Lenny Norbeck is a die-hard baseball lover. Unfortunately, he's no player himself (according to him, he's "the worst there ever was.") But he'd make a heck of an announcer. He gets a lot of practice sitting with his best friends, Mike and Other Mike, watching Phillies games from their lawn couch—a sweet outdoor TV arrangement Mike's dad hooked them up with. Being a real announcer is his dream, and he gets his chance to prove himself when he enters an "Armchair Announcer" contest and wins. The prize: he gets to be the broadcaster, live, for one inning at a real Phillies game. The game goes very wrong, though. Before Lenny gets to do his inning, a young, promising pitcher fresh out of the minors literally drops dead on the mound. The official verdict is that he died of a heart attack, but Lenny has a hunch there's something more going on. So he and the Mikes set out to investigate. The suspects are many, and though the trio barks up the wrong tree a few times, they are always right on the heels of the real killer. . . .
Lenny is thrilled that he has won the Armchair Announcer contest and gets to meet the announcers for the Phillies and work at a game. He's not a good baseball player, but he's a great announcer and knows his baseball history-- for his audition tape, he and his friends Mike and Other Mike have dug up an obscure story about the worst pitcher ever, Blaze O'Farrell, who happens to still be living in their hometown. While at the game, the new and promising pitcher, R.J. Weathers, drops dead on the mound. Everyone assumes it was just a heart problem, but it looks fishy to Lenny and his friends, and they launch into an investigation. With the help of the local librarians niece, Maria (who is a huge baseball fan herself), the group looks into a variety of threats and manages to solve the mystery.
Berk has a couple of good young adult mysteries (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Josh Langan: Crime Scene Procrastinator), but I think he has really has a great voice for middle grade literature. Lenny is a hoot, and I loved that both of his friends were named Mike! They al get excited about things and go off half-prepared, and it is always funny. Maria is a great character-- a strong girl that Lenny has a little bit of a crush on. Side characters, like the announcers, the librarian, and the parents are all amusing and just quirky enough to be funny and not annoying. The mystery is a bit improbable, but has a nice twist, and working baseball into the story is great. I would love to see another book involving these characters. The cover is especially nice-- striking and won't date. Brilliant.