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Batting Order

LIST PRICE $17.99

A New York Times bestseller

From acclaimed author of the Home Team series comes a brand-new novel about the heart and soul of baseball.

On or off the field, Matt and Ben couldn’t be more different. Ben Roberson is an all-or-nothing player: he’s big, he’s bold, and he’s brash. Ben’s swing can hit a ball right out of the park—but that’s if he can get a hit at all.

Matt Baker is small, and shy, and his stutter has him avoiding the spotlight—even if he’s the best all-rounder on the team. But while Matt knows he’s got the chops, a part of him has always envied “Big Ben” and his attention-grabbing charm.

So it’s a total shock when Ben asks Matt to help him work on his swing. Because Ben can’t put the ball into play, and his showboating comes at the expense of the team. And even though Matt’s trying to help, Ben doesn’t seem to take him seriously, especially when it means toning things down.

The end of the season is fast approaching—is there enough time for Ben to realize bigger isn’t always better? For Matt to understand that sometimes, being the bigger person means standing up for yourself?

Or will they have to accept defeat?

Batting Order ONE
He’d always felt big on a baseball field.

It was the thing Matt Baker loved the most about the game. There were no height requirements or size requirements. Matt remembered one time, when he was younger, his mom had taken him to Universal Studios in Florida. There was a Back to the Future ride, named after one of her favorite old movies. But you had to be a certain height to go on the ride. Matt wasn’t. He’d never even heard of the movie. But he never forgot the woman at the door telling him that he was too small.

Baseball wasn’t like that. It didn’t care how tall you were. Or how short.

In the big leagues, you could be as tall as home run hitters like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, who one season had combined to hit 110 home runs. But you could also be five-foot-six the way José Altuve, Matt’s favorite player in the world, was. And Matt knew there were a lot of baseball fans who were not convinced that Altuve, the Astros second baseman, was really even five-six.

It didn’t matter. The year Aaron Judge hit fifty-one home runs for the Yankees and won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, he only finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting. José Altuve finished first. Judge was more than a foot taller than Altuve. And Giancarlo Stanton, who won the MVP in the National League that year because he hit fifty-nine home runs, was six-six. It made him a foot taller than José Altuve, exactly.

Baseball didn’t care. It was why the season, first in the spring with his regular Little League team in South Shore and then in the summer with All-Stars, was Matt Baker’s favorite time of the year. It was his birthday, and Christmas.

Baseball didn’t only make him feel like his biggest self. It made him feel like his very best self. For Matt, it wasn’t just about being the second baseman and the all-around player he wanted to be. Baseball made him feel like the confident person he wanted to be. It didn’t matter that he was the shortest guy on all the teams he’d played on so far, and the shortest guy in sixth grade this past year at South Shore Middle School.

But there was something else.

Matt had stuttered for most of his life. He knew that he stuttered less on a ball field than anywhere else. Somehow the words didn’t stop as often. Sometimes Matt thought it was because he was too busy trying to show everybody—and himself—that he wasn’t going to let his lack of size stop him.

This spring he had hit .500 exactly for his Little League team, the Nationals, as they’d won their league championship. He’d led off for the Nationals and played second. His teammates all told him after the season that if the league gave out an MVP award, he would have won it the same way his guy Altuve had won it with the Astros, while they were in the process of winning their first World Series in the history of that franchise.

Matt knew he hadn’t been the player everybody remembered best from that Nationals team, despite all the hits he had gotten and all the times he’d been on base because of walks. He knew they remembered some of the long home runs the team’s first baseman, Big Ben Roberson, had hit. Even though that meant they also forgot how many times Ben had struck out taking his big cuts.

Ben struck out three times in the Nationals’ championship game against the Rockies. But that isn’t what everyone talked about when the game was over and the championship trophy had been presented. No, everyone remembered a fifth-inning home run when the game was still tied. It was a home run that so many adults at the game, so many of whom had grown up in South Shore themselves, said was the longest they’d ever seen someone Ben’s age hit at Healey Park.

So there was a lot of talk about that after the game, and not so much about Matt getting two singles and a double and a walk and scoring every time he’d been on base. But that was fine with Matt. Ben did most of the talking. He liked to talk, often about himself. That was fine with Matt too. They were teammates, but they’d never become close friends.

As different as his style was from Ben’s, Matt did enjoy watching Ben hit. He liked the way everything seemed to stop on the field when Ben stepped to the plate, because people knew something dramatic was likely about to happen, for one team or the other, strikeout or long ball. It was, Matt knew, one of the things he loved about all sports, really: The next moment was the one that could change everything. Ben made you feel that way every time he stepped to the plate. Even if he did strike out, he’d still come back to the bench smiling.

“All it takes is one,” he’d say after he struck out.

Matt didn’t think Ben loved baseball the way he did football and basketball, especially basketball, where he was already a star in his travel league. Sometimes Matt thought Ben just played baseball because it was something fun to do in the spring and summer. But you still wanted him on your team, and not just because of the home runs. If you were an infielder the way Matt was, you loved having him at first base. With his size and reach, he made you think it was practically impossible to make a throw that Ben couldn’t catch. Their coach, John Sargent—everybody just called him Sarge—liked to say that the only things Ben couldn’t catch at first base were low-flying birds.

The truth was that Ben was a lot more consistent catching balls than hitting them.

But there was a different kind of bond between Sarge and Matt. It was Sarge who called Matt “The Little Engine That Could.” Sarge who kept telling Matt that if you added up all of Matt’s hits and walks and even the times when his speed would cause an infielder on the other team to rush a throw and make an error, his on-base percentage was nearly a thousand.

Matt would tell his coach that he didn’t care how he got on base, as long as he got on base.

“I know you’re happy to take a walk,” Sarge had been saying to Matt the night before at practice. “But my favorite thing is when they finally make a pitch to you that’s too good, and you show them how much pop you have in your bat. How much stronger you are than you look.”

In that moment, all Matt wanted to say was, “Thank you.”

But he could not.

The first word just wouldn’t come right away. The feeling, he knew by now, would come on him without notice. He would be stuck again. A lot of times it was a simple word that began with t.

Or th.

Sometimes it was just a simple “thanks.”

Sometimes the best he could do was smile, because the word just couldn’t get out of him.

He did that with Sarge last night. Sarge smiled back at him.

“Not going anywhere,” he said.

Finally, and slowly, Matt said, “Thank you.”

Then they were back to talking baseball, and the words were spilling out of Matt, and he told Sarge, “I feel like my power is my secret weapon.”

Sarge was still smiling. “It won’t be for long once we start playing games. They’ll all find out that big things really do come in small packages.”

Matt had heard that one before. Had been hearing it his whole life. He was used to it by now. The funny thing was that his dad, who’d divorced his mom when Matt was five and was living in London now, was six feet two inches tall. He’d been a home run hitter when he was Matt’s age, and all the way through high school. But he hadn’t been a big part of Matt’s life long enough to see Matt become the ballplayer he had. Even when Matt remembered his mom telling him she loved him exactly the way he was—meaning the size he was—his dad hardly ever said anything. There were so many things, Matt thought now, that he didn’t know about me.

Kevin Baker had remarried after moving to London, and now had a son with his new wife. He’d e-mail Matt once in a while. He’d usually remember to send a gift on his birthday and Christmas, though he’d missed a few birthdays.

He didn’t know how good Matt had become in baseball. If he even knew Matt stuttered, Matt’s mom, Rachel, had never mentioned it. Sometimes you heard people talk about “single” parents. Matt thought of his mom as his only parent.

She loved baseball, too. Even though she was barely five feet tall, she’d been a star softball pitcher at South Shore High School and then at the University of North Carolina, where she’d even gotten a softball scholarship.

People made a big thing about “soccer moms.” Matt’s was a baseball mom, through and through.

From the time that Matt Baker—he hated it when people called him Matty—had first started playing T-ball, she had told him the same thing.

“They say that size matters in sports,” she said. “Well, guess what, it does: the size of your talent and the size of your heart.”

Matt had read up a lot on the history of baseball. He knew that Joe Morgan, one of the greatest second basemen of all time, was only an inch taller than Altuve. And Joe Morgan had played with one of the best teams of all time, a Cincinnati Reds squad known as “The Big Red Machine.” He was a little guy who had ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Size didn’t hold Joe Morgan back. It wasn’t holding José Altuve back. Matt, with his own strong baseball heart, was determined that it wasn’t going to hold him back.

Still:

There was a part of him that thought it must be nice to be as big as Ben Roberson, even though in his heart he knew he was a better baseball player.

Ben had a personality that seemed to match his size, whether he was with kids his own age, or adults. Matt looked at him and saw somebody whose whole life seemed to be a home run, even when he had swung and missed again.

And no matter what, Big Ben Roberson never seemed to be at a loss for words.
Reading Group Guide for

Batting Order

By Mike Lupica

About the Book

You wouldn’t know it from Matt’s upbeat attitude and his enthusiasm for baseball, but the twelve-year-old has some serious challenges in his life. His father has moved to London and started a new family. Matt’s mother is terrific, but his father’s move still hurts. It’s also hard for Matt that he stutters, often when he has something important to say. And maybe this shouldn’t matter, but it does: Matt’s the shortest guy on his baseball team, and in his grade. When his baseball team starts winning but a key batter flounders, Matt learns that helping a friend can make him forget his own problems. Batting Order conveys a memorable summer of friendship and teamwork in the life of a boy for whom baseball is the best magic.

Discussion Questions

1. “Baseball didn’t only make him feel like his biggest self. It made him feel like his very best self. For Matt, it wasn’t just about being the second baseman and the all-around player he wanted to be. Baseball made him feel like the confident person he wanted to be.” How does baseball make Matt feel like his best self? Why is he so concerned about confidence, and how does baseball help? Explain your answers using examples from the book.

2. Being the shortest guy both in the sixth grade and on sports teams is one difficult element of Matt’s life. Why do kids like Joey tease him about it? How does that make Matt feel? How does thinking about José Altuve help Matt? Why do you think people are judged based on their height? How does this situation make you feel?

3. Matt is close to his mother, with whom he shares a love of baseball. What is she like? What does she do with her time, and what is she interested in? Find scenes where Matt and his mother have comfortable conversations with each other, and analyze how they interact and treat each other. How do you think their relationship impacts Matt?

4. Matt’s father has moved to London and started a new family there. Why did he leave? How much is he in touch with Matt? How does Matt feel about his father and the fact that he left? Explain your answers using examples from the text.

5. What kind of coach is Sarge? Find specific examples that reveal his character and his coaching style. Describe Matt’s relationship with Sarge. What useful advice does Sarge give to Matt or the entire team?

6. How do Sarge and Matt’s mother get along? Why do you think Sarge makes her first-base coach? What does she have to offer to the team? When and how is she helpful during practice and games?

7. In what ways is coaching like teaching? How does Matt try to help Ben with his swing? Why is Ben resistant to change? How does Matt’s mother help Matt and others with their baseball skills outside of games and team practices?

8. Describe Sue Francis and the work she does with Matt. How does she help him with his stuttering? How does she behave like a teacher? How does his stuttering affect the ways he interacts socially, and how does she help him with that?

9. Why does Matt dislike people finishing his sentences when he’s stuttering? When does it come up with Ben? Why does Ben think he’s “just trying to help” the first time he fills in words for Matt?

10. What does the book’s last scene show about Ben and his understanding of Matt’s stuttering? Why do you think Joey is so cruel? How does Matt respond?

11. After Matt talks to Ms. Francis about an incident with Ben, she observes, “‘Baseball is supposed to be your safe place.’” Later, when Ben plans to come to Matt’s house, Matt worries that he’ll stutter and thinks that usually “being inside his house [is] as safe as being inside his own brain.” What does he mean by a place being safe? Why do you think encounters with Ben upset his feelings of safety?

12. Why does Ben distance himself from Matt after a game where Matt’s mother benches him? Why doesn’t Ben answer Matt’s texts? How does Matt feel about Ben’s treatment of him? Why does Matt go to Ben’s house after the game that Ben misses? How does Matt act toward Ben’s father?

13. How does Mr. Roberson behave during Ben’s baseball games? What kind of batting does he urge Ben to focus on? How do Sarge, Matt, and Matt’s mother think Ben should adjust his batting? Why does Ben listen to his father rather than his coaches? Why do you think it’s difficult for Ben to decide whose advice to follow?

14. Why is Mr. Roberson so hostile to the idea of Matt’s mother acting as a coach? What does he do to show his displeasure? Describe the scene where Matt’s mother takes Ben out of the game for not hustling to first base. Why does she make that decision? Why does Ben’s father object? Who do you think has a stronger case? Explain your answer.

15. Talk about Ben’s relationship with his father off the baseball field. Where is Ben’s mother? Why did she leave? Analyze why Mr. Roberson says Ben is “so soft sometimes,” adding that Ben’s mother calls him “sensitive.” Why does Mr. Roberson think boys shouldn’t be sensitive? How do you feel about that statement?

16. When Matt meets with Ms. Francis the day before the championship game, she says that he and Ben have “both found [their] voices.” What does she mean by that? What are the different ways in which speaking and voices are important in the novel? Explain your answers using examples from the text.

17. In the same meeting with Ms. Francis, Matt makes an observation about Ben: “‘At the start of the season I thought he had everything going for him.’” Why did Matt think that about Ben? What assumptions about Ben’s life turned out to be inaccurate? Relate Matt’s new insights about Ben to José’s earlier comment: “‘I think that maybe Ben is more complicated than he looks sometimes.’”

18. In the last scene, why does Sarge ask Matt to speak to the audience? How does Matt react? What is Ben’s role in this scene? Why do you think the book ends with Matt speaking rather than with a scene during a baseball game? Explain your answer.

19. Find a scene during one of the team’s games and analyze the writing. How does the author convey the game without recounting every detail? What does he include and what does he leave out? How does he build excitement? Consider word choices and varying sentence length in your analysis.

Extension Activities

Where Are the Female Coaches?

Ask students to read this piece in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/31/opinion/Women-coaching-sports-title-ix.html) and watch the accompanying video about the decline in women’s coaches in college sports. Discuss the newspaper piece and video, and connect it to Mr. Roberson’s objection to Matt’s mother coaching. Then have each student research a different current or past female coach in college or professional sports, and report their findings to the class. Tell them to think about their coaching styles and experience and the roads that led them to their positions. Is it similar to or different from their male counterparts? How were they encouraged or discouraged?

The Little Engine That Could

Sarge calls Matt “The Little Engine That Could,” referring to a well-known children’s picture book by Watty Piper that has sold millions of copies. Read the book aloud to the class, and then lead a discussion about why Sarge compares Matt to events in the book. Ask students to discuss the overall message and why they think The Little Engine That Could has been popular for so many years. Have them consider if any aspects of the book feel dated and, if so, how.

Stuttering Didn’t Stop Them

Matt takes inspiration from knowing baseball player George Springer also deals with stuttering. Refer students to the Stuttering Foundation website (https://www.stutteringhelp.org/), which includes sections for kids and teens; have them learn more about these topics, including famous people past and present who have stuttered. Ask students to each find five interesting pieces of information on the website to share with the group and explain why they selected them.

People You Admire

Among the athletes that Matt admires are José Altuve and George Springer. Invite each student to identify a public figure in sports or another field whom they admire. They should learn more about the person so that they can describe their life and accomplishments and explain why they admire them. The final project can take different formats, depending on student preference: a speech about the public figure, a multimedia presentation, a poster, an essay, or another response that can be shared with the class.

Take a Deep Breath

Matt sometimes focuses on his breathing to relax, following Ms. Francis’s advice to “breathe through his nose” and “count to four as [he] take[s] the breath in, hold[s] it for four, let[s] it out the same way.” Have students research breathing exercises, including looking into the science behind them, and explore the related topic of mindfulness. Ask them to discuss their findings in small groups and then try some class breathing exercises.

Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a former school librarian and Chair of the 2002 Newbery Award committee. She gives professional development workshops on books for young people and is the author of Great Books for Girls and Great Books about Things Kids Love

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photo by Taylor McKelvy Lupica

Mike Lupica is the author of multiple bestselling books for young readers, including the Home Team series, QB 1HeatTravel TeamMillion-Dollar Throw, and The Underdogs. He has carved out a niche as the sporting world’s finest storyteller. Mike lives in Connecticut with his wife and their four children. When not writing novels, he writes for Daily News (New York) and is an award-winning sports commentator. You can visit Mike Lupica at MikeLupicaBooks.com.

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