Higgins Hotel Dining Room, Grantville

July 4, 1636 (The Day of Departure)

 

Eleven-year-old Giovanni Domenico Cassini sat across from his uncle while picking at the small pile of freshly-scrambled eggs and two slices of bacon slick with grease. He wasn’t very hungry. All he had wanted was a glass of milk and a spot of toast with butter, and for the man across from him to stop talking.

“Really, Domenico,” Uncle Antonio said, using the boy’s middle name instead of his first. Another annoyance to add to the growing list that the boy was dealing with. “You must put that silly up-time game out of your mind. It’s a useless activity, a useless sport, and not worthy of your talents. We’re heading home very shortly, Domenico, and we will not speak of it anymore.”

Good, Giovanni thought. His ears would finally get some relief. But no. Uncle Antonio kept talking and talking and talking. Lecturing was the more accurate definition, and all of the words . . . escaping the man’s mouth blended together like a fog that rolled through the room like voices in a dream. Astronomy . . . blahblahblah . . . engineering . . . raaraaraa . . . mathematics . . . sisboombaa. Giovanni could see uncomfortable pain and embarrassment on the faces of the other hotel patrons nearby, though they were too polite to get up and punch the man in the nose. Giovanni would like to. Would like to so very, very much.

On and on it went, Uncle Antonio rambling about how Giovanni would—must—grow up to be a brilliant astronomer, a glorious engineer, to pick up where he had left off in death, to build on a career that had obviously benefitted the world greatly. And no charge of his would—

“Stop it!” Giovanni stood like a bullet, letting his chair crash to the floor behind him. He threw down his fork, spilled his milk, ripped away the napkin tucked into his collar, and tossed it onto the table. “You’re not my father! I don’t care what you say! I’m not going back to Italy, and I won’t be an astronomer. I won’t be an engineer. I hate them! I hate them both! They’re stupid. Just like you. And my name is Giovanni! Giovanni!

He burst into tears and fled the room. He didn’t know where he was going. He just knew that he couldn’t get back on that carriage and take that long, tedious trip back to Perinaldo. He could not go back to Italy. He was not going anywhere, no matter what Uncle Antonio wanted. He was going to stay here, in Grantville . . . and be a baseball star.

****

 

June 26, Several Days Earlier . . . 

 

Giovanni tried to ignore his uncle’s voice while dealing with the random jerks and pops of the carriage’s frame as it made its way into Grantville. Since it had been a long, arduous journey from Perinaldo, they had hoped to catch one of those marvelous up-time trains from Nuremberg for the final leg of the trip. But, no train from Nuremberg. From Bamberg, then? Again, no. Luckily, his uncle, Antonio Maria Crovese, had brought sufficient funds in order to ensure a more proper and comfortable arrival. Comfortable? Giovanni huffed. Not to my culo. He had not searched, but he was certain that there was a bruise on it somewhere. And he was nursing a terrible headache that had been growing since Bamberg. His uncle would not stop talking.

“This is going to be a life-changing visit, Domenico,” Uncle Antonio said, “and the first thing we’re going to do is visit that library that everyone raves about. We’ll confirm once and for all, all the things you accomplished in your life . . . according to up-time history. All the great discoveries and advancements that you, Giovanni Domenico Cassini, made in science. Won’t that be wonderful?”

“Yes, Uncle,” Giovanni said half-heartedly. He leaned out the carriage window to catch a cool breeze. “That will be fun.”

“More than fun, Domenico. Life changing.”

At first, the notion that he had grown up to be a famous astronomer and engineer excited little Giovanni. It was hard to imagine that a group of people who had fallen out of the sky through some magical ring of fire could possibly know who he was and have evidence of his accomplishments in various fields of science. To an eleven-year-old boy, the idea that he was well-known and that somehow, he had made an impact on the science of the stars, was exciting. But by the time that they had arrived in Nuremberg, the novelty of it had worn off.

For instance, one of his so-called great achievements was discovering a large gap in the dust rings that encircled the planet Saturn. The gap was between one cluster of rings and another. That’s a big achievement? Wouldn’t that have been found anyway in time by someone else? Why, just the other day, as they had paused in Nuremberg to take a small respite, he had noticed a large gap between the front two teeth of their carriage driver. Nobody had jumped for joy on that revelation. Giovanni wanted to ask his uncle why that discovery in Saturn’s rings mattered all that much. But why bother? His mother’s brother would have simply told him not to waste time on frivolous things and to focus on what truly mattered.

My future . . . 

What mattered to the boy now was to finally get out of this carriage, walk on flat ground, and perhaps take a nap. A little food and drink would not cause harm either. Those simple pleasures meant more now than all the gaps in all the world and in the great heavens above.

As if God were hearing his prayers, the bumping and jerking of the carriage stopped. His uncle clapped his hands together and said with a broad smile, “We’ve made it, my boy. We’re in Grantville.”

Giovanni looked at the road that they now travelled. It was black and smooth. Some cracks here and there, a couple unavoidable holes, but overall, a most excellent surface on which to travel. He sighed, smiled, and breathed the warm air.

If their entire way had been paved with such smooth streets, Giovanni would never have wanted their trip to end. He could have laid back in his seat and slept and dreamed that he were floating among the stars, perhaps even in the gap that he had supposedly discovered. And even though he was but eleven, the irony of the moment was not lost on him. They had endured the hard, bumpy roads of the past to come out unscathed on a street of the future. And where would that street take him? Giovanni did not know, but perhaps he had judged his uncle too harshly. Perhaps the fellow knew what he was talking about. Giovanni smiled. With roads like these, he thought, anything is possible.

They passed houses that looked strange to Giovanni. The materials that they had been built out of; their height; their colors; their shapes. Very strange, different. The people they passed seemed like normal people, but their clothing was a mixture of full dresses and felt hats and soft leather boots and tunics and all manner of unrecognizable textures and shapes, with words and images on the fronts of their shirts without sleeves; words that he could not understand. Clearly, those accoutrements were up-time clothing items, like the cappello that a man with a heavy beard that they passed wore cock-eyed on his brow. The hat was like nothing Giovanni had ever seen. It was like a black bowl, but it had a long bill on the front like a duck, and that bill kept the light of the sun from getting in the man’s eyes.

Giovanni squinted to get a better look at it. “What’s that, Uncle?”

Uncle Antonio stopped his lecture long enough to let his eyes be guided by Giovanni’s finger. “That looks like a man, Domenico.”

“No, I mean, what’s on his head?”

Uncle Antonio looked again. “I don’t know, but we’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. We’ll learn a lot about these up-timers and their foreign ways. Now, pay attention to what I’m saying.”

He tried to pay attention, but the visual delights and smells outside the carriage stole his attention. Giovanni breathed deeply and took it all in.

Then he heard a crack! and the roar of a crowd.

In the distance, beyond a row of houses, was some kind of field. On it were children about his size, wearing capellos like the bearded man, but they were all of the same color. Their clothing was the same as well, as if they were members of a regiment or a company. A crowd of people, gathered near the field in small clumps or sitting in rows atop what looked like benches, shouted and clapped and moved with delight. One of the boys on the field was running as fast as he could towards a big white pillow where another boy stood. His foot touched the pillow, and then he kept running. The crowd’s enthusiasm grew louder as the boy dashed towards another white pillow. Then, about two-thirds of the way to the pillow, the boy dropped. Giovanni thought that he had lost his footing, but no. The boy hit the dirt and slid, feet first, into the second pillow.

Something was thrown in the direction of the second pillow. Another boy, with a different uniform, held out a big, tan glove and caught whatever it was that was thrown. He caught the item and then tried to touch the sliding boy with his glove. He did so, but not before the sliding boy touched the white pillow with his foot. An adult near the second pillow shouted something Giovanni could not understand. But the crowd understood, and they erupted into another torrent of praise.

The boy who had slid into the second pillow picked himself up, wiped dust off his uniform, and then just stood there, waiting.

Fascinating . . . 

Giovanni was about to say something when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He was pulled out of the window and back into the carriage. “Domenico!” Uncle Antonio said. “Are you listening?”

“Yes, yes, Uncle. Every word.”

His uncle was about to continue his lecture, but Giovanni pointed out the window and said, “What is that, Uncle?”

Uncle Antonio sighed, shook his head, and leaned toward the window. He squinted to get a better view. “Ah, yes, I’ve heard of that. It’s just a silly little up-time game. Baseball, I think. Now, let’s—”

Giovanni kept his eyes on his uncle’s face to make it look like he was paying attention. But his ear was trained toward the open window of the carriage, and again, he heard the crack of the stick and the roar of the crowd. He listened and smiled.

Baseball . . . fascinating . . . 

****

 

Higgins Hotel Room

June 26

 

Antonio Maria Crovese would never admit it to his young ward, but he, too, was glad to be done with the road and into a comfortable room. The Higgins was a little expensive, but the carriage driver told him in Bamberg that it was the place for visitors to stay in Grantville. It was apparently an “epicenter” for all the news and gossip of Grantville and its surrounds. Antonio nodded and accepted the man’s recommendation to be taken there. But gossip was not why he and Domenico had come all the way from Italy. They had come to learn and to study and to prepare the young boy for his future.

Domenico threw his bag into a corner and then leaped onto the bed closest to the window. Antonio had never heard such relief in the boy’s sigh. “I love it here, Uncle. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Antonio threw his bag into the same corner. He nodded. “It does have its trappings.”

“Its what?”

He snickered. “Its . . . appeal.”

“What are we going to do first?” Domenico asked.

Antonio opened the curtains and looked out toward the up-time town of Grantville. It was late afternoon. The sun was setting. Perhaps his idea of going immediately to the library was not wise. He shook his head. “I don’t know. It’s getting late. What do you think we should do?”

The question seemed to catch Domenico by surprise. The boy paused, then said, “Let’s take a walk. Let’s go out and see Grantville.” He paused, as if he were reluctant to say the next out loud. “Maybe we could even go and see that baseball game?”

“Baseball? I don’t know, Domenico, that was pretty far away, and it is never wise to wander too far afield without knowing where you are going.” Antonio shook his head. “No, that is not a good idea. But I do like your idea of taking a walk. Yes, that would be nice. Let us get out and shake the road from our stiff limbs. Then, we’ll find a place to eat. I’m near starving, as I’m sure you are as well.”

Antonio stepped closer to the window. He peered out at Grantville. He marveled at how different it all looked, how wonderful and terrifying at the same time. An event, a miracle, like the Ring of Fire occurs once in a lifetime, like the fall of the Roman Empire or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No corner of the world would be untouched by what this up-time town had brought into the past. And little Domenico would be ready for it. I will not be here to see the full result of the miracle myself. But Domenico will . . . and he must be ready.

“I am thinking chicken,” Antonio said as he looked out the window at the people walking past on the sidewalks below. Normal people in strange clothing. “What would you like, Domenico? Domenico?”

The boy was fast asleep. His eyes were closed, his little mouth was open, and he breathed deeply but calmly. Antonio smiled, shook his head. He reached down and rubbed the boy’s head. He leaned over and gave him a small kiss on the forehead.

“Sleep,” Antonio whispered, “sleep, my boy. Sleep all the night through if you wish. For tomorrow, your future begins.”

****

 

July 4, Day of Departure . . . 

 

Antonio burst through their hotel room door, and called “Domenico! Domenico!” But the boy was not there, had not returned after his outburst in the hotel dining room. Their baggage lay packed and ready. The beds were still disheveled, but otherwise, it was cool and quiet. No one.

Antonio cursed and threw his felt hat onto the bed. “Damn you, boy! Where have you gotten off to?” The walls gave no answer, and Antonio was loath to ask again for fear that he might curse even harder and then be ashamed of himself for doing so. Domenico’s chastisement had hurt a little, Antonio had to admit, and the looks on the stunned faces of those in the dining hall had embarrassed him. He had calmly removed his napkin, put on his hat, placed a few coins on the table, and left without further word, the eyes of the patrons burning into his back, accusing him of being a bad father, a bad, bad man for upsetting a child so. He was not the boy’s father, not officially, and who were they to judge? But Antonio had felt their judgment, could see it in their eyes, feel it on his back. Perhaps I am a bad fath . . . 

No. No, this was Domenico’s fault. The boy was being foolish, difficult, unfocused. And maybe we should never have come to Grantville. These unwieldy up-timers, with their casual ways, have filled my son—my ward—with all sorts of foolish notions. I should have known better.

He opened the curtains and stared out the window. There, across the street, Domenico stood, pacing back and forth, wiping his eyes. Antonio opened the window as far as it could go, which wasn’t very. Antonio crouched in front of the gap, stuck his face through it, and shouted, “Domenico! Domenico, you come back here right now. End your foolishness and attend to me.”

The boy stopped his pacing, turned toward the hotel and looked up at their window. He said nothing. He only shook his head, and then gave his uncle what the up-timers called “the finger.”

Vergognoso!” Antonio said, his mouth wide open in shock. “Che ragazzo vergognoso!

Domenico turned, ducked behind a building, and out of Antonio’s sight.

He called to the boy several times, but he never showed his face again.

Now Antonio was angry. Not only had the boy disrespected him in front of people, he had done so a second time, using an up-time curse no less.

He slammed the window shut and stormed out of the room, ignoring the bags that they had packed for their trip home. “I’ll get you, boy,” Antonio muttered to himself, his agitation rising. “I’ll get you, and when I do, you better appeal to God’s mercy!”

****

 

Grantville Public Library

June 28

 

They had found a couple of portraits of Giovanni as a young man. One was in color; the other, black and white. The two were similar. Both impressed Uncle Antonio.

“You’re going to be a very handsome man, Domenico,” his uncle said, nodding his approval. “What do you think?”

Giovanni liked the color portrait the most. In both, he was turned away from the painter, but was looking back, as if he had been startled or surprised. His curly hair was brown and reached his shoulders, like his mother’s hair might do. His face was smooth, and he still possessed that prominent nose he had always been a little self-conscious about. He was clothed fully in a reddish robe with a white scarf covering his neck, so he could not see if he had gotten fat; it did not appear so, thankfully. He was gesturing to some kind of engineered device outside a window. In his hand, he held a spyglass, or was that a scroll case of some kind? Right behind him stood a globe of a round earth.

“I look fine,” Giovanni said. “My hair gets very long, though.”

“Well,” Antonio said, pushing the book aside and drawing another close. “You moved to France. They all wear their hair that way in France.”

And most other places as well, except here in Grantville. Many of the up-time men wore their hair so short they looked bald. Some wore hats to try to hide that fact; others didn’t care at all. Most of the ladies wore their hair longer, but in general, their hair was short as well and fixed in all manner of styles, from simple to elaborate. Giovanni shook his head. Their time in Grantville so far had been nothing but a chaotic blast of visual stimuli. It was hard keeping it sorted out in his mind.

The library didn’t have a lot about Giovanni Domenico Cassini, but it had just enough to confirm Uncle Antonio’s suspicions: his little Domenico had grown up to become a world famous astronomer.

The up-time record showed that Giovanni had attended the Jesuit College in Genoa, and that later on in his life, he had moved to France, wherein he received the most accolades for his work in the field of astronomy. He received a sizable grant from the French King Louis XIV which helped him financially to build the Paris Observatory. Later in his life, he became the king’s personal astronomer and astrologer. The librarian who had introduced herself to them on their arrival here at the library had rolled her eyes at the mention of Giovanni’s work in astrology. Apparently, up-timers did not believe in such “gobbledegook,” as she described it. But she seemed genuinely impressed that she was in the presence of the man—the boy—who had done so much for the cause of astronomy.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini was noted for a few important scientific concepts. He was, of course, credited with finding that aforementioned division between Saturn’s rings. He had also established a set of laws which governed the rotational constant of the moon around the Earth. Any orbital body obeying these laws was said to be in a “Cassini state.” He was also credited with discovering some of Saturn’s moons. One of the most important achievements was his creation of a much improved sundial meridian line at the San Petronio Basilica, which ultimately allowed him to confirm Johannes Kepler’s heliocentric theory that the Earth was moving around the sun and not the other way around as the Ptolemaic system suggested. That achievement felt like a real one to little Giovanni. One that most undoubtedly changed the world—or, at least, how the Earth traveled among the stars of the heavens.

But the most interesting one to Giovanni was the spaceship.

Just a few years before the Ring of Fire, the up-timers had sent a machine to Saturn called the Cassini spacecraft, or the Cassini probe as some of the up-time scientific journals called it. It was so beautiful, all shining gold and white, and taller than four men. Its mission was to study Saturn and its rings. Unfortunately, the Ring of Fire had occurred, and so, the librarian could not tell them what had become of the probe, or whether it had been successful in its mission. But that didn’t really matter to Giovanni. The question he had was how could anyone, how could just normal people like these up-timers, build such a thing? When he asked Uncle Antonio how it could be accomplished, he simply pointed to the pyramids in Egypt, the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus, the Coliseum of Rome. Yes, yes, that was all true. Great structures had been built by mortal men since the beginning of time. But how could such a structure be thrust into the heavens to visit an entirely different planet? And to name it after him, little Giovanni Domenico Cassini, just a child from Perinaldo, who didn’t really understand any of it. How could I have meant so much?

“I must find a . . . bathroom,” Uncle Antonio said, using the up-time term for a place to relieve oneself. “You keep searching. I’ll return momentarily.”

Uncle Antonio stepped away, and Giovanni turned his attention to a group of young boys on the other side of the library.

They had come in a few moments ago, wearing their baseball caps and uniforms. Three of them. Their mothers were with them, shushing them to keep them quiet as they assaulted the section of the library where children’s books were displayed. Giovanni had gravitated toward that section himself when he and Uncle Antonio had arrived. Very colorful books with scores and scores of pictures. Seemed like the perfect place for children to be, and Giovanni watched them in envy.

They were whispering in a mixture of English and German. Giovanni had no idea what they were saying, but their body language was all he needed to see. They were friends. That was clear. They pushed and prodded each other, gave each other little punches on the shoulder. They were giggling and making their mothers’ lives difficult as they tried again to keep their children quiet. But the boys were excited. Their clothing was discolored with grass and brown dirt stains. They must have just been playing baseball.

Giovanni found himself standing at their table before he realized he had moved. The boys stopped their giggling and looked at him.

“Hi,” one of them said.

Ciao,” he said back, knowing that the boy had greeted him in English.

Then the boy said things he did not understand. Giovanni shook his head. “Non capisco.”

Before they had a chance to say anything else, Giovanni pointed to the hat on the boy’s head. “Posso vederlo?

“Baseball cap,” the boy said. He took it off and handed it to Giovanni.

It was a little wet from the boy’s sweat. He turned it over and over, looking at every inch of it. It was green with some kind of image on the front of it; like trees with a mountain behind them. It was perfectly formed to fit the boy’s head. Some kind of rigid strap in the back served as a buckle that pulled the cap tight for a form fit.

The boy smiled and motioned Giovanni to try it on. He put it on slowly and looked up into the window nearby. He caught a partial image of himself. He smiled. I look good.

He gave the cap back humbly with a short bow. “Grazie,” he said, then he pointed to the cards that lay in front of the boys. They were a little worn and old, but colorful, and had images of up-time men in baseball uniforms. The boy who had offered him the cap picked up a few and handed them over.

Giovanni looked at each one and held them with care as if they were precious jewels. Each one was a different man, with a different uniform, with English up-time names like Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. All adults. All baseball players. All tough and confident in their stances, like a soldier posing for a portrait, or a king.

Posso assistere a una partita?” he asked with great excitement, then realized that they had no idea what he had just asked.

Uncle Antonio’s voice was quiet, but stern behind him. “Domenico . . . come to me now.”

Giovanni nodded and handed the cards back over. He gave a little wave. They waved back and said ‘Goodbye.’.

“He let me try on his cap, Uncle,” Giovanni said as Uncle Antonio gathered up a few of the books to check out and take back to the hotel. “And they have these cards that had grown men on them in baseball uniforms. Grown men, Uncle, just like you. And some of them were African. Can we see a game? Please?”

Uncle Antonio gave his famous sigh and said, “We’ll see.”

Giovanni knew what that meant. No, they would not see a game. He would never bring the matter up again, and if Giovanni did, Uncle Antonio would simply say “We’ll see” once more until there was no time left in their visit.

He accepted one of the books from his uncle and followed him out of the library. As they left, he looked back to the boys in their baseball caps, playing with their cards, and thought to himself, sadly, I wish I were them.

****

 

Grantville High School

July 2

 

Antonio had secured a visit to the Grantville High School so that Domenico could see some up-time scientific laboratories. Regular classes were out for the summer, so there would be no students there conducting biology or chemistry experiments, but he thought it valuable nonetheless. The principal, Victor Saluzzo, offered to give them a tour personally. His interest in the matter was piqued considerably when he learned that he would be giving the tour to Cassini.

“Jean-Dominique Cassini is in Grantville?” Victor had asked, using the boy’s naturalized French name.

Antonio had nodded with a broad smile. “The one and only.”

The tour was scheduled for the afternoon. Antonio and Giovanni met Principal Saluzzo at the front door. With him was a lady named Lori Peterson, who was apparently a biology teacher in the high school. Everyone concerned greeted each other politely at the door, and then the tour began.

The language barrier was difficult to overcome. Luckily, Principal Saluzzo understood enough Italian, and Antonio understood enough English, for them to muddle through.

They were given a tour of the entire building. It was a small campus and very constant in its composition, with long hallways and doors after doors that led into several classrooms. They did not bother going into every room. Some of the doors were locked anyway, but Principal Saluzzo stopped on occasion to explain this or that. He seemed most interested in trying to convince Antonio that the Grantville school system was a good place for a young boy like Domenico to study.

“I assure you, Signore Saluzzo, I have no intention of enrolling Domenico into any school here in Grantville,” Antonio said. “We are here strictly for research purposes. We will be returning to Perinaldo within the week, as I have promised his parents.”

“I see. Well, let’s continue the tour then.”

Domenico and Signora Peterson walked on ahead. It was apparent that the lady did not understand Italian very well, but that didn’t seem to deter her or Domenico. They were coping just fine, with animated hand gestures to this or that along the way. The boy was being attentive and joyous, and Antonio wondered if perhaps he were missing his mother, Giulia Crovesi. She was a lovely woman, Antonio humbly admitted, but she was ill-equipped for motherhood. Having one such as Signora Peterson show him so much attention must be exciting and overwhelming at the same time.

They entered the chemistry lab, and Signore Saluzzo turned on the lights. It was barren for the most part. There were some desks for students to sit, with their chairs turned upside down and placed on top. There were three large tables assembled in a row in the center of the room, and each table had a sink and spigot, a number of electrical “outlets,” a so-called heating mantle, a couple Bunsen burners each, a volumetric flask, and a couple rulers and measuring spoons. Signora Peterson opened the cabinet beneath one of the center tables and pulled out protective gloves and eyewear. Both he and Donemico were given the opportunity to try on the “goggles.” She also brought out various other items, such as a mortar and pestle (which they recognized immediately), pipettes and droppers, and a couple beakers. They were all most impressive. But the most fascinating item was on the wall in the back of the room.

Nothing like the periodic table of all the elements existed down-time. Signora Peterson said that a man by the name of Dmitri Mendeleev invented it in the nineteenth century. The one displayed on the lab wall represented the most current set of elements up to roughly the mid-1990s. “But who knows what might have been discovered and added to the chart after the Ring of Fire,” she said with a big grin and animated gestures. “Science is ever-evolving and discovering.”

Her enthusiasm brought a smile to Domenico’s face. That pleased Antonio greatly. It was good to see the boy being so enthusiastic about science, asking questions, and feeling and touching up-time scientific equipment. Antonio knew that that tactile experience would go a long way in solidifying Domenico’s interest in the sciences and set him on the right path.

The biology lab was next. There were fewer things to see and to touch, although there was some impressive dissection equipment to look at and charts of the taxonomic rankings of many of the flora and fauna of the Earth. Those charts were almost as impressive as the periodic table of elements, but Antonio could see that the boy’s enthusiasm about those matters was less than what he had expressed in the chemistry lab. Once Signora Peterson began discussing how man had evolved from primates, Antonio quickly ended their tour of the “bio-lab” and suggested they all go to lunch, as planned. They had not come to Grantville to learn the blasphemy of up-time evolution.

As they were leaving the school for lunch, they met a man named Patrick Flannery, who was wearing a green cap and carrying a fishnet bag with what appeared to be bats and gloves from that infernal game of baseball.

He greeted Saluzzo and Peterson with warm hand-shakes. Then he was introduced to little Domenico and Antonio.

He bent down and offered his hand to Domenico. “You are Giovanni Cassini? The Cassini? The one they named that space probe after? Well, I’m very delighted to meet you, young man.”

“We just gave him and Mr. Crovese a tour of our science labs,” Signore Saluzzo said. “Care to join us for lunch?”

“Oh, I wish I could,” Signore Flannery said, “but I have to pick up some equipment for the game tomorrow.”

“Baseball?” Domenico blurted out, barely keeping his enthusiasm contained.

“You like baseball? Well, why don’t you guys come by the game tomorrow,” Signore Flannery said, pointing his thumb toward the back of the high school. “It’ll be played here out back. The Grantville Mountaineers versus the Jena Sliders. It’s a five game championship series to determine who wins the first half of the season. It’s Little League, boys your age. I run a small summer league of anywhere from eight to twelve teams, depending on interest. Come on by. You’ll be my personal guests.”

Antonio was about to object, but Domenico was up in his face quickly. “Can we, Uncle? Please, can we?”

What could he say in the midst of all these up-timers? “Very well, Domenico. But only for a short time. We have things to do.”

****

 

July 4, Day of Departure . . . 

 

Giovanni dared not show his face. There were too many people coming and going at the high school. He hid behind some trees, then some bushes, just to inch closer and closer to get a peek at the field. The bases had been picked up, and now a person was cutting the grass, riding some loud, red machine that clipped the grass beneath it and spewed it out of its side. A couple others were raking the dirt paths between the bases and making sure the white lines that ran from home plate to the outfield wall were patched and ready for the next game. There would be another game, and another, and another. He was certain of that. But not for him, not to Giovanni. He had to go back to Italy.

He wanted to step forward, hop the fence, and just walk the bases, even if they weren’t there at the moment. He wanted to hear the roar of the crowd when he swung his bat and feel the ping! of the ball as it struck his aluminum bat. The boys played with a mixture of aluminum and wooden bats. Giovanni didn’t know which one he preferred, but what did it matter? When he hit the ball, the crowd would cheer, and he would run the bases, and they would love him, and he would be famous and rich and . . . have everything he had ever wanted.

What do I want? It was a question that had plagued his thoughts ever since he and Uncle Antonio had arrived in Grantville. But why bother asking the question when he couldn’t answer it? It didn’t matter what he wanted, did it? It was Uncle Antonio’s decision to make, and to a lesser extent, his mother and father, though in a time like this, he had wished that his parents had brought him to Grantville instead of Uncle Antonio. They, in their infinite ability to show him little concern, would have likely not cared what he wanted to grow up to be. Maybe. It was hard to know. He didn’t know his mother and father like he knew Uncle Antonio. He wanted to fill little ‘Domenico’s’ mind with mathematics and chemistry and physics and astronomy, to be ready for a future he claimed was coming, whatever that meant. Those things were indeed appealing to Giovanni; he found fascination in all of them. But I want to play . . . I just want to play . . . 

He got up the courage to take several steps toward the field. Then he saw Uncle Antonio. He jumped behind the bushes. His uncle seemed angry, very angry. He talked to the people working the field. Giovanni could not hear what he was saying, but his animated expression, his hand waving, his pointing left and right, made it clear that he was asking them if they had seen his ward.

He wanted to leap out and show himself, to apologize to Uncle Antonio for embarrassing him in front of all those people at the Higgins Hotel. He had embarrassed himself as well. He had embarrassed the family. And he would be punished for that, he knew. So he did not move, though he wanted to. What he had done, yelling at his uncle and running away, was inexcusable. But what else could he have done? Uncle Antonio wasn’t listening. Nobody was listening.

Uncle Antonio left. Giovanni watched him leave. The man seemed confused, uncertain as to where to go, where to look. Giovanni felt even worse now. But he did not move. He just sat there, hidden among the thick bushes, and watched his uncle walk away.

I’ll go to Jena, he thought, as he settled down to plan his next move. I’ll join the Sliders and become an outfielder. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll join them, and they will go on to become a famous team. I will become a famous player, and everyone will love me . . . everyone will . . . 

He was exhausted, and before he finished the thought, he closed his eyes and fell fast asleep.

****

 

The Big Game

July 3

 

At their luncheon, Principal Saluzzo had explained the basics of baseball as best as he could without the help of Coach Flannery. It all seemed pretty simple to Giovanni.

Each team fielded nine players, one for each position on the field. When it was time for a team to bat, they switched, and the other team took to the field in defense.

A regular Little League game was played in six innings, and each team had an opportunity to send at least three players up to bat each inning. A so-called “pitcher” stood about 45 feet away from the batter and threw the ball toward home plate. The batter then tried to hit the ball with his bat and get to at least first base before being “tagged out.” If a player managed to touch each base and run to home plate without being tagged out, they scored a “run.”

A player was ruled “out” when he got three strikes, or when someone in the field caught the ball before it hit the ground, or if he managed to throw the ball over to the base that the runner was running to before the runner touched the base. There were other little rules here and there that Principal Saluzzo threw in, “exceptions” to the rules he called them, which dictated the ebb and flow of the action on the “diamond,” but that was the essence of the game.

The team with the most runs at the end of six innings won. Giovanni immediately asked what happened if there was a tie score at the end of the sixth inning.

Principal Saluzzo was not entirely sure, but he thought Coach Flannery had established the rule of one extra inning. If the score was still tied after an extra seventh inning, then it went into the record as a tie.

As the rules were being explained, Uncle Antonio looked utterly bored. Giovanni was fascinated with all the details and could not understand why his uncle was so disinterested. For when you peeled away all of the rules and the exceptions to those rules, baseball was nothing more than mathematics and physics. Little Giovanni could understand that. Why couldn’t Uncle Antonio?

As Coach Flannery’s guests, they were placed along the first base line, so that Giovanni could get a good look at the base runners. And as the game progressed, he picked up a lot of those little rules and exceptions that Principal Saluzzo had mentioned in passing. There were subtleties in the rules that were difficult to appreciate until you actually watched a game. Giovanni was learning a lot.

As the coach had said, today’s game was between the Grantville Mountaineers and the Jena Sliders. There seemed to be as many Slider fans as there were Mountaineers, which confirmed its importance. Today’s game was the third in a five game championship. The Sliders were up two games to none. If they won this third game, the series was over, and a new season would begin in a couple weeks. If the Mountaineers won today’s game, however, the series would continue to a fourth and possibly final fifth game to determine a victor. This was an important game indeed.

“Isn’t it exciting, Uncle?” Giovanni said over the cheering crowd. One up-time lady nearby shouted so loudly that Uncle Antonio winced and covered his ears.

“What did you say?” he asked.

“Isn’t it exciting?”

“Oh yes,” Uncle Antonio shouted. “Very exciting. What inning is the game in?”

“Bottom of the fourth. The Mountaineers have two outs and players on first and second. The score is tied three to three. The big boy is coming up to the plate.”

The “big boy,” as one of the fans nearby kept calling him, was an up-timer kid who had gotten his growth spurt early. This was a league for eleven and twelve-year-olds, but this kid looked every bit fourteen. Some of the Slider fans were booing and hissing and crying foul, claiming incorrectly that it wasn’t fair for a boy that size to be playing. The boy had already come up to bat twice. He had hit a pop fly into center field for his first out; his second was a line drive between second and third that was first bobbled by the shortstop, but who then quickly recovered and threw him out at first. The boy was big, indeed, and if he managed to hit the ball, it went far, but he was slow, so Giovanni did not think that the boy’s size gave him an advantage over any of the other boys.

The Sliders were good, very good. They handled the ball well in the field, and they were all down-timers. The thought of a whole team of down-time boys just like him . . . well, it was almost hard to believe, but there they were, hitting, running, making plays.

Fascinating . . . 

Big Boy swung the bat. Strike one! He stepped away from the plate, clearly upset at himself for swinging at that pitch, one high and outside.

The Jena pitcher was amazing in Giovanni’s eyes. He was short of stature, but he had a decent fast ball and a good eye for the corners of the strike zone. Giovanni had watched each pitch—the wind up, the release, the flight of the ball towards the plate—and noticed how the ball subtly deviated course from time to time. Not only because no one could throw a perfect pitch every time—Giovanni was certain of that—but the boy changed his stance and his arm position in the wind up to try to make it go where he wanted it to. Could I be a pitcher? Giovanni wondered. It’s just physics and ball contr—

Fwang! Big Boy swung his aluminum bat and struck the ball, but it flew foul, and unfortunately in the other direction, away from Giovanni and his uncle. Darn it, he thought, reciting a word he’d heard many up-timers use. Uncle Antonio had scolded him on its use, so he always cursed now in his mind. The up-timers had a number of colorful phrases to choose from.

Two strikes. Now Big Boy and the pitcher focused as the Mountaineer fans gave rousing encouragement from their stands, and the Jena fans shouted in kind for their boy on the mound. It was a chaotic mixture of English and German. Giovanni understood little of it, but the tiny hairs on his neck and arms rose up like the fans around them. He stood and shouted in Italian, “Fuori campo! Fuori campo! Vai in cortile! Vai in cortile!”

Go yard, go yard, as he had heard the fans shout the last time Big Boy had stepped up to the plate. Uncle Antonio had translated it for him, and Antonio assumed it meant home run. So, he shouted Fuori campo! Fuori campo! Adding his joy to the cacophony of voices that rose up towards heaven from their little speck of Earth. And Giovanni imagined that if God himself were looking down on them, he too would be shouting Fuori campo!

The Jena pitcher released the ball, a slower pitch this time, down and away. Big Boy was ready. He waited, waited. Then he swung.

His bat connected soundly, a nice meaty Fwunk! that sent the ball high and to right field. But alas, not far enough, as the Jena outfielder easily moved up and waited for the ball to come down into his glove. Giovanni’s enthusiasm deflated as he waited for the inevitable.

But wait! The boy miscalculated his move. The ball hit off the lip of his glove and bounced to the ground.

“Go! Go!” Coach Flannery screamed as he waved the runners forward.

The Mountaineer boy who had been standing on first base made it to second before the boy in the outfield recovered the ball. The second base runner rounded third and was waved at to keep going.

They’re going for home? Giovanni couldn’t believe it. The Mountaineer boy was fast, yes, but all the way home? It didn’t seem possible, and yet, there he was, rounding third and racing for home plate.

Vai! Vai!” Giovanni shouted. Uncle Antonio pulled him back.

“Domenico, please! You’re embarrassing yourself.”

Giovanni didn’t care. He sat down, but continued to shout as the Jena outfielder threw to second. The second baseman turned and slung the ball toward home plate.

It was going to be close. The second baseman’s throw wasn’t very strong. It didn’t reach the plate. Instead, it bounced just past the pitcher’s mound, then again, and again. The runner fell and slid.

The Jena pitcher took position, his big glove waiting.

Slide.

Bounce.

Slide . . . 

The catcher scooped up the ball and swiped his glove across the slider’s leg. An agonizing pause, and then the umpire shouted, “Out!”

A collective “awwww” ran through the crowd.

“Goddam—”

“Domenico!” Uncle Antonio said, giving a light, but firm, tap on the back of Giovanni’s head. “Do not blaspheme!”

“I apologize, Uncle.” And he was sorry. He had gotten caught up in the excitement, the drama, the energy of the moment. It was unlike any feeling that he had ever experienced before. His heart, his mind, were racing. He felt an association with the Mountaineers, as if he were on the team, as if he were Big Boy swinging that bat, trying to “go yard” as the crowd shouted their encouragement. It did not matter that he was just a little Italian boy from Perinaldo. Today, he was a Grantville Mountaineer.

The Mountaineer fans quieted down and buried their disappointment in a congratulatory clap for the effort, for it was a glorious effort, and it certainly scared the Jena coaches, who were now rather animated on their side of the field. There were only two innings left, and could they pull off another win? Giovanni did not know, but was excited to find out.

Before the fifth inning started, Coach Flannery went to the pitcher’s mound. He held something in his hand which was attached to a long cord that unraveled behind him as he walked. He spoke into the thing in his hand. “Is this thing on?”

Uncle Antonio translated, and the answer was yes. Coach Flannery’s voice rang out across the field from a box near the Mountaineers’ bench. What an amazing place was this little town of Grantville. One could even project one’s voice through a wire.

“I want to thank everyone for coming,” Coach Flannery said, “and I want to thank the Jena Sliders for travelling all the way here.” His greeting was met with claps. When it died down, he continued. “Before we begin the next inning, I want to announce that we have a very important guest in the stands today. All the way from Perinaldo, Italy. You up-timers will likely know him from his last name, but he’s come to Grantville with his uncle, and they have graciously agreed to be my guests today. Please welcome Giovanni Domenico Cassini and his uncle Antonio Maria Crovese. Come on down!”

Coach Flannery waved them onto the field. Uncle Antonio balked, shook his head. He stood and accepted the warm greeting, but refused to take the field. Giovanni, on the other hand, was out of his seat and heading to the mound before Uncle Antonio could do anything about it.

Coach Flannery shook Giovanni’s hand when he reached the mound and then patted him on the shoulder. He then began reciting Giovanni’s credits, his scientific accomplishments, which was absurd on the face of it, since Giovanni had not accomplished a thing yet, at least not in this timeline. But that didn’t seem to bother the crowd. They seemed genuinely impressed. Even Uncle Antonio sat there smiling, despite his discomfort with the situation, at the accolades his ward was receiving. “I want to thank you and your uncle for attending today, and we hope that, when you return to Italy, you’ll tell all your friends and neighbors about the greatest game on Earth . . . baseball!

The crowd approved of the emphasis that Coach Flannery had placed on the last word. When they were finished cheering, a young up-time lady in a Mountaineers’ cap and uniform came forward and gave the coach a cap, a glove, and a ball. “And we want you to take these home with you as well, with our thanks. And if any of your friends or neighbors don’t believe the stories you will tell them of the greatest game you’ve ever seen, show them these . . . and they’ll believe you.”

Giovanni looked toward his uncle before accepting the gifts. Uncle Antonio hesitated, looked around him at the fans who waited in kind, then nodded.

****

“Awww, but that was a great game!”

Giovanni couldn’t contain his excitement as they walked back to the hotel. The Mountaineers had pulled it out. Bottom of the sixth, boys on second and third. One out. A long pop fly to center field sent the runner from third base home with room to spare. Four to three.

What a game!

He wore his hat and glove. He was pretending to be an outfielder. He threw the ball up and then ran after it and caught it before it hit the ground. Then he’d shout, “Out!” and do it again and again. “I didn’t think they were going to do it,” he said, as Uncle Antonio followed quietly. “I thought the Sliders were going to throw the boy out just like they did in the fourth. Didn’t you, Uncle?”

“I suppose.”

“Yes, oh, what a great game. Can we see another before we go? Maybe they’d let me bat or run the bases at least. In between innings. If you ask Coach Flannery, I’m sure he’d—”

“That’s enough!”

Giovanni came to a dead halt, and this time, he missed the ball. It hit the sidewalk and rolled away. Uncle Antonio reached down and snatched the cap off Giovanni’s head.

“You listen to me, Domenico.” Uncle Antonio grabbed Giovanni’s shoulders, knelt, and stared into his eyes. “I have allowed you one game, and that is all. You will now put this wretched sport behind you and focus your mind on what we came here for.”

Giovanni shook his head, now frightened. “I—I don’t understand, Uncle. Why are you so angry? Baseball is fun, and it’s really nothing more than math and ph—”

Uncle Antonio drew back his hand as if he were about to strike the boy in the face. Giovanni pulled back, terrified of his uncle for the first time in his life, shocked beyond understanding. He did not understand what was happening and why Uncle Antonio was so angry. He put his small arm up to shield his face.

Uncle Antonio did not strike him. Instead, he let Giovanni go, stood, straightened his shirt, coat, and hat, and quietly walked over to where the ball had rolled. He picked it up, turned, smiled, and nodded to the onlookers who seemed just as shocked at the outburst. He then handed the ball to Giovanni, and said in a whisper, “I will give you the dignity of keeping your gifts, but I see now that it was a mistake coming here. These . . . people, and their ways, have corrupted your thinking. We will cut our visit short and leave promptly tomorrow morning after breakfast, put Grantville and baseball behind us, and no more will we speak of it. Do you understand?”

He understood, though what he wanted to do was cry instead of nod. But Giovanni kept his tears inside, nodded, and pointed to his cap that his uncle still clutched in his hand. Uncle Antonio sighed and gave the cap back. Giovanni dared not put it on.

They walked the rest of the way in silence, but Giovanni defied his uncle’s wishes.

I might not speak of it, Uncle, but you cannot make me not think of it.

****

 

July 4, Day of Departure . . . 

 

“Domenico . . . where are you?”

Antonio had searched all day. First, he had gone to the high school and to the baseball field. But Domenico wasn’t there. He went to the library. Nothing. He walked street after street, asking everyone he passed, if they had seen his nephew. Nobody. There was one bright moment of hope when an old man thought he had seen the boy heading east down that road right there (the man pointed), but no amount of searching that road or that direction proved successful. By the end of the day, Antonio’s anger had been replaced with exhaustion and fear.

What if he had left town? What if he was out there, walking east like the old man said, and he’s holed up in some discarded barn or burned out house? What if he was injured, hungry, afraid? All of these possibilities and more raced through Antonio’s mind as he searched and searched and searched.

He paused for a drink. He was hungry and thirsty, but food could wait. His throat was so dry it felt like sand, and he could not breathe well with the constant scratchy, tickling sensation in his throat. He took a short pause and ordered a cool drink in a small up-time café. He sat in a booth next to a window. He took a sip, then another. Then he set the cup down, folded his hands together, and prayed.

He prayed for patience, strength, wisdom, and for the health and safety of his boy, Domenico. That, more than anything else, mattered the most.

Through the window and in the distance, a light flickered on. Antonio looked. It was no divine light from heaven, but it was strong and shining over Grantville’s small skyline. A single beacon of light.

Antonio paid for his drink, left the caffé, and followed the light.

The light led him back to the high school and the baseball field.

Domenico was there, alone, moving back and forth across the infield, throwing up a ball and then catching it in a glove. His speech was animated, his moves boisterous but deliberate.

Coach Flannery stood on the sidelines, leaning against a chain-link fence, watching. Antonio joined him.

“Ah, Antonio,” Coach Flannery said. “I’m glad you’re here. I was going to call the hotel and tell you that Giovanni was—”

“How long has he been here?”

“I found him asleep in the bushes over yonder just a little while ago. I offered to take him back to the hotel, but he just pulled away and went to the field. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give him a little time to play. I gave him a ball and glove and bat, turned on the lights for him. We don’t do many nighttime games anymore, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I hope you don’t mind.”

Antonio shook his head. They turned back to the field and watched.

“He’s got a good eye, your son. Watch how he moves to catch the ball. Now, most kids take a while to get the hang of how the wind will affect the drop. But not him. He seems to have an inherent understanding of wind speed and how it affects the ball. He hasn’t missed one yet.”

Antonio nodded, surprisingly proud of that statement. “Yes, that’s his mother’s influence.” Antonio paused, then said, “I suppose he told you what happened?”

Coach Flannery shook his head. “Not in any words I could clearly understand, but when you find a boy fast asleep in the bushes and his father is nowhere to be found, three miles away from the hotel that they are staying in, you figure something went wrong. Would you like to talk about it?”

Antonio paused at first. It was neither proper nor necessary to explain himself to this up-timer, nor appropriate to bring him into the complex dynamics of the Cassini and Crovesi families. But he found himself telling the whole story, leaving out nothing, and in the end, he found it comforting to have shared it all. A mighty weight was lifted from his shoulders.

Coach Flannery listened intently to every word, then said, “May I ask you a question, Antonio?”

“Of course.”

“Why is it so important that Giovanni become an astronomer, an engineer, or a mathematician?”

“Because that is what he is destined to become. Your up-time history proves it.”

Coach Flannery nodded. “Yes, but the Ring of Fire has altered that history. Things will not necessarily unfold in the future here as they did in my timeline.”

Antonio shook his head. “All the more reason for him to pursue his destiny.”

“I don’t understand.”

Antonio sighed. “Your history books said that Domenico becomes the personal astronomer for a king. A French king, unfortunately, but a king nonetheless. Perhaps that kind of patronage is meaningless to you up-timers, but to us, to Domenico, it can be the difference between living comfortably and living in the street. We down-timers as you call us, do not have the fortune of living in a time where such rigid social divisions do not exist. If Domenico does not utilize the skills, the talent, he was born with, and therefore come to the attention of those who matter, he could wind up poor, or worse, wind up like me, like his father . . . notary publics. If that happens, then I will have failed him. I will have failed his mother, his father. Then others would come along and continue his work for him, and my nephew will be nothing more than a forgotten description in an up-time book.”

“I see.” Coach Flannery turned back to watch Domenico toss around the ball. “Well, if it doesn’t work out as you desire, he could use his talents to become a professional baseball player.”

Antonio scoffed at that. “Nonsense. It’s nothing but a game.”

“Today it is, and even tomorrow. But in five years? Ten? Baseball is catching on, Antonio, all over. By the time Giovanni becomes an adult, there may be professional teams everywhere, who pay their players big money to swing a bat.”

“Right, and only to be remembered then at the end of your days on a thin piece of card.”

Coach Flannery chuckled. “You saw some baseball cards, I take it? Let me tell you, Antonio, that every one of those men, those phantoms you saw, earned millions of dollars up-time. Tens of millions, some of them.”

Lies! How could something as trivial as baseball make people richer than the wealthiest kings?

“Your son is just—”

“He’s not my son,” Antonio corrected. “He’s my nephew.”

Coach Flannery smiled. “I know a father when I see one.” He dared place his hand on Antonio’s shoulder. “Your son is just a boy. He’ll change his mind a thousand times before he settles on what he wants to be. It’s like my own John Dennis. When he was around Giovanni’s age, he wanted to be a trashman.”

“What’s a trashman?”

“Don’t ask. Then he wanted to be a baseball player, then a veterinarian, then a comedian. When he was a teenager, he saw a comedian on TV smash a watermelon with a sledgehammer and thought that was the funniest thing in the world.” Coach Flannery laughed and shook his head. “He tried to smash a cantaloupe with a hammer; that didn’t go over well with his mother. He finally settled on the military, became an EMT, and now he lives a pretty good life. He found his calling, his vocation.”

Antonio pulled away from Coach Flannery’s hand. He did not want to be rude, but he was in no mood for such logic. “No. It must be as I—as his parents—have decided. Domenico will be a scientist, and that’s the end of it.”

Coach Flannery nodded and turned back to watch the boy. “Very well. It is not my place to tell you how to raise your son . . . your nephew, if you prefer. I will say just one more thing. Look at him, Antonio. Look at his joy. I daresay, if I left the lights on all night, he’d still be here in the morning, on his knees in exhaustion, still throwing that ball up into the air and catching it like Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, or Shoeless Joe Jackson—three men who all had legendary careers as baseball players. He has a spark in his eye for the game that you don’t see too often in a child his age. He loves the game, Antonio. You can see it; you can feel it. He wants to play. So . . . let him play.”

****

He imagined himself one of those men on the baseball cards. An outfielder, hearing the pop of the ball off the bat and waiting, waiting, until the ball came into view out of the hot light of the sun, and being there to catch it. And then, firing it all the way to home plate before the base runner hit the deck and slid. He, Giovanni Domenico Cassini, throwing a ball over one hundred feet to the catcher and hearing the umpire shout, “Out!”

And the crowd goes wild . . . 

Uncle Antonio was on the field and walking towards him. Giovanni caught the ball and then stood upright, rigid, and waited. Waited for his much-deserved punishment.

Uncle Antonio stopped in front of him. “Hello . . . Giovanni. I’ve been looking for you all day.”

Giovanni nodded, a lump in his throat. “I know, Uncle. I apologize for running away, and for my disrespect this morning at breakfast. I—”

Uncle Antonio waved him off. “No more than I apologize for my disrespect yesterday, after the game.”

They stood there in silence. Giovanni took off his glove and set it on the ground. The ball rolled out. “We can go home now. I promise I won’t run away again.”

Uncle Antonio kicked at the grass, and scratched his neck. “I’ve been talking to Coach Flannery, and he says that the Mountaineers are looking for a new boy, for shortstop or for outfielder. They’re going to have a tryout in a few days for the next season. If you’re interested . . . ”

“Me?” Giovanni couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Me? But, we’re supposed to be going home.”

Uncle Antonio shrugged. “Well, we can stay for a while longer.”

“What about Mama and Papa?”

“You let me worry about them. I can handle your mother. But, before I agree in full with staying, you’ll have to prove to me that you are worthy of it.”

Giovanni nodded. “How do I do that?”

Uncle Antonio bent over and picked up the ball that had rolled out of the glove. His hand was pretty large, so it nestled comfortably in the center of his palm. “You have to hit my fastball.”

Giovanni’s mouth dropped open. “You have a fastball?”

Uncle Antonio snickered. “Boy, I was throwing rocks before you were born. You just get behind that plate and show me what you’ve got.”

Giovanni scooped up the bat on the run. He reached the plate and tapped it thrice with the aluminum tip. He took a stance like the other boys he’d seen do at the plate, held the bat in proper position, and waited. “Put it over the plate, Uncle. If you can.”

Uncle Antonio stepped onto the mound as he loosened his arm for the throw. He looked like a giant standing there, but Giovanni didn’t mind. The fact that he was standing there at all was what mattered. It was the only thing that mattered to him at that moment.

Uncle Antonio raised his arm and threw the ball, and Giovanni Domenico Cassini swung his bat.

****