Dave gives an overview of the book:
Joe Lee's Fastball
“Damn it, Jukey! Stand still!”
The baseball had just gone whizzing past me and hit the backstop at about knee level. I picked myself up from the dirt and pointed the bat out at my oldest brother.
“You about like to kill me, Joe Lee. If I’d stood there, you’d’ve took my head clean off.”
“Well, you keep moving around like that, how’m I supposed to think? You like a scared rabbit. How’m I supposed to not aim at you?”
Dean, the middlest and biggest of us Jones boys, retrieved the ball and tossed it back out to Joe Lee. “Come on up here, Jukey. He cracks your skull, I’ll crack his. How’s that?”
I grumbled, but stepped back into the batter’s box. I didn’t understand why in hell Joe Lee couldn’t just be satisfied with being the best hitter on the team. Why he had to be the pitching star… well, hell, I guess that’s just Joe Lee.
“If I just hit, I got to wait for eight other guys before I get a chance. If I pitch, I get to be part of most every play. And we got no DH, so I still get to hit, too.” That was his explanation. So here we were trying to tame his wild arm.
In the box, I banged the bat against my feet like the big leaguers knocking dirt out of their spikes. I planted my feet and started waving the bat around over my head like I had some kind of power. Joe Lee looked in at me and Dean and let fly. The ball came in like to take off my head and I dove out of the way again. Damned if that ball didn’t hit my bat mid-air and splinter it into a thousand pieces.
“Damn it, Jukey! You jumping around again.” Joe Lee threw his mitt down on the mound and kicked it around the infield. “That was our only bat, too.”
I got up again, dusting dirt from my Wranglers. Looking out past Joe Lee’s tantrum, I saw old Coach sitting by the left field line. “Hey, Coach!” I yelled.
He raised his John Deere hat from his head and hollered back. “Afternoon, Jukey. Joe Lee’s got some fastball, huh?”
“It’s like to coming at me a hundred miles an hour, sir,” I shouted back. He got to his feet and walked in toward us. Joe Lee quit kicking his mitt around and met us at home plate.
“Way I see it,” Coach said as we four made a square around the plate, “Joe Lee’s a natural born hunter. And Jukey’s a natural born mover.”
”Yes, sir,” said Dean. “That’s exactly right.”
“And that works good when Joe Lee’s a quarterback and Jukey’s a receiver.”
“Yes, sir,” said Dean. “Right again.”
“But as long as Jukey’s moving around, Joe Lee can’t help but aim at him.”
“That’s just what I was saying, Coach. Jukey’s got to stand still,” Joe Lee said, shooting me the evil eye.
“Well, asking Jukey to stand still is like asking you not to aim at a moving target, I reckon,” said Coach. I shot the evil eye right back at Joe Lee“What you need is Jukey here to be your catcher.”
The three of us Jones brothers looked at each other. I didn’t like the idea and I could tell Joe Lee didn’t, either. Dean spit on the ground, though, and said, “I reckon that might just work.”
Lots of folks thought Dean was stupid, on account of he’s big and don’t say much. But if he says something to Joe Lee and me, we pretty much take it as gospel.
“All right,” I said and took the catcher’s mitt. Joe Lee stomped back out to the mound.
“I’ll get a bat from my truck,” Coach said and trotted away. “Try some warm-ups before Dean gets in the box, Joe Lee.”
“Yes, sir,” Joe Lee said and toed the rubber.
The catcher’s mitt felt strange on my hand after years of playing second base. It was lumpy and heavy. I crouched down behind the plate the way I’d always seen Dean do. Looking out at the mound, Joe Lee looked huge, way too close. I made a target with the mitt and squeezed my eyes shut. I knew my target was moving around. I couldn’t help it. I was scared to death.
I heard the ball flying toward me and couldn’t dive out of the way from the crouch I was in. There was a huge thud and I opened my eyes to find the ball secure in the center of the mitt. My eyes went wide. I looked out at the mound and saw Joe Lee’s eyes just as big.
He threw a few more and before long I was able to keep my eyes open. The mitt kept moving, though, and it was all I could do not to duck when the ball came whipping in. Coach came back with a bat and handed it to Dean.
Our middle brother stepped in and took his usual stance—quiet, still, looking as big as Babe Ruth. The bat was cocked behind his ear like he was ready to pull the trigger and shoot that ball out of the yard.
Joe Lee tugged on the bill of his cap and looked in at us both. He wound up and threw and Dean never moved, just watched the ball go into the glove.
“That’s a strike right there,” Coach said. Dean nodded. I tossed the ball back out to Joe Lee.
Again, he wound up and threw. Again, the ball screamed past Dean and across for a strike. “Strike two,” said Coach. “You might want to swing, Dean.” Dean nodded again.
I returned the ball to Joe Lee and I could see him sweating now. Dean just didn’t strike out. None of us could recall a time when he had. Joe Lee went into his motion and hurled the ball toward the moving mitt on my hand. Dean sliced the bat through the zone as the ball came in. He’d been timing Joe Lee with his first two pitches and I swear he hit that ball a mile.
Joe Lee’s face fell like someone just shot his dog. Dean finished watching the arc of the ball and then looked out at the mound.
“Joe Lee,” he said. “That was the fastest pitch I ever seen. You learn something besides a fastball, ain’t nobody going to hit you and that’s a fact.”
Joe Lee looked doubtful. “Yeah?” he asked.
“Coach?” Dean looked for back-up.
“Yes, sir, Joe Lee. I reckon with Jukey as your catcher, we might be able to make a pitcher of you yet.” Joe Lee smiled. “Now how about you fetch that ball and I’ll teach you a change-up.”
“Yes, sir,” said Joe Lee and sprinted away from us. My hand was starting to ache, but I reckoned us Jones brothers had just found a way to be the star players in one more sport.