Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares

Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares

Rating: 5 stars

I suspect that this will only happen once, and it's happening now: Lorelei and Ben are playing the same sport, and they're on the same team.  They're both playing for the Cincinnati Reds in our local Little League--at the t-ball level.  Lorelei likes it, Ben loves it; they are both soaking up some of the rich history of the oh-so-American, oh-so-tradition-rich sport by the stories they are reading.

Dozens of wonderful nonfiction books exist about baseball that bring out the excitement of a previous era, teach about a famous sportsman, and hold the interest of almost any age of reader.  This is one of those books.

Becoming Babe Ruth came out last year--I read about it in the NYTimes Book Review (click HERE) one Sunday when I actually did read the paper.  The story starts off with a slightly shocking image and with a fact I didn't know: In George Ruth's early years in Baltimore, Maryland, he was a rascal of a kid who skipped school and caused trouble.  Yikes! What else was I about to read my kids?! I wondered as I read this page out loud.

But then the story unfolds: in an effort to straighten him out, George's parents send him to the strict St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys.  There, he first chafed under the tight control...until he found baseball.  He was soon slugging away nearly every afternoon, and the balance of finding something he loved (and that something he loved came along with someone he loved, the brother/coach of the team) made the strictness of the school bearable.  Years later, after he'd been playing baseball there for a decade or so, a scout came to watch him.  He was signed onto the Baltimore Orioles the next day.  While he played for them (for just half a season, before being traded to the Red Sox), he often returned to St. Mary's to play with his pals after practicing all day.  Also while playing for the Orioles, he got his nickname "Babe," which obviously stuck.

He got traded to the Red Sox, pitched less and slugged more, and became a sensation unlike any other ball player had before.  Tavares doesn't highlight his trade to the Yankees, and doesn't bring up the curse that trade famously causes (you and your child can--and should!--read about that in the fine, informative The Legend of the Curse of the Bambino).

Instead, Tavares highlights a story that highlights Ruth's character--which gave me the opportunity to talk with Ben about the importance of being a good man while also being a fantastic ball player.  While Babe Ruth was at his peak, out slamming balls left and right in any field in which he played, he got word that there had been a fire at St. Mary's.  Everything burned to the ground.  He was shocked and concerned--this was his home for so many years, and he loved it.  He returned and figured out a way to help.  He took the St. Mary's baseball team on tour with him--letting them lap up hot dogs and ice cream like they never had before, and letting them soak up games as they traveled around with the Yankees for a good part of the season. At the games, Babe Ruth asked people to donate money to have St. Mary's rebuilt.  They did, and St. Mary's was, in fact, rebuilt.

This is a fantastic book about a sportsman every kid needs to know about--a must-read for sure.

There's so much to love about this sport even if, like me, all the joy of playing it comes from pitching to your kid and watching the joy and pride wash over his face when he actually hears the SMACK of the bat meeting the ball.  It's really the first time in parenting when I've sat on the side and watched my children being coached (by my great friend and great coach for this sponge-like yet attention-challenged age group).  I'm learning so much about it all.

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