Hard Ball: A Billy Baggs Novel

Hard Ball: A Billy Baggs Novel

by Will Weaver

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Battle in the Bullpen

For as long as Billy Baggs can remember, rich townie and ace pitcher Archer "King" Kenwood has been his nemesis--both on the field and off. And the summer before they enter high school, their long-standing rivalry explodes into violence. Desperate to keep the peace between his two star players, Coach Anderson

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Battle in the Bullpen

For as long as Billy Baggs can remember, rich townie and ace pitcher Archer "King" Kenwood has been his nemesis--both on the field and off. And the summer before they enter high school, their long-standing rivalry explodes into violence. Desperate to keep the peace between his two star players, Coach Anderson comes up with a plan: If they want to play, they have to pay--by spending a week together, twenty-four hours a day.

But will Coach's plan make things better? Or just a whole lot worse?

After a family tragedy on the farm, Billy Baggs's life is finally back on track. He's starting high school. He's caught the eye of the baseball coach and even a few college scouts. He has prospects for a girlfriend—Suzy Langen, the catch of the ninth grade. But blocking Billy's path is King Kenwood, town rich kid and ace pitcher. As the two boys' rivalry turns violent, it is left to Coach Anderson to find a solution. In the process, both Billy and King come to find their real problems might lie closer to home—with their own fathers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this third novel (after "Striking Out" and "Farm Team") starring Billy Baggs, the farmboy with a mean fast pitch, sparks start flying on and off the diamond when the hero locks horns with archenemy and rival ballplayer Archer "King" Kenwood. Billy has the edge during heated games against the Town Team, but victories are less certain in the romance field, with pretty Suzy Langen making plays for both boys' attention. When squabbles over Suzy turn physical, Coach Anderson puts a lid on the action by forcing Billy and King to trade lifestyles for a while. For half a week, King bunks with Billy on the Baggses farm; then it is Billy's turn to try out town life at the Kenwoods' posh house. Although the boys are not destined to become bosom buddies, they do share one serious problem: hard-nosed, close-minded fathers who try to run their lives. The stereotyped casting of rednecked farmers and uppity townsfolk compromises the book's otherwise wide appeal. Similarly, the narrative is marred by strained rural references, especially with regard to the female characters: "Compared to Suzy Langen, as tall and graceful as a show cat, the Erickson girls were scrappy, barn cats.... His eyes were welded to Gina like it was a hot Fourth of July and she was a double-scoop ice-cream cone." Ultimately, the author's portrayal of town/country rivalry is as broadly and unconvincingly sketched as legends surrounding Billy's "rocket-launcher" of an arm.
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Billy Bagg and his family are again featured in this new story. Billy and his archrival King are vying for the same girl and it leads to a fight. But there is more to this story, as readers learn more about the two families, the difficult father-son relationships, and a somewhat artificial solution to the relationships between the boys and in turn with their respective fathers. The rich boy's mother is an alcoholic, the father is driven to make his son a sports star. In contrast, the farm boy's father is taciturn and quick-tempered and his mother is almost too good to be true. Its a quick read and it will appeal to boys and girls, but the plot devices and formula characters do not leave a lasting impression.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Billy Baggs takes on his arch-rival, King Kenwood, and tackles inner issues that pose an even greater threat to both boys. This is the third book in the series about the baseball star Billy Baggs. It is another powerful story.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
"Hard Ball" can stand on its own, although it's bound to be most popular with readers of "Farm Team" (1995) and "Striking Out" (1993, both HarperCollins). It's August as Billy Baggs steams into the final game of the 1971 summer season. His farm teammates, the skinny-dipping Erickson girls, are as sassy and saucy as ever. Suzy Langen, who has been coming to the games all summer, is too perfectly beautiful for words, but willing to take some risks. And King Kenwood, the privileged star pitcher for the town team, is competitive, hostile, and determined to keep his eye on her. Billy, yanked from the game in the third inning, accompanies Suzy to the loft of the barn, where they tentatively make out. King surprises them and he and Billy explode into a fight. An old farmer dismissively comments, "Just a couple of young bucks locking horns over a doe." Their school's baseball coach, who can see his spring season going down the tubes, takes the fight a bit more seriously. He negotiates a deal with the respective parents to have each boy stay half the week at the other's house. Predictably, they begin to see and understand one another, but the process is largely believable and satisfying. The action moves quickly and the characters are worth knowing. Engaging language is occasionally lyrical. There are loose ends enough to guarantee a sequel, which, like spring baseball, is something to look forward to. Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA

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Product Details

San Val, Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
11200 San Val
Product dimensions:
4.86(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.81(d)
Age Range:
11 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


That summer in northern Minnesota, word spread. In Flint County there was a young baseball player, a pitcher, like few people had seen. On the mound he was a fireballer. A speed demon. Had a rocket launcher for an arm. The kid was a farm boy, that much was certain. He also had his own team, a motley crew that was unbeaten because no one had ever laid a bat on the boy's fastball.

So who was this phenom? Some said he was a stocky sixteen-year-old who could fire a baseball through a barn wall and leave only a charred smell. Others said he was a lanky fifteen-year-old right-hander who threw so hard that the ball sent out a silent whistle that set dogs to howling a full mile away. Still others said he was a seventeen-year-old left-hander who could throw the ball so high that a player could step off the field, take a pee, zip up and get back in position before the ball hit dirt; one old man swore he'd seen the ball come down a full five minutes later, shining and glazed with ice.

So much for gossip. In truth the boy's name was William Jefferson Baggs -- Billy Baggs -- and he was a fourteen-year-old left-handed farm boy from western Flint County, which lies not far from the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Billy was six feet tall and rising, and had yellow hair, blue eyes and buck teeth, plus a spattering of pimples across his cheeks. He was skinny but square-framed, and his arms, corded and stretched from farmwork, were his chief weapons.

And yes, his Farm Team was unbeaten. They had edged the local Flint Babe Ruth team and its ace pitcher, Archer "King" Kenwood. They had hammered the nearby Buckman town team. They had spanked various 4-H, Grangeand church clubs that had dared bring a team to the Baggses' farm baseball field. Was Billy Baggs unhittable? Of course not. No pitcher is. There had been three scratch singles off Billy in about forty innings.

Farm Team baseball began that summer of 1971 when fliers appeared in the Flint Feedmill, in the drugstores, in the hardware stores, in the soda fountains and gas stations. "BASEBALL!" they read. "Friday nights (weather permitting) at the Abner Baggs Farm . . . Come one, come all. . . ." These were the years of the Vietnam War, of civil rights unrest and sit-down strikes; however, the people of Flint were mostly untouched by all that, and they hoped to remain that way. All the more reason, then, to take in a country-style ball game.

So they came. Young ballplayers from around the county. Bored vacationers stuck at nearby resorts. Friendly farmers and townsfolk with nothing better to do after supper. A college coach or two in the Flint lakes area for fishing. They all came to sit on hay-bale bleachers and watch Billy Baggs fire his white-hot heater past batter after batter. Following each game at least one coach lingered and introduced himself to Billy, who, with a brief handshake, was polite enough but had faraway eyes. After every Farm Team game Billy scanned the crowd for a tall girl with a silvery ponytail. Her name was Suzy Langen, and Billy was in love.

One small problem. Suzy already had a boyfriend, the same one since kindergarten. His name? King Kenwood.

Chapter One

August 1971

Billy couldn't sleep. The August night heat, trapped in the attic of the farmhouse, kept him turning in his sheets. That and Suzy Langen, the judge's daughter, who was never far out of his mind these days. Unfortunately, with thoughts of Suzy came King Kenwood, who was never far from Suzy's side.

He lay there, imagining ways to get rid of Kenwood once and for all on tomorrow's trip. A stumble beneath the school bus tires? An accidental fall from the window at sixty miles an hour? Then again, Billy would be the prime suspect, and he didn't need more trouble with the law this summer. He squinted shut his eyes and brought back Suzy. Suzy tall and smiling, her legs and arms coppery brown against her white shorts and blouse. Suzy at the beach in town, slowly milking river water from her long hair. . . .

Just when he felt drowsy, a huge August moon began to glow brightly in his window. He got up and yanked down his shade. After that he lay there, watching the moonlight leak in. By four thirty a.m. he gave up on sleep. He dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, and eased down the stairs to the porch, where he put on his coveralls. Quietly latching the screen door, he crossed the farmyard under the still-bright moon.

Inside the dairy barn he flipped on the lights. "If I can't sleep, neither can you," he announced. The big Holstein cows huffed through their noses and jangled their stanchion chains. They began, one by one, to tip themselves upright, white on black, black on white, until they stood like dominoes in two even rows. Rousted a full hour early, the cows were as cross as Billy. However, they soon snaked their long tongues at the buckets full of grain Billy splashed their way. He was all done with feeding and had started milking by the time his father arrived.

"Well ain't you the early bird," Abner said from the doorway. He was a tall, lanky man, as dark as Billy was fair, with a dusty seed cap drawn low across his forehead and a limp from having polio as a kid.

"Sorry, Pa. Couldn't sleep." The air compressor motor for the milking machine kept up a quick, steady thudding sound'a sound, suddenly, like Billy's heartbeat. He was always slightly afraid of his father. Afraid that he was doing the wrong thing. Afraid that he was doing the right thing.

"You know what?" Abner muttered as he took over the stainless steel milker.

"What's that, Pa?" he asked quickly.

"I'll be damned glad when this Minneapolis trip of yours has come and gone."

Billy was silent. He supposed he had been distracted the past few days. One thing he had not forgotten to do was cross off the days on his calendar. Or check the time.

"Don't worry, you ain't gonna miss that bus," Abner said.

"I wasn't worried," Billy replied.

"Then why do you keep looking at your watch every thirty seconds?"

"Sometimes it stops," Billy mumbled, and headed to feed the calves. He sneaked yet another glance at the time.

In the house at breakfast Billy made sure to chew his pancakes slowly to prove that he was in no hurry.

"Well, a big day," Mavis said cheerfully. His mother was the optimist in the family.

Both Billy and Abner glanced at each other.

"Big day of work on the farm, for me," Abner said. "I've got to get the silage chopper tuned up, plus there's some fencing to be done and'"

"And nothing that can't wait," Mavis replied. "Sometimes it's important to take a day off."

"Tell that to the dairy cows," Abner replied, reaching for another hotcake.

"Lighten up a little," Mavis said easily to Abner. She was a tall, handsome, square-shouldered woman with brown hair tied back. She tended to point things -- in this case her pancake turner -- at people when she talked. "This is Billy's day to have some fun. He's been home, working, every day of the summer -- no thanks to you know who."

Billy held his breath. During Abner's stay in jail his mother had claimed some kind of territory, some kind of power in the family. Now that his father was back, she made a point of not giving it up. Billy, who had run the farm this summer, had felt that power, too; however, now that Abner was home, Billy felt his turf eroding, his independence slipping away. He held his breath a lot when his father was nearby.

"Being in the slammer was sure no vacation, if that's what you're saying," Abner growled.

"Of course it wasn't," Mavis said cheerfully. "But I'm saying that it's behind us now and we're glad to have you back. And today is Billy's day to get away and see a ball game. Like a normal kid," she added.

Billy hated it when she said that.

"Hmmmph," Abner muttered, eyeballing Billy briefly before bending to his pancakes. "I guess I'll have to listen to the game on the radio."

"We'll go together next time!" Billy said suddenly. "All three of us. I'll check out where the stadium is, what roads to take, and then next time we all could go."

"I'd love to see the Twin Cities sometime," Mavis began.

"Not me," Abner said. "The traffic in Fargo is bad enough."

Hard Ball. Copyright � by Will Weaver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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