A warmingly nostalgic, root-deep regional, seventh-inning stretch of a novel--all about one troubled year in the life of 14-year-old Tom, who lives with bachelor uncle Will and gets involved in the wins and losses of a minor-league farm club in a 1957 North Carolina town. Will is the office-manager for the championship Centerville Owls--and he lovingly supervises all stadium operations, from its aesthetics (wobbling Christmas tree on the off-season roof, grounds-tending) to the polished floors of the rest rooms. But then a body is discovered under the stadium fence: it's Tom's dead father, last seen drunk and abusive, trying to take Tom away. And furthermore there's an NAACP protest about seating segregation (black ticket-taker Mr. Johnson divides his time between the booth and the picket line)--which climaxes in a brawl with white hoodlums, the beating of Will, and the intervention of the entire ball club. Through it all, despite the pro-integration feelings of Will's girl Maggie and the stand-pat-ism of the local politician, Will keeps his eye on the ball club--putting social, political, and police matters below the really important business of keeping the Owls playing ball. And Will's family-style staff give their all: Fitzie, the acid-tongued players' manager; Boris, the popular centerfield slugger; Millard, the retarded bat boy; Miss Elmira, the black queen of stadium housekeeping; seldom-sober groundskeeper Piedmont, Mr. Johnson, and Tom's pal Monty (who rigs up a hooting, eye-flashing, eight-foot metal owl on the scoreboard). Nevertheless, the team is doomed: the major-league owner, alarmed by the Centerville notoriety, pulls out; the Owls' last game is an agony-and-ecstasy riot; Will and Maggie will marry at home plate. And years later Tom will accept the truth of his father's death, learning of the love and sacrifice of those to whom he owes so much. Low-keyed, and no grand slam, but pleasant--with lots of companionable bleacher sentiment and raucous down-home atmosphere.