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Posted June 16, 2010
Back in the early 1950's, when I was growing up in Washington, baseball wasn't just the National Pastime, it was every boy's obsession.
I have fond memories of sitting on the screened porch on summer evenings hearing the rumble of a sudden storm and watching the fireflies vie for attention over the flashes of lightening dancing from cloud to cloud, and listening to my beloved Senators struggle through another lost season. The saying was "Washington, First in war, First in Peace, and last in the American league."
But hope always sprung eternal in the hearts of every Senator's fan that this would be the year.
In those days baseball players were heroes, but they were also real guys that the average fan could relate to. If you got to the ballpark early you could find players arriving and they were almost always willing to stop and talk with fans. You might run into your favorite hitter or pitcher at the local store, or find them working in a local business in the off season.
But years have passed, and baseball has lost much of its allure. Players have become much more distant and have lost the close connection to either the fans, or to the community.
If you want to get a feel for the magic of baseball in those long ago days read The Education of Jake O'Brien by Michael Freeman. At age 37 Jake is fast reaching the end of his playing days after having spent all of his adult life in the minor leagues trying to make it to the big show. Finally, he gets the call from the Cleveland Indians who need a left handed power hitter in a pennant run.
Jake arrives in Cleveland to find his cherished baseball dream, romance, and reality. But each comes with a price. The author's game descriptions evoke the crack of the bat, the smell of new mown grass, and the excitement of the crowd. The locker room scenes brought a smile to your reviewer (who, in the spirit of full disclosure, lacked the talent to make it beyond playground ball). Jake's long distance love problems will be familiar to anyone who has been there.
The Education of Jake O'Brien brings a warm and very human feeling to baseball and those involved in the game. This isn't about multimillionaire players and wild excesses. It is a book about a very average guy who loves his sport and is striving to play it to the best of his ability. If you want to get a feeling for why baseball was really the National Pastime, this book is a great place to start.
Posted September 12, 2009
The plot is very typical of the thinking process so many athletes pocess. It is gratifying to see in print the mental and emotional growth of at least one player. Jake o'Brien starts out with a solid ethical and mature base, which is refreshing. Most athletes do not pocess these qualities.
The writing style sweeps the reader away making it difficult to put the book down.