Award-winning New Jersey crime reporter Schuppe’s first book, which won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, follows members of a Little League baseball team and their coach as they try to succeed and survive in one of Newark’s toughest neighborhoods.
A high school baseball star–turned–low-level drug dealer, Rodney Mason’s life changed forever when a rival’s bullet left him confined to a wheelchair. Years later, it changed again when a nearby baseball diamond was renovated and he became coach of the Elizabeth Avenue Eagles. Schuppe focuses on several team members and their families, all of whom were touched by their violent surroundings. Far from a dispassionate observer, the author is part of the story from the outset, developing a relationship with Mason after he wrote a newspaper article that brought national media attention to him and his team. The author’s experience as a journalist on the streets of Newark helps the city itself become the most powerful character in the drama, as Mason and the Eagles try to escape the cycle of poverty and violence that surrounds them. In the absence of a consistent group of players, the team didn’t ever coalesce, and what appears at first to be a story about the redemptive power of sports becomes, instead, a tale of a city and its residents fighting for survival. Schuppe’s punchy journalistic style serves the material well, and though he has a bit of trouble sustaining the momentum throughout the book, there is drama enough in the subjects’ lives to keep readers involved. The author’s heart, though somewhat worn on his sleeve, is clearly in the right place as he accompanies his subjects through victories and setbacks on and off the diamond.
A compelling portrait of inner-city struggles.