Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Everything He Knows: The Big Field by Mike Lupica

A baseball novel by Mike Lupica is as much fun as an afternoon double-header, and if this one isn't an over-the-centerfield fence grand-slam, it's definitely an inside-the-park homer.

Fourteen-year-old Hutch Hutchinson is accustomed to being the shortstop and star of the local baseball team, but this summer brings an unwelcome change. His position at shortstop is taken over by the super-talented Darryl Williams, D-Will, a kid whose natural athleticism conceals his lack of passion for the game. Stuck playing second base for the Post 226 Cardinals, Hutch feels that he's let down his dad, the original "Hutch" Hutchinson, local shortstop superstar whose initial promise fizzled before he made the majors and whose dead-end jobs and silent withdrawal from his son leaves the younger Hutch hurt and bewildered.

Still Hutch can't help loving everything about the game of baseball. As he works his way through the semi-finals for the state championship, he comes into conflict with Darryl, who takes every opportunity to diss his playing and his devotion to the game. Things don't go Hutch's way on the way to the finals. He bobbles an easy out and causes his team to lose the second game of the series. D-Will taunts him into a fight which costs Hutch a painful penalty--being barred from the next game. Then he comes upon his father laughing as he coaches Darryl on the practice field with a zest that he's never shown with Hutch.

"He must've taught you everything you know," said D-Will.

"Just not everything he knows," said Hutch.

But Hutch is the team captain, and he pulls himself together for the series final at Roger Dean field, the big field where the Marlins play their home games, in the biggest game of his life. And then it's the bottom of the ninth. The score is tied 2-2, two out for the Cardinals, Hutch's best friend Cody still on second, and Hutch is up next. From the on-deck circle Darryl calls to him:

"Captain," he said.

Hitch turned around.

Darryl said, "You know how I'm always sayin' it's you or me in situations like this?"

"Yeah, D, I do."

"Don't feel like you have to wait on me tonight."

Sure that he's got the pitcher scoped out, that he's sure to lay his best fastball on him, Hutch squares off to hit the ball hard and somewhere, when he looks up in the stands and sees his father stand up.

His dad was looking right at him.

Carl Hutchinson tried to make it look casual to the people around him, like he was getting up to stretch....

His eyes, though, never left Hutch.

All those nights and all those games when Hutch just assumed his dad wanted to be somewhere else. Not now.

Then Hutch saw why. Saw his father drop his hands the way coaches did when they were telling you to bunt.


Hutch lays down a perfect one which advances Cody to third and beats it out, safe on first. Then Darryl is up and finds the sweet spot to hit one over the fences.


Darryl said, "Ask you something before I go talk to TV?"


"What made you lay it down like that?"

Hutch said, "My dad told me to."

"Told you." Darryl said. "Man can coach."

It may still be snowing somewhere, but we're on Daylight Savings Time, spring training is cranking up, and Mike Lupica's The Big Fieldis just the thing to warm us up for the opening game of the season.



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