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Monday, April 1, 2013

Happy Birthday Sally Cook - April 2

Happy Birthday Sally Cook - April 2

April is here.  Major League Baseball has officially opened their season, and my family can't wait for the temperature to rise to normal springtime levels so we can play baseball in the backyard. When I ask my children to go outside to play baseball, the response I get from them is always an energetic "Let's Go!" I receive the same response when I ask them if I can read them a book.  Playing baseball and reading are two of my favorite activities I share with my young children.  Both activities allow me to give them my full and undivided attention, interact and connect in a positive way, and create memories similar to ones that I had as a child.

In my research to learn more about Sally Cook, the author of both adult and children's books, I found that I have something in common with her.  Sally loves both baseball and books too!

Her passion for writing started when she was in the second grade when she told her teacher that she wanted to be a children's book writer. (Just One More Book Interview). Her school years were filled with teachers that encouraged her to be creative. One of those teachers was Tomie dePaola who taught her theatre and drama in college.  After graduating college, Cook started writing for magazines and newspapers and later wrote her first book for the adult market, Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son.  She worked with Gene Stallings, University of Alabama's football coach to share his experience raising his son Johnny who was born with Down's syndrome and a heart condition. In 2004, Sally Cook's childhood dream of writing for children was realized when she published her first children's picture book, Good Night Pillow Fight illustrated by Laura Cornell.

I asked Sally Cook if she would share a birthday memory and her response included a childhood memory of baseball with father:

My birthday, April 2, is often on, or the day before, or after, the New York Yankees opening day.  When I was a child my father would celebrate my birthday by getting tickets for that very special game.  I loved visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then riding the number 4 train up to Yankee Stadium where we'd watch the game.

In 2007 when Hey Batta Batta Swing! The Wild Old Days of Baseball was published the New York Yankees took 1000 copies of my book and put them in their gift bags for their opening day dinner which was on April 2, my birthday.  I was invited to the dinner and it was truly one of my best birthdays ever.

Sally Cook connected her passion for writing for children with her love of baseball for her book, Hey Batta Batta Swing!: The Wild Old Days of Baseball. The book is filled with many unique and entertaining stories. My children enjoyed learning how Sachtel Paige and Babe Ruth got their nicknames, how uniforms used to be unpleasant to wear in the hot summer heat, and how players cheated when only one umpire officiated the game.  In an interview with Just One More Book Sally Cook spoke of how the initial idea for the book evolved from "how baseball teams got their names" to "how the game has changed over the years." This book became the inspiration for our birthday celebration activity.

The first thought I had for a birthday celebration activity was to take the family to a baseball game.  I found out that the home opener for our local Double-A team, the Akron Aeros, isn't until April 4th and the Cleveland Indians are not having their home opener until April 8th against the New York Yankees.  This forced me to dig further to find a way to bring Hey Batta Batta Swing! to life for my children. My research uncovered that Northeast Ohio is rich in baseball history and has many opportunities to experience the WILD OLD DAYS OF BASEBALL.
Our celebration took us to downtown Cleveland, a "big city" according to my kids.  At the corner of East 66th and Lexington in Cleveland, Ohio is the oldest baseball park still in existence (Cleveland Area History). All that remains of League Park is a wall and the ticket booth. Thankfully, nothing was ever built on top of the grounds where so many legends played the game.

Significant baseball events that happened at League Park:
1.  Cy Young threw the first pitch on May 1, 1891 for the Cleveland Spiders.
2. Games 4-7 of the 1920 World Series were played with the Cleveland Indians coming out on top.
3. Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run in 1929.
4. The Cleveland Buckeyes won the 1945 Negro League World Series. 
5. Other baseball greats like Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bob Feller, Napoleon Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio played here. 

  Click here to watch a video about League Park from Channel 5 WEWS news in 2010. I embedded an outstanding video about League Park at the bottom of this post too!
My son wanted to have his picture taken near the building where tickets were sold for about $1. Back when baseball was played here, street car lines passed only 20 feet from the entrance making it very convenient for baseball fans.
We were excited to see construction crews and machinery on site for the beginning stages of what is to be a $5 million renovation to the baseball grounds. This picture was taken from what would have been League Park's right field where Babe Ruth hit numerous home runs when he visited the stadium.  The home run fence only stood 290 ft. from home plate. When renovations were first completed in 1910, a 40 foot wall was constructed as an obstacle for home run hitters like Babe Ruth.  

Click here to watch a video about the plans for the future of League Park from News Channel 5 WEWS.
After leaving League Park, we traveled about 15 minutes into downtown Cleveland to visit the Baseball Heritage Museum at the 5th Street Arcade.  This museum is dedicated the "contributions from the Latin and Caribbean leagues, the Industrial and Barnstormer leagues and the Negro and Women's leagues that helped shape the history of the great American pastime." 
The museum also included memorabilia from the Cleveland Indians.  This display case featured many items from great pitcher Bob Feller.
The kids thought this baseball stitcher was really cool!
My oldest son carefully inspected each item in the display cases.
He was excited to find a picture of "Cool Papa" Bell. He learned from Hey Batta Batta Swing! that Bell was really fast.  He was so fast that he could flip a light switch off and jump into bed before the room went dark! This was just one example of the many connections that were made between the book and the memorabilia at the museum.  
The connections made by picture books can be extremely powerful and memorable.  They can connect to you to the past, to a new experience, and to other people. Sally Cook is a special advisor to The Project Sunshine Book Club that connects children's book authors, illustrators, and celebrities to children in pediatric medical facilities "to expand their interest in literacy and to share in the joy of reading by learning how books are created."(Project Sunshine)  I was so impressed Project Sunshine, when I stumbled upon the website during my research for this post, that I asked Sally to share more:

I volunteered for Project Sunshine, reading my children's books to pediatric patients in the NYC area hospitals.  It was so rewarding.  A few year's later, the organization hired me to start a book club.  I bring in authors, illustrators, and some celebrities into pediatric hospitals settings to share their work with the children. R.L. Stine and Kate McMullan were two of the first to sign on to my board of advisors. They've been wonderful supporters of Project Sunshine.  It's so touching to see the many illustrators and authors volunteer their time and talents and help ill children forget their troubles for a short time.

Additionally, the New York Yankees have been absolutely wonderful volunteers and the children can't get enough of them. One little boy yelled from his bed, "I'm not sick anymore!" when he met some of the Yankees at a Bronx hospital.

Sally has lots of Book Buddies that help her with the Project Sunshine Book Club program  -- Robert Castillo, Bryan Collier, Laura Cornell, Doreen Cronin, Firancisco Cervelli, NY Yankee Catcher, Brett Gardner NY Yankee Centerfielder, Tad Hills, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Vincent X. Kirsch, Maryann MacDonald, Sonia Manzano, Kate McMullan, Roxie Munro, Ray Negron, Charlotte Noruzi, R.L. Stine, Nancy Tafuri, and Matthew Van Fleet.

Project Sunshine is a non-profit organization that provides free educational, recreational, social programs to children and families living with medical challenges. To find out more visit their website.

Pictured Above: Sally Cook with Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner and Linda Tosetti, Babe Ruth's granddaughter (right), and on the left is artist Rob Castillo.  They are reading Hey Batta Batta Swing! The Wild Old Days of Baseball to pediatric patients at a New York hospital in 2009.

Thank you Sally for contacting me to share your birthday.  We learned so much from your book!  I appreciate that you took the time to share your birthday memory too!  We hope you have a birthday filled with books, baseball, family and friends!

Check out Sally Cook's other books, Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers co-authored with Ray Negron and the New York Times Bestseller, Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son, co-authored with Gene Stallings.


1. Sally Cook Biography - Pippin Properties
2. Audio Interview - Just One More Book
3. Text Interview - Roll Bama Roll
3. Sally Cook on being a Pippin
4. Project Sunshine Website
5. James Patterson picks Hey Batta Batta Swing as one of his 5 favorite children's books

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