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Good Reads: Take me out to the ball game

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By Diane Parfitt

I grew up a baseball fan outside Washington, D.C. Everybody in the D.C. area was a Washington Senators’ fan in those days. And of course, we all loved the movie “Damn Yankees.” Who wouldn’t love a story about a middle-aged guy who LOVED the Senators so much that he was willing to sell his soul to the devil to see his beloved team beat the Yankees? With the return of baseball season and our hometown Fayetteville Woodpeckers back at bat, what better way to get into the spirit of the most All-American sport than to read a few books? Here are some of the best stories, including several that were made into classic movies that we still love to watch.

  1. “INCREDIBLE WOMEN OF THE ALL-AMERICAN GIRLS PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL LEAGUE: WOMEN ATHLETES IN HISTORY, GIFT FOR TEENAGE GIRLS AND WOMEN”
    BY ANIKA ORROCK
    When the war started in 1941, and our young men were sent overseas, professional baseball was all but lost – until women came to the rescue and developed their own baseball league, the AAGPBL. Told by the players with heartwarming illustrations, author Anika Orrock shares their funny, charming, and amazing stories. These stories remind us that women can also play baseball – on teams with names like the Rockford Peaches and the Kalamazoo Lassies. This is perfect for teenage girls who want to see how their own love of sports can have a future, but also a fun book for adult readers, male and female. The endearing movie, “A League of Their Own,” was inspired by the AAGPBL.
  2. “WE ARE THE SHIP: THE STORY OF NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL”
    BY KADIR NELSON
    When this book was published, Kadir Nelson came to Fayetteville for a show at the Arts Council and did a book signing at City Center Gallery & Books. Nelson is first and foremost an artist, which is evident in this beautiful book with 50 original paintings. He can also tell a story! He shares the amazing history of baseball’s unsung heroes who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions and low pay to do what they loved – play ball. This award-winning book about the Negro League baseball is for all ages and every baseball fan will want to have this book in their library.
  3. “MAZ TO YAZ TO AMAZIN’ ”
    BY THAD MUMAU
    Fayetteville’s own Thad Mumau wrote this book about the majesty and magic of 1960s major league baseball. For those of you who learned about baseball watching the stars of that decade – Bill Mazeroski, Ted Williams, Roger Maris, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and so many others – this is one book you will want to have. As Mumau recaps each season and reviews the most significant events of the decade, he delves into the lives of players who made the 60s such an important time for baseball. And after you read this fact-filled book, you surely will want to read a copy of his new novel coming out in May, “The Baseball Player.”
  4. “THE NATURAL”
    BY BERNARD MALAMUD
    This 1952 novel is about baseball prodigy Roy Hobbs. On his way to the Major League tryouts, he is sidetracked by several bizarre events, including being shot by a woman who is a crazed baseball fan. His dreams seem to be lost until he returns to baseball 15 years later and becomes the team’s “Wonderboy.” Based on true events experienced by a Philadelphia Phillies’ player, the book is considered by many to be the best baseball book ever. Many of you may have seen the 1984 film adaptation with Robert Redford as Hobbs.
  5. “LOU GEHRIG: PRIDE OF THE YANKEES” BY PAUL GALLICO
    If we ever needed a hero, now is the time. A true hero was Lou Gehrig, who played baseball for the New York Yankees for 17 seasons, playing 2,130 consecutive games and earning the nickname “The Iron Horse.” His list of achievements is well-remembered by baseball fans – World Series champion, All-Star, American League Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown winner (batting average, home runs, and RBIs.) But most of us remember him for his strength and grace when he faced an insurmountable challenge off the field – the disease that ended his career and is now named for him. Paul Gallico’s book is the basis for the 1942 Academy Award-winning film “The Pride of the Yankees,” starring Gary Cooper. Who can forget the scene when Gehrig retires in 1939 and, while standing on the diamond in Yankee Stadium, calls himself “The luckiest man on the face of the Earth?” Read the book and watch this classic movie to see a real hero.
  6. “WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR” BY DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN What must it be like to grow up in the suburbs of New York City and be surrounded by baseball fans equally divided between the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees? Pulitzer Prize-winning historical writer Doris Kearns Goodwin takes a break from her presidential biographies to give baseball fans her personal recollections of baseball in the 1950s. Her father taught her the joy of baseball and to root for the Dodgers of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges. Her mother taught her a love of books and reading, and we are lucky to benefit from both of these loves in this tender book.
  7. “MONEYBALL: THE ART OF WINNING AN UNFAIR GAME” BY MICHAEL LEWIS Published in 2003, “Moneyball” is about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager, Billy Beane. Its focus is the team’s analytical, evidence-based use of metrics to assemble a competitive baseball team despite Oakland›s small budget. The Oakland A’s front office used these analytical gauges of player performance to field a team that could outsmart and better compete against richer competitors in Major League Baseball. A film based on Lewis› book, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, was released in 2011.
  8. “SHOELESS JOE” BY W.P. KINSELLA “Shoeless Joe” is a 1982 magic realist novel by Canadian author W. P. Kinsella which became better known due to its 1989 film adaptation, “Field of Dreams.” We all have heard the expression, “If you build it, they will come.” Ray, the main character in the book, builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield to honor his hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson. Along with eight other members of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox team, Jackson was banned from the game for life because of a betting scandal. Ray imagines that the players will come back to the cornfield to play again if he builds the diamond. This is a rich, nostalgic look at our most cherished national pastime and a remarkable story about love and family and the joy of finding your way home. As you can see, baseball novels are not just about baseball. They are about many aspects of the human experience – love, family, friendship, dreams, hate, anger and self-fulfillment. Baseball even provides a metaphor for the past year of COVID – you can have a bad inning, but you get another chance to try again! Diane Parfitt can be contacted at citycentergallerybooks@gmail.com.

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