Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review of "Saving Babe Ruth"

When I was provided a copy of this book by the author, I was expecting a biography given the title.  Boy, was I wrong - and in a good way as this is a terrific novel on youth baseball.  Here is my review of "Saving Babe Ruth." 

“Saving Babe Ruth” by Tom Swyers

Fiction, baseball, youth sports, politics, humor, drama

June 23, 2014

335 pages

4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

When I was provided a copy of this book to review by the author, the title made me think it was about Babe Ruth – another biography of the Great Bambino.  Then I saw the cover and was intrigued with the gun being held instead of a baseball bat.  After that, I started reading and was hooked from the opening passage.

In the upstate New York town of Indigo Valley, a lawyer who has had trouble finding cases to handle is the volunteer commissioner of the town’s Babe Ruth youth baseball league. David Thompson takes good care of his field and wants to ensure that kids of all abilities to wish to play baseball have a chance to do so in his league.  

However, the best players are drawn away from Babe Ruth baseball and are instead playing for the Elite Travel Baseball League, lured by the possibility of making the school baseball team, earning a college scholarship and possibly even becoming a professional ball player. It creates a conflict for not only the players and which league(s) they should play for, but also for use of the Babe Ruth league field. This conflict between the adults grows more bitter as the town board, school officials and parents of the players grow increasingly hostile toward each other for what they believe “is best for the kids.”

This is the setting and storyline of Tom Swyers debut novel about one town’s battle between the long established Babe Ruth league open to all young ballplayers and an elite travel league that is a baseball machine, grabbing the best players with promises of stardom.  The story takes us from the field to the town board and all of the small town politics that entails.   We meet the Thompson family – David, his wife Annie who is getting worn down with all the baseball activity and their son Christy.  Christy, who was named for David’s favorite baseball player Christy Mathewson, is a player in the Babe Ruth league but wants to play for the school as well.  All of these characters are easy to follow and cheer for during this story.

The story is also filled with drama and humor as the conflict grows and new revelations about just how deep some of the adults go to ensure that the travel league gets the best of everything are introduced.  Some of them are seemingly impossible to conceive.  Through these, Swyers does a terrific job of illustrating the darker side of youth sports today, showing how far some adults will go to get their way in a children’s game.

The writing style makes the book easy to read and the reader will be drawn into the story.  There is plenty of baseball as well, and these scenes are well written and describe a youth baseball game with very realistic detail.   Everything that one can recall about a ball game in town, whether player or spectator, from the cinder block dugouts to the concession stand, is included in these sections.  As for the ending, it is one that the reader will thoroughly enjoy as much as the rest of the story.

For baseball fans, this is a great book for recalling those days when playing or watching children play organized baseball.  For readers who like a good drama with characters you can easily cheer for or despise, this book will deliver.  This is a terrific first novel for this author and should be put on your must-read list.

I wish to thank Mr. Swyers for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.  

Did I skim?

Were the characters realistic? 
Mostly yes.  David and his family were for the most part, although I thought David was a bit of an eccentric with the Civil War references.  Some of the other characters, especially the main antagonist Rob Barkus and the school principal Mr. Conway seemed a little too far-fetched.  I mean, really, an agent representing a superstar NFL running back can double as a school principal?  It was a nice touch to the story, but for a character it felt like overkill for what the author was trying to illustrate.

Pace of the story:

Do I recommend?  
Yes.  Baseball fans will enjoy this tale about the best and worst of youth baseball, as well as readers who like a good drama with a dash of humor.

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