Baseball books score a home run

Books - June 2005


Judy Belanger


Whether it’s T-ball, Little League, minor league, major league or playing in a neighborhood field, baseball is perennially popular. History books even record men playing a form of the game between Civil War battles. I especially enjoyed learning the history of baseball and the many ballparks. Your little ball player can sit down with these books and a grandparent and find out what parks they have visited.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, by Jack Norworth, illustrated by John Stadler, Simon & Schuster, $12.95; ages 4-8.

Illustrator John Stadler has created a pop-up book based on the classic ode to baseball by Jack Norworth.

The Howlers and the Growlers are ready to play ball. Even the littlest fans can sing along as the game pops up. The animals are ready to play as their fans enter the stadium. When you pull one tab, the fans jump out of their seats. Another pull tab sends the ball to the baseman’s mitt and passes the peanuts down the row. It looks to me like the home team Howlers won this game.

THE SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD, by Phil Bildner, illustrated by C.F. Payne, Simon & Schuster, $16.95; ages 4-8.

We’re fortunate to have two baseball teams in Chicago. Not many cities can make that claim. But in 1951, New York had three teams: the Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League and the Yankees in the American League. It was a battle between the Dodgers and the Giants to see who would play the Yankees in the World Series. The Dodgers were ahead 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth when the Giants began a rally. Little by little, they reduced the lead. Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate and with the crack of the bat he hit a home run to win the game for his Giants. It’s been called "the shot heard ‘round the world" ever since. C.F. Payne’s illustrations give the reader a good picture of 1951, showing the characters gathered around a radio to listen to the game. Phil Bildner’s words gives the reader a true feeling of how devoted fans feel during an exciting season. And of course, the Dodgers fans say, "Wait till next year."

ABNER & ME, by Dan Gutman, HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 8-12.

Joe Stoshack enjoys playing baseball, and he has a collection of baseball cards from his dad with many old-time players. When Stosh, as Joe is called, holds a player’s card in his hands, he can time travel to learn more about the famous baseball stars of the past. Since Dad is now collecting autographed baseballs, he suggests that Stosh go back in time to get a ball signed by Abner Doubleday, whom some people say invented baseball. Stosh e-mails the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to see if he can get a picture of Abner. A picture does arrive with the date of 1863 on the back. Mom decides to go with Stosh and packs some snacks of peanut butter crackers, juice boxes, Go-Gurt and her first aid kit. (Try and explain these treats to Civil War soldiers.) In his pocket, Stosh carries the baseball and his present-day baseball card, which he needs for the return trip home.

Stosh and his mom arrive in a cemetery in the middle of the Civil War. The battle of Gettysburg is taking place and Gen. Abner Doubleday is one of the commanding officers. Mom plays nurse and saves a soldier’s life, Stosh fights alongside several young soldiers in the battle and they get to meet Doubleday and ask if he was involved in the invention of baseball. Between battles, the men do play a form of baseball and it is interesting to see how the game was played at that time.

Author Dan Gutman includes a brief explanation at the end of the book, which will help the reader distinguish which parts of the story are fact and which are fiction. This is the sixth book in Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventure series, which includes stories about Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth. Check out the Web site,, for information on his other books, questions about his books and an excerpt from his next book, Satch and Me.

BALLPARK: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S BASEBALL FIELDS, by Lynn Curlee, Atheneum, $17.95; ages 9-12.

In Ballpark the reader learns about the history of baseball as well as team location changes and ballpark histories. Baseball as we know it dates back to 1845 when Alexander J. Cartwright and a group of his friends developed a set of rules for the game. It wasn’t until 1869 that the first professional team was organized.

Each baseball field is unique. In 1909, Shibe Park, the first fireproof ballpark, was built in Philadelphia. Infield dimensions are standard, but the outfields take on many shapes and sizes. For example, Fenway Park in Boston was built to fit into a specific location, leading to the high "Green Monster" left field wall. At the beginning of the 20th century, people relied on trolleys or streetcars to get to the games, so location was of great importance.

Our own Wrigley Field is one of the smallest and most beautiful ballparks. Only day games were played there until 1988, when it became the last park to install lights. Wrigley Field is also famous for the ivy on the outfield walls. On the other side of town, Sox fans, who had been going to Comiskey Park for years, had to get acquainted with their new park, now called U.S. Cellular Field. Chicago fans enjoy the rivalry between the two Chicago teams, and it’s been going on a long time. It is interesting to read about the many changes other teams have gone through over the years.

Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.


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