Inspired by Derek Jeter’s own life, Fair Ball is the fourth middle grade novel in the New York Times bestselling Jeter Publishing Program and focuses on the theme “the world isn’t always fair.”
Life isn’t always fair. You can’t control that, but you can control how you think and act when things don’t go your way. You have to hang in there and keep after it, not get down and give up.
Derek has a lot to look forward to. School is almost out, his baseball team is competing in the Westwood Little League Playoffs, and then he’ll head to his grandparents’ house for the summer. Sure, there are finals to study for first, but Derek doesn’t mind. Maybe this year he’ll get better grades than Gary. But when his best friend Dave starts to act strangely, ignoring Derek and canceling their plans, his summer isn’t looking quite so fun. What’s going on? Doesn’t he want to be Derek’s friend anymore?
Derek is so distracted by his problems with Dave that he makes a mistake in the outfield during a key play—and his team loses the game. It’s so unfair! With the championship at stake and finals looming, Derek needs to stay focused or risk everything.
Derek Jeter winced as he stared at home plate from the on-deck circle. His teammate, Dean O’Leary, had just let a very hittable pitch go right by him. The odds of getting another meatball like that were slim to none. After all, it was the sixth inning already, and there was still no score for either team.
Both the Dodgers’ pitcher and Dave Hennum, the Indians’ hurler (and one of Derek’s best friends), were at the top of their game. Neither team had gotten a runner past second base all day. If this game went into extra innings, both sides would have to reach for a relief pitcher.
It was the first game of the Westwood Little League playoffs. This year the league had restructured the playoffs. The top four teams were now playing each other in a round-robin. The top two finishers would go head-to-head for the league championship.
But that wasn’t all. In a new twist designed by the town, the winner of that game would then play the champion of the East Side league, for the first annual Kalamazoo Trophy!
The new format would make for four weeks of tension and excitement—if the Indians got that far. In his heart Derek was sure his team would win it all, including the Kalamazoo Trophy. With his dad as their coach, how could they not?
But Derek also knew that they still had to win the games, one by one. A loss to the Dodgers today would not knock them out of contention. But it might prove a fatal blow to their hopes in the end, so every at bat was important.
“Stee-rike TWO!” Dean had swung, but the pitch had already landed in the catcher’s mitt.
This Dodgers pitcher was a real fireballer. Derek remembered him from the regular season. The Indians had won that game 6–5 but hadn’t scored at all in this guy’s four innings on the mound. And so far today the Indians’ batters hadn’t even sniffed him.
Derek swung his bat rhythmically in the on-deck circle, getting ready for his turn. He blew out regular, big breaths, trying to stay relaxed and calm.
The next pitch to Dean was in the dirt, and he almost swung at it. But the ump held his arms out in the “safe” sign, ruling that Dean had checked his swing.
The count was now 1–2, with one out and nobody on. “Protect, protect,” Derek muttered under his breath, hoping Dean could read his thoughts and would make sure to swing at anything that was close to a strike.
The pitch came in. Dean watched it go by—right over the heart of the plate and down at the knees!
“Stee-rike three!” yelled the ump.
“What?” Dean cried, throwing his hands up. “That pitch was low!”
“Yer out!” the ump said. “Let’s go. Next batter.” Dean dragged himself away, groaning with frustration as he passed Derek on his way back to the bench.
Derek shook his head in sympathy, but he knew that Dean should have swung. The pitch might have been a little low, but it had been too close to let go by with two strikes. You never knew when an ump might miss a call. If you had to go down, it was better to go down swinging.
Derek set his feet in the batter’s box. He could hear his teammates cheering him on. The Indians had learned over the course of their season to pull together as a unit and to play for one another, not just for themselves.
That was a tribute to their coaches. Derek’s dad and Coach Bradway had made good players, such as Mason Adams, Jonathan Hogue, and Tito Ortega, better, and they’d made weaker players, such as Gary Parnell, Miles Kaufman, and Derek’s good buddy Vijay Patel, play to the best of their abilities.
The Indians might not have been the most talented team in the league, but here they were in the playoffs—and Derek was convinced that this was only the beginning.
He had been named their regular-season MVP. If anyone was going to be able to hit the fastest pitcher they’d faced all season, he thought, it was probably him.
Derek rubbed some dirt onto his hands to get a better grip on the bat and dug his toes in to get the best possible footing. He pointed the bat straight at the pitcher, as a reminder to himself to try to hit the fastball straight up the middle, and not swing too hard in a useless effort to pull the ball.
Here came the pitch, and Derek was ready. The fastball was over the heart of the plate, and Derek’s bat was there to meet it.
CRACK! The pitcher ducked. The ball was hit so hard that the center fielder couldn’t get into position before it skidded right by him.
Derek was almost to first base when he saw that happen, and immediately he was thinking triple. He rounded second, barely touching it with the outside of his right foot, and slid into third just in time.
Now it was all up to Dave. Derek clapped and yelled encouragement along with the rest of the Indians. Dave had all kinds of power, but he struck out a lot because his swing was like a golf swing—up and down and under the ball.
There was good reason for that. Dave had started playing golf as a young kid, and he played whenever he got the chance. His dream was to be a professional golfer. He’d learned baseball only a year before, with Derek doing most of the teaching.
Derek knew Dave would have a hard time hitting this pitcher. Derek had a feeling that if he wanted to score, he was going to have to do it on his own. So when he saw the 1–1 pitch hit the dirt and get away from the catcher, he took off, trying to steal home.
The catcher, who was just picking up the ball, saw Derek barreling toward him. Startled, he lost his grip, and by the time he wheeled around to make the tag, it was too late.
“SAFE!” called the ump, stretching his arms out wide. And just like that, Derek had stolen the lead for his team.
Dave proceeded to strike out, just as Derek had feared. Now it was the Dodgers’ turn for last licks. Dave was still on the mound, as he had been all game. He had been dominating the Dodgers hitters too, thanks to the wicked changeup that Derek had taught him early in the season.
Dave quickly fell behind the first hitter, 3–0. Derek didn’t know how many pitches Dave had already thrown, but it was easy to see that his friend was tired. He knew that if Dave didn’t get through this inning quickly, he’d reach his pitch limit. Derek snuck a peek at Coach Bradway, who was keeping the pitch count. He also happened to be Dave’s guardian, the person who looked after him whenever Dave’s parents were away on business—which was a whole lot. Chase (he liked to be called by his first name) was also the family’s driver. The Hennum family was rich—richer than anyone Derek or his other friends had ever known. After all, not everybody could afford their own driver.
After a called strike the hitter lofted a long fly ball to right. Vijay was out there, but he looked uncomfortable as he settled under the ball. The sun must have been in his eyes, because he ducked at the last moment.
The ball hit his glove, then popped back up into the air. Derek held his breath for one endless instant, until Vijay recovered his wits and, mercifully, caught the ball a second time before it hit the ground.
Well, that’s one out, at least, thought Derek. The next hitter lined the first pitch right at Dave, who at least managed to knock it down. It ricocheted off his glove over to Derek, who threw to first for the second out.
“Thanks!” Dave told him, relieved.
“Hey, what are friends for?” Derek said, and laughed.
Dave had to get just one more out—and he did, when the hitter swung at a 2–0 fastball and hit a fly ball to Gary Parnell in left, who put it away for the final out.
Game over. 1–0, Indians! The team had made Derek’s stolen run pay off. They were now 1–0 in the playoffs. As far as Derek was concerned, it was going to be clear sailing from here on in, all the way to the Kalamazoo Trophy!
“Hey, Dave,” Derek said as the two of them helped pack up the team’s gear, “don’t forget about next weekend.”
“Not a chance!” Dave said with a big grin.
For weeks the two boys had been planning a big overnight at Derek’s house. “You can come over right after the game,” Derek offered. “My folks said that whenever you come is good.”
“Cool. I just have to check with my folks, and we’re good to go.”
“Awesome!” Derek was happy and excited as he got into the car with his dad and Vijay for the drive back to Mount Royal Townhouses, where both the Jeters and the Patels lived.
It was early June. Summer was almost here. Soon he’d be vacationing with his grandparents, spending his summer on Greenwood Lake in New Jersey, and going to Yankees games with his grandma. Best of all, his team was going to win the Kalamazoo Trophy!
Oh, and the cherry on top? He and Dave were finally going to have their long-planned overnight at Derek’s.
For once in his life there wasn’t the ghost of a problem on the horizon, Derek told himself. Other than the team possibly losing next week—which wasn’t going to happen. What could possibly go wrong?
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By Derek Jeter
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
by Derek Jeter with Paul Mantell
Derek Jeter has a lot to look forward to. The Indians, his baseball team, are competing in the Westwood Little League playoffs; his best friend, Dave, is going to sleep over; and Derek is excited about the plans to visit his grandparents in New Jersey during the upcoming summer break. With the season playoffs approaching, team and player expectations are high. Can the Indians win and secure the team’s chance to compete for the Kalamazoo Trophy? What could go wrong?
Describe and discuss a time when you or a family member were anticipating a great event or trip. Did everything go as expected? If so, how did you contribute to its success? If not, briefly explain what went wrong.
In The Contract, Hit & Miss and Change Up, the first three books in the series, we are reminded that Derek’s parents established a contract to ensure he succeeds in school and accomplishes his life dreams. This contract lists several expectations and carries consequences for breaking the rules. Fair Ball has examples of that as well. Have you discussed writing a contract with your parents?
Also in Fair Ball, Derek realizes that sometimes in life when your joys and expectations are so high, something may happen that seems unfair.
Share an incident or event when everything was going great and then it all changed through no fault of your own. How did you respond?
Chapter 2—The Best-Laid Plans
Derek is working hard to live up to the section on his contract of “Do Your Schoolwork and Maintain Good Grades (As or Bs).” However, finding time to study for his finals and practice baseball seems difficult for Derek. As the end of school approaches, there is a need to practice more for the pending playoffs. How does Derek plan to help his teammates prepare for the upcoming Little League Championship games? Briefly explain what happens.
Mrs. Jeter reminds Derek that his birthday is coming up soon, and she wants to know what he would like for a present. Derek decides that he wants to take a friend with him to visit his grandparents’ house during the summer.
Describe in a travel journal format a visit to see relatives or family friends. Where did you go, what did you do? How long did it take to get there? Were you alone or did you travel with someone?
Chapter 3—Trouble Brewing
Derek is upset when he plans an unofficial afterschool baseball practice on Jeter Hill with his teammates, but his friends Gary and Dave do not come. The next day at school, they both offer excuses for their absences. Which excuse seemed more appropriate? What would you have done? How do you feel if something you plan does not get the results you were looking for? How would you approach your friends about the matter?
Derek finds it hard to focus on his school homework because he is worried about his friend Dave’s recent and unusual behavior. What is going on with him? Why has his behavior seemed so distant and curious? Have you ever had an incident with a friend that reminds you of this problem between Derek and Dave?
Chapter 4—Breaking News
Gary, one of Derek’s teammates, is upset because his mother signed him up to take karate classes, and he really does not want to go. Derek advises him to make the best of it because “Life isn’t always fair.” Can you think of a time when something like this happened to you? Share your situation with a classmate in a one-on-one exchange session. Offer advice for their dilemma and listen to their advice for your issue.
Derek suspects that his friend Dave is keeping something from him. Fear of receiving disappointing news has caused Derek to be distracted and moody at a time when he needs to be sharp and focused. What should Derek do to get it together and resolve his suspicions?
Chapter 5—Storm Clouds
Just before a big game, Dave backs out on a promised commitment with Derek without a legitimate excuse. This last-minute change in plans devastates Derek, and he loudly challenges his friend regarding the broken promise. With no time to resolve the matter, Derek fumes. What would you do if you were faced with a sudden change of plans with a friend that you were looking forward to? What would be your first reaction? Be specific.
As a good friend, Derek already knew that something was wrong with Dave. Can you generally tell when something is wrong with a good friend or sibling? List a few easily observed behavioral signs that can let you know when a friend or loved one is going through a difficult time or having a bad day.
After their encounter, Dave and Derek seemed to find it hard to get into the game. Their problems distracted them and adversely affected their performance. Neither player was performing at his best, and they were in real jeopardy of losing the game. What would you suggest as the best option for Derek and for Dave? And for the coaches?
Even if you try your best, sometimes situations may still get out of control through no fault of your own. It’s important to recognize this and still do your best. Share an incident at school that was clearly out of your control but affected you directly. Was there any other way that the problem could have been resolved? What did you learn from it?
Chapter 7—Tricks and Tests
Sharlee, Derek’s sister, was having a wonderful time at her beginner karate class. She was a jubilant bundle of energy as she demonstrated her kicks and punches. Derek enjoyed taking time out to spar with his sister, even allowing her to flip him. Why was this an important opportunity for Derek, even if it was a trick move? What did he learn from spending a few quality moments with his little sister?
Taking finals at the end of the school year is extremely important. Derek and each of his friends, particularly Gary, know how important it is to study hard for each exam. Why is it beneficial to clear your mind of all distractions when taking an exam?
Chapter 8—What Lies Beneath?
There is a phrase “Put on your Game Face.” Look up the definition of Game Face and explain how this expression applies to the Indians, Derek’s Little League baseball team, and offer examples.
In the final days of school before summer break, Gary and Dave come to class each day distracted and looking grim. Derek can sense that something is wrong. However, Derek’s father reminds him “We can only control our own selves, our own actions.” Why is this advice important? Derek’s mom also offers him sound advice about his dilemma. What do you think she meant about “being a good friend and being true to yourself”?
Chapter 9—Friends and Finals
Derek’s close friend and supporter, Vijay, studied with him for the end of school exams. During one of their after-school study sessions, Vijay encouraged his friend not to be upset over Dave’s recent bizarre behavior. He reminded him that you can’t force someone to like you or to be a good friend. Why was this message from Vijay particularly important?
Conflicts with good friends happen all the time. What do you think it means to be a good friend? Do you have a best friend? How do you know? Discuss.
Chapter 10—Victory and Defeat
It was the day of the big game, and the energy from both teams was very high. This game would determine which team would make it to the finals. Coach Jeter decided to switch up some of the positions. Derek was asked to pitch and then to play in the outfield. How did this make Derek feel? Why do you think Coach Jeter did this? Was this unfair? Discuss.
Conflicts with Dave, his best friend, continue to plague Derek. He needs to focus if he is going to do his best. An unfortunate encounter with Dave after the game confirms that something is truly wrong. He tries to resolve it. What does Derek do? How would you have handled Dave’s obvious resistance to friendship? Can you figure out what is wrong with Dave?
Chapter 11—What’s the Difference?
Sharlee, Derek’s little sister, is studying diversity in her class. Her mother offers a simple explanation to Sharlee’s question, “What’s diversity?” Explain your thoughts about diversity and discuss some examples of diversity you’ve encountered, witnessed or experienced in your life.
Chapter 12—A World of Difference
As part of a class assignment on diversity, Sharlee spent a day visiting a college class where her father, Coach Jeter, teaches. She had an experience that really opened her eyes. What was the experience, and what did she learn from it? What did you learn about diversity?
Coach Jeter took time to talk to his son privately about the complexities of diversity. He emphasized that the overall issues are much more complicated than the differences Derek had heard discussed with Sharlee. Listening to his dad, Derek was reminded of the troubles with his best friend, Dave. Could their differences be the main reason for Dave’s bizarre behavior? Derek could not understand why Dave refused to visit his home or hang out like he used to do. What would you do think was going on with Dave if you were in Derek’s position? What would you do to resolve the situation?
Chapter 13—What Is a Friend?
After school, near the end of a hectic week of exams, Vijay and Derek go to Jeter Hill to practice their game. With no one else around, they have a serious conversation about what it means to be a good friend. Vijay thinks that a good friend will always find a way to spend time with his best friend. Compile a list of one-word definitions that describe a true friend. Compare your list with the other classmates.
One example of being a good friend could mean standing up for one another when faced with adversity, or when critical support is needed. When confronted by two bullies in the hallway at school, Gary is backed into trouble, a recipient of jeers and name-calling. Derek steps into the hostile situation and defends his friend against the abuse. Share a similar personal situation where this type of bullying may have occurred. What did you learn from the encounter? What was the result?
Chapter 14—This Magic Moment
“Life is just not fair” always seems to be the cry when something goes wrong, particularly when it’s not your fault. This feeling is especially true when you are blamed for something that you did not do. Please discuss or create a situation in which you were falsely accused of something or blamed for a project failure that was not your fault.
Derek and the Indians were playing the Giants in the finals for the Westwood Little League Championship. It was a crucial game, and Derek knew that he had to perform his best. How do you think Derek felt when he stepped into the batter’s box with the game on the line? Write a brief essay that emphasizes a personal or group experience in which the final result depended on you. What did you do to prepare for this moment? What was the result?
Chapter 15—Breaking Point
Sometimes you must break out of your comfort zone to resolve a dilemma on your own, no matter what the cost. Dave reached out to Derek in friendship by making an unexpected move of defiance. What did he do? What were the results?
In an effort to restore his friendship with Derek, Dave knowingly broke the rules by disobeying his parents. Was this a good idea? What did his behavior tell you about Dave and what he was going through? What else could he have done? Share a problematic situation that may have caused you to reach a breaking point. What happened? How was the situation resolved?
Chapter 16—Moment of Truth
Why do you think this chapter was titled “Moment of Truth?” Offer a specific and detailed response.
Derek’s mom and Dave’s mom finally meet face-to-face. They have a brief but seriously important discussion about differences, barriers, and assumptions. When conflicts surface, often the best solution is to talk things out. How did the “Meeting of the Moms” resolve the friendship situation with Dave and Derek? Create a dialogue scenario between the mothers and their sons. Suggest an alternative process to resolve this problem. What else could have happened?
When Dave’s mom asked Coach Chase to drive her to Derek’s home to pick up her son, tensions appeared high and uncertain. What do you think Dave’s mom was concerned about? What about Derek’s mom? Do you think they had similar or different feelings?
Chapter 17—Endings and Beginnings
Derek finally realized that no matter how hard you wish or work for something, you cannot always be in control of every situation. If things do not go the way you want them to go, you should learn to adjust, refocus, and control what you can control: your own behavior. Even if life is not always fair, what lessons can be learned from your mistakes or your successes?
Aided by skilled last-minute maneuvers from their MVP Derek Jeter, the Indians won the Kalamazoo Trophy! At the ice cream awards party, each player received a trophy and enthusiastic congratulations from the coaches. Derek was surprised with a birthday cake. He was also happy to see his family and Dave’s parents relaxed and enjoying the celebration. It was beginning to look like a great ending to a complex and challenging school year. What were some of the tough lessons that Sharlee, Derek, and his parents learned? Pick just one lesson and apply it to your own situation at school or home. Write this lesson in the form of a personal goal strategy, and then share it with someone close to you, such as a parent, sibling, or good friend. Ask them to hold you accountable for your goal. In one year, ask them to share this strategic lesson learned today with you again and see what kind of difference it has made in your life. Trust the process.
Ask readers to review Derek Jeter’s 10 Life Lessons. They are listed in the front of each book in the series and on his website: http://mlb.mlb.com/players/jeter_derek/kids/handbook.jsp.
LIFE IS NOT FAIR
Refer to the Blue eyed-Brown eyed project. Over thirty years ago, Jane Elliott--America’s foremost diversity educator, internationally known teacher and the recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education--conducted a startling and controversial, yet now acclaimed, exercise with third graders exposing prejudice and bigotry yielding dramatic results. The exercise offered an intense examination of the realities of discrimination via a simple division of class indicating superiority and inferiority based solely on the color of the students’ eyes.
Created in response to an 8-year-old inquiry about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., educators using this classroom exercise will find this an eye-opening opportunity to emphasize the dangers of discrimination. Announce one day that all of the blue-eyed students can sit comfortably at the front on the class, but the brown-eyed or green-eyed students must stand in the back for the rest of the class period. Explain that this is an experiment in discrimination, and offer further rules for the day that offer the blue-eyes more privileges and the others less, i.e. longer recess time, use of certain utensils or toys forbidden by the latter group, etc. In a few days or hours, depending on the length of your planned group exercise, switch the privileges and the penalties. You will see a marked difference in behavior. The research documented by Elliott is critical to review thoroughly before application in the classroom. Written learning guides and media materials are available online at www.janeelliott.com.
Emphasize to the students that the lessons Derek Jeter and his friends and family learned and shared in Fair Ball are still important today. Understanding diversity at an early age and how we may be different from our friends, neighbors or teachers will help us to be more empathetic and sensitive to the ever-present problems of racial and social injustice.
LIFE SAVERS COME IN MANY COLORS
CLASSROOM ICEBREAKER ASSIGNMENT: Prepare individual index cards with quotes from civil rights leaders or human rights advocates (a few sample quotes are listed in the appendix). As students enter the classroom, give each one a card with an individually wrapped Life Saver taped on the back and a famous quote on the front. Immediately warn them not to open their candy until they are given instructions for the upcoming activity; learning to follow instructions and practice patience will be one of the lessons emphasized here. When each of the students has received a Life Saver card, ask them to locate the work table matching the color of the Life Saver they were given. In advance, prepare each classroom table with a large (8 x 10) stand-up sign with an image of a colorful Life Saver on the front and discussion questions on the back. Prepare at least ten work stations. Each table should feature a different flavor, but the discussion instructions should be the same. Allow a few moments for students to find their selective work spaces. Ask them to choose a discussion leader at their table. The discussion leader reads the printed instructions and then encourages each student to read and share the quote printed on their Life Saver card. At the end of the round table exercise, students are invited to eat their candy. To extend this exercise, if time permits, ask students to switch to a different table with a different flavor than their initial Life Saver color.
UNDERSTANDING OTHERS EXERCISE
LARGE GROUP ACTIVITY: Reader’s Theater, “Frog and Snake.” We know children often ask “why” when they do not understand the rules. Derek could not understand why his friend Dave was not allowed to be best friends with him anymore; he could not figure out the reason for the change in Dave’s behavior. Most of the time, parents and care providers establish rules of behavior to keep their young loved ones safe and protected. However, in most cases of prejudice or racism, we find that our rules may only be based on partial facts or social norms and unexplainable innuendo. Prejudicial behavior could also be based on a lack of clear understanding about a particular class or culture. This lack of understanding usually prevents the possibility of making well-informed decisions. Cultural awareness workshops are often needed to bridge this gap.
Introduce the African folktale “Why Frogs and Snakes Never Play Together” to the classroom. See this sample Pourquoi tale (pronounced “por-kwa”) a story of origins, taken from the Teaching Tolerance website. A Reader’s Theater version is attached in the appendix for group use.
Using a narrator to carry the tale is recommended. Engage the entire class or a large group to act out the parts. Cast the play by selecting a few students to be the frog siblings and a few to be the snake siblings. There are several other positions that may be used to guarantee full class participation. Schedule time for them to practice and perform the story. Refer to Teaching Tolerance (www.teachingtolerance.org) for more detailed and age-appropriate story performance details, discussion questions, and alternative endings. This exercise is recommended for use with upper grade levels.
After the presentation, open the dialogue by asking a few discussion questions, such as:
What did the young frog and snake do when they met each other for the first time in the forest?
What did they learn later in the evening from their parents when they shared their encounter?
What do you think would have happened if the frog and snake had continued to play together and ignored their parents’ warnings?
What did the young frog and snake do at the very end of the story that brings us hope? Why?
In Fair Ball, Derek’s and Dave’s mothers eventually meet and come to an agreement about the boys’ friendship. Discuss whether this kind of encounter would have made a difference with the young frog and snake.
Conclude the activity by passing out the lyrics and playing the classic song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAZ8yOFFbAc). Barbara Streisand also has an updated version of this song, if the black and white version is not preferable. Locate her rendition on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZSt1pgjQdk.
Guide written in 2017 by Chrystal Carr Jeter of Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library (no relation to Derek Jeter or his family).
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Derek Jeter is a fourteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series winner who has played for one team—the storied New York Yankees—for all twenty seasons of his major league career. His grace and class on and off the field have made him an icon and role model far beyond the world of baseball.
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