Monday, June 04, 2012

"One Shot at Forever" by Chris Ballard

Finished yesterday reading One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard and found it an engaging and well written book.

I met Ballard at a book signing a few weeks ago and just prior to that came across his Sports Illustrated column "Memories that last forever" about the book (which is based on an SI feature from a few years ago) and one its main characters. Granted, I wanted to enjoy One Shot at Forever as I liked Ballard and knew so much about the book going in, but it really was an enjoyable read.

I'm always fascinated by the idea of writing that combines the elements of lyrical prose and solid reporting (hopefully on a topic of interest) and Ballard really brings these together in the book. The prologue and first chapter of the book were posted on Byliner and I was initially struck by the landscape description from Ballard in the very first words. After this, the book proceeds to spin an interesting tale that flows really well and which had to have been thoroughly reported to have the whole story. To this point, the combination of Ballard talking during the book signing about getting quotes used and his notes in the book show just how much work (including hours and hours of audiotape generated) he put into the whole process.

In terms of the story itself, the point of reference to the book is going to be the movie Hoosiers with its back in the day tale of small town high school sports, but there was a couple of additional things in the book (which might or might not make it into a more compressed view movies usually entail) I found of particular note.

One was the whole picture view that Ballard provided... with the lead-up to this particular season in question and also the 40 years later lookback for those involved. From one player wrapped up in the results to another remembering back every year on the way to MLB Spring Training, the people and events told of in the book certainly had a lasting impact on many.

The second and most profound thing that struck me from the book was Coach Lynn Sweet and his completely different than usual approach to the players (who he viewed as people able to make decisions) and the game's relative importance. The scene from the book that particularly showed how Sweet viewed the game of baseball and his players was him warming up the 9th grader during the game against Lane Tech of Chicago. Just a brilliant anecdote to include in the book and for me one of those cases of one segment summing up a dominant overall theme.

Really cool read and highly recommended.