Go ahead, say that baseball isn't the national pastime anymore. Say that football or the NBA has superseded it, and that kids really aren't interested. Considering the state of the game and the bucks other sports are raking in, that argument sounds plausible to me. Just don't tell that to Matt Tavares. He understands that bone-crunching tackles and fast breaks are hardly the thing memories are made of, and that baseball, with its slower pace and generations-long history, has connections that transcend the game. He made this point beautifully in his first book, Zachary's Ball, and he does so again in his new offering, Oliver's Game.
Oliver Hall loves baseball, and no wonder; his granddad lives in the shadow of Chicago's Wrigley Field and runs a sports memorabilia shop on the ground floor of his brownstone. One day, while helping him out in the store, Oliver stumbles upon a baseball relic unlike any other, one with a family connection. Much to his surprise, he discovers that his grandfather played for the Chicago Cubs for an afternoon!Tavares is a New Englander by birth and a Red Sox fan by heritage. He's not much older than the characters he portrays, having graduated from Bates College in 1997. Zachary's Ball was in fact born out of his senior thesis, and it portrays Boston's Fenway Park as intimately as it does the characters. In Oliver's Game, Tavares turns his attention to the "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field and his illustrations are every bit as breathtaking. His art has a wonderful depth and tangibility (as they say in baseball, "good eye, good eye").
Oliver's Game can be appreciated by anyone who loves baseball if you're old enough to hold a bat, you'll like this book. It's a gentle paean to a lovely sport, to a way of life. It's about dreams: dreams lost, dreams regained. It's about learning to live with the pitches you're thrown and remembering that there's always another at bat. Who knows, next time you might hit it out of the park. Matt Tavares certainly did. James Neal Webb is a long-suffering Red Sox fan.