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Who's on First?

Baseball not only entertains, but inspires us as well with stories of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Casey at the Bat among ordinary boys, girls, men and women whose lives were changed by our national pastime. The following list offers their stories along with an informed look at the fields and stadiums in which these dreams were made. And for those who long for baseball year-round, we've also included a few of our favorite baseball games. Batter up!

Let's Play BaseballLet's Play Baseball
Ages: Infant - 4 yrs.
Author: Charles R. Smith, Jr. Illustrator: Terry Widener
Candlewick Press, $8.99

After a long winter, the spring sunshine beckons children out to play-and for many kids the game of choice is baseball. In fact, in Charles R. Smith's colorful new board book it's the ball itself that coaxes a little boy outdoors for a fast-paced game. The story is told from a baseball's point of view, telling his owner, “Blast me off your bat, into the sky...see my red stitches spin as I fly.” Smith's text is simple and rhyming. Its brevity makes it a good choice for emerging readers; the sturdy pages are also a plus for this age group.

Roasted PeanutsRoasted Peanuts
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Tim Egan Illustrator: Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin Children's Books, $16.00

Just in time for summer and backyard baseball comes this clever story of two unlikely friends: strong, fast, athletic Sam (a horse) and klutzy Jackson (a cat) whose one talent is a terrific arm. When the two are finally old enough to try out for the local baseball team, their dream of playing together is shattered when Sam is chosen and Jackson is cut. However, stay tuned for the plot twist: when Jackson gets a job selling peanuts in the stands and Sam hits a slump on the field, well—let's just say there's more than one way to be a star.

Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings
Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
Author: Deborah Hopkinson Illustrator: Terry Widener
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Anne Schwartz Books/Atheneum

This is an unpretentious, thoroughly engrossing baseball tale, guaranteed to please reader/listeners up to the age of ten. When she was two, our real life heroine Alta Weiss discovers that “I must have been born to play baseball” when she hurls a corncob at an old tomcat harassing her favorite hen and bops him directly on the head.

Dirt on Their Skirts
Ages: 5 - 9 yrs.
Author: Doreen Rappaport    Author: Lyndall Callan    Illustrator: E. B. Lewis
Penguin Putnam Inc./Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99 (Hardcover)

A carefully constructed glimpse into a piece of women’s history, this book is neatly aimed at young girls and boys just beginning to play baseball or softball. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed during the years of World War II. They kept the game alive in mind and heart and provided special role models for the girls of that time and any time. In this single day slice-of-life, a young girl cheers for her favorite player during a championship game. The excitement is pungently caught in the spare play-by-play narrative, and the sweeping illustrations focus on the action and the intense faces of players and watchers. This book is an enticing peek that may lead to a longer look at these remarkable women.

Say-Hey and the Babe: Two Mostly True Baseball Stories
Ages: 6 - 10 yrs.
Author: Neil Waldman Illustrator: Neil Waldman
Holiday House, Inc., $16.95

Few sports have inspired as much art and literature as baseball, and Neil Waldman's new picture book about “The Great Bambino” adds another tale to a growing mythology. Here, a ball once signed by Babe Ruth and the legendary 1927 New York Yankees takes a stranger-than-fiction journey that happens to converge with another notable ball-one hit by Willie Mays of the 1951 New York Mets. Waldman freely blends fact with legend. The spirits of the eras represented are vividly portrayed, including not only the sights and sounds but the smells and the distinct local dialects. Fascinating sidebars on baseball, immigrant history, New York neighborhoods and other subjects are included.

Ages: 6 - 10 yrs.
By: Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, $15.99 (Hardcover)

It's 1903, and the St. Paul Saints are leading the Minneapolis Millers 3-0, when Miller Andy Oyler, the shortest player in the league, steps up to the plate with two outs, bases loaded. As a sudden downpour turns the field into muddy quagmire Oyler, in the midst of a horrendous batting slump, astounds the heckling crowd with "the unmistakable sound of ball against bat. CRACK!" Tavares treats his readers to a comedic showcase of the bumbling Saints as they scramble among the puddles to locate a ball that is ultimately found a few feet from home plate.

Oliver's Game
Ages: 6 - 10 yrs.
By: Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, $15.99 (Hardcover)

This story is nostalgic on a few different levels; not only does the primary action take place in the World War II-era, but the pencil and watercolor illustrations are rendered in monochromatic shades of gray and sepia. Furthermore, the frame of the tale is set in Hall’s Nostalgia, a baseball memorabilia shop owned by Grandpa Oliver Hall and frequented by the namesake grandson who hears his Chicago Cubs stories. We learn that Grandpa, as a young man, once had a promising career as a Cubs hitter, but the escalation of the war prompts him to make a difficult decision. The shop is modeled after one that Tavares himself grew up around, and his reverence for all things baseball genuinely comes through.

Baseball Saved Us
Ages: 6 - 11 yrs.
Author: Ken Mochizuki Illustrator: Dom Lee
Lee & Low Books, $6.95 (Paperback)

The narrator remembers World War II, when he, a small American boy of Japanese ancestry, was uprooted and "relocated" to a desert camp. As tempers in the claustrophobic camp frayed, the smart parents set up baseball games. And on the diamond the young hero proves himself - there in camp, as well as later in the face of bigotry at home again. The unembellished narrative is powerful; the illustrations, often suffused in a golden haze, indicate times past.

Stories in Music: Casey at the Bat
Ages: 6 & Up
Magic Maestro Music Div. of Simon & Simon, LLC, $16.98 (CD)

Another fine entertaining and educational release in the "Stories in Music" series, created in the tradition of "Peter and the Wolf." With a performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, composer-conductor Stephen Simon has given the symphonic, narrative treatment to American poet Ernest Lawrence Thayer's classic poem about a baseball hero's fall from glory. Other tracks include information about the poem, about music composition, listening tips, a play-along track for aspiring violinists and the same music played as a concert band piece and a tango.

Backyard Baseball 2005 for PCBackyard Baseball 2005 for PC and Playstation 2
Ages: 7 - 12 yrs.
Atari, Inc. - MA, $19.99 (Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Playstation2)

Like baseball returns each spring, so does the newest version of this kid-friendly fun-and-strategy baseball game. Will yet another upgrade of its engaging arcade-like mix of playground and professional baseball action be worth it? The prospect report: This one is a hit. There's all the fun power-ups such as the fireball pitch and the lightening bat that were there before. And the neighborhood kids are back waiting to be you drafted onto your ball club--a strategic decision based on their abilities, skills (players are rated from one to 10 in power, contact, pitching, running, and defense) or just unusual personalities.Is it worth buying if your young ballplayers already have a previous version? Ask yourself, how much do they love baseball?

Play Ball Like the Pro's
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Steven Krasner
Peachtree Publishers, LTD, $12.95

This is a great instructional book filled with useful and insightful tips aimed at kids working at honing their baseball skills--all in the words of 20 of the game's top major-league ballplayers. Separate chapters cover basics such as catching, pitching, each infield position, playing the outfield, hitting, and base running.

Baseball for Everyone: Stories from the Great GameBaseball for Everyone: Stories from the Great Game
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Janet Wyman Coleman & Elizabeth V. Warren
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., $16.95

This colorful tour of baseball's history, illustrated with folk art and collectibles, shows why the sport is called "America's Pastime". From pick-up games played by children, Civil War soldiers, firemen, and college students, to the formation of the first professional leagues, this is a democratic look at the sport illustrated with early baseball cards, paintings, quilts, signs, carved bats, and more. Book Description

Jackie and Me
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Dan Gutman
Avon, $5.99 (Paperback)

Joe can travel through time via baseball cards. Inspired by a classroom report, he travels back to 1947 to meet Jackie Robinson, who was the first African-American to play major league baseball. A sometimes funny, yet serious and totally involving take on history.

Circa Classics Baseball
Ages: 8 & Up
Front Porch Classics, $49.99

Circa Classics Baseball is a finely crafted, old-wood styled throwback of an actual baseball game. Like its big brother, the award-winning "Old Century Baseball" game which is about twice the size and cost of this smaller version, this table-top ballpark brings a pre-electric pinball style of play to America's pastime.

Harry's Grand Slam Baseball
Ages: 8 & Up
Out of the Box Publishing, Inc Price: $14.99

Imagine being able to play a complete baseball game on your kitchen table. A reproduction of Harry Obst's original card game from 1962, the game includes 54 illustrated play cards, a baseball “diamond”, an outfield scoreboard, both updated and original rules, a card reference sheet, and a history of Harry's Grand Slam Baseball Game, all conveniently housed in a sturdy tin.

A Strong Right Arm
Ages: 10 & Up
Author: Michelle Y. Green  
Penguin Putnam Inc./Dial Books for Young Readers, $15.99 (Hard Cover)  

This five-foot-two, ninety-eight pound young woman's strong right arm led her all the way to three years of professional baseball play with the Negro League's Indianapolis Clowns. Her struggles against the injustices of racism and sexism are told as matter-of-fact asides to her joy in playing baseball.

Fodor's Baseball Vacations
Ages: All Ages
Author: Margaret Engel    Author: Bruce Adams
Fodor's Travel Publications, $20.00 (Paperback)

For many hardcore baseball fans, the field of dream extends to the many Major League Baseball and minor league stadiums. So when on vacation, catching a game in another town becomes a wonderful pastime. This great book is THE travel guide for families of baseball fans--reviewing the authors' experiences on the road at during 34 well-planned baseball pilgrimages across the nation.

Ballpark: The Story of America's Baseball FieldsBallpark: The Story of America's Baseball Fields
Ages: All Ages
Author: Lynn Curlee   Illustrator: Lynn Curlee
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.95 (Hardcover)

In this informed overview of America's ballparks, veteran nonfiction writer Lynn Curlee provides an historic and cultural look at baseball and of the ball fields that mark the game's evolution. His love for the game and for its parks is clear.


Don't Miss
In 1952, 13-year-old David A. Mullany had an unquenchable need to play baseball but was faced with the friendly confines of his own backyard. Not content to give up on his game, David and his friends devised a way to play using a broomstick and perforated plastic golf ball. Learn how that backyard game evolved into a new national pastime.


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