The New York Times
The Big Fieldby Mike Lupica
Playing shortstop is a way of life for Hutch—not only is his hero, Derek Jeter, a shortstop, but so was his father, a former local legend turned pro. Which is why having to play second base feels like demotion to second team. Yet that’s where Hutch ends up after Darryl “D-Will” Williams, the best shortstop prospect since A-Rod, joins the team.… See more details below
Playing shortstop is a way of life for Hutch—not only is his hero, Derek Jeter, a shortstop, but so was his father, a former local legend turned pro. Which is why having to play second base feels like demotion to second team. Yet that’s where Hutch ends up after Darryl “D-Will” Williams, the best shortstop prospect since A-Rod, joins the team. But Hutch is nothing if not a team player, and he’s cool with playing in D-Will’s shadow—until, that is, the two shortstops in Hutch’s life betray him in a way he never could have imagined. With the league championship on the line, just how far is Hutch willing to bend to be a good teammate?
The New York Times
Skilled sportswriter Lupica, author of such YA novels as Travel Team and Heat, provides yet another strong tale about a young teen learning life lessons through sports. Here our hero is Hutch, age 14, who lives for baseball and dreams it will be his ticket out of blue-collar East Boynton, Florida. His team is aiming for the Florida State Championship, to be played on the big field at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, where the pros play. Hutch has always played shortstop, the position played by his father, a former would-be pro who only made it to Triple-A; Hutch wishes his dad would coach him, but his dad, now working as a caddy and a chauffeur, barely talks to him. A new player named Darryl has joined the team, and not only has he taken Hutch’s position, he makes it clear he considers himself the team’s star. Darryl’s goading and his father’s aloofness frustrate Hutch so much he lashes out at Darryl, which means he has to sit out a crucial game, but his ill-considered action also leads to some much-needed talk and reconciliation with both the shortstops in Hutch’s life. This warm, earnest, old-fashioned story has plenty of on-the-field action and baseball fans will eat it up. Lupica gets the teasing, close relationship between Hutch and his best friend Cody just right, too, and this novel is satisfying on several levels. A superior sports story. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)
Gr 5-8- Lupica offers another heartwarming, action-packed, sports-savvy novel. Keith Hutchinson, 14, plays in the American Legion 17-and-under league with the Boynton Beach Cardinals. His dream includes taking his team to the Florida state finals and sharing his passion with his father, a local shortstop legend whose failed major league career has left him aloof, despondent, and incommunicative. After losing his beloved shortstop position to cocky, talented newcomer Darryl Williams, Hutch becomes a standout at second base and is elected team captain. However, when he finds his father working out with Darryl, jealousy and anger threaten to derail Hutch's dream, team, and family. On and off the field, the teen gains insights from his best friend and teammate, Cody; from his sympathetic and supportive Puerto Rican mother; and from fatherless, fierce competitor, Darryl. Vivid descriptions of pivotal innings and plays, snappy dialogue, and realistic conflicts propel the characters and the story toward the state finals and a father-son breakthrough. Baseball fans will revel in Lupica's exciting sports commentary and Hutch's competitive spirit and emotional highs and lows.-Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NCCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
IF YOU WERE A SHORTSTOP, YOU ALWAYS WANTED THE BALL HIT AT YOU.
Whether the game was on the line or not.
Keith Hutchinson, known to his friends as Hutch, had always thought of himself as the captain of any infield he'd ever been a part of, all the way back to his first year of Little League. Even back then, he could see that other kids were scared to have the ball hit at them in a big spot. Not Hutch. It was the shortstop in him. If the ball was in play, he always wanted it to be his play.
Because the game was on the line now.
And it wasn't just any old game; it was the biggest of the summer so far.
Hutch's American Legion team, the Boynton Beach Post 226 Cardinals, still had the lead against the Palm Beach Post 12 Braves in the finals of their 17-and-under league, even though this year's Cardinals didn't have a single 17-year-old on the team. But their lead was down to a single run now, 7-6. They were in the bottom of the ninth at the Santaluces Athletic Complex in Lantana, bases loaded for the Braves. One out to go.
If the Cardinals got the out and won the game, they moved on to the South Florida regionals next weekend, one round closer to the state finals.
If they lost, they went home.
Hutch walked over and stood behind second base, almost on the outfield grass, and waited there while their coach, Mr. Cullen, talked things over on the mound with Paul Garner, whom Mr. Cullen had just brought in to pitch.
Hutch knew what everybody on their team knew, that Paul was going to be the last Cardinals pitcher of the night, win or lose. He was going to get an out here and their season would continue, or the Braves' cleanup hitter, Billy RayManning, known as Man-Up Manning, was going to hit one hard someplace and it would be the Braves who'd be playing the next round.
Hutch and his teammates would be done for the summer. Done like dinner.
No more baseball, just like that.
He didn't even want to think about it.
Paul was one of his favorite guys on the team, normally their starting left fielder, but he was only the fourth best pitcher they had. Yet Mr. Cullen had been forced to pull their closer, Pedro Mota, after Pedro had suddenly forgotten how to pitch with two outs and nobody on and the Cardinals still ahead, 7-4. First he'd given up three straight hits to load the bases. He'd wild-pitched one run home after that, before walking the next hitter to reload the bases. Finally, he hit the next batter and just like that, it was 7-6, and Mr. Cullen had seen enough.
Now the one guy in the world they didn't want to see at the plate, Man-Up Manning-a seventeen-year-old lefty who actually did look like a man to Hutch-was standing next to the plate, waiting to get his swings.
No place to put him. No way to pitch around him.
Paul didn't throw hard, but he threw strikes, kept the ball down, got a lot of ground balls when he was pitching at his best.
One stinking ground ball now and they were in the regionals.
More important, they got to keep playing.
Hit it to me, he thought.
Mr. Cullen patted Paul on the shoulder, left him to throw his warm-up pitches. Hutch thought about going over to talk to Darryl Williams while he did. But they never talked much during the game, not even during pitching changes. When they did, it was usually only about which one of them would cover second if they thought a guy might be stealing.
Nobody was stealing now. Hutch wasn't paying much attention to the guy on first. Nobody was. He was a lot more worried about the runners on second and third, the potential tying and winning runs. Darryl? As usual, he didn't look worried about anything. He was staring off, lost in his own thoughts or lost in space. Darryl never seemed to look tense or worried or anxious. He knew he was the best hitter on their team-the best player, period. And yet . . .
And yet baseball seemed to bore him sometimes.
Paul threw his last warm-up pitch. Brett Connors, their catcher, came out to have one quick word with him. As he ran back, the neighborhood people sitting on the other side of the screen behind home plate began to applaud, understanding the importance of the moment, as if they were all suddenly sensing the magic of what baseball could do to a summer's night.
Hutch watched them and thought: If we lose, some of these same people will be here tomorrow night watching the older kids play the 19-and-under game. Their season wouldn't end. Mine would.
Hit it to me.
He walked away from the bag, got into his ready position, watched Brett go through a bunch of signals behind the plate, all of which Hutch knew were totally bogus. Paul had one pitch: A dinky fastball with a late break to it that guys usually couldn't lay off of, even on balls that were about to end up in the dirt.
Paul threw one in the dirt now, but Man-Up Manning didn't bite.
"Be patient!" the Braves coach yelled from their bench. "He's trying to make you chase."
Paul threw a strike that Man-Up was taking all the way, then missed just outside.
"Still a hitter's count," the Braves coach said.
Is it ever, Hutch thought.
He could feel his heart in his chest, feeling the thump-thump-thump of it the way you could feel the thump of rap music from the car next to you at a stoplight sometimes.
Knowing that this was when he loved playing baseball so much, he thought his heart might actually explode. He loved it all the time, Hutch knew, loved it more than anybody he knew, on this team or any team he'd ever played on, loved the history of it, loved the stats and the numbers and the way they connected the old days to right now.
Most of all Hutch loved it when you were playing to keep playing, when you were at the plate the way Man-Up was, or standing in the middle of a diamond like this and -hoping-begging-for the ground ball that would get you and your teammates the heck out of here with a win.
Paul Garner took a deep breath to settle himself, let it out, shook his pitching hand before he got back on the -rubber. Because of the way Paul snapped his wrist, his ball broke more like a screwball, which meant away from lefties.
He threw his very best pitch now, on the outside corner, at the knees, right where Brett Connors had set his glove.
And as mighty a swing as Man-Up tried to put on the ball, swinging for the fences all the way, going for the grand slam hero swing, the best he could do was get the end of his bat on it. It would have been a weak grounder for anybody else. But Man-Up truly was a beast, even when he got beat on a pitch this way.
He hit it hard the other way, toward the shortstop hole, between second and third.
Instinctively, as soon as he saw the ball come off the end of the bat, Hutch was moving to his right, knowing that the only chance they were going to have, if the ball didn't end up in left field, was a force at second.
The shortstop in Hutch processed all that in an instant.
Only he wasn't the shortstop.
HUTCH WAS PLAYING SECOND, MOVING TO HIS RIGHT TO COVER the base, watching from there as Darryl was in the hole in a blink, moving faster than anybody else on the field when he had to, backhanding the ball, already starting to turn his body as he did, gloving the ball cleanly and transferring it to his right hand, snapping off a throw from his hip without even looking to see where it was going.
Make the play and the Cardinals win.
Throw it away and the other guys do.
The throw was on the money, as Hutch knew it would be.
The break they got, one they sure needed, was that it was the Braves catcher running from first. Slowest guy on their team. So he did matter after all. Maybe if the Braves coach had known how much it was going to matter, he would have sent in a pinch runner. But he hadn't. He was only worried about the tying and winning runs the way everybody else was under the lights at Santaluces.
Hutch stretched like a first baseman now, stretched as far as he could while still keeping his foot on the bag, his left arm out as far as it could go. . . .
Willing Darryl's throw to get there in time.
The shortstop in him still wanting the ball as much as he ever had.
Then it was in the pocket of his glove, the worn-in pocket of his Derek Jeter model, a split second before he felt the Braves catcher hit second base, heard that sweet pop in his mitt right before he heard an even sweeter sound from the field ump behind him:
Cardinals 7, Braves 6.
They were going to the regionals.
Even if somebody else had gone into the hole.
"The golden boy makes one play," Cody Hester was saying, "and people act like he won the game all by himself."
Cody was the Cardinals right fielder, and Hutch's best friend in the world.
"The play was kind of golden," Hutch said. "Even you have to admit that."
Cody grinned. "Yeah, it was." He was finished with his milk shake, but made one last slurpy sound with his straw, just for Hutch's benefit. "I'm still not sure he's the greatest teammate in the world."
"When you're a great player, there's no rule that says you have to be," Hutch said.
Cody said, "Seriously, though. You don't think the guy's a little too full of himself? He acts like he's better than -everybody else."
"Only because he is better than everybody else." Now he grinned. "And I don't think he goes around big-timing anybody. He's just cool is all."
They were sitting on the steps in front of Hutch's house in East Boynton, finishing the milk shakes they'd stopped for on the way home from the game. Cody's dad, who worked for the phone company, had dropped them at the Dairy Queen on Seacrest and told them they could walk the rest of the way if they promised to go straight to Hutch's, which they had.
Hutch and his mom and dad lived here on Gateway, in a house faded to the color of lemon-lime Gatorade that his parents talked about painting every year and yet never did. Cody's house was right around the corner on Seacrest, not even a five-minute walk away. His family had moved down to Palm Beach County from Pensacola when Cody was five, and he and Hutch had been more like brothers than friends ever since. They didn't just have a lot in common, they pretty much had everything in common, starting with baseball. They didn't go through life worrying about how neither one of their families had a lot of money. Or that they lived in the neighborhood that they did. Or that Cody's house-a shade of pink that Cody liked to say even flamingos would find gross-was an even uglier color than Hutch's.
As long as they had each other, and a game to play, they thought things were pretty solid.
Now they had more games to play. First the regionals. If they got through that, they played for the state championship on the big field at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, where the real Cardinals and the Marlins played their spring training games. Not only did they play at Roger Dean, they got to play on television, since this was the first year that the Sun Sports Network would be broadcasting the Legion finals, in all age groups, the way ESPN televised the Little League World Series.
Hutch knew it would be a cool thing to make it up the road to Roger Dean, maybe get the chance to play on television for the first time in his life.
Yet what mattered most to Hutch was that they were still playing, that they'd gotten out of the bottom of the ninth tonight with their season still intact.
Out of the blue, Cody said, "This is going to be the greatest summer ever!"
"You say that every summer."
"This time I really mean it," Cody said. "And you know I mean it because it isn't the summer we were supposed to have."
Hutch knew what he meant. That was the best thing about having a best friend-having a conversation and being able to leave stuff out.
What Cody had meant was this:
When they used to talk about winning the state championship of Legion ball, even before they were old enough to play Legion ball, it was supposed to happen with Hutch playing short and Cody playing second. The way things had always been.
Then Darryl Williams had come along. Now he was at short and Hutch had moved over to second, forcing Cody to move to right.
Darryl Williams was already treated like he was the LeBron James of baseball, a kid who was supposed to be the best shortstop-no, the best player-to come out of the state since Alex Rodriguez came out of Miami.
He was the same age as Hutch and Cody, fourteen, eighth grade going into ninth. He lived in Lantana, and had played on a Lantana Babe Ruth team during the school year. But summers were for Legion ball and the best Lantana kids played for Post 226, same as the best Boynton Beach kids did. There had been some talk that Darryl, even at fourteen, was good enough to play up to the 19-and-under team from Post 226. But once Darryl showed up for tryouts, making it official that he'd decided to play for the Cardinals-maybe putting off facing nineteen-year-old pitchers for one more year-Hutch knew he would have to switch positions. It was just a question of whether it would be to another infield position or to the outfield.
This wasn't like when A-Rod got traded to the Yankees, and he knew before he even got there that shortstop belonged to Jeter. Hutch was new to the Cardinals the way the rest of the kids were, so it wasn't like this was his team the way the Yankees were Jeter's team. Hutch was moving and there wasn't anything he could say or do to change that. Once Mr. Cullen picked the whole team, he decided to move Hutch to second and put Hank Harding, an ex-catcher, at third.
So Hutch moved over from short, Cody moved from second to right, and that was their team, the youngest ever trying to win the state championship at this age level. No 17-year-olds-just two 16-year-olds, Paul Garner and their ace, Tripp Lyons. And more 14-year-olds than 15-year-olds.
Now "Cullen's Kids," as Hutch's mom called them sometimes, were one step closer to the title, having made it to the second round.
"You know what the real bottom line is with Darryl?" Hutch said. "He's the best player we've ever played with or against, and if you love baseball the way we do, you gotta love watching him play ball."
"I'd tell you I agree with you," Cody said, "but then I'd have to kill you."
"Darryl's the reason it doesn't kill me that I'm not playing short," Hutch said. "It'd be like a golfer getting bent out of shape that he has to play number two behind Tiger."
Cody stood up now, walked up the sidewalk and opened the gate to the chain-link fence in front of the Hutchinsons' house, one of the few two-story houses in the whole neighborhood, even if it looked like one of the oldest. Hutch had never given much thought to that fence, just because it had always been there, and was like a lot of the other front-yard fences in their neighborhood. It was Cody who made a big deal of it, saying that some people grew up in white-picket-fence neighborhoods, and other people grew up with fences like theirs.
"I'm gonna say it one last time," Cody said. "You won the game tonight, not him."
"Yeah, yeah," Hutch said.
Hutch watched him until he disappeared around the corner, thinking about what Cody had said about the game.
Yeah, he told himself. I did get those three hits tonight. I did drive in four runs. I did make a play in the fourth, going into short right, that saved a couple of runs.
But anybody who watched the game was going to remember the play Darryl had made in the ninth.
On my ball, Hutch thought.
He was never going to admit that out loud, not even to his best friend, but there it was. In his heart Hutch knew he would get over not playing short on a date Cody liked to call the twelfth of never.
He went up to his room and turned on the small fan he had on his desk. The heat was always brutal in Florida in the summer, but the past few days had been even hotter and muggier than usual, and even the thunderstorm that had blown through the area about an hour before the game tonight hadn't done anything to cool things off. There were only two rooms in their house that had air-conditioning: the living room and his parents' bedroom. But his parents were down in the living room watching a movie they'd rented from Blockbuster, and so Hutch had come up here to listen to the Marlins-Mets game on the radio.
He stripped down to his shorts, trained the fan at the head of his bed, lay down on sheets that wouldn't feel cool for long, and tried to concentrate on the Marlins.
Problem was, there were shortstops all around him. The poster of his hero, Jeter, over his bed and the one of Cal Ripken Jr. over his desk. On the ceiling was Ozzie Smith, "the Wizard of Oz," doing that backflip he used to do when he ran out to play short for the Cardinals.
Not to mention the best shortstop in the house, the one downstairs watching the movie:
He had been the first Hutch Hutchinson, even if he no longer went by that nickname. He was just back to being plain old Carl Hutchinson. He'd told Hutch he was going to try to make the game tonight, but he never showed. Again. This time, he said, it was because one of the other drivers hadn't shown up at the driving service he worked for, and he'd had to make an airport run to Miami.
His dad always seemed to have a good reason when he missed a game.
Sometimes Hutch thought it was because he just didn't love baseball anymore, because baseball had broken his heart, because he was supposed to be on his way to the big leagues once and never made it out of East Boynton.
It's not going to happen that way with me, Hutch told himself now.
Even if I am playing second base-more like second fiddle, actually-to Darryl.
It's only for a couple of months, he kept telling himself. Cody liked to say that none of this was going to matter when they got to Boynton Beach High and Darryl was playing for Santaluces Community and Hutch was back at his normal position.
But Cody didn't know something, even though he thought he knew everything about Hutch. Cody Hester didn't know, at least not yet, about Hutch's dream of getting out of East Boynton, getting out of Florida and playing his high school baseball a long way from here, on a baseball scholarship at one of the fancy boarding schools up north in New Jersey he'd been reading about. One of the schools with famous baseball programs to go along with their basketball programs.
Baseball was going to be his ticket out of here even if it hadn't been his dad's.
And Hutch believed in his heart that his best chance to do that was at short. If you followed baseball the way he did, and nobody he knew followed baseball the way he did, you knew that a great shortstop was worth his weight in gold.
Just look around: The Yankees had Jeter and the Rangers had Michael Young and the Mets had José Reyes, whom Hutch just liked watching run more than anybody else in baseball, playing any position. The Marlins had Manny Ramírez's brother Hanley, and even the little guy who played short for the St. Louis Cardinals, David Eckstein, had ended up the MVP of the World Series a couple of years ago.
On the radio now, above the noise from the fan, he heard one of the Marlins' announcers, Dave Van Horne, his voice excited, the words jumping across the room, talking about Hanley Ramírez moving to his left and snapping off a throw to first to beat the runner by a step.
"What can I tell you, folks," Van Horne yelled, "the kid's a star!"
Why not? Hutch thought. Hanley's playing a star position. You had to know that whether you were a team guy or not.
The scouts didn't come to see second basemen.
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