A thoroughly researched but somewhat cluttered account of Ted Williams and other professional baseball players who enlisted in the military in World War II and also managed to play some baseball.
In her debut, Keene, a trained journalist and former Capitol Hill speechwriter, recounts how she stumbled across this story in 2013 when, going through some things that had belonged to her late father, a former minor leaguer and lifelong baseball fan, she found materials relating to the Cloudbuster Nine. Her father had been the batboy for this Navy team undergoing their preflight training in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a team that featured, among others, Red Sox standouts Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky. But the author has more than one story to tell (despite the focus suggested by her subtitle). She narrates the sad arc of her father’s baseball biography, the development of the preflight training regimen, the lives of many others involved in the program, her own immersion in the sport (which came much later in her life), her research, and her interviews of some elderly sources and some descendants of her principals. Her research is exhaustive and impressive, but the work suffers from all her work, as well. It appears that Keene struggled with what she needed to include or exclude. As a result, the narrative continually takes offramps to stories and facts the author unearthed, information which, though sometimes interesting, often serves as a distraction. Keene also often employs conventional and even clichéd expressions—e.g., “an unshakable bond,” “fit him like a glove.” Still, the story she has found is historically significant, and she does not neglect the fact that many professional athletes enlisted in the military and that very few do so today.
An important story enriched by solid research and authorial commitment but weakened by excess.