For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘baseball

Dan Gutman, Ted & Me (Baseball Card Adventures), HarperCollins, 2012, 208 pp.

Ted & meMy son just celebrated his seventh birthday. He is an avid reader (and consequently an advanced one). He loves history, but he is obsessed with sports. For sports, he has devoured whatever he can find by Matt Christopher, Ronde & Tiki Barber, Jake Maddox–along with countless non-fiction accounts of Superbowls, team propaganda and history. For history, he read all the Magic Tree House volumes last year, and regularly checks out biographies and fact books about presidents.

Enter Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventures series. It’s like he wrote it just for my son. These books are about Joe Stoshack, a boy who can travel through time. When he touches a baseball card, he is transported back to that player’s era, and returns home via an unopened pack of new cards. Joe is even from Louisville, where we live. The series includes encounters with Honus Wagner, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ray Chapman, Abner Doubleday, Satchel Page, and more. My son couldn’t stop talking about the stories. As he described the way that they didn’t just talk about famous events in baseball history, but in American history, I grew more and more curious. When he brought home Ted & Me, this Red Sox fan couldn’t resist. Let me tell you, this was a great book for kids, and an enjoyable read for adults too.

Joe is asked by the FBI to go back to meet Ted Williams, and to get him to warn the president about Pearl Harbor. The first time around, they give him the wrong card and he ends up with Ted in Korea, as his plane is going down. When he gets back to 1941, Joe finds Ted at the end of the season, debating whether to play out the last few games and risk losing his .400 batting average. When the season is over and Ted’s legacy is made, they go together to Washington, DC, where they stumble into an isolationist anti-war protest led by Charles Lindbergh.

I was surprised and impressed by the rich complexity Gutman offered in the telling of history. Like a true historian, Gutman presented 1941 as a year full of conflict and uncertainty–rather than a time when war (and victory in war) seem inevitable. In the same way, Gutman’s portrayal of Ted Williams also moves beyond caricature. Gutman’s Williams uses plenty of salty language (how could any reasonable portrayal not?), but replaced everywhere with the “#$%&!” trope to keep it G-rated. Williams is tough and gruff, but engages in private kindnesses. He is brave and dedicated to the craft of hitting in every way.

I can’t say enough good things about this whole series. While this the only one I’ve read all the way through, I’ve skimmed the others and might read them if they weren’t always in use by my son. The books are aimed at baseball fans ages 9-12, so my son probably missed some of the subtlety. Although it was a stretch for his reading level, he was eager to push through because he loved the stories so much. These are books he will likely read again in a few years and reach a new and deeper understanding. If there is a young baseball fan in your life, Dan Gutman’s books will make them fall in love with reading.

Calico Joe by John Grisham, Doubleday, 2012, 198 pp.

calico joeI needed something quick and light and distracting to read on New Year’s Day, and my parents had made this as a gift to me for Christmas. It was the perfect fit.

Calico Joe is a story about baseball, about fathers and sons, about sin and forgiveness, about tragedy and overcoming. The narrator is the adult Paul Tracey. His father is Warren Tracey, a former professional baseball player and a nasty jerk. Joe Castle was a rookie phenom in the summer of 1973, and adored by an eleven-year-old Paul Tracey. His short career ended after he was hit in the head by a fastball thrown by Warren Tracey. The pitch left him seriously disabled, and many suspect it was intentional. Only Paul and Warren know the truth.

Calico Joe is about what happens 30 years later, when Warren is dying and Paul tries to somehow forge healing for his own relationship with his estranged father, his childhood hero Calico Joe, and the past they all share.

It’s as simple as that–a good story, told well. Just the thing for a holiday treat.

Tuesday night, ESPN is airing a 30 for 30 episode called Four Days in October, about the 2004 American League Championship Series between my beloved Boston Red Sox and the Evil Empire of the New York Yankees. I lived in Boston at the time, and my memories of those four days are so vivid that they still brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face, simultaneously. This is my personal recollection of that amazing series.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

 

Walter Brueggemann

 

I was debating what to do with my evening. Should I stay home and watch the game, or head out to see one of my favorite biblical scholars, Walter Brueggemann, in person for the first time? The Sox were down by three games, and no team had ever gone on to win the series from a 0-3 deficit. So far in the series, the Yankees had been embarrassing them every night.

I consulted with another baseball and Brueggemann fan, my friend P. We decided to go to the lecture rather than risk staying home for another demoralizing defeat. We took turns going out to the car for updates on the score, and shook our heads with resignation. Overhearing us talking about the game at the end of the evening, Dr. Brueggemann (an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan) approached us to talk baseball. This eminent scholar proceeded to smile and ask, “Did you know the Red Sox are in the Bible?” He then pointed us to Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” P. and I agreed this was funny, but it felt cruel on such a devastating night. We parted from Brueggemann and from each other with the game on our car radios, sadly waving goodbye to each other and to the season. “Maybe next year,” we said.

 

Dave Roberts steals second base in the bottom of the 9th inning, Game 4

 

I got home just in time to see Dave Roberts steal second base.  I honestly didn’t believe it. I saw it happen, I saw them tie it up in the bottom of the 9th to keep the season alive, but I didn’t really believe it. I stayed awake anyway, just waiting for the end to come. Big Papi’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th gave us something to celebrate, and it gave us our dignity back. At least we didn’t let the Yankees sweep us. It did not yet give me hope for a comeback sweep and the breaking of the curse.

Monday, October 18, 2004

 

The Green Briar, Brighton, MA

 

P. and I made plans to meet at the Green Briar, an Irish pub in Brighton Center that held a traditional Seisún every Monday night. We always enjoyed the music, and planned to drink our Red Sox sorrows away at the bar. It was crowded, and people were expecting the game to end so they could watch Monday Night Football. But the game just wouldn’t end. With every batter at the plate past the ninth inning, the tension grew. P and I got up to walk around every inning or so, just to break the tension and calm our beating hearts. Thank goodness for the music. The Seisun was in a separate room, and we would go there to listen for a few minutes just to try to keep from having a panic attack. There was a TV in the Seisun room too, though—and every one of the 20-30 musicians had an eye on the screen, even as they played on and on with one Irish favorite after another. My most vivid memory of that evening was standing the back of the room, watching every eye on the Sox game on TV, hearing them call out tune after tune and playing without ever missing a beat or a pitch.

 

Seisun at the Green Briar. Just imagine the game on the TV.

 

It was tense, and intense, and it felt like that game would never end. When Big Papi came through again in the bottom of the 14th, the bar went mad–and the musicians broke into a wildly gleeful jig. Everyone got up and danced together, like a scene out of a movie. P and I both cried tears of joy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reality starts to set in. We had forced a Game 6, which had only happened twice before in all of baseball history, but no team had ever emerged a victor to force Game 7. The team had to travel back to Yankee Stadium, and say goodbye to the charm and magic of Fenway. The journey ahead looked arduous, but we still felt faithful and hopeful.

Curt Schilling stepped onto the mound despite his recent surgery to repair (again) a torn tendon in his ankle. We believed this to be an act of great courage and leadership. As fans, we were exhausted from the previous two late nights of tension. We couldn’t imagine the exhaustion felt by the team itself. Game 6 only added to the pressure.  When the sutures began to open and we saw the now-famous bloody sock, we sucked in our breath and stood amazed at his endurance and sacrifice.  On that night, we knew for certain that they wanted to win as badly as we did, and they were willing to give everything they had to do it. And we loved them for it.

 

The Bloody Sock

 

The Yankees tried to make a comeback in the last innings. We foresaw our defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory, but they did not prevail. We lived another day, bleeding, exhausted, teary-eyed, bleary-eyed, and hopeful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The game started late that night, which gave us all a long time to think about everything. Too much time to think. Tried and true Red Sox fans remained hopeful, but reserved. It had been 86 years since the last World Series victory. My grandfather was born in 1918, and died in 2003. He lived 85 years as a Red Sox fan, without ever seeing his team win the championship. To be a Red Sox fan is to know heartbreak, to get your hopes high only to have them dashed at the last minute. Bret Boone in 2003, Bill Buckner in 1986, Bucky Dent in 1978—and those are just the ones in my lifetime.  This is our history. “It would be just like the Sox,” I said to P., “to make this miraculous run only to break our hearts in spectacular fashion tonight.”

But in the end, the game was uneventful. Other than the unusual relief pitching of Pedro Martinez, there was nothing remarkable about the game, just great hitting by Ortiz, Damon and Bellhorn. When the Yankees scored two runs in the 7th, we thought that might be the beginning of the end, but the Sox came right back. The Sox blew out the Yankees 10-3, and it only took them nine innings to do it. It was nothing extraordinary, except that it propelled Boston to its first World Series since 1986, and eventually on to victory.

 

Celebrating the Victory after Game 7

 

Unlike the previous three games, although the tension was still there, it was diminished. While the celebration on the field and in the bar was still ecstatic, there was also stunned disbelief. We kept looking around at each other, silently asking, “Did this really happen? Did we really just come back from three games back to beat the Yankees? Are we really in the World Series? Do you think this might be the year? Can we break the curse?” I suspect many fans did what I did—awoke the next morning to check the paper, turn on the TV or radio, to make sure the whole thing wasn’t just a dream.

But it wasn’t just a dream. It was a dream come true. Those 2004 Red Sox went on to win the World Series in a four-game sweep of Dr. Brueggemann’s St. Louis Cardinals. At long last, the curse was broken and we were saved. The World Series was great, the games enjoyable, the celebrations abundant—but I don’t remember much about the details. It’s those four days in October that I’ll remember most—the stolen base, the walk-off home run, the 14 innings of tension and Irish music, the bloody sock. If I live 86 more years, I doubt I’ll live to see another sporting event like it. I still can’t help smiling and crying tears of joy every time I think about it.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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