Reviewed by Warren Maxwell
A love letter to baseball and the enduring values it instills in everyone who plays the game
Baseball Buddies: Building a Team begins with the visceral joy that the first day of Spring brings to baseball fans, and it follows through with a group of young teammates over the course of one season. This is a classic baseball story: a mixture of sports talk, memorable characters, and valuable insights into dealing with friends and enemies.
“‘Hey boys, everybody say ‘hi’ to Luis,” said Coach Joe. “He’s a terrific baseball player—or so his mom tells me.’”
New in town, 11-year old Luis becomes the center of attention when the local coach unexpectedly picks him to be the Manatees’ team captain. Some players are angry that they weren’t picked to be captain. Others just don’t like Luis. But when Coach Joe asks everyone what they like best about baseball, Luis is the only person who thinks about the whole team and not just himself.
Now Luis, who just wanted to be a regular player, must figure out what it means to be a captain and how to unite the Manatees before they blow their chance of making the playoffs. With the help of Gary, the catcher, and Aliyah, the center fielder, Luis overcomes his shyness and creates player-only team meetings to solve the problem.
“‘Your job as captain is going to be to make sure everyone is having fun while also working hard,’ said Coach Joe. ‘That’s the really tricky part. That’s probably the hardest part of coaching. That’s what I need you to do. That’s what I need from my team captain.’”
In the spirit of great baseball stories, this novel revolves around a set of characters who slowly overcome their limitations and biases to become great friends and skillful players. Through persistence, goodwill, and a common love of the game, the teammates find ways to help each other grow as players and as people. Gary is a baseball aficionado who studies other teams but lacks the confidence to ask for help and practice his own skills. Aliyah is so eager to prove her talent as a fielder that she ignores how her teammates feel and ends up in pointless feuds. As he takes his new role seriously, Luis brings these hidden problems to light and gives everyone the chance to help each other.
“’And Luis,’ said Gary. ‘Think about how Aliyah feels. Imagine if you were with the same team for a long time, and you wanted to be captain, but your coach gave it to someone else?’
‘Right, thanks Gary,’ said Aliyah.
‘We’re all on the same team here,’ said Gary. ‘Like, for real. We’re all on the same team—the Manatees. We need to work this out.’”
It’s impossible not to fall in love with these earnest, hardworking characters. Derr’s dialogue and LaCoste’s emotive illustrations give each one a distinct, evocative identity and make their struggles both significant and relatable. The interlocking narratives of the Manatee’s season and the characters’ journeys instill this story with practical values about balancing fun with hard work, building communities, and supporting friends.
“If you’re 11 years old, and you play baseball, spring is where it’s at. After a long winter away from the game, everyone is happy to be back. Everyone is excited. No one has even lost a game yet!”
But it isn’t all serious! This is an extremely fun, gripping story, and the prose is simple and captivating. The moral lessons are balanced with epic moments of baseball, such as when Luis and Jimmie—the most stubborn player on the team—settled their difference with a home run hitting competition. There’s a rare sense of playfulness that perfectly captures the feeling of being on a little league team.
Building a Team shows readers how the Manatees become better players and people while still having fun. It is a heartwarming story that will make even older readers long to take their glove out and find the nearest baseball diamond.
Thank you for reading Warren Maxwell’s book review of Building a Team (Baseball Buddies) by Aaron Derr! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.