Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baseball and Books

Yesterday was the final game of our daughter's high school softball career, so even though the team is 0-and-however-many on the season (we could use some work on the fundamentals...and a pitcher) we drove the seventy-five miles one way to watch our little darling stand in right field for two innings and bat once. (There's a "mercy" rule that allows the game to be called after three innings if the score is too one-sided.  Mercifully, it came into play!)  Basically, we had three hours in the car to watch a one hour game, but it allowed us plenty of reading time and Stephen King's new novella, Blockade Billy, seemed like the appropriate book.
Even the most diehard baseball fans don't know the true story of William "Blockade Billy" Blakely. He may have been the greatest player the game has ever seen, but today no one remembers his name. He was the first -- and only -- player to have his existence completely removed from the record books. Even his team is long forgotten, barely a footnote in the game's history.  Every effort was made to erase any evidence that William Blakely played professional baseball, and with good reason. Blockade Billy had a secret darker than any pill or injection that might cause a scandal in sports today. His secret was much, much worse. (synopsis from book jacket)
On Barnes and Noble's website, Mr. King is quoted as saying, "I love old-school baseball,and I also love the way people who've spent a lifetime in the game talk about the game. I tried to combine those things in a story of suspense." And he did so very successfully.  This is the baseball of Field of Dreams:

"Man, I did love this game. I'd have played for food money. It was the game... The sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?...It was the crowd, rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I'd play for nothing!" (Shoeless Joe Jackson)
And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces...It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again. (Terrance Mann)
That's what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases - stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. (Doc Graham)

The book is only about eighty pages long (excluding illustrations) and the first sixty or so are classic baseball.  The expected Stephen King twist doesn't appear until the end, but you don't care.  In those few pages, we were transported to the world of baseball in 1957.  The writing is so good that even a marginal baseball fan like me - I love the game, but don't know a lot of the details - was absorbed in the story.  The story is told from the perspective of third-base coach "Granny" Grantham - now living in a nursing home and recounting the tale of Blockade Billy to Stephen King - so it definitely captured the authentic lingo of the game and the time.  Some of the idioms were confusing to me, but Dave jumped in with definitions when needed. 

The twist, when it finally arrives, is not totally surprising - there were a couple clues along the way if you were paying close attention - but it's just "King-ish" enough to make for a satisfying curveball.  This is another example of Mr. King's extreme talent for writing.  We both gave this story an A+. 

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