Sunday, February 7, 2010

CENTER FIELD by Robert Lipsyte

Mike Semak's dream is to play center field.  His idol is Yankee centerfielder Billy Budd.  He lives and breathes any advice he can find from the great Billy Budd. 

Mike's focus is directed at playing his best which means clearing his mind of anything that is not baseball.  He tries to steer clear of too-serious relationships with girls.  He avoids involvement in his parents' latest project - opening a new floor covering store, and he pushes the problems of his sister, a single young mother living in New York, and his older brother, a championship cello player, to the back of his mind.

Unfortunately, Mike comes up against several distractions that may threaten the intense focus on his goal.  One obstacle standing in his way is a new player named Oscar.  He is a new kid from the Dominican Republic who shows up and looks to be a challenge for the center field position.  Coach Cody lets them both know they will have to prove themselves to earn the position. 

All the pressure Mike is feeling about baseball comes to a head in a silly incident with a notorious school geek named Zack.  In a moment of lost control, Mike shoves Zack and ends up regretting it when, as punishment, he finds himself helping the Cyber Club provide Saturday computer instruction at the local senior center.  Having the little computer nerd boss him around is almost more than he can take.  The only highlight about the community service becomes another distraction for Mike's center field dreams - Katherine Herold.

Kat is a track athlete with an interest in photography and filming.  Her membership in the Cyber Club surprises Mike, but he's glad to have a chance to get to know her.  As people notice them together, word gets back to his cheerleader girlfriend, but Mike never thought of their relationship as particularly exclusive and his fascination with Kat seems worth the price he might pay with Lori.

Complicating matters even further is Coach Cody.  Mike has always looked up to Coach so when the man approaches Mike with a request, it is natural that Mike wants to help.  Cody wants Mike to infiltrate the Cyber Club in an effort to bust them for hacking into the school computer system.  Problems arise when Mike begins to suspect that Coach is using him in exchange for the center field position.  Even more suspicious is the fact that as Mike begins to become friends with Zack, he learns that Coach Cody might not be exactly who he says he is.

Robert Lipsyte has filled CENTER FIELD with more than just baseball action.  Mike's performance on the field is illustrated in excellent play-by-play narrative, but there is much more to this novel.  There is intrigue as Coach Cody uses Mike to investigate the possible computer hackers, and additional suspense comes from new member of the team, Oscar, as well as the not-so-perfect Kat and her intoxicating power over Mike.  CENTER FIELD has a little something for everyone.  Readers who are not sports enthusiasts should not shy away from the title or cover art.  It is definitely an entertaining read.

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