July, 1951 Brooklyn, NY
Chapter One: The New Guy “How’s come you guys don’t bunt?” Maggie was sitting on the stoop. On the sidewalk in front of their house, Joey-Mick finished tying his shoe with a double knot. He shrugged but didn’t answer.
Then he picked up his glove and glared at it. He tightened the worn leather lace that was always coming undone, and prodded the hole in the top of one of the fingers. The glove was a hand-me-down from their Uncle Leo, and the only reason it was still in one piece, Maggie thought, was because it didn’t want to face her brother’s wrath if it fell apart. “They bunt all the time in the majors,” Maggie said. “Well, not all the time, but when they need to. Nobody on your team bunts, hardly never. Don’t they teach you how?” “We know how,” he said as he started plunking a ball into the pocket of the glove—thunk – thunk – thunk. “But it’s lots more important to get good at hitting.” He stopped plunking long enough to tug at the bill of his cap; Maggie thought that the cap over his new crewcut made him look like he didn’t have any hair at all. “If you played, you wouldn’t hafta ask that.” Maggie pressed her lips together hard.
Whenever she tried to talk baseball with Joey-Mick, he always used that older-so-I-know-way-more-than-you voice and said she didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t understand because she didn’t play the game herself.
It wasn’t fair. She was nine-going-on-ten, and she knew plenty about baseball, and way more about the Dodgers than he did. Unless she was in school, she never missed a game on the radio. Joey-Mick might go out to play with his friends during a game, but not Maggie. Like today. The Dodgers’ game against the Pittsburgh Pirates would be starting soon, and here was Joey-Mick waiting for his friend Davey; they were going to the park to have a catch. Maggie stood up. She was leaving as well, to walk the two blocks to the firehouse and listen to the game with the guys.
“Gotta go,” she said. “Us real fans have a game to listen to.”
New York was the only city in the whole country with three baseball teams. The Yankees of the American League were the winningest team in all of baseball. They had been World Series champions a whopping thirteen times. And the National League Giants had won the World Series seven times in their history.
The Brooklyn Dodgers, who were in the National League with the Giants, had never won the World Series. Not ever.
Not even once.
It was what Maggie wanted more than anything in the world: for the Dodgers to win the World Series. It seemed like she had wanted it ever since she was born. Every year the Dodgers—whose nickname to Brooklynites was ‘Dem Bums’—came close, either winning the National League pennant or finishing in the top three. But the biggest prize, the World Series championship, always seemed to slip away from them. Although Maggie knew it wasn’t true, she felt like the first words she had learned when she was a baby were “Wait till next year!”—the unofficial official slogan of Dodgers fans.
Charcoal, the mostly-black firehouse dog, always knew when Maggie was coming, and she knew he knew, so even before she saw him, she took from her pocket a folded paper napkin that held a half-slice of salami. When he bounded down the street to meet her, she was ready.
She held out the salami, which he snapped down without chewing.
“Charky! Where are your manners?” she said, shaking her head and smiling at the same time. The dog led the way to the firehouse, where the guys were sitting out front in folding chairs, boots and suspenders and toothpicks, with the radio already tuned to the broadcast of the game. As soon as George caught sight of her, he jumped to his feet and went and got another chair.
After greetings, they all settled in to listen, Charky flopping down at Maggie’s feet. A routine, but one she never got tired of.
The call came in at a crucial moment: The Dodgers had just tied the game.
“Shouldn’t be long, Maggie-o,” George said as he opened the door on the driver’s side of the wagon and waited while Charky bounded onto the seat.
“Doesn’t sound like anything serious.
You better get that lead and keep it for us.” “I will,” Maggie promised, and stepped to the side of the bay to get out of the way. “Stay cool,” she called out as George hopped into the wagon.
Whenever Dad left the house to go to work, Maggie and Joey-Mick always told him to ‘stay cool’. It came from something he often said to them: “When things get hot, you gotta stay cool.” During Dad’s firehouse days, Maggie would get sent home if an emergency calll came in. But now she didn’t have to leave when the guys went out on a job. “You’re in charge,” George had said the first time she stayed. Which had made her feel quite important. She watched until the wagon was out of sight, then walked over to the radio attttt the side of the bay and turned up the volume so she could hear it while she worked. George was very strict about keeping the firehouse tidy. He had learned it from Maggie’s dad, how keeping the whole place neat and organized could save precious time in an emergency. Most days at the firehouse when there weren’t any calls, the guys spent a lot of time cleaning. Today Maggie planned to surprise them by sweeping up while they were out.
Dad had been a fireman at this station until three years ago. One afternoon when Maggie was six, Mom answered a knock at the door. Two cops were on the stoop. There had been a fire, and Dad was hurt. They didn’t know how bad. Maggie could still remember every detail of that ride to the hospital, the dome light flashing and the siren shrieking and Mom holding her hand tight enough that it hurt. They saw Dad for a few moments before the operation to fix his leg, his face so black with soot that you couldn’t tell where the soot ended and his hair and mustache began, and when he smiled at them his teeth looked the whitest they had ever been—smiled even though the pain must have been too awful to imagine. And he said, “You weren’t none of yous worried, were ya?” Maggie had seen the tears tracking down her mother’s face as she cleared her throat and answered, “Pish, I couldn’t be bothered. I was getting the dinner, and it’ll be gone cold now, thank you very much.” They were clustered around his hospital bed when he woke up from the operation.
“Everybody staying cool?” he asked groggily, the first words out of his mouth.
Later he told them a little more about what had happened. “I went crashin’ through the floor, right? And when I got my wits back, I got down low, where the air was a little better, and I started crawling. Every inch I crawled I tried to think about something cool. Maggie eating ice cream, Joey-Mick hosing down the wagon, your mom on our honeymoon at Jones Beach—” “What’s so cool about that?” Joey-Mick asked.
Dad winked. “—in her bathing suit—” “Joseph!” Maggie’s mom put one hand to her mouth, half annoyed and half laughing.
“Can’t help it, Rosie, it’s the truth.” And staying cool had helped Dad save his own life, and maybe George’s and Vince’s too, for even with a shattered leg he managed to crawl as far as the door where the other guys found him and dragged him out just as the whole roof collapsed. I...