Haunting at Home Plate

Haunting at Home Plate

4.5 7
by David Patneaude

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With only a few games left in the regular season, Nelson just wants to play baseball and maybe, one day, realize his dream of pitching. Then his manager is suspended and two players leave the team. On top of that, it seems that the park where the team practices may be haunted. Nelson convinces his cousin Mike (short for Michelle) to manage his team so the boys can


With only a few games left in the regular season, Nelson just wants to play baseball and maybe, one day, realize his dream of pitching. Then his manager is suspended and two players leave the team. On top of that, it seems that the park where the team practices may be haunted. Nelson convinces his cousin Mike (short for Michelle) to manage his team so the boys can stay together. It’s Mike who tells them the story of Andy Kirk, a boy who long ago fell from a cedar tree to his death while watching his older brother play ball. When messages to the team begin to appear in the dirt near home plate and are signed AK, the team must decide what to make of them. Is the ghost of Andy Kirk trying to tell them something? And should the team do what the messages suggest?    

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
There are four games left in the season and the Dodgers are fighting for a playoff spot when their team manager is fired. The players have never liked his ruthless tactics, so they are glad to see him go. However, it leaves them in a pinch. They need to find a manager—and fast—or the League won't let them play. No manager no playing, no playing no playoffs, and if the team can't get to the playoffs, then Nelson's dad (who has been away for business all season) won't get to see him play. Therefore, Nelson recruits his cousin Mike to manage the team and arranges practices at the newly-restored Tall Cedars Memorial Park. Practice takes an interesting turn when mysterious messages begin appearing, messages directed at the team. Why is it a "Memorial" park anyway? What happened and why is it known as Phantom Limb Park? Can the ghost of a long-dead baseball fan really be helping the Dodgers to victory? David Patneaude mixes just the right amounts of mystery and baseball to create a lively, intriguing story. 2000, Albert Whitman. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Heidi Green
School Library Journal
Gr 3-7-After Gannon Conger's father, the coach of the Dodgers, is suspended from the Southshore Little League for unsportsmanlike behavior, Nelson talks his college-aged cousin Mike (short for Michele) into taking over the team. However, the one bad thing about losing abusive Mr. Conger is losing the team's best player and their friend, Gannon, who has been forced by his dad to switch to a new team. Mike tells the Dodgers about Andy Kirk, who, more than 50 years ago, died when he fell out of a giant cedar tree where he sat perched watching his older brother hit in the winning run. Soon cryptic messages initialed AK crop up around the baseball diamond. Whoever is leaving them loves baseball and has some very definite and good advice, and everyone wonders if they've been left by Andy's ghost. It doesn't take long for the team to play like a well-oiled machine and ultimately the Dodgers take on Gannon's team in the championship game. This story is packed with action and suspense. The characters seem real and have a certain depth. Young readers who are interested in baseball and like a good mystery will find this title hard to beat.-Barb Lawler, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
From the Publisher

"Young readers who are interested in baseball and like a good mystery will find this title hard to beat."

School Library Journal

"Fans of baseball and of stories about the paranormal will get their fill from this absorbing novel."


Product Details

Whitman, Albert & Company
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Barnes & Noble
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File size:
290 KB
Age Range:
9 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt

Haunting at Home Plate

By David Patneaude


Copyright © 2000 David Patneaude
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6650-0


New Season

I walk back and forth along the riverbank, eyes on the boggy ground. I stoop and rise, stoop and rise, picking up rocks the size of golf balls and bigger. I drop them into a dirty canvas sack and head upstream, where the river narrows to sixty feet. Here the high opposite bank is pockmarked around a rotting stump that angles out from the sandy mud.

I dump the rocks on a pile of other rocks: about enough to get my throwing arm built up a little more, to get me ready for the day Mr. Conger calls on me to step to the mound and fire that first pitch. It's possible he will. My dad says if I practice, anything is possible. And if I have to practice without him, this is the best place to be.

I stand tall and twist from side to side before picking up a rock and throwing it easily toward the stump on the opposite bank. Halfway across, it splashes into the muddy water. The ripples stretch out, move downstream, and disappear.

The next rock flies a little farther, the one after that farther still. On my tenth throw, the rock reaches the bank, pocking the mud. The next one thuds into the stump, scattering mushy red pieces of wood. I close my eyes and picture a baseball thumping into a catcher's mitt: Emmett's mitt catching, my arm pitching.

I keep throwing, increasing my speed. The stump takes a beating as I rifle the stones across the water.

Finally, the pile of rocks is gone. I stop, shrug out my muscles, stare across the river at the pattern of holes in the opposite bank, fading in the March twilight. The sun has slipped behind the layer of clouds that blankets the distant peaks of the Olympic Mountains, white-capped, gray-shouldered ghosts of Washington's northwest coastline.

I pick up a flat rock from a smaller pile, then take a step forward and throw, aiming to skip it. The rock skims low to the middle of the river before setting down, lifting off, setting down, lifting off. It skips four times and plops into the mud.

As the sky darkens I skip more rocks, until I'm down to one. I pick it up, kick high, and dip low, releasing it fast and flat. It barely kisses the surface, dancing across the water and thudding into the bank. I return to my bike and pedal away from the river.

* * *

Pure dark has set in by the time I get to town. Waves of cold rain roll out of the sky, matting down my hair, soaking through my sweatshirt and jeans. I take the shortcut through the grounds of the junior high. At the far end of the parking lot, I stop at the sound of a too-familiar voice.

Down on the track, under the lights, two figures lean against the wind. Mr. Conger, huddled under a striped golf umbrella, growls orders to his son, Gannon, whose dark hair is glossy-wet and glued in strands against his forehead. Neither of them sees me.

I quietly angle my bike toward a small clump of fir trees. I squeeze past wet branches until my bike and I are both out of sight.

"Three more sets," Mr. Conger says. Gannon turns toward the short, steep hill that rises to a chain link fence fifty feet away. His dad raises a stopwatch. Gannon jumps up and down in place. His sweatshirt and sweatpants are heavy with rain, and they hang and flop on him like wet laundry. He lowers himself to a crouch, ready.

"Go!" his dad says, and Gannon stumbles forward, losing his footing on the slick cinder surface before reaching the grass. He sprints ahead, arms pumping, head down. He tops the hill, touches the fence, turns and jogs back down. At the bottom he drops to the track and does five quick push-ups before heading back up the hill. He repeats the routine over and over — nine more times, I count — then stops at the bottom, hands on his knees, breathing deep.

"Stand up," his dad orders. "That set was slower. You gotta maintain. Thirty seconds and counting." His dad counts down by fives to zero. "Go!" he says.

Gannon finishes this set, then another. He walks in a ragged circle around his dad, gasping for breath. Puffs of vapor hang around his head.

"Pitiful," his dad says. He drops a tall orange cone near the inside edge of the track and slumps off into the darkness. Four stripes — forty yards — away he drops another. He comes back, stopwatch raised, and waits for Cannon to line himself up with the distant cone. "Hustle!" he yells. Gannon sets himself in a sprinter's start. "Go!" his dad shouts, and Gannon takes off, churning down the track, flying past the marker.

His dad glances at his stopwatch and grunts, and Gannon jogs back to the start. "Go!" Another sprint, another grunt. Then eight more, a break, another set, a break, another set. His dad kicks the cone as Gannon staggers past it for the last time. He throws his umbrella, and the wind tumbles it to the middle of the football field.

Gannon bends over and stares at the ground. He straightens up, his chest heaving. "I did my best, Dad," he says. I can barely hear him.

His dad gives Gannon a look. "You've got one chance to redeem yourself, Gannon. Or these workouts are gonna have to get tougher. A lot tougher. We'll be spending less time at the batting cage and a ton more here." He heads back down the track to collect the far cone. "Get the umbrella," he barks.

Gannon retrieves the umbrella. His dad sets the cone at the edge of the track, takes the umbrella, and clears his stopwatch.

"A four-hundred," he says. "Under seventy."


No answer. I try to imagine running a four-hundred meter at any speed after the workout Gannon's just had. I've run the four-hundred for the school track team. I've never cracked seventy seconds on fresh legs. But Gannon moves to the cone. He pulls off his sweats. His T-shirt sticks to him like loose skin. Steam rises from it like wisps of smoke. He crouches, pulling up his sagging shorts.

"On your mark. Get set. Go!"

Gannon accelerates smoothly down the straightaway. Going into the first curve he lengthens his stride, fighting to stay loose. Vapor mushrooms from his mouth and trails off behind him.

He comes out of the curve and into the wind, slowing. Two hundred meters to go. He increases his speed, then backs off. He'll need something in reserve at the three-hundred mark, where the bear named Fatigue will jump on his back and ride him to the finish.

He hits the curve. A hundred to go. Time for a burst, but the bear has arrived; Gannon's just hanging on. His dad windmills his arm, urging him to speed up. Gannon raises his chin, he lifts his knees, he tries, but he's left everything behind him somewhere. He moves into the straight, forcing his legs to work. His shoes slap against the track, his arms pump back and forth in slow motion.

He staggers past the cone and stumbles, holding his stomach. He kneels on the grass. Finally, he picks up his sweats and eases to his feet, turning. His dad's hurrying down the track, umbrella angled low against the rain. Gannon shuffles after him, trying to catch up.

I'm cold, shivering, but inside I'm hot. I feel tears collecting in my eyes.

His dad sits inside the car when Gannon arrives. The motor is running. Gannon goes to the passenger side and tries the door. It's locked. The electric window slides down three inches.

"Seventy-one point two," his dad snarls. "Walk home."

The window hums back into place; the car accelerates away. Gannon watches, then pulls on his soggy sweats and heads into the darkness.

I wait, until the cold seeps into my bones and drives me from the trees and sends me home.


May 14

A big-bellied man with a tie and clipboard takes a seat on the top row of the bleachers. Chas sizes him up first.

"A scout, Nelson," he whispers to me.

A quick once-over tells me Chas is right: a scout. Either for Little League All-stars or an early bird for next year's Pony League tryouts. Who else would be spending an afternoon at North Creek Park watching kids play baseball? And he has that look: crusty but smart, able to recognize real talent. He's wearing a Mariners cap pulled low over dark shades.

Chas stands tall and fires a ball to Grady. I throw a smoker to Woody. He's short; he has to jump to snag it. Woody and Grady, whose backs are to the scout, look at me and Chas like we're nuts. Chas points to the scout, who isn't looking at us; he's checking out our manager, Mr. Conger. "Scout," Chas mouths.

Mr. Conger starts infield warmups. We outfielders move to the outfield, where we keep one eye on the ball. The other eye is usually reserved for the team we're playing, which today is the Cardinals. But today we don't have time to scout the opponent; we're scouting the scout. We make diving catches of grounders and over-the-shoulder catches of routine fly balls. We leap for balls that are barely a foot over our heads. We make the easy look hard and the hard look miraculous.

Finally the game starts. I'm on the bench, but I'm not worried. Everyone has to play at least three of the six innings, so I'll get to show my stuff later. I hope. Mr. Conger sometimes makes his own rules. His son and nephew play more than anybody, even though the nephew, Raymond — who also happens to be the son of Mr. Maltby, our coach — is no star.

Mr. Conger's son, Gannon, is a different story altogether. And I have a feeling he'll be pitching every inning against the Cardinals. With only four games to go in the regular season, we're fighting for a top-four finish and a spot in the playoffs. The bottom-four teams stay home.

We're visitors, up first. With two outs Gannon singles in a run, but Woody pops up the next pitch for the third out. Mr. Conger lurks in the dugout with a scowl and some words: "You were supposed to wait for Gannon to get into scoring position before you took a swing, Woodhead."

I shrug my shoulders and smile at Woody, who looks embarrassed. If we had a choice, none of us would be putting up with Mr. Conger. Not even his own kid. I figure Woody was just trying to impress the scout, who's probably already licking his chops over Gannon. Wait till he sees him pitch. They don't call him "the Cannon" for nothing.

He gets the first two batters on strikes; the third guy pops out to left field. We don't do anything in our half of the second, and I stay on the bench while the Cannon mows down the Cardinals in the bottom of the inning.

We go down 1-2-3 again in the top of the third. Mr. Conger makes one of his brilliant observations: "You clowns are hitting like girls."

The bottom of the third starts with two easy outs, but the third guy looks like a batter — big and strong and comfortable in the box. Gannon's first pitch is down the middle and smoking, but the guy crushes the ball. It sails over the left field fence and into the woods.

The guy circles the bases, a big smile on his face, but Gannon doesn't watch. He stares at his shoes, at the bleachers, at the gray clouds hanging over North Creek Park. He looks everywhere but at his dad, who's storming around the dugout, raking his hand through his thin brown hair. He charges the batter's box and scowls at the kid as he crosses home plate. The Cardinals' manager asks Mr. Conger what he's doing, but Mr. Conger glares out at Gannon, waiting. Finally Gannon meets the look.

"Get the next one," Mr. Conger barks. In the bleachers, the crowd is quiet. I see the scout taking notes.

Gannon's first pitch to the next guy is outside. Mr. Conger slams his fist into the chain link fence. "Down the heart!" he yells to Gannon, and my own heart thumps louder. Mr. Conger has used those words three times already this year, and three times Gannon has hit a batter who looked good. The league got wise and put Mr. Conger on probation last time. I can't believe he's at it again. Maybe he thinks he's going to fool this ump, who hasn't done any of our other games.

Gannon fires. For an instant the batter looks ready to swing. The next instant he's heading for the dirt. The ball sails into Emmett's glove, way inside and high.

The ump calls time and warns Gannon and his dad: the next one, they're both tossed. Mr. Conger: "You heard me, ump. I called for a strike." The ump ignores him.

The batter, shaken, lets three strikes go by with the bat on his shoulder. The inning is over. Mr. Conger is smiling; Gannon isn't.

I get my first at-bat in the top of the fourth with two outs and nobody on, but I strike out swinging on a ball that's way outside. I don't impress anybody.

It's still 1-1 going into the bottom of the sixth — the last inning. Mr. Conger moves me to second base from right field.

Their big guy leads off. Mr. Conger is on his feet, glaring at him as he walks to the plate. He smiles at Mr. Conger, whose face gets redder as he takes a step out of the dugout. "Down the heart," he says to Gannon. Not loud, but the ump gives him a look. Gannon studies the ball in his mitt and waits for the batter to get set. He takes a sign from Emmett, winds, and throws. A strike, down the heart of the plate.

Mr. Conger asks the ump for time, storms to the mound, and gets in Gannon's face. Gannon nods, then stares at Mr. Conger's wide back as he turns and walks to the dugout. Gannon pounds the ball into his mitt.

Emmett gives a sign, Gannon pitches. The batter coils, but he's not ready for what's coming: a screamer, high and inside. Way inside. The ball smashes into his helmet, and he goes down.

The Cardinals' manager rushes out. I look away, back to the bleachers. My mom decided she's had enough of Mr. Conger; she's boycotting these games. Mrs. Conger is sitting there calmly. Our other parents are quiet, watching the downed kid. The scout is writing furiously on his clipboard.

I hear the ump call time. "You're gone, son," he says, and Gannon leaves the mound, head down. "You're outta here, Conger," he says to our manager. "Leave the field. I'll be filing papers."

"You can't do that," Mr. Conger says. "'Down the heart,' I told him."

"Don't insult my intelligence. The game's not resuming till you're gone."

"Hold on a moment, gentlemen." The scout is out of the stands and walking toward home plate. "Is the boy okay?" he says to the Cardinals' manager.

"He's okay."

"Take your base then, son," the ump says.

The scout stops in front of our dugout as the Cardinal heads to first. All the guys in the field edge closer, like swimmers on the lip of a whirlpool.

"Before you go anywhere, Mr. Conger, I need to talk to you," the scout says in a loud voice.

"About what, Mr. Boggs?" Mr. Conger's voice is loud, too, but there's a little quaver to it.

"Everybody — coaches, players, parents. Get 'em in here, please."

Mr. Conger and the scout engage in an electric stare-down that seems to last forever. The scout wins. Mr. Conger shrugs and turns away. "Whatever," he says.

While Mr. Conger and Mr. Maltby call the players in, our parents file out of the bleachers and onto the field. The scout goes to the other stands and talks to the Cardinals. He comes back with the ump at his side. Mr. Conger, shifting his weight from one foot to another, looks uncomfortable. I can hear baseball sounds coming from another field behind us, but ours is dead silent.

"I'm Les Boggs," the scout says. "I sit on the board of the Southshore Little League. The board has given me the authority to represent the League in the matter before us today."

The matter before us? I glance around at a wall of blank faces.

"As most of you know," Les Boggs continues, "the conduct of your manager has been brought to the board's attention. The board asked me to attend today's game to get a first-hand impression, and if necessary, take the appropriate steps."

I watch Mr. Conger's face turn the color of tomato juice. I wait for an explosion, but it doesn't come.

"Effective immediately," says Les Boggs, "I'm suspending Mr. Conger for the remainder of the season."

"I go, my kid goes," Mr. Conger says, and I feel like someone's punched me in the stomach. I can't see Gannon. I look behind me; he's sitting with his mom, his cap pulled low over his eyes.

"That's your decision. And your son's."

"It's mine."

"Me and my kid will be going, too," Mr. Maltby says. And with that the whole good news-bad news thing hits me: we're getting rid of Mr. Conger, but Gannon, our best player, our friend, is leaving, too; without Raymond we're down to one sub; without Mr. Maltby, we don't have a coach.

"Your choice, Mr. Maltby," Les Boggs says. He looks at his clipboard and counts to ten — the number of players we have left.

"You have some decisions to make," he says to the rest of us. "After today, you'll have three games remaining in the regular season. You have ten players to play those games. That's not much of a cushion, but if you want to keep the team together, you can do it. First, of course, someone will have to volunteer to manage."

I look at the parents. Most of them get that distracted look my dog Sunny gets when you call her. As if she's just heard something off in the distance somewhere.

"The other option is to dissolve the team," Les Boggs says. "We'd rather not see that happen, but if you can't come up with a manager, we'll have to. Because of the circumstances, we'd pretty much let the boys choose what team they'd like to play for. However, we couldn't put more than one or two of them on each existing team."


Excerpted from Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude. Copyright © 2000 David Patneaude. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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.

Meet the Author

When David Patneaude was a youngster, his favorite story was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a tale of adventure, suspense, mystery, and best of all, buried treasure. David never found pirate plunder of his own, but now he digs for a different kind of hidden loot—story ideas. David lives in Woodinville, Washington, with his wife, a junior-high-school librarian. They have three grown children and two grandsons.   
 When David Patneaude was a youngster, his favorite story was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a tale of adventure, suspense, mystery, and best of all, buried treasure. David never found pirate plunder of his own, but now he digs for a different kind of hidden loot—story ideas. David lives in Woodinville, Washington, with his wife, a junior-high-school librarian. They have three grown children and two grandsons.  

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Haunting at Home Plate 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
purple-kitty More than 1 year ago
My book that I’m reviewing is Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude. It’s a pretty good book because he did a very good job at explaining things throughout the story. David is a pretty good writer, in my opinion. I thought this book was really fun to read. This story is about a boy named Nelson, who played baseball. In the middle of the season, his coach got kicked out of the league. So Nelson decided to ask his cousin Mike to coach, she said yes. During their practices, they would find mysterious messages in the dirt. In that same field, a while ago a boy named Andy Kirk died from falling out of a tree when his brother hit the winning run. Later on, their team won the championship those messages really helped the team out. Kids ages 9 to 13 that like baseball and mysterious stories would love to read Haunting at Home Plate. It is easy to understand and some parts are very mysterious. Overall, I think most kids would love to read this book. My favorite part in the story is when they started finding messages in the dirt. I think the author really tried to make the readers think when he wrote the messages. My favorite message is the one that says “Second chances are as rare as rainbows”. It really made me think about it for a while and it probably made a lot of other readers think about it too. Overall, the book was very well written. The author had good word usage and did well at explaining. I would recommend this book to kids that really like baseball.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What happens in my book is a bunch of kids think that a baseball field is haunted. The next day the kids were playing baseball but one kid hit a ball over the school roof which he could not do. So the kids thought that something like a ghost carried it over the school. Then the kids thought that they should go to the fields at night and see if the field was haunted. Then they tried to get out but got caught by their own parents trying to sneak out. So at school that they tried to find another way to get out and check it out. That is what happens for most of the book. I liked thi8s book a lot and it was pretty exciting. I thought it was exciting because it was exciting because it was a ghost/mystery. I like how it is a ghost story because it makes it seem like it is real. Also I liked how it is a mystery because it makes it suspenseful and dragging on. But their were some parts that I didn¿t like in the story. One was it would make it sound exciting and suspenseful then go on to the next chapter and say something totally different like ¿the next day.¿ That is my opinion on the my book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was awesome and entertaining.It took place in Washington in the past. It was about a boy named Nelson Lamp and his baseball team.The players on his team are Emmett, Gannon, Chas(his name has no"E" at the end),Grady, Woody, Hugh, Kevin, and Sid.They are not a good team at all. Then, one day, their manager,Mr.Conger got ejected from the game. That led to the main point in the story. Nelson elected his cousin,Mike, to be manager.Mike told them a story at practice. She said that a boy named Andy Kirk died trying to watch a game at the stadium they practice at.Ever since Mike told the story, there has been mysterious messages in the dirt and it seemed to be helpful and motivated the team. The messages were all about how to beat teams in the playoffs.They said to move people to different positions.They ended up winning the finals.Nelson tried to find out who wrote the messages,but never found out.The team thinks it was the ghost of Andy Kirk,but not positive.I think the theme of this book is to believe in yourself and anybody can help you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book a boy named Nelson really loves baseball. He wants to see his team make the playoff, but when the manager is fired the league won't let the team play. So Nelson goes to his cousin Mike and ask him to manage. They got to practice and there is a message at home plate. Everyone starts to think that people are playing jokes on the team. But as the kids looked into it they started to believe it was real. The team started to play better and better. They take the advice of the messages and make it to the playoffs. Over all I thought this was a good book. After every chapter I just wanted to read more and more because it was so interesting. I was always left think of what was going to happen next.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You have to get this book. About 6 pages into it, I couldn't stop reading! After I finished it, I couldn't stop thinking about it for 3 days! The best book I've ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is beyond wonderful. It is written in a way that you feel like your in the book. I found this book helpful for me because after my dad died, (he loved baseball) I felt I should not play baseball. After reading this it got me to feel like he was still there helping me in a different way. THIS BOOK IS THE BEST FOR BASEBALL FANS!!!