Tag Archives: baseball

The Game of Life

The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)

The Pitcher (nook book)

Everyone has a dream. Ricky’s is to pitch for the baseball team of the high school that he’ll be attending in the coming year. The Hispanic youth has a great fastball but no control, so the dream appears unlikely to come true. But then he meets The Pitcher, a former major league baseball player who pitched his team to victory in the World Series. The Pitcher is not only gruff, he’s in mourning for his late wife and wants nothing to do with the world.

William Hazelgrove has fashioned a near classic baseball story with a few unexpected elements. Because Ricky is Mexican-American in a predominantly white and prosperous community, he faces discrimination based on his ethnicity and poverty. He’s willing to do almost anything to prove that his athletic skills are good enough, knowing full well that life generally gives you only one shot at success. Can he somehow convince The Pitcher to be his coach and mentor?

This novel is completely unlike Hazelgrove’s previous book, Rocket Man, but it’s engaging and uplifting. It would be a perfect story for a young athlete-to-be who needs inspiration and encouragement. Ricky demonstrates that grit and determination are essential qualities for dreamers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

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The Pitcher 2

A review of The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove.

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I Am… I Said

One Last Strike: 50 Years in Baseball, 10 and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season by Tony La Russa (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 432 pages)

Tony La Russa’s One Last Strike chronicles his final season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals — a season in which the team came back from a large deficit, overcoming injuries and other adversity, to make the playoffs as a wild card team and eventually win the World Series.

Cardinals fans will likely enjoy the book a great deal, and some baseball fans at large might find the book interesting, but other baseball fans, sports fans, or general readers may not be so keen on it.

La Russa’s writing is as icy as his personality, and although he does not come across as stoic as one might have expected, the writing does not require the reader to make any connection to the quest or comeback of the team or the swan song of one of baseball’s most successful managers, or the players who played for him.

One Last Strike (close up)

La Russa had a chance to perhaps sway some in the middle who are neither lovers nor haters of his career and methods, but he really doesn’t do anything to engage anybody who already didn’t either a) like the Cardinals, or b) like him prior to the unlikely championship season.

Putting aside some minor irritants such as the continuous referrals to Cris Carpenter and Dave Duncan as Carp and Dunc (I mean, if you are on a team and that’s what they go by, I guess that’s what you call them), the writing seems to truly mirror the way the author’s mind processes the world.

If La Russa is the genius who all but invented the game, then it would seem that this final goodbye might include a bit more of the baseball decisions and technicalities that were part of his final run. Since the book doesn’t go there, it would seem appropriate to focus on the relationships of players, managers, and families that comprised this winning club. La Russa’s attempt at this is to convince us that this is so — that he and Dunc are tight; Carp is a big game pitcher; he sticks up for his players; he cares about them, the local organization, and the game, etc. Less telling and more showing would go a long way to help the reader who didn’t already follow this team be drawn into the storyline and the characters who made it happen.

La Russa’s attempt to explain how he is the sole arbiter of which hitters deserve to get thrown in a baseball game and which ones don’t, only reinforces that he is the “Omniscient” manager — it does not convince anyone that he has the scoop on proper baseball protocol. His telling of why he chose to start certain pitchers leading up to an in the World Series is much more enlightening. His admission of a mistake in a big game is humanizing and honest. But on the whole, the book is just there. It doesn’t move anybody in any direction unless they just happen to want to enjoy and relive the unique and fine 2011 World Series.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was purchased for the reviewer. Dave Moyer is an educator, a musician and the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and Bob Dylan.

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Old Friends

“How terribly strange to be 70… Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” Paul Simon (“Old Friends”)

The Last Perfect Summer: A Novel by Ed Prence (Windy City Publishers, $12.99, 166 pages)

Then I paused for a minute. “Harry,” I said finally, “do you remember who you were?” “I was a baseball player?”

That passage right there from page 36 of Ed Prence’s sparse 166-page novel The Last Perfect Summer is the essence of the story.

This book is for anybody who still remembers what the term “ghost runner” means. It for those who remember “fastpitch” against the wall, overhand lob with a chain-link home run fence, and whiffle ball batting your favorite team’s line up from both sides of the plate. It is for those who’ve played it as well as those who love it.

In the story, Ted Tresh visits former Little League teammate Harry Kirkland in a care facility in which Harry is essentially condemned to die. Having lived for over a decade with other patients in similar but varying states of need and/or dementia, he’s had fewer than a handful of visitors. Harry lives in his own world of despair and confusion. When childhood friend Ted shows up for an extended visit, memories of the grand old game rekindle a semblance of life in the former cocksure Little League superstar.

Last Perfect Summer

As Ted reminisces with Harry about the good times from their banner Little League season, he detects sparks of humanity within Harry’s tortured being. Ted enjoys the afternoon, and, believing he is doing some good, stays for an extended period of time. In the end, Ted leaves the once-hopeful encounter disillusioned, and, when Harry’s fate is sealed years later, Ted legitimately cannot attend the funeral. Based on how this passage is written, while distressed on the one hand, it is likely that, deep down, Ted would not, or could have not have attended even if he were able.

The structure of the book alternates episodes from the story of their childhood and championship run and Ted and Harry’s visit. The relationship between the two characters is not only central to the story but the strength of the book. While the specific tales that bind them together are necessary, there might be a better way to get at them than alternating which disrupts the flow of the most powerful aspects of the tale. There are highlights in which certain points are made to great effect, but this is not consistently true.

When I was a kid, I visited family friend and former major leaguer and minor league home run king Joe Hauser periodically to keep him company and pass some time. Several times a year I heard the stories about Walter Johnson’s fastball and how much of a “sunuvabitch” Ty Cobb was. “Unser Choe” (Our Joe) was a local hero. He told endless stories, squinting at us through his pale blue eyes while chomping on his cigar. He came over on Christmas Day, always dapper with suit and tie and his remaining hair combed perfectly. Nobody parked near him in the retirement home after his 80th birthday passed or on our entire street in front of our house on Christmas Day. It wasn’t so easy for him to navigate the old Buick anymore, you know. And the tears over his departed wife came easily. Gradually, Joe drifted off into his own world and, then, he left us.

The Last Perfect Summer may not be a great “book,” but it’s a darn good story. Give me a good story any day. Rekindle a memory any time. Where would we be without either? Remember while you can.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the author. Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

The Last Perfect Summer is available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download.

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Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)

One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and A Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard (Hyperion, $24.95, 254 pages)

“He loved us boys…  He loved us, and we loved him – and we still do.”   Steve Shartzer on Macon high’s former baseball coach Lynn Sweet

One Shot at Forever proves that Bad News Bears stories do happen in real life.   This is the tale of the 1971 high school baseball team from the rust belt town of Macon, Illinois.   The Macon team represented the smallest high school to ever qualify for the Illinois state championship playoff, and they did it not once, but two years in a row.   The talented team with the mismatched uniforms and an unconventional coach (he was said to look like a hung-over version of Frank Zappa) was headed to Peoria in 1970, before being disqualified on a strange technicality.   It looked like the underdog’s day was over, until the slight, long-haired players very improbably made another championship run in ’71.

The boys from Macon adopted Jesus Christ Superstar as their theme song, and they made it all the way to the state championship final game.   Did they win or lose the big game?   You’ll need to read One Shot to find out.

Chris Ballard has produced a great, small but big, book about life’s lessons and the value of competition.   This one’s especially recommended for younger readers whose wins, losses and draws are still ahead of them.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A beautiful and unforgettable book.”   Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and A Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard.

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Shine On

The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris by Mark Kurlansky (Riverhead Trade, $16.00, 352 pages)

The Eastern Stars, subtitled How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris, by Mark Kurlansky, chronicles the evolution of baseball in this town, the island in general, and – in some cases – the surrounding Caribbean islands.

At its conclusion, the book has a listing of the first 79 players from San Pedro de Macoris that made it into the U.S./Canadian major leagues.   Many readers will likely assume this book has more baseball content and less history, and from the middle toward the end, baseball plays a more prominent role in the story.   The beginning of the book is a long history lesson, which may prove to be quite frustrating for some readers.

The most interesting parts of the book are the tales of how the local men who did succeed in playing major league baseball viewed their hometown.   The decisions they made during and after their careers relating to how they supported the needs of their families and brethren had outcomes ranging from remarkable generosity to outright dismissal.

Extreme poverty is the one common denominator affecting all.   The subjects of steroids, scouts, and how MLB organizations handled their affairs in Latin America also permeate throughout.

The book dances between trying to satisfy the history buffs and the baseball fans and, thus, falls short in both areas.   However, it does add up to a satisfying story, especially after it manages to leave the ground.   Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Mark Kurlansky is also the author of the nonfiction books Cod and Salt. 

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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