|Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Sky Pony Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2012)
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Arthur Murphy – Talent Scout for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Team.
Mickey Tussler – 17 year old baseball player with autism.
Molly Tussler – Mother of Mickey, she’s trapped in an abusive marriage.
In the late 1940s, the minor league Milwaukee Brewers are foundering yet again and manager Arthur Murphy is desperate. When he sees seventeen-year old Mickey Tussler throwing apples into a barrel, he knows he has found the next pitching phenom. But not everyone is so hopeful. Mickey’s autism—a disorder still not truly understood even today—has alienated the boy from the world, and he is berated by other players and fans. Mickey faces immense trials in the harsh and competitive world of baseball while coping with the challenges inherent to his disorder. An honest and knowledgeable book about overcoming adversity, and the basis for the television movie A Mile in His Shoes, Mickey’s powerful story shows that with support and determination anyone can be triumphant, even when the odds are stacked against him.
The mailbox outside the farmhouse was beaten and weathered, a gray wood container nailed to a crooked stake with the name “Tussler” barely visible through all of the chips and cracks. He followed a narrow, winding path that led him past a tiny field with slanted gravestones overrun with cucumber vines and crabgrass that eventually gave way to a small stable.
“Hello,” he called out. “Anyone home?”
He stepped forward and opened the doors, looking curiously at the scene inside. Two horses, a couple of chickens nesting in the corner and a few pigs eating quietly from a trough.
“Not much of a farm,” he thought.
The animals seemed to be just as unimpressed with him. They barely stirred, and probably would have remained completely still had it not been for the sudden thumping from behind the far wall. He followed the sound around the stable until he found its origin. He stood, with his back and left foot flat against the side of the stable, watching in amazement at the young farm boy, standing next to a curious pattern of crab apples in the dirt – six rows across, five apples deep – firing one at a time from one hundred feet away into a wine barrel turned on its side.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Stunned, Arthur watched as the boy shifted his weight back, cocked his right arm, then exploded forward, splitting the center of the barrel every time. He didn’t have much of a windup, and the mechanics were awkward, but it was the most astounding display of power and accuracy he had ever witnessed.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
He was about to walk a little closer when he stopped suddenly, taken back by an unusual, spastic motion the boy was performing. His throwing hand, curled into a fist, was buried inside his other and he was rolling his arms violently. Arthur watched as each elbow rose and fell rhythmically, over and over again, until at last the boy stopped just long enough to reach down in front him in order to resume the awesome exhibition.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Three more strikes. Then came the rolling of the arms. Arthur stared as the powerful young man repeated the process, time and again.
He was captivated. Once the pristine rows of projectiles had vanished, Arthur walked over to the boy. The kid was bigger up close. His face was youthful, round and fleshy, with sandy brown strands of hair that barely concealed a dark purplish line under his right eye. He must have been at least six foot five. His legs looked like two oak trees and he had the biggest hands Arthur had ever seen.
“Excuse me,” Arthur said. “Hello. I had a little accident with my car. Do you live here?”
The young giant was startled and tense. He began to chew his lower lip. His eyes darted wildly.
“I live here,” he answered.
“Is there someone who can help me with my car? I mean, your parents. Is your dad around?”
He didn’t answer. He was just standing before him, his glance shifting from Arthur’s hat to his shoes and all points in between.
“I didn’t mean to bother you son,” Murph said, holding out his hand. “I’m Arthur Murphy. My friends call me Murph.”
The boy’s expression softened. He pushed away the wisps of brown hair that hung carelessly in his eyes.
“Michael James Tussler, sir,” he answered, pulling awkwardly at one of the straps of his overalls. “Folks ‘round here just call me Mickey.”
“Mickey, huh? Say, that’s quite a shiner you got there,” Murph said, pointing to the boy’s eye.
“How’s that?” he responded.
“Your eye. I was talking about your eye. How’d you get that?”
The boy fidgeted.
“Aw, don’t reckon Mickey remembers,” he answered.
Arthur smiled softly.
“Well, that’s alright now. It’s nice to meet you Mickey. You’ve got quite an arm there.
Really. I was watching you from over there. How old are you?”
The boy was biting the inside of his cheek.
“I got me some pigs sir. Want to see my pigs?”
“Uh, sure. Maybe later.”
“I got six of ’em. My favorite one is named Oscar.”
Arthur studied the boy. He was certainly in amazing shape. A fine athletic specimen. But there was something about him. A vacuity behind his eyes that seemed to overshadow everything else.
“Well, that sounds very nice son. Say, how old did you say you are Mickey?”
“Ever play baseball?”
Mickey just looked at him.
Murph thought again about Dennison’s ominous admonition and how desperately grave his situation with the ball club had become.
“You, know. Baseball. Three strikes. Home run. All that good stuff.”
“I don’t reckon I have. I’ll show you my pigs now. I got six of ‘em.”
Then Mickey placed his hands together and began rolling his elbows once again.
“Yeah, yeah. Okay Mickey. In a minute. But first, how’s about waiting here while I run to my car. Then maybe you can show me that neat trick of yours again– you know, throwing those apples in the barrel?”
Mickey nodded blankly. Murph was gone and back in a flash, fearful that the boy might change his mind. With his breath short and erratic, Murph reached down to pick up one of the wormy specimens that had managed to fall outside the original makeshift grid. He tossed it in the air a couple of times. Then he reached into his pocket with his other hand and presented to Mickey a beautiful new baseball.
“What do ya say kid?” he prompted, holding out both his hands. “They’re almost the same exact size. Except mine is real clean and smooth. Go on. Have a feel for yourself.” Murph watched as the boy’s hand swallowed the ball.
“Pretty neat, huh?” he asked.
Mickey ran his fingers over the laces.
“Mickey likes it sir,” he replied.
Murph smiled. His heart beat on.
“How about giving it a toss Mickey?” he asked. “You know, right over in that barrel.
Just for laughs.”
The boy nodded.
“Can I show you my pigs now?” he asked.
“Well, sure you can son,” Murph answered. “But first, I’d love to see you toss that baseball into that barrel.”
The monotony of the conversation sank into a vague haze through which Murph’s glittering visions persisted. He placed his hand on the boy’s back and nudged him gently. “What do you say son?” he prodded. “Will you do that for me?”
“Okay Mr. Murphy. Mickey will do it.”
Murph watched with immeasurable fascination as the boy held the ball, brought his hands together, and rolled his arms. Then, like a bolt of lightening released from the heavens, the ball took flight, a streak of white radiance that cut the air with a whizzing sound before landing directly in the center of the barrel, splintering the wood. Murph’s eyes widened like saucers. His breath was gone again. Then, in the flatness that followed the euphoria, Murph knew, just knew, that he had stumbled on something special.
I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but this ended up being a poignant story about friendship and the removal of life’s barriers.
The characters are very vivid and realistic. You feel a sense of dread whenever Clarance Tussler shows up, you feel Molly’s anxiety being around him, and you feel Mickey’s grasping with trying to survive in a world he doesn’t understand. This book gave me an idea on what some with autism must feel like inside, at least those along the lines of Rain Man.
The writing and description of areas are very detailed. I often found myself with images in my head of old black and white baseball footage while I was reading it. There are two basic plots. One plot involves Mickey’s mother Molly and her unhappy marriage and desire to get out of it, while the other plot involves Mickey and trying to get society to adjust him, sometimes with tragic consequences. The book managed to pull different emotions from me, and I think that’s the mark of good writing. I was smiling, angry, sad, happy…
There is some mild language and adult situations so for that I’d recommend it for older teens and adults. But if you’re a fan of baseball, or just a fan of good character fiction, then pick up The Legend of Mickey Tussler. When you do, stop back by and let us know what you thought.
About the Author
Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years.
His debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA’s silver medal for outstanding fiction.
His follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a movie adaptation of the touching story “A Mile in His Shoes” starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder.
Frank continues to produce quality work, including Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story, and is presently at work on a third installment of the unique series.
Frank lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony.
*Disclaimer* A special thanks goes out to Nicole at Tribute Books for a review copy of this book. It in no way influenced my review. You can discuss it here or join my facebook page and discuss it there.