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Painting the Game

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About The Book

In this final middle grade novel by Newbery Award–winning author Patricia MacLachlan, a young girl tries to untangle her love of baseball from her complicated relationship with her professional pitcher father.

Lucy’s father is a minor league baseball player, a professional pitcher hoping to get called up to the majors, and Lucy inherited his passion for the game. But she’s never played pitcher. She worries her skills would be compared to her dad’s and she’d never measure up. And his pitching may mean big things for his career and their family, but it’s also what keeps him away from home so much of the year. Sometimes, Lucy isn’t sure what would be worse: being bad at pitching or being great.

Still, this summer, Lucy wants to learn to throw the perfect knuckleball. She wakes up at the crack of dawn to practice in secret, without her friends Tex and Robin—or even the goats who watch them play. Even as she trains relentlessly, Lucy wonders if she’ll ever feel brave enough to share her progress with her mom or dad. Can she prove to them, and herself, that she has what it takes?


Chapter 1: The Yard Goats

1 The Yard Goats
I am eleven years old—

spring is turning into summer—

baseball time!

Our combined fourth and fifth and sixth grades play baseball in the field next to our country school—only four boys in my class.

It’s a team of boys and girls together: Lily, Bett, Ellie, Markus, the two Lizzies, Anna, Tim, Arthur, Tex, Robin, and me.

We play with worn school gloves of different sizes.

Long ago my father gave me a glove when we tossed a ball back and forth in the backyard. It is blue, and much too small for me now. It sits on the table next to my bed. Except when my dad’s away. Then it sits on my pillow.

Our school principal, Mr. Baker, comes out sometimes to coach us and call balls and strikes at practice and games.

“Want to try pitching today, Lucy?” he asks me.

“Never!” I say quickly. “That’s not for me!”

I play second base sometimes, or wherever I’m needed.

But not pitching.

Pitching is my dad’s job. And he’s really good at it.

Next to our playing field is a fenced-in family of friendly goats. They watch us play, baaing loudly when we cheer a hit or home run.

From time to time the goats get out and wander into our schoolyard for pats, and to nose the first grade swings.

Once we played another team and the goats pushed their way out. The visiting team ran away. Their coach climbed a tree, afraid.

We started laughing. The goats started bleating.

After that my friend Tex’s younger brother Jake named our team the Yard Goats. We shortened the name to the Goats.

“Yay Goats!!” we yell as the goats bleat.

I have two best friends—Tex, named Texas after the state where he was born, and the other named Robin after a bird. They are cousins.

Robin is the best hitter—better than both boys and girls. Some of the goats bleat when she comes to the plate.

In the outfield, however, Robin is distracted and bored. We have to shout at her when there is an outfield fly ball so she won’t miss it or get hit on the head.

It’s a half day at school today. My mother drives Tex, Robin, and me the two-hour trip to the stadium where my father’s minor league team is playing.

“Minor league for now,” she says. “Hoping to be major.”

“What’s the difference?” asks Robin.

“A new car,” answers my mother, making Robin and Tex laugh.

It is early pregame practice when we get to the stadium. My father waves and comes over. The words SALEM RED SOX are written on his uniform in small red letters.

“Your poor braids,” he says sadly to me.

He kisses my mother. “Got a brush, Meg?”

My mother takes a brush out of her backpack. He brushes and braids my hair, and it feels like past times to me. He’s been away pitching for weeks and weeks at a time—sometimes a month or two.

I miss his fingers in my hair.

But I don’t tell him I don’t wear braids most times anymore—unless he’s around.

My mother takes a photo of Billy May, a pitcher warming up. Billy comes over to look at the photo.

“I’m not following through enough,” he says. “Thanks, Meg.”

“Billy thinks a lot,” says my father. “Of course, all pitchers do.”

“Will you pitch today?” Tex says.

My father shrugs.

“Don’t know. Knuckleball pitchers often sit out the games. Sometimes they are starters. Or are called to pitch suddenly depending on the batter. We know batters don’t like knuckleballs. They are hard to hit. But catchers don’t like them either because they’re hard to catch, too.”

“Except for Edgar,” I say.

“Except for Edgar,” my father repeats. “Edgar is what every pitcher needs—a steady, calming partner in an unpredictable game. And sometimes the pitch just doesn’t work.”

“Then why do you pitch the knuckleball?” asks Robin.

“I love when it works. It surprises me. And it surprises the batter!”

My mother has her own answer. “Think of him trying to paint the game. Like me painting a picture. Trying to make the game come out the way he wants. In his own way,” she says.

The players take a break and run off the field.

“Come,” says my father.

We follow him, climbing over the railing.

He takes us to the pitcher’s mound. It’s the first time I’ve ever stood on a real mound.

“Wow,” says Tex, grinning. “This is great!”

“It’s so high,” says Robin.

My father looks at me, waiting.


I take his pitching hand. I can see that it is a bit larger, with more muscle than his other hand.

“It’s the scariest place I’ve ever been,” I say.

My father nods.

“And it is where I try to paint the game,” he tells me.

“Luther Chance coming in to pitch!” the announcer says loudly. “Edgar Vazquez catching.”

The crowd applauds.

My father pitches in the ninth inning. We lead three to two.

He gets three strikeouts in a row to win the game!

The crowd cheers loudly!!

My mother takes a photo.

And she cries.

My father and Edgar come over to us. Edgar gives me the baseball.

“Yours,” he says.

It is still warm.

“Your last pitch scared me,” says Edgar. “It was close to being a passed ball.”

“But it wasn’t, thanks to you!” says my father, putting his arm around Edgar.

At home that night my mother shows me the photo of all of us on the pitcher’s mound.

“Tex looks joyful!” I say. “And Robin looks…” I pause.

“Wary,” says my mother.

I nod.

“I look scared,” I say.

“Yes. And your father has all these same feelings when he pitches,” says my mother.

I hold the baseball Edgar put in my hand.

“All?” I ask.

She nods.

“A pitcher has to learn courage.”

I look up at my mother.

“Courage,” she repeats.

The next morning I wake before sunrise.

My mother still sleeps.

I carry my father’s bag of baseballs outside to the field.

I stand in the middle of the sixty feet, six inches where my father pitches to Edgar.

Early morning mist is all around me.

The screen stands behind the bag that is home plate.

I take a breath. I feel wary and scared.

I pitch ball after ball until I begin to hit the place where Edgar would hold his glove ready.

I gather up the balls and back up closer to my father’s homemade pitching mound.

I pitch, missing often—gathering up the balls to pitch again—

over and over

pitch after pitch.

And when the mist clears and it is daylight, I carry the bag of balls back inside.

I hear the sounds of my mother in the kitchen, making morning coffee.

She doesn’t see me pass the open door.

I get into bed, half-asleep.

I realize I still have a baseball in my hand.

I put it on my bedside table, next to my old blue glove.

I think about courage.

I know I’ll dream about it.

And I do.

About The Author

Photograph by John MacLachlan

Patricia MacLachlan (1938–2022) was the author of many well-loved novels and picture books, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal; its sequels, Skylark and Caleb’s StoryEdward’s EyesThe True GiftWaiting for the MagicWhite Fur Flying; Fly Away; and Snow Horses. She lived in western Massachusetts.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (April 16, 2024)
  • Length: 144 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534499942
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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Raves and Reviews

"Affectionate, conflict-free relationships and myriad expressions of support and respect among the compassionate characters nudge the tale toward sentimentality, but Lucy’s gentle, understated narration and persistence toward her goal keep it grounded in authenticity."

– -Publishers Weekly, 1/22/24

"this will appeal to baseball fans and those looking for warm family dynamics."

– -Booklist, 2/15/24

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