Savvier than The Natural, almost as sad as Bang the Drum Slowly, Tooke’s vastly entertaining debut is, like all good baseball novels, about more than just baseball.
Casey Fox loves hitting for distance and probably does it as well as anyone ever has, his hand-to-eye coordination exactly that extraordinary. “I see the ball. I hit the ball,” he explains when pressed. The truth is he adores every aspect of the game, from its intricacies to the stunning beauty of its best moments. What he can't abide are the parasites: exploitive owners, rapacious agents, and fat-cat marketers who make it so insistently about money, undermining the innocence and joy that are baseball's beguiling reasons for being. Reporter Russ Bryant is similarly alienated. Casey catches for Pawtucket, a minor league team of no distinction. Russ covers the club for the Providence Daily Journal, a newspaper he despises for its essential second-rateness. The two become friends, drawn to each other by loneliness, a leaning toward self-destruction, and a shared recognition that they could be better people than they are, though neither really knows what that entails. But Molly, an earth mother at 22, does know. She grew up in the same foster home that Casey did and has aspirations for him that have little to do with baseball and everything to do with a life well lived. When she meets Russ, Molly takes him under her wing too; instantly in love, he's glad to join Casey, who was there before him. Suddenly the Boston Red Sox need a catcher; Casey is called up and becomes an immediate sensation, propelling the floundering Sox into a blistering pennant race. While Tooke does the contest full justice, he cares about the triangle as much as the diamond.
Maybe not a homer—it gets a bit preachy toward the end—but a ringing double off Fenway's Green Monster.