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… See more details below


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.

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
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
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.
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)
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

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

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