Baseball Fiction To Get You Ready For Opening Day
Hey everyone! We survived the winter! I know we had a little bit of a dusting earlier in the week, but it's all over now! Winter has breathed its last breath, we've pushed the clocks forward by one hour, and the first day of spring just recently went by. And our favorite spring activity (and summer....aaaaaaaaaand fall for that matter) of losing yourself in an overabundance of baseball will begin in just under two weeks! Big thanks to Major League Baseball for not only being there for us, but also for providing us with three games as opposed to the usual one we get on Opening Night.
Now I don't want you guys to neglect your library cards just because the baseball season is about to be in full swing, so I've decided to give you guys a helping hand, and give you some baseball fiction titles to check out. Ordinarily we deal with the history of the game in these blog posts, but this time we're throwing a curveball here. Without further ado let's dive in!
The Natural by Bernard Malamud - The paragon of baseball fiction. If you can read only one fictional baseball story, this is the one. Most folks are aware of the classic 1984 Robert Redford film, but the screenplay was actually adapted from Malamud's novel. It tells the tale of Roy Hobbs, an up-and-coming baseball prodigy who is on his way to a tryout with the Chicago Cubs. He meets a female passenger on the train ride, who ends up shooting him in the stomach, seemingly destroying his hopes of becoming a big leaguer. Now nearly fifteen years later, an older Hobbs resurfaces under contract with the National League's New York Knights. Despite initial reservations about giving consistent playing time to an older player, manager Pop Fisher sees the talent Hobbs possesses, and thus makes his presence in the lineup a regularity. Hobbs rewards Pop's faith in him with supernaturally rotund production. As the novel continues to reveal more and more of Hobbs' shrouded past, the more and more intriguing this book becomes. The ghost of Eddie Waitkus would be proud.
Blockade Billy by Stephen King - This little novella is told from the viewpoint of a former third base coach for a former Major League team based in New Jersey called the Titans. The events that take place in the story have happened long ago in the past, and the coach is on his deathbed. When both the ballclub's starting and backup catchers go down with injuries right before the team is about to break camp and begin the season, the Titans call upon the mysterious William Blakely to take over the club's catching duties. While both the coaching staff and the fanbase know practically nothing about Blakely, his "Roy Hobbs" level of hitting and his growing status as a brick wall behind the plate endears him to everyone. However, when Billy begins to intentionally injure baserunners, and a couple of dead bodies start showing up, our narrator becomes suspicious of Billy, and wonders if he's the beloved figure everyone's making him out to be.
Calico Joe by John Grisham - While Grisham may be best known for his legal thrillers, he penned a baseball novel in 2012 for our enjoyment. This story is told from the viewpoint of Paul Tracey, the 11-year old son/Little Leaguer of New York Met pitcher Warren Tracey. Warren has had a so-so career, but his outings in 1973 clearly show his best days are way behind him. In addition, Warren's a sorry excuse for both a husband and a father, a drunk, and has a reputation for headhunting when on the mound. That season, the Chicago Cubs call up a young first base prospect by the name of Joe Castle (nicknamed "Calico Joe") who immediately starts his career off with a bang, notching 12 consecutive hits in the first 12 at-bats of his career (5 of which are of the long ball variety). His small town upbringing in Calico Rock, Arkansas make him a captivating figure to everyone trying to achieve the dream in 1973 America. When Castle's Cubs visit Warren Tracey's Mets at Shea Stadium in a four game set with major playoff implications for both ballclubs, the events that unfold during the ballgame change the lives of all parties involved (including little Paul) forever.
Young Adult Fiction
Game Seven by Paul Volponi - Pardon me while I put in this cheap plug for the New York Public Library's 2015 Best Books for Teens list. All right now that I got that out of the way, let's take a closer look at one of the books that occupies a spot on there, Paul Volponi's Game Seven. The narrator of this story is Julio Ramirez Jr., son of superstar pitcher, Julio Ramirez Sr. Years ago, Ramirez Sr. (then playing for the Cuban National team) defected from Cuba during a series of exhibition games played in the United States. From there, he ended up signing a multimillion dollar contract to pitch for the Miami Marlins. Ramirez Sr. lives up to that contract, as he leads his team (who play their home games in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood) to the World Series against the New York Yankees. Needless to say, Ramirez Sr. is heralded as a hero in Miami. Which is the exact opposite of how he's perceived now in Cuba. He's now regarded as a disloyal deserter, who left his family to fend for themselves. Julio Jr., his sister, and his mother have neither seen a dime or a word from their headman since his defection. This story focuses on Julio Jr., a talented ballplayer in his own right, as he struggles with whether to defect himself, and take his talents to the Land of Opportunity in order to cash in on them, or to remain in Cuba where his family struggles in poverty.
Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ronald Koertge - Meet Kevin Boland. He's his high school team's star player, girls love him, guys want to be him, he's got the world on yo-yo. That is, until he contracts mononucleosis. Sidelined from the diamond now with this illness, Kevin starts to dabble in poetry writing, at first as a means to cope with his temporary departure from the playing field. However, Kevin begins to like his poetry writing, and meets a girl in his grade who does too. As Kevin treks deeper and deeper into the poetic universe, he faces the fact that his friends in athletics may no longer want to embrace him as they once did. Juggling multiple interests, Kevin tries to find a healthy balance in his world as he deals with love, loss, and life in general.
Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi - Let's wrap it up with an off the wall type of recommendation, Mitsuru Adachi's Cross Game manga series. Adachi is best known for his coming-of-age baseball tales, and Cross Game is arguably his best known serialization stateside. Cross Game stars Ko Kitamura, 5th grade pitcher extraordinaire. Ko is very close to the Tsukishima family, in particular Wakaba (second daughter of four), who is his age. Though Wakaba is no baseball player (her sport of choice is swimming), she and Ko are very friendly to the point where everyone treats them as an item, though they never officially become one. When Wakaba tragically drowns trying to save another girl at a summer swimming camp, Ko and all who knew her mourn. Wakaba's closest sister Aoba (also an avid baseball player, and one year younger than both Wakaba and Ko) holds a grudge against Ko for always hogging Wakaba's time, and feels she didn't get to see her sister enough before her life ended due to her always being around Ko. The story follows Ko and Aoba's relationship with one another all throughout high school, as Ko and Aoba try to help their team reach the esteemed Koshien tournament finals, and honor Wakaba's memory as well.