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"Men Among Giants"
A Novel by Kent Krause

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Men Among Giants tells the story of two minor league pitchers in Nebraska during the 1994 baseball season. Sam Judge is the ace of the Lincoln Giants, an independent team that plays its home games at Sherman Field. Though reckless behavior in college nearly derailed his athletic career, Sam now intimidates even the best hitters in the league with his long hair, bulging muscles, and devastating array of pitches. He takes the mound knowing that each start could bring him one step closer to the majors. And when he’s not at the ballpark, he’s dreaming about pitching in the bigs.

Brian “Boo” Carter is Sam’s roommate. Though he too is a starter in the Giants rotation, Boo fails to intimidate even the worst hitters in the league due to a lack of confidence, shaky control, and mediocre velocity. He takes the mound knowing that each start could be his last as a professional ballplayer. And when he’s not at the ballpark, he’s dreaming about Eileen Palmer, Sam’s girlfriend.

As the season progresses, Sam’s dominant performances keep the Giants in the thick of the pennant race. Despite this mound supremacy, however, old questions continue to haunt him. Can he stay focused in the big games? Can he control his temper and avoid the off-field distractions that have derailed him in the past? Boo, meanwhile, deals with his own questions. Can he make that one key delivery adjustment to keep his baseball career alive? Even more importantly, what will he do about his feelings for Eileen? The late season arrival of outsiders with a sinister agenda further complicates matters for Sam and Boo.

With a supporting roster of quirky, though determined, ballplayers, Men Among Giants convincingly portrays the realities of life in the low minors. Relatable characters and compelling plot twists keep the pages turning in this story about more than baseball. Readers are drawn into a tale of friendship, love, and betrayal, as each protagonist must determinehow far he is willing to go to achieve his ambition.

The author, Kent Krause, writes content for online high school history courses and social studies textbooks. He earned a doctorate in history from the University of Nebraska-Lincolnin 1998. USA Book News selected Kent’s first novel, The All-American King, as a category finalist for the National Best Books 2009 Awards.

 

 

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----------- Book Passage: -----------

Ants swarmed inside my stomach as I removed my cap and brushed the sweat rivulets from my face. The crowd at Sherman Field murmured. The game was tied and there were Bandits from St. Joseph on all three bases. The guy on third had singled on a fastball over the heart of the plate. The runner on second had slapped a lazy slider into right field. The guy on first had walked. My pitches were starting to disobey me. Like unruly children, they darted off to wherever they pleased. For six innings they had minded like little angels. Now in the seventh, they challenged my authority like rebellious teenagers.

I toed the rubber and watched as Sarge flashed through the signs. He wanted a changeup. Not a bad call with the bases loaded, two outs, and the dangerous Bobby Kalkwarf at the plate. In his last at-bat, he’d drilled a double into the left field corner. With the bases juiced, he’d again be ready to tear into one. The ants established new colonies in my liver and spleen. My eyes caught a glimpse of Grant Wright and Kevin Mendenhall sitting in the stands behind home plate. Both were prominent Lincoln businessmen and forty- something ex-wannabe ballplayers. More importantly, they were the Giants president and vice president. All through the game, I’d been able to block out their scrutinizing presence. Now, their stares fixed on me like a spotlight—hot and bright. Two days earlier, when the team returned to Lincoln on Memorial Day, they’d lowered the axe on Danny McQuinn for his drunk and disorderly arrest in Colorado Springs. I was 0-2 with the highest ERA on the staff. Though nobody said anything, it seemed certain that if I lost tonight I’d be the next to go. I could already hear my brother’s “I told you so” speech.

I started the windup—my right leg drove off the rubber, my left leg planted, my hips rotated, and my arm whipped the ball toward the plate. The past two days, I’d worked with Vince before practice. He had noticed that I’d been telegraphing my changeup with a slower motion. Eliminating that fatal delivery flaw had made a huge difference. Through six and two-thirds innings, the Bandits had collected only six hits and two runs. But that meant nothing if I couldn’t get one more out.

The burly Kalkwarf unloaded a mighty swing. A booming crack followed. My body flinched as the ball soared down the left field line, spawning the terrifying possibility of a grand slam. Happily, the drive veered left, missing the foul pole and eventually striking a vehicle about 500 feet away in the parking lot. The fans enjoyed the echoing sound of denting metal.

Sarge tossed a new ball to me. I looked for the sign. He wanted a fastball, up and out of the strike zone. He figured Kalkwarf would be anxious to take another rip against a tiring pitcher. Behind me, my fielders readied themselves for action. Some chattered. Kenny’s words from second rang the loudest. “Come on, Boo, no hitter here, shoot to him, now …”

My four-seamer sailed straight and true toward Sarge’s raised glove. The ball crossed the plate at eye level. The batter hacked away, fouling it straight back to the screen.

While waiting for another baseball, I again glimpsed the stands. My nerves flared. But it wasn’t Wright and Mendenhall—the men who controlled my baseball future—who caused the reaction. It was her. I’d first noticed Eileen sitting behind the home dugout when I walked off the field after the first inning. A purple scrunchy held her blond hair back in a ponytail. A tight pink T-shirt did little to conceal her lovely curves. Whenever I glanced up at her after pitching an inning, she flashed a bright smile at me. Now she wore an anxious look. It’s almost as if she were trying to say …

FOCUS, YOU MORON!!

The baseball section of my brain jerked my attention back to the matter at hand. Namely, a bull of a hitter capable of launching the ball into the next county and driving the final nail into the coffin of my pitching career. Sarge flashed the signs. He wanted a slider, low and away, beyond the batter’s reach. A typical call for an 0-2 pitch. I just had to make sure I didn’t bounce it to the backstop. The pitch sailed about a foot outside. Kalkwarf didn’t flinch. Sarge then called for a fastball up and in. I gave it to him. Ball two.

The ants started chewing my organs. With the score tied and the bases loaded, I couldn’t walk this guy. Sarge jogged to the mound. Since he didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Spanish, our conversations were usually short. This was no exception. “Slider,” he said in a Puerto Rican accent. “Low, outside, pretty.” He wanted the same pitch I’d thrown at 0-2, but closer to the plate so the batter might swing at it.

As my fingers formed a slider grip on the ball inside my glove, thunder rumbled through the ballpark. “FEE FI FO FUM!” Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. The pounding of two thousand feet sent lightning shooting up my spine. From a full windup, I slung the ball toward the outside edge of the plate. It looked good, like it might catch the corner for a strike. Kalkwarf stepped and swung, his heavy wooden club rushing toward its target….

 

Men Among Giants is available at the author’s website: www.kentkrause.com, Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

 

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