While visiting family in Pittsburgh this summer, I shared memories of Pirate baseball with my brother Billie, specifically the dearly-departed Forbes Field and the 1960 World Series — when Bill Mazeroski hit his Series-winning home run off the opening pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning of that final game against the New York Yankees. Announcer Bob Prince called, “Kiss it goodbye!” and Pirate fans went wild. Even though I was only in second grade, I still remember the excitement.
Billie and I visited Forbes Field’s home plate, (now preserved under glass in the floor of a University of Pittsburgh building constructed on land the ballpark used to occupy), and part of an outfield wall (left standing) which home-run balls cleared to the cheering of fans.
With baseball season in full swing and since books are never far from mind, my thoughts turned to a favorite picture book — How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball by David Shannon.
In Georgie Radbourn, Shannon creates an America in which baseball, even the mention of it, is illegal, and winter is eternal. “The snow didn’t melt, and the sky stayed gray,” and everyone over the age of eight works in factories. All because of powerful dictator Boss Swaggert, an embittered former baseball player. The people fear him and his Factory Police too much to resist. Georgie is born into this world, so he knows nothing else. Still, something in him rebels.
Hero and villain are clear. As I once heard Brian Jacques say about his brilliant Redwall series –“Goodies are good and baddies are bad.” Shannon’s story is dark and sunny, depressing and uplifting, in just the right places, and his clever use of inside baseball references adds richness to the telling.
Georgie is about baseball, yes, but it’s more than it appears (as is true of the best books). Shannon’s Orwellian allegory is about how one brave person who stands for and believes in something can triumph and inspire courage in others. It’s about how we often don’t understand how much we love something until it’s taken away. It’s about how, without the things that give us hope, Spring never comes. Thank you, Mr. Shannon, for this winning reminder.
There are many more great books about America’s national pastime. Here are a just a few:
Anyone’s Game: Kathryn Johnson, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball
by Heather Lang and illus. Cecilia Puglesi
Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League
by Martha Ackmann
by Lisa Wheeler and illus. Barry Gott
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story
by Audrey Vernick and illus. Don Tate
Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Page vs Rookie Joe DiMaggio
by Robert Skead and illus. Floyd Cooper
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh
by Uma Krishnaswami
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
by Kadir Nelson