Two young baseball buffs stumble onto a mysterious occurrence at a minor league baseball stadium in Clark’s (Center Point, 2013, etc.) novel.
Fans of baseball history will recall the Negro leagues, the alternative leagues in which African-Americans had to play in the shadows of the major leagues because of a ban on black players. Now, 12-year-old April O’Day, a hard-core baseball fan, is in seventh heaven when she lands a job as the local minor league team’s bat girl. Before long, April’s not only retrieving bats, but giving advice to the ballplayers on what size/weight bat to use, when to steal, and other counsel based on her knowledge and observations. One day she sees vague images—“shadow players”—playing on the field after the regular game ends. The team owner, Mr. Haney, sees them too and asks April and her best friend, Darren Plummer, to investigate. However, just as the two friends discover that these players are from the Negro leagues, Haney inexplicably forbids the kids from investigating further and fires them. Realizing something strange is afoot, the kids continue their efforts to uncover the truth. While baseball is a passion of his, Clark has his sights set on the deeper issue of racism in general. The book is a well-written Disney-like story—characters do the right thing, and everything is tied up in a neat little bow. The characters are well-drawn and likable, and Clark obviously knows baseball. The story moves quickly, without unnecessary subplots slowing it down, but it unfortunately lacks real historical perspective. Even just a few paragraphs on the tragedies of players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Double-Duty Radcliffe or others—who were forced to display their prodigious talents in subpar circumstances simply because of skin color—may awaken a youngster’s understanding of racism’s inanity. Still, in a kid’s literature market overstuffed with sensitive vampires and magical realms, it’s refreshing to see a story that attempts to be something more.
A home run, though not a grand slam.