1908: Walter Snider, batboy for the Brooklyn Superbas, arranges a team tryout for a black pitcher by pretending he is Cuban.
1945: Kat Snider of Brooklyn plays for the Grand Rapids Chicks in the All-American Girls Baseball League.
1981: Michael Flint fi nds himself pitching a perfect game during the Little League season at Prospect Park.
And there are fi ve more Schneiders to meet.
In nine innings, this novel tells the stories of nine successive Schneider kids and their connection to Brooklyn and baseball. As in all family histories and all baseball games, there is glory and heartache, triumph and sacrifi ce. And it ain't over till it's over.
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Table of Contents
First Inning: Play Ball - Manhattan, New York, 1845
Second Inning: The Red-Legged Devil - Northern Virginia, 1864
Third Inning: A Ballad of the Republic - Brooklyn, New York, 1894
Fourth Inning: The Way Things Are Now - Coney Island, New York, 1908
Fifth Inning: The Numbers Game - Brooklyn, New York, 1926
Sixth Inning: Notes of a Star to Be - Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1945
Seventh Inning: Duck and Cover - Brooklyn, New York, 1957
Eighth Inning: The Perfectionist - Brooklyn, New York, 1981
Ninth Inning: Provenance - Brooklyn, New York, 2002
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gratz, Alan, date.
The Brooklyn nine : a novel in nine innings / by Alan Gratz.
Summary: Follows the fortunes of a German immigrant family through
nine generations, beginning in 1845, as they experience
American life and play baseball.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01480-6
[1. Baseball—History—Fiction. 2. United StatesvHistory—Fiction.] I.Title.
PZ7.G77224Br 2009 [Fic]—dc22 2008021263
For Mom and Dad, finally
First Inning: Play Ball
Manhattan, New York, 1845
Nine months ago, Felix Schneider was the fastest boy in Bremen, Germany. Now he was the fastest boy in Manhattan, New York. He was so fast, in fact, the ship that had brought him to America arrived a day early.
Now he stood on first base, waiting to run.
“Put the poreen just about here, ya rawney Dutchman!” the Striker called. English was difficult enough for Felix to understand, and almost unintelligible when spoken by the Irish. But the “Dutchman” at Feeder—another German boy like Felix—didn’t need to understand Cormac’s words to know where he wanted him to throw the ball. He lobbed it toward the plate and the Irish boy slapped the ball to the right side beyond first base.
Felix ran full out. His legs churned in the soft mud, but his shoes gave him traction, propelling him toward second base. He was a racehorse, a locomotive. The world was a blur when he ran, and he could feel his blood thumping through his veins like the steam pistons pounding out a rhythm on the fast ferry to Staten Island. Felix flew past the parcel that stood for second base and dug for third.
“Soak him!” one of the boys called. Felix glanced over his shoulder just in time to see an English boy hurl the baseball at him. He danced out of the way and the ball sailed past him, missing his vest by less than an inch. Felix laughed and charged on to third, turning on the cap there and heading for home.
“Soak the bloody devil!” one of the other Irish boys cried. The ball came at Felix again, but this time the throw was well wide. He pounced on the rock at home plate with both feet and celebrated the point.
“Ace!” Felix cried. “Ace, ace, ace!”
“No it weren’t,” called one of the buckwheats, a boy just back from the Ohio territory. “You missed second base!”
Felix ran straight to second base to argue, and was met there by the boys on both teams.
“You’re out, ya plonker!” said one of the Irish boys.
“The heck I was!” said Felix. He stepped forward to challenge him, and the boy laughed.
“You sure you want to get them fancy ones and twos there muddy, Dutchman?”
He was on again about Felix’s shoes, which were better than everyone else’s. Felix’s father, a cobbler, had made them for him—sturdy brown leather lace-ups with good thick heels. They were the only thing he still had to remind him of his family back in Bremen.
The boys looked down at Felix’s shoes. That’s when they all saw Felix’s footprints in the wet earth. He’d missed second base by a foot.
“Three out, all out,” the buckwheat said.
Felix snatched the ball from the boy’s hand and plunked him hard in the shoulder with it.
“Run!” Felix cried.
The lot became a battlefield as both teams went back and forth, tagging each other and dashing for home to see who would earn the right to bat next. Felix had just ducked out of the way of a ball aimed for his head when someone grabbed him by the ear and stood him up.
“Felix Schneider!” his uncle Albert yelled.
The game of tag ground to an abrupt halt and the boys shirked away as Felix’s uncle laid into him.
“I knew you would be here, you worthless boy! You should have been back an hour ago! Where is the parcel you were sent to deliver?”
Felix glanced meekly at second base.
“You’ve buried it in the mud!?” Felix’s uncle cuffed him. “If you’ve ruined those pieces, it’ll mean both our jobs! My family will be out on the streets, and you will never earn passage for yours. Is this why you stowed away aboard that ship? To come to America and play games?”
Uncle Albert dragged Felix over to the parcel.
“Pick it up. Pick it up!”
“I didn’t step on it, see? I missed the bag—”
His uncle struck him again, and Felix said nothing more. With his speed he knew he still had plenty of time to deliver the fabric pieces, and time enough to go to the Neumans’, pick up their finished suits, and get them to Lord & Taylor by the close of business too. He also knew his uncle wouldn’t want to hear it.
“Now go. Go!” Uncle Albert told him. “If you were my son, I’d whip you!”
And if I were your son, thought Felix as he dashed off with the parcel, I’ d run away to California.
Felix ran to where the Neumans lived on East Eighth Street off Avenue B, in the heart of “Kleindeutschland,” Little Germany. Their tenement stood in the shadow of a fancier building facing the street on the same lot. The Neumans lived on the fourth floor, two brothers and their families squeezed into a one-family flat with three rooms and no windows. Felix hated visiting there. It made him think of those preachers who stood on street corners throughout Kleindeutschland yelling warnings of damnation and hell. As much as he disliked his uncle, Felix knew that but for Uncle Albert’s job as a cutter, their own Kleindeutschland flat would look like this. Or worse.
One of the Neuman boys, not much older than Felix, met him at the door. Felix only knew him from deliveries and pickups—he’d never seen any of the Neuman boys playing on Little Germany’s streets or empty lots.
“Guten tag,” the boy said.
“Good morning,” said Felix. He held out the parcel. “I’ve got your new pieces.”
The boy let Felix into the room. It was hot and dark, and Neumans young and old sweated as they sewed cut pieces of cloth into suits around the dim light of four flickering candles. Herr Neuman, the family “foreman,” came forward to take the package from Felix.
“Danke schön,” Herr Neuman said.
“You’re welcome,” Felix said. “Bitte.”
Herr Neuman set the parcel on a table and opened it, counting out the pieces. He nodded to let Felix know everything was in order.
“Do you have anything for me to take back?” Felix asked. “Haben Sie noch etwas fertig?”
Herr Neuman held up a finger and went into another room. Felix waved to one or two of the women who looked up at him with weak smiles. Felix knew this wasn’t what they had expected when they’d come to America. It wasn’t what any of them had expected. Felix’s own father had talked of New York as a promised land, where everyone had good jobs and plenty to eat. “Manhattan is a city of three hundred thousand,” he’d said, “and half of those are men who will need a good pair of shoes.” Herr Neuman, a skilled tailor, had probably said the same thing to his family about the men in Manhattan needing suits.