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Read All About It!

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img=head "Trip to Fenway Drives Home Truth--Right off the Bat

Read All About It!  is a collection of 50 read-aloud stories for preteens and teens, with commentary and introductions by Jim Trelease, including an award-winning selection of his own work included below. ($18.00) Penguin Books, wherever books are sold or from Jim Trelease.

 

INTRODUCTION

"T"here is an old cliché that calls baseball a "game of inches." Playing it as a child, covering it as a sportswriter, and watching it as a fan, I had given the phrase only cursory attention and then only as it applied to what happened on the field. I knew the stories about the perfect symmetry of the game, how much it would have changed the game if the distance between the bases had not been ninety feet, that the sixty feet, six inches to the pitcher's mound could not be changed by even an inch without dramatically changing the relationship between pitcher and hitter.

img=Jim Trelease Jim Trelease

Then one day I took my son to Fenway Park in Boston for his first major-league game. That day, I lived the cliché. I can tell you firsthand: It is a game of inches. In fact, that day I was willing to expand the expression to "Life is a game of inches."

But I also learned that day, if I had not known it before, that baseball is just a game. There are more important things on a sunny day.

When we returned home after the game, I went immediately to a typewriter and wrote this story. I had started in the newspaper business almost twenty years earlier as a sportswriter but had left that department after a few years to become the paper's staff artist and editorial cartoonist. I continued to, however, to write feature stories as I came across them. In 1980, this was the only story I wrote. It won the New England Associated Press features award that year and brought me more mail and phone calls than anything I ever wrote until The Read-Aloud Handbook.

part of image of baseball bat, ball, popcorn, game tickets, and Red Sox hatpart of image of baseball bat, ball, popcorn, game tickets, and Red Sox hatpart of image of baseball bat, ball, popcorn, game tickets, and Red Sox hat

Trip to Fenway Drives Home Truth—
Right Off the Bat

by Jim Trelease (copyright 1983, 1993, 2007)

"H"e waited until the boy was fully awake. He sat on his bed in the morning and savored the look on the child's face when he told him they were going to Fenway Park.

The father had waited until his son was ten, waited until he was sure he would understand the game, appreciate the beauty of Fenway in the spring. He waited for the right day, a sunny day game in the middle of a vacation week, a game minus the weekend drunks. He wanted the boy's first game to be perfect.

He wanted it to be better than his own first game—a hot afternoon at Yankee Stadium in 1950 with the sun in his eyes and the players too far away.

The boy had his mother's eyes and good looks, his father's sensitivities; he was laugher and a worrier—sometimes in the same hour. He liked sports. He didn't love them; just liked them. And that was fine with his father because that's the way he felt, too.

image of outside of Fenway Parkimage of outside of Fenway Parkimage of outside of Fenway Park

This day at Fenway would be special.

But this day! This would be a special one. This would be a day the two of them could treasure all their lives. The boy's first day at Fenway—the day they'd both waited so long for.

They drove down the Pike, the father detailing the history of Fenway and its uniqueness in sports, the boy testing their borrowed binoculars on road signs and a solitary cloud over Framingham.

They parked in the Grove Street MBTA lot and rode the trolley into town. "A lot quieter than a subway, huh, Dad?" the boy commented. And the man silently recalled how he and his father had ridden the noisy and frightening New York subway up to the Bronx for that first game together and that of all the memories from that day, the only pleasurable one was the security he felt with the closeness of his father in the subway.

'Got the split end of the bat in the face'

This year, father and son arrived by the second inning, took a chance at the reserved seat ticket window and were rewarded with a pair of lower box seats next to the Red Sox on-deck circle. The father could not believe his good fortune.

The boy sat in the second row and stared in disbelieve at the great green wall in left and the white double-knit uniforms just a few feet away from him.

And the father watched him and felt his heart bursting with joy. If there were a way, he thought, to capture even a part of this day and put it in a bottle, it would glow forever.

They did all the things the man had planned: Fenway franks, ice cream sandwiches, how to read the scoreboard, crowd watching, foul ball chasing, and cheering for Yaz.

This is what life is all about, the father thought. A boy and his dad and baseball. Nothing beats it!

With the Sox ahead 9-2 in the ninth, the stands began to empty. But these two didn't leave. Here was a day to be savored until the very end.

"How about another frank?"

"Sure, Dad."

"Wait here," the father said. "Even if the game ends—just stay in your seat. I'll be right back."

The concession was closed and in minutes the father was struggling against the exiting crowd to return to his seat. And then suddenly the crowd wasn't pushing any more. It was standing still. Then leaning. The aisle was clogged. The father couldn't see the box seat section. He stood on his toes and peered over the shoulders. There—there were the two women from the adjacent box. But the boy was missing.

img-handle of baseball bat

Something seemed wrong down on the field. Play had stopped. There were ushers congesting the aisle.

The father felt his legs go weak and his hands tremble. He remembered the woman advising him and his son that "you've really got to watch yourself with the foul tips when you're sitting in these box seats." Somehow he fought his way down the aisle. There was no sign of the boy. Everyone was bent toward the steps where the ushers were ministering to a boy.

"Got the split end of the bat in the face," the father heard someone say over his shoulder.

"Is . . . is that my son?" he asked aloud to the stranger. "Is it my son?"

No one answered.

He knelt on the blood-smeared cement steps and peered through at the body that was face down in the spot where he'd left his son minutes before. The jacket was the same color as his son's.

A tiny figure in the front row

But the collar—it was different. It's not him! he told himself. It can't be. This couldn't happen. It happens to other people, not to us, he thought.

He was shaken with doubts. What if they'd placed someone else's jacket around the boy. Still on his knees, he reached through the ushers' legs and gently touched the boy's hair. Was it the hair he'd tousled and caressed so many thousands of times? He couldn't be sure or wouldn't allow himself to be sure.

His hands were shaking as he turned back the coat's sheepskin collar and saw the red shirt beneath. His son had been wearing blue!

He stood up quickly, his face hot, his voice trembling, "Where's my son?" he asked the woman who had warned them. Together they scanned the crowd and finally came to a tiny figure in the front row—alone in the seats that had been vacated by the helpers and voyeurs.

He was standing stiffly, facing centerfield, both hands covering his eyes.

Suddenly it was all different. A father and son held each other in the lengthening shadows of a Fenway afternoon. It was a moment they would remember for a long time.

The father will remember the long ride home and what they talked about. How the splintered bat had spun into the stands, glanced off the spectator across the aisle and bounced off the shoulder of his son.

Yes, they talked about the game, Yaz's hits and how much Fred Lynn looked like Willie Wonka on TV. But always they came back to what was important: not a game or runs or hot dogs but that they were together, alive and well, and that they loved each other. That is what life is all about, thought the father. And he prayed silently that they both always would remember their first game together and the lesson it carried.

 

baseball gat handle, ball, and part of gloveAFTERWARD

A few days after the article appeared, my old college friend Dick Bresciani, then community-relations director for the Red Sox, sent word that the youngster who had been struck by the bat had recovered and was OK.

 

HAVE YOU READ . . . ?

Off the field mishaps at the ball park can be as common as on-the-field errors and ministering to the medical needs of sports fans is often as nerve-wracking as a pennant race, according to the Wall Street Journal's July 15, 1992 front page story, "It's a Bloody Business Being a Baseball Fan; Ask Mr. Giampietro" by Timothy Smith.

   If you're a fan—be it of actors, musicians, or athletes, you'll enjoy "The Andy Strasberg Story" by Mike Bryan, found in Read All About It! In my opinion, it is the greatest fan story of all time: the true account of the relationship between an eight-year-old kid in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium and Roger Maris, the man who broke Babe Ruth's sixty-homers record, a relationship that stretched beyond the ballpark, even beyond the grave!

   From the late 1930s through the 1950s, the best American writer of teen sports novels was John R. Tunis. Old Joe Kennedy used to threaten the young future president Jack Kennedy that if he didn't stop misbehaving in school he wouldn't let him read the next Tunis book. Many of his books are still relevant and back in print, including: All-American; Champion's Choice; City for Lincoln; The Iron Duke and The Duke Decides; Keystone Kids; The Kid Comes Back; The Kid from Tomkinsville (his most famous work); Rookie of the Year; Schoolboy Johnson; and World Series. Some are still in print.

   The most widely praised teenage sports novel in the last thirty years is Bob Lipsyte's boxing book The Contender.

For a list of 20 excellent sports picture books, see the list here at Picture-Sports. The award-winning illustrator Kadir Nelson offers a brilliant overview of the Negro Leagues in his oversized picture book, We Are the Ship. Nelson builds the book on a narrative recited by a fictional veteran of those leagues, telling the history in a witty, insightful vernacular that brings those bygone days to vivid life. Furthermore, to call the art in the book "illustrations" is an insult to fine art. It's a perfect compliment to Alfred Slote's middle-grade novel Finding Buck McHenry.

  Some of today's most popular sports novelists include :

For younger readers: Fred Bowen's Dugout Rivals about two rival players and the meaning of "teammate." Also by Bowen: Throwing Heat; Hardcore Comeback; Soccer Team Upset; T. J.’s Secret Pitch; Touchdown Trouble; and No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season. Dan Gutman and his series of baseball novels built around time-traveling baseball cards; titles include: Mickey & Me; Abner & Me; Babe & Me; Satch & Me; Jackie & Me; and Shoeless Joe & Me. Also by Gutman, a clever picture book take-off, Casey Back at Bat.

For older readers, Thomas J. Dygard: Forward Pass; Halfback Tough; Outside Shooter; Point Spread; Quarterback Walk-On; Rebound Caper; The Rookie Arrives;and Winning Kicker; Jerry Spinelli: Maniac Magee; and Crash; Carl Deuker: On the Devil's Court; and Heart of a Champion; and Will Weaver: Striking Out; Farm Team; and Hard Ball.

            

Web NoteONE of the best pieces I've ever read about a baseball fan is Bill Plaschke's column in the Los Angeles Times about one female reader who sent him an email challenging his diamond wisdom, especially when it came to the Dodgers. When he emailed her back, he discovered one of the game's most unconventional but rabid fans—that is, if she was for real. After all, she could be a colossal put-on. So he decided to track her down. Covering a Lakers game in Texas, he drove the 85 miles from Houston to rural Anderson, Texas, and found a decaying shack housing a devoted mother and an 87-pound cerebral palsy victim in a wheelchair who typed with her forehead—for hours at a time. His celebrated column on Sarah Morris can be found online at Sarah Column; Plaschke can be heard describing his meeting with Sarah for NPR's "Only a Game" at Plaschke Interview.

BASEBALL WEB Sites: All professional sports teams now boast their own Web sites. The Red Sox are at www.redsox.com; links to the rest of the majors can be found at www.majorleaguebaseball.com.

The above piece by Jim Trelease was excerpted from Read all About It!  

Author profiles here by Jim Trelease

Beverly ClearyBeverly Cleary
author profile, by Jim Trelease
Gary Paulsen
Gary Paulsen
author profile, by Jim Trelease

Wilson Rawls
Wilson Rawls
author profile, by
Jim Trelease



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