Since the Mitchell Report came out in December, detailing the rampant use of steroids in Major League Baseball, it’s easy to become cynical about the game of baseball. But James Preller’s new book for young adults titled “Six Innings” will serve as a reminder of why the sport is such an important game to many of us.
Preller, who lives in Delmar, is the author of the popular Jigsaw Jones mystery series for elementary school children, which has sold more than 10 million copies since 1998, but “Six Innings” is his first book for teenagers. The story goes through each inning of the local Little League championship game between Earl Grubb’s Pool Supplies and Northeast Gas and Electric.
The 12-year-old baseball players aren’t trying to move on to a chance at the Little League World Series or acquire a sports scholarship; they’re just trying to win the last game of the summer. They are playing for the best reason of all — to do their best and try to win honorably.
Love of the game
Preller has done a nice job of explaining why baseball means so much to these boys. “To love baseball, to truly love the game, you’ve got to enjoy those empty places, the time to think, absorb, and shoot the breeze. A ball, a strike, a grounder to short. The slow rhythm of the game, a game of accumulation, of patterns, gathering itself toward the finish, like the first few miles of a marathon, not dramatic except for what it might mean later in the race.”
As you read this book, you begin to cheer for one team over the other, but there are no villains, no obnoxious win-at-all-cost coaches. Preller, with each pitch and clutch hit, gradually unfolds the story of some of the boys playing. You learn about some of their families and reasons the game is so important to them.
My favorite character was Sam Reiser, who is unable to play because he has recently found out that he has a type of bone cancer that affects children. Instead of moping and complaining, Sam becomes the announcer for the game.
“In the booth, Sam Reiser leans back and savors the moment. He is now completely caught up in the game. Everything else falls away, all life’s distractions, like a skin that has been shed. He doesn’t worry about his hair, or homework, or doctors. He isn’t concerned about tomorrow. That’s what baseball gives him, the urgency of the here and now.”
I wanted to know more about Sam’s best friend Mike Tyree, who is always so encouraging to his friend. When Sam explains that the dull ache in his leg where the cancer is, is not so bad today, Mike quickly says, “Not bad is pretty good.”
Preller has skillfully woven in the characterization of the boys with the pitch-by-pitch details of the championship game. I would have enjoyed knowing more about the boys and skipping a few of the innings, but the author certainly captures the magic of the game, such as in this scene near the end of the game with the score tied at three and Scooter Wells sliding into home plate for the go-ahead run.
“In that instant, everything freezes, a DVD on pause, then explodes into action. Both teams, the fans, the coaches — shouting, cheering, hooting, protesting — every emotion galvanized at once, a kinetic charge of energy rising up through the five layers of Earth’s atmosphere, their cries and dreams climbing from the troposphere to exosphere, soaring into the velvet void of deepest space. A roar that happens on Little League fields every day, in every town, city, state, and country all over the world, from Logansport to Osaka, San Cristobal to Little Rock. The sound the game makes when it’s played passionately, with young hearts.”
James Preller, who has done some Little League coaching of his own, obviously knows the game of baseball, and this fast-paced book will appeal to adolescent boys who share his love of the game. I look forward to reading more books by him, and I hope he continues to write more for boys at this age level.
Categories: Life and Arts