Great Balls of Fire (Sluggers Series #3)

Great Balls of Fire (Sluggers Series #3)

by Loren Long, Phil Bildner


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Where there's smoke...

The year is 1899 and the Travelin' Nine are barnstorming their way across the good ol' U. S. of A., trying to raise money to pay off the Payne family's big-league debt.

Pulling into Chicago, Griffith has a run-in with an enormous thug and is more convinced than ever that the nefarious robber baron called "The Chancellor" knows about their magic baseball.

Ruby also has an encounter with a mysterious stranger, and even though she doesn't know why, she knows that he will change the Travelin' Nine.

And Graham launches a towering shot out of the park when he thinks no one is looking. Unfortunately, the wrong eyes may have seen what the youngest Payne can do with a baseball.

Chicago is a hot town, so the Paynes better keep their cool. The Travelin' Nine still have more money to make!

#1 New York Times bestseller Loren Long and Texas Bluebonnet winner Phil Bildner create a memorable modern-day parable where three siblings embark on the adventure of a lifetime and discover the strength in family, the power of faith, and the true magic of baseball.

New York Times bestselling series!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416918899
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2009
Series: Sluggers Series , #3
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Loren Long illustrated President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing; the newest version of The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper; Madonna’s second picture book, Mr. Peabody’s Apples; Nightsong by Ari Berk; Frank McCourt’s Angela and the Baby Jesus; Love by Matt de la Peña; and If I Was the Sunshine by Julie Fogliano. He also wrote and illustrated the Otis series and was part of the Design Garage for Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown series. Loren’s work has appeared in Time, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. He lives with his wife and two sons in Cincinnati, Ohio. Visit him at

Phil Bildner is a former New York City public school teacher who lives in Newburgh, New York. He spends much of his year visiting schools and libraries around the country and world. He is the author of over twenty books including the middle grade novel A Whole New Ballgame and picture books Marvelous Cornelius, The Soccer Fence, The Hallelujah Flight, and Twenty-One Elephants. Along with Loren Long, he is the coauthor of the New York Times bestselling Sluggers series. Visit him online at

Read an Excerpt



"Who always gets what he wants?" Ruby asked. She stood with her brother in the center of Jackson Park, where they were promoting the upcoming game.

"The Chancellor," Griffith replied. His words sounded cold as they left his lips, and he could tell they frightened her even more than their mother's had on the train. But Griffith had promised not to keep any secrets from her, no matter how terrifying.

"What do we have?"

"He must know we have the baseball. He must..."

Griffith stopped. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the men standing along the edge of the plaza. Griffith realized he and Ruby had allowed themselves to get separated from Happy and the Professor. Immersed in their conversation, they had wandered away. Griffith clenched his fist and pounded his leg. How could he have been so careless?

"Griff, what is it?" Ruby asked.

Before he had a chance to answer, he saw the men again. Only this time, they stood on the other side of the plaza. How did they get there so quickly? They were closer, too, and Griffith was now able to see that these were the same two men he had seen in Louisville.

Griffith clenched his fist even tighter. Was the Chancellor with his men? Had he followed them to Chicago?

At least the baseball wasn't with them. Both he and Ruby had thought it would be safer if they didn't carry it while they were promoting the game.

Ruby had found the perfect spot to hide it temporarily. She'd buried it in the bottom of the inside pocket of their mother's bag, the one in which she always stored a spare change of clothes. Ruby and Griffith knew their mother kept a very close eye on the bag, especially when she took it to the ball field. That's where she was now, with Graham, practicing with the other barnstormers. Ruby and Griffith also knew their mother would never look in that pocket.


With one eye on the lookout for the Chancellor's men, and the other eye keeping watch of his sister, Griffith didn't see the large woman until it was too late. Charging through the plaza like a runaway freight train, she barreled over him, knocking him to the ground and the stack of advertisements from his grasp.

While raking in the scattered papers, Griffith's hands happened upon a pair of bare feet. They were filthy with caked-on mud around the ankles and heels, and crusted dirt between the toes. As Griffith slowly rose, he saw grass-stained trousers, a partially torn and oversize shirt, and then a long beard, white and gray. Finally, Griffith stood face to face with the old man and looked directly into his eyes, each one a different color.

"Run!" he shouted to his sister.

"What's the matter?"

"C'mon!" He grabbed Ruby by the arm and took off. The flyers in her hand soared into the air like confetti.

"What is it?" she cried.

"Whatever you do," Griffith shouted without looking back, "don't stop!"

"But where to?" Ruby called without breaking stride.

"Toward the fountain!" Griffith pointed.

They charged through the maze of people in front of the Palace of the Arts and tore past the fruit and vegetable carts lining the North Pond. As soon as they reached the Midway Plaisance — the area where they had entered the park a short time ago — they spotted Happy and the Professor and stopped.

"You okay?" Griffith asked between pants. He placed both hands on his knees.

"Are you?" she asked back.

Griffith nodded.

"What was that all about?" Ruby reached over and rested a hand on her older brother's shoulder.

"Someone was watching us." Griffith didn't look up.

Ruby felt the hairs on her arms tingle. "The Chancellor?"

"His men. The same ones I've seen before. And..." Griffith stopped.

"And what?"

"There was this other man." Griffith stood back up.

"Who? What other man?"

Griffith paused. "He was old. And filthy. He wasn't wearing any shoes, either."

Ruby eyed him.

Griffith nodded. "Ruby, I don't think we needed to run."

"You're confusing me."

He paused again. "Now that I think about it, there wasn't anything frightening about him. Nothing at all."

"How can you be so sure?" Ruby asked, glancing in the direction of Happy and Professor Lance. The Travelin' Nine's hurler and their eye-patch-wearing first sack man remained only steps away.

"His eyes told me."

"His eyes?"

Griffith made circles with his finger and thumb in front of his eyes. "He wore these round, wire-rimmed glasses. And there was a crease — a wrinkle — across the bridge of his nose. It made him look gentle, even though his eyes were different colors."

"Different colors?" Ruby raised an eyebrow.

"One was clouded over and milky white. And the other was this brilliant, twinkling blue. Like yours."

Ruby shook her head once. Then she pointed toward the two ballists. "Griff, I'm going to start handing out the flyers again, but I'm standing next to the Professor."

"I'll go keep Happy company. He looks like he could use some." Copyright © 2008 by Phil Bildner

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