By Cal Ripken Jr.

By Kevin Cowherd

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What do you do when you strike out big? Find out in this dramatic tale by All-Star shortstop Cal Ripkin.

Connor Sullivan is an All-Star shortstop on his Babe Ruth team, the Orioles. He can hit and field with the best of them, but he's got one big problem: his temper. When he strikes out or makes an error, he's a walking Mt. Vesuvius, slamming batting helmets and throwing gloves. His teammates are starting to avoid him, even his best friend Jordy. His coach is ready to kick him off the team. To make matters worse, things aren't much better at home. His dad is having trouble finding a new job after being laid off. Money is tight.

Connor's dream of attending the prestigious Brooks Robinson Baseball Camp this summer seems like just that now — a dream. When the sports editor of the school paper threatens to do a big story on his tantrums — complete with embarrassing photos — Connor realizes he has to clean up his act. But can he do it in time to regain his teammates' trust and help the Orioles win the championship against the best team in the league?



Books by Cal Ripken, Jr.

with Kevin Cowherd


Super Slugger

Wild Pitch

Squeeze Play

The ball was scorched—Connor Sullivan saw that right away.

It shot past the pitcher on one hop, then headed for the outfield as Connor broke to his left from his shortstop position.

With three strides he was there, lunging at the last minute to glove the ball behind second base. He spun, going with his momentum, and fired a bullet to first.

It beat the Braves runner by a step.

“He’s out!” the umpire shouted, pumping his fist.

The packed stands behind home plate exploded with cheers and shouts of “Way to go, Connor!” and “Now let’s get some hits, Orioles!”

The Orioles hustled off the field and smacked gloves with Connor near the dugout, the way the big leaguers did after a great play.

“Where base hits go to die!” second baseman Willie Pitts said, grabbing Connor’s glove and holding it over his head like a trophy.

“Someone call ESPN!” first baseman Jordy Marsh said.

“Highlights at eleven! Too bad you can’t stay up that late, C!”

The rest of the Orioles laughed. This one was all but over. They led the Braves 10–3 in the fifth inning, and the great Connor Sullivan was putting on another show.

He was already 3-for-3 at the plate, including a soaring three-run homer that was probably still being tracked by radar at BWI-Marshall Airport. And he’d made an earlier sparkling play in the field, too, backhanding a line drive in the hole to rob the Braves of another hit.

There was no doubt about it: the Orioles were thankful to have Connor on their team. He was their best player, their all-star shortstop, and a beast of a cleanup hitter.

Tall and broad-shouldered, with a thick mop of brown hair that spilled out from under his cap, he was also their meal ticket if the Orioles planned to win the Dulaney Babe Ruth League championship. And they definitely did, seeing as how they had a perfect 10–0 record with five games to go.

All this could give a kid a big head. But Connor was not that sort of kid.

Sure, he made jokes about having his own posse as a twelve-year-old baseball phenom.

“Jordy, you can be my limo driver,” he’d say. “The rest of you, make yourselves useful. Open some doors and keep the paparazzi away.”

And he did show up for a game wearing dark, movie-star shades and silver stud earrings—the magnetic kind you get at the dollar store. It cracked up everyone, including his coach, Ray Hammond.

But the rest of the Orioles knew Connor was really the most humble player on the team. He was even more humble than reserve player Marty Loopus, who had a lot to be humble about, seeing as how he couldn’t hit, couldn’t catch, and couldn’t throw.

“He doesn’t run too well, either,” Willie Pitts pointed out helpfully whenever Marty grounded out weakly to the pitcher, his usual at bat.

The Orioles also knew no one loved baseball more than Connor Sullivan. No one worked harder at the game, either.

The bounce-back net in the Sullivans’ backyard was worn and frayed from use. Connor practiced catching fly balls and grounders for hours, all the while ferociously chewing gum and blowing bubbles like one of his idols, Adam Jones, of the big-league Orioles.

On weekends, Connor could always be found at Sports, the big amusement arcade near his home, taking endless cuts in the batting cages.

Lately, in fact, he’d begun to wonder if he wasn’t practicing too much.

“Don’t try to be perfect, Connor,” his dad always said. “Baseball isn’t about perfection. Just enjoy the game.”

But sometimes that was hard, especially with what was going on at home. These days he’d been feeling more and more frustrated during games.

If I just work harder, Connor found himself thinking, at least I can make Mom and Dad proud, take their minds off their worries.

All this was running through his head in the sixth inning, when the Braves had runners on first and second with two outs. The next batter lifted a lazy fly ball that drifted behind third base.

Connor circled to his right. He had the better angle on the ball and called off third baseman Carlos Molina. “I got it!” Connor yelled, tapping his glove with his fist, wondering if he should do the Adam Jones bubble-blow as the ball floated out of the bright blue May sky.

Then he watched in disbelief as the ball kicked off the heel of his glove and rolled harmlessly to the grass. Carlos hustled to retrieve it, but not before two runs scored.

Instantly, Connor felt something welling up inside him. How did I blow an easy fly ball like that? I can’t even blame the stupid sun!

Before he could stop himself, he slammed his glove to the ground in disgust. Then, convinced the glove hadn’t absorbed enough punishment, he kicked it as hard as he could.

Connor didn’t think a battered Wilson glove could travel that far. But this one sailed past the pitcher’s mound, where Jordy, his best friend, picked it up with a shocked grin.

“That little act might make SportsCenter, bro,” Jordy said, handing over the glove. “Good thing the ump had his back turned.”

By now, Connor’s anger had vanished, replaced by a major case of embarrassment. “With my luck, it’ll be all over YouTube, too,” he muttered.

Then they heard it.


Coach Hammond’s voice cut the air like a whip. He stood on the dugout steps and glared at his shortstop. “Bring it in, son,” he said. Turning to Marty Loopus on the bench, he said, “Marty, you’re in for Connor.”

Feeling his face redden, Connor trudged to the dugout as a hush fell over the crowd. It was a silence he had never heard before at a baseball game, the kind of silence you felt in a doctor’s office right before he gave you a shot.

“Connor, you’re better than that,” Coach Hammond said gruffly. “And I’m not talking about the error. We don’t lose our temper like that. Not on this team.”

The rest of the game seemed to take forever. The Orioles held on for a 10–6 win, even with Marty booting a ground ball with a runner on second and air-mailing the throw in the direction of the hot dog stand, allowing another Braves run.

Connor was still thinking about the botched fly ball—he’d never had a meltdown like that in his life—when the two teams lined up to slap hands. And he was still thinking about it when Jordy draped an arm over his shoulder.

“Hey, hothead, we’re going for ice cream,” Jordy said. “The great Connor Sullivan needs to cool off.”

Connor shook his head wearily. He sat down and took off his spikes. “No, I better not,” he said. “Same old story: no money.”

Jordy smiled and pulled a rumpled five-dollar bill from the top of his sock. “Ta-daaa!” he said. “This’ll take care of both of us.”

“No, I’ve been mooching off you guys for weeks,” Connor said. “Besides, I have a ton of homework.”

Jordy pretended to be astonished. “The great Connor Sullivan does homework?” he said. “Can’t get your posse to do it for you?”

“Gave ’em the night off,” Connor said. He managed a weak smile. “Besides, they stink at math.”

Jordy shrugged and ran off to join the other Orioles. Connor tossed his spikes, bat, and glove in his equipment bag and slung it over his shoulder. He didn’t have a ride, because neither of his parents had come to the game today—which was probably just as well, considering. It would be a long walk home. And he was in no great hurry to get there.

He pictured his mom and dad sitting at the kitchen table, the mail stacked high in front of them. They would open envelopes one by one, punch numbers into the calculator, then sigh and moan, their worried voices muffled for the sake of the kids.

No, bill-paying day was never a fun time in the Sullivan household.

Connor shook his head mournfully and reached for a cheeseburger. His mom was always talking about comfort foods: macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, mashed potatoes. But if there was a better comfort food on this earth than a cheeseburger, Connor had yet to find it—and he was always looking.

“An easy fly ball!” he said between bites. “Can of corn, you’d call it. And I blew it.”

“Everyone makes errors, Connor,” Bill Sullivan said.

“But everyone doesn’t spike his glove in the dirt after that. And kick it halfway to Camden Yards.”

“Okay, you got me there.”

“I acted like a jerk today,” Connor said.

“Agreed. You definitely redlined the jerk-o-meter.”

Connor and his dad sat at the patio table in their backyard. The sun was setting, with streaks of yellow and pink running across the sky, as his dad pulled the last of the burgers and fried onions off the hot grill.

Connor’s mom was leaving for work, dressed in her blue nurse’s scrubs and white sneakers. “The ER will be a zoo tonight,” Karen Sullivan said when she stepped outside, car keys in hand. “Saturday night and a full moon? Oh, they’ll be wheeling them in like it’s an assembly line.”

“Need some extra protein for the road?” Connor said, lifting up the platter of cheeseburgers. Karen was on an all-veggie diet, for which her family teased her no end.

“I see you two aren’t hung up on cholesterol,” she said.

“Or bad breath,” his dad said, happily popping a huge slice of burned onion in his mouth.

“Well, I’ll catch you two cavemen tomorrow,” Karen said with a smile. “Oh, and Connor, I’m sorry again about missing the game today. Life has been so hectic lately.” She blew a stray lock of hair out of her face. “I’m glad you’re still on a winning streak.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mom,” Connor said, and he meant it. The last thing she needed right now was to see her son wigging out on a baseball field.

“I’m getting the play-by-play now, honey,” said Connor’s father. “I’ll fill you in later.”

Connor’s big sister, Brianna, was missing this meat-fest too. She was with her friends at the mall, doing whatever fifteen-year-old girls did there, which seemed to be flirting with pimply-faced boys and shopping for cheap earrings, as far as Connor could see.

The truth was, he loved evenings alone with his dad. They talked about everything: TV shows and movies, music, girls, how Connor was doing in seventh grade at York Middle School.

But mostly, at times like this, they talked baseball.

Connor’s dad had played shortstop for two years at the University of Maryland before a shoulder injury cut short his college career. He knew the game inside and out. But Connor loved that he wasn’t one of these type A dads who was always going on and on about how great he was back in the day, and who insisted you do everything on the baseball field just the way he did. Only when Connor asked would his dad offer tips on laying down a drag bunt, or the best way to take a lead at first or cross the bag at second on a double play.

Lately, though, his dad was available to talk baseball just about any time—which was the whole problem, when you came right down to it.

Now Connor put down his cheeseburger and wiped his mouth with his napkin. He studied his dad for a moment, trying to gauge his mood. Then he took a deep breath and thought: And the kid swings for the fences…

“Any luck with the job search?” he said.

His dad gave him a tired smile and shook his head slowly.

“Nothing yet, buddy,” he said. “But don’t worry. I’ll find something soon.”

Soon—how many times had Connor heard that? How long had it been now—five months?—since his dad had been laid off from his job as a car salesman at Johnson Chrysler, the big dealership on Route 40? Connor knew his father spent hours each day looking for a new job, but so far things weren’t working out. And his mom was taking more shifts in the emergency room just to keep her job, which is why neither had been able to get to a game in weeks.

Money was tight—anyone with eyes could see that. The family hadn’t gone out to eat in months. New clothes, new shoes, his braces—all would have to wait, his parents kept telling him.

Even Brianna seemed stressed lately. To save money, she had started making her own clothes and selling some on Etsy, a Web site for buying and selling handmade items.

Connor took another bite of his burger and glanced at the calendar hanging just inside the screen door. Five weeks until the Brooks Robinson Camp, the most prestigious baseball camp around—by invitation only. Connor had one of those prized invitations with the embossed BR seal sitting on his dresser. But where were they going to find money for baseball camp?

“I won’t be out of a job forever, bud,” his dad said, as if reading his mind. “People aren’t buying cars the way they used to. But they say the economy is bouncing back. And we’re lucky that your mom makes a decent living. There are lots of folks worse off than we are.”

Connor knew his dad was right. But knowing that wasn’t helping his mood these days. In fact, it made him feel guilty. He was so embarrassed about his dad being out of work that he hadn’t told anyone about it, not even Jordy. Keeping such a big secret—especially from his best friend—didn’t feel right. But he couldn’t bring himself to do anything else.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup. It softened quickly in the humid air outside. Connor thought about all of his friends going out for ice cream without him, and he lost his appetite. He put down his spoon and stared at the milky brown soup in his bowl.

“Still reliving your blowup today?” Connor’s dad asked.

Connor just nodded, afraid his voice would crack.

“You talk about a meltdown,” his dad said. “I almost went thermonuclear the other day at that job interview.”

“The Toyota dealership?” Connor said, glad for the change of subject.

“That’s the one. A young guy interviewed me. He was, I don’t know, thirty, thirty-one. One of their HR guys. So-o-o condescending. Kept asking about my computer skills. ‘Hey, I’m fifty-one,’ I told him, ‘not a hundred and one. I know this stuff.’”

“Yeah, you’re on the computer all the time,” Connor agreed. “’Course you’re only playing solitaire, but…”


On Sale
Feb 14, 2012
Page Count
160 pages

Cal Ripken Jr.

About the Author

Cal Ripken, Jr. was a shortstop and third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles for his entire career (1981-2001). Nicknamed "The Iron Man" for his relentless work ethic and reliability on the field, Ripken is most remembered for playing a record 2,632 straight games over 17 seasons. He was a 19-time All-Star and is considered to be one of the best shortstops professional baseball has ever seen. In 2007 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Since his retirement, Ripken has worked as President and CEO of Ripken Baseball, Inc. to nurture the love of baseball in young children from a grassroots level. His Cal Ripkin Baseball Division is a division of the Babe Ruth League and welcomes players ages 4-12. Cal currently lives in Maryland with his wife and two children.

Kevin Cowherd has been a writer for the Baltimore Sun since 1987, is nationally syndicated by the Los Angeles Times – Washington Post news service, and is the author of Last Call at the 7-Eleven, a book of selected writings published by Bancroft Press. In 1990 he was honored by the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors for excellence in feature writing. He currently writes a sports column and blog for the Baltimore Sun. He is also a humorist, and an experienced Little League coach. He lives with his wife and three children near Baltimore.

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