So, one day this past summer, I was once again looking for new or interesting picture books at the local Barnes & Noble. What I found was The Longest Season by Cal Ripken, Jr., and illustrated by Ron Mazellan. Not having been a follower of baseball back then (I was a senior in high school living overseas when the season started, and I was a college freshman back in the States when the season ended), I was not familiar with the beginning of the Baltimore Orioles' season that year. I quickly read the book in the store and decided it was a keeper - I like the message it teaches to children.
I guess I never realized that Cal Ripken, Jr. comes from a family of baseball players. In 1988, Cal would begin the season with his father, Senior, as his manager and his brother, Bill, as a teammate. "1988 was supposed to be a fun year." However, it didn't turn out that way. They lost their season opener, at home, to the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 12-0.
The next day, the team is still optimistic: there are still 161 games to be played. However, the Orioles lose to the Brewers again, 3-1. Next, the Orioles go on the road to play the Cleveland Indians. They lose again:
We all hate losing, every one of us. Especially Senior, who as manager feels most responsible. I'm not about to let my father down.
They drop the entire series to the Indians:
The worst day of the season. The Orioles lose again to the Indians, 7-2, but this loss hurts more than the others. After the game, Senior is fired as manager despite the fact that not one of these losses was his fault.
I've let my father down. We all did.
Yet it's not as though we haven't been trying. No one likes to lose, especially not me. Especially not when my father is the one who pays the price.
Now I'm angry. It is the only time in my career when I consider not being an Oriole.
The Orioles record stands at 0-12:
The season is only two weeks old, and already the dream has turned into a nightmare. But still, we go out there every game and give it our best.
The record is now 0-18:
The losing continues. Three more losses against Milwaukee and then three more against Kansas City. The entire country is now following the Orioles for all the wrong reasons. Each new loss makes national news, and the once-proud Orioles are the laughingstock of baseball.
Still more losses:
Twenty-one consecutive losses. The team has been on the road for ten straight days and we can't wait to get home, see our families and forget about losing.
But not yet. We have one more series to play on the road, against the Chicago White Sox. In the meantime, the Orioles have become a family of our own. When it feels like everyone is against you, it's good to have teammates.
Game 22. I hit a home run and score three runs. Our pitching is on target today.
Could it be?...
The streak is over!
I can't remember a better feeling win.
And the lesson I like so much from this book?
There is a lot I will remember about playing for the Orioles. The world championship in '83. Two MVP awards and being voted to play in nineteen All-Star Games. Over 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. And of course, the consecutive-games-played streak.
Yet the 0-21 losing streak would be the one thing I wouldn't mind forgetting, were it not for what I learned. Winning is easy on a person, but you learn more from losing. You learn to keep trying, each day a little harder than the day before. You learn how to be a better teammate, and how much you need one another to play well as a team. You even learn how to win.
The Orioles may have finished in last place in 1988, but the following year we started fresh and played together as a team the whole season. Even though we had the same team that lost twenty-one straight games the season before, we fought our way back to become winners. The 1989 season came down to the final games against the Toronto Blue Jays, with the winner taking the division title. We didn't win that series, but we fought hard - and finishing second sure beats finishing last.
I would highly recommend The Longest Season for any children's library (although it is specifically recommended for ages 7 to 11). It's message of perseverance when faced with adversity is one every child should hear, as well as the lesson that sometimes, you are going to lose. I also like Mazellan's illustrations - the focus and detail is on the primary subject of his painting, with the rest of the background painted with a kind of soft-focus lens.