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Reading with the Reds

UC alumnus and former federal police officer pens children’s storybooks that tell the lively history of the first professional baseball team

By Dakota Wright
August ’13

Thousands of young fans who attend the Cincinnati Reds Aug. 11 game will take home a children’s book written by UC graduate Joel Altman.

The first 8,000 fans who are 14 and younger will receive a copy of “Gapper’s Grand Tour: A Voyage Through Great American Ball Park.”

The special giveaway is the second in a four-book series on the Reds by Altman, Ed ’03, who decided to use Gapper, the Reds kid-friendly mascot, to share some of the behind-the-scenes amenities of the Reds home field.

Altman never expected a 2011 meeting with the Reds media relations manager to lead to this. In fact, when he first showed up at the team’s front office, they didn’t even remember why he was there. 

“I thought he was looking at me like I was crazy,” says Altman, even after he explained the purpose of the meeting and pitched his idea for a Reds storybook. “I assumed that it probably wasn’t going to go anywhere.”

But the Reds media relations manager, Michael Anderson, A&S '95, understood what Altman was looking to do and thought it was a great idea. Anderson then introduced him to a key contact with the Reds.

Karen Forgus, the Reds vice president of business operations, was so excited by Altman’s pitch that she proposed a multi-book publishing plan within the first five minutes of being called into the meeting.

It was a surprising turn of events for Altman, a former FBI police officer and alum of UC’s School of Criminal Justice, who never intended to be an author.

As he witnessed the heroic efforts of police officers during 9/11, the Ohio State sophomore decided to transfer to UC and pursue a criminal justice degree. Following his father’s sudden unemployment, Altman returned to his hometown of Cincinnati to help out the family and, eventually, his country.

After graduating in 2003, Altman worked at the Hamilton County Justice Center in Cincinnati, relocating to Washington, D.C. just a year later to work for the FBI as the handler of an explosives-detecting dog named Kurt. Working with police canine inspired him to write a children’s book explaining the abilities of working dogs like Kurt. 

“Out of everything I got to do for the bureau, talking to kids out in the street about what I did as a police officer and what my dog does was my favorite thing,” says Altman. “We did lots of exciting stuff with the FBI; search warrants, running around town, traveling all over the country. But out of everything, that’s what I enjoyed the most, and that’s why I wanted to do the book.”

The book, “The Adventures of Hoover: The FBI Dog,” was much-loved by his coworkers’ families and local children — leaving Altman eager to pen a sequel.

An avid fan of the Reds since he was a toddler, Altman decided to contact them about publishing a book chronicling the team’s history for children, which resulted in “Mr. Redlegs and His Great Adventure,” the first in the series, which was given away at an August 2012 game. For Altman, it was a dream come true. He even got to toss out a first pitch and meet some of the players, who had copies tucked into their lockers. 

“I enjoy bringing the history of the team and memories I have of going to games with my grandparents when I was four years old to kids today,” says Altman, who has toddler of his own.

“I had a booth at Redsfest this past winter,” he says. “Some parents came up to me with their kids and were almost in tears. They said that the kids absolutely love the book, have to read it every night, and they want to thank me. That’s why I did it. It’s for the fans; to show how much I love the city and the team.”

Two additional books from Altman will be released over the next two years, featuring the remaining mascots — Rosie Red and Mr. Red — assuring that there will be plenty more kids loving their team even more.

As for Altman, he has left his career in law enforcement and is considering returning to school to pursue a career as a teacher. What better way for a Children’s book author to stay in touch with his readers. 

"After almost a decade with both the FBI and the Department of Defense, I am moving closer to home where I can focus on new and exciting opportunities.  I am going to write at least two more books for the Reds.  Next year's will be focused on Rosie Red and then Mr. Red in 2015.  With the All Star Game coming to Cincinnati it is a great opportunity for me to really highlight our city and the entire region and to make Reds fans proud of our city and the tri-state.”

Altman is also working on a book for a local nonprofit that focuses on giving hope to underpriviledged children, and he's even considering pursuing a Bearcats book.

Dakota Wright is a UC journalism student and writing intern with UC Magazine.