Twelve-year-old Kevin Pugh stood on the pitcher's mound. He squeezed a large red ball. Perspiration had gathered in dark semicircles on his WYCR-TV T-shirt. The June sun seemed to be cooking him, like a bratwurst. Or an Italian sausage. Or a smoked cheddarwurst--he really missed those. For reasons unknown, his mom had switched to chicken sausage, which he violently disliked. He kept telling her that all encased meat is not the same, but she . . .
"Pull your shorts up, honey!"
Maggie Pugh's voice cut into the quiet of the infield.
Kevin glared at his mom, who waved from the glossy green-painted stands. Kevin tugged at his droopy cargo shorts and bounced the ball in the dirt. The print below the manufacturer's logo read "official kickball of WAKA, the world adult kickball association."
"Dorks," Kevin muttered to himself.
"Uhds gug, Gev!" snapped the second baseman through a giant wad of radioactive-looking neon green bubble gum. "Uhduh-booty!"
He glanced over his left shoulder. His sister Izzy (short for Isabella, which no one called her, ever) was clapping her hands and hopping, a black ponytail bobbing behind her. Lean and wiry, Izzy had an unusually steely glare for a ten-year-old. Izzy was a local Chicago Park District soccer legend, but her awe-inducing athleticism went well beyond soccer. Other than parents and a mailing address, Izzy and Kevin didn't have a ton in common. Kevin needed a moment to interpret her gum-impeded speech.
"Let's go, Kev! Attababy!" Izzy repeated, still inexplicably clapping.
Kevin shook his sweat-soaked shirt lightly to fan himself. A goose in left field honked.
"Time!" called a booming voice behind him. "Time out!"
Kevin's shoulders tensed.
He heard his dad's footsteps approaching from the shortstop's position. Howie Pugh--former Chicago Bear, beloved WYCR football analyst, and local sports demigod--was perhaps the most competitive human to ever walk the earth. No, the most competitive creatureof any kind--mammal, sea slug, potted plant, whatever--to ever walk the earth.
Kevin wiped sweat from his face with the back of his hand and turned slowly.
Howie wrapped an arm around Kevin, engulfing him.
"Get your head straight, Kev," he said gruffly. "It's the sixth inning. Bases loaded. Two out. The go-ahead run at home plate."
Kevin scuffed his right toe in the dirt. "Thanks for the breakdown, Dad. I was expecting a hopeful sports cliche. 'When your back is against the wall. . .'--that sort of thing."
"Not an appropriate time for the sarcasm, Kevin." Howie spat. "What's the matter with you?"
"Um . . . for one thing, it's like a million degrees," Kevin said, staring into his dad's eyes. "And if you haven't noticed, they are now intentionally kicking at me, because I suck at kickball and they know I won't catch the ball. I thought we established that during last summer's WYCR-WFRK Charity Challenge. If you don't remember, I think there's a DVD in the basement that documents--"
"Okay, all right," said Howie, pausing awkwardly. "Just try your best, Kev."
"I am trying, Dad," said Kevin.
"Okay, kid." More aggressive spitting. "Then let's talk strategy." Howie spun his son around to face the next WFRK kicker. "That is Bradley Ainsworth Jr., the eleven-year-old son of six-time local Emmy winner Brad Ainsworth."
Kevin stared toward home plate. Brad Ainsworth stood behind the hitting screen. A veteran sportscaster at local TV station WFRK, Brad looked like a carved pumpkin, with his orange-ish fake tan and eye black on his cheeks. He was quietly delivering instructions to the small, angry-looking boy standing in the batter's box (or rather, the kicker's box). The boy also wore eye black. He kicked up a small cloud of dirt, like a bull preparing to gore someone.
The Brads both glared at the pitcher's mound, tilting their heads at the same angle.
"Big leg on this Ainsworth kid," continued Howie. "His dad used to punt for Northwestern. We can't pitch to him."
"You want me to walk an eleven-year-old?" said Kevin. "With the bases loaded? Is it even possible to walk people in kickball?"
Howie gripped Kevin's shoulders, his mustache quivering.
"No Ainsworth is gonna beat us, Kev. Brad Senior's got the top-rated drive-time sports radio show in Chicago." Howie stared at Brad Junior. "Besides, we've got a lead, and the next two batters are ladies. Easy outs. Go get 'em, kid."
Howie slugged Kevin's shoulder. Kevin wobbled. Howie jogged back to his position, clapping enthusiastically as he went. Kevin bounced the ball in the dirt and looked at a smiling Brad Junior. He bounced the ball again.
"C'mon, Kev!" chirped Izzy. "Goo ohg-eez chugs."
Kevin translated faster this time. You own these chumps! The chugs own me
, Kevin thought.
Kevin stepped forward, the kickball swinging back in his right hand. He released it, aiming nowhere near the strike zone.
The ball, however, did not obey Kevin.
It rolled smoothly and cleanly toward home.
From somewhere between second and third base, he heard his dad mutter, "Oh, fer cripes' sake, Kev."
Just as the official kickball of WAKA arrived at home plate--in the fleeting millisecond before the kicker's right leg hammered it--Bradley flashed Kevin a vicious smile. And then Kevin heard a sound like an M80 exploding inside a coffee can. He had just enough time to emit a small, helpless gurgle as the kickball whistled through the air. Directly at his face. THWUNNNNG!
Kevin flew backward limply, hitting the dirt with a thud. From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Fast and the Furriest by Andy Behrens. Copyright © 2010 by Andy Behrens. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.