Title: Zach Beacon Strikes Out
Entry nickname: Seventh-Grade Strike(Out)
Word count: 34,000
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Seventh-grader Zach Beacon just wants to play baseball. The bad-boy shortstop of Mayfield Prep's baseball team, Zach has been sent to the principal's office so often, he's on a first-name basis with the secretary. His team is good this year—real good—and Principal “Robot” McMott expects them to win the Mississippi private school championship. Or else.
Things change when a bike accident lands Zach in the yard of August Clement, the school groundskeeper. Zach's fast friendship with August, an elderly black man, leads to some tough choices when Zach learns that Principal McMott is planning to fire August. In a town with a long history of racial injustice, McMott claims he's firing August to save money for a new trophy case, but Zach suspects that something worse may be at the root of McMott's decision.
Teaming up with Monika Runch, the softball captain and one of only five black kids in the whole school, Zach heads a petition drive to support the groundskeeper. When McMott ignores their petition and fires August anyway, Zach and Monika lead their teams on a strike, using the best leverage they have—the teams won't win till McMott gives in. Zach promises his team they can lose three games and still make the play-offs, but as the losses mount and McMott doesn't budge, Zach learns it's hard to keep a team together when the goal isn't a championship, but justice.
In his quest to save August's job, Zach juggles race relations, anxious teammates, and new friendships—and he does it in a wise-cracking style all his own.
First 250 words:
“Gimme a fast one, Joey, if you’ve still got it in you,” I yelled, knocking the dirt from my cleats.
“Yeah, right, Zach,” Joey shot back with a grin. “We’ve only been out here for two hours. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” He went into a windup – and fell over laughing.
I’d done my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. It gets them every time.
“All right, guys, knock it off,” said Coach Clark from the dugout.
“Come on, Coach, we’re just having some fun,” I protested.
“Zachary!” yelled a voice from the stands. “This is the last day of spring tryouts. Pay attention!”
My dad. Of course. He gets almost more excited about baseball season than I do.
Joey slung a fastball over the plate, and I thundered it into the hole in left field. I cruised to a stop at second.
“Nice,” barked Coach Clark. He rubbed a hand under his hat and squinted at a notepad. “Zach, take over as catcher. Rod’s going to bat now.”
I trotted towards home. Rod Grimble tore off the catcher’s mask and grabbed his bat from the dugout.
“Whee-yoo, Rod, this mask stinks,” I said as he stomped to the plate. “What’d you have for lunch, a garlic sandwich?”
Rod didn’t look at me. Not even a grin.
Joey wound up and lobbed a low fast one to Rod. He missed.
“What goes with a garlic sandwich? Maybe some sardines on the side? This is one rank mask, man.”
~ VERSUS ~
Title: The Windup
Entry Nickname: One-Handed Wonder
Word count: 40,000
Genre: Middle Grade
Kyle Whalen, a southpaw Little League pitcher, knew nothing of loss until a car accident took his right hand, his twin brother, and his passion for life. Now, three years later, Kyle is fourteen and determined to play ball again in memory of his twin and fulfill the dream they shared: win the Brookhaven Invitational Baseball Tournament, a feat his home team has never accomplished.
Kyle practices hard with his catcher, the girl he’s crushing on and best friends with, but he struggles to pitch and bat one-handed. Those struggles mount when he discovers she’s dating a rival ballplayer. Things only get worse when his coach and several of his teammates bail, leaving his team ineligible to compete. It’s game on, though, when Kyle convinces his estranged dad to take over as coach and his troublemaker cousin joins the team. As Kyle leads his ragtag team closer to the championship, Kyle grows closer to his dad, the man he thought no longer cared. And Kyle, encouraged by his cousin, begins competing for and winning over his crush's heart. But when a bully on an opposing team pulls a nasty prank, Kyle must choose between keeping the dream alive and saving his family.
I stood atop the pitcher’s mound, baseball in hand. My only hand. Perched over the stub where my right hand used to be was my baseball glove, pocket-down.
“Last one, Kyle. Fire it in here,” Hailey said, punching her catcher’s mitt. She was my age, fourteen, but she could have passed for sixteen.
The two of us had been practicing on the weed-choked Little League field for about two hours. Summer rays warmed the back of my neck. My tired pitching arm sagged at my side like a wet noodle. I dug my cleat into the soft dirt in front of the pitching rubber, wound up, and slung a fastball. After my follow-through, I slipped my hand into my glove, fumbling a bit, and got into fielding position. Mastering the transfer of my glove was the hardest part. I had no doubt teams would test me by bunting and hitting comebackers.
“Sick pitch, Kyle,” Hailey said, hopping up. She pulled off her mitt and approached me. “You’re ready for this.”
“I hope so,” I said, shaking off my glove and letting it fall to the ground. It was one thing to practice without a batter standing at home plate. It was another story to pitch in a tournament, which was what I planned to do in just a few days. The last time I laced up for a game was three years ago. Back when my dad was the coach. Back when I had a right hand. Back when I had a twin teammate to double high-five.