Sure, I thought when I agreed to do this review, how hard can it be to review a kid's book about baseball? Besides, John Ritter's Choosing Up Sides got a lot of notice and major awards last year. Maybe he's the new Matt Christopher. But as I read Over the Wall, I knew Ritter had a bigger game plan than just a sports story. Thirteen-year-old Tyler Waltern is in New York visiting his cousins for the summer. His dad's been depressed and withdrawn since accidentally running over Tyler's sister about ten years earlier, and Tyler welcomes the chance to get away. He and his cousin Louie play summer league baseball, and Tyler is sure he is “God's gift to baseball.” He is truly outstanding at the sport, except for one flaw his explosive temper. Fortunately, Tyler has a coach who is concerned about the total development of the young player rather than just his athletic skill. When Coach Trioli witnesses Tyler's temper, he gives the young man more than straight talk. They visit the scene of the violent Vietnam anti-war protests on Wall Street in the 1960s, and Coach describes the death of a close friend in those protests. “Lots of ways to solve a problem. But fighting's the worst. It's the easiest. It takes the least courage.” Tyler, partly because of his intense desire to be on the All-Star team, takes the first steps toward control.
He advances further toward maturity when his aunt takes him and his cousins to Washington to see the sights, notably the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall where their grandfather's name is inscribed. In the aftermath Tyler hears about his own father's opposition to the war, and he begins the struggle most of us face from time to time about the morality and methodology of winning whether it's in war or baseball. Even putting up a monument to the dead can bring trouble, as Tyler and his cousin Breena (a semi-romantic interest) discover near the end of the story. But Tyler has learned that “when I'm less afraid, I'm less angry. Weirdest thing!” Ritter, who lives in San Diego, has filled the book with well-researched background about baseball, the cities of New York and Washington, and American response to Vietnam not to mention a double entendre for Over the Wall. Only in a couple of instances does it bog the storyline. He knows his baseball lingo for sure. He's written at least a three-base hit for junior-high kids, their parents, and at least one grandmother.