A debut novel with the charm of a Ring Lardner tale-the story of a backwoods boy who has a briefly notorious career as a major-leaguer before becoming a prisoner of war in Japan. Andrew Jackson ``Gooseball'' Fielder grows up in Smackover, Arkansas, with brothers Jugs and Jude. He ``lived and breathed sports from can-see to can't-see.'' Along with instances of coming-of-age in the oil patch, we see Jackson developing his ``gooseball'' in a local pipeyard with his brother Jugs-who, however, joins the Navy and, before being shipped out, marries Dixie, a woman all three brothers are sweet on. After Paw takes sick and wastes away, Jackson is discovered by the St. Louis Browns. Then, following a stint in the minors, he's brought up, in 1941, to pitch against the Yankees in a pennant-deciding game. An inveterate worrier who ``fears being the goat,'' Jackson balks home the winning run, falls apart, and joins the Army Air Corps. Later, Jugs is killed, whereupon Jude makes his move on Dixie, and Jackson-in gunnery school and helpless to interfere- eventually gets sent on a mission over downtown Tokyo. Captured, he lives through a hideous physical ordeal in a pipe before a Japanese admiral, whose son wants to play ball, rescues him for a life of relative ease until the war ends. After the war, Jackson plays ball again, but Dixie is already married, and his wartime involvement with the Admiral-as well as other incidents while he was a prisoner-cause the Army to accuse him of treason. He beats the charge, but the big leagues blacklist him; he also has a final victorious showdown with Jude, who turns out to be an abusive animal. The voice is credible, and the humor just hard-edged enough to give the story a little spin. Ball fans will enjoy it, as will devotees of southern backwoods fiction.