This book is subtitled "A story of love, madness, and baseball". Which is why I picked it up.
I had never heard of the author, Nicholas Dawidoff before and I wasn't sure when reading the dust jacket if it was fiction or not. But it was in the non-fiction section of the library so I decided it was not a work of fiction. He has written several other books and is the editor of The Library of America's Baseball: A Literary Anthology. He is the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. I don't know what that means but it sounds impressive.
Dawidoff tells of growing up poor in 1970s New Haven with his divorced Mom and little sister. Early in life he discovers baseball and it becomes the missing father in his life. His actual father isn't completely missing but living in New York. Nicky and his sister visit him one weekend a month. But his father is slowly succumbing to mental illness and the visits become more and more difficult.
His early love of baseball started with him reading old baseball books and Ted Williams' biography. It grew through baseball cards and then by listening to first the Mets, and later the Red Sox on the radio. He grew up without television so all he knew about the Sox was what the radio announcer told him. He also played in Little League, high school and some at Harvard. He was always small for his size but made up for it through sheer determination.
The level of writing here is high. I really liked this book. It is ultimately a sad story but a triumphant one as well. Dawdioff writes that he never understood his father or himself and his desire/fear to be/not be like his father while he was growing up. But in the process of writing this book he learned about both. I want to quote a passage which may be the best paragraph in the book:
"And then it was early spring, and from my bedroom window I could hear the four-bar clatter of a wooden bat falling to hard pavement, and out of the house I soared to play in the shadow of bricks on days so hot the blacktop became pillowy underfoot, on days still so cold enough that grape soda froze solid in the can - sometimes bursting the metal to reveal a purple chunk that tasted so good a couple of kids tried it at home in the freezer, treating whoever next opened the door to a blaze of icy heliotropes. We named captains, chose up sides, made bases with our shirts, and then time lost its interstices, hour after hour, nothing more on my mind in my elation than the thought of being there, hitting and throwing until well past the time when daylight failed".