldn’t hit much, either. But he had a great arm.

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Brooks, Bruce
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