Look Who’s Playing First Base, by Matt Christopher ISBN 0316139890
Four out of five stars
While this is a good story, it adheres to the basic Christopher formula for adolescent sports fiction a bit too much. As the title suggests, the sport is baseball and Mike is the second baseman for the Checkmates youth team. Their first baseman has moved away, and they need another quality player for that position. There is a candidate, but he is a very weak hitter at a position where there is traditionally a solid hitter.
Yuri is a boy where his family has recently emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States. While he is familiar with baseball, it is not a sport that he played a great deal, so he is unfamiliar with many of the fundamentals and lacks experience. Mike encourages Yuri to join the team with the idea that he will play first base. Yuri agrees, but has some difficulties due to lack of experience.
One of the players on the Checkmates is unhappy with the problems that Yuri has and is openly critical of him. That leads to dissension on the team to the point where Yuri is thinking of quitting. Furthermore, a player on another team accuses Yuri of being a communist and degrades him. The coaches come to Yuri’s defense in both cases, but not as strongly as they could.
It all works out in the end, as Christopher’s books always do. The “bad guy” learns the error of his ways and the Checkmates win the big game at the end with Yuri a major contributor. That part followed the Christopher formula. What was good was the message of overcoming mindless intolerance of those that are a bit different or come from different backgrounds.