Joey is sure he will not get along with the exchange student from Nicaragua who is staying with his family for a year, but they find common ground on the baseball field.
About the Author
Matt Christopher is the best selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.
Read an Excerpt
By Matt Christopher
Little, Brown ChildrensCopyright © 2004 Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJoey Gallagher bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. He pounded his mitt with his right fist and stared in toward home plate from deep center field, ready to catch the ball that came his way.
Nicky Canelo, the Marlins pitcher, reared back and fired the ball so hard that he went airborne for a second. The Oriole batter, with his bright-orange helmet, swung a second too late. The ball smacked into the catcher's mitt, sending up a cloud of powdery dust. The batter fell to his knees in a twisted, frustrated heap.
"Stee-rike two!" the umpire yelled. Parents clapped and yelled on both sides of the field. Joey bounced up and down on the balls of his feet some more and looked around him. In left field, Huey Brewster had his glove hand on his hip. Ellis Suggs, in right, was digging a hole in the outfield grass with his cleats. "What is he doing, looking for worms?" Joey asked himself disgustedly.
Neither of the other two outfielders looked prepared. And why should they be? None of the Orioles was going to hit Nicky Canelo's fastball. Nobody ever did. Still, it was important to be ready. Joey shook his head and turned his attention back toward the plate. Nicky went into his windup and fired another unhittable blur.
"Stee-rike three! Yer out!" theumpire said with gusto. It was impossible not to appreciate Nicky's awesome talent, even if umpires weren't supposed to take sides. The batter threw down his bat in disgust and marched back to the bench.
Nicky Canelo stepped off the mound, all six-foot-one of him. He whirled his pitching arm round and round like a windmill, keeping it loose. Too bad league rules didn't let teams use one pitcher all the time. The Marlins could use Nicky only for three innings per six-inning game.
The first three innings ... well, those were the Marlins' biggest problem. Starter Matt Lowe was pretty accurate, but he got hit around a lot. The Marlins could only hope to stay close till Nicky took the mound in the fourth inning. If they were ahead by then, it was curtains for the other team.
Like today. They were up, 2-0, with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. One more batter - then two more innings - and the Marlins would be 4-0. A perfect record. Sure, the season was young, and a lot could still happen, but so far Coach Joe Bacino had come up with the perfect formula for success. "Hang on for three, then bring on Nick-eee!"
Three wins, no losses. And the last three innings of each game, with Nicky on the mound, had been mad boring for all the Marlins fielders. Nobody got any action except Pete Alessandra, the catcher.
Joey had lots of time to think out there in center field. He thought about last year, in sixth grade, when he'd pitched and played shortstop for the Mets. This year, he'd moved up a league. Most of the Marlins were eighth graders, much bigger than he was. Joey felt lucky - at least he got to play most of every game. The other seventh graders usually rode the bench till "Nicky time" and never saw any balls hit to them at all. Still, Joey kept bouncing. "Gotta stay ready. Never know when you're gonna get your big chance," he muttered under his breath.
The next hitter came up for the Orioles. It was their "big bat," Andy Norton. Joey was friends with him, sort of - they were both seventh graders, and they had history, English, and gym together. Joey knew that Andy was leading the league in home runs because Andy never missed the chance to brag about it. Joey couldn't wait to see Nicky Canelo strike him out.
"Keep on bouncin', keep on bouncin'," he sang softly to himself. "Gotta stay ready. Never know when it's comin' to you."
Yeah, right. Like anyone was ever gonna hit Nicky ...
And then, in an instant, everything changed. Andy Norton squeezed his eyes shut and swung. SMACK! The bat hit the ball dead on. It rocketed toward the mound, where it hit Nicky right in the pitching arm. There was a sickening sound on impact, and the ball ricocheted all the way to first base.
Charlie Morganstern picked it up and stepped on the bag to end the inning, but no one was watching - not even the umpire. Everyone was crowding around the mound, where Nicky Canelo had fallen in a heap. Joey could hear Coach Bacino yelling for someone to call 911 and asking if there was a doctor in the stands.
Joey was so surprised that someone had hit the ball that it was a full ten seconds before he raced toward the mound. He got there just in time to see Nicky being helped to his feet. The Marlins' star pitcher was sobbing, grabbing his arm with his glove hand.
Joey was stunned. It must be bad, if a kid like Nicky Canelo was crying. They walked him over to the bench and put a cold pad on the spot where the ball had hit. Nicky was calmer now, but you could still see him sniffing back tears. Sirens sounded in the distance. Joey edged closer. Now he could see the ugly, swollen, purple bruise on Nicky's upper arm.
"He can make a fist and bend the elbow," said one of the parents. "That's a good sign, but he'll still have to get x-rayed to make sure nothing's broken."
Nicky's teammates clapped for him as Coach Bacino led him to the ambulance. Everyone wished him good luck at the hospital. "I'll be okay," he assured them bravely. "Hey, you guys - win this one for me, okay?" They all promised to do just that.
But how? They were only up by two runs, and Matt Lowe had already pitched his three innings.
"Okay, who's gonna pitch the next two innings?" Coach Bacino asked his team as they gathered around the bench. A sea of willing but incapable hands went up. Joey stuck his hand up, too.
Coach Bacino stroked the little beard on his chin and squinted, looking doubtfully down the line of them. His eyes came to rest on Joey. "Gallagher," he said. "Didn't you say you used to pitch last year?"
"Uh-huh," Joey said.
"Okay, you're it." Coach Bacino put the ball in Joey's mitt and squeezed it with both his hands. "Just get it over the plate. It's okay if they hit it. That's what your fielders are for." Joey nodded and swallowed hard. He rubbed up the ball and tried to remember how he used to pitch way back in the old days, last year. Then he started warming up his arm, soft-tossing the ball to Pete on the sidelines.
The Marlins went down quickly at bat. Before he knew it, it was time to get out on the mound. Funny, but the minute he got up there, he didn't feel nervous anymore. His team had a two-run lead, didn't they? Besides, he felt like he couldn't lose, no matter what happened. If he pitched badly and they lost, he had the perfect excuse: "Hey, I wasn't prepared," he could say. "I didn't have any practice." On the other hand, if he had the least bit of success up there ...
He focused in on Pete Alessandra's great-big catcher's mitt, reared back, and threw. The hitter swung hard, popped it up, and Charlie Morganstern caught the ball in foul territory. One out already - on only one pitch! Joey drank in his teammates' cheers. They were behind him all the way. He could feel it. He bore down on the next hitter and threw another meatball, right over home plate.
THWACK! A line drive to right field. If it had been Nicky pitching, Ellis Suggs would've been caught napping, digging holes with his cleats in the outfield grass. But because Joey Nobody was on the mound, everyone was ready for anything. Suggs got his carcass moving just in time to make a diving play on the liner, and there were two out.
"All right!" Joey yelled, totally pumped now. If Ellis Suggs could make a play like that, then surely he, Joey Gallagher, could get four more batters out. He threw a change-up on the first pitch to the next hitter and caught the overanxious Oriole off guard. Swinging too soon, he popped up to Joey, and the inning was over.
Joey could scarcely believe it. Three outs on three pitches - and this was in the seventh-/eighth-grade league! Quickly he contained his urge to celebrate. There was still one more inning to go. He walked to the bench, barely acknowledging his teammates' cheers and backslaps.
The Marlins again went down quickly at the plate. The Orioles weren't 3-0 for nothing. Even if they lost today, they'd still be in second place to the Marlins. Their number-one pitcher was still out there, and while he was no Nicky Canelo, he was still pretty tough to hit.
Joey got back on the mound and blew out a big, deep breath. This was it. This could be his day of glory-to remember forever. All he had to do was get three outs before the Orioles scored two runs.
The first batter fouled off six pitches and finally worked out a walk. The next batter lined a sharp single up the middle. The runner on first put on the gas. Before Joey knew what had hit him, there were Orioles on first and third, with the top of the order coming up, and he still needed three outs!
Coach Bacino trotted out to talk to him. "You okay, kid?" he asked.
"Are you gonna get this next guy out?"
"How you gonna do that?"
"I'm uh ... I'm gonna make him hit it," Joey said, remembering.
"That's right. You can't get three outs at once. Just get 'em one at a time. And never mind that run on third base. It means nothing. Just throw it over the plate. We don't want Alessandra digging pitches out of the dirt. Next thing you know, the guy on first is stealing second and getting in scoring position. So throw some strikes. Okay?"
"Go get 'em."
Joey blew out another big breath. He stared at Pete's catcher's mitt and threw a really slow changeup. The hitter's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he swung, but he was way too early. The ball was only halfway to the plate. He'd finished his swing completely before it even hit the catcher's mitt.
"Stee-rike one!" the umpire yelled.
"Try that again, you wimp!" the batter called to him.
"Yeah?" Joey yelled back. "You want another one?" He reared back and threw as hard and high as he dared. The batter, taken totally by surprise, swung at air again.
"Stee-rike two!" the umpire said.
"All right," the batter said, spitting in the dirt. "You're dead meat now." He waggled his bat over his shoulder. Now Joey threw him the second change-up he'd promised him, and this one was even slower than the first.
The batter started his swing, then stopped it midway when he realized what was coming. He tried to restart his swing, but there was so little force left behind it that he hit a soft grounder right back to the mound. Joey grabbed it, turned, and threw to second. Shortstop Jordan Halpin took the throw, stepped on the bag ahead of the runner, then threw to first in plenty of time for the double play.
"Yes!" Joey screamed, throwing his mitt high in the air. The game wasn't over yet, though, and the runner on third had scored to make it a 2-1 game. Still, the bases were empty, and if he got this batter out, or even the next one, he wouldn't have to face Andy Norton. Joey went after the hitter, throwing nothing but fastballs. On the third one, the Oriole hit a harmless grounder to Charlie Morganstern, who stepped on the bag to end the game.
"We won! We won! I can't believe it! We won!" all the Marlins shouted. They mobbed Joey at the mound, picked him up, and marched him around the infield on their shoulders - Joey the Hero. Yes, the short, skinny kid with the freckles, the puny seventh grader who put it to the Orioles when Nicky Canelo went down. It was only one day in his life, but try as he might, Joey could not remember a better one.
Coach Bacino gathered the Marlins around him afterward. "Okay, guys, this was a great victory," he said as he put away the team's equipment. "But we've got a lot of baseball to play yet this season, and we may be without Nicky for a lot of it - maybe all of it. For now, Gallagher's our second pitcher." A big round of applause greeted this news. "If we all keep playing like this, we'll still make the play-offs. Let's do it for Nicky!"
Everyone cheered, exchanged high fives, then ran toward the line of cars that was waiting at the curb. Joey, still practically floating, headed for his mom's old bomb of a station wagon. Wait till he told her what happened!
"Hi, Mom!" he said, hurtling himself into the seat beside her.
"Hi, honey!" she said, giving him a quick hug and kiss. "Guess what?"
"Um, I don't know," he said, thrown off. "Hey, Mom, I just -"
"The papers came through, Joey!"
"Yes, isn't that exciting? We're picking up your new brother next week!"
Excerpted from Stealing Home by Matt Christopher Copyright © 2004 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Stealing Home is a fictitious story about a boy named Joey who has a foreign boy named Jesus from Nicaragua staying with him for one year as part of the foreign exchange program. Joey is dubious about Jesus living with him because Joeys afraid his friends on his baseball team will make fun of Jesus, The kids on the baseball team do make fun Jesus at first because of his name, but they overcome that when they discover Jesus’s awesome skill at baseball. This is a very good book for ages twelve and up, for it contains grammar and topics that kids under twelve might not understand. Also, the concept of the moral in this story might be hard for young kids to understand. The moral is, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, or in this case, don’t judge a kid you don’t know before you get to know them. My favorite part of the book is when Jesus gets accepted in the baseball league that Joeys playing in. Jesus plays a really awesome game of baseball in front of the whole baseball team and proves them wrong about him when he turns out to be very good at baseball. Nobody made fun of Jesus after that game. This is my favorite part because Jesus finally gets the respect that he deserves. I felt very happy for Jesus when that happened. I can relate to this book because I once played baseball, and everyone thought that I was going to stink, but I ended up being the star pitcher for the team. I give this book four out of five stars because it’s a very entertaining book and it teaches an important moral.
Very bad...... I HATE IT BOOOOO
Great book! My nine year old son who plays baseball could relate to this story. He understood the moral of the story and the importance of being a good sport. Definitely recommend this book for kids who like baseball.
This proved to be a good purchace for a nine year old boy who is a fourth grader with barely average reading skill and interest. The sports topic and events in the story kept his interest. The language was great for his level. He read on his own to finish the story without prompting. I recommend this for children who love to watch or play sports.