Friday, February 03, 2012

Not Cool! Hothead by Cal Ripken, Jr., and Kevin Cowherd

What happened next felt like a dream--or maybe more like a nightmare. Don't do it! he told himself, but already he was screaming "No-o-o!" and tearing the glove off his left hand and sailing it high in the air over Willie's head.

In a flash the umpire bolted from behind home plate, tearing off his mask. "That's it, son! You're outta here!"

Stomping across the first-base line, Connor snarled at Jordy. "You couldn't jump any higher for that throw? My grandma could've caught that!"

Connor Sullivan seems to have it all. He's the best fielder and hitter in his Babe Ruth league, his teammates are solid in their positions--except for their screw-up-prone sub, Marty Loopus--and they have the best shot in the league to beat the Red Sox for the championship. Connor has a coveted bid tucked away at home to attend the prestigious Brooks Robinson summer camp. And cute middle school sports writer Melissa Morrow seems to have more than a professional interest in the story she's doing featuring him.

But if things are good in shortstop territory, they are troubling at home. Connor's dad has been out of work for over six months, his mom is working overtime at the hospital to try to take up the slack, and Connor can't help overhearing his parents' worried, whispered fears that they could lose their house. Money for baseball camps doesn't look like a possibility, and Connor can't seem to leave all that behind when he goes on-field.

And suddenly Connor feels like a spectator to his own out-of-control displays of anger on the playing field. At first they are directed at himself when he makes a blooper, but then in horror he hears himself berating his best friend Jordy for not fielding an impossibly wild throw to him at first base.

And Melissa, who is as passionate about her journalism as Connor is about baseball, hints that her story line may change to a chronicle of his his temper displays. Now Cooper also has to worry about whether his hotheaded antics will be the next gone-viral video on YouTube.

In his first in a planned series, Cal Ripken, Jr., and co-author Kevin Cowherd, have constructed a sports novel whose elements will be familiar to fans--a top-notch player whose real challenge is controlling his own emotions, a family situation which doesn't help, an arch rival on the other team, in this case the loutish Billy Burrell who throws beanballs as well as smoking strikes and calls him "Psycho Boy," and the intriguing girl reporter whose eyes he feels on him everytime he takes to the field.

In his first at-bat as a author, Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars: Hothead (Cal Ripken Novels) (Hyperion, 2011), Ripken navigates these familiar waters, so well charted by Matt Christopher, Tim Green, Mike Lupica, et al, unapologetically, with the added bonus of grace notes of real humor between the members of the Orioles' team, led by the self-deprecatory humor of the ever-game bench-rider, Marty Loopus, whose infectiously funny asides make him a perfect foil for Connor and one of the story's most engaging supporting characters. Here's Marty, doing his thing when Connor returns from his well-earned suspension:

Marty Loopus walked up to Connor, put both hands on his shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye.

"Playoffs start next week,"he said solemnly. "Promise me you'll control that famous temper of yours? Or do I have to keep carrying this team all by myself?"

You gotta love a baseball novel in which even the team's doofus bench sitter shows both humor and a passion for the game, a quality which Ripken gracefully rewards when he gives the bumbling Marty a shot at the catch that could seal the championship for the Orioles. "Fans of Mike Lupica and Matt Christopher will be thrilled," School Library Journal says, and these same fans will be looking forward to the next season of follow-up fiction from Ripken.

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