Title/Author:“The Pitcher” by William Hazelgrove
Genre/topics:Baseball, fiction, Young Adult (YA), family, politics, race
Published:July 1, 2013
Rating:5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:Winning the World Series is the dream of every baseball player, no matter what level, position or ability. So when you are a young man struggling with your pitching just before the high school team’s tryouts and you discover your neighbor was a pitcher who DID win a World Series, you want him to help you make the team, right?
That is the premise of The Pitcher, a coming-of-age book about Ricky, a young man being raised by his mom Maria. They are of Mexican heritage and that sometimes works against them in the mostly white Florida neighborhood where they reside. The single mom is very involved in her son’s baseball activities. She dons catching gear and works with him on his pitching and even coaches his team for a short spell. Despite all of Maria’s hard work, however, Ricky is still having trouble with his control and knows that he has a famous neighbor.
Jack Langford, aka “The Pitcher” to Ricky, won three games in the 1978 World Series for the Baltimore Orioles (yes, I know, that isn’t who won that year) and is now living mostly in his garage, watching baseball and drinking a lot of beer. Ricky doesn’t want to bother the man, but Maria pulls out all the stops to try to draw attention to the help him. The Pitcher reluctantly agrees and that starts a journey for the three of them that includes friendship, tough talk, rough spots, romance between the two adults and of course, baseball wins and losses. Just like the game, the paths the three characters take, both together and separately, lead in many different directions. However, just like the game, the object is still to reach home.
While the story grabs your attention and sucks you in so that you don’t want to escape, the characters that Mr. Hazelgrove introduces to the readers are so wonderfully crafted that one feels that these people have been in their neighborhood before. Maria in particular, the feisty woman who won’t let a rough past, sickness and a seemingly impossible path tell her that he son can’t pitch well enough to make the team. Ricky is the kid that we all know – seemingly shy and afraid to defend himself, but when the going gets tough, he shows what he can do. Then there is Langford – a very complex character who seems to change from nice guy to scumbag and back to a decent chap all within the span of a few pages.
The story is told from Ricky’s point of view and the language used by the youngster is authentic. Not only in the style and slang that Ricky uses, but it is also authentic to illustrate his Mexican background. Maria’s character also is an accurate portrayal of her heritage without falling into stereotypes.
Baseball fans will notice that there are both fictional and non-fictional baseball accounts. The earlier reference to the 1978 World Series is an example of a fictional one. There are accurate references to both Chicago teams for another example. Ricky’s favorite big league star is pitcher Carlos Zambrano for the Cubs, there is a passage about the infamous fan interference play in the Cubs-Marlins 2003 National League Championship Series and White Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks is referenced as well for his fastball that topped 101 miles per hour. This mix of fact and fiction is a nice touch – puts some historical context in the story, but keeps it as a true fictional account.
There is one section that hard core baseball fans will appreciate. Non-fans or even casual fans might be confused when Langford is teaching Ricky how to throw a changeup. The mechanics of how to hold the ball, the proper grip with the knuckles and how to push off the mound with the legs are described in great detail. It reads much like an instructional book on pitching.
The story is a good read for not only teenagers and their parents, but also for baseball fans and anyone who enjoys a good story of a young man who is coming of age. I placed this in the young adult genre, but it isn’t the “typical” YA story with the only romantic references being played out between older adults. All ages will enjoy this story. A reader doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to be whisked away to the ball fields in Florida and follow Ricky’s path.
I wish to thank Mr. Hazelgrove for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Did I skim?No – I made sure to devour every word of this story.
Did I feel connected to the characters?Yes. I especially related to Ricky’s anxiety when he took the mound during each game and the excitement as well as the nervousness that all players at that age feel when they are on the field. Doesn’t matter the level of play or the type of field – all players feel this on the field.
Pace of the story:Excellent – the baseball portions, the family issues and the final game all move along without slowing down, but at the correct pace so that it doesn’t seem rushed.
There are so many. The best one was covered in the review and that is the rich character development of Ricky, Maria and Langford. It is a book that runs the gamut of emotions, which is something I like because that keeps me involved in the story. Finally, no matter the topic – the politics of immigration, the medical conditions of characters, domestic issues and of course the baseball – the writing shows that Mr. Hazelgrove has done his research.
Negatives:There aren’t many, whether it was for the story, characters, editing, flow, accuracy of baseball history. The closest that could be considered a negative is that the characters do use foul language. These words are not spelled out in the book, but there is use of this, so for younger readers, discretion should be used before giving this book to them.
Do I recommend?Yes – for anyone, any age who simply enjoys a good book.
ebook (PDF on Nook)
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