Chapter One: A New Season Chapter One A NEW SEASON
“Hey, old man. It’s Vijay on the phone—for you!”
Derek Jeter dropped the pile of folded clothes he’d been holding. They fell right back into the suitcase he’d been unpacking, and he hurried downstairs to pick up the phone from his mom.
“Hey, Vij!” he said breathlessly. “How’s it going?”
“It’s all good now that you’re back,” said Vijay with a little laugh. “How was your trip home?”
“Long and boring,” Derek said. “But the summer was good—always is.”
“Hey, how about we meet up on the Hill, and you can tell me all about it?”
“Ah, I’d love to, but I’m just unpacking. Anyway, after twelve hours in the car, I’m kind of beat.”
“Tomorrow after school, then?”
“For sure. Back to St. Augustine, huh? I can’t believe school’s already starting. I just got home.”
“Well, that’s what happens when you stay on vacation till the last minute,” Vijay pointed out. “Anyway, see you in class.”
“Seventh grade. Unreal, huh?”
“I know. Crazy. Where did all those years go?”
“Really. Well, see you tomorrow.” Derek hung up, and turned to find his mom standing there, her arms crossed and an amused look on her face.
“Seventh grade,” she said. “You two are all grown up!”
Derek laughed, but in a way it was true. He did feel suddenly grown-up, or at least on the verge of it.
In other places kids went to different schools starting in sixth or seventh grade. He was still at St. Augustine, so going back shouldn’t have felt much different.
And yet somehow it did. Derek actually felt more nervous than usual about the first day of school. The workload in seventh grade was rumored to be a lot harder. And it was definitely going to be weird going back to school and not seeing Dave there.
Dave Hennum was Derek’s other best friend besides Vijay. But in June the Hennum family had moved all the way to Hong Kong. Dave’s dad had been transferred there for work, and the family was going to live there for the next two years.
Derek wondered how Dave was getting along, with all his friends so far away, and him living in a strange new place, where people mostly spoke a different language. (Although, Dave had assured him that they spoke English, too.)
Derek hadn’t gotten a letter from him for over a month. In that time, Derek had sent Dave three letters—not easy, considering he didn’t like letter writing to begin with.
During the summer he hadn’t noticed Dave’s absence much. Days at the lake in New Jersey with his dozens of cousins were full, noisy, and busy. He’d even gone into the city with his grandma a couple of times, to play ball with the city kids he’d met the summer before.
Overall he’d had his usual great time. He’d practically forgotten about Dave, except when Dave’s letters had come—which hadn’t happened since the end of July.
But now, back in Michigan and with school about to start again, things already felt different. Not having Dave around, it felt like a big part of Derek’s world was gone, and it made him sad in a way he’d never felt before.
Just then, though, Derek’s dad came into the house, carrying a white plastic tub full of mail. “The postman was here and dropped this off,” he said, setting it down on the floor. “I saw your name on one or two envelopes.”
Derek sat down beside the tub and started rifling through the piles of envelopes, magazines, and catalogs—four days’ worth, from the time when his parents had taken off in the car to pick up Derek and his little sister, Sharlee, and drive them home from New Jersey.
Soon Derek found the buried treasure he was looking for—two picture postcards from Dave, and a letter!
One postcard had a picture of a beautiful mountain, with skyscrapers crowding it from top to bottom. It was dated August 10—four weeks ago!
On the back of the card, Dave had written: “This is Victoria Peak, the most famous view in Hong Kong. We went up there on cable cars! It was cool, and a little scary. This place is amazing—very different from the States in a lot of ways, but the same in others.”
That was it. There wasn’t much room on the back of a postcard, after all.
The second card was dated August 15. It showed a beautiful golf course with a pagoda in front of it, and the same mountain, but in the distance this time. “This is the best golf course I’ve ever played,” Dave had written on the back.
Golf was Dave’s passion, in the same way that baseball was Derek’s. That’s why the two of them had always understood each other so well.
The rest of the postcard said: “My dad’s company pays for his membership in the club, so I’ve already played there five times—in just three weeks! It’s a hard course, but I love the challenge!”
Yup, thought Derek, smiling and shaking his head. That’s Dave, all right.
But it was the letter that Derek wanted to see most. Pictures were one thing, but he wanted to know what it was really like for Dave, being in another country thousands of miles away from America.
Derek couldn’t imagine himself in that kind of situation. He hadn’t moved since he was four years old—and he had no intention of moving again anytime soon!
The letter was dated August 25. It read:
Well, I finally have time to sit down and write to you. You wouldn’t believe how busy it’s been! I have Cantonese language classes after school—yes, school! They start here at the beginning of August! Can you believe it?
School is harder here than at St. Augustine, and the teachers are really strict too. My parents are always busy—my dad at work, my mom with starting up her own business—so they don’t have much time to do stuff with me. And Chase isn’t here, so I haven’t had too much fun, other than golf.
Chase had been the Hennum family’s driver and had often been in charge of watching Dave, since Mr. and Mrs. Hennum were out working most of the time. But he hadn’t joined the family in Hong Kong.
The best times I’ve had here are on Sundays, when my parents and I go touring around the city and the harbor. There are floating markets, where it’s crowded with boats, all loaded with stuff for sale. We brought home all kinds of foods we’d never seen before, let alone eaten! Most of them taste good, but some are not so great to look at—I’ll leave it at that.
Derek had to laugh. Dave’s sense of humor had obviously survived the trip to China.
But the worst part is not being back home, with you and Vijay and the rest of the kids, hanging out on Jeter’s Hill and playing ball, hitting golf balls at my house.… You know, all that stuff. I get sad sometimes, but I’m sure once I make some friends here, it will get easier.
Derek noticed that Dave still referred to Kalamazoo as “home.” Good. That meant he still missed his old life, and his old friends.…
Well, I guess that’s all for now. You’ll be starting school soon, so at least I won’t have to be jealous anymore, ha-ha.
Derek put the letter down on the table, next to the two postcards. He sat there thinking about what life was going to be like without Dave around. It made him feel at least a little better to know that Dave missed him, too.
But not that much better. Not as good as if Dave were still in Michigan.
“It’s the bottom of the ninth, two on, two out, with the Tigers trailing by a pair, 3–1. The first-place Red Sox have won five straight, and they’re looking for more.… Carsten takes a fastball for ball one.…”
“He’s gonna drive ’em in,” Derek’s dad said confidently as Carsten let ball two go by. “You just watch, Derek.”
Derek looked at his father sitting in his armchair, while Derek and Sharlee shared the couch, and Mom occupied the rocker in the corner. “How do you know that, Dad?”
“Don’t believe me,” Mr. Jeter said, a smile curling one corner of his mouth. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
On the next pitch Carsten walloped a line drive into the right field corner. The runner on second scored, and the runner on first was rounding third. Derek and his dad were both yelling, “Go! Go!” Sharlee got up and danced on the couch, until Mrs. Jeter told her to quit it.
“How did you know, Daddy?” Sharlee asked. “How did you—”
But Mr. Jeter wasn’t listening. He wasn’t smiling, either. Kurt Carsten had pulled up lame before reaching second base. The throw came in to the second baseman, who tagged the limping Carsten out before the second runner crossed the plate.
Game over! Somehow the Tigers had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory!
“Well, that beats all,” Mr. Jeter said disgustedly. “Why didn’t he just stop at first if he was hurt?”
“Why would he do that, Dad?” Derek asked. “It was a double all the way.”
“Because he’s nursing a hamstring injury, that’s why! You don’t go full-out if you’re protecting an injury. Not only did he cost us this game, but now he’s going to miss a bunch of games—just watch—and for what?”
Derek was puzzled. He’d always played baseball full-out, running as hard and as fast as he could, diving for balls even if they were way out of reach. He couldn’t conceive of a player holding back the way his father was suggesting!
They watched as Carsten limped off the field. “He already missed two weeks with it last month,” said Mr. Jeter. “Now he’s going to wind up missing half the stretch drive, and the team’s going to have to catch Boston without him!” He shook his head. “He should have just sat on the bench and rested it every few games. But not Carsten. No, no—not him.”
“He’s their team leader, Dad! He’s not going to sit down when the team needs him,” Derek pointed out.
“And now the team’s not going to have him for a longer period of time.”
On the TV the on-field reporter caught up to Carsten just as he was about to hit the dugout. Mr. Jeter stood up.
“Where’re you going, Dad?” Derek asked.
“I’m going to go grade some papers. This team drives me crazy.”
“Kurt,” the reporter said, “what happened out there?”
Carsten shook his head sadly. “I think I just pushed my body too hard.”
“Do you think the manager should have rested you longer?”
Carsten shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’re in a pennant chase. I leaned on him to put me out there. So I guess that’s on me.”
“You’re the team leader,” said the reporter. “How are your teammates going to catch Boston now?”
“I want to be out there every game, every inning,” said Carsten. “But we’ll see what the doctors say. Even if I’m on the bench, I can still bring my energy to the dugout every day and cheer my guys on. If I can’t set an example with my game, I can still notice things, and pass them along to my teammates—participate from the bench.”
Mr. Jeter shook his head in dismay. Then he turned to Derek. “Did I ever tell you about when I hurt my knee in college?”
“Uh… a few times,” Derek answered, looking from his mom to Sharlee. All of them had heard the story more than once and were trying not to laugh.
“Well, learn from other people’s mistakes, Derek,” said his dad, wagging his finger. “If you don’t take care of your body, it won’t take care of you.”