Even so, it’s a sweet story, a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress through the worlds of family, baseball, fate, faith and gritty independence of spirit.
Written by Brian Biegel, with the help of Peter Thomas Fornatale, it is the account of Biegel’s obsessive search for the baseball that Bobby Thomson hit over the left field fence in the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951 in the ninth inning of the deciding playoff game for the National League pennant.
That home run with two men on base gave the New York Giants a stunning come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Walk-off home runs, broadcast ad nauseam on television, are old hat nowadays. But the Thomson blast came at the dawn of the TV age. For the first time, hundreds of thousands of fans across the country were watching the game and saw the dramatic reversal brought about by one swing of the third baseman’s bat.
So it’s an iconic game — an iconic moment — for sports enthusiasts.
Biegel got started on his search as a way of breaking out of a deep depression he was suffering.
His father had obtained an old baseball that had been signed by many of the Giants of that 1951 pennant-winning team and thought that it might have been the Thomson home run ball. He tried for a while to prove its authenticity and asked his son to help out.
The task, when Biegel finally was able to take it up, gave a burning focus to his life that was enough to help him rise, wobbly at first, above his illness.
It became clear fairly soon that the dad’s ball wasn’t the one Thompson hit to win the game, but, by then, Biegel was knee-deep in the search and had hooked up with the documentary film company. He was on fire with finding the ball, wherever it was.
There’s probably a bit too much about Biegel’s depression in this book, just as there’s probably a bit too much repetition about the importance and impact of the Thomson homer. More than a few of the pages seem padded with an aim of pushing the page total of the book over 200.
That wasn’t necessary. To my mind, in the center of this book is a modern real-life fable.
There’s something poetic about this tale — the great event, the protagonist’s dark difficulties, his acceptance of the quest, his travels and travails along the road, his meetings with odd and interesting characters, the play of fate and, at the end, an unexpected twist, wonderfully improbable.
Yes, wonderfully improbable. And sweet.
At its heart, this book is a prose poem about hope and renewal. Love, too. Especially love.
Patrick T. Reardon