The book: “Baseball History for Kids: America at Bat from 1900 to Today”
The author: Richard Panchyk
The vital statistics: Chicago Review Press, 176 pages, $16.95. (Released Feb. 23)
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com. And the publishers website.
The pitch: Trying to engage any sort of kid into any kind of base-
ball these days with a book might be asking too much.
But it must be tried and tried again.
We’ve enjoyed previous attempts at making the books large and splashy, full of photos and graphics. Even pop-up books that give it a 3D look.
But this one intended for kids 9-12 (grades 4-7) should complement something like the ninth edition of “The Everything Kids’ Baseball Book: From Baseball’s History to Today’s Favorite Players – With Lots of Home Run Fun in Between!” which came out in March.
Although everything somewhat equal, we’ll give the slight edge here to Panchyk for his implicit attempt to get the reader to do more than just read.
Note there are 19 “activities” that come in his softbound, oversized rectangular edition, and a lot of it involves creativity and imagination.
The first one on page 5: “Be an advanced scout.”
“The next time you watch a game, take notes on the pitcher for a few innings – his pitch types and speeds – and then switch to taking notes on the batters. Are they prone to taking certain pitches, swinging at certain pitches? How is their timing?”
Can you see the wheels turning?
In essence, Panchyk is inspiring the kids homework and a subliminal message that if they find they enjoy it, it could be a fun job down the road.
= Calculate an ERA, a batting average, a slugging average.
= Learn to keep score.
= Write a poem about baseball.
= Create your own version of Cracker Jacks.
= Learn to throw a palmball.
= See how far you can throw a baseball.
= Pretend to call a game on the radio (turn on the TV and mute the volume).
= Get some cardboard, Popsicle sticks and build your own miniature stadium – with real grass seeds.
= Here’s one you wish more kids would do: Interview people you know (hint: grandpa) about what baseball was like when he watched it in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The last one resonates for anyone who reads this book, because Panchyk admits that he started writing letters to players to get their opinions about what it was like growing up and wanting to play baseball. He admits to talking to more than 500 ex-players, managers, coaches, umpires and scouts, many of them older than 80 and some beyond 90. And he thanks about 175 of them in the acknowledgements, including Don Larsen, Al Rosen, Ralph Branca, Joe Garagiola, Bruce Froemming and George Genovese.
In the process, Panchyk collected material that he could use in the book to describe its history – like Johnny Rutherford, who signed with the Dodgers in 1947, explains about life in the minor leagues: “It was a bad time to try to get anywhere because the Dodgers had about 25 teams in the minor leagues. So there’s only two or three players that ever come up to the Dodgers at one time, you know. And it was a struggle.”
Not an earth-shaking moment, but it fits with the writing style that Panchyk chooses here – an grandfatherly approach, complete with all kinds of photos from the “author’s collection” that include autographed balls, folk art, scorebooks, magazine covers and baseball cards. Maybe this works because Panchyk has already done kid-friendly books related to New York City, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and World War II.
One other key to any kids’ book: Will an adult be engaged?
We were by page 73, during a discussion of tape-measure home runs. Ever hear the story of Neill Sheridan?
An outfielder for the Sacramento Solons tells Panchyk about the time he hit a ball in July, 1953 that was measured to be 613.8 feet, believed to be the longest in professional history.
“(A man) brought (the ball) over to the ballpark the next day,” Sheridan says. “He knocked on the clubhouse door, asked for me. He said, ‘Here’s a baseball. It went through the rear window of my car. I’d like to give it to you. Anyway, I asked him where he lived and so forth, and it go to be passed around, and I guess the sportswriters got a hold of it and they thought they’d better measure it and see what the deal was.”
More to know:
== Another kids title (the pre-school age) to check out:
“Catch” (from Oct., 2015) by Parde Bridgett (Archway Publishing, $16.95). The summary: “Mosaic Flash is the darling of the baseball diamond. He’s half-seahorse, half-amazing, but when this Most Valuable fish lets success go to his head, he’ll discover it doesn’t matter how good you are, having a bad attitude isn’t good. A folly of errors on the field sinks the seahorse supernova to the ocean’s abyss. After losing his confidence, friends and fin-atics, Mosaic finds Khofi, a ray of hope that will lead him back to the top of his game. A story about sportsmanship, life and love.” It easily connects the adult reader with the younger child.
== As long as we’re on this shelf — a subject we avoided a bit in past years — we might suggest you track down this thin paperback called “You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?” ($7.99) written by