In the seventh book in the New York Times bestselling middle grade series inspired by the life of iconic New York Yankee Derek Jeter, young Derek and his friends learn the true meaning of teamwork when they have to embrace the unexpected on their baseball team.
At the first practice of the season, Derek takes note of who is on the team. They have some good players, for sure—but also some weaker ones. There’s still one kid missing, and Derek hopes it’s a really good ballplayer to round out the roster. But when the kid arrives, everyone is shocked: she’s a girl! Can Derek’s team come together to have a winning season?
Inspired by Derek Jeter’s childhood, this is the seventh book in Jeter Publishing’s New York Times bestselling middle grade baseball series that focuses on key life lessons from Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.
Chapter One: Change of Plans Chapter One CHANGE OF PLANS “Go, Derek!”
As Derek Jeter went in for the layup, going airborne at full speed, the defender’s arm came crashing down, slamming into Derek’s ear and shoulder, making him cry out in pain.
But Derek had seen him coming. A split second before contact, he’d slipped the ball under and around the defender’s crashing arm. A flick of Derek’s wrist sent the ball spinning off the backboard, ricocheting back down and through the net, just as the ref’s whistle blew! “And one!” Dave Hennum shouted from center court. Derek’s best friend and teammate pumped his fist, then immediately ran to his side. “You okay?”
Derek was bent forward, one hand on his knee and the other on his sore ear. “That hurt,” he said with a grimace, then straightened up and rolled his shoulder around once or twice in its socket.
Then, turning to the ref, he put his hands up, asking for… the ball. Dave clapped him on the back. “That-a-way,” he said. “Hit this shot, and we’ve got the game!”
Derek blew out a breath and tried to shake off the cobwebs from the blow he’d just taken. He knew that if he sank this free throw, his team, the Saint Augustine Friars, would be up by one point with only six seconds left. On the other hand, if he missed…
Derek focused on the rim, blowing out a long breath to calm his pounding heart. The hammer blow to his shoulder hadn’t helped any. Plus, his ear was still ringing.
It took all the concentration he could muster. But he had prepared himself for this moment all season long, as he rode the bench waiting for his chance to get in games. He’d dreamed of the time when he could show what he was made of when the critical moments came. Not just his talent, but his dedication to winning.
He blew out another breath, then readied his shot. Just as he was about to let it go, the ref’s whistle blew again. “Time out, Green!” he shouted, pointing to the other team’s coach.
Dave shook his head and frowned. “They’re trying to ice you, Derek,” he said. “Don’t let it get to you.”
Derek nodded, and they both headed to the bench, where Coach Nelson already had the team gathered in a circle. “Okay, soon as the shot drops, everyone drop back to half-court and pick up your man there. Watch out for screens. And whatever you do—no fouls!”
Derek strode back to the line as the whistle blew for the resumption of play. He took the ball from the ref, bounced it three times, looked up at the basket, and without allowing a single thought to enter his head, threw it up….
In an instant, he was back in game mode, streaking toward half-court to join his teammates on defense. He turned just in time to see the inbound pass, a long lob, going over his head!
Derek stopped himself an instant before running into his man. Lucky thing, because a foul now could be disastrous!
Derek waved his hands wildly and moved his feet, making it hard for his man to get rid of the ball. Meanwhile, the clock was winding down. With only one second left, his man spun around, leaped, and tried to get off a last-second, game-winning shot.
Derek was ready for him. He’d known that if enough time ran off the clock, his man would have to take the desperation shot. Derek leaped right with him, and swatted the ball away!
The Friars all ran onto the court and high-fived one another. It was a big victory, because it was the last game of the year, and now they’d finished their season with a winning record.
“Great job, Derek!” said the coach, giving him a slap on the back. “Oh. Sorry,” he added as Derek winced. The coach had hit the same spot where Derek had just been slammed.
“Don’t worry about it, Coach. It didn’t hurt a bit,” Derek answered with a grin.
He hugged Dave and his other teammates, shook hands with the losing team, and waved to his parents and sister, Sharlee, who were in the stands, cheering along with the rest of the home fans.
“Game ball to you, Jeter!” Coach Nelson said, handing it to Derek. Then he took out a Sharpie and signed it. “Next year, I’ve got a spot on the roster reserved for you, kid. See you at tryouts, huh?”
“Yesss!” Derek shouted, pumping his fist. “Thanks, Coach!”
“You earned it, kid,” the coach said. “You came a long way your first season. It’s not easy to ride the bench most of the year, cheer your teammates on, and be ready when your name is called. Even the best team needs its supporting players, not just stars. So hats off to you.”
As the players emptied out their lockers for the season, Derek and Dave sat next to each other, stuffing their gym bags. “Wow,” Dave said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe the season is already over.”
Derek laughed as he stared at the game ball. “I don’t know. Seemed like a long season to me.”
Dave understood. He’d played a lot while his friend sat on the bench. Dave was the third-tallest kid on the team, and played power forward.
“Anyway, it’s over now. Time to look ahead,” said Derek.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Dave said with a grin. “It’s almost baseball season.”
“That’s right. Time to tee ’em up and let ’em fly!”
“Tee ’em up? That’s funny.”
Golf was Dave’s passion, and Derek knew it. But Dave liked baseball, too. They’d been on the same team two years in a row. And last year, they’d been league champions—partly because Derek’s dad and Dave’s family’s driver and helper, Chase Bradway, had been their coaches.
Derek was hungry for a repeat. “Envelopes went out yesterday, I heard,” he said. “Call me as soon as you know, okay?”
If they were on the same team, with the same coaches—even if all the rest of their teammates were new—they’d have a great chance to repeat as champions!
Derek could already see it in his head… he and his dad, Dave and Chase, and Derek’s other best friend, Vijay, too—all holding up the trophy together….
“The Yankees!” Derek shouted. “I’m on the Yankees! YESSS!”
Finally—after three years in Little League, and two years of T-ball before that! FINALLY, he was on the team of his dreams—the team he was aiming to play for someday in the big leagues! The Yankees!
Surely, it was a sign that this was going to be a very special season.
And if that wasn’t enough of a sign, the phone rang twenty minutes later, and it was Vijay on the line. “Guess what?” he told Derek. “I’m on the Yankees!”
“ME TOO!” Derek yelled into the phone. “Woo-hoo!”
They’d been best friends ever since Vijay’s family moved to Mount Royal Townhouses from India, way back when Derek was little. Not only that, they were almost always in the same class at school, and always on the same baseball team!
Derek knew he shouldn’t get ahead of himself. But he couldn’t help thinking about the fantastic season that was about to start!
He let himself get lost in daydreams… and then his dad came down for breakfast.
“Dad! Guess what? I’m on the Yankees! Finally!” “Well, that’s great, son,” said Mr. Jeter. “I know you’ve wanted that for a long time.”
“We’re going to win again, Dad!”
“Well, I’m sure you’re going to try. You give it your best, and let’s see how it all shakes out.”
Something about the way he said it sounded wrong to Derek. You? Not we?
“Speaking of congratulations,” said Mr. Jeter, “I have some really great news. I got promoted at work! I’m now senior counselor, thank you very much.”
“Wow, that’s great, Dad—congratulations! And did Mom hear anything about her—”
“Not yet, Derek,” his dad cut him off, his smile fading. “Your mom hasn’t heard anything, so let’s give it a little more time before bringing it up. She’ll mention something if there’s anything to share.”
“Okay, Dad, I won’t.”
Derek’s sister, Sharlee, came bounding down the stairs. “Daddy! Derek!” she yelled. “How do you like my hat?” She was wearing a brand-new, bright yellow baseball cap with a T on the front. “See, Derek? I’m on the Lions! GRRR! Watch out—we bite!”
“That looks good on you,” said Mr. Jeter. “Here, let me fix that brim for you….”
“NO! Don’t bend it, Daddy!” Sharlee said. “I like it this way.”
“Okay, Sharlee,” said her father. “You wear it however you want to. But Derek and I, we bend the front, old-school style.”
Sharlee turned to Derek. “And with Daddy coaching my team, we’re going to win, just like you did last year!”
“I guess we’re both going to win, then,” Derek said.
Mr. Jeter cleared his throat. “Let’s talk about that. Derek, with this new promotion, I’ll have to put in a few extra hours a week. I’m afraid that means I can only coach one of your teams this season, not both.”
“Wait—you mean… ?”
“You remember last year, at the end of the season, I promised Sharlee I’d coach her team next season?”
“But I thought—”
“So did I, Derek,” said his father. “Look, I’ll still be able to come to some of the games, and offer any help I can, but—”
“Dad! You can’t not coach me! What about—?” Derek fell silent. There was no “what about.” Suddenly, all his lofty dreams came crashing back down to Earth.
“Don’t worry, son. You’ve learned an awful lot these past few years, and you’re getting better every season. Don’t let this get in the way of all that progress. Besides, any games I can’t make, your mom will attend.”
Derek shook his head in disbelief. But what could he say? What could he do? He’d been rooting for his dad to get that promotion for the past two months, and now, it had come through. He knew he should be happy about it—and he was, kind of. But he also knew how important his dad’s coaching had been to the team last year.
But wait, he thought—there’s still Chase! He’d been a really good coach too. Maybe not as good as Derek’s dad, but close enough. With him in charge, the team would still stand a great chance!
Then it hit him—Dave hasn’t called yet.
Unable to contain himself, he picked up the phone and punched in his friend’s number.
“Hey,” said Dave. “I was about to call you—just opened my envelope.”
“You’d better be on the Yankees,” Derek said anxiously.
“Nuh-uh,” Dave said, sounding disappointed. “Tigers.”
“Tigers?” It was the team they’d both been on last season! “There must be a mistake,” Derek said.
“I’m on the same team,” Dave said. “What happened with you?”
“I don’t know. But Vij is on the Yankees too.”
“What? This is no fair!” Dave moaned. “We won the championship last year! Don’t they have to give us a chance to repeat?”
“I guess not.”
“Can’t we complain or something?”
“I’m pretty sure it was done on purpose,” Derek said. “They probably don’t like it when the same kids win every year.”
“Didn’t your dad request us?”
“My dad’s not coaching this season. He’s coaching Sharlee’s softball team instead.”
“Oh man!” Dave moaned. “How come?”
Derek explained to Dave about his dad’s promotion. “He was a really great coach too,” Dave said sadly.
Suddenly, Derek realized something else. “Wait—is… Chase going to be coaching your team?”
“Yeah. I guess that’s something, at least,” Dave allowed. “But it really stinks for you and Vijay.”
“Yeah,” Derek said. “Tell me about it.”
All his plans for the season had vanished into thin air. He would have to adjust to two new coaches and a whole new team—one without Dave, without Chase, and worst of all, without his dad.
Reading Group Guide
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Ask readers to review “Derek Jeter’s 10 Life Lessons.” These are listed in the front of each book in this middle-grade series.
Chapter 1—Change of Plans
At the first summer practice, Derek Jeter is faced with a disappointing change of plans. His expectations for a summer season of baseball fun appear to have vanished into thin air. He is asked to adjust to two new coaches and a different ball team with an unexpected new player; he must do all of this without Dave or Chase, and worst of all, without his dad as his coach. Will Derek be able to handle these changes and still be on the winning team?
In a short paragraph, write about an important expectation that did not turn out as planned. Briefly explain what was expected and what happened to change the plan. Include how you felt before and after the event. Did the experience change the way you’ve viewed future expectations?
On the first day of the season, Derek notices that a player is missing from the lineup on his new team, the Yankees. How does he feel when he finally discovers that his new teammate is a girl? Why do you think this matters to him? Do you think it should matter that one of the teammates is a girl? Explain your answers.
Chapter 2—The Other Two Shoes Drop
Derek is facing the unexpected, not only on the ball field, but also in the classroom when he is paired with his nemesis, Gary Parnell. Gary is his science project partner.
Why do you think Derek is disappointed when he discovers that Gary is going to be his science project partner? Define the word nemesis. Have you ever had a nemesis? How can you work to better address conflicts so situations don’t escalate?
Define the word idiom. For example, look at the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” How does this phrase apply to Derek’s situation? Use the idiom exercise that can be found at the end of this guide to learn more and to practice using these expressions.
Chapter 3—Out of Nowhere
Derek knows that most girls play softball. But in Strike Zone, Derek and his teammates encounter a girl playing on their team.
Is it common practice to have coed baseball teams? Is there current legislation that supports coed teams? View more information on the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX, and discuss what it means for sports in schools (https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html). What do you know about the opportunities that have existed for women in sports? What would you like to know more about?
Define the rules of softball and baseball, and compare and contrast them. Consider using a Venn diagram to do this.
Chapter 4—Reeling and Dealing
Fairness in competition is a key focus of this book. Derek’s mom is competing for a
well-deserved job promotion, and Avery, the new ballplayer on Derek’s team, is facing sabotage in her efforts to be accepted as a valuable team member. Both experience a lack of confidence from their colleagues/teammates and managers/coaches.
In writing, briefly compare and contrast the predicament that Derek’s mom faces on her job with Avery’s quest for acceptance on the team.
Chapter 5—Getting In Deeper
Derek is working with Gary, his science project partner, but they can’t seem to agree on a topic or who will do which tasks. Although Gary has come up with a series of potential projects, Derek believes that he will still be shouldering the bulk of the assignment.
What would you do if you felt the group assignment you were given was not turning out the way it was planned? Be specific in your responses.
Discuss a difficult disagreement with a sibling or classmate in which you had to decide how to handle and resolve a major dilemma. What were the issues, and how were they resolved?
Chapter 6—Awkward Moments
Avery is the lone girl on the Yankees team; she faces bullying and offensive comments from her teammates, and the coaches are not helping the situation either. Avery knows that most of the ballplayers do not want a girl on the team.
Reread this chapter. Derek feels badly for Avery and speaks up when the bullying appears to be getting out of hand. What happens? Why do you think the coaches failed to handle the situation properly? Why do you think Dave was hesitant to get involved?
What advice does Derek’s father offer him to encourage him to do the right thing? What does Mrs. Jeter share that makes a lasting impression? Why is discussing the issue with his parents important?
Chapter 7—Reality Hits—Hard
It’s the first game of the season, and Derek is hoping to start strong with a win. After watching the Orioles practice, Derek thinks the opposing team may not be too difficult to beat . . . but the reality is very different.
Reread this chapter. Often, in a tough situation where someone faces a puzzling dilemma or defeat, clichés or idioms are offered to comfort or console. “Take it like a man” or “Keep a stiff upper lip” are two examples. How do you feel about phrases like these? Select another idiom or create your own that is applicable for both Avery and Mrs. Jeter. Explain your choice.
Avery is bombarded with comments from her teammates after her hit results in a double play for the final out of the game. One teammate comments, “‘Next time take one for the team.’” Another says, “‘Next time stay home.’” Why do you think they react this way? How would you feel if you were Avery? How can you make people feel accepted and supported?
Chapter 8—All Work and No Play
Working alone on his science project is becoming harder than Derek has expected. He discovers that using better tools will make the project easier to manage, and he asks for help. Mr. Jeter’s recommendation results in a successful solution to his project concerns—sometimes all you need is support.
Derek borrows a cutting tool from a neighbor to help him cut through the tough corrugated board and finish his portion of the science project. Does he take any safety precautions? Do you think he should have asked his neighbor or a parent to do the cutting? Explain your answer. What would you have done?
Usually, completing your homework assignments takes precedence over fun and games. Do you have rules at your home for completing your homework or chores before you can go off and play? If so, what are they? Are they written down anywhere or just understood? Are there rewards and consequences for following or not following the family rules?
Chapter 9—Heavy Blows
It’s important to do your best in all your endeavors, yet sometimes expectations can seem unfair. Although the coaches finally put Avery in the game, she is still bullied and mistreated.
During game two of the season, Sharlee, Derek’s sister, holds a big sign to encourage Avery to do her best. However, when it’s time for Avery to take her final turn at bat, she misses the first two pitches and the boys on the bench begin to heckle and harass her. Explain your opinion, and how you would have handled the situation if you were Avery’s coaches. What qualities do you value in a coach or mentor?
Although Avery is responsible for hitting the ball that brings in the winning score for her team, she does not celebrate the win with the other players. Why do you think this is? How do you think Avery should be treated? What does Derek do? What would you have done if you were on the team?
Chapter 10—Showdown on the Hill
After school, Vijay and Derek are planning to practice their ball skills on Jeter Hill; when they arrive, they are surprised to see a group of older kids from another part of town playing baseball there. They are even more shocked to recognize Avery as one of the younger players!
Derek and his friends, the Jeter Hill Regulars, watch in amazement as Avery plays with self-confidence and joy, holding her own. She displays a few magnificent outfield maneuvers and is assigned to pitch in a game against the Jeter Hill Regulars. Avery plays a good game, displaying strong hitting and pitching skills. Derek and his friends are shocked.
In this environment, Avery is able to play with clear talent and power. Why do you think she is unable to demonstrate the same level of confidence on her own Yankees team? What do you think would have to change with the Yankees team to make her feel more comfortable?
Avery is a respected member of the older South side team. How is this experience different for Avery? What lesson do Derek and his friends learn?
Chapter 11—What Lies Beneath
Derek knows Avery shares his passion for baseball, and that she’s good at it. But he can’t figure out why she’s determined to play through critical opposition and unfair treatment just to be on the Yankees team. Reread this chapter and discuss how he comes to understand this drive. Describe a time that you’ve come to look at another person or situation in a different light or from a different point of view.
What does Avery share that reveals her determination and dedication for the game? How did Avery decide to deal with the loss of her sibling? Discuss an additional way that Avery could have handled her grief. What would you have done if you were Avery?
Chapter 12—In Reverse
Derek finally decides to tell Coach Stafford how he feels about Avery and what he’s discovered about her baseball skills; it does not go well.
Derek signed a contract for life that is printed in each of the series. Review this contract and highlight rule number six. In a small group, discuss how you think this rule applies to the situation with Coach Stafford, Avery, Derek’s teammates, and his parents.
Do you think Derek could have handled his concerns in a different way? What do you think about the coach’s response to Derek’s observation? What is the result, and how does it affect the game?
Chapter 13—What’s the Word?
The idiomatic phrases “the word on the street” or “the rumor” refers to what people are saying about a certain topic. The “word,” as Derek learns from his friend Dave, is not always accurate. Define the phrase “rumor has it.” Describe an experience you’ve had involving a rumor or misunderstanding. How do rumors spread? Who can they hurt?
Rumor and innuendo are often misleading and can get out of hand. Misinformation about Avery and Derek’s friendship is making Derek extremely uncomfortable. Why is the “word on the street” making Derek upset? How would you respond if you’d heard this rumor? How can you find out if you’re receiving accurate information?
Chapter 14—The Worm Turns
The science project demonstration with mice running the maze for a cheese treat is a huge success, but it could have ended in complete disaster. If Derek and his group had not pulled it together quickly, each contributing their parts, an accident could have derailed the entire project.
Do you see any similarities between Derek’s baseball team and the group science project? Why is it critical for each team member to do their part? Why does Vijay stress the importance of getting extra credit for his part in the demonstration?
After the coach gives the team a long-overdue pep talk about playing as a unit and supporting one another, Avery speaks up and shares how she’s been feeling about being on the Yankees team. She’s bold enough to tell them that she loves the game and is not going away. She encourages them to play as a team against their opponents and not against themselves. How does the team react? Why can it sometimes be difficult to speak up? Why is it important to do so? Discuss what it means to have different strengths but share the same goals. Cite examples from your own life or from the book.
Chapter 15—Seeds of Hope
The game against the Tigers turns out to be a tough one. Dave’s strong and undefeated team, with Chase as coach, proves to be a strong competitor. After an unfortunate accident, the Yankees pitcher, Harry, is injured and pulled from the game.
Have you ever experienced a sports injury, or had a teammate or friend who was injured in a game? How did it make you feel? Explain what happened and the steps that had to be taken. What was involved in your recovery?
Harry’s injury gives the coach an opportunity to bring in Avery as pitcher. She’s off to a great start, immediately retiring two batters, but it takes team support in the field to handle the strong Tigers lineup. Vijay saves the day with an amazing catch to win the game! Derek and his entire team recognize that it takes a strong supporting cast to pull off a big Yankees win. Write about a time when you were on a team or in a group tasked with a joint assignment or goal. What was your position or responsibility? How did you work together? Did you meet your goal? What would you change or add for the next group experience? Be prepared to share this experience in a small group.
Class Extension Activities
1. STRIKE A HAPPY MEDIUM—IT’S THE LAW:CLASSROOM LITERATURE CIRCLE ASSIGNMENT
Before this activity, type two sets of ten familiar idioms on 3 x 5 cards (see recommended links below), and issue a card to each student as they gather in their small groups.
Read Chapter 14 aloud as a class. Then move students to smaller groups or literary circles for further discussion; instruct them to reread any pages that members have questions or comments about.
They should discuss the following: Why do you think this chapter is titled “The Worm Turns”? Discuss the phrase “strike a happy medium.” How can this phrase apply to Avery and to Mrs. Jeter’s situation?
Then review the definition of an idiom, and refer students to the cards they received. Give twenty minutes for an open in-class discussion of the phrases on the list. Some may be more familiar than others.
Students will then pick an idiom to explore in writing. Suggest they give a real-life example describing what the selected idiom means or implies. Remind them to use the selected phrase in a sentence. Responses should be made directly on the back of the cards; provide additional blank cards for students who may have a lot to share. Offer this as a timed exercise, allowing at least thirty minutes to write.
Note: Some students may need extra time to think before writing; extend the writing period as needed. Then collect the cards and select a few to read out loud. Encourage discussion and debate.
For further review of phrases and idioms, view tips at the links below:
2. VOICING YOUR OPINION:TERM PROJECT OR OVERNIGHT HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
Have students write op-eds on juvenile coed sports for a local newspaper or journal. Ask them to explain why they agree or disagree with the concept.
Before they start, lead them to research the newspapers’ criteria for accepting entries for an op-ed piece. Identify which paper or journal the opinion piece will be submitted to. Use a search engine to research and explore similar topics, such as girls/women in sports; coed sports; diversity in professional sports; and reference the landmark Title IX legislation. For further information on Title IX, visit these sites:
Then ask students to bring their op-eds to class; the length of the pieces will vary according to the selected journal or newspaper requirements. Use the op-eds as references in a group discussion about coed sports and Title IX legislation and how they play into the events in Strike Zone. Give examples of book and movie resources that the class can read or view for further research.
3. SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES EXERCISE
LARGE GROUP ACTIVITY: Using a Venn Diagram Tool What characteristics do Derek and Avery have in common? How are they different? Instruct students to use a Venn diagram to chart their answers. Similarities will overlap on the diagram, and differences will be listed in the individual circles. Allow students to share responses from their worksheets in a large group setting.
LARGE GROUP ACTIVITY: Idiom Exercise
Break students into groups. Assign or ask them to choose a group leader and to select a recorder. Provide markers and flip charts for the recorder to capture the group responses.
Ask them to consider this question: What does the phrase “there’s no I in team” mean to them?
As they develop their answers, have them consider the following concepts:
Every team needs a strong supporting cast, not just a few stars.
All players must understand their individual roles in making the whole project succeed.
Being your personal best is important because a team is only as strong as its weakest link. Every link in the chain is important in making the entire chain strong.
A sacrifice now often results in success for the whole in the end.
Have them record their group’s responses and then present their findings as a team to the rest of the class.
Refer to the link of idiom tips below for further review:
Strike Zone guide written in 2020 by Chrystal Carr Jeter of Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library, Willoughby Hills, Ohio.
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. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or thebookpantry.net.
Derek Jeter is a fourteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series winner who 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.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (April 13, 2021)