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  • Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate
  • Written by Thatcher Heldring
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780440239789
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  • Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate
  • Written by Thatcher Heldring
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780375893438
  • Our Price: $6.99
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Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate

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Written by Thatcher HeldringAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Thatcher Heldring


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: March 09, 2010
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89343-8
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Eight-grader Roy Morelli can’t wait for baseball season to start so he can take his rightful place as shortstop for the Pilchuk All-Star team. Being on the All-Stars is just the warm-up for the big leagues: the varsity baseball team at the high school Roy will go to next year. But when Roy’s divorced parents find out he’s failing history, they make him quit the All-Stars. It’s not his fault the only thing interesting about history class is Valerie Hopkins, and she won’t even give Roy the time of day.

Now Roy is stuck on a losing team in the wimpy rec league, and instead of playing ball every spare minute, he’s spending his afternoons with a tutor—who just happens to be his dad’s brainiac girlfriend. If Roy’s going to impress the varsity baseball coach, he’s sure he should be looking out for number one, not wasting his time studying. After all, baseball is what Roy does best. But when his grades continue to slide and his teammates get tired of his know-it-all attitude, Roy Morelli will need to step up to the plate. . . .

From the Hardcover edition.


* 1 *

Three more," Dad said, stepping off the mound.

"Make 'em count," I told him, wiggling the bat.

We were on one of the eight ball fields that surrounded the grandstand, the small, half-covered stadium that sat in the middle of Boardman Park. Baseball season started next week, and I needed to shake off the winter rust.

"What do you want?" Dad called. He was tall, like me, but heavy. He was wearing jeans and a faded green Pilchuck High School T-shirt. His hair hung over the top of his ears, like it had for as long as I could remember.

"Whatever you got, old-timer," I said, twisting my toe into the dirt, imagining this was the last inning of the biggest game of my life.

"Old-timer?" Dad asked, like he hadn't heard me right.

"That's what I said." I tugged on my ear and pointed to Dad. "Maybe you should adjust that hearing aid."

Dad gripped all three baseballs in his right hand and held them out for me to see. "You know what these are?" he asked.


"Strike one, strike two, and strike three."

I shook my head and smiled. "No way, old man."

He stepped back onto the mound. "First pitch," he said, bending forward to start his windup.

"Just make sure it comes with mustard."

Dad smiled. "Order up." He leaned back, then stepped into a breaking ball that curved to the outside corner as it crossed the plate.

I saw the movement on the ball, but swung too late to catch up.

Strike one.

I slid my hands back down the barrel and pointed at Dad. "Another one," I said.

Dad nodded.

Same pitch. This time, I swung earlier but got underneath it, fouling it behind me.

Strike two.

"Time," I said, backing away from the plate. I took two practice cuts.

On the mound, Dad wiped his hands on his jeans, then went to work. He planted his left foot, lifted his right leg, and with an extra kick, whipped his third pitch toward me.

Wait for it, I told myself, expecting the ball to break away again. But the ball never broke. It barreled straight down the middle of the strike zone. By the time I saw my mistake, it was too late. I took a hack, but the ball chugged past me. It slammed against the top plank of the backstop, then ricocheted halfway back to the plate.

Strike three.

Down on three pitches. Ouch. I stood at the plate, staring at my shoes. I would have to do better than that when baseball season started. I was on the Pilchuck All-Star team, and I knew from last season that the pitchers threw some serious smoke. It was nothing like the rec league games I had seen my friends Kenny and Fish play in, where the pitches came in nice and easy. I had to be ready. Just yesterday Coach Burke had told me he expected big things from me this season.

Holding the bat in one hand, I picked up the ball and tossed it to Dad.

"Not bad for an old-timer, huh?" he said.

"The sun was in my eyes," I joked as we began gathering up the rest of the baseballs scattered around the infield.

"Face it, Roy," Dad said, patting his stomach. "Your old man's still got it."

"You mean that?" I asked, pointing to his gut.

Dad rubbed his belly. "This?" he asked proudly, pointing to himself. "This is all muscle."

"I didn't know fat was a muscle," I said.

"It was enough to strike you out," Dad said as he put his arm around me. "And believe me, that's not easy."

"Well, don't let it go to your head," I said.

Dad dropped a dozen baseballs into a canvas bag. "I'm serious, Roy. I know how talented you are and how hard you work. I'm proud of you."

Just then, I heard the sound of a car door opening in the small parking lot beside the field. Quickly, I spotted Mom plowing toward us like a one-woman army.

"Incoming," I said to Dad, who had his back to her.

Dad looked up, then muttered something under his breath. "What time is it?" he asked.

"Time for you to say a prayer," I told him.

Mom and Dad had been divorced for five years, but they both still lived in Pilchuck. That meant my sixteen-year-old sister, Sara, and I lived by the schedule. Every other weekend with Dad, the rest of the time with Mom.

That afternoon, I was supposed to be home by five o'clock for dinner and homework--even though it was Friday. It was sundown now, which meant it was at least seven-thirty.


Giving me the stay hand, Dad jogged over to meet Mom. "We're just wrapping it up," he said. "I guess we lost track of time."

"Lost track of time?" Mom repeated. "Mike, you sound like one of the kids."

Mom and Dad were standing face to face on the first baseline like an ump and a manager going nose to nose over a close call. I was hovering near the pitcher's mound.

"Tee," he said. "Relax."

Mom's name was Teresa. I knew she didn't like Dad's nickname for her, but I had heard her call him worse. Things had never gotten super ugly between them, but there had definitely been a lot of shouting.

"We had a deal, Mike. Roy was supposed to be at home an hour and a half ago. He has homework to do."

"It's Friday," said Dad. "He has all weekend."

"Yes, but you and I both know he'll be out here playing baseball all weekend. Then it's Sunday night and nothing's gotten done."

Dad held up his hands. "Okay," he said, waving the white flag, "he's all yours." Then he turned to me and whistled, like I hadn't been able to hear every word of their conversation. "Let's call it a day," he said.

Knowing I had no choice, I made my way over to Mom.

"Hi, sweetie," she said, reaching up to me. Unlike my brown hair, her hair was blond and down to her shoulders.

"I'll be in the car," she told us.

"We'll pick this up later," Dad said after Mom walked away.


Dad shook his head. "Next week."

"What's wrong with tomorrow?"

"I have a . . . an appointment."

"You mean a date."

Dad was quiet for a second. "You're right," he admitted after a moment. "I mean a date."

"With the teacher?" I asked.

"With Camille," said Dad, nodding.

As far as I could tell, Camille had been in the picture for about a month. But Dad was already talking about introducing her to me and Sara.

"If it was me, I'd rather play baseball," I said.

"Next week, Roy. I promise."

I wondered why he couldn't make the date wait instead of me, but I couldn't find the right way to say it. Dad and I were pros at joking around but not so good at talking about feelings. "Make sure you wear a big shirt so your muscles don't hang out."

Dad laughed and gave me a quick hug. We left it with a fist bump. Then I turned and walked across the grass to the car, where Mom was waiting.

From the Hardcover edition.
Thatcher Heldring

About Thatcher Heldring

Thatcher Heldring - Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate

Photo © Victoria Bjorklund

Growing up, sports and books were two major influences in my life. As a kid, I played a bit of everything: baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball–no football, however, which is fortunate, because then I might be in the NFL instead of writing books! Through sports, I gained confidence through success and learned through defeat that things would not always turn out the way I wanted them to. These lessons were as valuable as the lessons I learned through books, except the scrapes on my knees and elbows were mine. But now I am writing books about sports, and drawing on the memories of those scrapes every day.

Lucky for me, sports come with almost everything needed for a good story. Action, conflict, personal growth, and of course, the ultimate showdown–the championship. And there are so many points of view. A single game of basketball can be told a thousand different ways. How does it feel to be the star who gets all the glory, or bears all the blame? How does it feel to be the fan who would give anything for a win, but can do nothing to make it happen? Or the benchwarmer who just wants a shot? Or the referee? Or the coach? Or the cheerleader? They all come to the game hoping things will go their way, but on a good night, only half of them will go home happy. All of that drama can spill right onto the pages, keeping them turning right up until the last tick of the clock.

This is especially important in books where we want to see characters who aren’t perfect, who have to learn from their mistakes, and who become more complete as a result, win or lose. After all, who do we relate to most? The slugger who shatters the lights with a game-winning home run? Or the pitcher who gave it everything he had, but found out in the end that he was human?

And then there are the little moments that say so much.

In a soccer game, the ball deflects off the hand of a forward. The ref doesn’t see it. Seconds later, the forward scores a game-winning goal. The forward knows it was a hand ball. Should that change how he feels about the game? Late in the game, with his team up twenty, a basketball coach puts in his benchwarmer who starts shooting three-pointers. Is this running up the score? Or just one guy’s moment in sun?

Moments like those are what really drive a great sports book because how that character feels will give the reader a book full of information about him in just one scene. There might even be enough to predict how he will act in a similar situation off the field. A misgraded math test in his favor? Too much change at the grocery store? It goes on and on. The possibilities never end. Which makes me happy, because it means as long as there is time, there will always be another story to tell.

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