Monday, September 06, 2010

Baseball Bats: Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies

Restless wings begin to itch--
excitement's at a fever pitch.
At last it's time, and with a sigh,
we hustle out to diamond sky.

Hurry up! Come one--come all!
We're off to watch the bats play ball!

From barn and belfry, cave and cupola, the bats stream forth into the darkling sky and soar to their appointed meeting place, the canopied diamond where, under the unaccustomed bright lights of night baseball, two traditional rivals meet for their annual face off. The smallest bats blink at their first sight of the overwhelming flood of light and color:

We wing from dark to dazzling bright,
startled by the stunning sight
of colors like we've never seen:
the browns so brown, the greens so green.

Old and young, they seem to take their seats as they hang from the soaring canopy while the pageantry of the game unfolds. Groundsbats prep the field, rolling a shaker of powdered sugar between the bases to mark them with fresh white lines and groom the mound with forks, and vendors flap above the stands calling out their wares. "Mothdogs Get yer mothdogs here!" "Perhaps you'd like some Cricket Jack?" Bats in patriotic red perform a flag flyover, and after the anthem comes the long-anticipated call--Play ball!
Something changes with those words.
We feel a magic shift
and ride the currents of the game
as time is set adrift.

The first innings are scoreless, as the pitchers duel and the scorekeeper bat chalks up a series of goose eggs on the big board. One young bat has his own magic moment as he snatches a ball hit foul and clutches proudly it to his fur. And then it's time to stand and stretch for the seventh inning singalong:

"Oh, hang me up in the rafters!
Hang me up by the toes!
Buy me some beenuts and Cricket Jacks..."

In Brian Lies' just published Bats at the Ballgame (Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt, 2010) the gameplay heats up in the final innings, and with new moments from this game to add to those faded but golden memories of the olden days, the jubilant fans stream out, just ahead of the new dawning day, back to their rafters and cubbyholes, one little fan still clutching his prize as he falls asleep--the foul ball he snagged all by himself at the big game.

In our dreams that perfect green,
our refuge from the drab routine
of headlong flutter, flurried flight...
until another baseball night.

Until again we hear the call:
"Welcome, fans--and now... play ball!

As in his earlier acclaimed Bats at the Beach and Bats at the Library Lies' amazing artwork triumphs over the difficulties inherent in designing his illustrations, all "shot" in the dark, so to speak, endowing his paintings with a luminosity which makes the details--the bats' fur and whiskers and their bright eyes, for example--glow with their own light. Likewise, his visual and verbal play will spark many a chuckle of recognition--as when, shown in the sepia monotones of memory the old bats fondly remember high points of bat baseball, "Bat" Ruth as he swings mightily for the fences, a Gehrig-like ballplayer humbly standing before the microphone at his last game. Readers will also notice that some pages need to be inverted to get a true bats-eye view of the scene. Kids (of all ages) who have been fortunate enough to experience the game and its traditions, with all its bright lights and colors and drama, will get this book instantly and will find much in the brilliantly detailed illustrations to pour over.

Brian Lies again comes through in the clutch: this one is over the fence and out of sight!

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