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Battle Creek

Battle Creek

by Scott Lasser

Paperback(1ST PERENN)

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Gil Davison is the coach of an amateur baseball team in Michigan, national finalists many times over but champions never. He has spent his adult life juggling his roles as coach to the team, father to his estranged son who has made it clear he is doing just fine without Gil, and caretaker to his disapproving father who is dying of cancer. So when a hot rookie hitter wanders into town—fresh from a stint in prison—Gil convinces himself that this season his team must win the championship, their last chance to fulfill an elusive dream. But the events that unfold are unexpected, enlightening, and overwhelmingly powerful—and will change each of these men forever.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688177638
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/28/2000
Edition description: 1ST PERENN
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

Scott Lasser recieved his M.F.A. from the University of Michigan and M.B.A. from the Wharton School, and is presently the treasury bill trader at Lehman Brothers. He has written for the PBS nature series Wild America, and his short stories have appeared in the Missouri Review, the Mississippi Review, and other literary journals. He lives in New York with his wife and two children.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Before the screen door can slap shut, the smell of grass hits him. It is the very odor of youth and freshness, and it makes him come to a stop on his porch. By any measure it is a glorious day. The sun shines, the air is warm, the sky is the robin's-egg blue of spring. Though Gil Davison is not normally the type of man to appreciate the natural world, he notices that the buds have opened on the large oak that hovers over his driveway. Across the street his neighbor, Tom Foss, is dropping clear plastic bags of lawn clippings along the curb.

"Beautiful day, Gil," Foss says. Gil has now moved out in front of his house, as this is a neighborhood in which men commonly talk from their lawns.

"Beautiful," Gil repeats.

Foss waves, as though from a great distance, and goes back to work.

Gil then remembers what he has set out to do: fire a player. Though he has coached baseball for nearly thirty years, he still dreads letting people go. Every year he has to do it ten times or a dozen; it doesn't get any easier. This year, though, he is taking no chances. He has made up his mind that this will be his last season. He wants to go out on top. In previous years he kept some people on board out of loyalty, or because he liked them, or because he liked their wives or girlfriends, or just to avoid having to fire them, but this year he won't do it. This year a player has to produce, or he's gone. Hitters have to hit; pitchers have to get people out. He isn't going to have any shenanigans, any lackadaisical grab-ass. For four years running his team has made the national finals only to lose. No other amateur team has thenational reputation of Koch and Sons, no other team has ever made the finals four years, in a row or not. No other team has placed so many players in pro ball, or has had so many go all the way to the bigs. Koch alumni have played in the World Series, are making big bucks in Anaheim, Baltimore, and Osaka. Last year one of the Battle Creek papers called the team a dynasty. Gil thinks of last year, when he left Mercer in so that the kid could get the championship win, left him in even though he knew Merc was tired, and when San Antonio rocked him and all was lost, Gil could think only that again he'd let his heart rule his head. Football was the game of emotions. Baseball required clear-headed logic. In baseball you played percentages and made your own luck. So this year emotions will have nothing to do with it.

Jerry Callicotte does not think Gil is soft. Callicotte has played on the fringe of Koch and Sons for three years. He has found ways to make himself useful. He has played every position — even catcher — and once got a key out while pitching in an early-season game. Really, he's an infielder, and dead weight. The squad can no longer afford two-fifty hitters who play all positions adequately but none exceptionally. True, Callicotte has an exceptional love for the game, and enthusiasm goes a long way with Gil. Gil has given him tickets to Tiger Stadium, which Callicotte eagerly uses, going early to watch batting practice. He's a good kid and likable enough. Callicotte has even sent Gil a Christmas present. Gil considers all this, but his mind is set.

They are to meet in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan is playing Wisconsin. Callicotte went to school at Michigan. Gil wants to check out the Wolverine second baseman, and thus he can knock off two jobs with one trip. He convinces himself he can be hard and efficient. He has told Callicotte to meet him behind home plate, Gils favorite place to sit.

Gil steadies himself as he drives down M-14. His Continental is freshly washed, a moving spectacle of shiny deep-green clear-coat paint. Gil is content for the moment, a feeling borne, unconsciously, by the smell of leather and what he sees out the window. Here, then, is the comforting landscape: rows of corn barely sprouted; trees quaking with their new leaves; the roadside Queen Anne's lace bowing in the breeze; the now milky-blue sky stretching out endlessly toward Chicago and beyond. On the radio the WJR jockey chatters on about a human interest story a step above the supermarket tabloids, and then comes a Frank Sinatra song sung by Tony Bennett. Gil glances at the car's clock. In seventeen minutes the Tiger pregame show will begin.

Perhaps it's the music or the sky or even the drive along M-14, but suddenly Gil remembers waking this morning certain that his two sons were standing at his bed. Rick was about eight and Laurence five. They were in their pajamas, their short hair matted from sleep. They looked so innocent, especially Laurence, that Gil thought he might cry. They wanted to play, to roughhouse on the bed. This was before Gil's two disks were removed, before the second knee operation and the cholesterol watch. Downstairs he could hear the radio; there was the long-ago smell of bacon. WHen he invited the boys up, they jumped, but instead of landing, they disappeared. The sensation was overpowering. Gil staggered to the bathroom, where in the mirror he saw his tired, sixty-four-year-old face lined with tears...

What People are Saying About This

Christopher Tilghman

From now on, every time you drive past a baseball game on a summer evening, you'll think of this lovely, poignant novel, and you will understand.
— (Christopher Tilghman, Author of In a Father's Place)

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