Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review of "Little League Heroes," by Curtis Bishop

Review of
Little League Heroes, by Curtis Bishop

Five out of five stars
 Joel Carroll is an African-American boy that is trying out for the West Austin Little League. He is one of eighteen boys that are vying for only two open positions, for this is a league where there are more boys than can be placed on a team, so only the best will be selected. He manages to impress the coach/manager by his hitting and bunting abilities, for he is very poor at judging fly balls. His natural position is catcher, but his team has the best catcher in the league.
 After his selection, Joel experiences some racial prejudice from the other boys, but the main source is from the parents. One man in particular withdraws funding for maintaining the field, forcing the use of volunteers. His father Marty drills the rules of “colored behavior circa 1960” into Joel, meaning that he is not to react to racial slurs or fight back when provoked. He is the first African-American player to play in the league, so within his neighboring circle, he is playing the role of Jackie Robinson.
 There are two tracks to this story, the action of Joel’s team as it competes for the title and Joel’s experiences in being a racial pioneer. His father keeps him grounded in reality and he gains a very valuable white friend that helps him when he is in serious difficulties. There is a big game at the end, yet it is handled in a far different way than in other books. Joel is a hero, but it is a total experience and not just a consequence of one action on the field.
 From receiving some of the milder racial slurs, to having parents pull their children and finding from the league rather than allow them to play with a “colored” child to unwarranted police suspicion, many of the problems that African-Americans face are a part of Joel’s experiences. Yet, there are white heroes in this book, specifically the league officials that will not deviate from the rules that allow boys like Joel to play no matter what the threat.

Review of "Nolan Ryan: Fireballer," by Bill Libby

Review of
Nolan Ryan: Fireballer, by Bill Libby

Five out of five stars
 Copyrighted in 1975, this book covers only the early years of Nolan Ryan’s career as a  major league pitcher. Arguably the possessor of the best fastball in history, Ryan was wild early in his career, walking a lot of batters. It seems certain that he is and will remain the all-time leader in taking batters to a 3-2 count. He threw his last pitch in 1993, more than a decade after it was clear that he would be in the baseball Hall of Fame. In his last year at the age of 46, opposing batters only hit .220 against him. An astounding statistic when you know that he was a fastball pitcher.
 Ryan’s first years in the majors were a time when he showed great promise but also exhibited many weaknesses. There were legitimate reasons to believe that he would never be a star pitcher, for he would be unhittable in one game and then unable to get a batter out in the next. Libby does an excellent job in explaining these circumstances and why it took some time before he settled down and came close to being a reliable pitcher. His lifetime won-loss record of 324-292 shows how erratic he was.
 This is a good book as an initial biography of a pitcher that was so powerful that when he was on, even Hall of Fame caliber hitters were helpless against him. While it does not tell the whole story of Ryan’s career, it explains the early years when he struggled and then won twenty games for two consecutive years and never did so again.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review of "Backboard Magic," by Howard M. Brier

Review of
Backboard Magic, by Howard M. Brier

Five out of five stars
 The book opens with Skip Turner attending Madison High in a large city. He is attending tryouts for the basketball team and while he is good, Skip is lost among the many boys trying to make the team. Since he is a senior, when Skip is cut from the team, it would appear that his high school basketball career is over.
 However, fortune smiles on him when his father is transferred to a job in the small town of Hillchuck. Skip decides to try out and soon discovers that Hillchuck is a town that takes high school basketball seriously. Their gym is first rate with glass backboards and a relatively large seating capacity and their coach knows the game very well.
 Although Skip’s talent becomes clear very quickly, it takes time before he is integrated into the team. Another boy  (Flash Knutson) transfers in at the same time as Skip and while Skip is soft-spoken, Flash never hesitates to talk up his game and is a ball hog. There is dissension on the team, but they win and do well in the state tournament.
 This story is the proper blend of teen angst and the struggle to establish what kind of person they will be with the action of high school sports and the state basketball tournament. Skip questions his actions and motives, but never to the point where he suffers from damaging self-doubt. While Hillchuck’s foe in the big game at the end was completely predictable, the action still retains the level of intensity that keeps the reader focused. It is an excellent book of adolescent sports fiction.