Tag Archive for Best Baseball books for kids

Everything Was Swell Until the 6th Inning

I came across a photo today and figured I’d tell you about it. Blog fodder, you know.

This is me five years ago, after throwing batting practice on a hot night:

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It was the eve of the championship game for the 10-year-old All-Stars. Bethlehem vs. Colonie. I remember it clearly. My son, Gavin, got the nod as starting pitcher that day (I was coach, not manager, and did not make that decision), mostly by virtue of his being rested and available. He wasn’t our best arm, but on that day he was cool and in control. Gavin hit his pitch count limit after five innings and we had to pull him. Our team was ahead against a very resilient group from Colonie, leading 8-5. Time to go to the bullpen. At that moment, everything that could have possibly gone wrong, went wrong. Three outs from an elusive championship, those poor boys got smoked. It still makes me shake my head in grim wonder. We ended up losing by 10 runs, after one of the most brutal innings I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll never forget that game. I wanted to win, and I genuinely wanted for those boys to experience that championship feeling. Alas, and oh well.

It often amazes me how these games can linger in memory. When I wrote Six Innings, back in 2008, I was struck by how clearly I remembered Little League games that I had played back in the early 70s when I was 9-10-11 years old. It gave me the conviction to write the book in the first place. The games meant something to these kids. That I can vividly recall individual plays across 40 years is a testament to that fact. I can still see that ball rolling through Don Cognato’s spindly legs.

This is a place in life where these boys live. Where a lot of life’s momentous events are played out. It’s a cliche to say that a player leaves his heart out on the field, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I know I left my heart on a lot of ballfields across the years, and I wasn’t the only one.

There’s a moment in Six Innings when I try to capture that feeling. Well, not a moment, exactly; I try to achieve it throughout the entire book. But there’s one particular moment when I suppose I try to elevate the language a bit, try to lift off above the turf. The staccato rhythms give way to longer, more poetic sentences. It happens after a thrilling play at the plate in the top of the 5th:

In that instant, everything freezes, a DVD on pause, then explodes into action. Both teams, the fans, the coaches — shouting, cheering, hooting, protesting — every emotion galvanized at once, a kinetic charge of energy rising up through the five layers of the earth’s atmosphere, their cries and dreams climbing from troposphere to exosphere, soaring into the velvet void of deepest space. A roar that happens on Little League fields every day, in every town, city, state, and country all over the world, from Logansport to Osaka, San Cristobal to Little Rock. The sound the game makes when it is played passionately, with young hearts.

Hey, how’s this for cool? The cover of the Korean translation (uh, it’s the one on the left):

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From Fiction to Fact: We’re Playing in the Championship Game

This coming Saturday, I’ll be coaching a Little League team of 11- and 12-year-old boys in a championship game. For the 12’s, this game will be the culmination of their Little League experience. Some boys will move up to play at the Babe Ruth level, on the big fields, jumping from 60-foot basepaths to 90; for others, this game will be it. The end of a boyhood passage, giving way to skateboards and girlfriends, basketball and boredom and who knows what comes next.


For me, this last Little League game is a happy way to conclude a long relationship at Tri-Village Little League in Delmar, NY. I coached my oldest son, Nicholas, for his last four seasons. Then I coached Gavin’s teams for all seven of his seasons, which overlapped with two years of coaching Maggie, too. That’s 11 years of coaching at the Little League level, mostly as manager. Then you can add 7 years of managing in a men’s hardball league, plus Fall Ball, Travel, All-Stars, etc.

A lot of games. A lot of faces. A lot of hanging around the ball field, staring up at the clouds, hoping the rain holds off.

I played, too. This is my age-12 season. Top row, center. Wantagh Little League.

I threw left, batted right, like Cleon Jones and Rickey Henderson.

But this game on Saturday will be my first championship game at the Majors level. I was fortunate enough to coach a team that won at the Intermediate level, some years back with Nick. Took it to ’em, 6-zip, behind the strong arm of Nick Hodem. Unfortunately, my Nick was sick at that time, fighting cancer, and he missed the final game.

In 2008, I published my first hardcover novel, Six Innings, inspired and informed by my lifelong love of the game. The book, subtitled “A Game in the Life” (and yes, that’s a Beatles reference), is about a single championship game and the boys who play in it. I’m proud to say that it was named an ALA Notable and, by Booklist, one of the TOP 10 BEST SPORTS BOOKS OF THE YEAR.

Here’s a couple of paragraphs that come very late in that book:

Coach Reid watches the boys as they celebrate, resists the urge to join them, to leap arms outstretched on top of the pile. No, this is their moment. It isn’t about Coach Reid, or any other adults. It is enough, more than enough, to stand back and watch.

Branden runs up, ecstatic. “We did it, Dad!” he exclaims. “We did it!”

The son throws his arms around his father, and the father squeezes back, hard, hoping to capture the memory like a summer firefly in his hands, wanting the moment to last forever, burning brightly, and knowing that somehow, amazingly, as sure as they stood, it would.

Wish us luck!

Good, Clean Fun: ANOTHER BROTHER Book Trailer

I first learned of Matthew Cordell when he was hired to illustrate my picture book, MIGHTY CASEY. Despite Matt’s great artwork, the book never really found an audience, and I guess it sort of died on the vine, as they say. But there are two great things that came out of that book. First,  my ongoing friendship with Matthew and his amazingly talented wife, Julie Halpern. Someday I hope we’re all in the same room! In my opinion, Matt is a hugely gifted illustrator, and a true artist, and an heir in his approach and dedication to Arnold Lobel, who is one of my all-time heroes. He’s also got a touch of William Steig.

Look, I’ll say it. A lot of children’s book illustration, while technically spectacular, isn’t very appealing to kids. Matt’s work, on the other hand, is loose and inviting and draws readers into the story. Like Lobel, and Steig, and James Marshall, and all the best. I really think Matt is that good, and he’s just scratching the surface.

Secondly, I’m gladdened by the consistent pleasure I experience when on odd times I pull out MIGHTY CASEY and read it aloud to large groups of students. I’m telling you, it works every time. We laugh, we have fun, and by the end these kids are right there, leaning in, eager for the play at the plate. Sales or not, those experiences tell me that Matt and I did good together — we made something, you know, put it out into the world. It’s all we can do.

Anyway, Matt created a homemade trailer for his new picture book, ANOTHER BROTHER. Now on sale on every street corner, car trunk, haberdashery — and independent bookstore, too!

Enjoy . . .

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