Praying for Base Hits: An American Boyhood

Praying for Base Hits: An American Boyhood

by Bruce Clayton
     
 

Praying for Base Hits: An American Boyhood follows a young man's bittersweet experiences from youth to adulthood. Bruce Clayton gives readers more than a chronicle of his growing-up years in Kansas City, Missouri; this narrative taps the commonalities of the fifties and conveys the innocence, simplicity, and naïveté of the era.

Shifting

Overview

Praying for Base Hits: An American Boyhood follows a young man's bittersweet experiences from youth to adulthood. Bruce Clayton gives readers more than a chronicle of his growing-up years in Kansas City, Missouri; this narrative taps the commonalities of the fifties and conveys the innocence, simplicity, and naïveté of the era.

Shifting from impish boyhood escapades to persistent family tensions and back again, Praying for Base Hits elicits a wide range of emotions. Clayton tells of raucously boyish adventures siphoning "free" orange concentrate from Old Man Pierce's drugstore counter, hiding in a neighborhood grape arbor to glimpse a bathing beauty, skipping school to play Indian ball and penny-ante poker, and whiling away quiet afternoons discussing baseball stats with his neighborhood idol, Mr. Jim.

Praying for Base Hits also speaks of graver issues. Clayton remembers his cold, taciturn father grumbling behind his newspaper about the stupidity of baseball and his son's inadequacies. The man's ruthless honesty creates a wall between him and the rest of the family. The tension between Clayton's agnostic father and his pious mother is heightened by frequent trips to the narrow community church Clayton is obliged to attend.

From his vivid memories, Clayton gathers a quirky cast of characters: Minnie, his zealously religious maternal grandmother, who refers to Kansas City as Sodom and Gomorrah; Buck, his paternal grandfather, a cold but handsome devil who commits suicide before Clayton's birth; Old Man Pierce, the callous, greedy pharmacist who cringes at the sight of Clayton and the rest of the "drugstore cowboys"; and Ed, the cabbie, who reads and quotes Spinoza while hanging out at the Home Plate, an all-night eatery and favorite haunt of Clayton's.

The final chapters of the memoir find Clayton trading his dashed childhood hopes of becoming a New York Yankee for the mysteries of the adult world. Skillfully alternating between the voices of youth and adulthood, Clayton reflects on his boyhood fully aware that he can never return. Praying for Base Hits offers readers of all ages an engaging story of the innocent pranks and aspirations of childhood and the wistful adult reminiscences of a simpler bygone time.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A charming, evocative, nostalgic paean to a mid-century way of life that has largely vanished, and Bruce Clayton captures its innocence and its essence so well that even those who got here too late for the fifties can share in the vicarious pleasures of that deceptively simple time."—John Egerton

NY Times Book Review
...[E]vokes Kansas City in the 1950's, a world in which porch sitting was a summer recreation....But [the book] does not describe an idealized boyhood....As his memoir shows, he grew up.
New York Times Book Review
...[E]vokes Kansas City in the 1950'sa world in which porch sitting was a summer recreation....But [the book] does not describe an idealized boyhood....As his memoir showshe grew up.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As one might guess from the title and subtitle, this is not one of those autobiographies that serves as a vehicle for withering social critique. Instead, this account by historian Clayton (Forgotten Prophet) of growing up in Kansas City during the 1950s is a nostalgic series of anecdotes that evoke Norman Rockwell and Opie. His experiences--centered primarily around baseball and girls--mirror those of multitudes of boys. The only real drama is the equally common realization that he will not play baseball for a living, but the psychological levels he probes here are not deep. Vivid hometown characters appear throughout the book, and the stories evoke a warmth that will appeal to those who shared the author's time and place in history. References to larger issues of the 1950s, such as racism and sexism, are largely ignored, and while this is probably an honest expression of a young boy's worldview, it prevents the narrative from expanding to a global level. Baseball is woven throughout, but it is that of the fan or high school player, with familiar big league names, well-known events, and often repeated yearnings. Informal and well written, many of Clayton's anecdotes are entertaining, but a book without a unifying center needs compelling material to hold a reader's interest, and Clayton's experiences are at once too familiar and too particular to be engaging. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Clayton, a history professor at Allegheny College, is the author of such biographies as W.J. Cash: A Life (LJ 4/1/91) and Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne (Univ. of Missouri, 1998). Here he evokes his own formative time (1950s) and place (Kansas City) when youngsters like himself, infected with baseball fever, spent afternoons hanging around sandlots and ballparks, waiting for the next pick-up game or autograph of a professional ballplayer. This was back in the days when schools allowed the World Series to be shown in classrooms. Still, baseball serves only as a backdrop to the author's broader portrait of an era when community life revolved around neighborhood activities (e.g., gatherings on porches, treks to the corner drugstore). Altogether, this is an affecting look back at a much simpler time in mid-century Middle America. Of regional interest, in particular.--William H. Hoffman, Ft. Myers-Lee Cty. P.L., FL

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780826211897
Publisher:
University of Missouri Press
Publication date:
09/28/1998
Pages:
267
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

What People are saying about this

John Egerton
"A charming, evocative, nostalgic paean to a midcentury way of life that has largely vanished, and Bruce Clayton captures its innocence and its essence so well that even those who got here too late for the fifties can share in the vicarious pleasures of that deceptively simple time."

Meet the Author

Bruce Clayton is Harry A. Logan Sr. Professor of History at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books, including Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne and W. J. Cash: A Life.

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