This story goes well beyond baseball.
Author Anne R. Keene’s subtitle promises the story of Ted Williams and a baseball team. But this book delivers something more – a snapshot of a long-past era of American history.
Williams takes the spotlight as the figurehead of the “Old Leaguer” archetype Keene details throughout the book. A time before free agency and multi-million dollar contracts. Back when many of the best ballplayers in the country took up arms in World War II and put any professional ambitions on hold.
But they still played some baseball. Keene’s book chronicles the Cloudbusters of the Chapel Hill V-5 Pre-Flight School; its inception, its players and personalities, and its impact as a legitimate tool for training some of the best pilots in the U.S. Navy.
Extremely readable for all ages. I wouldn’t say this is a “children’s book,” necessarily, but a young, die-hard baseball fan could certainly get into it.
Keene’s journalistic writing style makes for swift reading, as if it were a very, very long article. The pace slows at times due to a barrage of names, places, and dates characteristic to the nonfiction style. There are multiple points where Keene goes first-person and more personal, which provokes a more page-turning pace.
My favorite part.
Given the amount of ink spilled specifically about the game of baseball and its personalities relevant to the story, this did not wind up feeling like a “baseball book” like many others I’ve read. Themes broaden throughout Keene’s work, and one of my favorite sections of the book – some of the history behind the creation of the V-5 Pre-Flight School – really didn’t have much to do with baseball.
I mistakenly took the “baseball team” part of the subtitle to mean the players. This is true, but not sufficient. The most compelling character in the book is the team’s batboy.
Keene tells the story of a time and place even more than any set of people or person. The books recreates the environment where the story took place and exudes its energy.
What could I possible not like?
Keene’s journalist background leaps off the page, which may not be to your taste. The aforementioned flurry of names, places, organizations, and dates can flummox me if I’m in the wrong mood. This effect doesn’t derail too much over the course of an 800-word article, but it can get exhausting in a 250+ page book, especially on a shorter timeline.
The flip side is the book is packed with details and nuggets of information you might find fascinating.
I found myself yearning for more of Keene’s more informal prose on Jimmy Raugh; though he’s not the primary subject of the book, so I understand why Keene kept the focus on Ted Williams and some of the more important figures central to the narrative.
This is a different kind of baseball book. Not quite the romantic type of nonfiction focused on melodramatic, heavenly descriptions of the sounds and shapes of the game, nor the nuts-and-bolts nature of analytically-inclined works attempting to quantify performance in another era. The game weaves into the fabric of the book, but this is a story of American determination, innovation, and reverence for the “Old Leaguer.”
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