Two great American traditions merge when horror icon Stephen King turns his attention to baseball.
Stephen King long ago became a big-league author. Now he digs in and stands ready to give whole new meaning to the phrase, “Batter up!”Skip to next paragraph
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In 1999, King wrote a short novel, “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon,” that put a lost 9-year-old girl alone in the woods with only her Boston Red Sox jersey (Tom Gordon’s, of course) and a portable radio (able to pick up Red Sox broadcasts) to help her cope. Five years later, the same season the real-life Red Sox ended an 86-year championship drought, King and fellow New England novelist Stewart O’Nan co-authored “Faithful,” an account of their real-life fandom.
As if those two examples weren’t enough, any regular reader of King’s work is familiar with the ubiquitous references to Red Sox Nation in his books, as well as several laundry baskets’ worth of Red Sox jerseys, T-shirts, and caps worn by various characters in his numerous novels and short stories.
In short, the scariest thing one could imagine about the King of Horror is a Yankees cap perched on his head.
With all of that in mind, it comes as little surprise to learn that King has written his first full-fledged fictional baseball work with the new novella Blockade Billy.
Clocking in at a breezy 112 pages, King’s tale unveils the truth behind a fictitious scandal that rocked Major League Baseball during the 1957 season. It is the time of Ike, Sputnik, and the unexpectedly mighty Milwaukee Braves.
Enter William Blakely, the blockading wunderkind catcher whose nickname provides the title. Today he has, it seems, disappeared from the baseball record books, along with all but the faintest memories of his team, the New Jersey Titans. Yes, Stephen King would have us believe not just that cars can rage and wreak havoc (“Hello, Christine”), but also that the ever-humble Garden State once fielded a Major League Baseball team. In Newark, no less.
If Newark’s baseball glories are to be believed, a credible narrator is a must, much like a reliable play-by-play man in the broadcast booth. Meet George “Granny” Grantham, the third-base coach of the Titans, who looks back on these dark events from the vantage point of 50 years later.
He’s a curmudgeon, bored and irritated with the old folks’ home he lives (suffers) in. Grantham speaks directly to his real-life creator throughout the book, adding a “Mr. King” here and there for point of emphasis.
For the most part, King pulls this off without lapsing into too many baseball clichés. “Sure, I’ll tell you about Billy Blakely,” Grantham begins. “Awful story, of course, but those are the ones that last longest.”
Blockade Billy gets his shot at the big time after emerging from a minor league field of dreams in Iowa. This being Stephen King, that field of dreams devolves into a field of screams. How it gets there is a clever piece of storytelling that rises to the occasion with the precision of a four-seam fastball.
Just before the Titans break camp at spring training, their catcher, Johnny Goodkind, gets drunk and runs over a woman in the road. When the cops pull Goodkind from the car, he smells like a brewery and struggles to get to his feet, as Grantham tells it.