Authors: Joan Bauer
Best Foot Forward
Close to Famous
Hope Was Here
Rules of the Road
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
First published in the United States of America by Viking,
an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016
Copyright Â© 2016 by Joan Bauer
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Soar / Joan Bauer.
Summary: Moving to Hillcrest, Ohio, when his adoptive father accepts a temporary job, twelve-year-old Jeremiah, a heart transplant recipient, has sixty days to find a baseball team to coach.
[1. Moving, HouseholdâFiction. 2. HeartâTransplantationâFiction. 3. BaseballâFiction. 4. Coaches (Athletics)âFiction. 5. Teamwork (Sports)âFiction. 6. AdoptionâFiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.B32615So 2016 [Fic]âdc23 2015013293
For Evan and Jean, one of the first father/daughter duos to attend the Father & Son Baseball Camp in Cooperstown.
I'M PROBABLY TWELVE
years old; that's what the doctors think. I could have been born anywhere, but it was most likely in Indianapolis, Indianaâat least that's where I've decided I was born, because that's where I was found. Specifically, I was found at Computer Partners Ltd. in the snack room, right by the coffeepot. I think it's one of the reasons that I like the taste of coffeeâit reminds me of home. I was found by Walt Lopper, a computer geek who had never so much as diapered a baby, but there I was, and I'm told it was clear that I did need a new diaper. I needed a lot of other things, too, but my bottle wasn't empty, so the police felt that meant I hadn't been there long. Walt found me at seven a.m. on October thirdâit was his turn to make coffee and he always got to work early. I was in my baby chair with a note:
pleez tek car of him Bcaz he my best boy
I no yur good!
There weren't any other clues about who left me there, but I'm inclined to believe it was my mother, who might have worked nights cleaning office buildings. I had a little stuffed eagle that I was gnawing on, but other than that it was your usual thing. Walt called the police and they came and took me to the station and then someone from child services came and took me to a safe place, although Computer Partners Ltd. was a safe place, real safe, otherwise my mother wouldn't have left me there. I'm told I didn't cry, I just watched people and took things in, but if you wanted to see what I was made of, try taking the stuffed eagle from my little hands. I'd yank it back and screech, “No!”
They think I was nine months old when I was found, so saying “no” is a pretty big deal. Walt says it indicates I had a big brain, possibly like Einstein. Walt has a big brain. He's officially a computer genius, but even bigger than his brain is his heart, which he says he hadn't paid that much attention to until I came along.
The police tried to find the person who left me. I refuse to use the word
because I'm fairly
certain that my mother loved me and didn't have much choice but to leave me. I'm also fairly certain that she knew it was Walt's day to make the coffee. I think she probably checked out who was in that company and would never have left me there on a Monday, which was Dirk Dagwood's day to make coffee. From what I've heard, he might not even have noticed a baby sitting there chewing on a stuffed eagle. He was that kind of clueless.
It took a while for Walt to adopt me, being a single man and all. He had to get trained and certified as a foster parent. It took another year of my living with him to convince the judge he should be my official dad. Walt spent a lot of time trying to figure me out, and I'm told he talked to me like I was a baby genius. He read me articles from computer magazines, he took computers apart and told me what he was doing and why. During baseball season we watched the games together and he told me how the pitcher was trying to psych out the batter and what some of the signals meant. My favorite signal involved tapping your nose, which Walt said could mean anything, depending on the day. I tapped my nose a lot, and Walt carried me around explaining what everything was and how the
world was a pretty complicated place, which I already knew.
When the adoption went through, Walt said, “It's official now. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said. After that I started talking to Walt and to my stuffed eagle that I named Baby. I didn't talk to anyone else until later.
The problem with having a story like this is people don't know what to do with it. Their faces get super sad and their shoulders slump as they pat me on the head, which I find irritating, and say, “My, you are a little survivor, aren't you?”
Well, I suppose I am. But since I don't remember the first few years of my life, I don't feel like I can take any credit for it. And then there's the issue of my birthday, which is a theory, but schools seem to need an actual date, so I count three months ahead from October third when I was found to early January. I give the doctor a fudge factor in his estimate of one week, which puts my birthday on January tenth. Getting close is important to me.
I've lived in four different places, because Walt is a consultant and has to move around a lot. At my last two schools my class was learning the recorder. I'm so
done with this instrument. I can play “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” in my sleep. I told Eddie Bartok, who was failing recorder, to pretend he was a snake charmerâthey play instruments like this and get the snakes to dance to the music. This caused Eddie to practice like crazy, but his mother wouldn't get him a snake. He tried charming worms in the garden, but worms today, they couldn't care less. He played “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” to his dog, who yelped and ran away. Once Eddie was at my house with his recorder and he tried to charm Baby.
“Inanimate things don't respond!” I mentioned.
And anyway, nobody can charm an eagle.
You can't keep an eagle in a cage or have one for a pet.
The number one rule for eagles is they have to be free.
I'm sure this is why my mother gave me that stuffy. She knew I had an eagle inside of me. Not everybody does.
But when you do, you'd better pay attention and deal with it, because if you don't, you'll have one intensely frustrating life.
“I HAVE A
new consulting gig,” Walt tells me. “They pay up front.”
This is excellent news, because lots of Walt's clients take forever to pay him. Walt has his own consulting company, the Magellan Group. It's not a group, exactly, and no one is named Magellan; it's named after Ferdinand Magellan, our favorite dead-for-centuries explorer, who, like Walt, worked 24/7.
“Where is it?” I ask.
We're living in St. Louis and I really, really like it here.
“They need me for a couple of months, Jer. It's kind of an emergency.”
Everything Walt does is somebody's emergency. No
one calls my father and says, “Hey, all systems are go here. Just wanted you to know.”
“Where in Ohio?” I ask.
“Near Cincinnati, but I don't thinkâ”
“The Cincinnati Reds are looking strong this year, Walt.” They're my third favorite team.
“They are, but I don't thinkâ”
“The name of the town, WaltÂ .Â .Â .”
“A smaller place than Cincinnati. Hillcrest, Ohio.”
“They have a hill with a crest, right?”
Walt laughs. “Maybe. They have a company there andÂ .Â .Â .”
The “and” part is always “and they need a little help.” Believe me, when Walt Lopper gets called in, it's because people need a lot of help.
“They've got a little problem, Jer.”
“What kind of problem?”
“Their robots keep falling down.”
I look in the corner. “Jerwal, are you awake?”
Jerwal, the robot Walt and I built together, glows and beeps.
Walt hasn't thought about taking any out-of-town business for a long time, because of my heart. Four years ago, I had a perfectly healthy heart. Then something called cardiomyopathy happened and everything changed.
I look at Walt, who sat with me every day I was in the hospital, who never once made me feel like I wasn't his kid, or was any kind of disappointment or a drain on his life.
“When do you have to be there?”
Today is March twenty-seventh, and lots is about to happen here.
The Cardinals' opening day is April thirteenth and we have tickets.
The science fair at my school is coming up and I've been working on a project that shows the trajectory of a well-hit baseball in 3-D. I've been thinking about contacting the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals to come see itâmy findings could be big.
I take a deep breath and pull out my phone. Research is critical to decision making.
“Hillcrest, Ohio,” I read to him. “Population 12,761,
located in Ohio's rich farmland in the western part of the state. A small Midwestern town known for the excellence of its high school baseball program.” This is getting interesting. “The Hillcrest High School Hornets have won six state championships and twice clinched the nationals.” I look up. “We can gorge ourselves on baseball, Walt!”
Walt's face has that half-sunk look it gets when he hasn't told me everything.
“I think, JerÂ .Â .Â . WellÂ .Â .Â . I called your aunt Charityâ”
“Let me finish. I called her and she said she would stay here with you so you could finish school andâ”
“I want you to stay near Dr. Feinberg.”
“There are doctors in Cincinnati.”
“Wonderful doctors, no doubt.”
“Do you care about my heart, Walt?”
“What kind of a question is that?”
An unfair question.
“She treats me like I'm a little kid!”
“I think if we talk to herâ”
“We've done that. Aunt Charity smothers me.” I
feel my face get hot. “She makes me wash my hands hundreds of times.”
“You are supposed to avoid infection, my man.”
“Walt, please. I don't need to be a fanatic about it.” I squirt antiseptic goo on my hands and rub it in, counting to ten. “She asks me every morning”âI can hardly say itâ“if I've had a bowel movement!”
“That's a tough one, Jer, but we do need to make sure all systems are go.” He laughs at his joke.
“And do I have to even mention that she forced me against my will to make angel ornaments with little puffy skirts?”
Walt shakes his head. “I know. But she's been here for us. She's really helped out.”
Aunt Charity stayed with us for eight months when I was in and out of the hospital. I'm totally grateful she did this.
“She's my only sister. What can I tell you?”
“You can tell me she's not coming and I can go with you. I love her, okay? I just can't live with her right now.” Or possibly ever.
Walt stands up. “It's only for a couple of months. What could happen?”
Phone again. I look up “shortest wars in history.”
There's lots of material here. “Whole wars have been fought in less than thirty days, Walt. Can you really take the chance?”
Walt sips his coffee and looks at the map of the ancient world that I gave him for his birthday. It shows how wrong they were back in the 1500s. This was what Magellan had to deal with. Despite all that, he circumnavigated the globe before people knew it was a globe.
Is that vision or what?
“You're telling me, Jer, you want to leave sixth grade at the end of March and come with me to Hillcrest, Ohio, where I will be working day and night?”
“What would you be doing there?” Walt persists.
“You're already too smart.”
“I'd go to school and I'd help you. I could make dinner andâ”
Walt shakes his head. His beard is getting some gray in it. People say it makes him look distinguished. He's wearing the T-shirt I got him for Father's Dayâit has a mug of coffee and, underneath that, the words
It's kind of our story.
“Jerwal,” I say, “come forward.” Jerwal moves slowly toward us. “Would you like to help the robots who are falling down?”
Jerwal has no idea, but he likes hearing his name. It took us months to get the voice-activated part working. We had to shorten his name because he couldn't understand “Jerwalthian,” as in
The Jerwalthian has entered the atmosphere.
Walt sips more coffee. “I'm sorry about how I live. I want you to have a stable environment.”
“I don't feel unstable, Walt.”
“You know what I mean. Not so much change.”
“You don't change.”
He laughs. “You're referring to my wardrobe?”
Walt wears blue shirts with jeans or khakis most days.
I stretch out my arms like I'm flying. “So we just swoop into Hillcrest and make it happen.”
Walt sips coffee, thinking.
I sip decaf. “Jerwal, do you want to go play with the robots in Ohio?” Jerwal beeps and moves his head and arms from side to side.
Walt points a finger of ultimate authority at me. “For me to even consider it, Jerâand I'm not saying I
amâDr. Feinberg needs to sign off on this one hundred percent. You understand that might not happen.”
I clear my throat. “I understand that in any contest, I will be tested, maybe to the boundaries of my ability. And when this happens, I will remember that I have overcome great difficulties already, and all that strength is in me.”
Walt sniffs. “Which coach said that?”
“I just created it.”
When I'm a coach I'm going to tell my players to say that.
I write it down.
Walt studies my face.
“I'm fine, Walt.”
I say that a lot because it's true.
It's got to be true.
NOT EVERYONE ON
my transplant team could be here. We got this appointment fast.
Dr. Curchink is out sick and Dr. Meredith has an emergency with another patient, but Dr. Feinberg is here, and Hassan the transplant nurse, and Millard the tech guy, who keeps track of everything. Millard just gave me an echocardiogram to test the strength of my heart with sound waves. Hassan gets a blood sample from my left arm. I make a fist.
“Your blood's still red,” Hassan says.
“I've been working hard to keep it red,” I tell him.
There's a plastic heart on the counter. So many people just take their hearts for granted. I did until third grade, when I caught a virus that slowly began attacking my heart muscle. I got a lot of colds that
year. I wasn't eating much. I'd run and have trouble breathing. We thought it was asthma at first. It wasn't even close to that.
Being a computer genius, Walt knew about viruses. “We're going to find out what's going on with you,” he told me. “That's going to mean a lot of tests, and probably a few extra doctors.”
“I don't want extra doctors.”
You don't always get what you want.
Two years later, I had to have a heart transplant. I was ten. I don't recommend the experience, but I can promise you, it's so much better than dying.
I told Aunt Charity I wanted to keep my old heart in a jar at home to remember, but she started screaming about the intense grossness of that.
“I made it to ten years of age with that heart,” I told her. “It's part of me.”
She threw up her hands and said absolutely not.
“He's kidding about keeping it at home,” Walt assured her.
We gave it to scienceâthe best solutionâalthough first I wanted to use it for the science fair at school.
“How can you even think of these things?” she shrieked.
“Maybe we can visit it?” I asked her.
That didn't work, either.
Right now Dr. Feinberg, who did my transplant surgery, is looking at me like he always doesâchecking my eyes without saying he is, checking to see if I have energy without saying he is.
Walt says, “We want zero risk, doctor. We are open to whatever you think is best.”
“Which would be me going to Ohio.”
Dr. Feinberg is looking at my test results. “Jeremiah, as long as I have known you, you've always been clear as to what you want. How are you feeling?”
“Fine. Really fine.”
“How's the energy level?”
“You know, it's okay.”
A medical nod. “Arrhythmia? Swollen ankles? Brain fog? Nausea? An uncontrollable desire to play meaningless, soul-crushing video games all day?”
“Only the last one.”
“Shortness of breath?”
I breathe like it's hard.
Dr. Feinberg looks at me. “This is a joke?”
“You'll be gone how long?”
Walt says, “Two months or so. But if this isn't a good ideaâ”
“That's a lot of compacted stress: packing, saying good-bye, moving, a new school, and then coming back.”
Walt says, “If you don't think this is a good ideaâ”
“I want to understand,” Dr. Feinberg adds. He always says this. It's why he's a great doctor.
Walt starts explaining about this new consulting gig he's got, but he's not selling the concept. He hasn't once mentioned the stress of living with Aunt Charity. He has hardly touched on the theme of baseball and how tomorrow's stars are playing on the Hillcrest Hornets today, how it's a chance to see them before they get really big, how their champion pitcher throws an unbelievable fastball.
I interrupt and make my case. I also emphasize the robots.
“How fast does the kid throw?” Dr. Feinberg asks.
“Ninety-four miles per hour.”
Millard, Hassan, and Dr. Feinberg nod, impressed.
I say, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
That's a big sentence for me. Before I got my new heart, I was so sick, I wasn't going to make it. That surgery went pretty well, considering where I was starting
from. They hoped it would have gone a little better.
My scar from the transplant runs from the top of my chest to the middle. I showed it to my best friend, Yaff, who said, “Tell people you got attacked by zombies and survived.”
I can walk blocks at a time, but I still can't run.
“Jeremiah,” Dr. Feinberg says, “you need to be aware of two things. First, you will need to have another team in Ohio and check in with them.”
I know this.
“Second, you have to be uniquely careful of infection.”
The team stares at me. I say I know that, too.
“We are talking about bathing in antiseptic lotion.”
I take out the bottle from my pocket.
“We are talking about naps.”
“And you must have realistic goals for your time there. Do you have those?”
“I want to see as many baseball games as I can, and I want to do well in school and hang out with Walt and maybe build another robot.”
They are still staring at me like that's not enough.
“Okay, and I will run away screaming if I see anyone sneezing.”
“No running,” the doctor says.
I nod. I hate the no running part. I tried running after my surgery and that didn't go too well.
“And I won't eat at salad bars because of the germs.”
“They're infested with germs,” Hassan reminds me.
“And when I'm at baseball games, if I feel tired or anything, I will let Walt know.”
“It's what I do here!”
“We'll discuss this and be back in a few minutes.” Dr. Feinberg walks toward the door with the team.
“Don't forget the part you can't put on a chart,” I shout. “Baseball and robots. How can this not be good for my heart?”
The doctor smiles. Millard doesn't. They walk out.
Walt says, “You know, whatever they decide, it's for the best.”
I look at him. His eyes are kind, but tired.
I can do this, Walt!
The team comes back. I try to read their faces like people do on legal shows when the jury walks in to give the verdict.
I put my hand over my heart.
“We are unanimous in this, Jeremiah,” Dr. Feinberg
begins. And the team stands tough behind him.
I think it's no.
“For baseball and robots and being with your dad, you can go to Ohio.”
“Yes!” I shout.
“I want you to write this across your eyeballs, Jeremiah: do not take on too much.”
“This is a great medical decision, you guys. You work together as a team and that's why you can get out there and make a difference.”
Dr. Feinberg writes something down. “I will miss you, Jeremiah. I'm still hoping you can be the subject of the book that I will write someday when I have time to go on the talk show circuit.”
The book is about the power of being hopeful and positive when you're a heart patient. He says I'm the poster boy for that.
“I'm referring you to a fine cardiologist I know in Cincinnati, Dr. Sarah Dugan. She was a resident here.”
“If she's writing a book, I'll save the good stuff for you, Dr. F. I swear.”
“Don't be stupid out there,” Dr. Feinberg warns.
“I will be highly intelligent and totally aware at every moment.”
“And don't forget to have fun.”
“Yes, sir, I will do that!”
âÂ âÂ â
Walt and I walk down the corridor and stop at the photos on the wall. The sign above them reads:
. These are the pictures of kids who had heart transplants here. There are baby pictures and pictures of people getting married. The point is, we get better and go on to have good lives. The one famous guy on the wall is Rodney P. Sears, who had three surgeries and now writes horror films about evil hearts that take over a person's body. His new movie is called
Heart of Stone: The Ever-Darkening Crevice
. Walt won't let me see it. There are three pictures of me, when I was eight, nine, and eleven. I look a lot better at eleven. I'd like to get on the board for doing something bigâalthough surviving and getting strong is a nontrivial thing.
I'd like someone to point to my picture one day and say, “And now this young man is managing a major league baseball team.”
PACKING FOR THIS
trip is the same as packing for life. I'm bringing too much, but I am easily bored. I pile up my forty-seven baseball and coaching books, which come up to my waist. They can fit in the trunk. I'm bringing my glove, my bat, my baseball.
Before my heart got that virus, Walt and I used to play catch every day, even in the winterâwe painted a ball neon red so we could find it in the snow.
I'm all about dedication.
Yaff is sitting on the bed. “You're coming back, right?”
“In a couple of months.”
Yaff looks unsure.
“All my doctors are here.”
Yaff stretches out his leg. He got the first operation
to lengthen his leg last year. We met at the hospital in an elevator. We were both wearing Cardinals caps.
“It doesn't look like it, but my leg is growing,” he said to me.
How can you not be friends with someone like that?
“I asked my mom if you could stay with us while your dad is in Ohio, Jeremiah. I told her you could train Powderpuff.” That's Yaff's mother's extreme little white dog. “I told her this would change life in our family. My mom said if she had more strength and courage, you could.”
“Thanks.” Yaff's mother is a great mother role model. She always tells you how it is, and she gives you credit for understanding.
Time to pack the robot. “Jerwal, go to sleep.”
Jerwal shuts down.
“My mom said Jerwal can stay with us, Jeremiah.”
“He is needed elsewhere.” I put Jerwal in a box, tuck a blanket around him for padding. Jerwal was a big friend of mine when I was in the hospital.
I hand Yaff a little card I printed. “Don't forget.”
He turns it over, looks at it, and nods. “Yeah. I won't.”
I don't give these cards to just anyone.
Yaff and I go back to watching the eagle cam from the Nature Conservancy. We are watching live-as-it-happens moments of two baby eagles in a nest as they deal with the unfairness of life. First, three days ago, their mother was killed. Now they're waiting for their father to come back with food.
Yaff shakes his head. “I don't think the father's coming back.”
“Bet you he does.” It's still hard to watch this.
“Loser cleans the winner's room.”
This is an unfair bet because Yaff's room, according to his mother, has “the ambience of a Turkish prison.”
The eagle cam is watched by so many people; it's been a big connect for me as an eagle watcher. I don't think my mother had any idea what she started when she got me that stuffy. I look over at Baby, who is in a plastic bag for safety. Her talons aren't what they used to be.
“Baby,” I say, “what's your best guess on the father?”
Baby keeps things to herself, but now on the eagle cam, there's a swoosh of wings and the father swoops into the nest.
“Yes!” I shout.
People are commenting online:
It's another eagle!
It's a predator!!!!!!
This is what father eagles do, peopleÂ .Â .Â .
The father eagle has food for the babies, and he is patient. The baby eagles seem like challenged eaters, probably because of all the earlier trauma.
Yaff cleans my room like he cleans his roomâbadly. He shoves things in the closet and under the bed while I pack Baby. Yaff is the kind of friend who understands the power of historic stuffies. He still has Fiend, his king cobra stuffy. He wraps it around his neck on Halloween.
I'm going to need to find a good friend fast in Hillcrest.
I tape Baby's box shut. “Later, Baby,” Yaff says.
I wish Yaff could come with me. He puts his arms out like wings. I do, too.
“See you in the summer, Eagle Man.”
âÂ âÂ â
“I think this is an unwise decision,” Aunt Charity announces. “I am concerned on multiple levels.” She drove over to say good-bye.
Walt hugs her. “We're going to give it a try.”
“And if it's a disaster?” she demands.
I don't want to think about that!
He smiles kindly. “You'll be the first one to know, Char.”
“Call the doctor first, then me.” Aunt Charity hugs me and messes up my hair like I'm still eight years old.
We get in the car; she stands there waving until we turn the corner.
“I love her, Walt. I do.”
And we are off to live in Baseball LandÂ .Â .Â .
âÂ âÂ â
We are driving by the Gateway Archâthe tallest arch in the world. It's made of stainless steel and manages to glisten even on a cloudy day. We've been to the top of it four times. Every time I see it, I remember the early pioneers who pushed west to see what was
beyond Missouri. That's what the arch is forâto help you think about courage.
Those people had strong hearts and vision.
My heart's not strong, but my vision makes up for it.
I take out my folder. On the cover I drew my signature mark, two curved lines coming together, like wings:
“I've been researching the high school team, Walt. The Hornets' star pitcher, Hargie Cantwell, has an ERA under two!”
That's earned run average. That means when this Hargie kid pitches seven innings, the other teams can only score one or two runs against him.
Walt was a pitcher in college. “That kid's got some heat.”
“Last year the Hornets were undefeated.”
“They have a stadium. People call it the Hornets' Nest. And on this map”âI hold up a map of Hillcrestâ
“it looks like the house we're renting is close to the stadium. How excellent is that?”
“I'm glad you're looking forward to it.”
“There's a game today at four o'clock, Walt.”
He drives a little faster. Three hundred and eleven miles to go.
We're on Iâ70 East in Illinois, zooming toward Indiana.
I remember when we moved from Indiana to St. Louis. We needed to be near Aunt Charity so she could help take care of me.
A lot of my time in St. Louis was spent in the hospital or at home. First, I got medication to make my heart pump better. But everything the doctors tried worked for a few months and then stopped. For two years I was in and out of the hospital; I could only go to school for part of the year. Aunt Charity and Walt tutored me. Walt is a cool tutorâwe built our first robot (pre-Jerwal), we took a computer apart and put it back together, we built a radio. Aunt Charity made me write three-paragraph essays like “How Adversity Has Made Me Stronger” and “Why I Will Never Give Up.” I tried a shortcut on the giving up one.
Why I Will Never Give Up
by Jeremiah Lopper, Age 10
I will never give up because I have too many cool things to do to waste time being negative.
Walt had that on the refrigerator for the longest time. Walt's uncle Jack (my great-uncle) laughed when he saw it. “Kid,” he told me, “you're going places.” I made a copy of it for him and he carried it in his wallet. He died last year when his heart gave out. Right before that he told me, “The best thing Walt ever did was bringing you into the family.”
Two hundred and eighty-three miles to go.
“Are you up for more data, Walt?”
“There are 12,761 people in Hillcrest, Ohio.”
“Soon to be 12,763,” he says.
“Right. The town motto is, and you're going to love
this, âLife is a game. Baseball is serious.'”
Walt laughs. “I guess we know what they're about.”
“Totally. They have two ice-cream shops and only one pizza place.”
“Junk Ball Pizza. It's near the stadium, which is only one-point-seven miles from our house. I can walk one-point-seven miles, Walt.”
“Sometimes you can.”
“Let's be positive.”
Walt chuckles. “I found a hornets' nest once when I was a boy. That was not fun.”
Lots more driving.
I've got questions:
Who will my friends be?
What are they doing right now?
Will they know right away that they need a new friend, or will I have to convince them?
“What do you think it's going to be like in Hillcrest, Walt?”
He smiles. “We'll know when we get there.”
“I want to know before we get there.”
“Takes the fun out of it, Jer.”
Lots more driving.
And then a huge baseball bat glistens on a little hill.
And after that, we see the ultimate sign:
TO THOSE WHO SAY IT'S ONLY A GAME,
WE SAY IT'S MORE.
TO THOSE WHO SAY IT ISN'T IF YOU WIN OR LOSE,
WE SAY IT MATTERS.
WE ARE WINNERS.
PUSHING TO BE THE BEST.
WELCOME TO HILLCREST, OHIO.
WE DRIVE BY
the stadium, or try to. The traffic is crazy. It's like this town has a major league team.
An amplified voice blares out:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have three hours till game time.”
People on the street cheer.
“The game, Walt. We can't be late!”
“We won't be late.”
In front of the stadium are huge posters of the players. Music blasts.
You've gotta know
You've gotta know
You've gotta know
What it takes
Two kids wearing Hornets hats are dancing.
You've gotta know
You've gotta know
You've gotta know
What it takes
It takes full commitment to have this kind of attitude. The best coaches talk about dedication. I put my hand over my heart. It's totally inspiring here.
The new heart I got was from a fourteen-year-old girl who died in a bike accident in California. I had to wait for eleven months and seventeen days to get a close match. I wanted to know her name so I could write to her parents and tell them I was taking good care of their daughter's heart. Dr. Feinberg said no.
Well, I'd named my stuffed eagle Baby and my cardiac defibrillator Fred. So I named my new heart.
I call it Alice.
Do you know what
means? You're going to love this.
Noble. Possessing excellent qualities. Grand or
impressive. Having a superior mind or character.
I pat my chest.
Alice, get ready. This is going to be an awesome sixty days!
âÂ âÂ â
Walt drives past Chip Gunther's Sports Store on the corner of Hyland Road and Oakley Avenue. This store has a huge
banner in the window and a giant stinger jutting out from above the door.
A guy on a red motorcycle races in and out of traffic.
“Slow down, pal,” Walt says to him under his breath.
The motorcycle swerves too fast around a corner.
Finally, we're on our street, Weldon Road. Walt pulls into the driveway of a small gray wooden house set back from the road and surrounded by trees.
Swoop. The Eagle has landed.
I pull down the visor in the car; I look in the mirror at my piercing brown eyes that are on fire with vision, intense determination, and the extreme love of baseball.
Lopper, I've been watching you. You've got the moves, you've got the heart, you've got the courage. I want you to go out there with the best you've got and do itÂ .Â .Â . for
your team, for your family, and for your fans, who are counting on you. It's all in there, kid. All the hours of practice, all the losses, all the wins. They've brought you to this place. Get out there and make it happen!
“The key's supposed to be under the mat, Jer.”
I look in the backseat. “We're here, Jerwal.”
He lights up in the box.
I get out of the car. I can hear the music from the stadium. I do the robot dance up the path, driving my shoulder down toward the ground. I move to the left and stop, to the right and stop. Jerwal and I do this together sometimes. I can see a woman looking at me from the window of the house next door. I jerk my head and freeze. She leaves the window.
It takes time to get used to me.
Walt is lugging our suitcases to the porch. “Under the mat, Jer.”
I look under the mat. No key. I try the door handle. Locked.
Shoulders up, shoulders down.
We walk into the little backyard. No mat at the back door. This door is locked, too. The deck has broken steps and a sign:
DO NOT USE
Walt calls the Realtor, leaves a message, but let me tell you, this is a great yard. There's a little stream running through the back, and a wooden bridge crosses over to rocks so big you can sit on them. I walk across the bridge, plop down on a flat rock.
This will be an excellent place to sit and think.
I need to sit a lot.
But I always work to keep my head in the game.
Lopper approaches the batter's box. The crowd is on their feet. He's got one goal: to hit the ball hard and far. He fixes his mind on that, stays loose. The pitch comesÂ .Â .Â .
I get up. “Yeah?”
“I can't reach this woman!”
Walt is referring to the Realtor, but Walt also has a lot of trouble getting a date. He gets so nervous asking women out.
I walk to the front. Across the street, a girl around my age and a boy a little older are having a fight. There's a car with bumper stickers parked in their driveway.
Peace, Love, Baseball.
You are following one great coach.
Thou Shalt Respect the Game.
The license plate reads:
I like these people. I head to their yard.
The girl has long brown hair that curls below her shoulders. She is not happy.
“Bo, I swear, Mom said you need to clean the garage or she's going to set fire to all your stuff!”
Bo, the guy, throws a baseball in the air and catches it behind his back. Nice catch.
“Bo,” she shouts, “do it!”
He throws the baseball up and away from him and runs to catch it. “Come on, Franny.”
Her eyes turn from mad to sad. “Do you know what day this is?”
“Think about it. Four years ago. What happened?”
Suddenly, Bo's eyes get sad, too. “Tell Mom I'll be right there.”
Franny shouts, “It's got to be on fire for you to get it!” She heads into the house.
Bo looks at the screen door slamming shut. “I forgot, okay?” He heads to their garage.
This might not be the best time to ring the doorbell, but being desperateÂ .Â .Â .
I do ring it.
I ring again.
A man shouts, “Get it, Franny!”
She opens the door. It's good I'm not like Walt, who drops his phone around pretty females.
How to introduce this?
“What?” she says.
I push my hair out of my face. “Do you have a paper clip?”
She looks at me like I'm crazy. She's got greenish eyes.
“My dad and I just moved across the street, and the Realtor forgot to leave the key.” I stick out my hand; she looks at it. “I'm Jeremiah Lopper. We moved here from St. Louis. I need to break into my house.”
âÂ âÂ â
I straighten out the paper clip. “I saw someone do this on TV. You have to jiggle the point like this.” I jiggle it
as Franny looks on. “And then, the door is supposed to open.” I try that. It unlocks.
Franny looks impressed.
“It's good this works,” I tell her, “but am I the only one who's nervous about how easy it is?”
She laughs. “I have to go.”
“It was nice to meet you, Franny. Do you go to the middle school?”
“I start sixth grade on Monday.”
She studies me. “Sixth grade started in September.”
“Timing's not my greatest strength. How old are you?”
“Twelve,” she whispers.
“I'm probably twelve, too.”
She smiles strangely.
Of course, I could be older. Medical science isn
t always exact.
“So this middle schoolâhow good is it? I need the truth.”
She glances at her house. “It's pretty good. The teachers are okay.”
“The food in the cafeteria won't kill you.”
“Is there a baseball team?”
“Kind ofÂ .Â .Â .”
“What's a âkind of' baseball team?”
“WellÂ .Â .Â . umÂ .Â .Â .” She seems nervous. “Do you play?”
I hate this question. “Not exactly.”
“Franny!” An older man stands on the porch and calls her.
She looks relieved. “Coming.” She runs across the street. She's fast.
That could have gone worse.
It could also have gone better.
“See you Monday,” I say to her back.
Where is Walt?
A dog sits on the lawn next to Franny's house and looks at me. I whistle low. The dog cocks his head, trying to decide what to do. I cock my head just like the dog, whistle again. The dog stands and almost takes a step forward.
The old woman next door pokes her head through the bushes. “That dog hasn't moved since his owner died last year.”
The dog has black and white markings like a spaniel.
You can do this, dog.
“Who are you?” the woman asks.
“I'm Jeremiah Lopper, ma'am. My dad and I just moved here from St. Louis.”
She pinches up her face. “Penelope Prim.”
“Nice to meet you.”
I look at the dog. “You can come if you want.”
The dog leans forward, but doesn't come.
Walt walks around from the backyard. “I still can't get the Realtor.”
I point to the open door.
“How do you do these things, Jer?”
I show him the straightened paper clip.
He carries his suitcase inside. “I'm grateful you use your gifts for good.”