Eli Schwartz is 11 years old living in an orphanage in Brooklyn. His life is made complicated by an evil headmaster named Reiger and a bully, Marty, so he takes his mind off his troubles by dreaming of playing for the Dodgers. Who, at this moment in 1955, are playing
Eli Schwartz is 11 years old living in an orphanage in Brooklyn. His life is made complicated by an evil headmaster named Reiger and a bully, Marty, so he takes his mind off his troubles by dreaming of playing for the Dodgers. Who, at this moment in 1955, are playing the Yankees in the World Series.
Then, one day, Eli overhears another boy talking about a million-dollar treasure secreted somewhere at the Dodgers' home ballpark. And with that "The Secret of Ebbets Field," a fantastical romp targeted at kids between eight and 12, is off and running.
Author Richard Seidman's father took him to Ebbetts Field in 1957, the last year the Dodgers played there before moving to Los Angeles. He was 4 years old at the time. So it's not surprising that family dynamics, including the father Eli never knew and appears to him in his sleep, figures prominently in the inventive plot.
There are also generous helpings of Jackie Robinson and Langston Hughes and Nazi war criminals and magical pigeons and a cabal of plotting bad guys and a heroic rescue. There's a series of chase scenes with daring escapes in which Eli manages to outrun or outwit the meanies, or at least get away with a little luck. Think big container of mustard.
And right in the middle of it all, integral to the story, is a mystical old black man named Henry Jenkins who has lived in a cave right underneath Ebbets Field for years, a living space that's made homey by sophisticated artwork and shelves of books.
Henry is a fascination, filling a role similar to the one occupied by James Earl Jones in "Field of Dreams" but with his own unique quirks. At times he seems to be, well, crazy. More often he appears to possess the wisdom of the ages, quoting from the poetry of Hughes and giving Eli a different perspective on what's really important in life.
It may even be that Henry doesn't exist at all, that he's simply a shared point imagination of imagination upon which the participants project their better selves and receive precious insights in return.
Robinson also is front and center throughout, not surprising since Seidman has pledged to contribute a percentage of the profits from the book to the Jackie Robinson Foundation "that provides scholarships and support to minority students enrolled in colleges and universities." (Another portion goes to Friends of Trees, a nonprofit he founded in Portland, Ore.)
It shouldn't give anything away to suggest that the good guys end up living happily ever and that Eli learns that there is a treasure to be found at Ebbets Field, even though it takes a far different form than he thought it would. This is a kid's book, after all.
But a traditional greeting at circuses welcomes "ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and children of all ages" to the show. Children of all ages should enjoy "The Secret of Ebbets Field."
Paul Hagen, a reporter for MLB.com, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2013 for a lifetime of excellence in baseball writing.