Each July for the last five years, my former book club, The Indy Reading Coalition, would collect a short story from each member for the rest of the group to read. As I wasn’t a short story reader prior to this, I enjoyed the change of pace. For the last few years, I always wanted to find a short story about baseball, but never could. I seemed to gravitate toward Ring Lardner, but eventually would give up and choose something different. The final July (2011) of our club, another member chose “Casey At the Bat” by Ernest Thayer, and I finally felt somewhat satisfied that baseball got a little bit of representation in my book club before we decided to call it quits.
However, that still had me thinking about baseball stories and not knowing where to look for more. I had read W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe, a number of years ago. That’s the novel on which the movie, Field of Dreams, was based. That was a great book, especially when I found out the the film’s character, Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones), was actually another reclusive, controversial author, J.D. Salinger, in the novel. And the film contains one of my all-time favorite movie lines: “Is this heaven?” with the response “No, it’s Iowa”.
All that to point to the book I just read yesterday, Blockade Billy by Stephen King. It’s a novella (80 pages) about, you guessed it, baseball! The story is told by George Grantham, a former member of the New Jersey Titans in the late 50’s. He’s talking to Stephen King in the present day from what he calls a “zombie hotel”, an appropriate term for a nursing home, in a Stephen King novel, perhaps? It’s the story of William Blakely, a player from the Davenport Cornhuskers (another Iowa reference) who is reluctantly called up to the major leagues to catch for the Titans. Reluctantly, in that they had nobody else they could get. While Blakely ends up being called “Blockade Billy” and performs well, the team doesn’t make it to the playoffs. Blakely is an odd character that doesn’t seem to have it all together. When told what to do, he simply repeats the words that were told to him. The coach and owner of the team discover that Blakely has an even stranger and scarier (it’s Stephen King) background story. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that if you’ve ever gotten mad at an umpire (and who hasn’t?) you may find this story kind of satisfying.
The entire story is told in the words and mannerisms of Grantham and sounds much like a Ring Lardner story. Lots of details about various plays that probably only an old baseball player would remember. But any baseball fan would love. I sense from the story that Stephen King, himself, is a huge baseball fan.
While at 80 pages, this story would not have probably passed for a short story with my book club, but it only took me one day to read it. However, now, I’m looking for another baseball story or novel. Any suggestions?