A timely and heartfelt follow-up to #1 New York Times bestseller Heat, about a young baseball prodigy and his immigrant family living in today's America.
Twelve-year-old star Little League pitcher Nick Garcia has a dream. Several in fact. He dreams he'll win this season's MVP and the chance to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. He dreams he'll meet his hero, Yankee's pitcher Michael Arroyo. He dreams they'll find a cure for Lupus so he sister won't have to suffer. But mostly, he dreams one day his family can stop living in fear of the government. For one kid, it's almost too much to bear. Luckily, Nick has his two best friends Ben and Diego to keep him balanced. But when Nick notices a mysterious man lurking on his street corner, he senses a threat. Suddenly, his worst fears are realized, and just when it seems there's no one they can trust, an unexpected hero emerges and changes everything.
Praise for Strike Zone:
*"Lupica skillfully addresses the timely and complicated topic of living as the child of undocumented immigrants and the uncertainty facing many American families....This exceptional baseball novel delivers both lively sports action and critical subject matter." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Lupica's action sequences are thrilling and fast-paced....[a] solid purchase where Mike Lupica and the Yankees are popular." School Library Journal
"As he did in Heat, Lupica skillfully juggles the baseball drama with the larger social issues that swirl around it, vividly putting a human face on the immigration crisis." Booklist
About the Author
Mike Lupica is a prominent sports journalist and the New York Times-bestselling author of more than forty works of fiction and non-fiction. A longtime friend to Robert B. Parker, he was selected by the Parker estate to continue the Sunny Randall series.
Read an Excerpt
It figured that Nick García was playing in the Dream League.
He loved to dream as much as he loved throwing a baseball, something Nick knew in his heart—even if he’d never say it out loud—he could do as well as anybody his age in the South Bronx.
Nick’s coach, Tom's Viera, once told him he could throw even harder at the age of twelve than Nick’s hero, the great Yankees pitcher Michael Arroyo, had at the same age.
“Now, I can’t actually prove that,” Coach Viera said. “But I saw Michael play when he was in Little League. Heard the sound the ball made in the catcher’s glove. The sound you make is louder.”
Back when Michael Arroyo was growing up in the Bronx, he’d pitched on the north side of 161st Street, right where they’d built the new Yankee Stadium. At that time, it was the baseball fields of
Macombs Dam Park. Once the new Stadium went up, a replacement Macombs Dam Park opened on the south side of 161st, in the footprint of the old Stadium. This was where Nick and his teammates on the Bronx Blazers now practiced and played, often with fans filing past on their way to Yankee games.
“I know about the fields where Michael Arroyo pitched,” Nick told his coach. “I’ve seen the old pictures online.”
“You seem to know just about everything about him,” Coach Viera said.
It was true. Nick dedicated a lot of time to finding out everything about Michael, including what happened during his childhood, when he came to America on a boat from Cuba with his father and brother. He’d read every news piece, biography, and article in existence, not to mention the ESPN documentary he’d seen about a hundred times. Nick even knew about the time Michael threw a ball from home plate to center field at the old Macombs Dam Park to stop a purse snatcher. It wasn’t just
Michael’s fame that drew Nick’s attention. Michael represented everything that was possible for Nick to achieve. Seeing a brownskinned kid from the South Bronx, just like him, make it onto the Yankee mound one day was enough to keep Nick fixed on his dream.
“Someday,” Nick told his coach, “I’m going to make it across that street and pitch for the Yankees.”
They were sitting on the grassy hill behind home plate, both having arrived early for tonight’s practice.
Coach smiled and pointed over to their left, where the Stadium loomed so big that sometimes Nick imagined it blocking out the sun, or swallowing up half the South Bronx; its shadow casting over the corner bodegas and fruit vendors on the street.
“It’s right over there,” Coach said, like it was simple. “Only a couple hundred yards.”
“Or a million miles,” said Nick.
“Michael Arroyo made it there from 158th and Gerard,” Coach Viera said. “You can make it from 164th and Grand Concourse.”
He grinned as he pointed to the word printed on the front of Nick’s blue practice T-shirt: “Dream.”
“It’ll take a lot more than that,” Nick said.
“Ah,” Coach said. “But I honestly believe the good Lord has blessed you with a right arm like Michael Arroyo’s left.”
“Michael is special.”
“So are you,” Tom's Viera was quick to say. “And this summer, it could be you standing on his pitcher’s mound.”
The Dream League was part of a larger organization, run by Major League Baseball, called RBI, which stood for “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.” This August they were holding a summer league tournament for teams from the Bronx. It was arranged in partnership with the Yankees that the MVP of the tournament would get to throw out the first pitch before a Yankee home game. Nick had already been named the MVP of his RBI team in the spring. If he could somehow manage to do it again, he’d get to know, for one moment, what it was like to be in the middle of the most famous field in the world. Then it wouldn’t only be the people in the stands watching him, but perhaps Michael Arroyo, too.
A lot needed to go right for that to happen. Nick had to pitch his absolute best in the summer league, the same as he had in the spring, and the Blazers would have to win the tournament—he was almost sure of that. For the most part, in sports, the MVP came from the championship team. But at least the chance was there, to make it from this field to the one across the street.
“Can I ask for a favor?” Nick said to his coach.
“Go for it.”
“Let’s not talk about the MVP award. I don’t want anybody to think I care about it more than winning the tournament.”
“Oh, I know that,” Coach said, with a wave of his hand. “And so do your teammates.”
“But can we please just not talk about it?” Nick pleaded, swiping a palm over his buzz cut.
“I won’t if you don’t want me to,” Coach Viera promised.
“Not gonna lie, it would be great to throw out that first pitch,” Nick said, punching a fist into his mitt. “But I’m not fixed on that.”
Nick wasn’t going to admit it to his coach, or his teammates, or even his parents. He was too embarrassed to tell any of them how much it would mean to throw that pitch. How much he wanted it. But he did.
Coach Viera got up and made his way down the hill and across the sidewalk embedded with small plaques that told of great moments in Yankee history. By now, some of the other Blazers were starting to arrive for practice, which was scheduled for six o’clock sharp. With Coach Viera, you started on time and you ended on time. Nick stayed where he was another minute, looking around at the Stadium to his left and the elevated subway tracks in the distance. He listened to the thrumming of the trains pulling into and out of the station at 161st Street, a sound that was as much a part of his life as the cheers echoing from inside Yankee Stadium.
Nick loved this field the way he loved his neighborhood. Even the racket from the cars on the Major Deegan Expressway, crawling along in both directions at rush hour.
“Sometimes I think,” his mother, Graciela, would say, “if you could move your bedroom to that field, you would.”
“And you’d still be telling me to keep it clean,” Nick would reply, sending the two of them into a laughing fit. Then she’d pull him in for a long hug.
There was no Yankee game tonight, as the team was in Toronto finishing out a long road trip against the Blue Jays. So it wouldn’t be one of those nights when Nick and his teammates could hear the game being played across the street. Usually, they could tell immediately if something good, or maybe even great had just happened for the Yankees.
Nick had been inside Yankee Stadium a few times. His father tried to take him once a year. They usually sat in the bleachers, because those were the only tickets Victor García could afford. But even from there, in the most distant part of the ballpark, Nick thought the view of the game was beautiful. His father would always take pictures to remember the experience, but as much as Nick liked having those pictures, he didn’t need them. Long after the game was over, he could vividly recall the memory of everything he’d seen, both in his mind and in his heart.
Alone on the hill, about to make the walk down to the field, Nick closed his eyes. This time, he wasn’t envisioning those games from the bleacher seats.
Instead, Nick García pictured himself going into his big windup, the one he’d copied from Michael Arroyo even though Nick was right-handed. The one he practiced alone in his bedroom in front of the full-length mirror, bringing his leg up high and rotating his right arm forward.
He put himself right there in the center of the Stadium, throwing that first pitch.
Nick knew that people who threw the ceremonial first pitch usually just lobbed the ball in to avoid the embarrassment of bouncing the ball in front of the plate or throwing it wildly over the catcher’s head. But it would be different if he got the chance. If he made it over there, he would bring the heat. But only if he did make it over there. Only if he was still living in their apartment on Grand Concourse, just a few blocks from where Michael Arroyo grew up. Only if his family wasn’t deported first. Nick was an American citizen because he was born in America. So was his older sister, Amelia. His parents, however, were not. If they were sent back to the Dominican Republic, Nick and his sister would go with them.
Even for a kid with big dreams like Nick García, that would be a nightmare.