Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate

Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate

5.0 1
by Thatcher Heldring

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Eight-grader Roy Morelli can’t wait for baseball season to start so he can take his rightful place as shortstop for the Pilchuk All-Star team. Being on the All-Stars is just the warm-up for the big leagues: the varsity baseball team at the high school Roy will go to next year. But when Roy’s divorced parents find out he’s failing history, they

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Eight-grader Roy Morelli can’t wait for baseball season to start so he can take his rightful place as shortstop for the Pilchuk All-Star team. Being on the All-Stars is just the warm-up for the big leagues: the varsity baseball team at the high school Roy will go to next year. But when Roy’s divorced parents find out he’s failing history, they make him quit the All-Stars. It’s not his fault the only thing interesting about history class is Valerie Hopkins, and she won’t even give Roy the time of day.

Now Roy is stuck on a losing team in the wimpy rec league, and instead of playing ball every spare minute, he’s spending his afternoons with a tutor—who just happens to be his dad’s brainiac girlfriend. If Roy’s going to impress the varsity baseball coach, he’s sure he should be looking out for number one, not wasting his time studying. After all, baseball is what Roy does best. But when his grades continue to slide and his teammates get tired of his know-it-all attitude, Roy Morelli will need to step up to the plate. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Eighth-grader Roy Morelli is looking forward to playing on an elite all-star baseball team as a means of impressing the high school coach and enhancing his chances of starting on the varsity as a freshman. When his history grade slips, however, his parents make him drop down to a less competitive, less demanding rec-league team, where none of the other players seem to care about winning. Roy alienates his teammates with his aggressive style and know-it-all attitude and gets in trouble at home for his continued apathetic approach toward his studies. When his divorced father's girlfriend becomes his tutor, Roy is initially resentful, but eventually comes to appreciate the way she makes history come alive. He is able to apply the lessons he has learned both to improve his history grade and to mend relationships with his teammates. While somewhat predictable, the novel features good characterization and some sizzling dialogue, especially between Roy and his frenemy, Valerie Hopkins. The game action is fast paced and exciting, the depiction of middle school dynamics rings true, and the main character shows genuine emotional growth over the course of the novel.—Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT
Kirkus Reviews
A .370 average is great in baseball but not so great in history class, and since Roy Morelli is failing history, his parents won't allow him to play for the Pilchuk All-Star team; he has to get a tutor and raise his grades first. Ray has the tools to be a fine player-average, power, base running, speed and arm strength-but, as Coach Harden tells him, there's a sixth tool-the mental game-and this is precisely what Roy most needs to develop. Roy's quest for that sixth tool is the heart and soul of this fine baseball novel. Heldring effectively captures the wise-guy, self-righteous attitude of an eighth-grade boy and carefully delineates Roy's change of character as he comes to understand what it takes to be a team player. With plenty of well-described baseball action and a protagonist to care about, this will be a hit with young baseball fans. (Fiction. 9-14)
Publishers Weekly
Sermon swamps story in Heldring's (Toby Wheeler: Eighth-Grade Benchwarmer) preachy novel about priorities and teamwork. The eponymous hero has his vision firmly fixed on high school—and becoming shortstop. But Roy has to pass eighth-grade history first, and his divorced parents decide he will sit out a season on the all-star team to concentrate on his grades. Roy's only baseball option is the low-key rec league team. Both Roy's history teacher and baseball coach are portrayed as imbeciles—history instruction consists of reading a chapter a night in the textbook then re-reading it aloud in class; the coach insists it's all about fun but doesn't notice team bullies picking on the smallest player. As cultural anthropology, it's a depressing portrait of modern American life: Roy's mother takes night classes, so he and his sister—whose conversations amount to insult exchanges—sullenly share dinners like "mac 'n' cheese with peas and salad out of a bag." Roy does nothing to undermine the dumb jock stereotype when, rather than study, he embraces his classmate's strategy for multiple-choice tests: "It's never, ever the same letter twice in a row." Ages 9-12. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Cynthia Levinson
Eighth-grader Roy Morelli's sole goal is to impress the high school baseball coach enough to land a spot on the varsity team in the fall. He's been playing well with the All-Stars and will have plenty of time to practice and show off his skills before he is scouted. Then he earns Ds in American History and is sent to the principal's office for pestering Valerie, the girl he likes. His parents, who are divorced, pull him off the team. They send him back to the rec league to play with kids who do it for fun rather than victory, and they make him study history every day. Worse, Roy's father arranges for his girlfriend Camille to tutor both Roy and Valerie. Rather than study, Roy takes advice from a classmate on how to ace multiple-choice tests (e.g., the answers are never the same letter two questions in a row). The results are disastrous. On the field, his new, bumbling teammates complain about his lack of sportsmanship. By the end, Roy learns to appreciate history and to bunt a sacrifice out for the good of the team, thus impressing the high school coach. He learns the lesson: "The harder the trip is to get there, the better it feels when you do." The characters, though not vivid, are believable. The tensions, though not suspenseful, are real enough. Most of the relationships, though not fully developed, are workable. The baseball games are described in such detail that any athlete will enjoy the book and find it a worthwhile read. Reviewer: Cynthia Levinson

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

* 1 *

Three more," Dad said, stepping off the mound.

"Make 'em count," I told him, wiggling the bat.

We were on one of the eight ball fields that surrounded the grandstand, the small, half-covered stadium that sat in the middle of Boardman Park. Baseball season started next week, and I needed to shake off the winter rust.

"What do you want?" Dad called. He was tall, like me, but heavy. He was wearing jeans and a faded green Pilchuck High School T-shirt. His hair hung over the top of his ears, like it had for as long as I could remember.

"Whatever you got, old-timer," I said, twisting my toe into the dirt, imagining this was the last inning of the biggest game of my life.

"Old-timer?" Dad asked, like he hadn't heard me right.

"That's what I said." I tugged on my ear and pointed to Dad. "Maybe you should adjust that hearing aid."

Dad gripped all three baseballs in his right hand and held them out for me to see. "You know what these are?" he asked.


"Strike one, strike two, and strike three."

I shook my head and smiled. "No way, old man."

He stepped back onto the mound. "First pitch," he said, bending forward to start his windup.

"Just make sure it comes with mustard."

Dad smiled. "Order up." He leaned back, then stepped into a breaking ball that curved to the outside corner as it crossed the plate.

I saw the movement on the ball, but swung too late to catch up.

Strike one.

I slid my hands back down the barrel and pointed at Dad. "Another one," I said.

Dad nodded.

Same pitch. This time, I swung earlier but got underneath it, fouling it behind me.

Strike two.

"Time," I said, backing away from the plate. I took two practice cuts.

On the mound, Dad wiped his hands on his jeans, then went to work. He planted his left foot, lifted his right leg, and with an extra kick, whipped his third pitch toward me.

Wait for it, I told myself, expecting the ball to break away again. But the ball never broke. It barreled straight down the middle of the strike zone. By the time I saw my mistake, it was too late. I took a hack, but the ball chugged past me. It slammed against the top plank of the backstop, then ricocheted halfway back to the plate.

Strike three.

Down on three pitches. Ouch. I stood at the plate, staring at my shoes. I would have to do better than that when baseball season started. I was on the Pilchuck All-Star team, and I knew from last season that the pitchers threw some serious smoke. It was nothing like the rec league games I had seen my friends Kenny and Fish play in, where the pitches came in nice and easy. I had to be ready. Just yesterday Coach Burke had told me he expected big things from me this season.

Holding the bat in one hand, I picked up the ball and tossed it to Dad.

"Not bad for an old-timer, huh?" he said.

"The sun was in my eyes," I joked as we began gathering up the rest of the baseballs scattered around the infield.

"Face it, Roy," Dad said, patting his stomach. "Your old man's still got it."

"You mean that?" I asked, pointing to his gut.

Dad rubbed his belly. "This?" he asked proudly, pointing to himself. "This is all muscle."

"I didn't know fat was a muscle," I said.

"It was enough to strike you out," Dad said as he put his arm around me. "And believe me, that's not easy."

"Well, don't let it go to your head," I said.

Dad dropped a dozen baseballs into a canvas bag. "I'm serious, Roy. I know how talented you are and how hard you work. I'm proud of you."

Just then, I heard the sound of a car door opening in the small parking lot beside the field. Quickly, I spotted Mom plowing toward us like a one-woman army.

"Incoming," I said to Dad, who had his back to her.

Dad looked up, then muttered something under his breath. "What time is it?" he asked.

"Time for you to say a prayer," I told him.

Mom and Dad had been divorced for five years, but they both still lived in Pilchuck. That meant my sixteen-year-old sister, Sara, and I lived by the schedule. Every other weekend with Dad, the rest of the time with Mom.

That afternoon, I was supposed to be home by five o'clock for dinner and homework—even though it was Friday. It was sundown now, which meant it was at least seven-thirty.


Giving me the stay hand, Dad jogged over to meet Mom. "We're just wrapping it up," he said. "I guess we lost track of time."

"Lost track of time?" Mom repeated. "Mike, you sound like one of the kids."

Mom and Dad were standing face to face on the first baseline like an ump and a manager going nose to nose over a close call. I was hovering near the pitcher's mound.

"Tee," he said. "Relax."

Mom's name was Teresa. I knew she didn't like Dad's nickname for her, but I had heard her call him worse. Things had never gotten super ugly between them, but there had definitely been a lot of shouting.

"We had a deal, Mike. Roy was supposed to be at home an hour and a half ago. He has homework to do."

"It's Friday," said Dad. "He has all weekend."

"Yes, but you and I both know he'll be out here playing baseball all weekend. Then it's Sunday night and nothing's gotten done."

Dad held up his hands. "Okay," he said, waving the white flag, "he's all yours." Then he turned to me and whistled, like I hadn't been able to hear every word of their conversation. "Let's call it a day," he said.

Knowing I had no choice, I made my way over to Mom.

"Hi, sweetie," she said, reaching up to me. Unlike my brown hair, her hair was blond and down to her shoulders.

"I'll be in the car," she told us.

"We'll pick this up later," Dad said after Mom walked away.


Dad shook his head. "Next week."

"What's wrong with tomorrow?"

"I have a . . . an appointment."

"You mean a date."

Dad was quiet for a second. "You're right," he admitted after a moment. "I mean a date."

"With the teacher?" I asked.

"With Camille," said Dad, nodding.

As far as I could tell, Camille had been in the picture for about a month. But Dad was already talking about introducing her to me and Sara.

"If it was me, I'd rather play baseball," I said.

"Next week, Roy. I promise."

I wondered why he couldn't make the date wait instead of me, but I couldn't find the right way to say it. Dad and I were pros at joking around but not so good at talking about feelings. "Make sure you wear a big shirt so your muscles don't hang out."

Dad laughed and gave me a quick hug. We left it with a fist bump. Then I turned and walked across the grass to the car, where Mom was waiting.

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