THE HOPPING BIRD by Grant Alexander Dossetto


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Dossetto’s novel adds a few twists to a familiar plot: a ragtag minor league baseball team with an over-the-hill manager struggles for one last shot at glory.

Harold “Skip” Freeman, a former World Series champion with the Detroit Tigers, now manages the Toledo Mud Hens in the Tigers’ minor league system. He’d been mistreated as a manager in the majors, but he loved the game enough to keep working. That love has since evaporated, however. At the beginning of this story, a pitcher named Rick, who once played for Freeman in the majors, gives the manager a wake-up call, asking him why he’s coasting through the current season. Freeman immediately starts making changes by coaching up a couple of players, including first baseman Andre and an outfielder nicknamed “Latin Lover,” and bringing in a new outfielder prospect named Alex Casillas. During this time, however, Freeman also decides that he wants to retire at the end of the season to spend more time with his wife, Gail. Things start to pick up for the Mud Hens, and the pressure mounts on Freeman to continue his success. Along the way, there are a few amusing subplots: a young woman, Amber, starts out as a kind of baseball groupie, but gains confidence when she finds love with one of the players, and a pitcher, Dirk, gets into some gambling trouble, which leads to a fight scene with a truly hilarious conclusion. Ultimately, Freeman’s success has more to do with how his players end up, especially after they’ve moved on. Although Dossetto tries to avoid a clichéd movie-style ending, the action does follow a tried-and-true trajectory of personal and professional triumphs. However, Amber accomplishes most of her personal growth out of sight, and only comes back into the spotlight near the end, fully formed. The author tells the story from Freeman’s perspective, and he makes outdated pop-culture references that distract from the story more than they add color to his character. At one point, Freeman compares a situation with the ending of the 1996 Kevin Costner film Tin Cup—a reference that most readers may struggle to remember. Also, those who aren’t well-versed in baseball might find the action hard to follow at times. Dossetto makes up for that, though, with a collection of charming characters that are easy to root for, and enough diversions to keep things engaging.

A well-developed baseball novel with a feel-good ending.

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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