THE GLORIOUS GAME OF BASEBALL: A METAPHOR FOR READING AND WRITING by Margo Sorenson

Play ball!  Baseball season is almost here, the great rite of spring! The cheering of the crowd, the smack of the ball landing in the catcher’s glove at 98 mph, the fragrant aroma of Fenway Franks or Dodger Dogs, the thrill as we watch our favorite player crush a ball and send it soaring over the Green Monster – those of us who love baseball can hardly wait for the excitement! The power of the game of baseball to transcend so much in life creates in us a sense of awe and wonder, because, whether we’re players or fans, the game of baseball can lift us above the humdrum routines of our daily lives, overcome obstacles and setbacks, inspire a desire to achieve, and can encourage a feeling of belonging to something greater than ourselves.

Now, wait – hold up on second base, and don’t try to steal third — yet.   We’re getting a signal from the team manager, and he’s got something to tell us: It’s not only baseball that can accomplish these goals.  The game of baseball can serve also as a metaphor for the processes of both reading and writing, accomplishing the same goals that baseball does, and thereby transcending our daily experience.

How can this be? you may ask. Let’s take a look at the way the game of baseball is practiced.  In the reassuring rhythm of the practice of baseball fundamentals, confidence is built, and thus, the freedoms to risk and to take a leap are given impetus.  If you catch a thousand fly balls, you will make that astonishing leap off the warning track, thud against the left field wall, and make the catch of the game, but it was the practice that gave you the confidence and the freedom to do it.  Similarly, as does the baseball player, the reader learns sounds, words, concepts, how to predict, how to evaluate what she reads, and how to communicate the gems she’s found in the books to others.  All this allows the reader to challenge herself by opening up more books at different levels and in different genres.  The writer goes through the same practical steps, learning about the power of verbs, how to plot, how to create and flesh out characters, how to get in touch with his personal voice.  Likewise, the writer gains the confidence to tackle writing that will take him – and his readers — to a new level.

Just as the new baseball player can’t imagine fielding a hard line drive to third and making an out, the novice reader may cringe at the sight of anything longer than an early chapter book, and the beginning writer wouldn’t even think of beginning to write a complex, lengthy novel – or a tightly-worded, succinct, evocative picture book.  It’s all about the patient practice and application of skills. One of the many pleasures of baseball, as in reading and writing, is the realization and discovery that one can achieve a goal one never thought was possible.  Not only that, this goal is capable of giving pleasure to many others and of bringing people together, whether it is in baseball, in reading, or in writing.

Baseball books abound, and though each has its own unique, distinctive characteristics, they all celebrate the idea of teamwork, the idea that someone can achieve more than he or she ever dreamed, and the concept that hard work and integrity can be rewarded – transcending the routines of our daily lives.

In Ken Moziguchi’s BASEBALL SAVED US, baseball is seen as a unifying force, when the main character’s father starts a baseball league for the prisoners behind the barbed wire at a WWII internment camp. The game becomes a way for the young boy to prove himself in spite of bullies and serves as a common denominator, even with their guards. He is able to transcend the grim environment of the camp and finds a goal above and beyond himself.

THE BOY WHO SAVED BASEBALL by John Ritter, centers on a main conflict involving the possible loss of a historic community baseball field.  This plot uses the game of baseball to show how both guys and girls with heart shouldn’t quit, to continue practicing skills to improve, to demonstrate courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and to play ball – and live life — with integrity and love for the game.

A creative nonfiction offering is MAMA PLAYED BASEBALL by David Adler, which serves as an acknowledgment of the importance of baseball to the American national spirit and psyche during WWII.  Baseball again is a unity-builder; no one could imagine a nation without baseball games, so women were recruited to play when the men were drafted into the military.  The young protagonist learns to value the importance of baseball in keeping up morale and of her mother’s contribution to the war effort.

In Jonah Winter’s YOU NEVER HEARD OF SANDY KOUFAX?, the great pitcher represents the power of sticking to a goal through hardship, practicing hard, and, interestingly enough, also an inspiring example of how relaxing and trusting one’s own ability, instead of fretting and trying too hard, can ultimately bring excellence.

Racial identity and a sense of pride in oneself illuminates MEXICAN WHITEBOY, by Matt de la Pena.  His main character, who is half-white and half-Mexican, and, at first, feeling unaccepted by both groups, finds that baseball transcends the barrio and cultural differences and patient practice and working hard finally brings him a sense of self-respect and real pleasure in playing the game.

As many of us eagerly anticipate the opening day of baseball season this spring, just as we anticipate turning the pages of a new book or beginning a new manuscript, our own lives can begin anew.  The possibilities are endless – in baseball – in reading – and in writing – if we will be diligent in preparation and be willing to believe in a game greater than ourselves.  Play ball!

Author of her own baseball book, WHO STOLE THE BASES? (Perfection Learning, 1995), as well as others, Margo Sorenson continues to draw on her love of baseball and other sports to write her twenty-eight books for young readers.  A Minnesota Book Award Finalist in YA Fiction and a Milken National Educator Award recipient, Margo can be found at www.margosorenson.com and on Twitter as @ipapaverison.