Big Man at the Plate: Super-Sized Slugger by Cal Ripken, Jr.
"Get ready for a beat down, fat boy!" were the exact words out of Dante's mouth the next time they met.
This was at 7:30 the next morning, right after Cody stepped off the school bus at York Middle. There might have been more in his cheery greeting, but it was hard to tell because the thug had him in a headlock now and was dragging him around in a circle and squeezing his ears.
"I'm sick of your big, ugly mug!" Dante snarled, digging his elbows into Cody's face. "Time to rearrange it."
By now a crowd of students had gathered to watch, apparently assuming a butt-whipping would be more interesting than, say, first period algebra or English.
"Isn't it a little early for this?" Cody managed to gasp.
New to Baltimore, Cody Parker knows he's overweight, likely to come in for some teasing at his new school. He's used to being called nicknames like Cody Porker, but he also knows he can play ball. He's got good hands: he's agile and able to hustle, with a strong arm at third base, and at the plate he can hit the fast ball and the curve with frequency over the fence.
But when he shows up to try out for the Babe Ruth League Orioles, he finds himself vying for the position against Dante Rizzo, a fifteen-year-old old eighth-grader famous for his gangster aspirations, the school's premier bully, who thinks third base should be his exclusive territory, and when Cody beats him out for the keystone slot, Dante swears he's going to make him sorry.
But Cody has an ally, his neighbor Jessica, who stops Dante in his tracks this time with a well-placed karate kick, but Cody knows that sooner or later Dante is going to take his revenge. Coach keeps firm team discipline at practice and during games, and Cody is careful to dodge Dante, sticking with some of his new friends on the team at school, but as the season moves into the playoffs, Cody feels the tension rising and senses that a showdown with Dante and his older brothers, nicknamed the Rottweiler twins, is out there waiting for him.
Then, during a rash of robberies at school, a stolen cell phone falls out of Cody's binder, and he is accused of the string of robberies. Cody sees Dante's sneer when he is taken out of class to the principal and suspects that Dante & Company are the thieves and that the phone was planted in his notebook as Dante's ultimate revenge. Now to clear his name and stay eligible for the big game, it is up to Cody, with Jessica's help, to prove who the thief really is.
Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. and Baltimore Sun writer Keven Cowherd manage to combine a middle-school mystery and exciting baseball gameplay in Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars: Super-sized Slugger (Hyperion, 2012) the second in the Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All Stars. Unlike football and basketball, baseball is a sport notably amenable to all body types, and Ripken and Cowherd take this opportunity to deal constructively with the problem of bullying of overweight students while keeping most of the focus on the ball-playing part of Cody's life from which he draws his self confidence. This one is a worthy addition to a promising sports series aimed at the middle-school reader, with plenty of action, short chapters, and a fast-moving plotline that will keep baseball fans' heads in the game to the final out.