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Center Field

Center Field

4.2 4
by Robert Lipsyte

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Mike has his junior year well under control. He's got a solid group of friends. He's dating Lori, one of the hottest girls in school. And Coach Cody has all but given him the starting spot as the Ridgedale Rangers' varsity center fielder. And then Oscar Ramirez shows up. Oscar is an amazing ballplayer, as talented at the plate as he is in center field, and it's not


Mike has his junior year well under control. He's got a solid group of friends. He's dating Lori, one of the hottest girls in school. And Coach Cody has all but given him the starting spot as the Ridgedale Rangers' varsity center fielder. And then Oscar Ramirez shows up. Oscar is an amazing ballplayer, as talented at the plate as he is in center field, and it's not long before Mike loses control. He's on the bench, he's getting into fights, and he finds himself in weekend detention with Katherine Herold, the most mysterious, abrasive, alluring girl in school. Mike is lost, confused, and looking to Coach Cody to help him get back on track. But the coach has his own set of rules for Mike to play by, and the decisions Mike makes are going to impact more than just the starting lineup.

Robert Lipsyte, one of the most celebrated writers in young adult literature, has crafted a subtly intense tale of adolescent struggle, a sports story about much more than sports—one that shows us how the moves one makes off the field matter even more than the moves one has on it.

Editorial Reviews

Kevin Baker
Lipsyte is pitch-perfect…[his] storytelling is riveting, his characters are complex and nuanced, and the suburban ambience he recreates is spot-on. With its neglected teenagers, its distracted and overworked adults and its scheming, self-serving authority figures who excuse their every transgression in the name of "security," the suburb of Ridgedale could be a metaphor for America in the 21st century. That might be reading too much into it. But to paraphrase [John] Fogerty, beat the drum and hold the phone; Robert Lipsyte could be center field on any team of young adult writers I could name.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Mike is a star on his high-school baseball team. He models himself on his Yankees hero Billy Budd, even using his name as a mantra. But life is far from simple. A new, talented teammate might take over Mike's position in center field, and Mike's coach is frighteningly controlling, demanding absolute, unquestioning loyalty at the expense of honesty and compassion. The fast-paced plot reads like jumbled episodes of CSI or Law & Order, with illegal immigrants, computer hacking, identity theft and more. The computer geeks, jocks, radicals and the mega-star ballplayer are all borderline caricatures, but there are elements of truth and humanity in most of them. As Mike caroms from one crisis to another, he gains some important insights and finds his allegiances shifting. In his efforts to engage his audience, Lipsyte closely approximates the language patterns of teenagers, but he also includes scenes of underage drinking, pill popping and sexual activity, skewing this title to older teens. (Fiction. YA)
Publishers Weekly
Lipsyte again shines light on the dark corners of high school jock culture, this time focusing on the corrupt adults who let kids make bad choices so long as the people in charge look good. Mike believes he’s the starting centerfielder until a new kid, Oscar, shows up. Oscar’s past is murky, but his skills are evident. Is he really a high school-age transfer student? Anxious about becoming a benchwarmer, Mike shoves a nerdy kid who is annoying him, resulting in weekend community service helping the school’s Cyber Club. These eye-opening sessions reveal that the maniacal baseball coach, who also serves as the school’s dean of discipline, either has something of his own to hide or serious control issues. Mike wrestles with increasingly hard choices—should he please the coach by delivering dirt on his Cyber Club buds (including the foxy but tortured Katherine), or maintain his integrity and lose a chance at a baseball scholarship? Though this one doesn’t pack the wallop of Raiders’ Night (2006), Lipsyte delivers another thoughtful, entertaining sports drama. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
Mike has high expectations for his junior year as well as his high school baseball career. He is dating the right kind of girl, hanging out with athlete friends, and has been all but promised that he will have the center field slot during the upcoming season. But when his coach—who also happens to be the school's athletic director—brings in Oscar, an amazing baseball player who may or may not be in the country illegally, Mike finds himself reacting in ways that surprise even him. He beats up an annoying classmate who would not even have gotten a rise from him a few weeks before, and finds himself being pulled into his coach's plans in ways that he questions but goes along with in order to keep his spot. Mike makes a number of mistakes before he finally figures out what's going on in his own head; his problems, though, are not helped by his devious coach or his seemingly unaware parents. While this book has some strong messages about high school athletics and illegal immigration, the character development is not consistent and I often had a hard time believing character decisions. The handling of the illegal immigration subplot bogs down; further, finding out that Coach Cody was not who he said he was and the school's principal not caring was more than a bit hard to believe. That said, there will be students who will be pulled into this book for its attention to baseball and they will find it worth the read. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Steven Kral
As the school year starts, Mike's position as a starter on his high school's Varsity baseball team seems all but assured. The coach likes him, he's a natural leader, and his skills are impeccable. Mike's whole life revolves around baseball. When he's not on the field, he's training or reading tips from his hero, a centerfielder for the New York Yankees. When the coach brings in a new, more talented player to compete for Mike's position, Mike's life begins to change. After a fight in the hallway with the leader of the computer club, Mike becomes caught in the political struggles behind the scenes of his suburban New Jersey high school, forcing him to define himself and evaluate his place in the world. Best known for The Contender (HarperTeen,1987), Robert Lipsyte has an ability to write novels in which sports action springboards the protagonists toward larger issues in their lives. In this novel, the action on the field is tense and well-written. Off the field, though, the book suffers a bit from a plot that involves obsession, identity theft, illegal aliens, dysfunctional families, relationship issues, and the dangers of hero worship and unquestioned loyalty. This scattershot approach to a theme causes the novel to occasionally lose its focus. Overall, it is a solid novel that may appeal to reluctant readers. School librarians are warned, however, that the novel's inclusion of underage drinking and discreet sex, while organic to the story, may alarm parents. Reviewer: Steven Kral
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Mike Semak's chances of becoming star center fielder and senior team captain are jeopardized when he loses his temper with a geeky classmate, Zack. The sweet spot on the baseball team becomes even more elusive when a cocky cleanup batter, Oscar Ramirez, arrives out of nowhere with a murky birth date and questionable immigration status. Mike's penance for fighting is to help out at Cyber Club, but he learns that Coach Cody purposefully assigned him to spy on Zack and other "pukes" he suspects are hacking into the school network. There, he falls for Kat, a smart and contentious girl who seems the antithesis of his girlfriend, Lori, a pretty baton twirler. Conflicted about Kat, his coach's paranoia, and his father's possible role in bringing the Ramirez family to town, Mike looks to his major league idol, Billy Budd, whose blog has always provided sound advice about baseball and other life matters. Mike wins a contest to meet his longtime hero, only to be disappointed by the "dumb jock" reality, and finds his own moral compass to solve his problems. Appealing primarily to a jock culture, Lipsyte's characters are fairly stereotypical, especially in Coach Cody's military approach to sports and discipline, and in Lori's portrayal as a giggly boy pleaser with a "pert butt and boobs." Mystery and relationship subplots may engage a wider audience, but the story shines in the play-by-play game and practice descriptions. While some real major league names are dropped, fictional Billy Budd's portrayal as a celebrity carefully conceived by media handlers is an element that won't be lost on teens.—Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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File size:
333 KB
Age Range:
13 Years

Meet the Author

Robert Lipsyte was an award-winning sportswriter for the New York Times and the Emmy-winning host of the nightly public affairs show The Eleventh Hour. He is the author of twelve acclaimed novels for young adults and is the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring his lifetime contribution in that genre. He lives in Manhattan and on Shelter Island, New York, with his wife, Lois, and his dog, Milo.

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Center Field 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Justin0015 More than 1 year ago
I would rate this book a 4 out of 5 stars. When reading the story some parts were slow, but as the book went on the book picked up the pace and was very enjoyable. In the middle of the book some parts didn't make sense to me, but after getting past this the book kept my interest and I could not put it down. The plot of this story is about a boy that plays on the high school and Mike thinks that the coach is trying to sabotage him. A new ball player, Osacar Ramirez, is showing up Mike on the field and Mike is questioning himself the whole baseball season. Mike believes Oscar is to old to be playing for the high school baseball. I would recommend this book to anyone who is into mysteries or sports books. This book could interest anybody and will keep them interested the whole time throughout.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book for ages 12 to 15
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Mike Semak's dream is to play center field. His idol is Yankee centerfielder Billy Budd. He lives and breathes any advice he can find from the great Billy Budd. Mike's focus is directed at playing his best, which means clearing his mind of anything that is not baseball. He tries to steer clear of too-serious relationships with girls. He avoids involvement in his parents' latest project - opening a new floor covering store - and he pushes the problems of his sister, a single young mother living in New York, and his older brother, a championship cello player, to the back of his mind. Unfortunately, Mike comes up against several distractions that may threaten the intense focus on his goal. One obstacle standing in his way is a new player named Oscar. He is a new kid from the Dominican Republic who shows up and looks to be a challenge for the center field position. Coach Cody lets them both know they will have to prove themselves to earn the position. All the pressure Mike is feeling about baseball comes to a head in a silly incident with a notorious school geek named Zack. In a moment of lost control, Mike shoves Zack and ends up regretting it when, as punishment, he finds himself helping the Cyber Club provide Saturday computer instruction at the local senior center. Having the little computer nerd boss him around is almost more than he can take. The only highlight about the community service becomes another distraction for Mike's center field dreams - Katherine Herold. Kat is a track athlete with an interest in photography and filming. Her membership in the Cyber Club surprises Mike, but he's glad to have a chance to get to know her. As people notice them together, word gets back to his cheerleader girlfriend, but Mike never thought of their relationship as particularly exclusive and his fascination with Kat seems worth the price he might pay with Lori. Complicating matters even further is Coach Cody. Mike has always looked up to Coach, so when the man approaches Mike with a request, it is natural that Mike wants to help. Cody wants Mike to infiltrate the Cyber Club in an effort to bust them for hacking into the school computer system. Problems arise when Mike begins to suspect that Coach is using him in exchange for the center field position. Even more suspicious is the fact that as Mike begins to become friends with Zack, he learns that Coach Cody might not be exactly who he says he is. Robert Lipsyte has filled CENTER FIELD with more than just baseball action. Mike's performance on the field is illustrated in excellent play-by-play narrative, but there is much more to this novel. There is intrigue as Coach Cody uses Mike to investigate the possible computer hackers, and additional suspense comes from new member of the team, Oscar, as well as the not-so-perfect Kat and her intoxicating power over Mike. CENTER FIELD has a little something for everyone. Readers who are not sports enthusiasts should not shy away from the title or cover art. It is definitely an entertaining read.