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Take me out to the ballgame

    Signing up for the summer reading club at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library comes with lots of benefits.  The most important, of course, is that kids are inspired to read for pleasure all summer long.  But starting this week, membership also means kids can pick up a coupon for free admission to a Potomac Nationals game on Sunday, August 9.  Stop by the children’s room at any library branch, and enjoy the game!

    Get your kids in the mood with a handful of baseball books.  Jonah Winter’s “You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!”  is a dazzling look at a player today’s kids may not know.  Koufax was a quiet pitcher who didn’t make much of a stir until his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, moved to Los Angeles in 1957.  Starting in 1961, he racked up a winning streak that ended only with his sudden retirement six years later.

    The most amazing left-handed pitcher baseball has ever known was famously self-contained, but Winter illuminates the time and place, including the anti-Semitism that Koufax sometimes encountered, in the folksy voice of a baseball fan who saw it all.  André Carrilho’s action-packed digital illustrations almost leap off the page, filled with movement and energy.  Don’t miss the cover – when you tilt the book, you can see Koufax winding up for the pitch. 

    Baseball is filled not just with legendary players, but with legends and superstitions.  Dan Shaughnessy relates one of the most enduring in “The Legend of the Curse of the Bambino.”   The Red Sox had won five World Series titles while Babe Ruth was on the team, but once he was traded to the Yankees in 1920, “all of Boston’s good luck went to New York with the great Bambino.”  Twenty-six World Series wins for the Yankees later, the curse on Boston seemed to be unbreakable.

    Shaughnessy relates several heartbreaking near-misses over the eighty-some years after Ruth left the Sox, many of them ending in Yankees victory.  He ends with the “magical season” when the Red Sox finally lifted the curse of the Bambino by winning the series against – yes – the Yankees.  Red Sox lovers were ecstatic.  As Shaughnessy says, “Other teams have fans, but only the Red Sox have spawned a Nation.”

    C.F. Payne’s exaggerated cartoon illustrations playfully depict Ruth, with his big belly and small legs, interfering with play after play over the years to prevent a Red Sox win. In the final illustration, his oversized figure is leaning on the roof of Fenway Park with a benevolent gesture that seems to indicate the curse is gone forever.

    Payne is also the illustrator of a lively edition of Thayer’s baseball classic, “Casey at the Bat, A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.”  His portraits of the players are vivid and distinct, as are the illustrations of the fans in the stands. Most of them wear hats, and they have a well-fed look, some with red noses a la W.C. Fields.  His picture of Casey is masterful, complete with a waxed handlebar  mustache and a look of self-conscious nonchalance. 

    The poem is made to be read aloud, so put on your hammiest voice and have fun with it.  After your recitation, be sure to pore over Payne’s pictures – especially the last, rain-soaked image of Mudville after mighty Casey has struck out.


Originally published in the Free Lance-Star newspaper on July 7, 2009.