By Rob Cline, correspondent
“Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball” is a well-executed story of boys, old men, and the power of the game to shape community and individual lives. Iowa native Tommy Murray has penned a solid novel set in small-town Iowa in 1974.
It’s the final season for the cantankerous trio of men who have led the Cottage Park baseball program for decades. Facing opposition from a principal eager to move into the future with fresh blood, the coaches are determined to win the state finals – the one accomplishment that has eluded them throughout their storied careers.
As with many a baseball book, “Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball” uses the game as a jumping off point to consider other themes, including issues of faith, the relationships between fathers (and father figures) and sons, the nature of community, and the inevitability of change – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The friendship of the three coaches and their individual relationships with young men in need of guidance are at the heart of the story. Murray crafts these affiliations with care, tracing the ups and downs of vulnerable people forging strong bonds.
In the end, “Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball” falls into the category of sports novel that might be called the “virtue is rewarded with victory” genre – a category filled to bursting with previous entries. There are few surprises in the plot. Nevertheless, Murray has done an excellent job creating characters and relationships that ring true. To put it in terms of the game at its center, the book may not be flashy like a dangerous home run hitter, but it is admirable like a player who runs out every ground ball and sometimes earns himself a hit.