I decided to start my reading challenge with the very first task for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a book about sports. Why not start at the begininng?
One Shot at Forever has been on my Kindle TBR since April 4, 2013. I won’t say how many other unread books are on my Kindle. It’s a ridiculous amount. An embarrassing amount, and it needs to remain a private matter between me and Amazon.
I bought this book after my uncle Dave Davis recommended it. Dave is a media teacher at Hillcrest High School in Springfield, MO where he also coached baseball for many years. He fervently follows all things baseball, specifically the St. Louis Cardinals, and I daresay he is an authority on pop culture. At most family gatherings my sister-in-law and I end up discussing the latest and greatest podcasts with Dave.
I admit I am a fair-weather baseball fan. Like Dave, I also root for the Cardinals, and while I do follow their scores all season long, I don’t actually end up watching games until post-season. I haven’t attended a game in person since I lived in St. Louis, which was when they were still playing in the old Busch Stadium. So, it’s been a while.
These days, I am up to my bloodshot, tired eyeballs in all things basketball. Both my sons play basketball, on their school teams (at different schools), at the goal in our backyard, and on the 2 over-the-door mini-basketball goals in our house. All.The.Time. When they aren’t playing, they’re watching it. My youngest constantly quizzes me about NBA trivia (like Jon Snow, I know nothing), and my oldest breaks down his games with me on the way home (again, I know nothing).
So, even though I am somewhat ambivalent to baseball, I could not put this book down. I really loved it. Here are my top 3 reasons:
1. I can relate to being the small town underdog. In 1970-71, the Illinois state baseball championship was one big playoff. There were no class divisions (1A, 2A, etc). So, big schools from the Chicago area played against the small schools from rural Illinois. The book chronicles the unlikely winning season of the Macon Ironmen and their magical run in the state championship playoffs. Macon is a tiny town with a tiny school. Although they had some success in the season immediately prior to the time covered in the book, they were coming off several losing seasons. No one considered the Ironmen a serious threat.
I attended a small high school, and although it was not as small as Macon, we were seen as the country kids from the small school. Like the kids from Macon, it gave us a wee bit of a chip on our shoulders, but also a deep bond. We felt a sense of commitment to each other. It was something I missed later when I went to college. I felt a serious sense of nostalgia reading One Shot at Forever.
2. The colorful (and real) characters. The Macon Ironmen and their coach were not your typical high school baseball team. Their coach was an unlikely hero. He had just started teaching English at Macon High School. Macon was a conservative town. Lynn Sweet, English teacher and soon to be baseball coach, was anything but conservative. He held liberal ideals, frequented the local bars, had long hair and a Fu Manchu mustache, and lived a nomadic existence. He eschewed the English curriculum for his own unorthodox teaching methods. In short, the towns people considered him a hippie. Not all of them approved. But he won over their kids. They loved him. Their English grades improved and they became more engaged in class.
These methods carried over into baseball. For example, practices were optional. Some of the team members grew their hair out, wore peace signs on their hats, and they began listening to the sound track from Jesus Christ Superstar on a boom box during warm up at games. This is the kind of teacher I would have loved as a kid.
The players and their parents are also interesting, complex people. There are the unlikely heroes, the star athletes, the small and scrappy players. But they are not just stereotypes. We learn about their lives, what drives them, their relationships, and how they lived and grew during those two remarkable seasons.
3. The excellent sports writing. Let’s face it, with a nonfiction book such as this, the outcome is known. Even the cover of the book says “the magical season”. So I went into the book knowing the Ironmen experienced a remarkable winning season. But there were still twists that I didn’t see coming (yay!) and the storytelling of the games had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t stop reading. In fact, I stayed on the elliptical machine an extra 15 minutes to finish a certain section.
I definitely recommend this book, even if you are not a baseball fan. I even recommend it even if you don’t like sports. It’s about a lot more than sports or baseball. It’s about a group of people who come together, form a bond, inspire each other, and triumph against overwhelming odds. How can you not love that?
But, will my mom like it? Yes…she loves this stuff.
Book: One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season
Author: Chris Ballard
Date of Publication: May 15, 2012
Edition: Kindle Edition