The Pitcher is a Winner

                                          

 

No sport is more uniquely American than baseball. After all it is called our national pastime. William Hazelgrove’s recent novel, The Pitcher, relates a marvelous story of the fulfillment of the American dream amidst the balls, bats and bases found on the baseball diamond. I was somewhat hesitant, I must admit, to begin reading another “baseball as a metaphor for life” novel, but somehow The Pitcher grabbed my interest immediately and held my steadfast attention until the end.

Hazelgrove writes a truly “feel good” story about Ricky Hernandez, a Latino teenage boy transplanted from Chicago to Florida. His single mother, Maria, is working hard to make ends meet after divorcing from an abusive husband, who still lurks terrifyingly in the background. Maria knows that Ricky has natural talent to be a successful pitcher, yet he needs intensive coaching to assure he hone his raw hurling skills.

And who better to learn the craft of pitching from than Jack Langford, the former World Series pitching hero who just happens to live on the same block as Ricky and Maria?  We see how the reclusive and alcoholic Jack, who had been knocked down in the game of life through personal loss, picks himself up from the mat as he is transformed into a caring and loving human being by his evolving relationships with Ricky and Maria.

Although some might question that there is a little too much predictability in the story line, The Pitcher makes for a wonderful read with a true storybook ending where you feel the goose bumps and shed a few tears of joy.     

Note: William Hazelgrove is the featured author at the Cliff Dwellers Book Club on Saturday, May 31 where he will discuss The Pitcher. The discussion begins at 11:00 am. All are welcome. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 S. Michigan, across the street from the Art Institute.

          

                                           

          

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Ben Hecht Redux

It was a distinct pleasure chatting with Paul Dailing at the Studs Terkel weekend celebration at the University of Chicago. Paul is in the process of creating 1001 Chicago Afternoons, a contemporary version of the great Ben Hecht’s classic stories 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. Dailing loves the intelligent and evocative writing style of Hecht. “Hecht could blend elements of fact and fiction into his 1001 Afternoon in Chicago vignettes, and he didn’t really care about the distinction as long as they made good stories.”Indeed Hecht was known to take police blotter reports of actual crimes off the wire, and craft them into beautiful and highly stylistic journalistic pieces.

Dailing’s own pieces are shorter in length and completely non-fiction, yet they evoke Hecht’s style and voice in depicting the Chicago urban landscape. In “The Bunny” he writes ‘the city had begun its nightly shift from sun to streetlamp, making the train platform a brief slice of dark for the bundled masses. Out of the warming light pouring from the train, a hop through dark, then down into the headlights and storefronts and traffic signals below.” In “Starry, Starry Night” Dailing tells the reader that “I never realized how much the Chicago skyline looks like stars at night. Little dots of light from individual windows against a sea of smooth black glass-and-steel. Thousands of specks of light, varying brightnesses and colors.”     

You can follow the progress of 1001 Chicago Afternoons at 1001chicago.com. New stories post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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Studs Fest 2014

This weekend there is a celebration of the life and legacy of Studs Terkel at the University of Chicago. The schedule of events can be found on studs.uchicago.edu. Personally, I didn’t know Studs very well. I don’t think he knew my name. He acknowledged me at political events, concerts and plays that we both attended, and every now and then we would engage in some light conversation of never more than a minute or two.

I thought that Studs was the best radio interviewer that I ever listened to. His encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of subject matter never failed to astound me. He seemed equally versed on jazz, blues, musical theater and opera. Despite occasional outrageous remarks by interviewees, he never seemed fazed, always maintaining a calm demeanor.

I wonder if Saul Bellow’s criticism of Studs might surface during this coming adulatory weekend. Bellow, in a letter to the journalist Herbert Mitgang in 1996 writes “Stud’s Chicago certainly was not mine. His Chicago was mythical. His myth was common.” Bellow goes on to say that both Studs and Carl Sandburg had a stylized image of Chicago. “It was the People, Yes! Populism was the source of their mythology. It was not necessary for them to wonder how to describe any phenomenon because they had ideological ready-mades, cutouts, stereotypes, etc. Poets and street-corner orators can make use of slogans, but slogans will not do for writers.”

I’m sure that the Studs who so loved the cantankerous banter of Bughouse Square in its heyday, would appreciate some stimulating debate about his work, rather than accept unanimous appreciation by admirers.