Strike Three, You're Dead is a part of the Lenny & the Mikes collection.
An Edgar Award Finalist
Lenny Norbeck is a die-hard baseball lover. Unfortunately, he's no player himself (according to him, he's "the worst there ever was.") But he'd make a heck of an announcer. He gets a lot of practice sitting with his best friends, Mike and Other Mike, watching Phillies games from their lawn couch—a sweet outdoor TV arrangement Mike's dad hooked them up with. Being a real announcer is his dream, and he gets his chance to prove himself when he enters an "Armchair Announcer" contest and wins. The prize: he gets to be the broadcaster, live, for one inning at a real Phillies game.
The game goes very wrong, though. Before Lenny gets to do his inning, a young, promising pitcher fresh out of the minors literally drops dead on the mound. The official verdict is that he died of a heart attack, but Lenny has a hunch there's something more going on. So he and the Mikes set out to investigate. The suspects are many, and though the trio barks up the wrong tree a few times, they are always right on the heels of the real killer. . . .
An Excerpt fromStrike Three, You're Dead
"Enter the Armchair Announcer contest today! You could be in the booth!" boomed legendary broadcaster Buck Foltz. In this commercial, as always, Buck was wearing a bright maroon blazer. His toupee seemed even more unbelievable than normal. His man-wig made it look like a small woodland creature was perching on his head. I expected it to hop up and scurry away at any moment. Oh, Buck. (What kind of a name is Buck, anyway? Is Buck short for something? What? Buck-athan? Buck-ua? Buck-ard?)
Everything about the commercial was cheesier than a cheesesteak with extra cheese. The contest it was advertising was pretty cool, though. You'd submit a video of yourself being an announcer, and then one "Armchair Announcer" would be picked as winner and get to be a broadcaster for one inning of a live Phillies game. Who wouldn't want that? Isn't that everyone's dream? Well, maybe not everyone. Maybe some people want to be president or an astronaut or whatever. And, okay, yeah, walking on the moon would be fun. I get that. But, to me, announcing an inning of a Phils game was the coolest thing I could imagine. It's my dream job--baseball announcer. You get to travel with the team, be on TV, and basically get paid to watch baseball.
Best job ever.
My best friends, Mike and Other Mike, flipped out the first time we saw the commercial for the contest. We were watching baseball out on the lawn behind Mike's house. (Mike's dad installed a long cable extension so we could watch TV outside because he is the coolest dad ever.) When I say the Mikes flipped out, I mean all the way out. They were jumping around, immediately demanding that I enter. I wanted to do it, yeah, but I felt a little scared. Sure, I was a good announcer. I was always pretending it was my job to announce day-to-day life. And I was good at baseball too. I did a great Buck Foltz impression. I was the king of cracking the Mikes up on the lawn couch. But they were sort of an easy audience. Did I really have the skills for an audience larger than two?
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Mike said to Other Mike.
"That this is a perfect opportunity to bust out my new digital video camera and fire up the killer editing suite on my new computer?" Other Mike said. He was so excited that he jumped in the air, flailing his skinny arms. His messy blond hair fell over his eyes. He looked like a baby bird attempting flight. He always made me think of a baby bird. Other Mike was a constant twitch. His clothes never seemed to fit right. He was constantly tugging at his belt, his sleeves, the neck of his shirt, adjusting and readjusting but never, ever getting it right.
"No," said Mike. "I mean that if our Leonard here wins, maybe we'll all get to meet Famosa!"
Phillies catcher Ramon Famosa was our favorite player for the following reasons: (1) he had an enormous and hilarious mustache that curled at both ends, and (2) he didn't speak English, so he had to travel with his father, who served as an interpreter. His dad was a tiny man known as Don Guardo who always wore crazy clothes and funny hats. That was all it took. Famosa wasn't even that great and was mainly getting playing time because of a bunch of injuries. But we loved him. Some guys liked the star sluggers, and some guys liked the strong-armed, fireballing pitchers. We liked those guys too, sure, but we really liked the weirdos. There are lots of oddballs in baseball, the kind of players Buck was always calling "real characters." Those characters are one of the reasons baseball is such a great game. There are lots of them throughout the game's history, and I'm kind of an expert.
There was the "Mad Hungarian," Al Hrabosky, who used to talk to baseballs. Out loud. During games. Plus, he had a great mustache. Then there was Bill Lee, the pitcher known as "Spaceman," who was always saying crazy stuff, like how he wanted to paint the White House pink and turn it into a Mexican restaurant. And he had an awesome beard. And no, we weren't just fans of facial hair. We liked historical weirdos too, like Dizzy Dean, Daffy Dean, and Yogi Berra. We liked to read about Rube Waddell, who did cartwheels on his way off the mound and sometimes would chase fire trucks during games. I loved a really old player named Rabbit Maranville, who once punched an umpire.
Famosa was the closest thing the Phils had to a classic oddball. Don Guardo seemed really funny, and, yes, the mustache was great. Famosa wasn't a great (or even very good) catcher, but we were fans for life.
Okay, when I say "we," I mainly mean "me and Mike." Other Mike barely cared about baseball, to be honest. He was way more excited about his computer than about the Phillies. "I can get my mom to go to Best Buy for a new shock-mounted condenser microphone, and maybe we can do some animated visuals. There's no way we'll lose!"
"What do you two mean," I asked in a fancy announcer voice, "when you say we will get to meet Famosa or that we will win this contest? Surely you are forgetting that I am Lenny, the boy with the golden voice!" I made my vocal cords boom just like Buck Foltz's did. I don't know if there is really anything special about my voice or if the Mikes are just easily amused. But they sometimes call me the "boy with the golden voice" because I'm good at impressions. The "boy with the golden voice" wasn't too bad as far as nicknames go. In middle school, there were a lot worse. Take, for example, Stephen Farsnickle, who absolutely everyone called "Stevie Fart-Sniffer." It was kinda his fault, though. I mean, if your last name was already Farsnickle, why would you admit that you liked smelling your own gas?
"You'll be Lenny, the boy with no friends, if you keep that up," Other Mike said.
"You'll be the boy with no butt if you keep that up," Mike said. "Because I'll kick it right off you if you get to hang with Famosa and don't bring us." Mike was shorter than me, but a hundred times stronger. He probably could literally kick off a guy's butt if he wanted to.
"All right," I said. "We're in it to win it. Team effort, as always." Seeing the excited looks on their faces made me think maybe I could really do it. Maybe I could win the Armchair Announcer contest. With the Mikes in my corner, I felt like I at least had a chance. Without them, I wouldn't have even tried.
And, yeah, I know it is a little confusing having two best friends named Mike, so here's what you need to know: Mike was small and solid, built like a bulldog. Baseball fanatic, snack-food enthusiast. Other Mike was half a foot taller, yet they weighed exactly the same. Tall and skinny, Other Mike was always bouncing around like an uncoiled spring. He loved computers and warlocks. Yes, warlocks. Don't ask me. He moved into the neighborhood last, so even though he was three months older, he was "Other Mike." He kept hoping he'd get a cool new nickname once we left elementary school, but after one year of middle school, he was still "Other Mike." It showed no signs of stopping. He'll probably be Other Mike forever. His wife will probably call him "Other Mike" (in the unlikely event someone will want to marry him). Someday his driver's license will say "Other Mike." His grandkids will probably call him "Grandpa Other Mike."
We attempted a high five out there near the lawn couch, but our hands connected with only air; somehow we smacked each other in the head and all ended up in the grass. Other Mike's glasses were nearly broken, a knee found my groin, and Mike's thumb was wrenched backward. I felt bad--he was already trying to recover from an arm injury that had ended his career as a promising pitcher at a young age. That's why we were both just fans, not players. Why wasn't I, Lenny Norbeck, a member of the baseball team? I'm glad you asked. Actually, I'm not glad you asked. It's a long and embarrassing tale. Let's just say this: I did play once, and I was the worst there ever was. . . .
The failed high five hurt, but I found myself smiling as I grimaced on the scratchy grass watching the clouds darken and gather. The summer suddenly seemed a bit more exciting. It was, to tell you the truth, looking like a whole lot of nothing for a while there. The Mikes and I used to go to Happy Paddler summer camp every year, but we decided against it this year. Actually, they decided against it this year. I liked Happy Paddler. But the Mikes said it was "too babyish," and I wasn't about to disagree. So what was I going to do all summer? The Norbecks weren't planning any exciting vacations. My parents would be working at the hospital all the time, like always. They're both cardiologists--heart doctors--which isn't as exciting as it sounds. Maybe it doesn't even sound exciting.
Mom's big plan for me over the summer was "early enrichment classes" at a local college. A college! I'm twelve! And I got a D in sixth-grade science! I'm not going to be a doctor! Still, Mom threw the brochure on the table on the last day of school and said, "Let me know which class you want to take." The choices were in two categories: "the arts" and "the smarts." My answer of "I'll take the farts" did not exactly sit well. Shocking, I know. But I did not want to study painting or pottery and certainly did not want anything to do with the smarts category. The feeling was probably mutual.
I was pretty sure Mom was dead set on making me go, but then I had a genius idea. I told her she could save money by letting me just run my own enrichment program. I told her the Schwenkfelder Public Library had a summer reading club, which was true. I also told her I was going to make it my personal mission to break the record for most books read during a single summer. That was a stretch, but it seemed to appease her for a bit, even though the record is about two hundred books, and I'm not sure they have that many baseball books, so I probably won't get close. I was mainly just hoping she'd drop the "enrichment" thing. Seriously, what kind of twelve-year-old is preparing for college? Arts, smarts, farts.
So with the parents working all the time and no camp for this guy, Who was watching Lenny? you might ask. The answer to that was: Courtney DeLuca. Courtney was the twenty-one-year-old daughter of one of Dad's doctor friends home on break from Villanova University. She was very tan and very short, with a soaring hairstyle that she apparently thought made her look taller. Mom and Dad tried to explain that Courtney was a "caretaker," there to "watch the house." Yeah, right. I knew who she was. A babysitter. Too old for summer camp, but I still needed a babysitter? The thought sort of made me want to puke. Between that and my ridiculous claim that I would read two hundred books, this was clearly going to be the worst summer ever.
But now this? Armchair Announcer? Could I really do it? I would love it. For once I wouldn't be just watching baseball on TV--I'd be there under the bright lights myself. I'd be there at the ballpark, rubbing shoulders with the pros. I'd be the star, and everyone would be cheering for me. Ever since middle school started, I'd been feeling like, What's my thing, you know? I wasn't tall or handsome or extraordinary. I wasn't a sports star, I wasn't getting all A's like the smart kids. I was just . . . Lenny. Mom and Dad might not think baseball announcer is a real career goal, but maybe it's my thing! If I win this contest, they would have to take off work to at least come see it. Right? Right. Everyone would have to notice. Lenny Norbeck, star announcer. I liked the sound of that.
Of course, I had no idea that the contest was just the pregame warm-up. The summer's main event would be murder. Literally.
Entering the Armchair Announcer contest seemed like it would be easy enough, even though I was grounded from the computer at home. It was my punishment for getting that D in science class. If your parents are doctors and you almost fail science, it looks bad. It's not my fault that Mrs. Rhodes was the meanest teacher ever. All that kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus stuff was impossible. I'm not even sure phylum is a real word. Sounds made-up. Computer grounding had been the threat all year. I didn't think they meant it. But they did. I got a D, and so it was a summerlong grounding from the PC for me. Harsh.
So I used the computer at Other Mike's house and logged on to the Phillies website. He had an awesome computer. It was superfast. You just had to check a box on the site that said you had parental consent. Easy enough. Did any kid ever check "No, my parents aren't letting me do this"? I knew I should have asked Mom and Dad, but I didn't feel like it. Mom and Dad weren't exactly baseball fans. Plus, neither of them would have loved the idea of having to drive me into Philadelphia to announce an inning, even if it was my great dream. We lived in a suburb just a few miles outside the city, but they always acted like driving to the ballpark was a trip to the moon. I know, I know, busy parents, lonely kid. Poor me. Wah-wah.
"Okay, okay, okay," Other Mike started, getting up from the computer and pacing around like he always did when he was deep in thought. "I'm going to go ask my mom right away about that shock-mounted condenser microphone. We really shouldn't waste any time."
I didn't know what he was talking about. Time was one thing we had. It was a lazy Monday and there were weeks of summer vacation ahead of us. Every day we biked over to Other Mike's house, being centrally located and all. Mike and I watched baseball, Other Mike read books about warlocks. We played video games. We put in some appearances at the library, and I read a lot of the baseball books. I even read one or two about history, but let's be honest: I wasn't exactly on pace for two hundred. How did someone actually read two hundred books in a summer? I shuddered to think. They probably went blind from eyestrain and possibly insane from boredom. They probably lived in an asylum now.