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Strike Zone (Jeter Publishing) Hardcover – April 14, 2020
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About the Author
Paul Mantell is the author of more than 100 books for young readers, including books in the Hardy Boys and Matt Christopher series.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
As Derek Jeter went in for the layup, going airborne at full speed, the defender’s arm came crashing down, slamming into Derek’s ear and shoulder, making him cry out in pain.
But Derek had seen him coming. A split second before contact, he’d slipped the ball under and around the defender’s crashing arm. A flick of Derek’s wrist sent the ball spinning off the backboard, ricocheting back down and through the net, just as the ref’s whistle blew!
“And one!” Dave Hennum shouted from center court. Derek’s best friend and teammate pumped his fist, then immediately ran to his side. “You okay?”
Derek was bent forward, one hand on his knee and the other on his sore ear. “That hurt,” he said with a grimace, then straightened up and rolled his shoulder around once or twice in its socket.
Then, turning to the ref, he put his hands up, asking for… the ball. Dave clapped him on the back. “That-a-way,” he said. “Hit this shot, and we’ve got the game!”
Derek blew out a breath and tried to shake off the cobwebs from the blow he’d just taken. He knew that if he sank this free throw, his team, the Saint Augustine Friars, would be up by one point with only six seconds left. On the other hand, if he missed…
Derek focused on the rim, blowing out a long breath to calm his pounding heart. The hammer blow to his shoulder hadn’t helped any. Plus, his ear was still ringing.
It took all the concentration he could muster. But he had prepared himself for this moment all season long, as he rode the bench waiting for his chance to get in games. He’d dreamed of the time when he could show what he was made of when the critical moments came. Not just his talent, but his dedication to winning.
He blew out another breath, then readied his shot. Just as he was about to let it go, the ref’s whistle blew again. “Time out, Green!” he shouted, pointing to the other team’s coach.
Dave shook his head and frowned. “They’re trying to ice you, Derek,” he said. “Don’t let it get to you.”
Derek nodded, and they both headed to the bench, where Coach Nelson already had the team gathered in a circle. “Okay, soon as the shot drops, everyone drop back to half-court and pick up your man there. Watch out for screens. And whatever you do—no fouls!”
Derek strode back to the line as the whistle blew for the resumption of play. He took the ball from the ref, bounced it three times, looked up at the basket, and without allowing a single thought to enter his head, threw it up….
In an instant, he was back in game mode, streaking toward half-court to join his teammates on defense. He turned just in time to see the inbound pass, a long lob, going over his head!
Derek stopped himself an instant before running into his man. Lucky thing, because a foul now could be disastrous!
Derek waved his hands wildly and moved his feet, making it hard for his man to get rid of the ball. Meanwhile, the clock was winding down. With only one second left, his man spun around, leaped, and tried to get off a last-second, game-winning shot.
Derek was ready for him. He’d known that if enough time ran off the clock, his man would have to take the desperation shot. Derek leaped right with him, and swatted the ball away!
The Friars all ran onto the court and high-fived one another. It was a big victory, because it was the last game of the year, and now they’d finished their season with a winning record.
“Great job, Derek!” said the coach, giving him a slap on the back. “Oh. Sorry,” he added as Derek winced. The coach had hit the same spot where Derek had just been slammed.
“Don’t worry about it, Coach. It didn’t hurt a bit,” Derek answered with a grin.
He hugged Dave and his other teammates, shook hands with the losing team, and waved to his parents and sister, Sharlee, who were in the stands, cheering along with the rest of the home fans.
“Game ball to you, Jeter!” Coach Nelson said, handing it to Derek. Then he took out a Sharpie and signed it. “Next year, I’ve got a spot on the roster reserved for you, kid. See you at tryouts, huh?”
“Yesss!” Derek shouted, pumping his fist. “Thanks, Coach!”
“You earned it, kid,” the coach said. “You came a long way your first season. It’s not easy to ride the bench most of the year, cheer your teammates on, and be ready when your name is called. Even the best team needs its supporting players, not just stars. So hats off to you.”
As the players emptied out their lockers for the season, Derek and Dave sat next to each other, stuffing their gym bags. “Wow,” Dave said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe the season is already over.”
Derek laughed as he stared at the game ball. “I don’t know. Seemed like a long season to me.”
Dave understood. He’d played a lot while his friend sat on the bench. Dave was the third-tallest kid on the team, and played power forward.
“Anyway, it’s over now. Time to look ahead,” said Derek.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Dave said with a grin. “It’s almost baseball season.”
“That’s right. Time to tee ’em up and let ’em fly!”
“Tee ’em up? That’s funny.”
Golf was Dave’s passion, and Derek knew it. But Dave liked baseball, too. They’d been on the same team two years in a row. And last year, they’d been league champions—partly because Derek’s dad and Dave’s family’s driver and helper, Chase Bradway, had been their coaches.
Derek was hungry for a repeat. “Envelopes went out yesterday, I heard,” he said. “Call me as soon as you know, okay?”
If they were on the same team, with the same coaches—even if all the rest of their teammates were new—they’d have a great chance to repeat as champions!
Derek could already see it in his head… he and his dad, Dave and Chase, and Derek’s other best friend, Vijay, too—all holding up the trophy together….
“The Yankees!” Derek shouted. “I’m on the Yankees! YESSS!”
Finally—after three years in Little League, and two years of T-ball before that! FINALLY, he was on the team of his dreams—the team he was aiming to play for someday in the big leagues! The Yankees!
Surely, it was a sign that this was going to be a very special season.
And if that wasn’t enough of a sign, the phone rang twenty minutes later, and it was Vijay on the line. “Guess what?” he told Derek. “I’m on the Yankees!”
“ME TOO!” Derek yelled into the phone. “Woo-hoo!”
They’d been best friends ever since Vijay’s family moved to Mount Royal Townhouses from India, way back when Derek was little. Not only that, they were almost always in the same class at school, and always on the same baseball team!
Derek knew he shouldn’t get ahead of himself. But he couldn’t help thinking about the fantastic season that was about to start!
He let himself get lost in daydreams… and then his dad came down for breakfast.
“Dad! Guess what? I’m on the Yankees! Finally!”
“Well, that’s great, son,” said Mr. Jeter. “I know you’ve wanted that for a long time.”
“We’re going to win again, Dad!”
“Well, I’m sure you’re going to try. You give it your best, and let’s see how it all shakes out.”
Something about the way he said it sounded wrong to Derek. You? Not we?
“Speaking of congratulations,” said Mr. Jeter, “I have some really great news. I got promoted at work! I’m now senior counselor, thank you very much.”
“Wow, that’s great, Dad—congratulations! And did Mom hear anything about her—”
“Not yet, Derek,” his dad cut him off, his smile fading. “Your mom hasn’t heard anything, so let’s give it a little more time before bringing it up. She’ll mention something if there’s anything to share.”
“Okay, Dad, I won’t.”
Derek’s sister, Sharlee, came bounding down the stairs. “Daddy! Derek!” she yelled. “How do you like my hat?” She was wearing a brand-new, bright yellow baseball cap with a T on the front. “See, Derek? I’m on the Lions! GRRR! Watch out—we bite!”
“That looks good on you,” said Mr. Jeter. “Here, let me fix that brim for you….”
“NO! Don’t bend it, Daddy!” Sharlee said. “I like it this way.”
“Okay, Sharlee,” said her father. “You wear it however you want to. But Derek and I, we bend the front, old-school style.”
Sharlee turned to Derek. “And with Daddy coaching my team, we’re going to win, just like you did last year!”
“I guess we’re both going to win, then,” Derek said.
Mr. Jeter cleared his throat. “Let’s talk about that. Derek, with this new promotion, I’ll have to put in a few extra hours a week. I’m afraid that means I can only coach one of your teams this season, not both.”
“Wait—you mean… ?”
“You remember last year, at the end of the season, I promised Sharlee I’d coach her team next season?”
“But I thought—”
“So did I, Derek,” said his father. “Look, I’ll still be able to come to some of the games, and offer any help I can, but—”
“Dad! You can’t not coach me! What about—?” Derek fell silent. There was no “what about.” Suddenly, all his lofty dreams came crashing back down to Earth.
“Don’t worry, son. You’ve learned an awful lot these past few years, and you’re getting better every season. Don’t let this get in the way of all that progress. Besides, any games I can’t make, your mom will attend.”
Derek shook his head in disbelief. But what could he say? What could he do? He’d been rooting for his dad to get that promotion for the past two months, and now, it had come through. He knew he should be happy about it—and he was, kind of. But he also knew how important his dad’s coaching had been to the team last year.
But wait, he thought—there’s still Chase! He’d been a really good coach too. Maybe not as good as Derek’s dad, but close enough. With him in charge, the team would still stand a great chance!
Then it hit him—Dave hasn’t called yet.
Unable to contain himself, he picked up the phone and punched in his friend’s number.
“Hey,” said Dave. “I was about to call you—just opened my envelope.”
“You’d better be on the Yankees,” Derek said anxiously.
“Nuh-uh,” Dave said, sounding disappointed. “Tigers.”
“Tigers?” It was the team they’d both been on last season! “There must be a mistake,” Derek said.
“I’m on the same team,” Dave said. “What happened with you?”
“I don’t know. But Vij is on the Yankees too.”
“What? This is no fair!” Dave moaned. “We won the championship last year! Don’t they have to give us a chance to repeat?”
“I guess not.”
“Can’t we complain or something?”
“I’m pretty sure it was done on purpose,” Derek said. “They probably don’t like it when the same kids win every year.”
“Didn’t your dad request us?”
“My dad’s not coaching this season. He’s coaching Sharlee’s softball team instead.”
“Oh man!” Dave moaned. “How come?”
Derek explained to Dave about his dad’s promotion.
“He was a really great coach too,” Dave said sadly.
Suddenly, Derek realized something else. “Wait—is… Chase going to be coaching your team?”
“Yeah. I guess that’s something, at least,” Dave allowed. “But it really stinks for you and Vijay.”
“Yeah,” Derek said. “Tell me about it.”
All his plans for the season had vanished into thin air. He would have to adjust to two new coaches and a whole new team—one without Dave, without Chase, and worst of all, without his dad.
- Lexile measure : 710L
- Grade level : 3 - 7
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Hardcover : 192 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-1534454996
- ISBN-10 : 1534454993
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (April 14, 2020)
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Reading level : 8 - 12 years
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #50,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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