Winning the essay and becoming a bat boy for the Seattle Mariners, was more than Van Stone had ever wanted. Even at 13, he was much larger than many of his friends, looking more like one of the players in uniform than what he really was. In The Card: A Van Stone Novel by Jim Devitt, Van’s life has just taken on a darker and deeper twist.
Receiving a gift from his father for the hard work going into the essay was unexpected and (according to his Dad) just a bit special. It was a baseball card from the early ’30s and ’40s of a relative unknown baseball player, Moe Berg. It was certainly unusual, and yet his father seemed to be deep in thought when he again mentioned that it could be very special to him someday. Trying to get Van to relax for his first big day his Dad changes the topic, and as Van tucked the card in his backpack, the subject did not come up again. His Dad dropped him off at Safeco field to begin his dream.
Learning the ropes and finding his way gives him a better understanding of the players. Thomson, an unknown player, is aloof, and Ron Cantos, the best player on the team, is one of the meanest. Getting advice from the other bat boy, Van tries to stay out of Cantos way. Part of the job involves cleaning up after the team and cleaning out the lockers for the next team. While checking to see that the lockers are clean and empty Van finds an odd double baseball cardholder in the very top of Thompson’s locker. He can throw it away, since that is their instruction, but Van decides to use it for the Moe Berg card he received from his Dad. Putting it in his backpack to use later, he completes his work.
Life begins to settle, and finally even Cantos starts to treat him better, making life at the clubhouse just short of perfect.
When his Dad is unexpectedly killed in a car accident while on leave from the research facility where he works, Van’s world changes. His friends are his comfort, and they become even closer than before. While he and his mom will be all right, his entire life has changed in an instant. The funeral is sobering, and sadness permeates even those things that are good in life.
Looking back and reflecting on his time with his dad, Van holds his Moe Berg card, remembering one of his last conversations with his father. He decides to put the card in the holder he found at the clubhouse to give it a place of honor in his room. When the card warms up, he is a bit surprised. Trying other cards from his collection, he finds the phenomenon only occurs with the Moe Berg card from his father. Is this the real reason for his Dad’s gift?
Suddenly Van begins receiving threating phone calls demanding he turn over the card, his gift from his father. He is warned that if he does not comply he will be putting his friends and his mother at risk. Is there something about the card that makes it valuable? Is his dad’s research the reason for the danger or is there more about the Moe Berg card that Van does not understand? Van is unwilling to give up the card. However, when the guard at the Safeco field gate is shot, Van realizes just how much danger is involved. Who can he turn to? Will giving up the card protect his friends and family?
Van is a strong and intelligent young man and Devitt does an exceptional job drawing characters you can relate too. Van and his friends are much like most children their age. Not understanding the danger, they try to come up with plans to hold on to his Moe Berg card. When challenged, Van is afraid and yet he refuses to give in. In the face of the danger that follows, Van and his friends put together plans to elude the perpetrator and try to trap him into revealing himself. This only puts them in further danger, but Van stands his ground. Even with the possible tragedies that could befall, Van is strong and motivated. Keeping track of his mom to keep her out of danger and keeping up with his friends to make sure they are alright, he puts himself in danger to draw the perpetrator to him.
Jim Devitt draws the ballpark as only an insider can. You can hear the crack of the bat and smell the popcorn. And he is so in tune with the inner workings that you can almost smell the sweat and feel the excitement of the locker room as he builds the suspense with the images of his words.
I would recommend this book for the young adult reader; it is fun and eventful, with suspense and action. Van Stone is a strong character, and has an amazing way of dealing with life. Devitt provides some great ballpark background as he delivers the goods.