Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review of "Curveball"

Memoirs are probably the most common format of sports books that I review and while this one isn't all that different in format and content than others, it came across as the most honest story told by an athlete about himself.  Here is my review of baseball pitcher Barry Zito's memoir, "Curveball"


Title/Author:

“Curveball: My Story of Overcoming Ego, Finding My Purpose and Achieving True Success:” by Barry Zito



Tags:

Baseball, professional memoir, Athletics, Giants, faith



Publish date:

September 17, 2019



Length:

272 pages



Rating: to

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)



Review:

Barry Zito was a star pitcher in the early 2000’s for the Oakland Athletics, winning a Cy Young award and was part of the excellent staff for the Athletics that allowed them to compete with teams from bigger markets at the start of the Moneyball era.  His success in Oakland turned into a big payday for him when he signed a contract before the 2007 season with the San Francisco Giants, which at the time was the biggest contract awarded to a pitcher. He did not come close to the same success with the Giants that he did with the Athletics.



It is at his lowest point during that time with San Francisco, when he was left off the postseason roster during the Giants’ 2010 championship run, that this book starts and from there, Zito takes the reader inside not only his career, but his entire transformation – both when he was a high school and college pitcher when he was always following the advice of his father on the best course to take and also near the end of his career, when he, with the help from his wife and Giants team chaplain, to follow the advice of God and turn to his Christian faith to guide him on the best decisions to make.



The book really was not much different in structure or in types of reflection than other sports memoirs.  Zito’s reflections on family, the role of his father in his career, his transgressions in excessive living life in the fast lane, and even his decision to reaffirm his faith and let that aspect of his life become more important and prominent. All of these aspects, as well as his discussions about his performance on the mound, are all present in other sports memoirs.



So what makes this one different?  Readers will immediately realize how refreshingly honest Zito writes without embellishment or exaggeration.  There wasn’t a single passage in which I felt that Zito was not being completely honest with his audience and hearing him describe some of his inner struggles with trying to please his father, just for starters. It went as far as him transferring from a four-year college (UC Santa Barbara) to a junior college because, according to Zito’s father, Barry had a better chance to be a first round draft choice playing at a junior college. When he still wasn’t a first round draft choice, he transferred to another four-year school and then was a first round pick for the Athletics.  The role of his father is told completely and with nothing held back by Zito.



This information about his father and the completely unfiltered version is also present in every aspect of his baseball career and his devotion to his faith. There is a good balance in all of these aspects of his life up to the best story of the book which is near the end.  Zito won two World Series rings with the Giants – 2010, when he was left off the postseason roster as mentioned earlier and in 2012, when he was pitching better and won a World Series game as the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers. He shares that of the two rings, the 2010 one is more meaningful to him.  If this doesn’t make sense, once one reads this honest assessment of himself, it is easier to understand why he believes this.



Any fan of baseball, of honest memoirs, or just of a good read will want to read this one.  Don’t expect anything amazing or provocative – just a truly honest reflection of a baseball career that reached both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. 



I wish to thank Thomas Nelson – W Publishing for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

                                                                       

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                                



Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Curveball-Failure-Mound-Taught-Success-ebook/dp/B07F3GRVV1/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Review of "Three Seconds In Munich"

Remembering this game vividly when I watched it as a 10-year-old, I have read other books on the 1972 Olympic gold medal basketball game and it is a topic in which I want to read as much as I can about it.  This book did not disappoint.  Here is my review of "Three Seconds in Munich."





Title/Author:
“Three Seconds in Munich: The Controversial 1972 Olympic Basketball Final:” by David A.F. Sweet

Tags:
Basketball, Summer Olympics, history

Publish date:
September 1, 2019

Length:
264 pages

Rating: to
4 ½  of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
One of the most controversial events in sports history was the ending of the gold medal game in the 1972 Summer Olympics between the United States and the Soviet Union. At that point, the U.S. had never lost a basketball game since it became an Olympic sport in 1936. In that game, Doug Collins sank two free throws to give the United States its first lead of the game at 50-49 with three seconds remaining. What followed next is the basis for this book on the crazy, controversial ending of the game, written by David A.F. Sweet.

Even though the book is primarily about the last three seconds about that game, the book starts with an even more chilling reason why the 1972 Munich Games are still seared in people’s memories nearly fifty years later. On September 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists stormed the Olympic Village (with short chain link fencing and minimal security per Sweet) and held 11 Israeli athletes and coaches hostage. When an attempt to rescue the hostages at the Munich airport went bad, all 11 of them were killed.  Sweet’s writing about this tragic day, and the reactions of the United States basketball players who were there to witness this makes up some of the best reading in the book, even better than some of the basketball passages.

However, those are very good in their own right. Sweet leads the reader up to that moment by recapping the first 39 minutes and 57 seconds of the game very well, up to the point Collins approaches the free throw line to take his shots.  After that, he dives into all of the craziness on the floor.  After Collins makes the two shots, the Soviets fail to score, giving the U.S. an apparent victory.  Then, Sweet goes into excellent detail about the Soviet coaches attempting to call a time out, and the head of FIBA, the international basketball governing body, allowing the Soviets to have three seconds put back on. On this second chance, they again miss, but confusion reigns as the horn sounds and the scoreboard clock doesn’t have an accurate time since in those days, the only way to reset the clock to a time less than a minute is to set one minute, then run it down to that specified time.  While this was being done for, that is when the second attempt was made.

But thanks to Dr. Jones, that head of FIBA, there is yet another chance given to the Soviet Union, which they converted after some questionable actions by the referee, such as not allowing Tom Burleson of the US to defend at the baseline to challenge the inbound pass and the apparent pushing foul before the winning shot was taken.  After all of this chaos, the final score read USSR 51, USA 50. But that was far from the final word on this game.  Sweet takes the reader on more twists and turns – the failed appeal by the US, the mindset of Dr. Jones and his desire to see more nations than just the United States succeed in basketball and the medal ceremony in which the US failed to appear and refused to accept the silver medal. It has been nearly 50 years since that game, and the players, to a man, still have not accepted their medals.  This aftermath is also captured nicely by Sweet, especially when he wrote about the team reuniting in 2012 and confirming yet again that they will not accept that silver medal.

Whether one remembers that game vividly, as this reviewer does as a 10 year old youth basketball player, or has just heard the various stories, he or she needs to read this book to not only learn all of the head-scratching and infuriating decisions made by others affecting the outcome of this game, but also to learn a little about each member of that team, including all of the players and coach Hank Iba (who at times is unfairly blamed for the loss).  A must-read for all Olympic basketball fans.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
                                                                       
Book Format Read:
Hardcover                                                                                                                                         

Buying Links:



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Review of "Canyon Dreams"

One sure sign of changing seasons is the change in my reading.  With autumn nearly here, my reading is changing to winter games.  This book on one of those sports, basketball, is an excellent account of not only a high school team, but also a fascinating look at native American culture.  Here is my review of "Canyon Dreams"


Title/Author:
“Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation” by Michael Powell

Tags:
Basketball, high school, culture, race

Publish date:
November 19, 2019

Length:
272 pages

Rating: to
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
On a native American reservation in northern Arizona, there is a small patch of land where Chinle High School sits. However, nearly everyone on the 17.5 million acre reservation knows about the school because of its basketball team. At the school and the surrounding community, the game and the team are a passion.  The love of the game has been passed down for generations. Journalist Michael Powell follows the team for one season and his observations are the basis for this excellent book.

Basketball is only a part of the story. Powell intertwines stories from many different Navajo people – young and old, male and female, players and spectators, even the coach himself – in order to illustrate much about life on the reservation for everyone as well as the excellent basketball played at the school and on the playgrounds where it is known as “rez ball.”

The reader will learn about the hardships endured, the traditions and respect for nature embedded in Navajo culture and oh, yes, how important the basketball games are for everyone, not just the players.  The perspectives of the players are also interesting lessons in the conflicts they face – do they work on their games in the hope of gaining a college scholarship?  By doing so, they will have to live life outside of the reservation, something many of them have never experienced, but on the other hand, many see no hope for improvement in their lives if they stay.

Powell writes with equal excellence about basketball and native American culture, both the beautiful and the ugly. I found this mixture an excellent narrative about the entire culture fascinating and when the Wildcats kept winning and kept advancing, I couldn’t help but cheer them on as hard as I would for my favorite college or professional teams. Any reader interested in native American culture as well as basketball should add this one to their library.

I wish to thank Blue Rider Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
                                                                       
Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)                                                                                                                               

Buying Links: