This is the first of a handful of posts I’ll be making about books that you might call markers on my journey as a reader and in my quest to become a writer. I hope you enjoy this, and that you’ll chime in with any stories that fit this bill for you!
When I was a kid, I loved baseball. Loved with a capital LOVED. My brother and I collected tens of thousands of cards, knew stats forward and backward, played baseball for years, watched it on TV all the time, went to what seemed like over a dozen A’s games a year. I was even one of those kids who would “go to sleep” while cradling my handheld radio under the covers so I could listen to famed announcer Bill King detail the latest exploits of everyone from The Bash Brothers to “Mr. Death Stare” himself (as we liked to call him)–Dave Stewart.
When I played the game, I loved stealing bases and flagging down everything that came to me in the outfield, but one thing I was never able to do was hit a home run. I’m not ashamed to admit that was a major reason why I liked Matt Christopher’s The Kid Who Only Hit Homers so much. I wished I could be this kid–whose name was Sylvester–even for one game. I watched in awe as his magical home runs soared over the fence, and I chided him for wasting his talent in the couple of scenes where he eats too much pie, gets sick, and either misses a game or just doesn’t perform well as a result. Yes, it’s a little silly that pie is his kryptonite, and I’m old enough to realize now that “George Baruth” is meant to be the ghostly embodiment of one George Herman “Babe” Ruth (see what they did with the name there?), but the whole thing hooked me at that age.
I hadn’t read any sports fiction up to that point, so the marriage of stories and sports was something I couldn’t resist, and Christopher wrote succinctly and crisply enough that I kept up with just about everything that was going on. That has to have been the case considering the dozens of times I read it.
Sports fiction isn’t something I’ve been able to engage in much throughout the years–W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (known to most of us as the exceptional film, Field of Dreams), C.W. Tooke’s Ballpark Blues, John Grisham’s Calico Joe, and Michael Chabon’s absurdist Summerland notwithstanding–mostly because very little of it gets my attention when I look at the book jacket for a novel. But this one was perfect for me in my adolescence, and is one of my most-read stories ever.