Backstop Backstory: Safe at Home by Mike Lupica
Nick especially liked the mask. It wasn't just that it made him feel a little bit like a superhero from one of his comic books. The mask made him feel as if he could hide in plain sight.... After all the times when he'd worried about people looking at him, wondering if they were seeing the boy who didn't have real parents, wondering how many people really knew he was in foster care or adopted.
Yet even his trusty mask couldn't help him today.
It was as if he'd forgotten how to catch or throw.
Baseball is everything to Nick Crandall. A natural at the difficult position of catcher, he is gifted with a strong arm which can stop almost any steal at second or third. The seventh-grade junior varsity team at Hayworth Junior High feels like his real family, the one place where he really belongs.
Then an injury to the varsity's catcher means Nick is suddenly called up just as the season begins. Feeling small among his eighth and ninth graders varsity teammates, Nick finds himself frozen with self-doubt, unable to get the ball into the second baseman's glove, weak at bat, and even falling all over his own mask as he goes back for a pop-up. Nick feels he can't turn for help to his adoptive parents, intellectual professor-types, who despite their obvious love for him, have no real experience or interest in sports, and, as his grades, never great, suffer from his loss of confidence, the Crandalls threaten to ground him from summer ball unless he improves.
Nick does have two good friends, Gracie Wright and Jack Elmore. Jack defends him against the harsh comments of his varsity teammates, but it is finally Gracie who manages to speak the words which turn Nick's performance around.
Nick sat down first and said, "Okay, Miss Mysterious, what do you want to talk about?"
"About how you've turned into the biggest baby I know."
"I almost told you in the car, but I didn't want to say it in front of my mom," Gracie said. "But you've spent so much time in your life feeling sorry for yourself, you don't even know when it's time to stop."
As the spring season works itself toward the big game, Nick begins to see how he has been getting in his own way, letting his feelings block his abilities on the field and in class and keeping him at arms' length from his parents as well.
In Safe at Home: A Comeback Kids Novel, (Philomel, 2008) best-selling author Mike Lupica (for Heat and Travel Team) keeps the page-turning game-play details crisp and exciting as his young athlete learns to manage the "head game" on field and off. Lupica has a terrific knack for putting the reader into the immediate moment, inside the main character's head and world, while keeping the game foremost in the action. Insight into the sports and emotions of early adolescent boys is Lupica's main mojo, and he's got it working in the short and sweet Comeback Kids series.
Other books in this series for middle readers include Two-Minute Drill: Mike Lupica's Comeback Kids, Long Shot: A Comeback Kids Novel, and Hot Hand: Mike Lupica's Comeback Kids Those readers who grew up devouring the Matt Christopher sports stories will be glad to see the genre's torch passed to the sure hands of Mike Lupica.