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June 13, 2006 > Baseball lessons, life lessons

Baseball lessons, life lessons

by Joyce Peters

Watching your child play baseball can be an intense experience. Your eyes are glued to him batting, pitching, in the field and sitting on the bench. You know he dreams of making the big play and you also know there will be moments of disappointment, as well as triumph. His stomach is in a knot and so is yours. But the great thing about baseball is that you are supposed to strike out sometimes. Great players often have batting averages equivalent to one hit for every three times at the plate and even the best make errors. Just as there are good days and bad days in life, baseball teaches you to keep trying, or adjust your goals.

Great Little League coaches put an athlete's welfare before the game. That's not easy when every part of your being wants to win. A great Little League coach doesn't necessarily win the most games. In a perfect Little League world, kids learn sportsmanship and teamwork, the partnership between skill and practice. But life isn't perfect. The bad part of Little League is when kids, and even worse, adults exhibit the worst of human behavior. Parents can use these teachable moments to discuss issues like ethics, morality and the unfairness of life.

Here are some baseball books that are fun for adults and kids to read together.

"Baseball's Boneheads, Bad Boys and Just Plain Crazy Guys" by George Sullivan, Millbrook Press paperback, $8.95. (2003)

Baseball is full of dramatic moments and great players who overcame great odds, fatigue, or physical challenges. But this book is about all the players that messed up, such as Jose Canseco, who had a ball bounce off his head (ow!) and over the fence, resulting in a home run for the other team! It includes some of the superstitions of players before the games (i.e. eating fish or Fruit Loops), and some of the jokes players have played on each other.

Recommended for reluctant readers, it has engaging pictures illustrating some of the oddest moments in America's pastime. This book is perfect for doctor's office visits, when you might have a little time to read, or for rides in the car. You don't have to be a baseball aficionado to find the stories funny. The best part, or maybe the worst, is that all of these people really did these things! For ages 8 through 12.

"Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen" by Marissa Moss, illustrated by C.F. Payne, Simon &Schuster hardcover, $16.95. (2004)

From the time she was a little girl, Jackie Mitchell loved to throw a baseball. Even though boys told her that girls weren't supposed to be any good at it, she practiced from morning to night, practicing until her shoulder was sore and her fingers were callused. As a result, when she was 17, Jackie won a spot on the Chattanooga Lookouts, a small minor league team.

In 1931, the Lookouts were scheduled to play an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. Those were the days of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lezzari, legendary players still talked about today. The Babe was well-known for saying that women were "too delicate" for baseball. When the famous "Home Run King" stepped up to the plate as the first batter against Jackie, she was understandably nervous. Would she prove the Babe was wrong or would she hear the crack of the bat?

Compelling pictures and a good story make this a sure-fire hit for young baseball fans, particularly girls. The best part about this story is that it's all true! For ages 5 through 9.

"Heat" by Mike Lupica, Philomel Books hardback, $16.99. (2006)

The title "Heat" says it all. Twelve-year-old Michael Arroyo's fastballs are clocked at over 80 miles per hour, so he's definitely capable of throwing some heat. But sadly, Michael is also feeling heat in his difficult life.

Living in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, home of his heroes, Michael might as well be on a different continent since he can't afford to see inside. He and his older brother Carlos are hiding from the bill collectors and the officials who would separate them if they knew the two boys were living on their own. Baseball is Michael's only salvation, along with his dream of playing in the Little League World Series-until a rival accuses Michael of being older than the league limit. With no parents and a birth certificate that resides in his native Cuba, Michael and his friends will have to think fast to save his home and the all-star season.

In this fast-paced novel peopled with strong, well-developed characters, readers will find themselves rooting for Michael as he struggles with the loss of his father, stumbles into his first boy-girl relationship, and yearns to play baseball. The sports scenes are especially well written - not too much play-by-play for non-sports fans and enough for fidgety boys. At times, the author veers toward melodrama but he keeps his lively plot on course with humor, crisp dialogue, and true-to-life characters. For ages 11 through 14.

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