Troon McAllister The Kid Who Batted 1.000

ISBN 13: 9780385503372

The Kid Who Batted 1.000

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9780385503372: The Kid Who Batted 1.000
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The Des Moines Majestyks are deep in the cellar...so deep that it seems nothing short of divine intervention could even get them up to the ground floor. They do have one star, Juan-Tanamera "Bueno" Aires, an ex-basketball phenom who performs miracles at the plate and magic in the field. Unfortunately, team owner Holden Canfield, who’s struck it rich with an Internet start-up, spent the entire team budget on acquiring "Bueno," leaving the rest of the roster painfully devoid of talent.

Manager Zuke Johansen has just about given up hope when an unexpected thing happens: A scout introduces him to Marvin Kowalski. A straight-A student, valedictorian of his high school class, and on his way to MIT, Marvin knows little about the rules of the game, and his pencil-thin physique would get him laughed off a big-league diamond. But Marvin has one brilliant skill. The ultimate "one-tool" player, he has such a good eye that he can tell what kind of pitch is coming almost before it leaves the pitcher's hand. And even though he's not much of a hitter, his reflexes and coordination are incredibly fast–-so fast, in fact, that nobody can strike him out, as Zuke Johansen quickly sees. Marvin may not be Babe Ruth, but he has found a way to exhaust–-and utterly enrage–-opposing pitchers, driving them to distraction before he takes his inevitable base. Faced with the prospect of leading his team to one of the worst season records since the game was played without gloves, Zuke is desperate enough to wonder if Marvin's strange talent might just lift his Majestyks out of the cellar....

The Kid Who Batted 1.000 is one of those rare sports novels that will appeal to fervent fans as well as those still trying to figure out the infield fly rule. Generously sprinkling his story with some of the best-loved one-liners in the game, Troon McAllister delivers a darkly funny behind-the-scenes look at our national pastime, cementing his place as a major-league humorist.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

TROON McALLISTER is the author of the acclaimed golf novels The Foursome and The Green. He lives in Southern California and swears he once understood the infield fly rule.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

Des Moines, Iowa-April 23

It was an achingly beautiful day, the sky so blue you wanted to mount it in a ring and wear it on your finger. The air was tuned to such a fine temperature you weren't even aware of it, and you could practically taste the sunlight syruping itself onto the empty seats. A phantom breeze swirled through the infield as though it had just knocked one out of the park and was taking a triumphant victory lap around the bases, shaking hands with the ghosts of storied giants as it eddied its way home. It was a dead-perfect day for baseball.

Down in the locker room, Zuke Johansen wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

Even the distant but sharp crack of a bat slammed solidly into a ball, a sound ordinarily as melodious to Johansen as a Gregorian chant to a monk, struck him today as intrusive and, even worse, entirely beside the point, the Des Moines Majestyks having dropped into a cellar so deep that heartless wags wondered in print how they could've gotten there unless they'd started playing before the season had actually begun. The good citizens of Minnesota, who'd loudly bemoaned the loss of the Twins when the team had moved to Des Moines and changed its name, quietly stopped complaining. The team's dispiritedness had taken such firm hold that every loss, rather than serve as a rallying call for the players to reach down within themselves and work harder, became only further affirmation that it was no use even trying. One reporter wrote that he'd spotted second baseman Chi Chi los Parados in line at the mezzanine hot-dog stand. In uniform. During the top of the third inning.

Team owner Holden (ne "Homer") Canfield, a former software geek who'd struck it big with some Internet start-up and thereby achieved dangerous delusions of adequacy, had sunk every dime of the club's money purchasing the athletic gifts of Argentinean-born basketball star Juan-Tanamera "Bueno" Aires, one of the most beloved sports figures on the planet, if not the most beloved figure, period. Within two days of having dragged the rest of his sorry team to its second consecutive NBA championship, he'd announced that he was bored and looking for a new challenge.

"How about baseball?" Canfield had asked the star's agent, and soon afterwards critics began filling their columns and talk shows with the kind of derision not seen since a U.S. vice president had misspelled a word, something which, astonishingly, none of those reporters and television talking heads had ever done in their entire lives.

As it turned out, "Bueno" had quickly developed into a ballplayer of jaw-dropping skill, even to the extent that commentators who should have known better began daring to wonder whether he might eventually go down in history as the best who ever lived.

Bueno at the plate was like Reggie Miller at the foul line or Secretariat at the starting gate. A columnist for Sports Illustrated had written that "trying to throw a fastball past Aires was like trying to sneak sunrise past a rooster." When he was in left field, any ball unlucky enough to find itself occupying the same zip code as the transplanted gaucho was as good as caught, and when the situation called for it he could burn it into home plate with such stunning power and accuracy that there was no need for it to first get to the shortstop, who would mutter "Incoming!" to the equally superfluous third baseman and hope that veteran catcher Cavvy Papazian had enough time to steel himself for the impact.

Juan-Tanamera's glove was where fly balls went to die, and it was said that three-quarters of the earth was covered by water and the rest by Bueno, so he wasn't the problem on this team. The problem was that, having spent everything to acquire him, Canfield didn't have enough money left to fill out the roster with similarly skilled players.

Initially, it seemed as if Bueno might be able to carry the rest of them by whacking balls into big gaps in the outfield or out of the park altogether, after which Zuke Johansen would cross his fingers and hope that his other players might manage not to blow the lead the gaucho had given them. But once the opposing teams realized that, batting-wise, Bueno was a lone anomaly on the Majestyks ball club, few opposing hurlers wanted to pitch to him so they pitched around him, purposely throwing balls far to the side so he couldn't hit them, declining to give him anything hittable, hoping he'd swing at junk but perfectly delighted to let him walk since it wasn't too bloody likely that anybody batting after him was ever going to bring him home.

Which was why the Majestyks won the first four games of the season and lost all but one of the next fifteen: It had simply taken exactly four games for the rest of the league to figure it out. And while the fans in and around Des Moines might have been quite happy to watch Bueno play even though the team kept on losing, there wasn't a whole lot of thrill in watching him get walked nearly every time he came up to bat.

True, at first there was the occasional pitcher who, if he could work up a big enough lead over the Majestyks, took Bueno on mano a mano. But the Majestyks really weren't at all a bad defensive club. Since they didn't usually allow the other side to get big leads, opposing pitchers stopped trying to get Bueno out altogether and just kept walking him as a matter of course, and so the likelihood of seeing him blast one out of the park fell to near-zero.

The fans, as they say, began staying away in droves.

"Mister Johansen?" said an absurdly timid voice.

Johansen squeezed his eyes shut without turning around. "What is it, Pudgy?"

"Well, I'm awful sorry to disturb you, I know you're busy, but, uh . . ."

"It's okay. What's up?"

"Well, like I said, I sure didn't mean to--"

"Pudgy," Johansen said as he opened his eyes and turned around, in order that he might fully behold the perpetually terrified and obsequious face of equipment manager Geoffrey Slagenbach, "tell me what you want or I'll kill you where you stand."

"Yessir. Thank you. It seems that, um, there's this gentleman? Upstairs? Who wants to see you? Says he knows you?"

"Does he have a name?"

"Huh? Oh, 'course he does, Mr. Johansen. Sorry. It's, uh, Henry Schmidt, sir."

Johansen began rubbing the ruined shoulder that had ended a career that at one time had been filled with as bright a promise as any in the modern era of the game. "No shit?"

"No, Schmidt. I heard it very clearly, and, uh . . ."

Slagenbach jumped aside quickly as Johansen, more than willing to knock him into the whirlpool bath if he didn't get out of the way, strode past him.

As he emerged from the dark and dingy tunnel onto the field, Johansen reflexively paused for a moment, as he had all his life, to let the brilliantly lit panorama lance its way into his brain. There were few things that uplifted him as much as the sight of blue sky, bright green grass, a huge and imposing scoreboard and even the riotous profusion of garishly colored advertisements that made up an outdoor sports arena.

But he felt no joy today as he took in the interior of the Mahoney Fertilizer Stadium, a not-bad venue affectionately referred to by teams around the league, and in private by local commentators, as the Shit Hole.

"Jeez, Zuke, you look like crap."

Johansen turned his head toward the sound of the familiar shout and sighted Henry Schmidt behind the batting cage. "Better'n I feel," he called back as he started forward.

Fact was, Johansen looked pretty good and felt pretty good, at least physically, notwithstanding his shoulder. He was tall--nearly six-foot-three--and rail thin, and walked with a very slight stoop, but that had nothing to do with any specific physical detriment, because he'd walked that way since he was twelve years old, when something in his upper spine hadn't quite gotten around to keeping up with the surrounding parts that had shot up virtually overnight. His salt-and-pepper hair had begun to thin a little, which somewhat enhanced the patrician angle of his nose and comported well with his nearly nonexistent eyebrows.

Schmidt, a former big-league scout now scratching out a living representing marginal ballplayers since an unfortunate incident whose details were lost in the clouds and murk of unpleasant memory, was sweating even in the perfect, early season temperature of the American Midwest. It wasn't just the heavy suit, tie and fedora he always wore, it was because he was fat, in that unself-conscious way that some South Sea Islanders were fat. Proud of it, in fact, since he thought it connoted prosperity and success to his clients.

They shook hands but without warmth, then Schmidt pointed with his elbow toward the bench, his left hand being otherwise occupied with a foot-long Mahoney Dog dripping the bright yellow and orange of mustard and a gloppy onion concoction onto the sand, where they immediately coagulated into dirty brown clumps. "So what's with Pampas Boy?" he asked as he took a bite, indicating Bueno Aires sitting disconsolately with a bat in his hands.

"Man's bored," Johansen answered. "What do you expect from a guy, he gets walked every goddamned time he comes to the plate?"

"Who'd a thunk it?" Schmidt responded sympathetically, gesturing with the Mahoney Dog and thereby increasing the aforementioned drippage. "That kinda talent getting shut down like that, never gets a chance to strut his stuff at bat? Who'd a thunk it."

"Not Holden Canfield, that's for goddamned sure. All's I woulda needed, just one or two more guys can get on base once in a while." Johansen stopped talking, wondering why he, with two years of college under his belt, always automatically fell into talking like a hick whenever Schmidt was ar...

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ISBN 10:  0767909127 ISBN 13:  9780767909129
Publisher: Broadway Books, 2003
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