We're almost to Opening Day as Jon Sindell's fine new novel The Mighty Roman begins, ". . . as we near . . . San Carlos, a six-inning drive from the Mexican border. . . ." This is a summer road-trip for lovers of any or all of these three great American pastimes: fiction, baseball, and life itself.
San Francisco's Sindell takes us on a lyrical and at times fearful ride with a team of wannabe baseball players, whose talents only occasionally match their ambitions. And fortunes can change in the middle of games, too: "His soft sweeping curves, which early in the game had settled an enticing chopstick's width off the plate, fell like powdery snowballs now five harmless inches outside the strike zoneor worse, wandered like stoned teen runaways right over the soft heart of the plate."
The ballplayers are nineteen, away from home for the first time, and running headlong into the brick outfield walls that separate boys from men, sons from fathers, singles from doubles and singles from couples. Manhood is treated both seriously and lightly in locker rooms, baseball diamonds, bus rides, cheap desert apartments, and in the desert itself, all against the backdrop of 2008 and the phenomena of the Obama candidacy, California's Proposition 8, immigration wars, and the league's mixed roster of whites, blacks, Latinos, Japanese and even a Russian.
The narrator is Matt, a skilled but fastball-deficient pitcher. Of himself: " and I had verbal chops, too an assertion the vanity of which I mitigate with the admission that I could do little else: confuse a hitter (frequently at first, less so lately), drive home safely when my teammates were drunk, write baseball sonnets and haiku, and make three pasta dishes four if you count boxed mac and cheese."
There is competition, and then there is the joy of simply playing " catch silent, lovely, wordless catch, with no rivalry polluting our joy."
And there is the team's manager, who also dreams of "The Bigs." He is of a wholly different generation and politics, and who, like his own father, can mix a potent cocktail of baseball and militarism: "So I put the bat down under my bed I put away that childish thing and went straight downtown and joined the Marines."
Sindell's characters clash with each other at one point Matt's awareness that he may have mistreated a friend "intruded intermittently like a radio signal on a country drive." with opponents, and with history. It's not unlike when I cheered for Bill Walton and UCLA basketball in March, then sat next to the 6'11" Walton in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard in anti-war protests in May. Wherever you are, on the court, in the outfield, or in the street, you are in the world. And you are not alone. As Rex, Matt's best friend on the Coyotes explains, baseball (or any sport) is closely aligned to life on the streets: "So you're out there alone on first base, see? In enemy territory. And all of your friends are back home, down there in the dugout praying for your safe return."
On a different occasion the manager he is "The Mighty Roman" hits on the same theme as he expounds on the glory of a home run: "And you know what else? Ponder about this for a minute. No one can touch you! Think about that. It's the only game in the whole damn world where you can run around the field through the enemy, even and no one can touch you! Because you're the king! And that's what home runs are all about, Matt."
This is a real-life novel, packed with personalities and filled with beautiful language and true emotion. Huck's raft becomes a team bus, and it is a ride worth taking.
lives near San Francisco. Fiction: JMWW; Rio Grande Review; BorderSenses; SFWP Journal; Switchback; Toasted Cheese; Boston Literary; Qarrtsiluni; Foundling Review; Menda City; 100 Word Story; Tales from the Courtroom; and more. Poetry: The Postcard Press; 34th Parallel; Naugatuck River Review; Contemporary Verse 2; Right Hand Pointing; Inkwell; Spitball; more. Non-fiction in Toasted Cheese; Journal of Microliterature; Quay. He strives to live with compassion and awareness.