The latest book in the Gym Shorts series is a grand slam with new readers.
Rocky was the best catcher in the league until an out-of-control runner broke his arm. Now his arm is healed, but he's developed a reflex that keeps him from tagging out the runner. Young readers will root for Rocky as he and his friends--and even his dog, Chops--set out to prove that he's no scaredy-cat.
About the Author
BETTY HICKS is the author of the GYM SHORTS series--action-filled sports stories that pack the energy of the gym into short novels for kids reading their first novel. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.
ADAM McCAULEY is the illustrator of the Time Warp Trio and the Wayside School books. He lives in San Francisco, California.
Betty Hicks is the author of Basketball Bats and several sports novels for older readers, including Busted! and I Smell Like Ham. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Adam McCauley is the illustrator of the successful middle-grade fiction series, Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka, as well as Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books. He lives in San Francisco, California.
Read an Excerpt
THE TERRIBLE TAG
Rocky loved to play baseball. He was the best catcher in the league.
The ball landed in his glove. Dead center. An easy catch.
In one motion, Rocky stepped onto the third-base line, leaned forward, and lowered his glove. He was ready to tag out the runner racing toward home plate.
The runner from third slid for home, kicking up dust and gravel. Two feet blasted into sight. The cleats aimed at Rocky.
The fans shouted, "Tag-him-tag-him-tag-him!"
Crack! Pain shot through Rocky's arm. Blazing pain.
Rocky saw a dazzling white light. His arm — limp.
Then, his whole world turned to darkness, loaded with stars.
That's how Rocky's season had ended. But now, a whole year had passed since the runner from third had broken Rocky's arm. A new baseball season was ready to start.
Rocky smacked his fist into his catcher's mitt. No pain. Not even a twinge. He couldn't wait to play again.
"Hey! Batter-batter-batter!" taunted Rocky's teammates from the dugout. His team, the Pirates, was playing the Astros.
Rocky squatted behind the batter. He wore his mask, chest protector, and leg guards. He held up his catcher's mitt. Ready for the pitch.
The batter swung hard at Henry's fastball.
Whoosh! Nothing but air.
Rocky caught it.
"Strike three!" called the umpire. He flipped his thumb up and away. "You're out!"
Rocky zinged the ball back to Henry on the pitcher's mound.
He couldn't help smiling — he was so happy to be playing ball again.
The next batter swung hard.
The ball sailed deep into left field. The left fielder dropped the catch!
The runner crossed first base and streaked toward second.
The left fielder scrambled to pick up the ball. He bobbled it. The runner rounded second.
"Throw to third!" shouted Rocky's coach. The throw went wide. So wide, the third baseman lunged away from the base to catch it. Rocky watched the runner tag third and head for home.
He's crazy! thought Rocky. He'll never make it. I can tag him out so easy.
The third baseman hurled the ball, straight to Rocky.
Rocky reached forward. Ready.
Whump! He caught it.
Two legs slid toward Rocky. Gravel flying. Cleats coming at him.
The fans shouted, "Tag-him-tag-him-tag-him!"
Rocky jerked his arm out of the way.
"Safe!" cried the umpire.
Rocky stared at his glove.
The Pirates' fans groaned.
What had Rocky done?
BUGS ON THE BRAIN
Rocky sat, slouched over, on the curb in front of Rita's house.
He wasn't the best player in the league anymore. He was the worst.
The Astros had beaten the Pirates. They'd scored three more runs, and Rocky should have stopped every one of them.
But he hadn't.
All of a sudden, he couldn't tag out a flea.
"Relax," urged Henry.
"You'll be fine," soothed Rita.
"It's one of those can't-help-it things," explained Jazz. She creeped her fingers across the top of her head. "Bugs on the brain. You know — it's all in your head."
"What's all in my head?" groaned Rocky.
"Fear," said Jazz. "You're afraid."
"Of breaking your arm again," added Henry.
"Oh, great," muttered Rocky. "So how do I get bugs off my brain?"
"Here," said Goose, yanking on something stuck in his pocket. Out popped a red Tootsie Pop — without its wrapper.
Chops, Rocky's bulldog, sniffed the air.
The lollipop was covered with fuzzy gray lint.
"Eeew," said Rita.
"No thanks." Rocky shook his head. He didn't feel like eating anything.
Henry, Rita, Jazz, and Goose were Rocky's friends. They all lived in the same neighborhood. Five friends. Exactly enough for a basketball team. Or for any other sport they wanted to play. Rocky knew he was lucky — except for this bugs-on-the-brain thing.
Last year he'd been a catcher who would have made the all-star team — if he hadn't gotten hurt. Now he was a wimp who couldn't protect home plate from a house fly.
But he wouldn't quit. Rocky never quit.
When he was only two, he'd climbed to the top of the tallest lighthouse in America with his parents. "Don't help me. I can do it," he'd gasped. And he did do it. All 269 steps. When he reached the top, he pumped his fists in the air and danced.
That's when his parents nicknamed him Rocky — after the boxer in the movie — the one who trained by climbing steps and who never gave up.
Rocky would fix his problem. But how?
"I think," said Henry, poking his own chest with his thumb, "you just need to play again."
"Yeah," said Goose. "Next game, you'll be your old self."
Rita and Jazz smiled and nodded.
Rocky hoped they were right.
The Pirates were playing the Cubs.
So far, the Pirates were winning. But Rocky was worried. Not about breaking his arm. No, he was afraid of messing up again.
Before the game, Jazz had said, "Think positive. Tell yourself you can do it."
"Because you can do it," added Henry.
Yes, thought Rocky. I can.
Rocky was small, but he had a good arm. He could nail the second baseman, all the way from home plate.
And he was smart. He knew what pitch to signal. And how to crouch and stand up fast — ready to throw if a runner tried to steal a base.
But could he tag a runner out at home plate?
Yes. Of course, he could.
It was the bottom of the final inning. Rocky's team, the Pirates, led the Cubs, three to two. Both of the Cubs' runs had been home runs — no chance to tag anyone out.
A Cub stood on second base. Another one on third. Both of them were tensed and ready to run.
Only one out.
Rocky remembered Jazz's advice. I'm good, he told himself. I can do this. He had been telling himself that the whole game.
Suddenly, Rocky heard loud music playing inside his head. It was the kind that boomed in movies when the good guy was about to get shoved off a cliff.
What if he blew it?
Rocky squeezed his eyes shut. He crossed his fingers and made a wish. Two more strikeouts, Henry. Please.
A fresh batter stepped up to the plate.
Rocky pointed one finger down — the signal for Henry to pitch another fastball.
Henry nodded. He touched the brim of his cap. Henry always touched the brim of his cap. For luck.
Strike him out. Rocky moved his lips silently.
"Hey! Batter-batter-batter," chanted the Pirates, trying to break the batter's focus. To mess with his head. To make him swing at a bad throw.
The pitch zipped across home plate.
A line drive streaked past the first baseman. It bounced into right field. Goose scooped it up and threw it to first base.
But the runner on third had already crossed home plate. Game tied!
The Cub on second was headed for home — the winning run!
Zing! The first baseman whipped the ball straight to Rocky.
Double play, thought Rocky. I can do it.
The Cub slid toward home plate.
The ball smacked into Rocky's glove. Tag him!
Rocky lowered his glove. Then — as if he'd touched fire — he yanked it away from the runner.
"Safe!" signaled the umpire.
Rocky couldn't believe it! They'd lost the game. No. He'd lost the game.
He'd been confident. He'd tried not to flinch. Why couldn't he do this? He wasn't a wimp. He wasn't!
Rocky saw the surprise on the faces of his teammates.
Their star catcher! A wuss.
DIRTY ROTTEN REFLEX
Rocky sagged on his back steps with Chops. He buried his face in his hands.
The Pirates had lost, and it was his fault.
"My problem is not in my head!" he shouted at his friends. "It's in my arm!" "Yeah," said Rita. "So. We'll just have to fix your arm."
"Easy for you to say," said Rocky.
"All you need is practice," said Goose.
"Yes!" exclaimed Henry. "Remember when Goose was a crummy goalie —"
"I was never crummy," said Goose.
"— and we all helped him practice until he was good?"
Rocky did remember. Goose had worked hard. They all helped him. And, it worked!
"You have to unlearn your muscle jerk," said Jazz. "It's become a reflex."
"Huh?" said Rocky. Jazz read a lot. And sometimes used big words. She knew stuff.
"A reflex," she repeated. "It's when you can't help it. Like if you touch a hot burner on the stove, your hand jerks away. Your body acts without asking your brain."
"I have a dirty, rotten reflex," moaned Rocky. He eyed Jazz hopefully. "Can you fix it?"
"We can fix it," said Henry, excited. "I'll throw to Rocky. Goose, you slide toward him. Rita, you're the umpire. Jazz, you be coach."
"Cool," said Goose.
Rita clapped her hands and twirled.
Jazz made a fist and punched the air.
"We'll practice for as long as it takes," said Henry. "Until Rocky keeps his glove down." Henry paused. He chuckled. "Or until Goose's legs get too bloody."
Goose's goofball grin spread across his face. He loved to slide. He collected scabs.
THE SCAB CURE
This isn't working, thought Rocky.
Every time Goose slid, Rocky jerked back his arm too soon.
Jazz kept shouting, "Don't give up! You can do this!" Rocky would never give up. But his friends looked unhappy. Worn out. Even Goose, who loved to slide, seemed tired.
"One more time," said Jazz.
Rocky cleared his head. Focus! he told himself. Keep your glove in front of the plate.
Rocky tried to do all the things he'd learned from his coach. Stand in front of the plate. Make the tag. Then get your arm out of the way. Quick. It made sense to Rocky's brain, but his arm wasn't listening.
Rocky snagged the throw from Henry. He turned and put his glove exactly where Coach had taught him. Goose's cleats came at him — but not as fast as before.
"You're out!" Rita screamed at Goose. She did a wiggle dance with her hips.
"Really?" Rocky was surprised. Had he actually tagged Goose out, or was Rita just being nice?
Goose hopped up off the ground and high-fived him.
Henry ran over and slapped his back so hard, Rocky thought his teeth might pop loose.
"Again!" shouted Jazz. "Do it again!"
Rocky knew Goose had slowed down. Was that why he hadn't flinched?
But Goose wasn't tired anymore. He was hyped. Loaded with fresh energy. Ready to mow Rocky down.
Rocky caught the throw. He stepped on the baseline. His glove blocked the path to home plate.
Goose came at him like a freight train. Smoking. Flying. Spewing tiny rocks and grinding dirt.
Rocky closed his eyes. This time he felt his glove make contact. He knew it did.
"Out!" yelled Rita.
Rocky had done it! Twice. He could do it again. And again. He knew he could.
His next game was two days away. Rocky couldn't wait!
THE TERRIBLE TRUTH
When Rocky arrived at his next game, he felt great! Ready to play!
Two players from the other team pointed at him. "Scaredy-cat catcher!" they jeered.
Rocky's face flamed red. The Cubs must have told everyone he was a wimp.
He balled up his fists and kept walking.
Who calls people scaredy-cats, anyway? Babies, that's who. Five-year-olds.
Rocky was not scared.
He was cured!
Rocky's team batted first. They scored four runs in eight minutes.
When the opposing team, the Rangers, stepped up to the plate, Henry struck out the first three batters. One. Two. Three. Just like that. This game was going to be easy. Rocky began to worry he wouldn't get to show that he could tag out a runner.
His chance came in the fifth inning. The Rangers still hadn't scored, but they had a runner on second base. The batter hit a high ball into center field.
An easy out, thought Rocky.
But the Pirate dropped it. The Ranger on second rounded third and streaked for home.
Rocky stood ready.
"Hit your cutoff!" yelled Coach to the infield. Rocky's teammates relayed the throw to home.
Rocky had to stretch to catch it, but he snagged it.
He turned and reached low to tag the runner. Rocky heard the sound of grinding dirt. He saw the runner's legs sliding at him fast.
A chant exploded from the Rangers' dugout: "Scaredy-cat-scaredy-cat-scaredy-cat."
Suddenly another sound exploded in Rocky's head. Crack! The memory of his arm breaking.
Rocky jerked back his glove.
"Safe!" called the umpire.
The Pirates still won. But Rocky felt worse than slime.
After the game, Goose elbowed Rocky's arm. "Too bad," he said.
"Hang in there," added Henry. "We'll keep practicing."
Coach strolled over and rumpled Rocky's hair. "Let's talk."
Rocky plodded behind Coach until they were out of earshot of the team. Coach put his hand on Rocky's shoulder.
"A runner should be going for the base — not for you," said Coach. "The kid who broke your arm was out of control."
Rocky knew that. But if it had happened once, it could happen again.
"When I was your age," said Coach, "I got hit in the head with a pitched ball. Knocked me out. Months went by before I could stand close to home plate again."
Rocky felt a tingly swell in his chest. It had happened to Coach, too! Maybe Rocky wasn't a wuss.
But he didn't have months. He needed to play well now. When the regular season was over, Rocky wanted to make the all-star team. The way he should have last year.
"Thanks, Coach," Rocky mumbled. "I'll keep trying."
"Rocky," said Coach, smiling, "you're not a good catcher ..." Rocky lowered his head.
"You're a great catcher."
Rocky's head jerked back up. "Really?"
Yes! he thought. But ... but ... His brain began to stutter. Why can't I tag out a runner?
Suddenly Rocky knew the truth. The terrible truth.
He was afraid of pain. He was a scaredy-cat.
And nothing he or his friends could do would ever change that fact.
THE RIGHT THING
Rocky's bulldog, Chops, pushed his head onto Rocky's lap. His jowls melted over Rocky's leg like two slabs of soft butter. Rocky sat up straighter and scratched Chops behind one ear.
Chops rolled his eyes up at Rocky — warm, happy eyes that said, Rocky, you're great. Rocky was glad Chops didn't know the truth — that he was never going to keep his glove down.
Because he was afraid.
Yes, he had learned to keep his arm down in practice. But it was Goose — his friend — sliding toward him. Even when Goose came at him fast, Rocky knew Goose would never break his arm.
For the first time in his life, Rocky thought about quitting. Even though he never gave up. Not ever.
But what choice did he have? Sticking with baseball was hurting his team.
Quitting was the right thing to do.
Rocky rubbed Chops's ear. He forced a smile and said, "I'll have more time to play with you, now."
Chops wagged his tail.
Rocky noticed his skateboard, flipped upside down in the driveway. Maybe he could teach Chops to ride a skateboard.
Rocky had seen a video of a dog that could do it. He would put his front paw on the board. Then he'd run along, push with his other three legs, and hop on. The dog had shot down the street like a bullet.
Rocky got up and turned his skateboard over. He placed Chops on top of the board.
Chops hopped off. He wagged his tail.
"No." Rocky put him back on again. "Stay!"
Chops cocked his head. Why?
Slowly, Rocky rolled the skateboard back and forth. Chops dug in his claws and hung on.
"Hang ten," said Rocky. Not that Chops could hang ten. That was a tricky move a skateboarder did when his feet hugged the front of the board. But Rocky thought it made an awesome dog command.
"Hey!" called Goose, walking down Rocky's driveway. "What's up?"
"I'm teaching Chops to skateboard."
"Cool," said Goose.
As Rocky rolled Chops back and forth, Rita, Jazz, and Henry showed up.
They all cheered as Chops held on. Then, Chops hopped off and jumped up on everyone's shins. He licked Henry's knee.
Henry tossed a baseball up in the air and caught it. "Ready for practice?" he asked.
Rocky studied his feet. How would he tell his friends he was quitting baseball?
"Not today," he mumbled.
"How come?" asked Goose.
"My arm's sore," Rocky lied. "The doctor said if it ever hurt, to give it a rest." That part was true.
"It's been healed for months!" said Rita.
Rocky's face flushed pink.
Jazz stared at him. "You're giving up, aren't you?" "What?" Henry's jaw dropped. "No way! Rocky never quits. Go on. Tell her," urged Henry. "Tell Jazz you never quit!" Rocky squeezed his hands into fists. He bit his bottom lip. He wanted to say that he wasn't quitting. But he couldn't.
SPITTING LIKE A PRO
"That's crazy!" "Don't quit." "You can do it." "We'll help you."
Rocky's friends fired words at him like fast balls. Words to change Rocky's mind.
"I don't want to quit," argued Rocky.
"I have to. For the team."
"One more game," said Henry. "Try one more time."
Rocky wanted to try, but what if he really was a scaredy-cat? What if he made the Pirates lose? He shook his head. No.
Henry was so upset, he spit. Splat. Right on Rocky's driveway.
"Eeew," said Rita.
Excerpted from "Scaredy-Cat Catcher"
Copyright © 2009 Betty Hicks.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
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.
Table of Contents
1 - THE TERRIBLE TAG,
2 - BUGS ON THE BRAIN,
3 - DOUBLE PLAY,
4 - DIRTY ROTTEN REFLEX,
5 - THE SCAB CURE,
6 - THE TERRIBLE TRUTH,
7 - THE RIGHT THING,
8 - SPITTING LIKE A PRO,
9 - WHO BUNTS?,
10 - HANG TEN,
11 - SHOTS, NEEDLES, AND FEAR,
12 - CRAZY DOG? SUPER DOG!,
13 - DEVIL RAYS RULE!,
14 - MAGIC SPELL,
Reading Group Guide
One of the best ways to explore the themes of a booksthe author's "messages"and to enjoy a book is to discuss it with others who have read the book. Organize a weekly GYM SHORTS book group in your classroom. Any student can participate, as long as they've read at least one of the books in the series.
Provide the group with a list of possible discussion questions, and allow one of the students to lead the discussion. We've prepared this list of discussion topics so that the week's discussion leader can select those she or he wants to discuss and use them as is.
1. Cooperation or team-work (since the books are sports centered) is a major theme of the novels. Introduce the subject of cooperation by citing an example of how the kids in the books cooperate. A good place to start is to identify the goal in one of the books. Then ask: What did the kids do together to reach the goal? Have any of your classmates read other books, seen any movies or television shows, or heard a real-life story about how cooperation helped achieve a purpose? Can any of them talk about a personal experience with cooperation that made a job easier to accomplish?
2. Competition is another theme in the GYM SHORTS books. Betty Hicks tells us how she feels about this subject: "Win or lose, I think competition should be fun, fair, and exciting. It helps young people learn how to be part of a team and how to handle victory as well as defeatall things which come in handy in many areas besides sports." With this in mind, talk about competition and winning. How do you and your classmates feel about it in the sports you play yourselves? How about the sports you watch? Are you true to your teams whether they are on a winning streak or losing?
3. Another theme in the books is that success/winning is never guaranteed, but it's a sure thing that you can't succeed unless you work hard and try. Which characters learn this lesson in which books? Have your classmates ever tried really hard, but still didn't succeed to the level they hoped? Talk about the way the characters in the book feel and react to this? How did the kids in your class react to this in their own lives?
4. Another important theme in the GYM SHORTS titles is being true to yourself. Friends are importantin your life and your classmates' lives, and in the lives of the characters in the books. But it is even more important for each person to understand who he or she is, and to be the best person possible. Certainly, Rita learns this lesson in Swimming with Sharks. Sometimes you can't just fit in with everyone elsebut that doesn't mean you all can't be friends. What experiences have your classmates had that showed them the truth of this lesson?
5. Friendship is the most important theme of all in the GYM SHORTS books. Talk about the kinds of friends your classmates have and the kind of friend each of them is. Kids often say, "I'll do anything for my best friend." Do your classmates agree? Would you lie for your best friend? What are the most important qualities of a friend?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Im going to be the next Buster Posey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!