by Clay Snellgrove. Loaded Press, 2007.
Those familiar with this blog know I’m not big on reviewing fiction. Most of the new stuff I’ve found disappointing but that’s just one man’s opinion.
So it’s nice to come across a thoughtful and realistic story such as the one Clay Snellgrove tells in his simply-titled novel, The Ball Player.
Because The Ball Player (as opposed to Ballplayer?) is so realistic, the hero must face issues such as steroids, trades and their consequent relocations, recalcitrant teammates, and indifferent managers. In addition, his romantic relationships are also believable, whether dealing with groupies or women with whom he has a real interest; not every pro athlete is a horndog, it seems.
The author, who had a .295 career batting average in six minor league seasons, manages to stay away from the cliche-ridden themes that many of his contemporaries have produced. His protagonist –no doubt autobiographical in many regards, although that is an assumption at this point — is quite human. He takes advantage of opportunities presented, but questions whether he is following the right path. This is done without the black-and-white preachiness of so many works of sports fiction.
Readers of baseball fiction might find parallels with Eliot Asinof’s Man on Spikes, a story about the travails of a veteran minor leaguer who can’t seem top catch a break. The novel ends without the aging athlete, Mike Kutner (based on Asinof’s friend, real-life Major Leaguer Mickey Rutner), finding satisfaction on the ballfield. In The Ball Player, our hero remains hopeful as the book draws to its close. You get the sense that even if does not go on to an all-star career, he’ll be fine.