Ah, the enduring Mr. Stephen King has written again. For most King fans, I bet his baseball-inspired novella, Blockade Billy, comes as no surprise — and not just because it was first published on April 20 of this year by the independent horror house Cemetery Dance. More specifically, it’s no big secret that the man loves his baseball – his characters are forever donning Red Sox apparel and he’s a frequent attendant at Fenway Park, truly a diehard BoSox fan – so it was only a matter of time before he married his two interests, right?
Horror and baseball, not exactly an easy sell.
The thing about writing sports themed fiction is that it can be tricky to really capture your audience. Some people just don’t give a flying — uh — foul (ugh) about baseball, but Stephen King manages to steer clear of bogging down his novella with too many cliches, and while there is a bit of technical jargon that might go over the non-baseball-enthusiast’s head, it isn’t enough to detract from the story.
The tale of William Blakely is narrated by the New Jersey Titans’ one time third-base coach, George “Granny” Grantham, who’s reminiscing with “Mr. King” some fifty years after the dark events surrounding Billy Blakely’s baseball career. We meet Granny in a “zombie hotel” (aka the nursing home) where he’s in a crotchety state of being. Granny’s casual, slightly profane voice recollects a different time when men were men and baseball was baseball and nobody wore skinny jeans. It’s 1957 and baseball is fabulously untainted by steroid scandals and huge salaries but about to be forever changed by one man’s very dark secret.
“Sure, I’ll tell you about Billy Blakely,” Grantham begins. “Awful story, of course, but those are the ones that last longest.”
Billy Blakely is called up from the minors after an unfortunate incident with New Jersey Titans’ catcher, Johnny Goodkind. The incident involves a bit of drunk driving, a little vehicular homicide and upchucking all over the arresting officer. Not a great way to prove sobreity. As Granny tells it, “Johnny Goodkind’s career in baseball was over before the puke dried.” That guy’s replacement gets hammered at home plate shortly thereafter, which knocks him out of the game (and into a hospital) and, hence! Billy gets his shot at the big time. (In Newark, New Jersey apparently. Who knew?)
The new kid becomes a sensation overnight with his hard-hitting, home plate-blocking, all around studly baseball deeds. The fans love him and his teammates find that they can simply look past all of his oddities, like the way he refers to himself in the third person and parrots his friend Danny, or his wearing a band-aid on a finger with no wound, or having no clue as to who Cy Young is. Yeah, weird. But easily forgivable with such excellent baseball prowess! Who cares if he’s a little soft in the head if he can outplay everybody else?
But! As all things tend to do, especially in Stephen King’s world, Billy’s secret finally boils over. Without giving anything away, it’s safe to say that the Titans’ season is ruined by said dark secret and William Blakely’s name, accomplishments and career are stricken from the records forever.
If you’re a fan of the sport and a fan of Stephen King, pick this up. It’s a light (and yet distinctly dark) read that will definitely get you in the baseball spirit. It’s a throwback to a different era, when baseball was the National Pastime, played by nitty gritty, never-go-to-the-doctor types of men with an enduring passion for the sport. (Broken fingers? No problem! Rub a little dirt in that wound and get back out there, champ!)
If you’re not a baseball fan? Well, it’s still very entertaining. Even though you don’t have the chance to get REALLY in depth with the characters (being under 200 pages doesn’t exactly allow for great character development in this case), you still get to read a well written, distinctly Stephen King-esque story. His passion for the sport shines through in the text and it’s almost infectious… but not in an obnoxious way. That alone can be a super tough balance for a writer to strike when he loves his subject as King so clearly loves baseball.
Now go! Read and be merry, comrades!
(And if you know of any great books you’d like to see reviewed, don’t hesitate to suggest them!)