Guidebook Gets Kids Back into Baseball

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Local Writer Charlie Vascellaro pens guide to the game and heads to Little League World Series of Baseball this weekend for book signing.

For 12 years, Baltimore-based sports writer Charlie Vascellaro moonlighted as a bartender at Grand Cru in Belvedere Square Market, where local illustrator Kevin O’Malley could often be found doodling and hanging out. They struck up a friendship, learned they shared a passion for baseball, and decided to pool their talents to produce a product that would help re-ignite the same spirit of the game in today’s youth. The result? At the Ballpark: A Fan’s Companion, published in August 2015.

Years ago, such a baseball guidebook wouldn’t have been necessary. Kids used to collect, trade, and cherish baseball cards. Memorize baseball statistics. Root for their favorite Major League team religiously. Vascellaro recalls his own love of baseball as a kid. “I grew up on Long Island, and there were lots of kids in the neighborhood. We played ball in the street: Whiffle ball, rubber ball, different variations. Whatever time I had to play ball I did,” he mused.

These days, not so much. Baseball, long considered America’s favorite pastime, is getting squeezed by the competition. Quick, action-packed games like football, basketball, lacrosse, and even video games have hurt young Americans’ love affair with baseball. Enter At the Ballpark: A Fan’s Companion.

The illustrated, how-to guide breaks down for school-aged readers the “thinking man’s game,” as baseball has long been called. The 64-page guide explains the complex game to young readers and offers interactive features, including space in the margins for taking notes or making observations. It even includes a pencil. But the guidebook’s creators took great pains to make sure it doesn’t feel too much like school work.

“I have regular [Orioles] season tickets in left field and Kevin and I would look for kids to hand the book to, then watch them from a distance. We’d see where they were getting hung up, or moving on too quickly. We tested it mainly on kids between the ages of 8 and 12,” said Vascellaro, quick to explain that he and O’Malley received input only from kids whose parents they didn’t know, so the responses would be unbiased. The appeal of the guidebook, which already has sold several hundred copies, will be really tested this weekend.

Vascellaro and O’Malley head to Williamsport, Pennsylvania today for a book signing at the mecca of youth baseball: The Little League World Series. The annual 10-day tournament, which ends Sunday, August 30, 2015, brings together youth baseball players ages 11 to 13 from the U.S. and abroad, including teams from Japan and Latin America. Thousands are expected for the tournament’s final games.

Ultimately, says Vascellaro, he and O’Malley would like to see the guidebook made available in major league ballparks. To feed that goal, they’ve launched a Facebook page, At the Ballpark, showing images of readers posing with the guidebook in various pro ball parks around the country. For now, At the Ballpark: A Fan’s Companion can be purchased for budding baseball fans here.




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