While ostensibly a contemporary baseball story, Hazelgrove’s expansive fifth novel also tackles issues of class, immigration law, and inequity. Thirteen-year-old Ricky Hernandez has a 75 mph pitch and dreams of making the freshman baseball team in Jacksonville, Fla., as the first step toward a professional career. He’s dyslexic, of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, and is ceaselessly taunted by his peers, led by a kid named Eric with an inside track to making the team. While most of Ricky’s teammates can afford sports camp and private lessons, he and his mother are broke due to his abusive father’s lack of financial support and his mother’s mounting medical bills. Despite her deteriorating health, she has loads of attitude, brains, and charm. She singlehandedly persuades their neighbor, The Pitcher, who played in the World Series, to set aside his beer, leave his garage, and coach Ricky.
Hazelgrove (Rocket Man) measures out a generous sprinkling of American idealism while weaving in legitimate threads of sorrow, employing the oft-usedbaseball metaphor to fresh and moving effect. Adult characters are particularly well-crafted, giving the book crossover potential. Cevin Bryerman, Publisher / Vice President, www.publishersweekly.com
The Pitcher is a Junior Library Guild Selection
"Readers will be rooting for underdog Ricky every time he steps onto the mound and tries to control his wild pitch. With tense moments, unexpected twists, and a few humorous and joyful reprieves, Hazelgrove's writing reflects the dramatic arc of a baseball game. Will appeal to baseball players and fans, as well as anyone who has experienced the intensity of tryouts or a high-stakes game." Junior Library Guild
School Library Journal Review of The Pitcher
"Ricky Hernandez has dreamed of pitching ever since, at nine years old, he astounded the grown-ups with his throwing speed at a carnival game. Now almost 14, he’s still got the speed, but has never learned to control his pitches. His mom is his biggest fan, and she scrapes together enough for him to play on a youth league team and acts as its assistant coach. But in affluent Jacksonville, Florida, where the other rising freshmen attend elite sport camps and have personal coaches, Ricky and his mom know that he needs more if he’s going to have any chance at the high school team. His reclusive neighbor is rumored to be Jack Langford, the winning pitcher of the 1978 World Series, so Maria begins her campaign to enlist him as Ricky’s coach, but the Pitcher wants no part of it. He has spent the years since his wife died holed up in his garage with beer and cigarettes and ESPN. But Maria is tenacious, and he agrees reluctantly to help her son. The beauty of this story is that there is no sudden epiphany for Ricky when the Pitcher steps in. Langford is impatient and intolerant and sometimes drinks too much. Ricky is used to struggling academically because he can’t stay focused, and lets himself believe that this same lack of concentration is going to keep him from ever being a good pitcher. The other players pick up on his insecurities and use racial slurs to get under his skin at games. Hazelgrove is skilled at creating fully fleshed-out characters, and the dialogue carries the story along beautifully. While there is plenty of sports action, The Pitcher is ultimately about relationships, and the resolution and personal growth of the characters will appeal to a wide audience." Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
"Hazelgrove knits a host of social issues into a difficult but believable tale in which junior highage Ricky has a gift: He can throw a mean fastball.
Although the story opens with triumphyoung Ricky surprises and impresses a carnival barker with his pitchingsuccess generally proves elusive for this son of undocumented immigrants. With an abusive, mostly absent father and racially motivated bullying by teammates and adults, it’s not just Ricky’s pitching in need of a change-up. His supportive, spitfire, Latina mother is seriously ill and without health insurance, his goal of making the high school team is increasingly unlikely, and the litany of obstacles appears otherwise unending. Class issues? Check. Dyslexia? You bet. But Ricky’s first-person voice is entertaining and unflinching; when a drunk, ex-pro pitcher offers surprising assistance, the youngster notes that “we are equipped to handle all the bad shit, you know. But good things are a little trickier.” Given the gritty portrayal of can’t-catch-a-break lives and the cruelty and kindness of people young and old, sophisticated readers might balk at a somewhat implausible solution when Ricky is thrown one final curve before tryouts. But no one will really mindthis kid deserves a break.
An engaging, well-written sports story with plenty of human dramathis one is a solid hit."
THE PITCHER is destined to become a classic. It is well-written, funny, heart-warming, engaging, easy to read, romantic and uplifting. On the surface this story may seem to be all about baseball and pitchers, but it’s more than that. THE PITCHER, a Junior Library Guild Selection, is about a loving and determined Hispanic mother who will endure anything and survive everything for the love of her child and his right to fulfill his dreams; it’s about overcoming prejudice and poverty; it’s about second chances; and most of all, it’s about learning to believe in yourself.
Latina Book Club http://www.latinabookclub.com