Publishers Weekly, Starred
"As sweet and heart-gladdening as the juice from a ripe peach." Kirkus Reviews
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In "one of the funniest and most heartfelt baseball stories in recent memory" (Publishers Weekly), Howard Frank Mosher returns to Kingdom Common, Vermont, to spin a touching coming-of-age tale in an America that has almost disappeared. From this remote village, noted for its fervent devotion to the Red Sox, comes Ethan “E.A.” Allen, a young man with a chance to change baseball history. Homeschooled, fatherless, and living on the wrong side of the tracks, E.A. is haunted by a dark mystery in his family’s past until a drifter named Teddy arrives in his life, determined to teach E.A. everything he knows about baseball.
Filled with an engaging array of rambunctious, memorable characters and brimming with faith, Waiting for Teddy Williams is an irresistible read that reminds us that dreams—no matter how far-fetched—sometimes do come true.
Publishers Weekly, Starred
"As sweet and heart-gladdening as the juice from a ripe peach." Kirkus Reviews
Time was, on a summer afternoon in the northern Vermont hamlet of Kingdom Common, when Ethan Allen could walk completely around the rectangular village green and never be out of earshot of the Red Sox game on somebody’s radio. That’s what E.A. was doing on the early afternoon of his eighth birthday. He’d started at the short south end of the green, where the Voice of the Sox was blaring out over Earl No Pearl’s portable, perched on the top row of the third-base bleachers beside the town ball diamond so that Earl could listen while he chalked the batters’ boxes and base lines for the Outlaws’ game that afternoon. The same resonant and, as it seemed to E.A. in those years, omniscient Voice was broadcasting the game from the dusty pickups angled diagonally against the long west side of the green across the street from the brick shopping block. Backcountry farmers in from the outlying hollows sat in their cabs with the windows down, listening to the play-by-play from Fenway while their wives did their Saturday marketing. As E.A. crossed over to the heaved blue-slate sidewalk in front of the stores, he could hear the Voice drifting out through the screen doors of the IGA, the hardware, the five-and-dime, and the office of the Kingdom County Monitor, where Editor James Kinneson sat by the front window, typing and listening to the game. Since there was no local television station in the mountains of northern Vermont in those days, and no cable TV, every Sox fan in the village was listening to the game on the radio.
E.A. stuck his head inside the newspaper office. “Hey, Editor.”
Editor Kinneson looked up and smiled. “Hey, Ethan.”
“I reckon we’re holding our own today,” E.A. said, nodding toward the radio on the corner of the desk.
“So far,” the editor said. “But you know us, Ethan. If there’s a way to lose —”
“We’ll find it,” E.A. said, and ducked back outside.
Editor James Kinneson always spoke to E.A. as if he were a man instead of a seven-year-old — as of today, an eight-year-old — kid. E.A. would give nearly anything to have it turn out that Editor K was the one. He knew better, though. He knew he might as well wish for the Sox to win the Series. It wasn’t Editor Kinneson.
He continued north along the brick block, with the buzz of the big Fenway crowd now coming through the screen door of Quinn’s Pharmacy. On the outside of the screen was what appeared to be a baseball. Actually, it was a baseball-size ball of cotton soaked with bug dope to keep away the flies. As E.A. approached, George Quinn II stepped outside in his white coat with his aerosol can and sprayed the cotton ball with a fresh dose of Old Woodsman. E.A. stared at him with his pale eyes. He’d seen the druggist eyeing Gypsy Lee when he thought no one was watching.
He hadn’t liked the way Quinn had looked at her.
“What are you staring at, E.A.?”
“You,” E.A. said.
“Scat,” George Quinn II said. Like a man shooing away a mangy stray cat, he gave the aerosol can a squirt in E.A.’s direction, suffusing the air with the smell of citronella. Then he retreated back into the pharmacy while the all-knowing Voice of the Sox announced that after three complete innings Boston led New York 2–1.
To which E.A. replied, “I reckon I won’t hold my breath.”
“To whom are you speaking, Ethan Allen?”
It was Old Lady Benton, leaning over the rail of her second-story rent above the pharmacy and glaring down at him the way she used to glare at whispering pupils in her third-grade classroom at the Common Academy across the green. She’d spotted him from her porch rocker while pursuing her two favorite avocations, listening to the Sox game and spying on the village.
“I asked, to whom are you speaking?” Old Lady Benton said again.
“Nobody,” E.A. said.
“You’re patrolling the streets and mumbling your mouth to one of those imaginary companions of yours, aren’t you, E.A.?”
E.A. gave her his iciest wysott Allen stare, but she looked right straight back at him, waiting for an answer. Old Lady B was one tough customer. To this day she was feared by all three generations of Commoners who’d had her as a teacher. Everyone knew how she had faced down E. W. Williams and the entire Outlaws baseball team a decade ago, on the night of the torchlight procession in honor of the Outlaws’ fifth consecutive Northern Vermont Town Team League Championship. Earlier that afternoon, E.W.’s game-winning home-run ball had struck one of the twin wooden decorative balls on the back of her porch rocker while she was sitting in it. Unimpressed that it had traveled a distance of 442 feet (not counting arc), according to Bumper Stevens’s Stanley metal tape measure, Old Lady Benton had refused to return the baseball in question. That night, cheered on by his teammates, E.W. had stood, drunk and swaying, below her porch and callled her Battleax Bentonnnn and worse besides. She had merely come to the rail and said that while she didn’t deny being a battle-ax, the ball had nearly taken her head off and therefore she would keep it as a souvenir, thank you kindly. After which E.W. had staggered off and the torchlight procession had fizzled out.
E.A. nearly always knew whether Boston was ahead or behind by a certain subtle inflection in the Voice of the Sox. Now blasting from the porch of the Common Hotel, the Voice was worriedly describing a Yankee threat. Several bat boys, retired from the Green Mountain Rebel baseball bat factory, sat out on the hotel porch in the sunshine in folding chairs listening to the game on Fletch’s hunch-shouldered Stromberg Carlson. Fletch liked to tell how, when he was E.A.’s age, in October of 1918, the bell at the United Church had rung of its own accord when the Sox won their lastWorld Series.
With the score now tied, 2–2, at the end of the fourth, Fletch reached back over his shoulder to the windowsill, where the Stromberg Carlson sat, like an old-fashioned breadbox with dials, and turned down the volume. Loud enough for E.A. to hear as he crossed the street, Fletch said, “Here comes that Allen boy again.”
E.A. stopped at the foot of the hotel porch steps to eyeball the pensioners. He regarded them and they regarded him. A slender, redheaded boy in jeans and scuffed Keds and a T-shirt and a Sox baseball cap. Not big for his age but wiry, with hair the color of barn paint and a pale blue stare that was already as cold as the ice cliffs on Allen Mountain in January.
“We saw your hit in that pickup game on the common yesterday, E.A.,” Early Kinneson said. “Saw you lace that opposite-field triple over first base.”
“You keep at it you might take the playing field for the Outlaws someday,” said Early’s brother, Late.
“Might even crack that other knob offen Old Lady B’s rocking chair,” Early added.
E.A.’s eyes moved carefully from one seamed face to the next.
Then he headed down the lane beside the hotel toward the commission- sales auction barn. Inside the barn a couple dozen local farmers and downcountry cattle buyers stood on the sawdusty floor while Frenchy LaMott, the auctioneer, sat on a high stool above the cattle ring and presided over the Saturday afternoon auction. The Voice of the Sox droned indistinctly from somewhere beyond the ring while Frenchy chanted into a microphone.
“Who’ll give a thousand dollars for this fine animal, gentlemen?
Rose Blossom Princess, a two-year-old first-calf heifer out of the Hansom herd up to Lord Hollow. One thousand. One thousand.
One thousand. Seven fifty? Five hundred? Five hundred, boys, and there’s a real steal. Four? Four? Four hundred in gold for a really first-class animal . . .” One of the buyers slightly inclined the brim of his porkpie hat. “Beef her,” Frenchy said in disgust to conceal his sympathy for the Princess’s owner. Little Shad Shadow, Frenchy’s softheaded ring man, lifted his blue cattle cane and whacked the doomed Princess from Jack Hansom’s equally doomed hill farm out the exit chute and up the urine-stained, cleated ramp to the buyer’s truck.
Occasionally Frenchy or one of his cronies from the auction barn got slicked up at the barbershop and came out to see Gypsy Lee. None of them had red hair, but Gypsy did, and E.A. figured his came from her.
“So the Sox have turned a one-run lead into a four-run deficit, folks, as a result of one bad inning . . .”
“One bad inning,” Frenchy barked into his microphone. “One hundred, two hundred, five hundred bad innings. Who’ll give me a thousand bad innings, boys? Who’ll give me ten thousand bad innings since 1918?” He put his hand over the mike and said, “E.A., what you want here, you?”
“You come to the right place, then,” Frenchy said. “Nothing’s what these boys” — nodding at the farmers — “have to give and stand to get.”
E.A.’s eyes traveled over the faces of the third- and fourthgeneration dairymen witnessing their farms and hopes roll down the line to the meatpacking plants along with their cattle. Most were family men from what had once been family farms. Not that being family men ruled them out. Many of Gypsy’s regular RFD Escort Service, Inc., gentlemen were family men. Hands in his jeans pockets, E.A. went outside and back up the lane between the barn and the hotel, past the slat-sided trucks filling up with bellowing cattle.
The Colonel and the boy looked down the green together. On the ball diamond at the south end, the Outlaws were beginning to warm up for their game with Memphremagog.
“You could give me a hint,” E.A. said. “At least you could do that.”
The Colonel stared silently at the Outlaws, his broken-off sword jutting straight toward home plate.
“You know who it is,” E.A. persisted. “Or was. I know you do.”
On the hotel porch Early said, “He’s doing it again. Talking to that statue.”
“What of it?” Fletch said. “He’s got to have somebody to talk to, don’t he? Why shouldn’t it be the fella he was named for?”
“No reason, I reckon.”
“No reason at all,” Fletch said. “Leave the boy be to conduct his own business in the manner he sees fit.”
“Strange business, if you ask me,” Late said. “Carrying on a conversation with a statue that’s been dead nigh two hundred years.”
E.A. figured the Colonel was mad that the Sox were falling farther behind New York. How could he not be? Hadn’t he seen it all? Seen Ruth blithely traded away to those very Yankees. Seen Teddy Ballgame never get his Series ring. Seen hopes throughout New England rise higher than the top of Allen Mountain when Fisk waved his home run fair in ’75, in the sixth game against the Reds, willed that baseball fair, only to watch the team stumble and lose the seventh the next day. Fisk, a story in himself, had played American Legion ball across the river in New Hampshire and had come north to the Common once and smacked a ball off the Colonel’s privates, 390 feet from home plate, according to Bumper’s Stanley. Granted, Fisk’s blast was nothing like E.W.’s 400-footplus shot at the Battle-ax, but it was still a hang of a ways for an eighteen-year-old kid to hit a ball. Years later the traitors in the front office had sold Fisk down the river without so much as a by-your-leave. And despite that run in ’75, and several other runs nearly as exciting, hadn’t the Colonel seen many decades pass since 1918 without another championship flag flying over Fenway?
Closer to home, he’d seen the Common’s own E. W. Williams, arguably the best long-ball hitter and smartest catcher to come out of New England since Fisk, never make it to the majors at all or even the minors. Lord knows there was no cynicism in that fixed bronze expression, even after all these years. Baseball, of all sports, and maybe of all human endeavors, has no room for cynicism.
But when it came to the Sox, the Colonel’s hopes were diminished.
When the Yankees waltzed into Fenway for a Sunday twin bill, he hoped for a split. When the Sox were slated to play two at the Stadium, he prayed for rain.
As for the Colonel telling E.A. what he most wanted to know, there was less chance of that than of the Red Sox winning the World Series.
E.A. was all but certain that Prof Benton knew. He could see Prof sitting in his shirtsleeves by the open window of his headmaster’s office on the ground floor of the Academy, across the street from the long east side of the green, listening to the now nearly listless Voice of the Sox announce, “New York eight, Boston three, after seven.” He’d never seen Prof out at Gran’s place, or Judge Charlie Kinneson, either, who was no doubt listening to the game in his chambers in the granite courthouse next to the Academy. The judge was Editor Kinneson’s older brother and a great favorite of E.A.’s. But the judge wouldn’t tell him, either.
Next to the courthouse was the railway station. Only three passenger trains a week stopped there now, though ten daily freights still rumbled through the Common, and a decade ago there’d been twice that many. E.A. supposed it might possibly have been a conductor on the Montrealer. Or maybe an engineer off the Green Mountain Limited. He didn’t really think so, though. Most of Gypsy’s RFD clients were local.
At the short south end of the green he stopped behind the double-chicken-wire backstop and stared across the street at the Reverend, out cutting the lawn in front of the United Church with a clickety-click push mower to demonstrate to his parishioners that he wasn’t afraid of day labor. Showboat stuff, E.A. figured.
Daniel praying in the lion’s den. He gave the Reverend a glacial stare, which the man of God pretended not to notice. The Reverend was the only Commoner E.A. had encountered this afternoon who was not listening to the Sox game, and as far as the boy was concerned that was just one more strike against him. He’d offer up his ’74 Topps Bill Lee, and maybe throw in his ’62 Fleer Willie Mays, if Our Father Who Art in Heaven would turn the Reverend into a pillar of salt right there on the church lawn. E.A. closed his eyes and said a little prayer to this effect. When he opened his eyes the Reverend was still there.
E.A. linked his fingers through the chicken wire and peered through the backstop at the Outlaws, taking batting practice.
Viewed through the wire, the scene had something of the quality of an old black-and-white documentary of the early days of baseball.
In most parts of the country, town ball was a thing of the past.
In Kingdom Common this afternoon the bleachers were filling up fast. Cars and pickups were parked along all four sides of the green. Some radios were still broadcasting the Sox game — 11–4, Yanks.
E.A. pressed his face close to the chicken wire and watched the Outlaws hit. Earl No Pearl was loosening up on the sideline.
Drunk or sober, Earl was unhittable, though in either condition he could not find the strike zone, so he had to pitch in a semistupefied state midway between sobriety and inebriation, maintained by one longneck Budweiser every three innings. It was a sobering enough sight for the visiting team to watch Earl warm up, uncorking his 90-mph fastball between sips. Few batters crowded the plate against him.
The Three Shoeless Farmer Boys, Merle, Elmer, and Porter Kittredge, played the outfield and batted barefoot. The book on the Farmer Boys was that you couldn’t get a ball by them, in the field or at the plate. It was confidently said in Kingdom Common that if they’d been willing to wear cleats, all three brothers could have gone all the way to the majors. Moonface Poulin at shortstop could have gone all the way too, said the Common, and so could Squint Currier at second, except for the unfortunate fact that they’d “never had the coaching.” Bobby Labounty, now looking at the centerfold of a Penthouse magazine while waiting his turn to take BP, had tragically and unfairly been denied his major-league career by an errant arm. Something of a drawback, E.A. thought, for a third baseman. Pappy Gilmore at first, and Cy McCoy, the Outlaws’ longtime catcher, had played some single-A ball in Canada decades ago. Both men were now in their fifties. In the estimation of the Common, Pappy and Cyrus could have gone all the way but for their careers having been interrupted by the war.
Which war, E.A. had never been sure.
Several of the ball players regularly called on Gypsy Lee, and E.A. supposed that the one he was looking for might have been an Outlaw. If so, he had mixed feelings about it. True, the townies were good old boys who paid him a nickel for every foul ball he shagged during BP, ten cents if he caught it on the fly, and let him go up to the plate and take ten raps when they were through. But when it came to baseball, E.A. was already something of an elitist.
Even at eight years old, the birthday boy was certain that regardless of what the Common said, not one of the Outlaws had ever had the ghost of a chance of setting foot on a major-league baseball diamond, as he fully intended to do someday, and wearing a Red Sox uniform at that.
“E.A.’s giving us the hairy eyeball again, Cy,” Elmer Kittredge said to the catcher. Elmer winked at E.A. “You’re up next, Bubba B. After me.”
Bubba B was one of a dozen nicknames the Outlaws had devised for E.A., none of which met with his approval, but he was too happy to be hitting to care much. He swiped Elmer’s thirty-eight-inch Green Mountain Rebel and choked up three-quarters of the way to the trademark. Standing in to take his cuts, he felt right at home. This was where he belonged. He drove Porter Kittredge’s floating BP pitches out toward short, toward second, even pulled one down the line over third. The Outlaws nodded and said the ball jumped off his bat right quick for a shaver. That he had a right fast bat and he was one to watch. It felt good when the ball met the fat of Elmer’s old Rebel. Like the solid weight of a big brown trout on his line in the trestle pool.
“That’s eight, E.A.,” Porter called in.
He got just ten chances when he took BP with the Outlaws. If a pitch was wide or tight or high or in the dirt, he swung anyway.
The tenth pitch was right in his wheelhouse, and he drove it into left field.
With E.A. on the bench keeping the book, the Outlaws jumped out to a five-run lead in the first inning and never looked back. From his station in deep center, the Colonel watched the game with his usual bemused expression. A few cars honked when Elmer Kittredge hit the Colonel’s pedestal on the roll, and there was a flurry of polite horn taps when Earl No Pearl struck out the Memphremagog side on ten pitches in the third. But by then the Outlaws were far ahead. Though everyone knew that the competition wasn’t what it once had been, any baseball was better than no baseball. So the Colonel said anyway. The Colonel was also fond of saying that while change, like spring, came slower to the Kingdom than to the rest of Vermont, the day would certainly arrive when there’d be no town ball on the common at all.
Then the game was over and the boy started home across the outfield grass.
“Outlaws thirteen, Memphremagog two. New York fourteen, Boston five,” he told the Colonel on his way by, hoping for a hint in return. But the statue didn’t say a word, and E.A. was as much in the dark as he’d been when he first woke up that morning, remembering that he was no longer seven but eight.
As the Colonel said, everything changed.
HOWARD FRANK MOSHER is the author of ten books, including Waiting for Teddy Williams, The True Account, and A Stranger in the Kingdom, which, along with Disappearances, was corecipient of the New England Book Award for fiction. He lives in Vermont.
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Howard Mosher has created characters and a story that will warm your heart. If you need a book to cheer you up, this is the book for you.
tremendous writing style, fast pace, and well woven sports-family and fun