It's April, which can mean only one's time to root, root, root for the home team!
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Play Ball!

April marks the beginning of baseball season on all levels. My favorite team has always been the Cincinnati Reds, and as a young boy in the 50’s and 60’s I also followed the other National League teams very closely. A lot of great ballplayers came through in that era including the great Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and the Reds’ own Frank Robinson. Frank Robinson baseball cardThe great National League pitchers at the time included Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Juan Marichal among others. Some of the American League’s best-known players were Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra and who can forget the great Yankees pitcher, Whitey Ford. This era is often referred to as the Golden Age of Baseball. So many great players played then.

In those days, most boys had a baseball glove on their hand as much as they possibly could. It was a good summer when you’d be sporting a new glove and it was fun breaking them in with neatsfoot oil to soften the leather. We’d oil them up and tie a ball in them overnight to get the glove’s pocket just right. It was a labor of love and you protected your ball glove at all costs.

Bats were another matter. Most of them were on their last leg, most of the time. If they split, we nailed or taped them back together. It was almost an art form born of necessity. We protected them at all costs because you need a bat and a ball at a minimum to play a game.  If we weren’t playing a regular game, we’d play strikeout where we’d draw a strike zone on a wall and then try to throw mostly fastballs past the batter. We’d also play games where we’d throw a ball against a wall and your opponent would have to catch it on the first bounce or on a fly to count as an out. You got to be the thrower until you made three outs.

If we weren’t playing ball we may be found on a playground “flipping” or trading baseball cards. Flipping cards was a number of different games of chance, much like shooting marbles was in the previous generation. You could buy a pack of five baseball cards with a piece of pink gum, that tasted like Pepto-Bismol, for a nickel at the local candy store. Topps was the big brand then. You prayed you’d get a Reds player in your pack, which you rarely did, and if after your collection of cards grew and you got doubles of the same card, you’d “flip” with your buddies to win other players cards you didn’t have. There was a rivalry to see who could accumulate the biggest collection by winning at flipping or trading, or who could come by the rarest cards. Everything baseball related was a big part of our lives and provides great memories of days gone by.

I remember my first game as a seven-year-old at Crosley Field. I went with my dad and we packed a box lunch. The Reds were playing the San Francisco Giants who had just moved there from New York. If someone asked me what I remembered most about the game, I’d hate to admit it but it was the huge Longines clock on top of the scoreboard. Don’t judge a kid by what’s going through their mind!  

When I wrote The Crossings, I wrote about my father and his father’s planned trip to Crosley Field to see a Reds game. Theirs didn’t work out as well as mine. The setting was 1931 and I mentioned little Georgie’s dreaming of getting to see Edd Roush, a famous Reds player, and Leo Durocher, a spunky young shortstop. Not many people know that Durocher played for the Reds, in fact, I didn’t until I did the research. That’s one of the benefits of doing research, learning little bits of trivia. Baseball is full of trivia.

In The Indian, I couldn’t resist more baseball talk. It’s 1940 and there’s a Fourth of July scene where the men are talking about the Reds’ chances for the season. They were in first place and had gone to the World Series in 1939 and lost to those darn Yankees. They talk about Frank McCormick, the Reds best hitter, and Bucky Walters, their best pitcher. The Reds managed to win the World Series that year but against the Detroit Tigers.

Baseball is often referred to as America’s Pastime, and it definitely was in those days. I’d be remiss though if I didn’t fast-forward to the 1970’s and mention the Big Red Machine. Those Reds teams, led by Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez, all superstars, may have been the best team assembled in the modern era. We may never see a team like that again as no team could afford to pay all of those stars what they’d expect in today’s world.   

Ken Burns, the famous documentary filmmaker who produced the mini-series “Baseball” in 1994 probably summed it up best when he said, “Nothing in our daily life offers more of the comfort of continuity, the generational connection of belonging to a vast and complicated American family, the powerful sense of home, the freedom from time’s constraints, and the great gift of accumulated memory than does our National Pastime.” An eloquent summation of baseball’s role in America’s culture but none more captivating than an umpire’s call of, “Play ball!”        

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Where’s The Indian been lately?
In Hawaii, of course.

I recently received this photo and note from an "old" work colleague..."We just got back from our vacation and I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed "The Indian". The Indian in HawaiiThis is where I was reading your book when I found out to my surprise that Schmitty was being shipped off to Hawaii. I almost fell off my chaise lounge!! Thanks for the great read!"

Thank you for the fun note, Barb!

Barry Kienzle, Author
April 2017

Upcoming Events
SOKY Book Fest
Western Kentucky University
April 22, 2017
The Crossings and The Indian will be featured in the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green on April 22. I’m honored to have been chosen to participate in this prestigious event.

The Indian
has won a new award, Best General Fiction in the Great Southwest Book Festival.

Barry Kienzle is an award-winning Kentucky writer and author of two books based on his father's journey from boyhood to manhood, from the Great Depression through WWII.

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