Chapter One SUMMER DREAMS
As soon as the bat hit the ball, Derek knew it was coming his way. From his crouch he tracked the screaming liner with his eyes, timing his leap, upward and to his right. At the last instant he stretched his arm as far as he could.
It seemed to Derek in that nanosecond, as he flew through the air, that he really was flying! It also seemed to him that his arm extended farther than the possible limits of human arm-stretching. . . .
And the ball hit his mitt—right at the outer edge of the webbing! Derek squeezed the ball tightly as he fell back to earth, held it as he hit the dirt of the infield and kept skidding.
“Two! Two! Two!”
someone was shouting at him. Derek knew what that meant. He had a chance to get the runner trying for second base, making two outs in one incredible play—if he could just get up and throw to second on time!
Somehow he got the throw off, and Willie Randolph grabbed it in his mitt. At that exact millisecond the runner slid into Willie’s glove. “OUT!” the umpire yelled.
“Way to go, Derek!” shouted his best friend Dave from Kalamazoo, who was manning third base.
“Attaboy, Derek!” said Ron Guidry, the pitcher, congratulating him as they both stepped into the Yankees dugout. “Thanks for saving my bacon.”
“Great play, kid!” Don Mattingly said, tipping his captain’s cap.
Suddenly Derek found himself outside the stadium, in the parking lot. The game was over, but he was still in uniform. Next to him a car was gunning its engine—a sports car . . . and in the driver’s seat, Dave Winfield. Derek’s all-time favorite ballplayer!
“You played a great game today, kid,” he told Derek as he gunned the engine. “Awesome job for an eleven-year-old.”
Eleven? What in the—
Derek sat up in bed with a start. Wow, he thought as he let his heart calm down in the darkness of the bedroom. That was some dream.
Across the room his sister, Sharlee, lay peacefully in
her bed, softly snoring. Derek looked over at the alarm clock. It was just after five in the morning.
Hearing the revving of a car motor, he realized that was what had woken him up. He went to the window. It was still dark outside, but at the far end of the yard, where the property met the road, his grandpa’s old pickup truck was just pulling out of the long driveway.
Sharlee and Derek were spending the summer with their grandparents in Greenwood Lake, New Jersey, just as they did every year. And like on every other day while they were there, Grandpa was already on his way to work. Six days a week, and half days on Sundays too. That’s what it was like to be the chief caretaker of a church, which was what Derek’s grandpa had been for many, many years.
Grandpa always came home from work hungry and tired. Most evenings, all he could do was eat dinner, watch a little TV, and fall asleep—usually before Sharlee’s bedtime, let alone Derek’s. So it was mostly Grandma who was able to spend time with the kids.
She was the one in charge of the kids all day. She cooked for them, did the wash, cleaned the house, played with them, and tended to their cuts and bruises. The amazing part was, she almost always seemed to enjoy it. To Derek she had always been a kind of—well, not superhero, maybe, but superperson. She’d had thirteen kids of her own, including Derek’s mom, and she’d raised them all into fine, upstanding grown-ups, and now she was
helping watch all the grandkids, too. He hoped that when he was a grown-up, everyone would love and respect him the way everyone in the family did Grandma.
Derek looked out the open window. He could hear the crickets chirping. The sky was starting to get lighter.
He didn’t feel the least bit tired. In fact, he felt restless. He couldn’t wait for the morning to get going so that the usual fun could start!
He and Sharlee had already been here a few days, but it had rained a ton. They’d hung out a lot with their cousins, who all lived in the area, and some of whom always managed to end up sleeping over at Grandma and Grandpa’s. They’d all gone bowling once, and to a movie another time.
But Derek hadn’t been swimming in the lake much yet this summer—and that was where most of the fun happened around here.
Right now everyone was still asleep. Derek got dressed quietly, washed up, and went down to the kitchen to make a bowl of cereal, and wait for Grandma to come downstairs.
She was almost always the first awake, in order to make sure everyone’s breakfast was ready before they even got downstairs, but she wasn’t the first today. Grandpa’s truck had seen to that by waking Derek up extra early. Still, Grandma was sure to be down in a few minutes, well before Sharlee, who usually slept till eight o’clock at least.
As he made “pre-breakfast” Derek thought back to the dream that had woken him up so early. What had been so great about it was that he and his friend Dave had been playing for the Yankees—the real Yankees, including Mattingly, Randolph, Guidry, and especially Dave Winfield.
Winfield had been a great player for years, and Derek idolized him. Derek knew everything there was to know about Winfield. Not just because he was a great ballplayer, but also because he was a great person. He’d even started his own charity!
Derek knew that, because he had done a report on Winfield last term at school, when they’d had to write about their role models—the people you look up to and listen to because you want to be like them in some way or other.
Derek had considered writing about his mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa. But his teacher had told them all to look for role models outside the immediate family. So Derek had chosen Winfield, naturally.
Derek hoped he could someday be like Winfield—except that he wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees, not right field. Derek felt deep inside that if he worked hard enough, and kept improving his game . . .
That was the thing that had been eating at him ever since he’d arrived for the summer. His game.
Sure, everything was great here in New Jersey, as usual. But Derek had just come off a great season of playing
baseball, with his dad as his coach. They’d won the league championship—Derek’s first title ever!
He’d been so psyched by the end of the season that he never wanted to stop playing ball. And as much fun as he always had with his grandma and grandpa, there was no summer Little League here that he could be a part of.
Derek feared he’d lose some of his new baseball skills over the summer. In fact, he wouldn’t have another chance to get into a real game until Little League started up again next spring, almost a whole year from now.
Well, at least when Dave comes, Derek thought, we’ll be able to work on our game a little. Dave was a good player, even though he’d been playing baseball for only a couple of years. Golf was Dave’s real passion, and someday he hoped to go professional in that sport. For him baseball was just a way to have fun. But he had enough athletic talent that he could go far in baseball, too.
Derek knew why he’d seen Dave in the dream about the Yankees. Dave was going to be coming to visit him here in New Jersey in three weeks. Derek was psyched just thinking about it. He’d show Dave the lake, and the Castle, and introduce him to everybody, and get him involved in all the family fun.
The two of them would also find time, he hoped, to play some mini-golf, or pitch and putt—maybe even go to a driving range. Derek was sure he could persuade Grandma to take them.
Best of all, Derek was looking forward to taking Dave to his first major-league baseball game—at Yankee Stadium! Derek’s grandmother always organized a family outing to a Yankees game every summer, always in early August, which was when Dave was due to be here.
The whole family came along, including Grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins—even the little kids. It was always a blast. They practically took up a whole section in the upper deck in right field. Derek couldn’t wait to share it all with his best friend in the world.
Or rather, with one of his two best friends. The other was Vijay Patel, but Vijay was in India for the whole summer with his family. They were there to attend a family wedding. Vijay hadn’t been able to join Derek in New Jersey, but hey, there was always next year, right?
Grandma came into the kitchen just as Derek was finishing his cereal. “Well! Look who’s the early bird!” she said with a chuckle. “Since when did you turn into an early riser?”
“I heard Grandpa’s truck pulling out of the driveway.”
Grandma frowned. “If I’ve told your grandpa once, I’ve told him a dozen times, to get that muffler fixed.” She glanced at Derek’s empty cereal bowl. “Aha! I see you’ve already made yourself breakfast. I guess you won’t be wanting any of my homemade pancakes, then—”
“Yes! Yes, I want some!” Derek shouted, then put a hand
over his mouth. He hadn’t meant to yell so loudly when everyone else was still asleep. Besides him and Sharlee, there were always other cousins staying at the house.
“Hmm,” said Grandma. “I suppose I could let you have two breakfasts, just for today,” she joked. “After all, you’re a growing boy.” She turned toward the pantry, going for the flour.
“Grandma, never mind. I can wait,” Derek said suddenly, hopping out of his chair. “I want you to see how far I can hit the ball now! Come on out into the yard, and I’ll show you!”
“It’ll have to be a short session,” she warned. “Aunt Dorien is coming at seven thirty to drop off Jessie and Alfie on her way to work, and I’ve got those pancakes to mix up for everyone.”
Aunt Dorien worked in New York City, about an hour away by car. She was a manager at a hospital. Her kids, Jessica and little Alfie, were five and three years old. Grandma would be making pancakes for them, too, and then they’d all head over to the Castle for a day at the lake with the rest of the family.
Grandma Dorothy had lots of responsibilities, but her main one was watching all the family’s kids all day while they played down at the lake, which was about a five-minute drive away.
The property belonging to Derek’s extended family featured a huge old stone house, known as “the Castle”
because it really did look like one. It had been built by some rich guy long ago but had since been made into several apartments, most of which were lived in by Derek’s relatives.
There were other, smaller homes on the property too, as well as a large lawn leading down to the lake. Derek’s cousins played all kinds of games on the lawn—volleyball, tag, touch football, soccer, and of course Wiffle ball, which always frustrated Derek.
He had cousins who were his age or older. But there were also lots of little kids running all over the place, so it wasn’t safe to hit a baseball, or even a softball. And after years of playing hardball in Little League, Wiffle ball just didn’t do it for Derek anymore.
There was a public beach in the town of Greenwood Lake, but the family members almost never went there. Why would they, when all they had to do was jump into the lake off the cement boat dock at the Castle? There was a wooden floating platform about a hundred feet out, where they could rest if they were tired, and pretend they were on a boat or a ship.
Yes, there was always someone to have fun with, just not this early in the morning.
“I should be making breakfast for the others,” Grandma objected. “Sharlee and the rest will be up in a little while, if they aren’t already.”
“Don’t worry. They’ll yell when they want food. Here,
put this on,” he said, giving her his mitt. “I’ll hit ’em to you.
“I saw you hit some whoppers,” said Grandma. “Down by the lake, when you were playing Wiffle ball the other day. You were really whacking that ball!”
“Wiffle ball?” Derek moaned. “Wiffle balls don’t go far when you hit them. You’ve got to see me hit a real baseball!”
“And who’s going to chase down all these home runs of yours?” she asked. But he was already jogging over to the far end of the yard, by the woods at the edge of the property. Grandma followed him. Raising his bat as she tossed the ball, he swung with all his might.
The ball dropped harmlessly to the ground behind him. He’d been in such a rush to show off for her that he hadn’t remembered to keep his eye on the ball. “Wait, wait!” he said.
“I didn’t see anything,” she called. “Did you hit anything yet?”
He could see the grin on her face. Grandma loved to tease him. She loved all her grandkids and would have dropped everything to spend time with any of them. She’d been Derek’s biggest fan ever since he could remember. Why, it was all because of her that he’d become a Yankees fan.
His second swing was right on the money. The bat hit the ball with a sharp CRACK! It sailed way past Grandma and right out onto the road. “Whoa!” she cried as she
jogged carefully across to fetch it. “Who was that? Mickey Mantle? Joe DiMaggio?”
Derek laughed. On his next swing he hit one way over her head. It landed on the road and took a high bounce onto the neighbor’s lawn across the street.
After she’d retrieved it, Grandma walked the ball back in. “Derek, we’d better have you hit it the other way, before you wind up denting somebody’s car.”
So they switched sides. That might have helped avoid an accident, but it didn’t help Grandma any. Time after time she had to make her way into the woods to find the balls he’d hit past her.
“This yard isn’t big enough for you anymore,” she told him after six or seven swings, when she’d had enough of picking her way through fallen branches and underbrush. “We’ve got to find you another place to hit. Otherwise we’re going to run out of baseballs mighty fast!”
“I told you I got better at hitting!” Derek said proudly. “I can field better too!”
“I’ll bet you can.” She put an arm around him. “But not before you have some pancakes in you.” She kissed him on the forehead, and they went back into the house.
There was still no sign of Sharlee or the others, but once they smelled the pancakes, they’d be down in a hurry, Derek knew.
“You really have come a long way in one short year,” Grandma told him as she mixed the batter. “I guess Wiffle
ball doesn’t quite do it for you anymore, like in the old days when you were little.”
She poured the batter into the frying pan, and it sizzled, making a delicious smell. “Maybe when your friend Dave is here, you can get into a game or two over at the high school field. Logan and Andrew play softball over there sometimes.”
Logan and Andrew were cousins of his who were in high school. Derek had already thought of asking them about it, but he wasn’t really into softball either. For him it had always been hardball or nothing.
But her mention of Dave had reminded him of something else—he needed to ask her about Dave coming with them to Yankee Stadium on his visit. He was sure she’d say yes, but he’d already promised Dave, and he didn’t want to leave it till the last minute to get permission from Grandma.
“Oh, by the way,” she said, before he got a chance to open his mouth. “I forgot to tell you. I’ve made our reservations for the Yankees game, so keep your glove handy. We’re going to see the Yankees play the Red Sox on Wednesday!”
“Wednesday? But that’s only five days from now! And we always go in early August!”
“Well, that’s usually true. But your uncle Louie and aunt Edna are going to Niagara Falls that week with their kids, and it wouldn’t be the same without them. The more the merrier, right?”
Louie and Edna had five kids, including Zach, their oldest, who was fourteen, and nine-year-old Oscar, the cousin who Derek always had the most fun with.
“But—but what about—” Derek blurted out before catching himself midsentence. He couldn’t very well tell her, without checking with her first, that he’d promised Dave that he would get to see the Yankees.
Derek knew that his family went to only one Yankees game every summer. It was expensive, not to mention hard to arrange, what with so many cousins and aunts and uncles involved. But they had always gone in early August. He’d never even considered that Grandma might change the date.
Now Dave might not get to go to a Yankees game at all, and it would be all Derek’s fault.
“Is there some problem, Derek?”
Derek didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful, and he knew it would be too much to ask Grandma to return all those tickets and start over again, making arrangements for twenty-five people to go to another Yankees game, and leaving out Zach and his whole branch of the family just so that Dave could come.
He opened his mouth to speak, but he never got to say anything, because just at that moment Sharlee came bounding down the stairs, yelling, “Whoopee! Pancakes!”
And at the same moment he heard Aunt Dorien’s car pulling into the driveway. Derek realized he’d have to wait till later to talk with Grandma about Dave and the Yankees game.
Which was just as well, because he had no idea what to say or do about it.