A boy takes first steps on the road to physical and emotional recovery from a bout with polio, thanks to help from a solid new friend and a baseball hero.
After a year in the hospital, Nick gets a harsh welcome home from his embittered widower father. The onus of being a “cripple” is eased by the unfaltering friendliness offered by his baseball-loving neighbor Emma and the news that the owner of the local semipro team, the Bismarck Churchills, has not only signed up more talented “colored boys” but enticed the great Satchel Paige to return for the 1935 season. As his father is the team’s catcher, Nick is enlisted to sell programs and generally make himself useful—which allows him to witness Satch leading a spectacular integrated team to a minor league world championship win. Along the way Nick also watches the renowned pitcher respond with dignity to racial hatred (including an encounter with a “cracker cop”). Absorbing both advice (“Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common”) and some of Satch’s prized “deer oil,” he quickly sheds his leg brace and regains his own pitching skills. Tooke sticks closely to historical records, with the addition of a few extra Paige exploits and aphorisms, and though Nick’s recovery seems a little too easy, the fictional overlay offers a comfortably predictable “hard work brings just rewards” arc.
Nourishing fare for Matt Christopher graduates. (Sports fiction. 10-12)