08/18/12 11:44 AM ET
Author brings Reds' history to life in storybook
Frst 8,000 kids 14 and younger at GABP on Sunday will receive copy
By Meggie Zahneis / MLB.com
The team has collaborated with author Joel Altman to bring young fans a children's book: "Mr. Redlegs and his Great Adventure."
The book will be given to the first 8,000 kids 14 and younger. Gates will open at 11:40 a.m. ET or the 1:10 ballgame.
In the book, fans will follow the mustachioed mascot as he travels through Reds history, with the help of a magical hat from the Reds Hall of Fame Kids Clubhouse.
Mr. Redlegs' stops along the way include Union Grounds in 1869, the Reds' 1919 World Series victory, Major League Baseball's first night game at Crosley Field in 1935, Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters in 1938, the 1940 World Series, Joe Nuxhall's 1944 debut at 15, and the Big Red Machine era.
Altman, a longtime Reds fan born and raised in Cincinnati, was inspired to pen "Mr. Redlegs and his Great Adventure" out of appreciation for his hometown, which he called a "special community".
The Washington, D.C., resident previously served as a federal police officer with the FBI as the handler of the explosives-detecting dog Kurt. That's when he got the idea for his first book.
"I would be out and about around the FBI headquarters, and I would meet a lot of tourists, a lot of civic groups. School children would come by -- and that was my favorite thing to do, it was to talk to them," Altman said.
Altman decided to write "The Adventures of Hoover the FBI Dog" to teach those children about the many abilities of working canines.
And in November 2011, Altman met with the Reds to propose plans for "Mr. Redlegs and his Great Adventure."
Although she'd been approached with various book ideas in the past, Reds senior vice president of business operations Karen Forgus was immediately impressed with Altman's knowledge and enthusiasm.
"Joel came here, and when I met with him eye to eye, I knew that he got the Reds," Forgus recalled. "He loves this city. He's from here. The Reds were part of his fabric. He was so credible, so passionate, and he actually went ahead and bought the rights. He was just going to self-publish a couple [of books] for himself. He came to us to get permission, even though he didn't need it
Altman admits that writing the book wasn't easy.
"There were a lot of things that we had to cut back, because there is so much history over the 140-plus years of the team. A lot of players don't get mentioned that probably should, but we finally whittled it down after several months of edits and speaking with the Reds," Altman explained.
Little did Altman know that Forgus had big plans for him and his idea.
"I really wanted to get this book into the hands of families," Forgus said.
She's doing just that, and not only through Sunday's giveaway.
For one, the team has asked Altman to author three more Reds books, one featuring each of the remaining Reds mascots: Gapper, Rosie Redlegs, and Mr. Red.
They'll come out in the next three summers, with the Gapper installment slated for publication next summer.
"Gapper is going to come to Great American Ball Park and he's going to go behind the scenes at the ballpark, learning about how the ballpark functions and how to get ready for a game. At the end of the book, he will come out on the field for the big game," Altman revealed.
"A lot of fans don't realize about all of the things that go on behind the scenes at a ballgame. You don't really know how many people work behind the scenes to make it happen. I think it's something that kids would appreciate, and I think the parents would like to tell the children it's not just about coming to the ballpark and watching the game."
Forgus also mentioned the Reds' plans to build a kids' reading zone based on the books.
Altman said he still can't believe the series of events that have transpired in just a few short months. That, Altman said, is why his advice for aspiring writers is so important.
"Work hard, follow your heart," Altman said. "Keep at it until you get it right. I never imagined in my life that I would be sitting here working on a children's book with the Cincinnati Reds.
"I've been running around the city all week doing different events about the book, and I still can't believe it. I can't thank the Reds enough."
The Reds can't thank Altman enough, either.
"I firmly know that in 2025, there will be someone in this ballpark who somehow got this book when they were a kid," Forgus said.
And that's how Altman and the Reds plan to use words on a page to draw in an entire generation of baseball fans.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.