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Modern Baseball Magic: Chin Music by Lee Edelstein Padre Steve’s Review for TLC Book Tours

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Chin Music, Lee Edelstein Sela House Publishers Boca Raton Florida 2012

“I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They’re too much fun.” Babe Ruth

I don’t read much in the way of fiction but when I do there is a good chance it has something to do with baseball. In fact someday I hope to publish my own baseball fiction fantasy novel someday but I digress….

I guess that it is fitting that I am watching the Semi-Final game of the World Baseball Classic between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic on television and that my brother Jeff and nephew Nate are in attendance at AT&T Park as I write this tonight. Baseball is a big part of my life as anyone that is a regular reader of this site knows.

Chin Music by Lee Edelstein is actually the first work of fiction of any genre that I have reviewed. Thus I found that reviewing it was a different task than biographic, historic or policy books that I have done in the past.  I write about baseball a lot and do a lot of reading regarding baseball history. To me baseball is something of a religion. To quote the irrepressible Annie Savoy (Susan Saradon) in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

It is hard to compare this book to other great works of baseball fiction such as W P Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa, which became the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams or his less known but perhaps more metaphysically interesting The Iowa Baseball Confederacy; Bernard Malamud’s The Natural or Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Perfect Game which became the Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game.

Those books are all classics in their own right; Edelstein’s work has the potential to become a classic in its own right. Now days a book becoming a baseball classic may be harder than in previous times. It is sad to sad but Baseball is no longer America’s game. Baseball is timeless but somehow it seems that for many Americans the sport is neither violent or “fast” enough to warrant their attention. The long season and intricacies of the game seem beyond a society addicted to speed, violence and instant gratification. To me that is sad, but this book though a modern look at baseball fiction and fantasy reaches back to a time when it was the dream of almost every American boy to be a professional Baseball player.

Edelstein weaves together the stories of the legendary Babe Ruth, a notorious drunk and womanizer and the Buck family over a period of 85 years.

It is a story that begins in St Petersburg Florida in 1926 when a young woman becomes a barber and ends up with one of the most famous men in America as a customer. The relationship, without concludes in a hotel room, the only records of which are the young woman’s diary, a couple of pictures of her with the Babe in the barber shop and a fair amount of unique and highly valuable baseball memorabilia.

The woman, turns out to be the great grandmother of a gifted but underperforming young high school baseball player named Ryan Buck. The book begins with a motor vehicle accident in which Ryan’s father dies, his brother loses a leg and he suffers what we understand as a Traumatic Brain Injury. Ryan suffers from survivor’s guilt and does not live up to his full potential. His mother, now a working mom and widow embarks to sell her grandmother’s Babe Ruth memorabilia at a baseball card show to help pay the bills and to pay for the costs of Ryan’s brother Michael’s prosthetic leg replacements.

Now I am well acquainted with baseball card shows and memorabilia. My house, much to the chagrin of my wife Judy is filled with objects, none as valuable as original Babe Ruth merchandise portrayed in the book, but for me just as valuable if for nothing else because of my love for the game.

The story that Edelstein paints is fascinating and I do not want to give away too many spoilers because unlike the biographical and historical works I have previously reviewed my audience does not know the ending. As such I will limit the discussion of the plot. I will simply note that it deals with a young man’s miraculous climb from high school to the Major Leagues and reconnection with his late father, the healing of the soul of a woman who has lost her husband who has seen the struggles of her children and held on to the hopes of her late grandmother; a woman considered by her mother a tramp and whore. It includes their interaction with an elderly widower who saves the mother from a bad deal at the card show which leads to the discovery of her grandmother’s diary and other items that lead to an interesting search, not just for memorabilia but also for a family heritage. If you don’t get my drift look back at the Babe Ruth quote that begins this review.

Edelstein did what I did not think possible. He got me interested in a fictional work about baseball that was not already a classic. It grew on me as I read it and even though I began to anticipate the ending about three quarters of the way through I had to keep reading and in doing so was captivated by the story.  No it is not Shoeless Joe, The Perfect Game, or The Natural. Those books stand on their own as classics, but Chin Music has the potential to become a baseball classic for a new generation. It is a story of redemption, healing and hope, something that among all sports that baseball seems to embody. As Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

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I hope that it does and hope that in reading it people will regain their love for what is rightly called “America’s game.” I highly recommend Chin Music by Lee Edelstein to my readers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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St Patrick’s Sunday Night Musing: So Many Topics So Little Time

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Well, here we are the end of St Patrick’s Day and I have to say that I have basically took the weekend off. I slept more than I was awake and did as little as possible. I read a book, a baseball novel called Chin Music by Lee Edelstein which I will review tomorrow Monday night for TLC Book Tours. I also spent a good amount of time with my dog Molly, giving her walks and enjoying her joyfulness.

I did go over to the Emerald Isle St Patrick’s Festival, braving the crowds, which some say might have been 20,000 or more to take my place at Rucker John’s. What amazed me was the manner of how many people celebrate St Patrick’s Day. I am not a tea-totaler by any means and do enjoy my time at the bar with friends. By I go for the fellowship, the friendship and the relationships. I enjoy good beer, wine or the occasional whiskey, brandy or Jaegermeister, but cannot understand why people would come out with the sole purpose of getting drunk and acting like fools. There were very few of us that were regulars there last night as the festivities commenced and I was embarrassed to watch Marines from our local bases act completely foolish, being vulgar, rude and causing the management of have to cut them off.

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Last week was difficult, very busy and dealing with the effects of yet another suicide of a young sailor. I will be working in the early part of the week to conduct the memorial service for the young man, a veteran of Afghanistan whose demons were evidently more than he could bear, and to care for his shipmates. That suicide angered me. Not that I am angry with that young man and his choice to kill himself, but it angered me that so many young men and women, active duty, reserve, national guard as well as retirees and veterans who have left the service die every day.

The fact is that I don’t think that we as individuals, the military, the veterans administration or society are doing enough. I am tired of it and have resolved to do whatever I can to do what I can do to as an individual, a Chaplain and military officer to stem this tide. I may be pissing into the wind, but having been to the brink and stared into the abyss of hopelessness after I returned from Iraq I cannot just stand by and lament the situation anymore.

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I have also been thinking about Iraq and all of the lives lost or destroyed, American, Iraqi and others, the treasure spent and the promises broken. As a veteran of that war I hope and pray that all the lives lost and treasure wasted will not be a complete waste. I pray that some good will still come from our misbegotten invasion of Iraq. Iraq remains a part of my thoughts and my dreams, and rarely a night goes by that my mid does not go back to Iraq, the men that I served with and the Iraqis that I got to know.

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In the midst of Iraq I was reminded that yesterday was the anniversary of the My Lai Massacre and my distant connection to it. Of course that massacre was one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the US Army. I remember when the news broke about it and then remember what my first class advisor in Army ROTC at UCLA had to say about it. He was there after the massacre, his unit providing protection for those investigating it. His words about it and how bad it was remained with me.

In 1997 I was serving as the Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania when I was requested to conduct the funeral for Colonel Oran Henderson, the man who commanded the brigade to which the men that conducted the massacre belonged. Henderson was tried and acquitted of a cover up at the longest running court-martial in US history. However, his career, which before My Lai appeared that he was destined to be a general. That destiny died at My Lai.

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The tragic thing is, a that Henderson, who was a hero in many ways, a man who in World War II, Korea and Vietnam was wounded and conducted himself honor, failed in this crisis. At the time a thorough  investigation conducted by him that sought justice rather than a whitewash may have helped the county and changed his legacy. When I think of him I know that what we do matters, especially as military officers. Ethics is and has to be a central part of our life and faith. When we forget that, when we allow the utilitarian necessities of careerism and defend the institution even when it is wrong we like Henderson fail. That may be one of the lessons that we did not learn in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan which will continue to haunt us. I’ll probably write something about My Lai and its relation to current conflicts and the necessity of military professionals to always seek the higher level of ethics in how they approach war.

Like I said, there is so much to write about and to discuss. I want to write some on the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament, a bit about baseball as well as some of the things happening in regard to North Korea, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan and the first days of the new Papacy of Pope Francis, which may turn out to be as surprising papacy as we have seen in decades, at least since Pope John XXIII.

Well, that is enough for tonight. Tomorrow I will post the review of Chin Music and we’ll see what the rest of the week portends.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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