Thursday, May 10, 2012
Whatever happened to Calico Joe?
It began quietly enough with a pulled hamstring. The first baseman for the Cubs AAA affiliate in Wichita went down as he rounded third and headed for home. The next day, Jim Hickman, the first baseman for the Cubs, injured his back. The team suddenly needed someone to play first, so they reached down to their AA club in Midland, Texas, and called up a twenty-one-year-old named Joe Castle. He was the hottest player in AA and creating a buzz.
In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen. The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.
Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…
In John Grisham’s new novel the baseball is thrilling, but it’s what happens off the field that makes CALICO JOE a classic. -- Doubleday
Many years ago, I couldn't wait to pick up the latest John Grisham book, but that's not really the case anymore. It's not that I have anything against the guy or his books, it's just that there's so much out there I'd rather read. When I saw that his latest novel CALICO JOE wasn't a traditional legal thriller, rather it was about America's favorite past-time -- baseball, I thought why not? It is that time of the year and baseball is pretty big in our house now that Booking Son is officially playing tee-ball. Plus, I do love me some baseball!
So I sat down one afternoon and thought I'd check out CALICO JOE. The premise sounded good enough -- a book about the rise and fall of Joe Castle, aka Calico Joe; and much to my surprise, I read the book straight through. And what came as even a bigger surprise to me is how emotional I got while reading this story. I actually cried at the ending (and I don't mean just a little tear or two.) Darn you, Mr. Grisham! You tugged at my heartstrings and I even knew that's what you were going to do, and yet I still fell for it!
CALICO JOE tells the story of Joe Castle, a young baseball player from Calico Rock, Arkansas, who gets his big chance in the majors when the Chicago Cubs have a slew of injuries. He absolutely wows the country when he hits home run after home run, and he becomes the hottest thing in baseball. He garners loads of attention from people around the country, and even Paul Tracey, the son of an aging and bitter Mets pitcher, finds himself riveted to the record breaking actions of Castle. Paul finally gets his chance to see Castle play against the Mets (and his father), and his dream day becomes a nightmare when his dad throws a fastball that not only takes Castle, but ends his baseball career.
CALICO JOE takes place in the present and is told in the voice of a grown-up Paul. Paul no longer adores the game of baseball and his relationship with his father is pretty much non-existent; however, when he learns that his father is dying from cancer, he decides to track down the reclusive Castle and arrange a meeting between the two. What happens next is a heartwarming story (and a bit of a tearjerker if you're like me) about the complexity of father/son relationships. But it also contains a powerful message about the power of forgiveness.
I actually enjoyed CALICO JOE quite a bit, but it's not just for fans of baseball. It's a touching story about fathers and sons as well as forgiveness and acceptance, and I think it's a great idea for the upcoming Father's Day holiday.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.