Fan Fiction - Written by Doug Fowler - Book & Television Universe

Flight of the Knuckleball
Written by: Doug Fowler

Tanners in scenes with Cousin Steve, who had a scholarship to baseball power Stanford in season 1. Steph playing catch, Tanners at one of Steve's starts, and more, including a Cubs win in 2003, with Steve on the team

A/N: Cousin Steve had a baseball scholarship to Stanford ("Just One of the Guys"), you have to be mighty good for that; their baseball team is top notch. His presence explains where Stephanie learned that knuckleball. Episodes "Stephanie Plays the Field" and "Knock Yourself Out" referenced. Steve's career - which has a flight like a knuckleball - discussed in the midst of various family scenes. Could be TV or Book Universe, as RKORadio's Samantha, who I've used with permission, would even be hanging around them some in the TVU by the end of this story, but it's Book Universe officially. :-) I also considered giving Steve the win in game 1 of the NLCS and making it a 4-game sweep, which is possible becasue of the stuff you'll see, but this is more dramatic for a better storyline. :-) The Chronology doesn't say which happens.

"That's the weirdest pitch I've ever heard of." Jesse Katsopolis shook his head as his nine-year-old niece continued to throw for fun in their back yard. Jesse gave up trying to catch what she was throwing. "I liked it better when they weren't doing...whatever you're makin' 'em do," he said before jogging several feet to the right to pick up a ball.

"Come on, Uncle Jesse, this is fun," Stephanie said as she caught the ball thrown back at her. "Besides, when they were going straight it wasn't working. It takes a lot of practice not to spin them. And, at least you're more active now. When I was five I'd get you to play ballerina by making you sit and watch me dance."

Jesse wasn't so sure. "Only difference is, you're tryin' to make a ball dance instead." He shook his head. "I can't wait till Michelle wakes up from her nap. She likes waitin' till you throw and then runnin' like crazy after pitches." Jesse and the girls' dad's best friend, Joey Gladstone, had moved in to help Danny Tanner raise Stephanie, Michelle, four, and D.J., fourteen, when the girls' mother died. Now, he was running after throws that were nowhere near the imaginary plate. "You know how many batters you woulda hit?" he asked as she threw again.

"Just be glad I'm not on Dad's Little League team."

"Why don't you pretend you're a shortstop? You're always sayin' Ozzie Smith makes it look like ballet out there. And, you like dance." Smith was an incredible defensive wizard, and Stephanie's favorite player for that reason.

"Would you rather be hitting me ground balls?" she asked as she caught the throw back.

"I'd rather be playin' with my band," Jesse teased as he got down on his knees again, to give her a good target. "Nah, I'm just kiddin'. Even though I'm married now, and spendin' more time with your Aunt Becky, playin' catch is still fun." A ball fluttered a couple feet over his head. "Except for the catching part."

The following Tuesday afternoon, Stephanie had decided to join the team Danny was coaching; partly because she liked a boy in that league. Before supper, Danny approached her about it. "You know, Steph, I'm really proud of you for being willing to change positions, since you joined late and we already had a shortstop." In fact, with Smith's number one taken, she would choose Cal Ripken Jr.'s "8" that he wore with Baltimore. I know you like playing there better. Not that you won't be a good pitcher, because I think you will," he rambled.

"That's okay, Dad; I don't hit that well. And, I enjoy playing catch."

Danny agreed; he knew she had a lot of fun with that. "Pitching's more than just playing catch, though."

"I struck you out, Dad."

"I know. But, your cousin Steve down at Stanford might pitch professionally someday. How would you like to go see him after dinner; it's less than a half hour away."

"Cool; thanks, Dad." After a slight pause, she asked, "You let me strike you out, huh?"

"Who, me? No, I really wasn't expecting what you threw. But, I don't want you to hurt your arm trying to throw curves at your age, and Steve throws the knuckleball like you've been playing with; or, at least tries to."

"Great," she said excitedly. "You know, I believe you, about not striking out on purpose. You would have rambled a lot more if you had." He agreed.

Danny called and asked if they could come; Steve said that was a good night. That evening, Steve met them at his dorm, and led them to the ball diamond. "Sorry I couldn't make the wedding," he said again.

"Hey, I understand; Jesse and Becky knew some people wouldn't be able to make it, with Valentine's Day on a weekday. We're just lucky our school district gave a week off of school for the two Presidents' Days, or we would have had to have it at night."

Stephanie reminded them, "Then Steve wouldn't have had classes," as they approached an intramural baseball diamond. Danny said she had a good point.

Steve bent down to Stephanie's level, and asked her to hold her hand in a knuckleball grip. It was actually with the fingertips, which was how she'd read most did it. "Okay, good. You've got big enough hands you should be able to throw it. Uncle Danny, why don't you grab that glove and go behind the plate, while I watch her mechanics." He didn't want to injure himself catching, since his own season was already starting. Stephanie wound up and threw. The ball started up a bit, then dropped and veered slightly very quickly. "Hey, that's good; you've been practicing, huh?"

"Somewhat. I like to fool around with it when Dad or one of the guys plays catch with me. It was a fun challenge to keep it from spinning."

"That's how a lot of trick pitchers start, just playing around," Steve noted. "Remember, though, don't push the ball out; you have to have a natural follow through. It can make half a rotation or so on the way to the plate, but no more." She wanted to try that, but he said her mechanics were even more important. "First, let me show you how to follow through better with your pitches," he said as he took the ball, then demonstrated a warm-up toss. "Who catches you most in the backyard?"

"All the guys try to, but usually Michelle runs and picks the ball up. Then, it depends on what I want. If I want someone who's professional but a bit too precise, it's Dad. If I want someone to impersonate the ball giving me advice, it's Joey. And, if I want someone to pretend to complain while he's doing it, it's Uncle Jesse," she concluded. She added that Danny was coaching the team.

A couple hours later, the lesson was complete. Stephanie smiled on the way home. "This is great, Dad. Thanks."

"Anytime. I love spending special father-daughter time with each of you girls. You know, I don't know whether it's a boy you like, or you just want to spend more time with me, or you're just a budding great baseball player; who knows, maybe you could be the first female big leaguer. All I know is, it's a joy to watch you grow up," he said, rambling for another minute or so.

Stephanie looked oddly at him. "You know Dad, that was a long enough ramble, I'm wondering if you're going to admit now that you struck out on purpose."

Danny had no comment, other than a chuckle. As they arrived home after talking some more, he said, "Now, remember we need to ice your arm like Steve showed us. I know it doesn't hurt like the arm would when throwing lots of other pitches, but there's still some wear and tear anytime you throw a lot of pitches off the mound; it's a lot longer distance than just throwing in the yard."

Stephanie smiled as Danny started wrapping her arm. Her dad was going a bit overboard - it didn't feel that necessary - but while his overprotectiveness could be annoying at times, deep down it always showed what a kind and caring man he was.F

She gave a "what now" look as Kimmy Gibbler, D.J.'s best friend, came downstairs with D.J.. "Hey, what happened? You try to fly with that arm or something?" Kimmy asked.

"Steph was practicing pitching with our cousin Steve," D.J. explained.

"Yeah, besides, if I'd tried to fly, I would have hurt more than my arm," Stephanie said.

"Good point; hadn't thought of that part. So, what's next? Planning to apply for Social Security?" All gave her confused looks. "Well, they say that's what really old pitchers try to learn if they can't throw a proper fastball anymore."

Danny grinned broadly, as he considered the perfect comeback. "Actually, lots of pitchers who try it throw it starting when they're really young. And, when knuckleball specialist Phil Niekro won his 300th game at the age of 46, back in '85, he threw a complete game and didn't throw any knuckleballs," the former sportscaster said.

"Sure. It's all about outsmarting hitters," Stephanie said as Danny was rubbing her arm.

"That's right. Just like you outsmarted me with that pitch you threw earlier," Danny said.

Kimmy agreed. "Yeah; you're easy to outsmart. It figures she'd strike you out," she said before leaving out the back door to go home.

"Don't mind her, Dad; I wouldn't say in front of her, but Michelle could strike her out," D.J. commented. Stephanie said she believed it.

In October of the following year, Steve came out to visit the Tanners before reporting to the Arizona Fall League. Danny opened the door, and the family greeted him warmly. "Hey, how's my favorite Oriole."

"Great. Although, before you ask," Steve noted, "just because I got drafted by my home town team doesn't mean I'll even meet Cal Ripken, Jr."

"That's okay," Danny said as he took the shopping bag Steve had brought. "I'd have so many people I'd want to give autographs to. I'd hate to have it said I ended his chase toward Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record by giving him writer's cramp."

"Yeah, we all know how you jinxed that boxer you interviewed," Kimmy noted. Steve opened the bag and pulled out several jerseys as the conversation continued.

"Come on, Kimmy, that guy shoulda known what Danny told him, he had it comin' to him, the way he was ignorin' his family," Jesse said, standing up for Danny. "Besides, he retired, he and his wife got back together, and everything was cool," he added.

"That's true. At least he's not like the guys in Chicago who wouldn't let that goat in to Wrigley Field for the World Series," Kimmy returned. A man had actually tried to take a goat in with him to see the game in 1945.

Stephanie had heard of that, too, and was stunned. "Kimmy, who would want to sit next to a goat at a ballgame?"

"Hey, at least it wouldn't be trying to eat all my nachos, like D.J.'s new boyfriend," Kimmy said, referring to the Steve D.J. had been going with since they were in Spain. He wasn't there that evening, as they'd recently agreed to focus on more than just being together, as D.J. hadn't been budgeting her time well.

Steve tried to get a word in edgewise as he pulled out Orioles jerseys. "Plus, you could feed it your trash when you're done. Seriously, I didn't get a big signing bonus or anything, but I did want to bring everyone presents."

"Cool, thanks. Can I borrow yours to sleep in tonight, D.J.?" Michelle asked.

"Michelle, I don't even have it in my hand yet," D.J. chided lightly. The younger girl apologized. "She has started a phase where she doesn't want pajamas all the time. Either that, or since she's not big enough to wear them normally yet, she figures it's a good way to be able to borrow my clothes," D.J. finished with more uncertainty.

"I got you one your size, Michelle; Uncle Danny gave me all your sizes," he said, handing it to her. She thanked him. "So, Steph, how's the knuckleball coming?"

"Great. I'm good at it, but it gets a lot tougher the higher up you go. Still, one of the boys has enough talent to go further. So, I've been trying to teach him," Stephanie explained.

"Well, don't give up, kid. I know the next level might be a tad rougher, but you could get used to it," Jesse said.

Joey agreed. "Sure, you could do it. Of course, I know you won a league title that first year you played, so you've accomplished that. And, the players get a lot faster the older you get. Soon everything's so fast, it's like the game's in fast forward."

Steve agreed. "Tell me about it. I fooled a lot of guys with my knuckler in high school, and was able to combine that with my fastball and curve in college pretty well. Just like you were able to get a lot of kids with yours that first year," he told Stephanie. "But, even in the low minors, I need a lot better control of my stuff, and I really need to figure out if my other stuff is good enough. 'Cause if it's not, I need to really work hard at getting control of the knuckleball, develop a knuckle curve, that sort of thing; it takes a lot of work to perfect that pitch. Just like I taught you that evening when you came to see me." Stephanie nodded. "Just because I throw a knuckleball is no guarantee of stardom."

"No, but if you're looking for weird pitches, it sounds perfect," Kimmy said.

"She said not to tell you even I struck her out once in the back yard," Michelle remarked. "And, I didn't need a knuckleball."

"It wasn't fair; you throw too slow at your age," Kimmy complained. "It was hard for my brain to keep up. Wait; somehow, that didn't sound right."

A few years later, the Tanners and a number of friends were gathered in front of one gate at Candlestick Park. Danny was passing out tickets. "Dad, do you realize how many people have asked what tour group we're with?" Stephanie inquired.

"I did ask for a lot of tickets, didn't I? But, I'm sure we're not the only family of a ballplayer who asks for lots of tickets," he said matter-of-factly.

"No," Jesse commented, "but I bet you're the only dad who automatically treats an entire youth soccer team to a game."

"You have to enjoy it while it lasts," Becky reminded him, as Danny reminded all the girls to pair up with a buddy.

D.J. concurred. "It seems like his career itself has the flight of a knuckleball."

Steve didn't make the majors with Baltimore. Instead, he was included with a few other minor leaguers in a deal with the Mets for a prominent big league slugger in the summer of '95. He was called up very late that year for a few games, with the Mets out of contention. He started '96 in the minors again, but pitching injuries and struggles saw him called up before April was even over! It was mid-May, and he was starting the second game of a doubleheader.

The Mets won the first one, 1-0. Midway through the second game, Steve Tanner was clearly struggling. "Well, Joey, what do you think? It looks like he should stick with the knuckleball, huh," Danny said.

While most would have spoken of the pitcher's other stuff not being good enough to be consistent, or about the quickness of big league hitters, Joey was ever the comedian. So, he impersonated the ball, like he would with Stephanie.

"Yeah, us baseballs are getting tired of hanging like that. We've tried to tell him," Joey continued, making up a voice for the baseball, "'Look, the coach wants you to throw me like normal people 80% of the time this inning, since we're behind 4-1 as it is, to see if you can spot the other stuff, but I'd rather be dancing and swerving out there. I mean, sure, it drives everyone crazy, and it probably drives you crazy, 'cause you'd like to know where I'm headed. But, the key is to get these guys out, and you're just not doing that today.'"

"That's funny, Joey." Stephanie recalled the boy she'd taught the knuckleball to. "he pitches for the middle school team. He's had to come back to me for a bit of a refresher. Maybe he's remember how better if he pretended the ball was talking to him," she joked, snickering at Jesse as he shook his head in wonder at how anyone could know what a baseball sounded like or thought. Danny chuckled and grinned as another girl bought another hot dog.

"I hope Steve promised to pay for the food, too," Jesse said, changing the subject.

D.J.'s boyfriend, Steve Hale, answered. "It's okay, if Mr. Tanner wasn't paying for the ones who couldn't bring their own money, I'd have probably asked him to buy me more, anyway." Steve Hale was a huge eater.

The group milled around for a few minutes after the game. They got everything together, then waited by the player exit for a few minutes; not only for Steve, but also in case any other players came out to sign autographs. Most of the team's girls' parents arrived to take them home.

Steve Tanner emerged quickly, as he'd left the game early. They walked to the Tanners' cars. He'd go back to join the team at the postgame spread after he got done talking with them. A few kids asked for autographs on the way, recognizing he was a ballplayer, but not many. He joyfully signed as they talked. "Hey, Uncle Danny, hey everyone. Sorry I kinda stunk out there."

All walked toward the Tanner cars. "That's okay," one of Jesse and Becky's boys, Nicky, said. "The Giants won the game."

"Nicky, he was the losing pitcher. He played for the other guys," Michelle reminded the four-year-old.

"Oh, yeah, I knew that." He hadn't recalled that, as he and Alex had only half paid attention, but the voice and attitude were carbon copies of their dad.

"Our manager got the matchup he wanted," Steve said, "with the better pitchers going in the first game of the doubleheader. So, we gained a split. Anyway, you could probably tell I tried more of the other stuff. I'm going to keep working on that, but also on the knuckleball. It's going to have to be more of a full-time pitch; or, at least 80%."

"Joey says the ball thinks so, too," Alex remarked, recalling Joey's impersonation of the baseball on several occasions. Joey wasn't the least embarrassed, though; he loved doing voices like that.

Jesse teased a bit. "Yeah, I've always wondered, what do baseballs think out there?"

Joey, naturally, took him seriously, as it gave him a chance to play. As the last of the girls' moms who would pick them up called Danny on his cell phone to say they were close, Joey spoke. "Well, there was that Sports Illustrated article in 1985 about the ball that wound up being the record-breaking hit for Pete Rose. I think that's a pretty good indication of the mentality of a baseball. Their dream is to be in someone's trophy case; obviously, to be in Cooperstown is an incredible dream; more balls make it than players, but the percentage of balls that make it is so much less. Most wind up tossed out, and they're lucky if some kid finds them and plays with them a while without some dog chewing them up. So, as long as they're going to be used in a situation that's not very meaningful, it makes sense that a baseball would prefer to be dancing in a dazzling way, like with the knuckleball, versus just some boring fastball or curve. I mean, I don't even think the thrill of being thrown near 100 miles an hour like Randy Johnson can do can compare to the joy of darting and swerving like a knuckleball."

Steve Tanner was amazed. "That's the most unique argument for the knuckleball I've ever heard. I think I'll use that sometime, if reporters are after me for a quote and I don't want to say anything to hurt anyone's feelings." He noted that New York reporters could get like that. "They're always looking for quotes. It can get kind of nasty, the stuff they write. But, if a player says stuff like that, they won't usually bug them for more damaging quotes. They've loved characters since Lefty Gomez was called 'Goofy,' and probably long before that."

"Cool. Maybe I should go there," Kimmy responded.

"I think you'd be too much for them," D.J. remarked. And, in a way, it was true. A little silliness or fun was one thing. Even confusion, like some of Yogi Berra's sayings, such as "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." But, Kimmy was dumb enough that the media would probably tear her down more than just quote her and laugh. The school paper the year Kimmy had been class president had been bad enough.

In the fall of 1997, Stephanie was finishing another driving lesson with D.J., whom she'd chosen over their dad and Uncle Jesse, who were at extremes when it came to trying to help, as D.J. had learned. Jesse and Becky had moved into a nearby home, anyway, in August. Joey was too involved in wedding plans, as he'd met a nice widow a couple years earlier, and had recently gotten engaged.

"You did a good job," D.J. said as they got out of the car. "You're still a bit too cautious at times. But, I guess that's just like a few other things you've inherited from Dad."

"Yeah; I mean, I'm in control of a machine that weights what, over a ton? And, with all the others out there, it's a lot to think about." She hadn't said much about the time she'd been grounded for a month after backing Joey's car into the kitchen when she was eight. It was still mighty embarrassing. However, she did say, "Pressing 'R', thinking it meant radio, did the most damage, but in a way, turning the keys in the ignition was the worst part of what I did that time."

"You've got a point. Hey, Steve." Their cousin, Steve Tanner, had shown up unexpectedly. They hugged. "What brings you here?"

"I came out to see one of my Stanford buddies get married. Plus, I didn't know if you all heard the news." What was it? "The Mets left me unprotected in the expansion draft. Now, I'll be playing for Tampa." He said he was excited. "I spoke with their manager. I'm all but guaranteed a spot on the starting staff. Which means I'll have plenty of chances to perfect my knuckleball." He'd been in the majors for much of 1997, but more often in relief. "How's the driving coming?"

"Throwing a knuckleball was almost easier," Stephanie admitted. "But, I'm getting used to it. It still feels strange to be behind the wheel, even just practicing. It'll really seem weird when I get my license at 16."

"I've read you talked about baseball preferring to be thrown as knuckleballs a few times," D.J. said with a smile. "What did the reporters say?"

"They loved it; just like I figured. Of course, in Tampa it'll be different; I'll be a veteran presence. And, when the team does poorly that first year, I might be turned to for quotes; it's a lot different when you're just a spot starter and long reliever with a bunch of other guys who get a lot more press," Steve noted.

Joey offered, "I could loan you some material."

"I'm not sure impressions would translate well with print media," Danny kidded him. Joey had plenty of other jokes, too, but those were his favorites.

Michelle offered, "If you're looking for one liners, Jeff's great at them."

"They're only in sixth grade, so I don't think I'd call them boyfriend and girlfriend in the more grown-up sense," D.J. said, "but they are a cute couple."

"Plus, saying Michelle has a boyfriend can make Danny break out in a cold sweat," Joey said jokingly.

"They've known each other since the playground in Kindergarten," Danny explained, "and he is a really nice friend. It's just a gift some people have. What I'd recommend is, have a few props, like that shirt he used to wear with the fingers pointing different directions saying, 'He went that way.' But, most importantly, be yourself. We Tanners are known for good, wholesome fun, and being nice to others. That's the key."

"It must be kind of a weird feeling," Stephanie opined. "On the one hand, you weren't one of the best players on your old team, so they didn't think you'd fit in; but on the other, the new team really wanted you a lot."

"That's true. I think it's a good career move. A few years with them, then I can be a free agent and choose a team that's in contention and, hopefully, can use me as a starter. I did show improvement with the Mets, at least when it came to my knuckleball. And, I'm going to be more comfortable now that I know I'll be starting every fifth day. And, maybe pitching some in relief, in between." He said he'd like to do that, since there was less wear on the arm with a knuckler. "It would be a lot of fun."

The year was 2002. The Tanner family reunion was in the fall, and they weren't as busy this year, so they flew out for it.

Cousin Steve greeted them at the airport. "Hey, great to see you." As they were all hugging, he told D.J., "I still can't believe you're the same girl I used to play with when we'd come out there 15, 20 years now." He hugged Steve Hale, too. "Congratulations again on the wedding, man. Of course, we never did decide how to tell which Steve was which when someone says 'Steve.' Names can get confusing."

Danny nodded wearily. "Tell me about it. I'm the only one who still hasn't gotten used to her being D.J. Hale."

"I know," Stephanie joked. "You can be Cousin Steve, and he can be Food Steve."

"Or Cubs Steve. I thought you wanted to sign with a contender when you became a free agent," Michelle said. The high school junior's steady boyfriend, Jeff Farrington, knew a fair amount of baseball, plus another close friend of hers, who was like a sister, had a baseball player for a boyfriend.

"Oh, I did. When Tampa traded me with an old slugger to the Cubs in '01, for four or five players, we got really close. Only problem was, one of our ace closers got hurt this past year, and our lefty closer fell off a cliff."

"I hope he wasn't hurt," Jesse and Becky's older adopted child, Melanie, said.

Joey assured the eight-year-old he hadn't been. "It's just a saying. Baseball's just like cartoons; that just means his curveballs looked like Wile E. Coyote after he gets hit by something."

"Actually," Danny explained, "that just means he went from being really good to awful, really fast. I read where your team found a closer who would probably be reliable late in the year, but with all your arms, you could play in an octopus league."

Steve agreed as they started to collect their bags. "It's true. Next year Maddux would even come, then this year there's me, Zambrano, Wood if he's healthy, and Prior and Willis if they're ready. That's a lot of starters. Anyway, I really like the neighborhood feel around Wrigley, the suburbs are great, and I told you we just had our first baby. So, I thought it was a good idea to find a place to settle down."

Michelle, a veteran babysitter by now, said, "After learning to control that knuckleball pretty well, you shouldn't have any problem with little kids."

"Thanks; I'll remember that line next season," Steve said. "If my knuckleball isn't working, I'll just complain it's going through the Terrible Twos."

High school senior Michelle Tanner bounded in the front door of the Tanner home. Before she could make her announcement, her dad, Danny Tanner, greeted her excitedly. "Hey, I just got D.J.'s message; she said Cassie won." Michelle nodded; she'd had to call D.J. first; it was so special for girls, and D.J. had been so supportive since Pam had died when Michelle was a baby. Her dad and the other guys weren't always the best at woman stuff, Danny partly because it made him think about Pam not being there. He continued by saying, "Just think my little princess is Senior class president, and now one of her best friends is Homecoming Queen. You know, you and your friends are going to pretty much control everything about your class reunions in a few years. Which can be a good think; I hate to think of some of the ideas Kimmy suggested as tenth grade president being used bya reunion committee."

"Dad, enough politics, okay. There's something else. Jeff wants to know if you can get tickets this year if the Giants get far enough in the playoffs," Michelle said.

"Well, I don't know; does Jeff remember when I got them for that entire youth soccer team?" Danny asked.

Michelle giggled. "Trust me, Dad, he won't expect them for the entire senior class."

"Good. Those can be expensive; even on a journeyman pitcher's budget. I mean, they only make what, a million a year," he guessed. "I'll see what I can do. You're right, if the Giants win, the Cubs could be playing them." He exhaled heavily. "I'm not going to know who to root for."

Stephanie had come down from studying in her attic apartment. "You've always had a soft spot for the underdog, huh? Well, look at it this way; maybe the Giants will lose."

"I don't think we can get tickets way out in Chicago, though. Now, if Oakland makes it to the World Series against the Cubs..." He laughed at the thought. "I can't believe I just said the words 'Cubs' and 'World Series' in the same sentence.

"It's easy - 'The Cubs never seem to win the World Series,'" Michelle offered.

"Not like that. You know, playoff tickets are really expensive. How about instead, I throw a big party for all your friends. We'll have Uncle Jesse and Joey and their families; it'll be really great. And then, the next night, you can all come back and have the leftovers," he said with a grin.

Stephanie reminded him, "That might not be possible; D.J.'s husband Steve should be coming the first night, too."

"I'll keep extra back," he pledged.

It was the seventh game of the NLCS. The Cubs were hosting the Marlins, and everyone associated with the Tanners seemed to have shown up for the party.

"This is amazing," Danny said. "Steve lost game one of the National League Championship Series in the 13th inning, he won game 4 as a starter, and after they lost games 5 and 6, Steve's warming up again."

"I'm surprised they left Wood in the first at bat," Steve Hale said. He took a bite of a burger and remarked, "He did hit a home run, though."

"The way his arm acts sometimes, maybe he should switch to the outfield," Michelle suggested.

"I'm sure it just seems like that because you're comparing him with your cousin," Danny remarked. "After all, knuckleball pitchers are known for pitching a lot, and even coming in in relief at times."

"It's a shame he couldn't relieve fans, too," Jeff said.

"Well, there shortstop was the biggest problem; he booted that ball when the Cubs could have gotten out of that inning with the score tied," Joey mentioned.

"Now, that would be interested, trying to play shortstop. Although at least he's righthanded. You hardly ever see a lefthanded shortstop because they have to turn like this before they throw." Stephanie reached for some pizza as she turned.

"Hey, if it meant a free piece of pizza every time they threw, I'd be a lefthanded shortstop," Steve Hale offered.

"Steve, how could you do that? You're righthanded," Stephanie's boyfriend, Robert, inquired. Steve said he'd learn how to do anything for free food.

"Oh, no; wait, they're holding the runner at third." Stephanie inhaled deeply. "It's 5-4, Cubs; I think Steve really wants to get in there."

"There is a base open," Jesse and Becky's twins both noted.

Kimmy had to tease Steve about his pizza comment. "If it's got food anywhere near, it won't be open long. D.J.'s husband will probably jump right into the TV. Right, Duane?" she asked her husband, who replied with, "Whatever."

"He's already got a home run off of Wood; why is the manager even questioning it?" D.J. asked as the manager was on the mount talking to the pitcher.

"Maybe they're not talking about that," Nicky said.

"Maybe they're talking about where to eat after the game," Alex added.

"Wrong Steve," Samantha kidded as Steve entered the game; she was a girl who stayed with the Tanners and for whom Stephanie was like a mother.

The announcer was saying that without a knuckleballer on the team who was known for entering on short rest, they probably would have left Wood in. Indeed, their fifth starter was also available, but they wanted to put the more veteran hurler into this spot.

Steve Tanner gave up a walk after getting to three balls and a strike; he intentionally threw a fastball way outside so the batter couldn't get to it. The next batter hit a chopper in front of the plate that was sure to score the fast runner, so the hurler threw to first for the out, before getting the next man looking; the score was tied at 5.

"D.J's Steve could have gotten that one," Jesse said.

"Especially if he got Derek Lee mixed up with Sara Lee," Danny kidded.

"Hey, if that was the case, I'd have asked him to bake me something instead of pitching to him. The problem there was, he just couldn't get good wood on the ball," Steve Hale said.

"Maybe that was the pitcher's whole problem," Kimmy said. "His name's Wood, so there's always wood on the ball."

"He's not on the ball when he throws it," Samantha countered.

"Our coach says you have to stay on the ball," Nicky declared.

"Unless that's just your eye you have to keep on it," Alex suggested.

Samantha's boyfriend Colin, a year ahead of her and in Michelle's class at a different school, said, "Well, to have your eye on the ball, it helps to be on the ball, or else the ball might hit you on the eye instead." Thinking of his pro dreams, he turned to Samantha and lovingly said, "Imagine the writers trying to figure that one out." She agreed.

In the bottom of the 7th, Steve Tanner was almost pinch-hit for, but with the bases empty, they chose to leave him in the game. He promptly hit a single. Everyone cheered, as the Cubs were now only six outs away from the World Series if he scored.

"You know, we were six outs away last night, too," Jeff said. "Did someone find that guy that messed up the foul ball in the stands? I mean, I know he didn't do it on purpose, anyone would have gone for a ball in the stands, but he's just got that Gilligan touch when it comes to things."

Danny grinned. "I like that term; the Gilligan touch. Sort of reminds me of the Cubs."

"You know, this might be good," Jesse suggested. "They should have waited till the last at bat to win. Then, they couldn't blow the lead." He shrugged. "Hey, I may not know much about sports, but you have to admit it makes sense."

"Well, sometimes, you have to think like a knuckleball, especially if you want to hit a knuckleball," Joey said.

Jesse looked oddly at him as the next batter made an out, and they went to the top of the 8th. "How do you think like a knuckleball?" When Joey tried to explain, Jesse countered, "I remember before, you were sayin' all the balls thought the same and they were just hopin' the pitcher threw 'em like one."

"Face it, Jess, Joey's imagination changes directions as much as that pitch does," Becky advised him.

With a runner on first and two out, the Marlins pinch-hit for their young pitcher; their pinch-hitter popped up to the shortstop. Steve had had lots of foul balls hit off him, and they could tell he was getting a little weary. The Cubs went out in order. Steve Tanner got one out in the top of the 9th, before facing the Marlins' catcher. He got a single to lead off the top of the inning.

A lefthander was brought in, and he promptly got a ground ball that sent the lead run to second. The rookie fifth starter was warming up in the bullpen. As the next hitter was pitched around, they called for their relief ace, who came in to get the final out in the top of the 9th; the score was still tied at five.

The first batter in the bottom of the inning was hit by a pitch, as the Marlins' ace was a little wild. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second, but the next two batters were out on strikes. In the top of the tenth, the Cubs' ace was able to retire the side.

In the bottom of the tenth, up stopped a man playing his last season in the majors. He was going to pinch hit in the game earlier, but nobody was on base. Now, the lefthander stepped up to the plate, ready to make history; if he didn't, the rookie fifth starter would start the 11th.

"There it goes! Way back, and it looks like..." The Tanners all jumped for joy as Wrigley Field erupted in pandemonium. "They did it! The Cubs won the pennant!" Danny shouted. "The Cubs won the pennant! The Cubs won the pennant!"

As everyone started hugging, Kimmy kidded about them always doing that anyway; they would have had the Cubs lose, too.

The team's rookie fifth starter actually got the win in game 1 of the World Series, which the Cubs won 4-3, before the Cubs lost a close game 2, 3-1. After a game three loss, the same fellow helped Steve escape a jam in game 4, which the Cubs won 3-2 in Wrigley. The Cubs also won game 5 there.

Steve came on to get some key outs in game 6, back in Yankee Stadium, before the rest of the bullpen took over, and the Cubs won, 2-1, for their first Series win since 1908.

A few weeks had passed since the World Series. Steve had come out to California with a few others to tape "The Tonight Show," and chose to fly up and see the others in the Bay Area. "Hey," he said as Danny opened the door, "sorry I haven't gotten the chance to talk to all of you lately."

Danny welcomed him in; everyone was waiting for him. "Hey, it's no problem; a year or two would go by sometimes before. Of course, it's not every year you win the World Series," he added.

"Yeah, that was amazing," Samantha said. "You pitched in game 6, and you were even ready to pitch with no rest in game 5!"

"Hey, I always said, I'd pitch every day if I had to." He turned to Colin. "You send that application in to Stanford?" He had. "It'll be a while; it wasn't till after the first of the year when I heard." Colin would get a scholarship there, and in fact would pitch for the Cubs and a couple other teams in his career.

"Thanks, man," he said appreciatively. "Yeah, I've had a couple scouts looking at me, but you're right; from talking to them, it sounds like I'd have almost no chance unless I really worked on it in college."

"You'd have a lot better chance if you threw a knuckleball," Samantha said.

Michelle wondered why more didn't, and Steve said emphatically, "Because it's super hard!" with a laugh at the end. "Seriously, Colin, you're a lefty, so that's going to help you a lot. But, if you ever want to learn; well, Steph might even be able to teach you."

Stephanie disagreed. Despite Samantha's admiring comments that Stephanie could be a pro player, she shook her head. "It's not like I had a major league quality one. I've helped a few kids in Little League and stuff, but after that, they're on their own. It is really hard to control; truthfully, I've tried teaching Colin to do it, and he has a tough time. It's just like Cousin Steve says, Michelle," she told her younger sister, "that is a really tricky pitch. He had to work for years at the big league level to hone it."

"And, bounce around with four different clubs, three at the big league level," Steve added. "It takes a lot of work to be a big leaguer, but in talking to you, Colin, I can tell you really have the determination. Just like I know you've done with ballet," he said, smiling proudly at Samantha.

"Yep. I may not have been the first female big leaguer like I dreamed," Stephanie said happily, "but the great thing is, I've been able to watch someone I know live his. And, I love being able to help Samantha fulfill hers, too."