All Roads to Fenway Run through the Heart: By John H. Ritter – Guest Baseball Blog
Friday August 3rd, 2012
MLB reports: Recently we published a review of the baseball novel “Fenway Fever” by John H. Ritter. While we all enjoy reading a great baseball book, it is a big thrill when we can have the author come on board to talk about developing and writing the book. That is exactly what we have in store for you today on MLB reports! John H. Ritter has been gracious with his time in preparing a guest blog. If you haven’t read Fenway Fever before, it will give you a great peek into the book. And if you have completed Fenway Fever, then you will have an even greater insight into the thoughts and feelings in crafting this baseball novel. John clearly loves baseball, the Red Sox and Fenway Park. What drove him to write a novel devoted to these topics? You are about to find out…
Today exclusively on MLB reports, we proudly present author John H. Ritter as our featured guest blogger, discussing his recently published novel “Fenway Fever”:
John H. Ritter (Guest Baseball Blogger):
Since the first of my six novels, Choosing Up Sides, was published fourteen years ago, I’ve made my living as a baseball novelist. And with each book, I seem to peel back another layer of my own childhood until, with the recent publication of Fenway Fever, I have now drawn upon one of my deepest memories, the death of my mother when I was four years old, and how our family drew strength and sustenance from the game of baseball to make our way through the trials of that event.
I first visited Fenway in 1999, and instantly that quirky, storied, mystical park cast its spell on me, drawing me back to the mountains of my San Diego boyhood, the “hand-carved” ballfield my brothers and I built based on the stories of hometown hero Ted Williams. Our father once told us “The Kid,” who began his pro career with the Triple A San Diego Padres in 1937, had grown up with a baseball field right out his front door, so we wanted one too. Dad even told me I was built like the Splendid Splinter, tall and lanky, and since I threw right and batted left, as he did, I often imagined myself to be another “Kid-in-the-making.”
But it was not until 2010, as I started researching the germ of a novel premised on a baseball-loving hotdog vendor’s family struggling to make ends meet following the death of the family’s young matriarch, that it all fell into place. The setting had to be Fenway Park. Where else could I find the stories of heartbreak and hope, triumph and travail, worthy of an emotional, albeit uplifting, story of a motherless boy who joins a Major League ballplayer in a mysterious quest?
My kid brother, Vonn, would come to life as the young statistical guru “Stats” Pagano. When we played “one-on-one” baseball on our rural ballfield, it was Vonn who placed cardboard boxes and a pencil at each base in order to record every hit, walk, and error, so that after the game he, at age 7, could calculate by long division our batting averages as well as slugging and on-base percentages.
By then, Dad had told us all about Teddy Ballgame’s boyhood habit of carrying a bat everywhere he went. “He’d walk down the street, swinging away,” Dad said. “He’d knock the tops off the mustard plants and hit the daisies across the lawn.” Well, needless to say, I began to do the same.
Often, after a tough game, I would wander up onto my mountain, above our ballfield, to commune with my mother. Like Stats, I would talk with her, and in my mind, she would respond. And as far as this ten-year-old young shortstop was concerned, it was as natural as drifting in to grab a chopper on the high hop, planting a foot, and firing to first.
Early in the plotting process, I determined that virtually all of the characters in Fenway Fever would be pulled from baseball lore. Some would be composites, such as second-sacker Dusty Doretta (think Pedroia, Doerr, and Loretta). Others, like pitching ace Cannonball Jackman, came moniker unchanged, straight out of Boston’s past.
But it wasn’t until I combined the quirky Red Sox lefty from the 1970s, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, along with another eccentric ’70s phenom, Worcester-born Mark “Bird” Fidrych, that I had a dream character to lead the pack. Enter Billee “Spacebird” Orbitt, one of the most upbeat, untamed, uninhibited characters I have ever composed.
Taking place in a six-week period during the 2012 season, Fenway Fever posits a Red Sox downslide from the heights on their 2007 World Championship based on one very real event. Billee believes the recent reversal of fortune started when a red-tailed hawk attacked a 13-year-old girl named Alexa Rodriguez (true name…and yes, another A-Rod in the mix) back in April 2008 as she toured the park with classmates. Immediately an Animal Rescue team removed the hawk’s nest and egg, and that’s the moment, says Billee, the “butterfly effect” (or rather, the red-tailed hawk effect) came into play, continuing through the devastating “September Slide” of 2011 and into the first few months of 2012.
According to Fenway Fever, that is. Yes, there are some uncanny parallels between my fantasy Red Sox squad and their real-life 2012 counterparts. And I hope that continues. Why? Because my last place Sox of June fight back through July and August to become the first place Sox of September. But if not, that’s all right too. For Fenway Fever is more than predicting winners and losers. It’s about rising above adversity. It’s about recognizing the good and the divine in each of us, regardless of performance.
Mainly, it’s about love. A small boy’s love of a ball team, a ball park, the stats of a child’s game. The love of family and community and the healing power of love itself, even a mother’s love from beyond the veil. For to me, that’s the real story of Fenway Park. Can we forgive our Buckners, our Schiraldis, our Yawkeys, and Frazees?
Together, Stats and Billee discover what I call the inter-connectivity of everything. That is, the “inter-league” play, if you will, between family, nature, ball parks, cities, teammates, and the stars above. In times when so many of us struggle to make that connection, these two characters rise up to show us one way we can put the unity back into community.
My brothers and I, like Stats and Mark, grew up motherless with a father who struggled mightily. But Dad never let us forget we always had each other. As long as we pulled together, we were a formidable team, no matter the outcome, no matter the match.
In my book, that’s what baseball is all about.
About the Author:
John H. Ritter is the author of six award winning baseball novels, including The Boy Who Saved Baseball (Penguin, 2003), winner of the 2004 Paterson Prize for Fiction, and Choosing Up Sides (Penguin, 1998), winner of the International Reading Association’s Book of the Year award. His most recent novel, the prophetic Fenway Fever (Penguin, 2012) is a Library Guild selection for 2012. A lifelong baseball player and fan, Ritter now lives and writes where his grandson plays, on the island of Kauai. Website: www.JohnHRitter.com Wiki Bio: wiki/John_H._Ritter Fenway Fever book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu7TY05ZNuU.
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Posted on August 3, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged babe ruth, baseball, bill spaceman lee, curse of the bambino, fenway 100, fenway fever, john h. ritter, john ritter, kevin youkilis, mlb, stats pagano. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.