Speaking as a fan of baseball, and as a fan of children's books, I absolutely loved Sue Corbett's Free Baseball. This is a middle grade novel, quite short at 152 pages. I read it in one sitting. It's about a Cuban boy named Felix Piloto, who lives with his mother in Florida. Eleven-year-old Felix lives and breathes baseball, playing shortstop for his team. He longs for the day when his baseball player father will be able to leave Cuba to come to the U.S. Felix also wishes that his mother would work shorter hours, and have more time for him.
Felix's life changes when he wins tickets to opening day at the local minor league ballpark. He is humiliated, however, when his mother sends him to the game with a babysitter. Ditching the babysitter after the game, Felix makes his way into the visiting team's locker room, where he is mistaken for the new bat boy. Seizing this opportunity to punish his workaholic mother, while feeling closer to his baseball player father, Felix stows away on the team bus, and makes his way to the team's home ballpark.
Through his willingness to work hard, and aided by his ability to speak Spanish, Felix soon earns the respect of the team members, especially team owner Vic Mench. He makes the acquaintance of Homer, a very special dog/mascot. He gets to talk with real ball players, and even field for them during batting practice. It's all a dream come true! Sue Corbett's love of baseball really shines through here. Even if you don't already love baseball yourself, I think that a read of this book will tempt you out to the ball park this summer.
I have to admit that I saw the ending coming quite a long way off. However, in this case this is not a bad thing. In fact, it is such a satisfying and right ending to the book that I would have been disappointed any other way. Felix is a wonderful, likable character, and Vic feels real, too. I think that Sue Corbett share's a bit of J. K. Rowling's ability for apt naming of characters, by the way, because Vic is a mensch. Felix and his mother's escape from Cuba, and Felix's father's inability to leave Cuba, are handled with a light touch, yet provide a real window into this complex issue.
I can definitely imagine re-reading this book at the start of every baseball season, and I will certainly buy it for kids I know who play or love baseball. Or who I think should play or love baseball. Free Baseball includes glossaries for both baseball terminology and Spanish phrases, which are a nice touch.
You can find more information about the book on Sue Corbett's website. She previously wrote 12 Again, about a 40-year-old woman transformed into a 12-year-old. I look forward to reading that one soon. Happy Reading!
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.