California Rush by Sherwood Kiraly

californiarushTed Williams once said that the hardest thing in the world was to hit a baseball with a bat. The second hardest thing, he continued, was to throw baseball where a batter couldn’t hit it with a bat.

Williams might have added that the third hardest thing to do is to write an original novel about baseball. Oh, it’s been done. But for every home run such as Ron Hays’ The Dixie Association or Ray Kinsella’s Field of Dreams, for every Bull Durham and The Natural, for every book by Ring Lardner, Jim Bouton and Lawrence Ritter, there are volumes of strikeouts.

But this summer* there’s a new hitter in the lineup. His name is Sherwood Kiraly, and his book, California Rush (Macmillan, 288 pages), is as delightful as any summer’s evening spent with a beer and a hot dog, watching the boys of summer in the flesh.

“Baseball has a continuity to it,” Kiraly’s narrator, Charlie Tyke, explains. “All that history, all those old heroes I read about, made me feel part of something grand…Look here a batter hits a chopper to short, and a Little Leaguer shortstep charges it and throws him out at first by an eyeblink, that kid is doing just what Honus Wagner did in 1903, he might as well be Honus Wagner. “ And that, according to Tyke and a few million other folks, is baseball, up close and personal.

California Rush is the story of three minor league players, Tyke, Davy Tremayne and Jay Bates, who rise from nobodydom to become stars in the major leagues. It’s a colorful and comic rise and, in a word, it’s baseball. Along the way the glitz and glamour of the game are stripped away, and what’s left is the absurdity and the drama of the American sport.

Minor characters such as Sunset Boone former Western movie star and current owner of the new expansion team, California Rush, and Fabian Koonce, who becomes the mostly unlikely record holder of the most unlikely record in the history of the game, fill out a roster of refreshingly original players.

The story is about friendship, love, hate and revenge, and it turns on outrageous but wonderful situations and witty dialogue, peppery with vulgar but harmless locker-room eloquence.

California Rush will not win a Pulitzer. If the publishing business runs true to form, it might not last the season. Field of Dreams was benched quickly on its first appearance; so was The Dixie Association. So I urge anyone who has a smattering of interest in baseball, or just in a fresh, funny novel, to rush right out and pick up a copy. It is an uproariously funny way to spend time by the pool, at the beach or during commercials while a favorite team changes pitchers. And I’ll bet that once it’s started, most readers won’t stop except to punch a companion and say through a stifled giggle, “Hey, listen to this!”

Clay Reynolds, author of Ars Poetica

*Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in 1990 in the San Antonio Express-News.

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