23 March 2012

Calico Joe

Warren Tracey, an egotistical, aging, mediocre pitcher for the New York Mets toes the rubber as Joe Castle, the Chicago Cubs' record-smashing phenom rookie hitter digs in at the plate, having clobbered a ball over the wall at Shea Stadium in his previous at-bat. Warren's son, Paul, sits in the stands, watching as his father proceeds to deliver an intentional beanball to the head of Joe, ending a brilliant, albeit short, career in a split second. Thirty years later, whatever happened to Joe Castle and Warren Tracey?

John Grisham's latest novel, Calico Joe, tells the sometimes sad, but ultimately heartwarming story of that fateful moment in baseball lore and Paul Tracey's journey to reconnect the two men to bury the hatchet that killed their careers. 

I was sent a copy of Calico Joe to read and review on this blog (free of charge in exchange for my honest opinions), and being a huge fan of John Grisham's courtroom thrillers, I jumped at the chance to see his take on America's pastime, and my favorite hobby. He doesn't disappoint, with a combination of allusions to all the great players of the 1970's - Juan Marichal, Rick Monday, Don Sutton, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Willie McCovey - and the great stories and stat lines of the all-time greats - Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Williams, DiMaggio - as I was quickly immersed in the story. Everyone with a passion for the game will immediately connect with Paul Tracey, the kid who collected all the Topps baseball cards, memorized his favorite players' statistics, kept scrapbooks with stories about the Great Ones, played Little League, and displayed a love for the game in its most pure form. 

Then came that game, and that pitch, and in an instant not only was Paul's love of the game ripped from him, but his father became the most hated man in baseball and alienated his already broken family. As a passionate fan of the game myself, I can only imagine the confusion and upset that little boy must have felt - even as a fictional character - having that one constant, solid passion torn from him in the milliseconds it takes to throw a ball 60 feet, six inches. It would certainly have crushed me. 

On the other hand, Paul's journey thirty years to the day later to reunite his father with Joe Castle and get him to apologize for hitting him and destroying not only his career, but his ability to live life is very much a reclamation of that youthful passion, and I got the sense that Grisham was trying to convey that a love for the game never truly dies. For Paul, I suspect it was just as much a chance to close a chapter in his own life that had never been resolved as it was to give his father a chance as some small measure of redemption for a life squandered.

For those big fans of John Grisham, Calico Joe is written in much the same tone and style as The Last Juror, which I absolutely loved as well. It's told as well as any Southern story could be, taking its time while capturing the imagination and making you hesitate to put it down, even in the wee hours of the morning. And at just under 200 pages (for my galley copy, anyway), it's easily a book that can be read and fully appreciated in just a couple of sittings. I would recommend Calico Joe to fans of John Grisham's novels (especially if you enjoyed Bleachers), fans of baseball who want to see another side of the game and its consequences, and to people who simply like to read heartwarming tales of love and forgiveness. 

Grisham wins again in my honest opinion. Calico Joe was an exceptional read, and one that will stay on my bookshelf for many years to come and be reread often.

Novel Info:
Calico Joe
by John Grisham (website)
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (release date April 10, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0385536070
ISBN-13: 978-0385536073

I was sent an advanced reading copy (ARC) of this book at no charge to me in exchange only for my honest review on this blog from Doubleday publishers. All opinions are my own. The photograph is my own, and is of the ARC; the published hardcover first edition may be different.

12 March 2012

March Updates and a Diamondbacks Charity Event Invitation

Wow... it's been a very long time since I started making regular posts again. Now that baseball season's back in session, I'll have to get back on the ball! In the meantime, lots to talk about!

Spring Training is in full session here in Arizona, and it seems that plenty of fun abounds in the Valley of the Sun! Albert Pujols is now an Angel training in Tempe, the Cubs continue to use their stadium at Hohokam Park, but talks continue for Wrigleyville West which could be open in a couple years, and the Oakland Athletics would renovate and take over Hohokam in their wake. The Arizona Diamondbacks are back for their second year at the beautiful Salt River Fields, and many players are having standout springs, including pitching phenom Trevor Bauer, Daniel Hudson, and new Diamondbacks Trevor Cahill and Jason Kubel. I love it! The weather's been gorgeous for baseball!

In non-sports news, my library science degree is progressing. I just passed the halfway point of the program in January, and I'm taking a couple classes this semester - Equity of Access (which I am kind of strongly disliking) and Intro to Archives (in which I am having a good time). I'll be starting a 30-hour service learning project at a local public library very soon for the Access class; about 8 hours a week for four to five weeks.

I'm still looking for a job. I had a great interview at the tail end of December for a paid internship for 2012 with the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records' Library Development Division, but I was ultimately not selected. I've also been keeping an eye on jobs with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and of course the Internet job sites, but nothing new has really happened for me yet. I'm really hoping to find something by May so I can afford to remain in my apartment.

In fun news, I was selected to receive a galley (or advanced) copy of John Grisham's newest novel "Calico Joe" which hits bookstores in April so that I can read it and write up a review here on this blog, so look for that in the coming weeks. I should be receiving the book pretty soon in the mail. I love John Grisham's stuff... I have read and own all of his books, so this is kind of an exciting opportunity for me!

Last but not least, the guys at my local sports card shop, Hot Corner Sports Cards in Mesa, Arizona, are hosting five Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers (Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow, Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Cahill, and Pat Corbin) for an autograph session on March 24th from 10am to noon or so. We're hoping to have lots and lots of support, because $20 gets you autographs from all five players, and 100% of the proceeds go to Brad Ziegler's personal charity, Pastime for Patriots. This charity provides free tickets to Arizona Diamondbacks games and educational scholarships to children of military parents, and is well-worth supporting! Check out the website for information: www.pastimeforpatriots.org and follow @bradziegler on Twitter for details and more opportunities to help.

I'm helping promote the charity event, so if you can make it out, we would LOVE to have lots of people showing their support! Hot Corner Sports Cards is located at 6750 E. Main St., Suite 112, Mesa, AZ 85205 (on the NW corner of Power Rd. and Main St. behind Arby's), and for details and information, you can call HCSC at 480-396-0442 or tweet to @HotCornerCards! Let your DBacks-loving friends know all about it!

07 March 2012

Welcome to Baseball: 2012 Style

Ladies and gentlemen, the most wonderful day of the year is here (no offense to Christmas, of course): the first day of Spring Training baseball games for the Arizona Diamondbacks! There were actually a pair of games for the team Saturday thanks to a schedule that started us out with a split squad game at the Giants and at the Rockies at Salt River Fields. Of course, I hate to miss an Opening Day, so I was there first in line at Salt River Fields that morning from 9:30am.

Game time was 1:10pm, and the gates opened at 11:00am. Last year, I had to settle for being number 2 in line behind a big Colorado Rockies fan (D, the Rockpile Ranter), and I'd gotten there earlier than 9:30am, so I was expecting a line when I showed up, but fortunately, there was none. I brought a book to read (Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura), and though I got through a couple chapters, some good friends showed up - Anya and April, two of the biggest Diamondbacks (and Rockies) fans I know. I also met Cindy, the Dbacks' self-proclaimed "flag lady" and a very nice woman who loves the team and the game. Anya gave me prints of some photos she'd taken of me and Ian Kennedy, Joe Saunders, and Daniel Hudson:

The group of us ended up chatting until the gates opened, then I parted ways and rushed around to the left-field berm to try to catch some baseballs. I was there no longer than a minute when I caught my first ball on the fly from an unknown Rockies player. Then, Michael Cuddyer hit a bomb which I grabbed on a bounce. Another Rockies guy smashed one right at the wall, and though I reached for it, I was in an awkward angle and booted it off the heel of my glove, and the ball dropped back onto the field. The very next time Cuddyer was up, he smashed another one at me, and I caught it uncontested on the fly. I had a chance at one more ball, but I backed off at the very last moment to let someone else catch it (if I hadn't I'd have surely smashed into him). There were no other homers hit near me after those initial 15-20 minutes, but I stayed out there until the end of BP anyway.

It was a sunny, cloudless day with a light blue sky, and I, of course, got sunburned while snagging balls and then in my seat, despite it only being about 64 degrees outside (with a high of 72). I grabbed a delicious Salt River Burger (with green chiles and Swiss cheese) and fries with a Pepsi to drink, and had lunch in the sun. However, while I set up my scorecard in my AWESOME seat 11 rows directly behind home plate, the shade slowly crept over me from the aptly-placed roof overhangs, and by the time of first pitch, I was cool and comfortable.

Trevor Bauer started the game by pitching a pair of perfect innings, with a pair of strikeouts to Dexter Fowler and Tyler Colvin. His slider/sinker was really on target during the 21-pitch outing, and he looked really comfortable on the mound. The Diamondbacks made a little noise in the first inning with a single by Aaron Hill and a Paul Goldschmidt walk, but a Geoff Blum groundout killed any rally.

In fact, neither team scored until the fourth, when Goldschmidt drew a second walk and advanced to third on Blum's double down the left-field line. Gerardo Parra grounded out, scoring Goldy, but a groundout by Matt Davidson and a Henry Blanco strikeout prevented any further scoring. Sadly, the Rockies answered right back, with a walk to Michael Cuddyer by reliever Patrick Corbin. A balk call moved Cuddy to second, but since Colvin drew a walk, it didn't matter. Corbin was then lifted for Chris Jakubauskas (you're impressed I spelled that right, I know) who promptly gave up a game-tying single.

For Diamondbacks pitchers, though, the combination of Jakubauskas, Bryan Shaw, Mike Zagurski, Jonathan Albaladejo, and Evan Marshall saw a nearly perfect 5th-9th innings with only one single in the ninth being erased by a caught stealing. It was STELLAR pitching, and hopefully a harbinger of many great things to come this season. Even in the 10th and final inning, Mike DeMark faced just four batters, a single to Wil Nieves being erased on a fielder's choice later.

Offensively, the Diamondbacks ended up with eight hits in the ball game, but could never seem to string them together to effect a rally. After the run scored in the 4th, singles by Jason Kubel and Parra were erased on caught stealings, a pair of walks to Matt Davidson and Chris Owings were stranded, and singles by David Winfree, Davidson, and Adam Eaton all failed to produce runs, two of them with runners on base. Thanks to their pitching, they were able to silence the Rockies, but they never roared the way they did down the September stretch and produced offensively.

The game ended a 1-1 tie in the tenth (spring training rules do not allow for additional innings). I could not have asked for a nicer start to the season - a gorgeous, 72-degree, sunny day with a light breeze from the south, the smell of freshly-cut green grass and oh-so-delicious-looking ballpark treats (I really will have to try the fry bread next time I go) linger yet in my nose. If that day had been the one for me to depart this world, I would have done so with a smile on my face.

Here's hoping for a great Diamondbacks season!