No one is writing better books about baseball (and life) for young readers (and oldsters lucky enough to find them) than John H. Ritter. His latest is a prequel to the popular "The Boy Who Saved Baseball," and takes place in 1881 in the "gold hills of San Diego."
Part tall tale, part historical fiction and COMPLETELY enjoyable -- think Mark Twain describing a showdown on a baseball diamond in a Wild West town where the "church" is in an abandoned gold mine -- "Desperado" is a fast-paced story starring young Jack Dillon and his new companion, Billy the Kid. Yes, that Billy the Kid, "wanted, dead or alive."
Jack heads west to follow his dream to play for the Dillontown Nine Baseball Club, led by his long-lost Uncle Long John Dillon, a black man. (Jack is merely dark-skinned, a minor detail he talks his way around. Jack is a VERY good talker.) African-Americans were barred from professional baseball until the mid-20th century (grrrrr), but in Dillontown, anyone can play the game - including Jack and Billy. John Dillon has challenged the National League champion Chicago White Stockings to a game with an enormous winner-takes-all jackpot. Jack and Billy are drawn into the contest with surprising - and enormously satisfying - results.
Can a baseball book steal your heart? This one does.
(A version of this review appeared in the Palo Alto Weekly.)