Josh wondered why every time something really good happened, something else had to spoil it. It had been like this since he could remember, like biting into a ruby red apple only to find a brown worm crawling through the crisp, white fruit. For the first time since he’d moved to his new neighborhood, he had been recognized, and his unusual talent had been appreciated. So why was it that that same fame had kicked up the muddy rumor that got a high school kid looking to bash his teeth in?
For the moment, though, riding the school bus, he was safe. The school newspaper in Josh’s backpack filled his whole body with an electric current of joy and pride, so much so that his cheeks burned. He sat alone in the very front seat and kept his eyes ahead, ignoring the stares and whispers as the other kids got off at the earlier stops. When Jaden Neidermeyer, the new girl from Texas who’d written the article, got off at her stop, Josh stared hard at his sneakers. He just couldn’t look.
After she left, he glanced around and carefully parted the lips of his backpack’s zipper. Without removing the newspaper, he stole another glance at the headline, baseball great, and the picture of him with a bat and the caption underneath: "Grant Middle’s best hope for its first-ever citywide championship, Josh LeBlanc."
The bus ground to a halt at his stop and Josh got off.
As the bus rumbled away, Josh saw Bart Wilson standing on the next corner. The tenth grader pitched his cigarette into the gutter and started toward him with long strides. Josh gasped, turned, and ran without looking back. A car blared its horn. Brakes squealed. Josh leaped back, his heart galloping fast, like the tenth grader now heading his way, even faster. Josh circled the car --- the driver yelling at him through the window --- and dashed across the street and down the far sidewalk.
He rounded the corner at Murphy’s bar and sprinted up the block, ducking behind a wrecked station wagon at Calhoon’s Body Shop, peeking through the broken web of glass back toward the corner. Breathing hard, he slipped the straps of the backpack he carried around his shoulders and fastened it tight. Two men in hooded sweatshirts and jeans jackets burst out of Murphy’s and got into a pickup truck; otherwise, Josh saw no one. Still, he scooted up the side street, checking behind him and dodging from one parked car to another for cover.
When he saw his home, a narrow, red two-story place with a steep roof and a sagging front porch, he breathed deep, and his heart began to slow. The previous owner had three pit bulls, and so a chain-link fence surrounded the house and its tiny front and back lawns, separating them from the close-packed neighbors on either side. The driveway ran tight to the house, and like the single, detached garage, it was just outside the fence. Josh lifted the latch, but as he pulled open the front gate, a hand appeared from nowhere, slamming it shut. The latch clanked home, and the hand spun Josh around.
"What you running from?" asked Bart Wilson, the tenth-grade smoker.
Excerpted from BASEBALL GREAT © Copyright 2012 by Tim Green. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins Children’s Books. All rights reserved.