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Never Blame the Umpire

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Kate is having the best summer a sports-loving eleven-year-old could possibly have. Baseball. Tennis. And to top it off, Kate has just started a three-week class where she’s discovering a new love: poetry.

Then comes the news that tears Kate’s world apart. In her close-knit family, Kate has always felt God’s love and protection. But how can she trust God now? Do sports or poetry matter when tragedy strikes?

In Kate’s darkest hour, her mother’s ...

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Never Blame the Umpire

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Kate is having the best summer a sports-loving eleven-year-old could possibly have. Baseball. Tennis. And to top it off, Kate has just started a three-week class where she’s discovering a new love: poetry.

Then comes the news that tears Kate’s world apart. In her close-knit family, Kate has always felt God’s love and protection. But how can she trust God now? Do sports or poetry matter when tragedy strikes?

In Kate’s darkest hour, her mother’s faith shines its brightest, helping Kate to see that life is still beautiful and God is still good. Always, no matter what.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A summer baseball league and creative writing class, combined with a church community and family traditions like Friday night movies and popcorn, provide middle-school narrator Kate with supportive mentors, friends, and rituals while she faces devastating loss. Present-tense narration offers a sense of immediacy as Kate learns of her mother's cancer and, later, prepares for her death. Kate's poems, inspired by a variety of “starter activities,” give voice to her rage, confusion, and doubt. They also chronicle her changing perspective on what's important: while an early poem documents her disappointment that her parents missed her game-winning hit, a later one asks: “Why? It isn't fair. Isn't there/ a way to stop death?” In describing her faith in God's love and the peace she's attained as she faces death, Kate's mother equates acceptance of God's plan with a baseball player's acceptance of an umpire's call. While this analogy may feel simplistic and spark readers to ask more questions about why bad things happen to good people, the overarching message that love is stronger than death prevails in Fehler's (Beanball) tender, engaging story. Ages 9-12. (Mar.)
“…Fehler has created a masterpiece of literature to which everyone can relate…This book would make a great addition to anyone’s personal library.”
Publisher’s Weekly
“…a tender, engaging story.”
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Faith is a tricky thing; its demands are as great as its benefits and it is meaningless without adversity to test it. And so it is with Kate, whose happy, small-town life is upended with the news of her mother's terminal cancer. First-person-present narration takes the sensitive 11-year-old through the grieving process over the course of a summer, as baseball, a poetry workshop, and her mother's own strong faith in God teach and strengthen her. Fehler uses the workshop as a plot device to show Kate's interior growth, teaching readers something about the creative process as well. Kate is supported through her journey by a cast of wholesome characters who exemplify the Christian model and ring true despite their one-dimensionality. Her friend Ginny is an empathetic and talented actress; poet Allison is deep and spiritual; brother Cal's pest facade crumbles early on. The adults serve as examples to the children; Coach emphasizes team spirit, the poetry teacher is patient and perceptive, the dying mother inspires, while Dad holds the family together in tragedy. Fehler's world, populated by folks who care about one another and make good decisions, may seem archaic to readers who are used to young characters who act like cynical adults and adults who behave like children, but many people hold these standards as their own and will be moved and encouraged by this simple depiction of a faithful family in crisis.—Lisa Egly Lehmuller, St. Patrick's Catholic School, Charlotte, NC
Kirkus Reviews
The umpire in the title refers to God, as 11-year-old Kate has a summer that starts with a spectacular baseball game-winning hit and ends with the death of her mother from cancer. Title notwithstanding, however, baseball is not the plot priority here; it is Kate's class in creative writing, where she explores her feelings and her religious questions. Friends, a sympathetic teacher, her father and brother, even her mother all bring their responses and concerns to her to try to ease Kate's sorrow and pain. While religion, prayer and the Bible figure prominently, it is Kate's learning to write poetry that best communicates her emotional process to readers: Writing prompts and tips are universal, even though Kate's experience is not. There is little detail about the kind of cancer her mother suffers from or about its treatment, although there is no short-changing the pain her mother is experiencing. The somewhat heavy-handed metaphor about God-as-umpire works fairly well, but it is the courage and faith of the mother, as well as her love, that is most comforting. (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310719410
  • Publisher: Zonderkidz
  • Publication date: 2/8/2010
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 795,384
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gene Fehler, an award-winning and widely published poet, is the author of 13 published books and over eighteen hundred published poems, stories, and articles. His teaching career included having taught English and creative writing in colleges in Illinois, Texas, and Alabama; and in high schools in Illinois, Texas, and Georgia.

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Read an Excerpt

Never Blame the Umpire

By Gene Fehler


Copyright © 2010 Gene Fehler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-71941-0

Chapter One

a chance to be a hero

I'm in the on-deck circle, praying for Cal to get a hit. My hands are all sweaty, so I drop my bat on the ground and scoop up a handful of dirt. I rub my hands on my shirt. I don't mind getting dirty. Mama and Dad don't care how dirty I get, either. They just say, "It's part of the game, Kate. If you're really playing hard, you're bound to get dirty. But you already know that."

I do. I've played enough sports with Mama and Dad and my little brother Ken to know it. This is my first summer of playing baseball on a real team. We've been practicing for a couple of weeks, but this is our first game. This is my first time playing baseball under pressure.

I pick up my bat and study the pitcher. Coach always tells us to watch the pitcher closely, especially when we're on deck, so we can get an idea how hard he's throwing.

If Cal doesn't end the game right now with a hit, I might have a chance to win the game and be a hero. The trouble is, I'm not a great hitter. I have an even better chance of making the final out. I sure don't want to do that.

I take my eyes off the pitcher long enough to glance back toward the bleachers. Mama and Dad still aren't here. The last thing they'd said before they left home this morning was, "We wouldn't miss your game for anything."

Why aren't they here?

They were supposed to be home before 5:30, which is when Ken and I had to be at the field. We were all going to go together. They didn't come home, and they didn't even call. So Ken and I had to go without them. Luckily, our ballfield is only four blocks from our house. Ken and I ran all the way here and got here just in time.

Now it's the bottom of the sixth. We're one run behind. Ken led off the inning with a single. He's only ten, a whole year younger than me, but he's a better hitter. After Ken singled, Jack popped out and Andy doubled. Their left fielder made a nice play to keep Ken from scoring the tying run. Now, with just one out, a fly ball or maybe even a ground ball could tie the game. The bad thing is, Cal doesn't hit any better than I do.

Even though I'm not one of the best players, I really wanted for Mama and Dad to see me play my first game. Even though Ken has played ever since t-ball, I was never that into it. Ivy Snow talked me into playing. Next to Ginny, she's my best friend. She played last year, and she was the only girl on the team. This year we have three girls on the team: Ivy, Heather, and me. We tried to get Ginny to play, but we couldn't talk her into it.

The pitch comes in, a foot over Cal's head. He swings. He couldn't have reached it unless he were standing on a ladder.

"Come on, Cal!" I shout. "Make the pitch be in there!"

What I'm thinking is, "Please, please get that run in!"

I really, really don't want to make the last out with the tying run on third.

The next pitch is in the strike zone, and Cal hits a dinky infield pop-up. The second baseman doesn't even have to move. He catches it with two hands and flips the ball back to the pitcher.

Now it's up to me. The only good thing about Mama and Dad not being here is that they won't have to see me make the last out. It's not like them to not keep their word. Maybe they had a flat tire or something. I can't think of a good reason why they're not here. Some of my friends complain that their parents always break promises. But I've never had that problem. Mama and Dad have a lot of pet sayings, and one of them is, "Never make a promise unless you plan to keep it."

I try to focus on the pitcher. All that matters right now is, can I hit the ball? I hold my bat in one hand and jerk at the bill of my green cap with my other hand. In my first at-bat my cap wasn't on tight enough. It flew off my head when I swung hard and missed, striking out. I heard some people laugh. I wasn't sure if they laughed because my cap flew off and I looked silly or because I missed the ball. My second time up I at least hit the ball, but it was just a weak grounder back to the pitcher.

I hope nobody can see how bad I'm shaking. I didn't expect to be this nervous. I've played a lot of tennis with my mom and dad and brother. Mama played tennis on her college team, and she taught Ken and me. We're pretty good. We've had plenty of tight matches where I've had to return serve at match point, but I've never been as scared as I am now. I guess that's because I'm better at hitting a tennis ball than I am at hitting a baseball.

Maybe I'll get lucky and the pitcher will walk me. I hope. Making the last out would be a perfectly awful way to start the season.

I tap home plate with the fat end of the red aluminum bat. The pitcher looks in at me, or maybe at his catcher. Toby shouts to me from the on-deck circle. I suddenly realize I don't really want to walk. I know I have a better chance to get a hit than Toby does. He's struck out both times, not once coming close to making contact with the ball. Even in batting practice, he hardly ever hits the ball. If our team, the Colby Panthers, is going to win our opening game of the season, I'm afraid it's up to me.

"Bring me home, Kate!" Ken shouts from third base. "You can do it!"

I hear Coach call out, "Okay, Kate. Wait for your pitch."

I don't hear the voices I want to hear the most: Mama's and Dad's.

I grip the bat as tight as I can to try to stop my hands from shaking. I stare at the ball in the pitcher's hand. His hand starts to move and now the ball is coming toward me. I want to swing, but my arms don't move.

"Ball!" the ump calls out.

"Way to look!" Ken yells. "Make him throw strikes!"

He doesn't know that the only reason I didn't swing was because I'm too scared.

"No hitter no hitter no hitter," their catcher chatters. Unfortunately, he's right.

The second pitch comes in waist high, right over the heart of the plate. The pitcher couldn't have thrown me an easier pitch to hit if he'd tried all day. My mind shouts, "Swing! Swing!" but my arms stay frozen again. The ump yells, "Strike one!"

I pound my bat hard on home plate, just to prove that my arms really do move. Small clouds of dust puff up.

I've gone out twice, but at least I hit the ball once. Why won't my arms work now?

And they do, finally. But the pitch comes in low, at my ankles. I swing over the top of it. One more strike and we've lost the game.

Their catcher's thinking the same thing because he calls out, "One more strike. No hitter no hitter. Just throw it in here."

I take a deep breath. I look hard at the pitcher. He looks nervous too ... at least I tell myself he does. It makes me feel a little bit better. I try not to watch him, though. I try to focus on the ball. He holds it in his right hand. Then the ball disappears in his glove and his arms go above his head. His right arm comes down, pointing right toward me, and now I see the ball again. I hold back a split second longer on this pitch than I did on the other one. When I see it's going to be close to the outside corner, I swing.

I'm surprised at how loud the sound is when my bat meets the ball. I watch the ball take off on a line toward right field, and I start to run. It lands in front of the right fielder. I see him field it cleanly and throw it toward home. I turn and watch the ball bounce twice before the catcher fields it. He catches the ball just as Andy slides into him. The two players are covered by a cloud of dust.

The ump stands over them with his arms spread in the "safe" signal. Andy scrambles to his feet and starts to whoop. He tosses his cap into the air.

The whole team races out toward me, Ken leading the pack. I'm jumping up and down. I can't help it. I just never thought I would get a hit.

I feel really great. But I can't stop myself from glancing again at the bleachers. I can't stop myself from wishing that Mama and Dad were here to see it.

Chapter Two


Coach breaks up our celebration so our team can walk single-file across the middle of the infield to shake hands with the players from the other team. It's a league rule. Be good sports, whether you win or lose. That's what Coach preaches to us at every practice. "Play hard," he says, "but most of all play fair and have fun." He always tells us, "We should all play to win, because that's what makes competition fun, but I'd much rather coach a team of good losers than a team of poor winners."


Excerpted from Never Blame the Umpire by Gene Fehler Copyright © 2010 by Gene Fehler. 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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good YA, but heavy

    A Young Adult book that deals with a heavy subject in a wonderful way, but that doesn't make it any easier to read. In this book, Katie is set to have a great summer. She is on the baseball team with her brother and her mom and dad are coming to their games. It opens at a game where she makes the winning play, except her mom and dad aren't there to see it. When she gets home something seems seriously wrong, but she figures she must be mistaken. Eventually Mom and Dad take Katie and Ken to the beach for the day to break the bad news... Mom is really sick.

    Death and dying are not easy subjects, especially for a 12 year old girl with her whole life in front of her. How will Katie handle this summer with her mom, will she push God away or allow Him to come closer. This was not an easy book to read, but it was so good.

    (Sarah's review)
    My 13 year old daughter Sarah read it and she thinks it was really good (and sad) and she read it in 1 day! But it was hard for her not to tell me about it. She thinks it is something for all young girls to remember that God is always with you and will be there for us when bad stuff happens. Life goes on that way. But hey never blame the umpire (and God!) You see the umpire is like God, of course the umpire will mess up even though God doesn't. But the umpire is in control of the game. So let's say your team lost, of course you will get mad but you knew it was a fair game.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 19, 2011

    Awesome book!!!

    This book is great! I could relate to this because i play softball.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    Good read for youth

    Received this book because I won it on Goodreads, and am I thankful. This is a good read.

    The story concerns an eleven year old girl and her family of a father, mother and younger brother. Things are going well, at least ok for her and then she faces a tragedy in her family. They are a religious family and a sports family, as well.

    The rest of the book concerns how she first is mad at God and then how through her sports and her poetry and her family life and friends, she finally comes to the realization that you can "Never blame the Umpire."

    A joyful read for youth.

    J. Robert Ewbank author "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the 'Isms'"

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