Friday, February 28, 2014

Single Father's Book Club: John Grisham's CALICO JOE: A NOVEL

Just in time for the start of baseball spring training, I finished John Grisham’s venture into America’s pastime, Calico Joe: A Novel, and I finished it with a tear in my eye.

A Christmas gift from my eldest daughter who obviously “gets” both her dad and The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball, Calico Joe: A Novel is the fictional account of a Chicago Cubs rookie phenom, Joe Castle. Joe hails from the tiny town of Calico Rock, Arkansas. Hence, Joe gets the handle "Calico Joe" from a sportswriter.

During the summer of 1973, the Cubs call up Calico Joe from the AA minors to fill the roster spot of an injured player. No one expects much from him, but Joe sets a number of rookie records. Joe Castle has a incredible potential and becomes the talk of baseball. Castle’s walk-the-talk confidence has Cubs fans believing that the "Curse of the Billy Goat" may finally be broken.

Eamus Catuli!

Paul Tracy is Joe’s biggest fan. Paul is the 11 year old son of New York Mets’ #5 starter, Warren Tracy. Alcoholic and a lifetime sub-.500 journeyman pitcher, Warren Tracy has a reputation of being a headhunter. (For those not familiar with baseball jargon, Warren Tracy has lost more games than he’s won and throws at batters as a means of intimidation.) During a series at Shea Stadium when Warren Tracy believes Calico Joe has not only showed him up during the game, but also showed him up in the eyes of his son, the Mets' hurler throws at Joe Castle’s head. The results of the bean ball are devastating both for Castle and for Tracy.
John Grisham

A story of reconciliation, Calico Joe: A Novel is narrated by Paul Tracy, now a father and a journalist, decades after that infamous pitch. There is no love lost between Paul and Warren and conciliation can only go so far after years of broken promises and broken dreams. Still, for Warren Tracy and Joe Castle, an apology and forgiveness can change lives.

I’d been an avid John Grisham two decades ago when his legal genre novels like The Pelican Brief and The Firm were the pinnacle of popular fiction. I think Grisham has a nice, simple story with Calico Joe. He acknowledges as sources Chicago Cubs shortstop, Don Kessinger, and St. Louis Cardinals manager and eventual Hall of Fame inductee, Tony LaRussa. Still, some of the accounts seem overly contrived and at least one conflict Grisham sets up, specifically the potential difficulty that Paul might have with Joe's brothers, Red and Charlie Castle, is too easily resolved. In all, though, Calico Joe is entertaining, easy, and somewhat evocative reading.

Now, who’s ready for Opening Day?

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