Guys write for guys read, p.1
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       Guys Write for Guys Read, p.1

           Jon Scieszka
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Guys Write for Guys Read



  Title Page

  Before We Begin … by JON SCIESZKA

  How I Won the World Series by DAN GUTMAN

  Find Your Fire by TIM GREEN

  Max Swings for the Fences by ANNE URSU

  Against All Odds by DUSTIN BROWN


  The Meat Grinder by CHRIS CRUTCHER

  The Choice by JAMES BROWN


  The Trophy by GORDON KORMAN

  I Will Destroy You, Derek Jeter by CHRIS RYLANDER

  About Guys Read

  About the Authors

  Other Works



  Back Ad

  About the Publisher


  I grew up with five brothers, and we played a lot of sports.

  We played the big ones like baseball, basketball, football, and hockey.

  We also played golf, tennis, lacrosse, soccer, bowling, Ultimate Frisbee, guts Frisbee, skateboarding, whiffleball, waterskiing, snow skiing, swimming, water polo, wrestling, boxing, rugby, bicycle racing, canoe racing, sailing, kayaking, rafting, rowing, Ping-Pong, billiards, horseshoes, bocce ball, motorcycle racing, car racing, demolition derby, fencing, snowshoeing, bow hunting, fishing, shooting, knife throwing, rock climbing, ice-skating, racquetball, volleyball, badminton, handball, squash, weight lifting, running, long jumping, high jumping, shot putting, javelin tossing, darts, croquet, floor hockey, underwater hockey, kickball, surfing, snowboarding, curling, wood chopping, arm wrestling, leg wrestling, and thumb wrestling.

  With our friends and little brothers we also played sports we invented: Frisbee butt waterskiing, 360 spring hoop power dunk basketball, apple war, full-contact volleyball, BB gun biathlon, running hatchet toss, demolition sledding, bicycle polo, midnight ice sailing, tree jumping, log tossing, daredevil stunt rope swinging, group brawling, tree chopping, tree burning, speed pizza eating….

  In fact, now that I think of it, most of the things we did we turned into a sport, a contest, a competition. Even if it was a race to get into the car to go to church, we competed to see who was fastest, strongest, best.

  So in keeping with that spirit of competitive sports, here is a collection of the fastest, strongest, funniest, wildest, and best sports stories. All written exclusively for Guys Read.

  My son, Jake, an amazing athlete and long-suffering receiver of lame sports books, once wisely explained to me that just because a guy likes to play sports doesn’t mean he likes to read about them.

  That is so true.

  But there is something about a good sports story that is exactly like a good game. The good game and the good story both reveal character and truths bigger than the game or the story.

  And like any good sport, a good sports story depends on teamwork. It needs a writer willing to give his or her best, and a reader willing to do the same.

  Take a look at any one of the stories in this collection. There is everything from football to friendship to baseball to fighting, and a lot more in between.

  This bunch of writers brought their best.

  Now show us what you’ve got.

  Jon Scieszka



  The story I’m about to tell you is so amazing, so improbable, and so preposterous, you’re going to think I must have made it up. But I swear every word of it is true. This is not fiction.

  You may have heard that the Boston Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series to the New York Mets because a guy named Bill Buckner let a ground ball go through his legs.

  It’s a lie!

  The truth is that the Red Sox lost that game because of me. Dan Gutman. I won the World Series that year.

  That’s every kid’s fantasy, isn’t it? It sure was when I was a kid. You’re standing there at home plate. The bases are loaded. Your team is three runs down in the bottom of the ninth. Seventh and deciding game of the World Series. There are two outs. Full count. It all comes down to one pitch. The crowd is going crazy. It’s all up to you.

  And you hit a walk-off grand salami that wins it all.

  It didn’t exactly happen that way, but I do feel that I was responsible for the outcome of the 1986 World Series.

  Let me explain.

  The story actually starts a bit earlier. Well, a lot earlier—back on January 5, 1920. That was the day the Red Sox sold a twenty-four-year-old kid named Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Up until that point, the Red Sox were the kings of baseball. They’d won five of the first fifteen World Series. Ruth led them to the championship in 1916 and 1918. But after they sold him to the Yankees, the Red Sox would not win another World Series for the rest of the twentieth century. And the Yankees, who had never won a World Series before Ruth arrived in New York, would go on to win twenty-seven of them and become the most dominating team in baseball.

  The Red Sox were cursed, it was said, because they’d sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. It was called the “Curse of the Bambino.”

  It’s not that Boston had lousy teams all those years. The Sox were usually close to first place, but they always seemed to choke at the end. Twice they lost one-game play-offs to decide the American League pennant (1948 and 1978). Every time they made it to the World Series (1946, 1967, and 1975), they lost Game 7. It’s almost as if the ghost of Babe Ruth was watching over Boston all those years, making sure the Sox never won it all.

  What does any of this have to do with me winning the World Series? I’m getting to that. Be patient, will you?

  Okay, it was the night of Saturday, October 25, 1986. I was not in Shea Stadium in New York City, where the World Series was taking place. I was at my brother-in-law’s apartment in Princeton, New Jersey. That’s how good I am. I didn’t even have to be at the World Series to influence the outcome!

  It was Game 6. Boston won the first two games, and the New York Mets won the next two. Game 5 went to the Sox, putting Boston ahead three games to two. One more victory and the Red Sox would be World Champions for the first time since 1918. The curse would finally be over.

  Sixty-eight years. That’s a long time to wait. People had been born, lived their lives, and died of natural causes since the Red Sox had last won. The last time the Sox were World Champions, there was a world war going on. The first one.

  Personally, I never cared if the Red Sox won or lost. What I cared about was the New York Mets. I grew up in northern New Jersey, and I had been a Mets fan since I was ten. That’s 1965, when they were just a few years old and really awful. I’m talking about laughably bad. Most of my friends rooted for the Yankees, who won the pennant every year and had superstars like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Me, I like to root for underdogs.

  So let’s get back to the 1986 World Series. As I said, one more win and the Red Sox would be champs. Roger Clemens (24–4) was the Boston starter; Bob Ojeda (18–5) for the Mets.

  In the top of the first inning, one of those “only in New York” moments occurred. Ojeda was about to throw a pitch when everybody began pointing up in the air at something. A yellow parachute was floating down into the stadium! No kidding! It had a LET’S GO METS banner trailing behind it.

  The parachutist, an actor named Michael Sergio, landed near the pitcher’s mound. He jogged over to the Mets dugout, slapped hands with pitcher Ron Darling, and was led away by the police.

  That should have been a tip-off that this was going to be one of those games you’d remember for a long time.

  Anyway, Clemens had a no-hitter through four innings. His fastball was clocked at ninety-five miles per hour or faster on twenty-seven pitches. Ojeda, never a power pit
cher, looked like he was chucking bowling balls in comparison.

  The Red Sox scored a run in the first and another in the second. The Mets tied it in the fifth. The Sox scored another run in the seventh. The Mets got it back in the eighth. By that time, both of the starting pitchers were out of the game.

  It was in the eighth inning that yours truly started to influence the course of the game. In Princeton, I was watching it on TV with my wife, Nina, her sister Erika, and Erika’s husband, Alan. Nina and Erika were not big fans and didn’t much care one way or another who won. They only watched the game with us to keep us company. Alan rooted for the Yankees, so by definition he hated the Red Sox. But I was the lone Mets fan.

  At the same moment that Lee Mazzilli of the Mets lined a single to right in the eighth inning, my wife, Nina, absentmindedly picked a grapefruit out of a bowl that was sitting on the coffee table. Why there was a grapefruit in a bowl on the coffee table is anybody’s guess. But when Mazzilli came around and scored the tying run, we naturally dubbed it “the lucky grapefruit.” Furthermore, as a group, we determined that Nina should hold the grapefruit for the remainder of the game.

  Not that any of us were superstitious, mind you. But it certainly couldn’t hurt to hold a grapefruit while watching a ball game, right?

  So Nina held on to the lucky grapefruit, and the score remained tied at 3–3 after nine innings. The Red Sox, you recall, were leading 3–2 in games, so one run in extra innings could win the World Series for them and end the Babe Ruth curse. With every pitch, you could almost feel the tension through the TV screen.

  Leading off the top of the tenth for Boston was Dave Henderson. In the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox had been down to their last strike when Henderson slugged a home run. Well, guess what? Henderson did it again! He clubbed an 0–1 fastball from Rick Aguilera off the auxiliary scoreboard in left field, and suddenly it was Red Sox 4, Mets 3.

  I was beginning to think the lucky grapefruit wasn’t so lucky after all.

  Aguilera struck out the next two Sox, but Wade Boggs doubled and Marty Barrett singled to add another run. Red Sox 5, Mets 3.

  In Princeton, we sank back into the couch. In New York, some Mets fans headed for the exits to beat the traffic out of Shea Stadium. But in homes, restaurants, and bars all over Boston, it was jubilation. People were already dancing in the streets. The Red Sox were actually going to win the World Series! The Babe Ruth curse was finally over.

  NBC began setting up TV cameras in the Red Sox clubhouse. Cases of champagne were wheeled in. The players’ lockers were draped with plastic to protect them from the spraying champagne in the celebration that was about to take place. The World Series trophy was brought in.

  Now I was convinced that the only luck in the grapefruit was bad. How does that song go? “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

  It was the bottom of the tenth inning now, and the Mets came up for their last, desperate licks. Calvin Schiraldi was on the mound for Boston. The first batter, Wally Backman, flied to left. One out. Keith Hernandez flied to center. Two outs.

  Stupid grapefruit!

  You get a limited number of outs in a baseball game. The Mets had just one left, and they were two runs behind with nobody on base. It would take a miracle at this point. The Red Sox players were standing in the dugout, ready to run out on to the field to start the celebration.

  “Give me that [email protected]#$% grapefruit!” I yelled at my wife.

  Actually, I didn’t say “[email protected]#$%,” because it’s not a word. But I did say a word that we can’t print here and you should never say out loud. Unless, of course, you’re in an extremely stressful situation. Like, if it’s the bottom of the tenth and your team is down to its last out in the World Series, and it’s all because your wife is holding a grapefruit.

  Anyway, I ripped the grapefruit out of Nina’s hands and sank into my gloom on the couch. It was all over. If Nina hadn’t been holding the stupid grapefruit, I thought logically, the Mets would be winning.

  Gary Carter, the Mets catcher, stepped up to the plate. With a 2–1 count, Carter dumped a dinky single into left field. The Mets were still alive, barely. Even if Carter, a slow runner, could score, the Mets would still be losing by one.

  “Keep holding the grapefruit,” said my brother-in-law Alan. “Maybe it’s only lucky when you hold it.”

  It made sense. I was the only real Mets fan, after all.

  Kevin Mitchell was called on to pinch hit. Just one problem: Mitchell was already in the clubhouse, naked, making plane reservations for his trip home after the game. He threw his uniform back on and hustled out to the batter’s box. Three pitches later, he poked a single to left. Carter stopped at second.

  I held the grapefruit tightly.

  Schiraldi got two strikes on the next batter, third baseman Ray Knight. Now the Mets were down to their last strike. Their season could be over on the next pitch.

  But it wasn’t. Knight blooped a single to center! Gary Carter scored! Kevin Mitchell advanced to third. It was 5–4, the Mets one run away from tying the game again.

  “Nobody touches the grapefruit except me,” I announced.

  Three little singles in a row. The tying run ninety feet away. One of my favorite players, Mookie Wilson, at the plate for the Mets.

  At this point, the Red Sox changed pitchers. In came Bob Stanley, also known as “Steamer.”

  I’ve seen a lot of baseball games in my life. But what followed was the most exciting at bat I’ve ever seen and one of the most exciting in baseball history: ten pitches that would determine the season. The crowd at Shea Stadium was on its feet and screaming the whole time. In Princeton, we were all freaking out.

  Here’s how it went….

  Pitch 1: High and outside, but Mookie Wilson was aggressive, took a cut, and missed. Strike 1.

  Pitch 2: Ball one. 1–1 count.

  Pitch 3: Ball two. Outside. 2–1 count.

  Pitch 4: Foul ball. Strike two. 2–2 count.

  The Mets were down to their last strike again. A few of the Red Sox had one foot in the dugout and the other up on the field, ready to charge. The security police prepared to take control of the field to prevent a riot.

  Pitch 5: Mookie just barely fouled off a breaking ball to stay alive. 2–2 count.

  Pitch 6: Mookie fouled off another breaking ball. Still 2–2.

  Pitch 7: Stanley tried to throw an inside fastball that would tail away from the batter, toward the plate. Just one problem—it didn’t tail. The ball stayed inside, heading for Mookie’s rib cage. He jackknifed to avoid getting hit—and the ball glanced off the catcher’s mitt and bounced away!

  “Go! Go! Go!” everyone was screaming. Kevin Mitchell scored from third standing up.

  Incredibly, the Mets had tied the game. Ray Knight moved up to second on the wild pitch.

  Nobody could believe what was happening. I gripped the lucky grapefruit as if it were a precious gemstone. Nobody was going to get it from me now. They would have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

  The Red Sox sat back down in their dugout. The NBC crew grabbed their equipment and dragged it out of the Boston clubhouse like the place was burning down. The Red Sox could actually lose this game now. Somewhere, the ghost of Babe Ruth was chuckling. And Mookie Wilson was still at the plate.

  Pitch 8: The count was full now. Mookie had gone to the dugout to get a new bat. He used it to foul off another pitch, back behind the plate. The count was still 3–2.

  Pitch 9: Mookie fouled off yet another pitch, a bouncer down the third baseline. 3–2 count.

  Pitch 10: The last pitch of the game, and one of the most famous in baseball history. Stanley delivered a fastball on the inside corner. Mookie swung and …

  “Little roller up along first!” shouted Vin Scully on NBC TV.

  “Ground ball to first!” shouted Jack Buck on CBS Radio.

  “… and a ground ball, trickling; it’s a fair ball!” shouted Bob Murphy on WHN.

  Hold everything for a second. You gotta see this for yourself. Go on YouTube and search for Bill Buckner.

  The first baseman was a veteran ball player named Bill Buckner. An excellent hitter, he had been in the big leagues for eighteen years. But he had bone spurs and damaged ligaments in both of his ankles. Earlier in the season, a holy woman had sent Buckner a magic elixir she claimed would heal his sore legs.

  Usually, a defensive specialist was brought in to replace Buckner in late innings. But not this time.

  He was guarding the first baseline and playing deep, behind the bag. The ball bounced crazily, with a lot of spin on it, just fair. Buckner only had to move a step or two to the left to get his body in front of it.

  Mookie Wilson was a fast runner. It looked like it was going to be a close play at first. Buckner didn’t have time to get down on his knees to block the ball, the way first basemen are taught, if he wanted to field it and beat Mookie to the bag. Instead, he stooped down for it, his legs apart.

  No matter what sport you play, I’m sure you’ve heard your coach tell you to “keep your eye on the ball.” Well, do it. The ball bounced three times and then slipped under Buckner’s glove and between his legs! He never touched it!

  “It gets through Buckner!” yelled Vin Scully.

  “An error by Buckner! The winning run scores!” shouted Jack Buck.

  “The Mets will win the ball game!” yelled Bob Murphy.

  “The Mets win! They win! Unbelievable!”

  “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” we all screamed in Princeton.

  “It was the lucky grapefruit!” I shouted, holding the oblate spheroid aloft in jubilation. We all hugged one another as if we had won the game ourselves.

  After all, in a way we had.

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