When Rodney Mason, an ex-con drug dealer from Newark’s rough South Ward, was shot and paralyzed, he vowed to turn his life around. A former high-school pitching ace with a 93 mph fastball, Mason decided to form a Little League team to help boys avoid the street life that had claimed his youth and mobility. Predictably, the players struggle—they endure poverty, unstable family lives with few positive male role models, failing schools, and dangerous neighborhoods—but through the fists and tears, lopsided losses and rare victories, this bunch of misfits becomes a team, and in doing so gives the community something to root for. With in-depth reporting, fascinating characters, and vivid prose, Jonathan Schuppe’s book is both a penetrating, true-to-life portrait of what’s at stake for kids growing up poor in America’s inner cities and a portrait of Newark itself, a struggling city that has recently known great hope as well as failure. -- Henry Holt
I've mentioned in the past that my dad is a huge baseball fan (I actually think my son might be following in his footsteps), so I decided to pass along the new book A CHANCE TO WIN by Jonathan Schuppe. Here are his thoughts:
Author Jonathan Schuppe, an award winning crime reporter for a Newark daily newspaper, first met Rodney Mason in 2005 when he interviewed him for an article about the physical and emotional toll of living in a violent city like Newark, New Jersey. For some reason a kind of friendship occurred between this white reporter and this black paralyzed drug dealer. In 2007 Rodney Mason sought to turn his life around by forming and coaching a baseball team made up of children from Elizabeth Street, one of the poorest, drug infested and most violent parts of Newark. Schuppe stayed close to Rodney and in 2008 he wrote an article documenting the first season of Rodney’s team, the Elizabeth Street Eagles. Realizing that his article only scratched the surface of what life was about in this neighborhood, he decided to write A CHANCE TO WIN: BOYHOOD, BASEBALL, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR REDEMPTION IN THE INNER CITY. What began as a newspaper article about teaching baseball to inner-city poor black children resulted in a passionate story about a struggling city, failed schools, dysfunctional families and the difficulty in escaping the cycle of poverty, drugs and violence.
To tell his story, over the next several years Schuppe focused on four people to follow: Rodney, two players and one father. The author was not an outside observer but immersed himself into the lives of these people. He visited their homes, attended parties, sporting events, church services and court hearings and became their friend. It’s obvious that these people trusted Schuppe to tell their stories and Schuppe tells the stories with a level of compassion that shows he personally cared about these people. However, since the book only covers a small time period, it is difficult to determine whether Rodney Mason truly changed any of their lives.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.