Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Richard Gnann Genre: Young Adult Title: Your Best Pitch
I climbed the pitcher’s mound and watched Ed Reese propeller his bat around twice. Same old Ed. Same old hotdog act. It was really old.
I was pitching in the bottom of the seventh inning of the city championship. A base runner runner stood on first and Ed was the game winning run. I had two strikes. I needed one more.
“Go with your best pitch.” That’s what my dad would say. Everyone knew what pitch I was going to throw, including Ed Reese.
Tony Sparrow was my catcher, but we were way more than battery mates. Mom said we were “salt and pepper.”
“On radar, Jimbo.” Tony called himself ground control when he was catching me, like he was guiding a jetliner onto the runway.
I listened to my fastball sizzle and Ed watched it carve a slice off the back corner of the plate.
“Strrrrrrrrrrike three. You’re out!”
Ed slammed his bat into the ground. “Are you kidding?”
“That’s’ ok Eddie, another bad call.” Reese’s dad always pulled one of those old-fashioned metal frame lawn chairs up close to the screen near home plate and griped at the umpires the whole game. “It wasn’t even close.”
“Just get one more out, Jimbo!” Mom was right. Move on to the next batter. One more out made my Mets the city champs and I scratched at the rubber to work Reese out of my mind.
Tony pounded his catcher’s mitt. “Finish, Jimbo.”
I wasn’t worried about finishing. I just struck out the Astros’ best batter. No, I just struck out the best batter in the whole league. All I had to do now was get Billy Pepper out. Billy was a right-handed Punch and Judy hitting thirteen-year old and his bat hadn’t touched my fastball all season.
Tony put down a one again, but I shook my head. I was going to cross up Billy with a breaking ball.
Tony looked in the dugout. I could see Coach Perno in the afternoon shadow raise his index finger and shake it. “One.”
I stepped off the rubber and watched a pickup truck rattle by the right field fence.
“Time.” Coach Perno was at the mound before I could wipe my forehead. “Throw your fastball three times.”
I just stared at the baseball, studying it like it could tell my fortune. If a baseball could tell my fortune, I might have done things differently.
The umpire finished sweeping off the plate. “Let’s play.”
“Don’t make it rocket science. Throw three fastballs.” Coach Perno walked away, then turned after three steps. “But you’re the pitcher.”
Coach Perno had been a pitcher himself. On his team, the pitcher made the final decision.
Tony slapped his mitt. “I think he’s right.”
I would decide, not my catcher. I lay two fingers inside my glove for Tony to see.
Tony slapped his mitt again. “You sure?”
My curveball dove from the letters to the knees, but snapped inside for ball one. Billy’s eyes were big as hubcaps. His bat didn’t flinch.
I kicked the dirt and the red dust cloud floated on the late afternoon breeze toward right field. I was behind in the count and for no good reason except I wanted to fool Billy. You don’t get points for fooling the batter. The idea is to get outs.
I came back with a fastball and Billy took again. “Strrrrrike one.”
Tony fired the ball back to me. “That’s it Jimbo. Just like that.”
I got the message from Tony, but my mind drifted to my options.
I had three pitches I could throw for outs. Billy may be young, but he had seen my stuff before. I thought it was time for a change up.
I didn’t give Tony a chance to look at Coach Perno. I rubbed my shirt three times and stretched. The ball slid from my hand just right, but stayed a little high. I thought I saw Billy close his eyes, but he dribbled the ball up the first baseline and foul.
The Astro dugout exploded like Billy had driven a line drive to center.
“You can hit him.”
I had over-thought my pitches. I should have trusted Tony, but it was time to get the last out and the championship trophy. Then I would start travel ball next week with the best travel team in the state.
The pine trees leaned over the third baseline fence and under their shade, the American Legion field scoreboard lights shined bright.
Mets 3 Astros 2
strikes 2 balls 1 outs 2
The screams from the parents and friends caused my neck to tingle. My heart was racing the last hundred yards of a marathon heading for a photo finish.
Billy pounded the plate with his bat. I had given Billy a dose of confidence and he believed he could win the game. I pushed the thought away. Billy had about a one in a thousand chance of catching up to my fastball.
I gripped my fingers across the seams and stretched. As I released the ball, a trickle of doubt rolled down my spine.
I had gripped the ball a hair too tight. I didn’t hear the usual bacon frying sizzle. Instead of carving off the corner, my fastball split the plate down the middle.
Billy’s eyes were open now and he swung as hard as he could. It was just hard enough to pop a puny fly into right field. The ball was going to come down for an easy out and I started jumping up and down.
Then I stopped.
Because the road passed close to the ball field, the right field outfield fence jutted back toward the infield the last two feet of fair territory. That made the foul pole T-ball distance. Billy’s harmless pop up became a cruise missile rocketing fair toward disaster.
A thousand to one chance to touch my fastball and a thousand to one chance to land fair over the fence. That’s a million to one chance that came home for Billy Pepper when the ball bounced fair off the high chain link and tapped the hood of a passing convertible.
I stood on the mound and watched Billy step on home plate. He hardly knew what to do, but his teammates did. They pushed him to the ground and piled on top. I watched my own teammates trudge off the field losers because of my stupidity. They didn’t even stop in the dugout before shuffling to their speechless parents.
Tony looked out from the plate with his catcher’s mask in his hand. He gave me a nod of the head to say,“Come on.”
I couldn’t look at him. I waved him off with a shake of my chin.
“Tough one, Jimbo.” I hadn’t seen Coach Perno walk out to the mound. “Let’s go, ok?”
He turned to lead me across the grass of the infield.
Then he stopped and turned back. “You’re one heck of a pitcher. One swing doesn’t change that.”
Coach Perno’s next words had haunted me for a year. “And I know your dad would have been proud of you.”
Maybe, but I had never been stupid picking pitches when my dad was here. I never lost my confidence when Dad was here.
Nothing was ever this bad when my dad was here. It was the second worst day of my life.