Friday, November 24, 2023

Review of “The Chicken Runs at Midnight”

After seeing the 2023 finalists for the Casey Award for the best baseball book, I decided to read more of these award winning books and finalist for not only 2023 but past years as well. Looking at past years’ finalists, this tile of a 2019 finalist caught my eye. I then read the synopsis - and then immediately checked out a copy. Wow, what a book! Here is my review.  


“The Chicken Runs at Midnight: A Daughter’s Message From Heaven That Changed a Father’s Heart and Won the World Series” by Tom Friend


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: It’s very hard to categorize this book because it touches so many areas. Is it a baseball book? Yes, there’s much about the sport and one man’s quest to reach the major leagues, but it is so much more than that.  Is it a spiritual book? Yes, but it doesn’t really have that characteristic until the last third or so.  Is it a book on family life and relationships? Yes, that’s important to the story but again, not a complete description. Yet, this wonderful book by Tom Friend will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about these topics.  Field’s writing about the following topics is a joy to behold and will keep the reader glued to the book.

Let’s start with the baseball. Rich Donnelly grew up in the town of Steubenville, Pennsylvania as a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. While he dreamed of playing for his beloved Pirates, he wasn’t the best athlete in his family - that honor belonged to his brother Jerome Jr. or Romey. Romey was also Rich’s hero, 14 years his senior and continually monitored by their father Jerome. Wanting to ensure that Romey would become a major league pitcher, Jerome Sr. was basically a helicopter parent in that he set strict rules for Romey about practice, social time, eating, dating - you name it, it was monitored by the father. While Romey did end up in professional baseball, he failed to make the major leagues and tragically died not long after giving up the game. 

Enter Rich, who was already doing pretty well for himself as a catcher. Jerome Sr. then shifted his focus to Rich who also ended up playing college and professional baseball. Like Romey, Rich had struggles in the minors and also married a woman soon after finally having the freedom to do so. He and his wife Peggy had four children - Richard Jr. or Bubba, Tim, Mike and Amy. It is the daughter, Amy, who spoke the phrase making up the title of the book - and it was just a spontaneous remark when she asked her dad what he told players when cupping his mouth while being the third base coach. This was in the 1992 NLCS when Rich was the third base coach for the Pirates. He may not have made his boyhood team as a player, but he was just as thrilled to wear their uniform as a coach. 

But the road there was filled with many issues. Rich inherited his father’s type A personality and while that may work on a baseball diamond, it certainly caused issues with his family. He pushed the three boys hard when they showed promise in baseball and basketball. But Amy…we’ll, Amy was her own person and always tried to show her father how she was important too. Not to mention her talents were on display as well. She would gather kids in the family garage and hold classrooms lessons, complete with homework and forms for parents to sign. She also became an athlete, excelling in basketball. But Rich never saw this - thanks to falling for the vices that often plagued baseball players on the road - drinking and women - Rich and his wife Peggy eventually divorced and Amy was left despondent over not being able to please her father. 

Even more so, as Freind wonderfully describes, Rich is also,left with so many lingering doubts - about how good a father he was to his daughter, to his faith and his overall life. But news about Amy and a devastating diagnosis of brain cancer left Rich in shock and the story of how he got back into Amy’s life, how special she was and the time they together in the Pittsburgh playoff drive - capped off by “The Chicken Runs at Midnight” comment is one that is some heartwarming that one would think that wine Amy passed away the following spring, that would be the end of the story. 

But Rich, following manager Jim Leylamd to Miami and being the third base coach for the Florida Marlins in the 1997 World Series, there was one more miracle from Amy thanks to Marlin Craig Counsell, who was nicknamed the Chicken and the time that the Marlins won game 7. Not wanting to give away any more of the story than already told, just know that if a reader got this far without tearing up or at least feeling some emotion, they are sure to do so when this occurs. 

This book was a finalist for a 2019 Casey Award and once one read it, they will understand why. Not a typical baseball story even though there are many typical baseball plays and personalities in the book, this is one that is sure to captivate a reader. Even this lengthy review cannot do justice to the complete story of Rich and Amy Donnelly. 


Saturday, November 18, 2023

Review of “Rocky Hockey”

 Having earlier read and reviewed here a book on the NHL’s Kansas City Scouts, I was interested in this one on the franchise’s next home in Denver. Here is my review of a book about those six mostly miserable seasons in the Mile High City. 


“Rocky Hockey: The Short But Wild Ride of the NHL’s Colorado Rockies” by Greg Enright


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: When a sports fan thinks of a team called the Colorado Rockies, baseball is usually the sport associated with that team name. But between 1976 and 1982, there was a hockey team with the same name in the NHL. Those years in which the franchise played its home games in Denver are recalled in this book by Greg Enright.

The team was trying to make a fresh start in a new city during that fall in 1976 after two disastrous seasons as the Kansas City Scouts. With a better arena already built and a city that had never had a hockey team at the highest level, it was believed that the franchise would improve in both its won-loss record and its financial situation.

However, as Enright describes well, that was not the case. The Rockies remained at or near the bottom of the NHL standings as well as in attendance. The team had a revolving door in both ownership (4 different owners) and the head coaching job (6 different coaches in 6 seasons). As for players, while there were a few bonafide stars on the team such as Wilf Paiement, Barry Beck, Lanny MacDonald and Rob Ramage, the team was mostly made up of young players or cast offs from other teams. That was the state of the team in Kansas City and also in Denver. 

The book is written in chronological order by season and well organized. The writing is mostly like long recaps of each season, both on the ice and in the front office. However, that doesn’t mean it’s dry or boring because Enright includes many entertaining quotes and stories from players, coaches and front office personnel. This is the case right up to the fateful day in 1982 when the NHL voted unanimously to allow the franchise to relocate to the New Jersey Meadowlands (with some extra cash to the Islanders, Rangers and Flyers to soften the blow of having another team in their market).

If a reader enjoyed hockey during that era, they will enjoy reliving the mostly down years of this team that happily found success in its new home. One doesn’t have to have been a Rockies (or New Jersey Devils) fan to like this book.


Thursday, November 16, 2023

Review of "Why We Love Baseball"

Sometimes it is better to listen to the audiobook than read the physical book and that was the case for this selection.  It was one I wanted to obtain since the author announced he was working on it and when I saw he narrated the audio version, I opted for that - glad I did.  Here is my review.


Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments ” by Joe Posnanski, read by Joe Posnanski and Ellen Adair


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Any baseball can tell you about his or her favorite moments in the game and they will probably tell you that this is one reason they love (or at least like) baseball.  Best selling author Joe Posnanski has gathered 50 such moments and wrote about them in this fun book for any baseball fan.

As one who likes to listen to audio books that are narrated by the author, I felt that because one will get Posnanski’s take on these moments with his voice inflections it was more meaningful than reading the book.  In addition, between chapters about these moments there were other items sprinkled liberally through the book such as the funniest moments, great bare-handed catches and other such nuggets.  The narration by Ellen Adair for these sections was just as good as Posnanski’s and gave a nice break in hearing the same voice.

As there is with any list of the best, the greatest or other subjective subjects, one might argue about Posnanski’s choices and many readers/listeners will want to exclaim “Where’s my favorite moment?”  That doesn’t really matter for this book as anyone who enjoys the game will recall many of them and smile.  That is true whether a person was alive to witness the event live or on television or even if they just know about it through stories passed down through the generations – each moment is a wonderful one to someone.

The players and teams are various and while not ever team is mentioned in these 50 moments, there is a chapter for the most popular one for each team as Posnanski reached out to fans to send him their favorites.  While the one I sent did not make the top 50, it did get mentioned for my favorite team so that was a good thing (Kirby Puckett’s home run in game 6 of the 1991 World Series). This is a must read or must listen for any baseball fan.

Link: Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments (Audible Audio Edition): Joe Posnanski, Joe Posnanski, Ellen Adair, Penguin Audio: Audible Books & Originals


Monday, November 13, 2023

Review of "Boston Ball"

College basketball got into full swing last week so it was time to read something on that sport.  This one on the early careers of three legendary coaches is a very good one.  Here is my review of "Boston Ball" 


Boston Ball: Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Gary Williams and the Forgotten Cradle of Basketball Coaches” by Clayton Trutor


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  While most basketball fans think of the NBA’s Boston Celtics when one refers to Boston as a “basketball town”, that wouldn’t tell the complete story.  In the 1970’s and early 1980’s there were three colleges in Boston – Northeastern, Boston College and Boston University – that were also putting together very good basketball programs.  The coaches at these schools were Jim Calhoun, Gary Williams and Rick Pitino respectively.  All three of these coaches are well-known for their success elsewhere, but their time in Boston was equally impressive.  Those coaches and their Boston programs are highlighted in this excellent book by Clayton Trutor.

Through hundreds of interviews with various people involved in those programs, including many former players, a reader will learn much about how all three coaches not only plied their trade at these smaller schools (save for Williams at Boston College since they became part of the Big East), but also had success when they were not expected to do so.  It was an even bigger hurdle to gain recognition and draw fans for Pitino, as Boston University is considered more of a hockey school than basketball and often had to cede the arena to the hockey team.  This didn’t detour Pitino, nor did a similar situation at Northeaster give Calhoun many problems.  All three coaches took over their programs under less than ideal circumstances but got their teams multiple NCAA tournament invitations.

There are other aspects of the book that while keeping the central theme of the basketball programs, the reader will enjoy.  There are some history lessons about the city of Boston at that time, a nice (?) description of the conditions of the Boston Garden are included and plenty of game action for all three schools.  As a lover of the college game during that era, I found this book to be full of very interesting stories and information on the earlier careers of three legendary coaches and the programs they led to the “Big Dance”

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

Link: Boston Ball: Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun,... by Trutor, Clayton (


Thursday, November 2, 2023

Review of "Daybreak at Chavez Ravine"

Now that baseball season is over (congratulations to the Texas Rangers), it is time to read baseball books when a fix is needed.  For this, I want to catch up and read the 2023 Casey Award nominees that I have yet to read.  This book is the first one toward that goal.  



Daybreak at Chavez Ravine: Fernandomania and the Remaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers” by Erik Sherman


4½ of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  One could not be a baseball fan, even a very casual one, in 1981 and not know who Fernando Valenzuela was.  That was the year of “Fernando-mainia” when he took the baseball world by storm as a 20 year old rookie pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers by winning his first 8 games with a humble attitude, speaking little to no English, and became the pride of his native Mexico.  This book by Erik Sherman makes a great trip down memory lane who remember that season and the sold-out crowds at every game Valenzuela pitched.

Sherman begins the book with the history of the relationship between the Dodgers and the Mexican-American population of Los Angeles.  That relationship was tenuous at best as Mexican-American family were forced out of their homes at Chavez Ravine for the construction of Dodger Stadium.  While Sherman does state that the Dodgers are not solely to blame for this happening, they were considered the emblem for this poor treatment of a marginalized population. 

Enter Valenzuela.  He came to the Dodgers near the tail end of the 1980 season and working out of the bullpen, he didn’t allow an earned run in more than 17 innings of work.  But the young, seemingly portly (but in great shape) pitcher born in a small impoverished Mexican town really turned the baseball world upside down in 1981.  Sherman’s account of those games, the sold-out crowds and the fervor among Mexican-Americans reveling in the success of “one of their own.”  The impact Valenzuela had on this population cannot be overstated. 

Not only were Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles excited over his success, but all across the country “Fernandomainia” was building.  When Valenzuela pitched his first game in New York and the media buzz that occurred, Sherman wrote about that with good detail.  When talking about how Valenzuela remained humble and focused on his work even with all the requests for his time, that was described well.  This was also the case during the postseason, when he defeated all three teams he faced in that season’s expanded playoff format due to a players’ strike, capped off by a World Series championship for the Dodgers.

Sherman does justice for Valenzuela by also writing about his years after that special season and finding teammates and others who felt that he was just as good in other years, especially 1986 and 1987, as he was in 1981.  There isn’t a lot about him that is remembered after that special season, but that chapter in this book will show the complete pitcher Valenzuela was, even if it always wasn’t as spectacular as his rookie season.  Sherman finishes the book by making a case about Valenzuela being in the baseball Hall of Fame.  He does give voices to those who disagree, but Sherman does present a good argument to have him in.  This is especially true when considering his overall impact on the sport aside from just his pitching statistics. Any baseball fan who remembers that special season or the very good pitching of Fernando Valenzuela should pick up this book.