In Ritter's enthralling third baseball tale (Choosing Up Sides; Over the Wall), developers want to come into quaint Dillontown, nestled among a California mountain range, to plow up the historic baseball field in order to make way for a new diamond-and houses and strip malls as well. When 12-year-old Tom Gallagher goes to visit Doc, the old man who owns the land, he raises an issue that gets the man to thinking: "Is it new facilities that would help this town the most, or a new spirit?" So Doc decides to let a single game of baseball determine how his land will be used. Tom finds himself working to get a small, poorly trained group of players ready for the big day. Some unlikely help arrives in the form of Cruz de la Cruz, a mysterious boy who literally rides into town (on horseback) to gear up for the pivotal game and to seek out Dante Del Gato, the legendary San Diego outfielder who supposedly possesses the "Secret of Hitting" (19 hits in as many games). Tom's fear of letting down his community mirrors the tale of Del Gato, who abandoned his team just before the World Series and lives like a hermit in the nearby hills. Ritter paints Dillontown as equal parts Mayberry R.F.D. and Twin Peaks (a homeless rapper/poet who talks into a broken cell phone, a beauty salon with the motto "We'll Chop Your Mop 'Til You Say Stop"). The author takes the cosmic view of a local story: Tom not only strives to save a patch of land but the soul of his hometown. Baseball fans will appreciate the lore, but the prose is also at times stunning ("A boy needs to read the earth.... A boy kept distant from the earth is a boy dissatisfied"), in a book filled with memorable moments. Ages 9-13. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Here is a baseball story for middle school students! It is centered on a Big Game—in this case, one that will determine whether or not a small town will be changed forever with a proposed development scheme. The town is located outside of San Diego, near the Mexican border, and many of the characters are Hispanic, with Spanish vocabulary thrown in frequently (especially food items). Tom is 12 years old, and he is friends with the 88-year-old doctor in town who is trying to decide whether or not to develop the 300 or so acres he owns. Tom wants no change to the town, especially no change to the 100-year-old baseball park in their midst—so the game is proposed to determine the outcome. A game played by 12-year-olds, most of whom aren't such good players. Can a week's training whip them into shape? Can their attitudes change—if they have the heart to win, won't that help? A boy comes riding into town, just when they need him. His name is Cruz de la Cruz. He is a good ball player and he also is developing a software program that will improve hitting skills. He is fascinated by one of the town's citizens: a retired baseball pro named Del Gato, who walked away from a World Series nearly 20 years ago, just when he seemed to have perfected hitting. Tom and Cruz approach Del Gato and persuade him to coach the team for the week before the game. Boys and girls take part, they focus, and their skills improve. But at the last moment, Cruz disappears, and the original team of 12 has to face the opposition alone. Tom has to be the pitcher. So much is riding on the outcome! Ritter loves baseball, as we know from his previous YA novels, Choosing Up Sides and Over the Wall. This one is more light-heartedthan the other two, which deal with some serious themes. Ritter played ball in college and still plays on an amateur team, so all the details about hitting, fielding, and coaching are accurate, which will please his readers who probably are themselves immersed in the game. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Penguin Putnam, Philomel, 216p.,
When young baseball whiz Cruz de la Cruz rides in on horseback, he finds the tiny Southwestern village of Dillontown about to go under the bulldozer's blade in the name of suburban progress. The only thing that will save the town and its ancient baseball park from subdivision is to win a seemingly impossible wager by defeating a youth baseball team composed of all-stars from down in the suburban valley. The Dillontown coach is the high school science teacher and no baseball expert, and the team is more a summer activity comprising both girls and boys. In fact, until Cruz wanders in, they do not even have the required nine players. Meanwhile, in the hills above the town, Dante del Gato, the greatest hitter to ever play professional baseball, has been living in complete isolation for nearly twenty years. Cruz believes that del Gato discovered the secret to perfect batting before becoming a recluse and can help them out of their predicament. A strange running drill involving a desert hillside, a computerized batting simulation game, and lots of carne asada help the Dillontown nine come to the town's rescue. With just enough clues to make the reader wonder what is real and what is magic, this modern-day fairy tale is set in the desert Southwest. Cruz de la Cruz (double cross?) might be the "savior" or the "traitor" spoken of in a prophecy from years and years ago. Two wonderful surprises make for an enjoyable ending in this Holes (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998/VOYA December 1998) meets The Natural (1961) fable. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Philomel, 224p,
Step up for a quirky, fastball thrown at young readers who will swing at this one for a homerun. Baseball aficionado Ritter loves kids and conflict and rich characters as much as he loves writing about the game and it all comes together in this young adult masterpiece. The local legendary ballpark is just about history with plans for tract housing in high gear as efforts build to bring fresh blood to the peaceful, quiet but economically challenged small town near San Diego. That's when landowner Doc Altenheimer throws young Tom Gallagherand all of Dillontowna serious curve. Beat the neighboring team, which is bigger, faster and better dressed, and Doc will not sell to developers. Tom's motley gang of witty, smart, original and determined buddies will need to pull together all the talent and imagination that 12-year-old baseball lovers can manage. Add to those dreams a has-been ballplayer named Dante Del Gato and a baffling new guy who rides into camp with a maple bat shining in its leather rifle scabbard atop his saddle. Ritter's story is carried by exceptionally meaningful and natural dialoguebetween the young characters and in the head of the hero. Readers will relate to the themes of overcoming reticence, the drive to meet an impossible challenge, and the thrill of growing into a team. 2003, Philomel, Ages 8 to 12.
Gr 5-8-The fate of a rural California town rides on a baseball game that pits a ragtag group of locals against a slick summer-camp team. Colorful characters, a mysterious ringer, and some awesome play-by-play are all part of this sports novel with a subtle reinforcement of small-town values. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A team of young ballplayers, who have the will but not necessarily the talent, can save the town’s legendary baseball field from developers by winning one crucial game. Tom, a sensitive youngster who wants to be a writer, loves his town, the surrounding countryside, and that special ballpark. He records the ensuing events in his journal and, in a nice twist, ends by writing the opening paragraph. The mysterious, wise Cruz de Cruz, the stranger riding in from nowhere, is the catalyst, à la Spinelli’s Maniac McGee, for the changes that affect the entire town. Dante Del Gato, a reclusive former ballplayer who appears to have found the secret of perfect hitting, agrees to help. Throw in some physics, ecology, astronomy, and extraordinary, eccentric coaching and guess who wins the big game. This is more than a baseball story; each character has a distinct personality with interests, strengths, and weaknesses that are accepted and admired. A fast-paced, sweet-natured tale for more than just fans. (Fiction. 10-13)