“Fathers, Sons and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball” by Tommy Murray; Beaver’s Pond Press; October 2017; 416 pp; $17.95
By Ann Jonas
For The Visitor
High school baseball in a small Midwestern town is the main theme of this engaging novel that baseball fans — especially Catholics — will enjoy. Set in 1974, in the fictional town of Cottage Park, Iowa, the main characters are the three elderly coaches of the Holy Trinity High School baseball team: head coach Al Murphy, Egg (Edwin Gerald Gallivan) and Father John Ryan. All three are in their 70s or 80s and dedicated to the baseball team that has always been good but has never won the “Finals” — the state high school baseball tournament.
Al Murphy, who is 74, retired from teaching five years ago after 40 years as an English teacher at Holy Trinity. He has continued to coach, believing that he is making a difference and contributing to the community. His wife is concerned about his health and so he has reluctantly decided to retire from coaching at the end of this season, hoping to finally bring a state championship to the town in his last year with the team.
Egg, an 84-year-old World War II veteran, is a widower with nine adult children; they think he should consider moving to a senior-living community. His son Denny was killed while serving in Vietnam in 1967. Egg serves as an assistant coach and scorekeeper for the Holy Trinity baseball team.
Father Ryan is 79 and has been pastor at Holy Trinity for 51 years. His bishop has been urging him to retire to a nursing home in Sioux City, but he is not quite ready for that. He is well-liked in Cottage Park and considered a genuine spiritual father figure by the townsfolk. Father Ryan helps with the defense and is first base coach for the team.
The players on the baseball team are all important characters in the book. Each of them knows how important winning is to the entire town of Cottage Park. Along with trying to win ballgames, they all have other personal and, in some cases, family challenges they are facing. And the town itself has struggles, too, as many of its young adults are leaving the area as soon as they graduate from high school.
T.J., a 14-year-old juvenile delinquent, has just moved into town from Denver with his mother, who was born and raised in Cottage Park. She is desperate to turn T.J.’s life around and hopes moving back home will help. T.J. hates the thought of living in a small town and paints graffiti on Egg’s garage. To make amends, he must repaint the garage. Egg soon takes T.J. under his wing, which means T.J. is soon involved in the baseball scene, albeit reluctantly.
Author Tommy Murray paints a very authentic picture of life in a Midwestern small town in the 1970s. The townspeople look after each other and seem to have strong bonds with their neighbors. Catholicism is central to his novel — the three coaches are daily Mass attendees — and baseball is clearly a second religion in the town. There is a lot that goes on in this novel of over 400 pages but the character development — and there are numerous characters — is well-done and the storyline is interesting, culminating with the championship game.
A resident of Shoreview, Minnesota, Murray will be signing copies of “Fathers, Sons and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball” starting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at Barnes and Noble (3940 Division St.) in St. Cloud.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.