Saturday, March 19, 2011

Center Field

"People always say Billy Budd's a natural, like he was born a center fielder, like it's all muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, but I know how much work went into it.... It's like being on top of the world. Seeing everything spread out in front of you. Coming at you. It's all up to you, you're the last chance and you've got all this green room to run down the ball. It's open and clean, no foul lines or crazy angles or base runners, just you and the ball."

Title: Center Field

Author: Robert Lipsyte

ISBN: 978-0-06-055704-1

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright: 2010

Plot Summary: Mike Semak is a high school senior in a year where everything seems to be going perfectly. He has a great chance at becoming captain of the Rangers, bagging center field position, has a great girlfriend and a team who are not only team mates but friends. Then, Oscar Ramirez joins the team, a hard-hitting, fast-running, great outfielder who turns Mike's life upside down. The center field position suddenly seems unreachable and when Zack, a geeky classmate gets in Mike's face, he pushes him down. Coach Cody, Vice Principal of the school, breaks Mike a deal in the face of a possible lawsuit from Zack's parents: spy on Zack's Cyber Club and he'll let Mike stay on the team, and maybe even make him team captain. A member of the Cyber Club is Kat, an ex-track team star whose blunt and ever-changing personality catches Mike's eye. Soon, Mike is unsure where his loyalty lies. Is it with Coach Cody and a chance for team captain or with Zack, the Cyber Club, and Kat, who are slowly unearthing a counter-movement against Cody's iron rule of the school?

Critical Evaluation: Center Field is centered around baseball and Mike Semak's idolization of Billy Budd, star baseball player. Lipsyte does not limit the themes to baseball, however, and discusses immigration, friendship, relationships, the need to tell the truth, and standing up for what is right. Mike Semak as narrator could be seen as a typical teen jock who compares everything to a baseball game, but will surprise the reader when he uses math problems in almost the same manner. The writing style within Center Field is highly impacted by Mike as narrator and has a terse, snappy manner to it that mimics sports announcers: concise and unpretentious. Similarly, the dialog and dialog tags within Center Field are not complex and often choppy, including the pauses and natural breaks in conversation that would happen in real conversation. The dialog tags, however, are often lacking and because many of the characters speak in a similar fashion, it is difficult for readers to keep track of who is speaking.

Reader's Annotation: Mike Semak never saw himself as a dumb jock, but when the center field is suddenly taken from him and he is asked to choose between his team and the truth, he wishes everything could be as clear as a ball game.

Information About the Author: Robert Lipsyte is a popular journalist and fiction writer. He alternates between sports writing for the New York Times and writing award winning young adult literature.
Lipsyte writes his books based on his own personal experiences with sports and illness. Read more about Robert Lipsyte at his website.

Genre: Baseball; Fiction; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • All Mike Semak wants out of his senior year is the center field position on his team the Rangers. When Coach Cody offers it to him, but at a price, what else can he do but agree to spy on the Cyber Club? Everything falls out of place when Mike can't keep his eyes off of Cyber Club member Kat and he starts wondering what the club members are up to.
  • Mike Semak is a senior on the baseball team, a shoe-in for the center fielder position until Oscar Ramirez joins the team. Not only does he hit better than Mike, he runs faster and fields effortlessly. Mike, and the rest of the team, realize that Oscar is different from them, joking that he's an illegal. When Mike sees Oscar hop into a van with out-0f-state plates, he realizes it is not a joke, and that the guy who stole his position had no right to play at his school. But can Mike say anything if it would result in Oscar being deported?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • Center Field could easily be PG-13, with no foul language and glossed over sex. While Mike is an older teen narrator, his musings and observations are not obscene and his thought process and how he thinks through the issues of immigration, friendship, relationships, and what is right and wrong, is an important guideline for teen readers.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Lipsyte, R. (2010). Center field. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

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