I’m a sucker for a good baseball book.
I hadn’t heard of “One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season” by Chris Ballard before stumbling across it on Amazon. The Kindle price was but $2.24 (it’s since gone up to $2.99, but still a very fair price), so I thought it would be a good way to start the 2013 reading campaign.
This is more of a historical baseball book as it goes back to remember a small-school baseball teambased in Illinois. They have old uniforms and a unique coach who does things quite a bit differently. This coach — the English teacher at the school who has zero experience in coaching — leads his squad to the Illinois state final. This is back in a time when there were no divisions. Macon is still the smallest school to reach the state final.
The team took on the spirit of its coach — long hair, peace symbols on their hats and a carefree outlook that seemed balanced enough to win over a town.
Ballard is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, so he tells a wonderful story from beginning to end, including catching up with many of these players in the present time.
This is a great story. If you like feel-good stories, especially in sports, this is a fine read. This shows that all in sports isn’t bad and it brings you back to a glory day when high school sports were serious, but at the same time, it wasn’t as crazy as it is today. Games were serious back then, but society today puts high school sports on a whole different level.
Ballard does a wonderful job of developing all the people in this story, which is tough, considering you have a full team, a coach, his eventual wife, school administration, members of the media and some parents. That’s a lot of people. For the most part, I was able to keep track of who is who throughout, though not always. It was really easy to cheer for certain people and, at the same time, have a bit of a dislike for others.
The book also helps the reader related to the team. Even those who grew up and live in large urban areas should be able to feel the emotion of this town and area and the support of the team. One think to keep in mind is this is the early 1970s, so a different time. Though everybody will be able to relate and see what this type of atmosphere was like, I know I got a bit more out of it because I grew up in a small town and understand the thought process and how people will live for the days of a great high school team to show pride in the town.
At times, it was tough when some of the players were being mentioned. Though the big ones were pretty easy to follow with, sometimes one of the more secondary players was mentioned and it would make me stop for a moment. I think that’s the tough part with a book like this because there are so many people who need to be in it. This isn’t fictional, so one can’t just eliminate some in situations. To tell the story, these players need to be in the story.
This is a tough “bad,” per say, but books like this need a few photos. When dealing with historical items like this, I know I like to see what people look like, or anything else to help my mind paint a picture of the town, the field, the players and all that. Ballard does a wonderful job of describing everything, but having a section in the book with images would have helped. If it’s in the print version, I can’t comment. But I didn’t see any photos, outside of the cover photos in the Kindle edition.
I truly enjoyed this book. I didn’t take too long to read it as it moved quickly, kept my attention and made me want to keep going. And it really is an underdog story. If you are a sports fan and like something like Hoosiers, you’ll like this book. It’s the same sort of thing — the David vs. Goliath. I won’t give away the ending of this book, but it doesn’t matter what the end result is. It’s well worth the read and I would encourage anybody who likes books about real life, sports, overcoming odds or the little guy to give it a go.
This is a strong book and one I’d highly recommend to many people. In the end, though not fully perfect, I’d give this book a strong 4/5 and consider a little higher if I gave it a little bit of a longer thought.
Artwork (For The Artful Readers Club)
This book is also one I’m reading for The Artful Readers Club. In this club, we read one book per month and also have to so some sort of a piece of art to go with it. For this one, I decided to take an old baseball photo I took and make an “advertisement” for the book. It’s not great, but I hope people enjoy!
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