THE HEART OF THE GAME: The Education of a Minor-League Ballplayer by Paul Hemphill

THE HEART OF THE GAME: The Education of a Minor-League Ballplayer

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A year's chronicle of one player's trials and triumphs in baseball's minor leagues. For young players like Marty Malloy of the Durham Bulls, a farm team of the Atlanta Braves, the fame and the big bucks of the major leagues are still a distant dream. Hemphill (Leaving Birmingham, 1993, etc.) came across Malloy in 1993 while searching for the game he ""had known in more innocent times."" Marty, at 21, seemed to Hemphill to be a slick-fielding, driven, hard-nosed ballplayer, a throwback to the game as it was in Hemphill's youth. Just when the pro game was in its dimmest hour, being torn apart by greedy owners and sullen players, ""here came Huck Finn to play some ball."" Marty opened the 1994 season, his third in professional ball, batting eighth in the order, dismayed that manager Matt West didn't put him in the ""two-hole,"" where his bat control, bunting, and base-running skills would best serve the team. He would eventually move up in the order but would continue to have trouble against left-handers. While he would finish the season hitting .264, more important in determining his future with the Braves' organization was the fact that he led the club in on-base percentage and tied for the lead in stolen bases. Hemphill effectively portrays life in the minor leagues: the daily routines of batting practice, taking infield, shagging flies; the interminable bus trips, the fast-food joints, the late-night beer and pizza, the dreary budget motels. By season's end, Marty has begun to show the stoicism and maturity of a leader, just as the Braves' brass had predicted. While not ""grizzled . . . he was on his way."" We never get a good feel for Marty as a person, but even at arm's length Hemphill manages to engagingly show the ups and downs and the attendant anxieties of a young man in pursuit of a dream.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster