The Contract by Derek Jeter and Paul Mantell
Simon and Schuster
Rating: Five stars
Most book bloggers might be focusing on Halloween this week...but the World Series is also happening! There are a whole lot of us who are more excited about the Royals vs. Mets than how many Tootsie Rolls we get to eat. Honestly, I like a good ball game, but it's watching my son Ben's excitement over a ball game that I like even more.
Because of Ben's excitement and love for baseball, we read The Contract, by Derek Jeter. A little background: Jeter is the starting shortstop for the NY Yankees--and he's also written several books. In his rookie season, he founded the Turn 2 Foundation, an organization that helps promote healthy lifestyles in kids. He's a talented ball player and sure seems like a pretty good guy. (Paul Mantell helped write the book.) The Contract is a novel inspired by Jeter's childhood--how he had these big, lofty dreams from a very young age, and how he set about starting to achieve them.
In the book, the character Derek Jeter is a third grader who writes an essay about his dream of being the starting shortstop for the NY Yankees. He dares to say this dream out loud, and explain how he wants to achieve this dream. Some classmates believe his dream, others laugh. But his parents not only believe in him (and stick up for him when the teacher doesn't take him seriously)--they also help map out a path to achieve his dream. His dad writes up a contract that spells out the guidelines he must follow if he wants to continue playing. The contract includes broad but important rules: Respect others. Family first. Keep your grades up. Play hard. Etc.
Derek is a fine character, though he is a bit of a goody two-shoes, making his character a bit flawless and therefore, not the most authentic around. He only has one minor temper tantrum, despite the fact that his coach favors his own son in the batting lineup and when handing out awards. When life is unfair to character Derek, the third grader takes it all in stride. Although his maturity might be a smidge unrealistic, I like that my son sees this calm response to crises big and small.
I'm all about making good choices--and making them deliberately. I talk with my parent-friends and my kids about how their actions today affect what they can do later in life. This book feeds into that argument, in a great way. Jeter explains that his success in sports came early, when his parents made him buckle down and focus on all the right things--family, school, friendships, sports--and demanded excellence in all these categories. And then (get this!) there were consequences when the contract was broken.
So, if I do all those things like Jeter's parents do, will my Ben play for the NY Yankees someday? Maybe. Maybe I'll cheering for him when he's in the World Series one day. But I hope he knows I'll be cheering for him no matter what he ends up doing.
P.S. The sequel to this book, Hit and Miss, is fine, too. Not as great as this one, but still a good read with fine lessons about sports and life.