Jack and Larry

9 07 2012

I enjoy baseball books, but this is a very different sort of baseball book.  Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog is not so much about the game as it is about the relationships we form in sports.

Barbara Gregorich is a local author who has an affinity for unique baseball stories.  Her previous book is about a women’s baseball league in the 1940s and this one is about a baseball dog.

Yup, you read that right – a baseball dog.  You see, Jack Graney was the Cleveland Naps’ (this is before they were the Indians) left fielder and lead off hitter.  The team was bad.  Real bad.  Jack felt a great deal of that was because of the lack of camaraderie on the team.  Then in 1912, the team’s trainer won a bull-terrier in a card game.  He brought the dog, Larry, to the ballpark and he became the team’s mascot.

Slowly, Larry brought the team together.  They started to play like more of a unit, more like a real team.  It took some time, but they improved in the standings.

This book is about the team while Jack and Larry are there – from 1912 until the early 1920s, how the team fares during that time period, and the relationship built between man and dog, as well as the friendship Jack has with some of his famous teammates (Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Ray Chapman.

The whole book is written in a very simple, free verse poem form that feels like a baseball historian is having a very relaxing conversation with the reader.

It’s a great book for baseball fans, fans of novels written in verse, and history buffs.  The best part is that it tells an unknown piece of baseball history in a very unique way.  As much as I know about baseball (and a few years ago I read a pretty long adult book about the 1920 Indians season), I hadn’t heard of Jack Graney and never knew Cleveland had Larry as a mascot, and even without Larry, Jack is a pretty interesting guy – first batter to face Babe Ruth, first player to wear a number on his uniform, and the first former player to become a major league broadcaster.  I highly recommend this one.

I’m on a mission.  I want to read 90 books in 90 days this summer.  Jack and Larry was #34.





Heat

9 07 2012

I coached the 6th grade baseball team in Minooka for 8 seasons, and we’ve always had some pretty good teams, so I’ve seen my share of standout baseball players.

My first year there was a kid on the 7th grade team that really stood out.  He was tall, strong, and threw so hard that no one else stood a chance.  I remember working with Coach Hasler and Coach Simotes at the beginning of that season and thinking, “that kid is going somewhere.”  He did.  He was a first round draft pick of the Houston Astros a few years ago and is currently working his way through their minor leagues, playing in this year’s single A all-star game.

A few years later, I had a pretty good team, but our shortstop that year was light-years beyond everyone else.  You could just see the hours and hours of work he put in with his dad and big brothers (one of them played in the minors for the San Diego Padres for a few years too), and that hard work paid off.  In every aspect of the game he was better than his peers.

Even this past season I saw it.  There were a few boys that really stood out, but one more than others.  He ran faster, hit farther, threw harder…  He even out-thought the rest of the players on the field.  No matter the game situation, he knew what to do and reacted perfectly.

I was lucky enough to coach some great kids over the years, but it’s this handful of superstars – real standouts – that I was reminded of while reading Heat by Mike Lupica.

Heat is about about a 12 year old boy named Michael Arroyo who is one of those kids – no matter what position he’s playing, he’s the best player on the field.  His teammates know it.  His coaches know it.  His dad and brother know it.  He knows it.  Michael’s unbelievable talent will probably carry his team to the Little League World Series, which has always been a dream for both Michael and his Dad.  Unfortunately, some other coaches don’t believe that Michael, with the skill he has, can really be only 12.  They demand he show a birth certificate.

The problem is, Michael was born in Cuba and his family escaped from there by sneaking into Florida years ago.  Michael has no way to get a birth certificate from the Cuban government, and his dad is too busy taking care of his sick uncle 1,000s of miles away to be of any help.  So Mike is kicked off the team, unable to play until he can prove his age.

There’s more to Heat than just baseball.  It’s about Mike’s relationship with his older brother; it’s about his friendship with the team’s catcher, Manny; it’s about fitting in.  It’s about identity, self-worth, and problem solving.  In other words, it’s about what a 12 year old boy’s life is always about.

Heat, just like most of Mike Lupica’s books, is a great read.  It’s a perfect choice for sporty boys and girls who appreciate well drawn characters, an exciting plot, and tons of baseball action.

Heat is the 33rd book I’ve read this summer as I work towards my mission of finishing 90 books in 90 days over break.