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Center Field

Review

Center Field

As the star pitcher of Ridgedale High's baseball team, Mike Semak is infatuated with the game. He believes in success at any cost, but pressures on and off the field are becoming too exacting. After instigating a fight with a "puke" from the cyber club, Mike is punished with community service. His subsequent experiences help him discover a world that is bigger than his own view of center field.

Baseball is a true passion of Mike's, his lifetime idol being a pro player who led his team to the World Series. Being in center field gives Mike a certain rush, a kind of peace that comes only from being empowered and in the place he understands. But the arrival of a new player during his junior year interrupts this peace. Oscar Ramirez has just made the team and is quite possibly more athletic and a better pitcher than Mike. Most team members don't welcome him openly as some are racist and Oscar is out to take Mike's position. Being outmatched is something Mike simply isn't used to, so the pressures of winning really start to get to him.

As a jock, Mike is in a hallowed position at Ridgedale, in a group who are smug about their status and pretty much keeps to themselves. The baseball team is prestigious enough that players are entitled to their pick of the girls, and Mike and his friend Ryan are going out with beautiful blonde cheerleaders. Yet Mike has found lately that he isn't really as interested in Lori as he was. They have a great time partying together, and she's sweet and entirely open to him physically and an identical twin (a scenario many guys wouldn't dream of passing up), but there's just something missing in their intellectual and emotional connection. Mike has recently begun fantasizing about an athletic girl who is also a member of the cyber club, Katherine Herold. His teammates would say that Kat is beneath his interest and have nicknamed her "tiberbitch" --- she's tough to the core and unapproachable, at least to jocks. 

Zack Berger is a friend of Kat's and, as the head of the cyber club, inherently has opposite views from Mike's. Mike looks at Zack as self-important, a "puke" nerd who thinks everyone should devote their entire life to his latest cause, whether that be going green or helping with world hunger or community outreach programs. Zach constantly pressures all students to get involved and isn't quiet about his views of jocks as self-important thugs. And with Mike in his current frustrated state of mind, it takes only one comment to set him off. Mike does something he normally wouldn't: starts a fight with a much smaller guy who has little hope of defending himself. Zach is flattened by a single punch, and Mike winds up in the office, agreeing to make amends with community service in order to avoid suspension.

Mike's service involves helping the cyber club on Saturdays, alongside Zach and "tigerbitch". His coach wants him to spy on the cyber club while he's there, and Mike is generally unenthusiastic about the deal until he realizes he'll see Kat. But after a time or two, the actual service begins to strike a chord in him. The club helps elderly citizens learn to use computers, hauling in (and out) the equipment each and every week. After the physical labor is done, students help older people send emails and pictures to their families --- quite a cool thing for all of them but especially for Mike. He ends up befriending an older lady who is also a dedicated baseball fan and reminisces with her about his deeply-felt passion for the sport. This allows both the cyber club and Kat to see a totally different side of Mike, and Kat begins to take more of a personal interest in him and in his quiet thoughtfulness and unusual strength of will.

Author Robert Lipsyte is a sportswriter for both The New York Times and USA Today, and in reading CENTER FIELD, you can sense the work of a skilled and passionate writer. The novel will connect well with adolescent guys, especially as it is written from the male point of view and is heavily laden with sports. Play-by-plays of the games are excellent and bring baseball vividly to life; it's much like an announcer speaking during a particularly invigorating game, yet equal attention is given to the off-time as to actual games. High school life is also dealt with as it really is, without shying away from the inherent social divisions, romantic troubles, partying, labeling, and the daily pressures to measure up. Athleticism and intellectualism are both approached positively, and anyone who reads the book will benefit from the inspirations and insights offered.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on March 23, 2010

Center Field
by Robert Lipsyte

  • Publication Date: March 23, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0060557044
  • ISBN-13: 9780060557041