Tag Archive for Six Innings Excerpt

From Fiction to Fact: We’re Playing in the Championship Game

This coming Saturday, I’ll be coaching a Little League team of 11- and 12-year-old boys in a championship game. For the 12’s, this game will be the culmination of their Little League experience. Some boys will move up to play at the Babe Ruth level, on the big fields, jumping from 60-foot basepaths to 90; for others, this game will be it. The end of a boyhood passage, giving way to skateboards and girlfriends, basketball and boredom and who knows what comes next.

For me, this last Little League game is a happy way to conclude a long relationship at Tri-Village Little League in Delmar, NY. I coached my oldest son, Nicholas, for his last four seasons. Then I coached Gavin’s teams for all seven of his seasons, which overlapped with two years of coaching Maggie, too. That’s 11 years of coaching at the Little League level, mostly as manager. Then you can add 7 years of managing in a men’s hardball league, plus Fall Ball, Travel, All-Stars, etc.

A lot of games. A lot of faces. A lot of hanging around the ball field, staring up at the clouds, hoping the rain holds off.

I played, too. This is my age-12 season. Top row, center. Wantagh Little League.

I threw left, batted right, like Cleon Jones and Rickey Henderson.

But this game on Saturday will be my first championship game at the Majors level. I was fortunate enough to coach a team that won at the Intermediate level, some years back with Nick. Took it to ’em, 6-zip, behind the strong arm of Nick Hodem. Unfortunately, my Nick was sick at that time, fighting cancer, and he missed the final game.

In 2008, I published my first hardcover novel, Six Innings, inspired and informed by my lifelong love of the game. The book, subtitled “A Game in the Life” (and yes, that’s a Beatles reference), is about a single championship game and the boys who play in it. I’m proud to say that it was named an ALA Notable and, by Booklist, one of the TOP 10 BEST SPORTS BOOKS OF THE YEAR.

Here’s a couple of paragraphs that come very late in that book:

Coach Reid watches the boys as they celebrate, resists the urge to join them, to leap arms outstretched on top of the pile. No, this is their moment. It isn’t about Coach Reid, or any other adults. It is enough, more than enough, to stand back and watch.

Branden runs up, ecstatic. “We did it, Dad!” he exclaims. “We did it!”

The son throws his arms around his father, and the father squeezes back, hard, hoping to capture the memory like a summer firefly in his hands, wanting the moment to last forever, burning brightly, and knowing that somehow, amazingly, as sure as they stood, it would.

Wish us luck!

Coach Preller . . . and a Deleted Scene from “Six Innings”

Baseball has been central to my life for as long as I can remember. These days, it’s primarily as a coach, since I’ve become too busy to play on my men’s hardball team.

Let me give you a quick update:

* On Saturday, my Little League team, RC Dairy, lost a devastating semi-final playoff game by the score of 9-7. We had ended the season in 1st place, with a 12-4 record, but in baseball anything can happen in a single-elimination format — and anything did.

I was very disappointed; it took me a day and a half to get over it. Seriously. I couldn’t get that loss out of my head. I loved that team and wanted them to play in a Championship Game, to feel that excitement, have that lifetime memory. I also understood that most kids never get that opportunity. Eight years ago I coached my oldest son’s team, Blue Sky Music, to a championship victory. It would have been nice to do it again, on the same field, with a different child. Maybe I’m still not completely over it.

* The next day, Sunday, Father’s Day, my Travel Team played a doubleheader about fifteen minutes north of Saratoga Springs, an hour’s drive. This team plays on Sundays only, and again it was the end of our regular season. We won both, 11-4 and, in extra innings, 12-11. Gavin had a great day, a couple of big hits, a beautiful sacrifice bunt, pitched three solid innings, and scored the winning run in game two. A close play at the plate, safe, game over! Awesome. A great way to spend Father’s Day.

* Meanwhile, today is the first day of practice for our District 13, ten-year-old All-Stars. That will go hot and heavy until July 13th — unless we come out on top, in which case we’ll move on to Regionals. (I can imagine a dozen parents, thinking of camps and vacation plans, crossing their fingers and hoping . . . not.)

As you likely know, I wrote the book Six Innings about the boys who play in a championship Little League game. It was a book I was highly qualified to write. I know the game, and I know those players (an aside: at this level it is extremely rare to see a girl on the field; softball has swallowed them up).

In revising Six Innings, I cut about 10,000 words. Most of it was back story, character sketches, small moments off the field. We decided that my initial format was too confusing for the reader, bouncing back and forth from game action to character pieces tended to undercut the drama of the game itself. So I cut it to the bone. Painful but necessary. I’ve blogged about this before, and previously shared four deleted scenes: here, and here, and here, and here.

Below, here’s a fifth deleted scene, this time with the focus entirely on two fathers. That’s another lesson learned; there’s not a kid in sight, generally a no-no for children’s books. In short, I needed to write the scene, I needed to know it, but it didn’t have to go into the book. That’s the iceberg theory of writing. Nevertheless, don’t get me wrong: I like this scene a lot, there’s truth in it, and it was something I wanted to explore, how the game helped keep a fractured family connected. Here goes:



Jeff Reid groaned, hit the mute button. “Hello,” he spoke into the phone.

“Is this Jeff?”


“Jeff, hello. This is Casper Lionni,” he paused, “Alex’s father.”

“Yes, Casper,” Jeff replied. “How can I help you?”

“I understand that you’ve got Alex on your Little League team this coming season,” Mr. Lionni said.

“Yes, I do. We’re eager to get started.”

There was a brief pause on the phone. Casper Lionni continued haltingly. “I was wondering if, perhaps, you could use an assistant,” he began. “However, I confess that I don’t know much about baseball.”

“Neither do I!” Jeff joked. “I appreciate the offer, Casper, really. But I’ve been coaching with Andy Van Zant for the past couple of years, so we’re pretty set in that department.”

“I understand.”

Jeff could hear the disappointment in Casper’s voice.

“You see, er,” Casper continued, “as you may know, my wife, Lauren, and I, have recently separated –”

“Yes, I heard that,” Jeff admitted. “Small town.”

“I only see Alex on Wednesday nights and alternate weekends,” Casper said.

Jeff nodded, said nothing. Before giving it more thought, he blurted, “Do you know how to keep a scorebook?”

“A scorebook?” Casper repeated. “I’m sure I don’t even know what that is.”

“You can learn,” Jeff answered. “It’s pretty straightforward. You could come to the games and help out that way. Would that suit you?”

“What? Are you saying that — ?”

“We’d love to have you,” Jeff replied.

“Thank you,” Casper said. “This means a lot to me. You have no idea.”

The two men spoke for a few more minutes. The conversation confirmed three things in Jeff’s mind. Casper Lionni was a good guy, he really didn’t know anything about baseball, and he missed his son, terribly.

Jeff Reid hung up the phone, turned the sound back on for the spring training ballgame. The Red Sox just scored a run, a lefty was warming in the Yankee bullpen. He thought, Oh boy, here comes another season.