Keeping Score, by Linda Sue Park; Clarion
Books: New York, 2008; $16
Before I read Keeping Score, when I thought of baseball, I thought of boys. I thought the only way people got to know the game of baseball was by playing it. After I read it, I was inspired to learn more about the baseball teams in my area (the Cubs and the White Sox). Before I knew it, I was watching games on TV, and even getting to be a pretty good hitter! Now, baseball doesn’t seem so much like a boy thing anymore!
During the Korean War, which is when Keeping Score takes place, playing baseball almost always was for boys. But Maggie, the main character, knows the game of baseball like the back of her hand, and she got to know it the hard way: by listening to every single Brooklyn Dodgers game on the radio. She never misses a pitch. In fact, it is while she’s listening to a game at the nearby firehouse where her dad used to work that she meets Jim. He’s another intense fan, but for the New York Giants. The two talk baseball, compare favorite players, and laugh about most everything. And perhaps most importantly, it’s Jim who teaches Maggie to keep score. And keeping score of a baseball game isn’t the same as scoring a soccer game, or a football game. Keeping score of a baseball game requires concentration, and a really huge knowledge of baseball.
Everything changes when Jim is drafted into the Korean War. But at least sending letters back and forth from Korea to America is sort of fun for Maggie. And while letters are going back from Korea to America, the Dodgers are winning game after game. It means a lot to every Dodgers fan, especially Maggie! You see, the Dodgers had never won the World Series. Not even once. But now, even the Yankees (their main rivals) are being crushed by the Dodgers! There are so many wins that the losses hardly matter. And then, something horrible happens. After hours of carrying bodies in from the battlefield, Jim stops walking, talking, and moving altogether. He’s suffering from what your parents might call post-traumatic stress syndrome. And right after the Dodgers’ huge winning streak, they lose the pennant game! To the Yankees!
Both baseball and life are a cycle of hope and disappointment, and with the Dodgers out of the World Series and Jim sick from the war, it seems like disappointment is all there is. But I think that Maggie’s love of baseball really helps her get through all these setbacks. After all, even after Willie Mays strikes out five times, he still has the determination to come up to bat and hit a solo home run. And it really helps me to think about this idea too. Little disappointments happen to me every day, solo auditions I didn’t get, the White Sox losing a game, a test I didn’t ace. It’s important to just keep trying. So Maggie comes up with a plan. She decides that when Jim comes home she will take him to see a Giants game at Ebbets Field. She spends months saving up for it. And that’s not all. To help Jim get better she decides to do the hardest thing she has ever had to do in her life: pray for the Giants to win the World Series. I will not tell you how this all works itself out—you’ll just have to read it for yourself! But what I really admire about Maggie is how she had the strength to sacrifice all of this just to help a friend.