|Paperback: 280 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.
Lester Sledge – A catcher Murphy hires from the Negro Leagues.
It’s 1949 and eighteen-year-old pitching phenom Mickey Tussler is back with the rejuvenated minor league Brewers in the sequel to The Legend of Mickey Tussler (the basis for the television movie A Mile in His Shoes). Despite Mickey’s proclamation that he will never play baseball again after last season’s violent conclusion, his manager—and now surrogate father—Arthur Murphy cajoles the emotionally fragile, socially awkward boy with autism into giving it another shot. Mickey reluctantly returns to the field and must once again cope with the violence and hatred around him. When a young African American player joins the team, the entire team is subjected to racial threats and episodes of violence, one of which Mickey witnesses firsthand. Struggling to understand such ugliness and hatred, and fearful of reprisal should he tell anyone about what he has seen, the boy’s performance on the field suffers. Mickey now must deal with a side of human nature he scarcely comprehends.
“What the hell is wrong with Mickey?” Murph asked. “Did something happen out there?”
“I think it was Lefty,” Danvers said. “That jackass was jawing at him from the dugout, and making all kinds of gestures. I put a stop to it but I think it may have rattled him.”
Murph saw the boy struggling, and was quick to intercede. “Hey, Mick, what’s going on pal?” he said. “Everything okay?”
The boy did not move. Just stood there, catatonically, his fragile soul naked in his glassy eyes. He was remembering the last time he saw Lefty. And he could still hear the assailant’s voice, cold and vituperative, and the pathetic cries of Oscar, his favorite pig, after Lefty plunged his boot into the porker’s side, killing it instantly. Then there were the hours that followed, with Sheriff Rosco, and all the questions. So many questions. The recollection was overwhelming. Frightening. He just wanted it to all go away.
“‘Slowly, silently, now the moon, walks the night in her silver shoon…’”
“Mickey, come on now. We’re not doing that now. There’s no need. You’re home here. We’ve got a game to play here. Hear that crowd? Listen to them. They all came for you.”
The boy’s affectations were unchanged. He continued to stare vacantly, rocking back and forth, trying desperately to drive the hateful memories out of himself.
“This way and that, she peers and sees, silver fruit upon silver trees.”
Murph put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Hey, Mick, you’re okay. Save that poem for home. Come on now.
Just you and Boxcar. Like always. Focus on that glove. Nothing else. Toss that apple right to the glove. Just like you used to do for Oscar. Right to the target. Can you do that for me?”
Maybe it was his manager’s touch, and the way Murph’s urgency flowed through his fingers and into Mickey’s body like some electrical charge. Or maybe it was the mere mention of the name Oscar, said out loud, that made the difference. Maybe it was both. Whatever it was, the boy began to free himself slowly from the demon that had seized him. He blinked several times, as if cleaning the lens to his mind’s eye, and stopped his recitation of the poem.
“Oscar didn’t like Lefty, Murph,” he said. “No sir. Mickey don’t like him much either.” Murph grinned and shook his head.
“Don’t sweat it, kid. Nobody here does.”
The Brewers took the field moments later, led by their ace and fan favorite, Mickey Tussler. The crowd was bristling with an untamed enthusiasm, waving placards professing their unconditional love for the “Baby Bazooka” and chanting his name. In the wake of his superhuman exploits on the field, and all of the misfortune and injustice that had befallen him elsewhere, Mickey had become a cult hero of sorts.
Mickey, The Brewers, and Murph are back for their second season. They are still faced with the same antagonists from before, however this time they are faced with the serious illness of someone they are close to, as well as the haze of racism.
The areas about the racism brilliantly capture one of the ugliest parts of American History. You see the ugliness of the Klan, of the crowds, and you witness the silent strength in the character of Lester Sledge, who has to endure.
I found this a great followup to The Legend of Mickey Tussler. There is supposedly a third story in the works, and I look forward to its publication. Readers need to be warned though, that this book is set in the 1940s and thus there will be language used that while true to the period, may be offensive to some audiences today.
Due to the content, I’d recommend it for middle teens and adults. But if you are a fan of baseball, know someone with autism, or just want a good story about overcoming all the odds, then pick up both of these books. I think you’ll enjoy them.
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.