The Real Magic of Sports (and Reading)

Last week, not for the first time, I found myself wondering, “What is the big deal about baseball?” (I was walking through downtown Minneapolis right before a Minnesota Twins game, dodging scalpers who wanted to sell me tickets and distracted drivers who prioritized a prime parking space over pedestrian safety; the thought was inevitable.)

There are many answers to that question, but the one I like best also happens to be at the heart of one of Millbrook Press’s new picture books. In Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball, readers of all ages (but especially the 2nd-5th grade range) discover that baseball doesn’t just have to be about winning and losing, or homers or RBIs or other acronyms that remain a mystery to me. There’s more to it than that. “Like what?” you ask, because you always humor me.

Creativity, I say. Innovation. Scientific experimentation. Hard work and determination and…well, to put it succinctly…mud.

Behind every great baseball game is a good dose of mud–as the story of Lena Blackburne reveals.

Back in the early 1900s, Lena wanted to be a famous baseball player. That didn’t work out. He just wasn’t very good. Not everybody is the next (or, in this case, the previous?) Miguel Cabrera. Yet Lena didn’t let his mediocrity sour him on the sport he loved. Instead he found a different way to contribute. He realized that nobody had figured out a good way to break in new baseballs. So he came up with the top-secret recipe for Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud, which is used on baseballs to this day.

Miracle Mud is the story of Lena and his groundbreaking invention. But more than that, it’s a wonderfully quirky example of how, if you care about something, you can find a way to make an impact. People working behind the scenes are just as important as the flashy headliners. So you can dream of growing up to be like Justin Verlander, or you can dream of growing up to be like Lena Blackburne. In sports, as in school and careers and life, there are many ways to shine.
And that, I like to think, is the big deal about baseball.