"The Pitcher," is a classic story of baseball, the price of dreams, and the lessons of life. A mythic baseball story about a broken down World Series Pitcher is mourning over the death of his wife and an underprivileged Mexican-American boy who lives across the street and wants to learn to pitch. This is a mainstream contemporary novel about dreams lost and found. In the great tradition of books like, "The Natural." This is a novel with the mythic themes, readability, and appeal to be a mainstream bestseller.
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By William Elliott Hazelgrove
Koehler BooksCopyright © 2013 William Elliott Hazelgrove
All right reserved.
Pitching just felt like the most natural thing in the world -- Babe Ruth
I never knew I had an arm until this guy called out, “Hey you want to try and get a ball in the hole, sonny?” I was only nine, but mom said, “come on, let’s play.” This Carney guy with no teeth and a fuming cigarette hands me five blue rubber balls and says if I throw three in the hole we win a prize. He’s grinning, because he took mom’s five bucks and figures a sucker is born every minute. That really got me, because we didn’t have any money after Fernando took off, and he only comes back to beat up mom and steal our money. So I really wanted to get mom back something, you know, for her five bucks.
I take the first rubber ball and throw it over my head and wham! The Carney guy looks at me and laughs. “Whoa! A Ringer. Let’s see you do it again sonny.” It’s like something happens when I throw a ball. My arm windmills over the top, then snaps down like a rubber band. It’s like I’m following my arm. So I throw the second ball and he mutters, “alright, let’s see you get the next ball in.” I mean we are Mexicans, and I think this guy figured he’d put one over on us.
I throw the next two balls and they go wild. I hit the top of the wood circle with one and the other one flies completely over the game. The carnie guy is grinning again, because he knows I have only one more ball. I wind up like I had seen pitchers on television and wham, right in the hole again. He hands mom a big white Polar Bear and takes the cigarette from his mouth.
“That looked like a sixty mile an hour pitch to me,” he says.
“I don’t know,” I reply, shrugging.
He nods and picks up the rubber balls.
“You should pitch, buddy,” he says with one eye closed.” You have a hell of an arm.”
I felt good about that, but I had never known a pitcher, except for the guy across the street who lives in his garage. When my friends come over we lie on his driveway listening to ball games like the ocean in the dark. Sometimes we’d listen to the Cubs and my man Zambrano on the mound. It was cool laying on his drive in the Florida night listening to the game, because he pitched in a World Series. He won the 1978 Series against Bob Gibson. You can check it out on YouTube.
Joey likes to throw stuff under the garage and have his dog come out. The pitcher has this chocolate Labrador, Shortstop, who sleeps on his drive when he opens his garage. That’s the thing; he never opens his garage all the way. You can see his white ankles and hear the game, but you never see the dude. We’d throw all sorts of stuff under his garage; rocks, sticks, oranges. Sometimes we’d sneak up and roll an egg under there. The dog ate the eggs and oranges which really killed us. Joey and I figured he was a drunk, because his garbage can was full of this beer called, Good Times. Dude…who sits in a garage and drinks beer called, Good Times?
Anyway, we ended up playing ball in front of his house. Joey said I had the fastest arm he’d ever seen and that made me feel good. I’m not so good at other things, like school, because I can-not-focus and I give the teachers hell. Everything buzzes right over my head. Mom says I’m…well I don’t like to say it because it bothers the hell out of me. Let’s just say reading is hard for me because the words jump around. So we go to these teacher conferences where mom loses it. She’s half Puerto Rican and charges in there in her Target uniform and wants to know why the hell isn’t anybody helping me?
So when I found out I had an arm, I was like, wow, I’m good at something. A man at the police station timed me with a radar gun and all the cops crowded around. They had me throw a baseball five times and just shook their heads. That guy at the carnival was wrong about pitching sixty miles an hour, because the little numbers flashed 74 and 77. So after the cops timed me, we scraped up the money to join a travel team. You get a uniform with a couple different jerseys. A lot of people send their kids to camps and these baseball clinics, but not us. We ended up in our neighborhood when Fernando was working, but mom says we’re just hanging on now.
“Come on, bring it Hernandez!” Joey shouts down the street.
He squats down in front of the pitchers house and beats his mitt. I bring the heat and sometimes I hit his glove, but it’s like I have this rocket with no guidance. I try to control my pitching, but when I draw back this wild beast zings the ball through the air at seventy plus. The thing is I don’t have a changeup. A good changeup comes in like a fastball, but about fifteen miles slower. But with me it’s all about heat. I only know one way to throw and sometimes Joey grabs it, but most of the time he chases it down the street. But here’s my play. If I keep throwing in the street, maybe the pitcher will come out. You know, just tell me how you control a pitch, because, really, I have no idea.
So one day I’m batting the ball in the street with Joey. It’s one of those super-hot days in Florida where you just want to hide in the air-conditioning all day. The street is so hot we can feel it through our tennis shoes. I smack a low grounder to Joey that hits a station wagon, then shoots past Shortstop and under the pitchers’ garage. That’s what we called him, the pitcher, because that’s what Joey’s dad called him when he told us he won the Series. Joey’s dad said he thought he was in his late fifties. I guess that’s pretty old, because mom is her thirties and that seems old.
“That ball is gone bro,” Joey says, shaking his head.
I stare at the dark opening and can hear a ballgame.
“I’m getting it,” I tell him, walking toward the garage.
“You’re crazy man!” He shouts. “He’s going to go psycho on you man.”
I was scared, but it was our last baseball. I‘m almost to the garage when the door starts clanking up. Joey bolts across the street and I turn to run when I see our ball in the middle of the cement floor. It’s just sitting there like a snowball in the darkness. But I’m staring now because there’s a bed, a refrigerator, a desk, a lamp, and the television with a game on real low. Cans of Skoal surround a La-Z-Boy like green buoys next to a pyramid of Good Times beer. There’s even a microwave with beans and spaghetti stacked on a board over a slop sink.
“What the F--,” Joey says, looking at me.
Mom says I can’t use the Fbomb, so I have to abbreviate. Anyway, like I said, none of us had ever seen the pitcher before, but we didn’t think he had his bed in the garage. We assumed he just hung out there to watch his games.
“I aint going in there,” he declares, shaking his head. He looks at me with his big dark Mexican eyes and shaved head. We had both shaved our heads against the heat and in our white T shirts we looked like brothers. Except Joey is older than me; everybody is older than me. I turn fourteen in September. Mom always said she should have held me back. I don’t know man; I would have felt pretty stupid in seventh grade instead of cruising toward high school.
“I’m getting it,” I mutter, taking a step toward the garage.
Joey’s eyes turned into fireballs. “You go in there and that dude is going to grab your ass!”
Maybe the pitcher was setting a trap, but I wanted our baseball. So I walked in. There was some old ratty fan whirring in the corner. The garage smelled like dirty socks and cigarettes. The television murmured…full count. Baltimore ahead by three… I turned back to Joey in a patch of sun. He looked like he was a million miles away.
“Grab the ball and run bro…get out of there man,” he whispers, his eyes large.
I walked further into the garage with my heart slamming against my chest. Cigarettes are stubbed in cans, on paper plates, even on the floor. The Skoal cans look like those designs aliens do in the deserts. I reach our baseball and take another step, then stop. The pitcher is on the mound in his windup. Then he has a bat over his shoulder looking like one of those All American guys on baseball cards. Then the dugout pictures with one leg up, standing with other ball players. I’m staring at these faded pictures tacked on the wall of the garage while the baseball game plays on. Some of the pictures are black and white and some are color, but this is my dream, you know. I want to make the high school baseball team in the fall, and one day, I want to pitch for the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field.
We used to live in Chicago and mom says you can do anything if you believe it enough. I believe I can make the high school team—although only thirty guys make the freshman team out of one hundred. Travel ball ends after eighth grade, so you got to make it or you just disappear. Guys have been training for years to make the team with lessons and camps and personal trainers. Everyone knows high school ball is the cutoff. And for me to get to Wrigley, I need to make the high school team first.
I keep walking along the wall between the rakes, brooms, shovels, and I can’t take my eyes off the pictures. The pitcher is looking sideways, one leg up, his body pivoted, with the ball cocked back. I wonder then, if he feels the way writers and painters talk sometimes--like you aren’t even there. That’s how I feel when I pitch; it’s like I wake up when I hear the ball smack the catcher’s mitt.
“Get the ball!” Joey calls in this loud whisper, taking another step the street.
I turn back to the wall and stare at this one black and white picture. The pitcher is jumping into the arms of his catcher with his legs up. The catcher has his mask off and he has his mouth open and the pitcher is yelling to the sky. He had just won the World Series against the Cardinals. The World Series. I lean close, hearing the fan, the ballgame, the heat, trying to see what he was thinking as he jumped into his catchers arms.
“C’mon Hernandez!” Joey yells, standing in the middle of the street.
I leave the wall and step over the Skoal and walk past the pyramid of Good Times cans and pick up our baseball. Then I turn and walk real fast out into the sunshine. And that’s when the garage starts rolling down. Joey bolts and runs down the street and I whip around, thinking the pitcher is behind me with my heart bam bam baming. The garage rolls down, then goes back up a third, and then just stops. And the dog, he just groans and rolls over like nothing ever happened. And the ball game gets turned back up, like it never stopped.
Excerpted from The Pitcher by William Elliott Hazelgrove Copyright © 2013 by William Elliott Hazelgrove. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A phenomenal book. The characters are so real that I had to check to make sure this wasn't based on a true story. I'm not what you'd call a baseball fan, but after reading this book, I wish I was.
The Pitcher is a heartwarming baseball novel about a young Mexican-American boy's dream of becoming a pitcher, a mother's unrelenting love and support, and a broken former major league pitcher who can't get past the death of his wife. Author William Hazelgrove weaves a touching tale set in Jacksonville, Florida, and written in the first person narrative that follows the journey of fourteen year old Ricky Hernandez as he overcomes obstacles to chase his dream of becoming a pitcher on his high school baseball team. Ricky has a great arm but doesn't have focus or control over his pitches. Ricky's mother Maria is his biggest supporter and she wants him to achieve his dream, but she knows that he needs a pitching coach. Maria asks their reclusive neighbor, Jack Langford, a former MLB pitcher whose team won the 1978 World Series, to coach her son in preparation for the high school baseball team tryouts. This is an emotional and inspirational story about growing up, chasing dreams, overcoming obstacles, letting go of the past, healing and moving forward in life. This captivating tale will tug at the heartstrings as the reader follows the intertwining story of a young boy who overcomes discrimination and lack of self-confidence to chase his dream; a single mother's love for her son and her unrelenting support to help him achieve his dream while battling health and financial issues; and a reclusive former major league pitcher who learns to let go of the past, regain some joy and move forward in his life by sharing the mutual love of baseball with the young boy and his mother. Baseball fans of all ages will love reading The Pitcher. Author William Hazelgrove weaves an enjoyable story about following dreams that brings to mind the classic jingle ... "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet."
This is one of the best books that I have read in quite awhile. Touching in its simplicity, yet full of emotion. A boy's love for baseball; a mother's love for her son; a man's love for his deceased wife. These all fill the story with meaning and bring about the choices each makes. Choices that intertwine their lives with unbreakable bonds. I love the way the author drew me into the lives of Ricky and his mother Maria. You feel Maria's struggle of trying to raise her boy as a single mom with an ex who shows up to steal from them and abuse them. To add to her struggles, she has lupus and has lost her health insurance so refuses to go back to the doctor until she can pay the thousands in bills that she has racked up. Ricky has struggles of his own. Dyslexia has dogged him in school as has his Mexican heritage. "Beano" and "Wetback" are names he hears often on and off the baseball field. Together they convince, entice, coerce their next door neighbor into coaching Ricky with his pitching. This neighbor just happens to be an old MLB pitcher who won a World Series in the 1970's. He has been living in his garage for years, drinking Good Times beer, chewing Skoal and watching baseball on TV. His life basically ended when his wife died. He has been unable to move forward and has accepted his existence as a washed-up, drunk ex-MLB Pitcher. Apart, their lives are stagnant, but together, they combine into a sometimes chaotic, sometimes heartbreaking, but altogether joyful life.
Title/Author: “The Pitcher” by William Hazelgrove Genre/topics: Baseball, fiction, Young Adult (YA), family, politics, race Published: July 1, 2013 Length: 252 pages Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding) Review: Winning the World Series is the dream of every baseball player, no matter what level, position or ability. So when you are a young man struggling with your pitching just before the high school team’s tryouts and you discover your neighbor was a pitcher who DID win a World Series, you want him to help you make the team, right? That is the premise of The Pitcher, a coming-of-age book about Ricky, a young man being raised by his mom Maria. They are of Mexican heritage and that sometimes works against them in the mostly white Florida neighborhood where they reside. The single mom is very involved in her son’s baseball activities. She dons catching gear and works with him on his pitching and even coaches his team for a short spell. Despite all of Maria’s hard work, however, Ricky is still having trouble with his control and knows that he has a famous neighbor. Jack Langford, aka “The Pitcher” to Ricky, won three games in the 1978 World Series for the Baltimore Orioles (yes, I know, that isn’t who won that year) and is now living mostly in his garage, watching baseball and drinking a lot of beer. Ricky doesn’t want to bother the man, but Maria pulls out all the stops to try to draw attention to the help him. The Pitcher reluctantly agrees and that starts a journey for the three of them that includes friendship, tough talk, rough spots, romance between the two adults and of course, baseball wins and losses. Just like the game, the paths the three characters take, both together and separately, lead in many different directions. However, just like the game, the object is still to reach home. While the story grabs your attention and sucks you in so that you don’t want to escape, the characters that Mr. Hazelgrove introduces to the readers are so wonderfully crafted that one feels that these people have been in their neighborhood before. Maria in particular, the feisty woman who won’t let a rough past, sickness and a seemingly impossible path tell her that he son can’t pitch well enough to make the team. Ricky is the kid that we all know – seemingly shy and afraid to defend himself, but when the going gets tough, he shows what he can do. Then there is Langford – a very complex character who seems to change from nice guy to scumbag and back to a decent chap all within the span of a few pages. The story is told from Ricky’s point of view and the language used by the youngster is authentic. Not only in the style and slang that Ricky uses, but it is also authentic to illustrate his Mexican background. Maria’s character also is an accurate portrayal of her heritage without falling into stereotypes. Baseball fans will notice that there are both fictional and non-fictional baseball accounts. The earlier reference to the 1978 World Series is an example of a fictional one. There are accurate references to both Chicago teams for another example. Ricky’s favorite big league star is pitcher Carlos Zambrano for the Cubs, there is a passage about the infamous fan interference play in the Cubs-Marlins 2003 National League Championship Series and White Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks is referenced as well for his fastball that topped 101 miles per hour. This mix of fact and fiction is a nice touch – puts some historical context in the story, but keeps it as a true fictional account. There is one section that hard core baseball fans will appreciate. Non-fans or even casual fans might be confused when Langford is teaching Ricky how to throw a changeup. The mechanics of how to hold the ball, the proper grip with the knuckles and how to push off the mound with the legs are described in great detail. It reads much like an instructional book on pitching. The story is a good read for not only teenagers and their parents, but also for baseball fans and anyone who enjoys a good story of a young man who is coming of age. I placed this in the young adult genre, but it isn’t the “typical” YA story with the only romantic references being played out between older adults. All ages will enjoy this story. A reader doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to be whisked away to the ball fields in Florida and follow Ricky’s path. I wish to thank Mr. Hazelgrove for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Did I skim? No – I made sure to devour every word of this story. Did I feel connected to the characters? Yes. I especially related to Ricky’s anxiety when he took the mound during each game and the excitement as well as the nervousness that all players at that age feel when they are on the field. Doesn’t matter the level of play or the type of field – all players feel this on the field. Pace of the story: Excellent – the baseball portions, the family issues and the final game all move along without slowing down, but at the correct pace so that it doesn’t seem rushed. Positives: There are so many. The best one was covered in the review and that is the rich character development of Ricky, Maria and Langford. It is a book that runs the gamut of emotions, which is something I like because that keeps me involved in the story. Finally, no matter the topic – the politics of immigration, the medical conditions of characters, domestic issues and of course the baseball – the writing shows that Mr. Hazelgrove has done his research. Negatives: There aren’t many, whether it was for the story, characters, editing, flow, accuracy of baseball history. The closest that could be considered a negative is that the characters do use foul language. These words are not spelled out in the book, but there is use of this, so for younger readers, discretion should be used before giving this book to them. Do I recommend? Yes – for anyone, any age who simply enjoys a good book.
I read this book with my baseball boyfriend and we loved it!(: