Friday, April 26, 2024

Review of "Kelli's Pine"

While I have been reading more fictional books lately, I can honestly say that this one grabbed me in a way that no other fictional book had, sports or otherwise.  I will stop short of saying this is the best one I have ever read.  Just as I don't like "GOAT" arguments in sports, I don't like picking just one book as the "best."  I'll just say that this one is definitely high on my list of favorites.  Here is my review of "Kelli's Pine."


“Kelli’s Pine” by Jay Grochowski


5 of 5 stars (Excellent)

Review:  Most sports fiction books that I have read will deal mostly with the sport and the role it plays in the characters’ lives in some way.  In “Kelli’s Pine”, an excellent novel by Jay Grochowski, the sports that are involved in the story are important, but not the driving force in the book and that is a good thing for this story. 

The book revolves mainly around three characters – Eddie Blackburn, his wife Kelli and their son Cole.  Eddie did not finish high school because he had to rescue the family business of providing and servicing portable toilets.  This became necessary when his father left his wife and family with not only the business but also a $40,000 gambling debt.  Eddie succeeded in making the business work, but at the cost of his dreams of playing professional baseball.

Kelli Swanson was a star basketball player in high school and her father was a legendary athlete in their hometown of Mankato, Minnesota as well.  However, she and Eddie had an instant connection and one night near a pine tree where they shared their first Christmas, Cole was conceived.  Kelli and Eddie married shortly after Kelli discovered she was pregnant.  While this, along with knee surgery ended her basketball dreams, Kelli and Eddie raised Cole well and he became a baseball star through a program run by Eddie. 

The baseball scenes in the book after Cole signed with the independent league Mankato Carp are excellent in describing his baseball talents. If a reader wants to find a comparison, Cole could be considered a fictional version of Shohei Ohtani with talent in both hitting and pitching.  But overall, there is not a lot of baseball in the book – enough for a fan to enjoy it, but it is far from the main theme of the story.  The same goes for basketball – even though Kelli and Eddie’s sister Krissy played on a championship team, the basketball scenes are short but very descriptive.

What makes the book so good and one that would be enjoyed by many readers – sports fans or not – is that it covers a wide range of topics and also has great character development.  To start, it might be considered by some to be a romance novel with the story of Eddie and Kelli’s relationship and how it remained strong.  It touches on mental health with both Kelli and Cole suffering from social anxiety disorder.  The story has a lot of family dynamics at play.  Not just with the three main characters, but also others in both the Blackburn and Swanson family.  Nearly every parent, grandparent and sibling in both families have their character developed and the reader will walk away knowing more about them.

Because these characters are well-developed with admirable characteristics and some flaws, the reader will have a hard time picking any one to be a bad person.  This is even true for the two fathers – Eddie’s and Kelli’s father, who attacked Eddie when he found out his daughter was pregnant.

Hopefully, I have not given away too much of this story because one has to read every word to get all that a reader should get from this book.  It is one of the few books I have received that I have read more than once and that is why this review is later than what I promised to the author – I had to read it a second time before writing this so that I could fully digest this excellent story.

I wish to thank the author for providing a review copy of the book. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Kelli's Pine (The Blackburn's of Mankato): Grochowski, Jay: 9798629296379: Books


Monday, April 22, 2024

Review of "Kingdom on Fire"

Having taken a break from sports reading for a short period, this was a very good choice to get back into sports - great book on the UCLA basketball dynasty. 


“Kingdom on Fire: Kareem, Wooden, Walton and the Turbulent Days of the UCLA Basketball Dynasty” by Scott Howard-Cooper


5 of 5 stars (Excellent)

Review:  One of most storied sports dynasties took place in the 1960’s and 1970’s when the UCLA Bruins won 10 of 12 NCAA men’s basketball titles.  While there were many players and other people who helped make this dynasty, there were three people who were the biggest names.  First it was Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who will be referred to by that name in this review although he was “Alcindor” at UCLA) and the legendary coach John Wooden.  Then shortly after Abdul-Jabbar graduated, another “greatest college player ever” came to UCLA – Bill Walton.  How these three men made UCLA basketball as great as it was during a time of social upheaval is captured in this book.

While there is some text about the games on the court, especially famous ones like the 1968 “Game of the Century” in the Houston Astrodome and the January 1974 game in which Notre Dame broke UCLA’s 88-game winning streak, most of the work is about the lives, personalities, and beliefs of the three men.  This is especially true for Abdul-Jabbar as he was at times conflicted about what he truly wanted from his education and time in Los Angeles.  His conversion to Islam and his actions toward civil rights for Black citizens are particularly noteworthy, such as his decision to not participate on the 1968 USA Olympic basketball team.

Here, there is a connection to Walton as he too declined becoming part of USA Olympic basketball in 1972 – this time as a protest over the Vietnam War.  Like the civil rights issue in 1968, the war was a hot spot of protest in 1972 and how both players approached their beliefs and actions upon those beliefs made for very good reading.  Of course, there is also material on their basketball accomplishments at UCLA.  Reading those, while good, is no match for the great material on their off-the-court lives.

As for the coach, how he dealt with these types of personalities was to just be himself.  He never let on that he was playing favorites with Abdul-Jabbar, Walton or any other player – he coached the way he always coached, instilled discipline as always and never seemed to move away from what he believed was correct.  Whether that meant never cursing no matter how tense the situation, teaching players at the first practice the proper means of tying shoes and pulling up socks or never calling a time out during games to let opponents think the team was in trouble, Coach Wooden was mostly a pillar during this time.  However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of weakness, and this book shows that side of Wooden as well.

For basketball junkies or historians, this book is a great addition to their libraries.  It isn’t the most perfect book on UCLA basketball, but it gives excellent insight to topics one may never have heard previously about one of the most dominant teams in college basketball.

I wish to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Kingdom on Fire: Kareem, Wooden, Walton, and the Turbulent Days of the UCLA Basketball Dynasty eBook : Howard-Cooper, Scott: Kindle Store

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Review of "The Wizard of College Baseball"

When I saw the title of this book, I thought it was about the long-time coach of USC, Rod Dedeaux.  When I saw it was about Miami coach Ron Fraser instead, I thought that's fine, I'm still interested.  Glad I picked it up.  Here is my review of "The Wizard of College Baseball."


“The Wizard of College Baseball: How Ron Fraser Elevated Miami and an Entire Sport to National Prominence” by David Brauer



4 of 5 stars (Very good)


College baseball, now a staple on sports networks like ESPN, has not always been a popular option for athletes, spectators or television viewers.  It was long considered to be a “non-revenue” sport and had to either raise its own funds or receive money from the revenue sports like football or men’s basketball.  Ron Fraser almost single-handedly changed that with the baseball program at the University of Miami and how he did so is captured in this book by David Brauer.

 If there was ever a person who could sell anyone on college baseball, it was Fraser. Whether it was cost-conscious athletic directors, skeptical business who were being wooed by Fraser for donations or fans who had limited entertainment dollars at their disposal, Fraser would work his magic and convince those people to provide the funds, support and/or backing the baseball program would need.  When Fraser took the job, he saw how run down the field and equipment were and instead of moping about the condition of the program he took over, he got to work.

That work not only lead to a revenue generating sport in baseball for the school, but it made Miami baseball the place to go for good family entertainment at affordable prices.  The newly renovated Mark Light Stadium (named for the biggest donor and supporter of Fraser’s program) had affordable food, games and other entertainment as well. It should also be mentioned that other sports at the school, most notably football, also benefited from the new notoriety that baseball gave the university.  This is especially true as ESPN

Success came not only on the financial side but also on the field as Miami became a powerhouse in the sport, going from very few wins to regular appearances in the NCAA Regional tournaments and the College World Series. Their championships in 1982 and 1985 were the best moments for Fraser’s tenure as the coach.  His coaching methods and motivation talks were the best parts of the book that concentrated on the on-field accomplishments of Hurricanes baseball.  Many of Fraser’s players were interviewed by Brauer and they all shared great stories of their time with the coach.

After Fraser retired from coaching Miami in 1992, he was named head coach of the 1992 US Baseball team.  However, his involvement in the game was not over after those Olympics as he provided guidance and assistance to many teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and his friend Tommy Lasorda.  The book covers all these topics quite well, but not in an organized manner and it was here, especially the last two chapters, where I found the book to be a little harder to follow and haphazard.

However, that doesn’t mean that this book is not a good read as I enjoyed learning more about Fraser and his work in building up the Miami baseball team from afterthought to powerhouse.  College baseball fans will be especially interested in this book as it is a good source of information of one of the most successful programs in the sport.

 I wish to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.


Link: The Wizard of College Baseball : Nebraska Press (

Monday, April 8, 2024

Review of "Roberto Alomar"

Sometimes a book on a famous player will allow the reader to learn much more about that player than what they learned in the media or through fandom.  That was the case for me with this book about Roberto Alomar.  Here is my review.



“Roberto Alomar: The Complicated Life and Legacy of a Baseball Hall of Famer” by David Ostrowsky


4 of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:  The subtitle of this book by David Ostrowsky is very accurate when discussing the baseball legacy of Roberto Alomar, a Hall of Fame second baseman who played for seven different major league teams but found his greatest success as a Toronto Blue Jay.  Alomar’s entire career, as well as his personal life and the controversies that surrounded him both on and off the field are captured here.

From the very beginning it is clear that Ostrowsky is not going to sugar coat Alomar’s life as the book begins with the infamous incident in 1996 when Alomar, then a member of the Baltimore Orioles, spit on umpire John Hirschbeck after a disputed called third strike. Alomar then further enraged fans and media when he mentioned that Hirschbeck had become more bitter since his son passed away.  While easily the most famous of the controversies involving Alomar, there are others that did not get as much attention but are noted by Ostrowsky.  These included allegations of sexual assault that led Major League Baseball to ban him from the game in 2021, although it would not change his Hall of Fame status.

Lest one thinks this book only covers this side of Alomar, it is also full of food writing about Alomar’s baseball career, from his excitement about the game as a child to his determination to keep playing late when his diminished skills in his mid-30’s would not allow him to hang on with a team.  His brief time with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox (twice) illustrate how much he had declined.

But when his star shone bright, it was brilliant as his accomplishments in Toronto made everyone who saw him believe he was one of the best, if not the best second baseman in the game.  His knowledge was considered to be off the charts, and he was always sharing it freely with teammates or anyone else who wanted to learn more about the game.

 In short, this book was a very fair, balanced, and informative account of Roberto Alomar.  A reader will come away from this agreeing that he certainly deserves to be considered a Hall of Fame player but will also understand why there are also detractors given the many controversies, justified or not, that surround his legacy.

 I wish to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

 Link: Roberto Alomar: The Complicated Life and Legacy of a Baseball Hall of Famer: Ostrowsky, David: 9781538158029: Books

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review of "Perfect Eloquence"

I never thought I could hear more good things about Vin Scully, nearly two years after his passing - but this book has many of them.  I learned a lot more about the legendary broadcaster by reading this book.  Here is my review of "Perfect Eloquence." 


“Perfect Eloquence: An Appreciation of Vin Scully” by Tom Hoffarth


5 of 5 stars (Excellent)

Review:  It’s difficult to add any more praise and adulation for Vin Scully that hasn’t already been said, but this book by Tom Hoffarth does just that.  Scully was the broadcasting voice of the Dodgers, covering them both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, for 67 years.  Imagine doing a job you love, with millions listening to you, for that long.  Whether you are a big fan of the Dodgers or know practically nothing about baseball, the chance to meet or talk to Scully was a memorable moment for those lucky enough to do so.  This book is a collection of stories from people of all walks of life who were able to do so.

That is why this book is not only such a joy to read but is also one that must be given credit for accomplishing a difficult task – namely to share insights into the man that were not already shared either during his last year of broadcasting in 2016 or after his death in 2022. By interviewing various people – from fans to baseball personnel to other celebrities – Hoffarth was able to compile a great selection of stories on many different aspects of Scully’s life. To a person, everyone that Hoffarth gathered information from said the same thing about Scully – that he treated them with kindness, listened to them and expressed sincere pleasure in meeting them.

This went well beyond his broadcasting excellence. Many of the stories were about Scully’s faith and how that shaped his personality and how he interacted with people.  While the book stayed away from politics unless the person sharing the Scully story mentioned it, his leanings in that topic were shown. But even then, if the person had a different viewpoint than Scully, it didn’t affect the kindness and grace they showed in their feelings on him. That was very refreshing given today’s landscape.

Of course, there is baseball and Scully broadcasting moments in the book as well, but they were not the biggest takeaways from the book.  Whether your favorite call of Scully’s was his description of the perfect game by Sandy Koufax in 1965, his description of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run (my personal favorite) or the miraculous home run by Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series, fans of the sport and of Scully will not only recall those great moments, but they may also learn more about the man himself.  Hoffarth deserves a lot of praise for being able to not only collect all these wonderful stories, but also weave them together in a great book that does justice to one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Perfect Eloquence: An Appreciation of Vin Scully: 9781496238788: Hoffarth, Tom, Rapoport, Ron: Books