Outstanding. One of the best baseball novels written in years. Harbach is an incredibly gifted writer. Great characters, great story. It's easy to seeOutstanding. One of the best baseball novels written in years. Harbach is an incredibly gifted writer. Great characters, great story. It's easy to see why he got such a huge advance for this book....more
One of the best baseball novels written in recent years. Very underrated. Here's part of the review I wrote for Baseball America in May 2010:
Jason ThOne of the best baseball novels written in recent years. Very underrated. Here's part of the review I wrote for Baseball America in May 2010:
Jason Thibodeaux, the man at the center of Jeff Gillenkirk's debut novel "Home, Away," is a major league pitcher who is separated from his son Rafe for nearly six years. From the field he watches strangers sharing special times with their kids while his is a thousand miles away, shielded by a restraining order courtesy of his vindictive ex-wife Vicki and his own impulsiveness. When a teenage Rafe becomes too much for his mother to handle, he is thrust back into Jason's life, forcing the star pitcher to choose between his career and his son.
Less than a year removed from pitching in the World Series, Jason shocks the sports world by walking away from his $42 million contract. Still hurting from the poor relationship he had with his own father, whose job in the oil fields kept him away for most of Jason's childhood, he accepts the challenge of molding his son into a man.
Baseball, the thing that had driven the two apart for so long, becomes a bonding agent, as Jason helps Rafe learn the game. On a dusty ball field far from the spotlight the old southpaw finally realizes the sacrifice he made was as much for himself as for his son.
"Home, Away" works on all levels, whether viewed as a family story about baseball or a baseball story about family. Gillenkirk's original research on divorce and fatherhood pays off here with believable characters damaging and mending relationships. The hatred and anger spewed between Jason and his ex-wife is real, and often heart breaking. As is the hurt felt by Rafe, who was only given a slanted explanation of why his father walked out on him when he was eight.
The season recap portions slowed the momentum a little, as season recaps tend to do, but the sketches of the key players involved (Babe Ruth, John McGThe season recap portions slowed the momentum a little, as season recaps tend to do, but the sketches of the key players involved (Babe Ruth, John McGraw, Miller Huggins, Jacob Ruppert, Til Huston, etc.) were all well done, and things ended on a high note with the World Series chapters. All in all a solid account of a big year in Yankees history....more
I love Douglas Adams and have read a number of time-travel books and watched time-travel movies, so this one caught my eye (especially with the blurbI love Douglas Adams and have read a number of time-travel books and watched time-travel movies, so this one caught my eye (especially with the blurb on the back comparing it to Adams). It was nothing like I expected, and overall I was a bit disappointed by it. The writing was good for the most part, but the story just didn't do much for me. I literally kept falling asleep while reading it, and that rarely happens to me. I think my brain was trying to tell me something. I came very close to giving up on it and not finishing.
The strength of the book was the description of his relationship with his father, particularly when building their time machine. But I could have used a little less description and a lot more action. As to the claims on the cover and elsewhere that this book was "hilarious," I guess humor is subjective. I actually found it quite depressing on the whole, with a few mildly funny lines....more
Entertaining and witty, quick read. Not sure everything was completely realistic, but it was close enough. Having spent way too much time in CorporateEntertaining and witty, quick read. Not sure everything was completely realistic, but it was close enough. Having spent way too much time in Corporate America, I could certainly relate to much of what Tom Violet was going through....more
I've read all five of Tropper's novels and they have gotten progressively better. This was one of the best books I read last year. Great mix of humorI've read all five of Tropper's novels and they have gotten progressively better. This was one of the best books I read last year. Great mix of humor and realistic inner conflict. Looking forward to his next book....more
After enjoying Hornby's Slam, I decided to re-read this one. I'm bumping my grade up a notch from 3 stars to 4. It's still hard to really like any ofAfter enjoying Hornby's Slam, I decided to re-read this one. I'm bumping my grade up a notch from 3 stars to 4. It's still hard to really like any of these characters, but perhaps it wasn't really fair to factor their likeability so much into my original rating. I'm quite sure he wasn't going for likeable when he concocted these four hopeless, desperate losers.
It's probably also no easy task to weave four narrators together like Hornby did, giving a unique voice to each. Maureen is as different to Jess as one could make two suicidal women. Both are completely plausible as drawn. As are Martin and JJ, the easiest to identify with of the four.
I'm still not in love with the ending. A happy ending wouldn't work, given the storyline, but this one feels mildly flat. Then again I can't really think of another way to tie things up that would fit. Life for most people is a one-day-at-a-time proposition, especially for those who are on borrowed (or rather reclaimed) time. Still it's one of those endings where you wonder if they forgot the last couple of paragraphs, because the last line is just sort of a humdrum observation about the London Eye. Meh.
What works for me is Hornby's dialogue, both verbal and inside the heads of the characters as they take turns steering. Their observations are shrewd and often funny and keep the story moving despite a lack of physical action....more
It’s a clichéd ambition to pass out of this life doing what one loves: the fisherman with his fly rod, the golfer in the tee box, the baseball lifer oIt’s a clichéd ambition to pass out of this life doing what one loves: the fisherman with his fly rod, the golfer in the tee box, the baseball lifer on the diamond. Mike Coolbaugh—a survivor of 17 years in the bush leagues—met his end on a ball field in North Little Rock, Arkansas. His passion for baseball, however, provided scant consolation to those who knew and loved him—and even less to the man who hit the foul ball that dropped him stone dead in the first base coach’s box two years ago.
In Heart of the Game, S.L. Price does much more than tell the story of Coolbaugh’s death at the age of 35. He celebrates Coolbaugh’s life, which revolved around his family every bit as much as it did his long career in professional baseball. Price intertwines this with the story of Tino Sanchez, who lives with the undeserved guilt as the author of that deadly line drive.
Both men were baseball lifers, with Sanchez putting 11 years into the minor leagues before bowing out after the 2007 season. Their stories, in many ways, parallel those of hundreds of other young men who follow their dream from small town to small town, occasionally losing sight or hope of reaching the big leagues. Coolbaugh made a couple of brief stops in the majors, hit a couple of dingers. Sanchez never did. Quite possibly his playing career would have drawn to a close anyway after the ’07 season based on his .175 average in 57 at-bats at Double-A Tulsa. Had he hit .300 that year, it would have made the decision to walk away more difficult, but Sanchez’s passion for playing the game died on that Arkansas field when Coolbaugh hit the turf.
Coolbaugh’s playing career concluded the season before, after a frustrating and injury-plagued year at Triple-A Omaha. He didn’t get to make the call himself. It was made for him. When spring rolled around without a single contract offer, he stayed home with his expectant wife and two young sons, playing a new role as a full-time dad. When a rare midseason coaching opportunity arose at Tulsa, he jumped at the chance, returning to the Texas League, where he had spent parts of two seasons as a player. His older brother Scott, who played 13 years, was the hitting coach for the Frisco RoughRiders, and they looked forward to their first head-to-head meeting as coaches in early August.
They never made it to that matchup. On July 22, in his 18th game as a minor league coach, Mike Coolbaugh made a rookie mistake of watching the runner instead of the hitter. Sanchez’s liner caught him behind his left ear, just above the neck. He fell without even reaching up his hands. Though he wasn’t pronounced dead until later at the hospital, that was a mere formality. Coolbaugh’s life came to an end before the trainers rushed out of the dugouts.
As Price posits more than once, Coolbaugh’s death wouldn’t likely have been so universally mourned had he died in a car wreck. Maybe the Texas League wouldn’t have taken up a collection for his widow and kids. Maybe his sons wouldn’t have thrown out the first pitch at the Rockies’ first home playoff game that fall. And that would have been a shame, because the Coolbaugh we meet in Heart of the Game is an everyman underdog with a twist: He’s a better person than we are, but we like him anyway. He did things right, on and off the field. He wrote love notes to his wife and cherished his time with his children. He maximized his potential, even though he didn’t spend much time in the big leagues, hitting 258 minor league home runs and collecting nearly a thousand RBIs. And he deserves to have been immortalized in these pages.
Credit Price for having the courage to dive headlong into this story. He steps respectfully through the aftermath, eliciting yet-smoldering heartbreak from the families of both Coolbaugh and Sanchez. This isn’t the 5 O’Clock News camped out on the family’s doorstep. In fact, Coolbaugh’s widow Mandy shares such personal items as poems and letters written by her husband during their 11 years together. Someday, when her children are much older, she may even be proud for them to read this book.
Here they will see their father as they never got the chance in life. While it’s not as personal a story to the rest of us who never met Mike Coolbaugh, it’s a compelling read all the same. Highly recommended, and not just for baseball fans....more
I struggled with this one the first time I read it, but something drew me back to it and I read it a second time and loved it. It's slow going early oI struggled with this one the first time I read it, but something drew me back to it and I read it a second time and loved it. It's slow going early on, but there's something timeless about it that really holds up, especially given that it's one of, if not the, first modern spy novels ever written. Just a couple of regular guys who find themselves in the right place to make a difference. And how did Childers foresee the threat Germany would become to England? ...more
One of the most overrated books in recent history. The sabermetrics were fine. Billy Beane's ego wasn't, though it did add some entertainment value. HOne of the most overrated books in recent history. The sabermetrics were fine. Billy Beane's ego wasn't, though it did add some entertainment value. How's that 2002 draft working out? 29 other teams were so stupid for not drafting Jeremy Brown. Whatever....more
It wouldn't be appropriate for me to review my own book, but I'd like to add something here to help people decide if this is something they might be iIt wouldn't be appropriate for me to review my own book, but I'd like to add something here to help people decide if this is something they might be interested in, so I'll include a few paragraphs about the project from my Acknowledgements. I hope this is useful to potential readers:
I had the privilege to work for the Durham Bulls for three years when I was in college, back in the early 1990s. Minor league baseball was different then. The boom that has swept the nation, gentrifying small towns with miniature versions of major league stadiums, hadn’t yet occurred. Most teams were still owned by individuals instead of corporations, and life at the ballpark was certainly less formal than it is today, when many team employees look as though they just stepped away from their desk at an investment brokerage. Sure, the pay was lousy and the hours were long, but that was part of the bargain if you wanted to spend your days in a ballpark.
I set this story in old Durham Athletic Park, because to me it is the essence of what the minor leagues are all about. Several years ago, I stopped in to see the DAP on a visit to Durham and was saddened to find it in such a state of disrepair. Fortunately, over the past couple of years it has been fully refurbished and is once again regularly used for games, including one "heritage" contest each season by the Bulls.
In peopling The Greatest Show on Dirt, I borrowed some attributes from some of the larger than life characters I met while working for the Bulls and later while covering the minors for Baseball America. Rest assured, however, this is a work of fiction. While I strove to realistically reflect life of that era in the minor leagues, this is not a thinly disguised memoir....more