Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review of "Up and Down"

An annual summer project is to wade through the pile of books that I never got around to reviewing before work or teaching obligations cut into reading and reviewing time.  This memoir by golfer Bubba Watson is one of those and it now can be taken off that pile. Here is my review of "Up and Down." 

Title/Author: “Up and Down: Victories and Struggles in the Course of Life” by Bubba Watson with Don Yaeger

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Bubba Watson burst into the golf spotlight by winning the 2012 Masters with an incredible hook shot out of trouble.  From there, he became just as notable for becoming an unlikable person and because of this he was suffering from mental health issues.  How he handled them and has found himself in a better place is the main focus of his memoir written with Don Yaeger.

Watson became known as “Bubba from Bagdad” as he grew up in this small town in the Florida panhandle.  He was supported by his parents to attempt to fulfill his dreams of making it in professional golf, although he did have some hiccups along the way. Unlike many other memoirs and biographies, I found this part of his story just as interesting as his victories in the Masters (he also won in 2014) or his adult personal life. 

Watson’s account of his unusual path to success in golf at the University of Georgia is a story with many twists that in the end will work out well for him.  Not only did he have success on the course despite not being a part of the team during his senior year, he also met his wife Angie.  She was also an athlete – a member of the Georgia women’s basketball team who had aspirations of a WNBA career that didn’t happen mainly due to injury.

Once Watson embarked on a professional golf career, his story and the book progresses well, despite some repetition and also some stories that feel like they were not complete.  One example of this is his relationship with his caddy Teddy Scott.  Watson gives him a lot of credit for everything – improving his golf game, giving him a stern talk when his behavior was putting off many of his fellow pro golfers and reminding him of his priorities for both his family (he and Angie adopted two children) and his faith.  But after setting Bubba straight, it is unknow what has become of Teddy.

His faith, and that of his wife, is an important part of this book and Watson’s story – it is never far from his thoughts.  It certainly helped him change the behavior that made him the person who would be the least likely to receive assistance from fellow golfers if he ran into trouble off the course.  That isn’t the exact wording of what this informal poll revealed, but it is a illustration of how Watson acted on and off the course – and his explanations of how and why he was that way was adequate, but did not feel completely genuine.

Because of this vagueness, I felt this memoir lacked true reflection but Watson does come across as sincere and truly wanting to be a better person.  For that, I given him credit for not only making his life better, but also for still playing well enough on the PGA tour to be a top-ranked player.  He does talk about his golf, but not as much as his personal life.  That is something that a reader should consider before deciding to pick up this book – it worked out fine, but it may not satisfy readers who want to read more about the game instead of the person.

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

Links:   Up and Down: Victories and Struggles in the Course of Life: Watson, Bubba, Yaeger, Don: 9780785292012: Amazon.com: Books


Monday, June 20, 2022

Review of "A Season in the Sun"

Figuring it was time to start picking books out of the BOTTOM of the pile for those needing reviews instead of the top, I read this one on Tom Brady's first season in Tampa Bay and it was about what I expected - which meant it was good.  Here is my review of "A Season in the Sun." 

Title/Author: “A Season in the Sun: Bruce Arians, Tom Brady and the Inside Story of the Making of a Champion” by Lars Anderson

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  There were few people who expected Tom Brady to leave the New England Patriots, but after the 2019-20 NFL season, there were some indications were shown that his time with the Patriots and their head coach Bill Belichick were coming to an end.  How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers convinced Brady to sign with them and then lead them to their second Super Bowl championship is described in this very good book by Lars Anderson.

Unlike many books that are about one particular season (no matter the sport), this one doesn’t spend a lot of time with game-by-game accounts nor does it spend a great deal of time discussing other issues of the time such as social issues or politics.  Given that this book was about a season (2020) during a global pandemic, one would expect that more of this would be discussed, but Anderson sticks with strictly matters affecting the Buccaneers, Brady or head coach Bruce Arians. If the pandemic is mentioned, it is how it affects the football team, such as not being able to conduct face-to-face meetings.  The best of these references is a well-known story in which Brady goes to the wrong house soon after signing to pick up the Tampa Bay playbook from the offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

Most of the text in this book would be considered character-driven if this were a fictional novel as there are plenty of stories and information about people.  The main two characters are in the subtitle – Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. Readers who did not know a lot about the personalities of these two men will get to know them well by the end of the book.  Anderson also does a terrific job of telling the reader how the relationship between quarterback and head coach evolved, including Brady’s relationships with his teammates and his other coaches.  Leftwich was a quarterback who faced Brady several times in his career, but that was put aside and Brady made sure to listen and learn from his offensive coordinator.

The 2020 season for Tampa Bay is reviewed and important games are described in detail.  Of course, these include the victories in the playoffs and Super Bowl, but also some key defeats as well, such as the 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints that left the Buccaneers at 7-5 and in danger of missing the playoffs.  From there, the reader is taken on a great ride of success and hard work to achieve the ultimate goal for any football team.  It should be noted that Brady is praised by many, friends and opponents alike, for the amount of work he did during that season.  It didn’t matter that he already had six championships, he made sure to put in the work he felt was needed to get his seventh and first one outside of New England.  This is a book that pro football fans will enjoy no matter their rooting interest or even their admiration or loathing of Tom Brady.

I wish to thank William Morrow and Custom House for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link:  Amazon.com: A Season in the Sun: The Inside Story of Bruce Arians, Tom Brady, and the Making of a Champion: 9780063160200: Anderson, Lars: Books

 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Review of "Stumbling Around the Bases"

Some people consider themselves political junkies.  I place myself in that category if the politics are those inside baseball and this book is one that any "junkie" like me should pick up.  Here is my review of "Stumbling Around the Bases."


 

Title/Author: “Stumbling Around the Bases: The American League’s Mismanagement in the Expansion Eras ” by Andy McCue

Rating:  5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  For a significant portion of the latter half of the 20th Century, the National League was considered the superior of the two leagues in Major League Baseball.  This was due not only because of the play on the field or the faster pace of racial integration in that league, but also because of its actions taken when its franchises would relocate or be added.  This book by Andy McCue concentrates mainly on the American League on that latter topic and explains why, due to its own missteps, why it was considered to be league that reacts instead of leads.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively in 1958, the National League realized the market for baseball on the West Coast was untapped and wanted to take advantage of this. Seeing how attendance was boosted significantly for the two franchises, the American League also wanted in on West Coast business.  However, as McCue expertly describes, the owners couldn’t agree on a well-researched and reviewed plan and instead hurriedly decided to expand in 1961 to Los Angeles (where their team, the Angels, had to agree to conditions set by the Dodgers) and in Washington, D.C. 

The latter site was chosen only because the American League feared that Congress would take away from baseball the exemption for anti-trust laws after owner Calvin Griffith moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota to start the 1961 season.  This expansion plan, panned by many observers, only set the stage for even more blunders by American League ownership and McCue doesn’t leave many individuals unscathed in his account of these transactions.

Among those who McCue profile to show how the American League executives were not exactly experts at vetting who would become owners are two men who became enemies of the fraternity. One was Charles O. Finley who purchased the Kansas City Athletics and moved them to Oakland (again, going to a West Coast territory already with a National League). The second was Bob Short, who during the 1960’s purchased the expansion Washington Senators team and ended up moving them to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, becoming the Texas Rangers.  Finley and Short, as well as the sale of the New York Yankees to CBS, are all cited as examples of American League ineptitude as well as the tale of Seattle.

Seattle’s part of American League mishandling of expansion and markets is a very interesting story. The Seattle Pilots were one of two expansion teams in 1969 along with the Kansas City Royals (another team that was provided to a market because of fear of retaliation after the city lost the Athletics) but it was clear that the ownership group did not have the funds and backing necessary to run a major league team, nor was there a stadium up to major league standards.  A well-known story but one that is worth mentioning was that fans who had tickets in the left field bleachers had to wait for the paint to dry on the benches in their seating location.  The Pilots ended up in Milwaukee just days before the 1970 season opened and Seattle got its replacement team (see a pattern here?) in 1977 when the Mariners began play in the new Kingdome.

There is a lot of information told in this compact book of approximately 200 pages and that includes the footnotes and references.  This shows the crisp writing and excellent research into these issues that McCue has done.  Readers who enjoy books on the business side of the game and its politics will enjoy this one immensely.  Some of the information may be known from other larger sources, but it will be hard to find another book that tells of the infamy of the American League brass in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

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

Link:  Stumbling around the Bases: The American League’s Mismanagement in the Expansion Eras: McCue, Andy: 9781496207036: Books (amazon.com)

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Review of "A Thing or Two About the Game"

Readers of this blog know that I am not a big reader of fictional books, but this novel about a man who reluctantly agrees to coach a softball team of 11-12 year old girls is a very enjoyable read that I recommend to anyone who wants to have something light on their TBR list.  Here is my review of "A Thing or Two About the Game."

Title/Author: “A Thing or Two About the Game” by Richard Paik

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  Coaching youth sports, no matter the sport or the gender of the players, is never easy and the rewards can be more than just the performances on the field of play.  This novel by Richard Paik illustrates this in a delightful and touching manner.

Brad is a man who is unemployed and not sure where his life is going. His ex-wife Stephanie contacts him and asks him to coach a girls’ softball team, the Marlins, when her boyfriend is unable to commit to doing so because of his job.  Brad accepts and wonders what exactly he signed up for – it turns out to be a lot more than he thought.

The best aspect of this novel, aside from its ease of reading, is the character development.  The reader will soon not only begin to connect with Brad, but with just about every other character in the book.  Every one of Brad’s players has some type of quirk or issue that is nothing unusual for 11–12-year-old girls.  They also are diverse for these traits – Jamie is an excellent athlete and is the Marlins’ best player.  Kacie, while not having the skills of Jamie, is determined to succeed and plays her heart out.  Those are just two small examples of how Paik develops each character in such a way that the reader will cheer for them.  There really is not a character who a reader will dislike or cheer against, even opponents (players and coaches) of the Marlins, as Paik makes sure to provide the reader a little insight into them as well.

In the meantime, there are all kinds of mini-stories that take place around the main focus of the book and that is the play of the Marlins, both in practices and during games. For the players, these can range from family matters to health issues.  For Brad, and his best friend Mike (who is a coach for another team, the Braves) these can include relationships (at least for Mike, as Brad is not seeing anyone during the book) and work-related issues.  There are times that a reader might wonder what Brad’s work in biotech research has to do with girls’ softball but as the book progresses, it is clear how these items, along with others, mesh together.

This book isn’t going to come with a nice neat ending, nor is the story one that is clear from beginning to end.  But that is what makes the book different – it reflects what will happen in life.  This is the case for both the girls and the adults in the book.  Put their stories together on the softball field and one gets a very enjoyable novel that is a treat for readers of many different tastes.

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

Links:   A Thing or Two About the Game - Kindle edition by Paik, Richard. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Review of “Sandman”

While this book is quite short at 100 pages, it is an excellent golf story that is a great choice for a short, engaging read.  Here is my review of “Sandman”


Title/Author: “Sandman: A Golf Tale” by David W. Berner

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Anyone who has played golf and feels there is more to the game than just their score, the clubs to use or their mechanics will be able to relate to the two protagonists in this wonderful short book.  One of them, a boy whose name is never revealed, is an excellent golfer but feels there is more to the sport and feels unfulfilled. The other, a homeless man named Jimmy who hangs around the 5th green at the boy’s home course, also has a unique perspective, mainly gained during his time as a caddy at the most famous course, St. Andrews. 

Their stories will be ones that anyone connected to the game, whether playing, looping, or just as a worker at a course (Nancy, the clubhouse cook, is a wonderful secondary character) can relate to the stories of the boy and Jimmy. Berner does a wonderful job of brining these characters to life for the reader in such a short amount of text. Readers who like stories that are short and to the point without a lot of fluff should pick this up. While it is helpful to know about golf, it is not necessary to connect with the boy and Jimmy and their dreams. 

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

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sandman-golf-David-W-Berner-ebook/dp/B09YLKR6LH/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=