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Play ball!

25 Oct

Normally, I don’t follow baseball, although I am aware of important baseball events happening around me. I am especially attuned to this year’s World Series because my teaching partner is  a Red Sox fan.  Ironically, one of my best baseball memories was attending a Cardinals game when I was at a conference in St. Louis.  We decided to go because we saw so many fans in Cardinals shirts that we wanted to know why they were so enthusiastic. I saw Albert Pujols hit a home run, ate a really wonderful hot dog and was amazed at the home town fervor for their team. I’d never really experienced that before.

Two new non-fiction picture books about baseball are worth looking at. Both have alliterative titles. So, in alphabetical order, let me present

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Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, tells the story of Kenochi “Zeni” Zenimura, who learned to play baseball in Hawaii as a young boy. Although too small to play professionally, he managed to find his place as a manager. He met Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. And after Pearl Harbor, he was interned along with all the other people of Japanese ancestry. But Zeni had heart and determination. He  built a baseball field and organized a baseball league of 32 teams and three divisions.

This is a great story and the artwork is excellent. Shimizu used a Japanese calligraphy brush and ink, than scanned and colored the illustrations with Photoshop, so that the colors give a real sense of the time.

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At the end of Barbed Wire Baseball, there is an afterword about Kenichi Zenimura life, as well as an author’s note,  an artist’s note and a bibliography for further exploration of Japanese American baseball.

Next up, we have Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly and Oliver Dominguez.

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Here we have the tale of another person who loved baseball, but didn’t make it as a player. After a chance conversation with an umpire about soggy baseballs and a fishing trip, Blackburne created a new way for players to break in new balls. He dug it out of the bottom of the river.  From this simple beginning Blackburne’s mud has gone from a fishing hole to Major League Baseball. The author’s note in the back tells us that the location of the source of the mud remains a secret.

Dominguez’ nostalgic, double-spread, painted illustrations are the perfect complement to this short and engaging biography.The front and rear end papers are especially fun – clean baseballs up front, muddy ones in the back! You can  see some  of the book’s paintings at the artist’s website: here.

So, even if you don’t really follow baseball, like me, you know a little more so you can converse about it with people who are far bigger fans.

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