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.
Griffith has a run-in with the Chancellor and learns that the baseball isn't the only item the infamous industrialist is after. Even more mysteriously, the Chancellor claims to have something that the Paynes want.
And Ruby. Where in the world has she vanished to? Does her disappearance have anything to do with the Chancellor's threats? Or is there some other plan in play?
And finally, Graham makes a heartfelt birthday wish and somehow gets exactly what he asks for. But questions still remain: Was it real? Can it possibly be true? Or is it all just a dream?
If they don't watch out, Griffith, Ruby, Graham, and the Travelin' Nine may find themselves in deep water in the Land of 10,000 Lakes!
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About the Author
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 PhilBildner.com.
Read an Excerpt
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" Graham announced. He stood on the base of the lamppost, whirling around and waving the flyers. "The Lakers stink!"
"Grammy!" shouted Griffith, sidestepping through the people in the plaza.
After several days of rain, it seemed as though everyone in the Mill City was out-doors. Even though it was still cool and damp, the worst of the weather was clearly done.
"The Lakers stink!" Graham repeated. "The Travelin' Nine will destroy them on Tuesday!"
"Graham Payne!" Ruby charged over.
Graham continued to swing around the post. "Come watch them get beat!"
"That's enough!" Griffith swiped at his legs. "Get down!"
"Witness the whuppin' for yourself!" Graham hopped away from his brother's grabs.
By now a crowd had gathered, and many appeared to be irritated by the little boy with the big mouth.
Griffith glanced at Scribe. It had been Griffith's idea for the Travelin' Nine's mountain of a man to accompany them to promote the game. With his intimidating presence, there would be little chance the Chancellor or his henchmen would attempt anything. However, Scribe couldn't stand too close because he might inadvertently scare people off. At the moment, Griffith could see that the barnstormers' center scout was beginning to work his way over. Surely Scribe had heard Graham and was coming to put a stop to the antics.
"This is your last warning!" Griffith yelled, fixing his glare back on his brother and pointing him to the pavement. "Get down!"
Graham sighed. "I'm just trying to get everyone's attention. I don't mean what I'm saying or "
Griffith leaped into the air, yanked on Graham's pant leg, and pulled him from the post. "You can't behave like this," he lectured with a finger in his brother's face. "It's inappropriate."
"Give me one of those!" a man barked, snatching a flyer from Graham's hand.
"I want one too," a woman hollered.
Graham flashed his mischievous smile at his brother and sister. "Now what do you two have to say for yourself?" he said as he politely distributed the flyers. "It looks like the Graham Payne way is working just fine."
"It might be working," said Ruby, "but it's not right. If that's what it takes to get people to watch the Travelin' Nine, then it's not worth it."
"I'll say it's not worth it," Scribe agreed, having reached the three Paynes. He looked down at his charges. "I heard some of what was going on, and I must say, I'm most disappointed."
"No child should ever be allowed to be so disrespectful," yelled a woman standing behind Scribe.
"Where did he learn his manners?" asked another.
"My friends," Scribe said, addressing the dozens who now surrounded them. "I would like to apologize for this young man's behavior. I will see to it that "
"We want to hear him apologize!" another woman interrupted.
"You're right," said Scribe. He placed a firm hand on Graham's shoulder. "I believe you have something to tell these fine folks."
Graham scrunched his face into a knot. "Fine," he said, swatting his leg with the flyers. He hopped back onto the lamppost and looked into the sea of people. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Griffith asked, a hint of a smirk on his face.
Graham growled at his brother and then faced the crowd again. "I'm sorry for saying the things I did. I should know better. I'll never do it again." He jumped down and glared at Griffith and Ruby. "You happy now?"
"Almost," Ruby replied, leaping onto the post.
"What are you doing?" asked Graham.
"Please don't hold my brother's behavior against us." She spoke to the masses and held out the flyers. "Please take one. Please come to our game."
A man reached up.
Followed by a second.
Then a woman took a flyer.
And still another man.
Suddenly, Ruby couldn't pass the flyers out fast enough, and when Griffith saw what was happening, he joined his sister on the lamppost.
"I've heard of these fellas," a man said, reading the flyer. "They just beat the Chicago Nine."
"That's right, sir," Griffith said.
"Heard they played a mighty good game in Louisville," said another.
"They sure did." Ruby couldn't contain her smile. "They're terrific ballists."
"Come see for yourself how well they play," added Griffith.
"We'll be there," said yet another.
"The plan worked!" Graham exclaimed when they reached the walkway at the edge of the plaza.
"Better than I ever imagined," Ruby agreed. "Do you think anyone had any idea?"
"Not with how well I can act!" declared Griffith, inflating his chest.
"You?" Graham dismissed his brother with a wave of the hand. "That was all me. I have a future on the stage!"
"What are you three talking about?" Scribe asked.
The Payne siblings fell silent.
"What worked?" Scribe pressed. "What plan?"
Ruby sighed deeply and then gazed up at Scribe. "Graham really wasn't misbehaving. He was acting. We all were."
"I'm not sure I understand." Scribe placed his oversize hand on his chin. "I'm not sure I want to either."
"We planned all that," Griffith explained. "We thought more people would take flyers."
"It worked like a charm!" added Graham.
Scribe shook his head. "It may have worked, but it wasn't particularly honest."
"We weren't hurting anyone," Griffith contended.
"It was deceitful," Scribe maintained. "You were duping people."
Ruby suddenly felt awful. She had been inconsiderate yet again. And this time of Scribe, the one person who had stood by her on the train.
She turned away. In the distance Ruby could see the factories and warehouses lining the Minneapolis riverfront. She spotted the enormous Washburn Mill, which stood next to the field where the other members of the Travelin' Nine were practicing at this very moment. Her frown deepened. Ruby knew how much Scribe valued practicing with his fellow Rough Riders. It had taken a great deal of coaxing to get him to skip practice and chaperone their excursion instead. He didn't deserve to be treated with such disrespect.
Griffith reached up and rested a hand on Scribe's shoulder. "Did you see the way they'd heard of the Travelin' Nine?" he asked.
"Indeed I did," Scribe answered, a hint of a smile returning to his face.
"It wasn't just one person this time," Ruby added. "It was a lot of people."
"It sure was." Scribe gathered the three children closer. "That's something to always keep in mind. When you're out here promoting the Travelin' Nine, you represent them. You're the face of the team."
"And with a face like this," said Graham, "there's no stopping us!"
Scribe smiled again. "Well, now that you're almost eight, you're old enough to know "
"Saturday's my big day," Graham interrupted with a raised arm and fist. "I can't wait. I have a huge birthday wish."
"What's the wish?" asked Ruby.
"I'm not telling," Graham replied. "If I did, it wouldn't come true. But I will say this much." He pointed at Griffith and Ruby. "Everyone is going to be so happy when it comes true. I guarantee it."
Text copyright © 2009 by Phil Bildner and Loren Long
Ready, boy?" Griffith said, waving the stick in front of Dog's long snoot. "Go get!"
Griffith flinched, pretending to launch the object across the empty lawn in front of the dormitories. Dog immediately bolted off, but as soon as he realized the stick hadn't left Griffith's hand, he scampered back. Several times Griffith had faked the throw, and each time Dog had jumped the gun.
"You need to wait!" said Griffith.
Dog shook with anticipation, and the water in his coat from the wet grass sprayed about.
At last Griffith flung the stick, and Dog gave chase, following the stick's end-over-end flight as he bolted across the quadrangle. The moment it landed, Dog pounced on it with his oversize paws. He skidded to a stop, gobbled it up, and then tore back, dropping the stick at Griffith's feet.
"Good boy," Griffith declared.
He reached down to Dog, who sat up tall against Griffith's leg, and scratched behind his floppy ears. Then Griffith knelt and wrapped his arms around his new friend's torso. For such a scrappy and weathered old hound, Dog was muscled and toned.
As he picked up the stick, Griffith stole a glance at the clock atop the university library across the quad. He knew he should've already joined the others in the cafeteria for dinner, but he was having too much fun with Dog.
"Ball or stick?" Griffith asked, pulling from his pocket an old baseball that the Travelin' Nine had discarded. He held out both objects.
With a tilt of the head and a bob of the snout, Dog requested the ball. Preacher Wil had told Griffith that Dog never asked for much; the most he ever wanted was for someone to play with him.
Griffith dangled the rock above Dog's head and then threw it as far as he could. Dog sped off.
But as Dog became smaller and smaller chasing after the pill, a chill surged through Griffith. He realized just how vulnerable he was on the empty quad. The last time he'd been alone outdoors, he'd encountered the Chancellor.
When Dog finally reached the ball and began bounding back across the grounds, Griffith relaxed his tense shoulders and exhaled a long breath. As Dog approached, he began to prance with his tail held high. He shook the rawhide proudly in his jaws, before dropping it into Griffith's cupped hand.
"Attaboy," Griffith said, grabbing Dog's nose and playfully shaking it. "One more?"
Dog bobbed his head and backed away.
"Let's see if you can catch this one," said Griffith. "Fetch!"
This time, Griffith didn't throw the ball far. Instead, he threw it high, as high as he could. Dog circled under the pill like an accomplished outfielder and snared it in his mouth.
"Great catch, Dog!" Griffith cheered. "You could play for the Travelin' Nine!"
Dog sat across the room in front of the partially open door. He was on guard. No one would be entering without his permission.
"Not only is that drifter dog an impeccable judge of character," Preacher Wil had told Griffith and Ruby, "but he is also fiercely protective."
Preacher Wil was right. At the slightest sound the tree limb against the windowpane above Ruby's bed or Graham's soft snoring Dog's ears would perk up.
Griffith lifted his head off his pillow and looked over at his brother and sister, sleeping soundly in their beds. At dinner, Preacher Wil had offered to let Dog stay the night with them in their dorm room. It was almost as if Preacher Wil had known that something had spooked Griffith, and that Griffith needed Dog near him.
Peering across at Dog, a hint of a smile crept onto Griffith's face. For the first time, he realized that there seemed to be a little bit of each of the Travelin' Nine in Dog. His grayish-white coat brought to mind Happy, and the black markings around his eye resembled the Professor's patch. The way Dog sprinted across the quad reminded Griffith of how Crazy Feet pursued a star chaser. And since Dog didn't bark, he was a dog of few words, like Scribe was a man of few words.
Even in the darkness, Griffith could see that Dog was watching him, waiting for a command. So Griffith gave one an ever-so-slight lifting of his chin. Dog sprang to his paws and walked softly across the room. When he reached Griffith's bed, he sat down, stared up at Griffith, and waited again.
Griffith blinked his eyes and tilted his head. Then Dog took several steps back, turned two circles, and leaped onto the bed. He lay alongside Griffith, nudging him with his long nose as if he were telling Griffith to scoot over.
So Griffith did.
Dog seemed to smile, but his expression said something more. It appeared to say that he understood about tomorrow's meeting, the one where the Travelin' Nine would determine whether or not Preacher Wil would be permitted to play.
The meeting was the reason why Griffith couldn't sleep. It was all he could think about. But in a way, he was relieved. The meeting kept him from thinking about Ruby disappearing back in Chicago and how he had thought he might never see his sister again. It also kept him from thinking about the Chancellor.
He looked down at Dog, who exhaled an exaggerated sigh and shut his eyes. His floppy ears dangled forward like an extra pair of lids. Griffith rested his hand on Dog's belly and felt it rise and fall with each breath.
In a matter of moments, both boy and dog were sound asleep.
Text copyright © 2009 by Phil Bildner and Loren Long
Table of Contents
An Angel Looks for Answers
From Ruby's Journal
The Graham Payne Way
Dog and Griffith
Meeting of the Minds
A Sudden Change of Plan
The Direct Threat
A Shaky Start
Preacher Wil Takes the Hill
One River, Two Rivers
A Dugout Divided
Twists and Spouts
The Man from the Trolley, the Man from the Park
Back to the Dugout
Time Stands Still
Back in Play
A Ferocious Comeback
The True Meaning of "Team"
Something About Grammy
Grab Him, Grab It