Take Me Out to the Bat and Ball Factory by Peggy Thomson, illustrated by Gloria Kamen
Rating: 3.5 stars
A few weeks ago, at my sister's 40th birthday party, I found out that my Uncle Bob and his high school friend are making baseball bats in their garage. I listened, totally intrigued and fascinated, at the whys and the hows of the story. I watched a few videos of his bats being turned and smoothed and was just entranced. This was a part of baseball--a nitty gritty detail that could so easily get overlooked--I really didn't know much about.
I could hardly believe my eyes when, the very next day, the kids and and I were at our local library and this book was propped up on the stacks. What a coincidence!
I have to be honest: It's not the most well-written book and it's certainly not for everyone. Thomson tries to create a story around how bats and balls are made in a very The Magic Schoolbus sort of way. A group of kids travel together (without a parent or teacher, I amusingly noted) to this bat and ball factory to meet Hank. Hank guides them around the factory, giving them a ton of facts that they smilingly lap up with a few important questions to help Hank tell them even more.
To me, the back history of bats is really interesting: what sort of wood is used and why, what is the history of the size of bats, how long they are dried, which players had out-of-the-ordinary relationships with bats (for example: The Padres' Tony Gwynn used an extra small bat, just 29 inches long; Roberto Clemente got his first bat from a guava-tree branch)? Thomson also explains how aluminum bats are made, too--with plenty of interesting comparisons between wood and aluminum, and why players choose one over the other.
Then Hank guides the kids to the ball section, and he explains how a chemical, gooey mix is put into a sphere-like mold. After it hardens, the ball is covered with either fake or real leather and these covers are sewn into place. Interestingly, when a worker starts to stitch a ball, it takes nearly 45 minutes. After a whole lot of practice, that time is reduced to 8 or 9 minutes!
There's a lot of information in this book. I admit: I think it put Ben to sleep--I read it one night to him, and while I was genuinely enthusiastic about and fascinated by nearly every sentence, he didn't protest when I turned the light out after the last page. His eyes were already closed. So…maybe this book is best for a slightly older reader. Or maybe this just is not the best bedtime book!