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World War II Vets Take On Youth Baseball Team in New Comical Novel
A Day for Heroes, based on its author’s life with a little poetic license, tells the story of a young boy, Ray, growing up in the 1950s and transforming from a holy terror of a child to an amazing baseball player, and most importantly, it is the story of to fathers and sons coming together to play a baseball game like no other. These fathers, most of them veterans of the Second World War, believed that the boys, who had never lost a game, had it easy because of them, and now it was time to teach them a lesson.
The early chapters of the novel detail Ray’s comedic misadventures growing up and the rivalry that developed between him and his father as a result of the trouble he constantly caused. Ray always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to his paranoia—perhaps justified—that his parents, grandparents, and teachers were out to get him. But in the end, he burned down the house, burned his grandfather’s piano, tore up the seats in the new car, created abstract art from a fellow kindergartener, and had to agree with the principal not to talk. locked up in the choir – his singing was so bad. Ray’s grandfather threatens him with revenge for destroying the player piano, but it’s Ray’s dad who pulls it off in a way that will keep the reader cringing between laughs, of course.
Then Ray’s life takes a sudden turn when he enters the fifth grade and meets Mrs. Harrison, a gym teacher so old that she’s been teaching since Old Testament times. Perhaps her age has made Mrs. Harrison wise as she is the first person to see Ray’s potential. She makes him a teacher’s assistant and eventually the class forms a baseball team. Before long, Ray is part of an unstoppable youth baseball team, and by the time he and his classmates turn sixteen, they’ll be playing in the Detroit Baseball League against boys’ teams. The other teams find them funny and nobody wants to play them at first, but the laughs don’t last long.
By the time they graduate high school, Ray’s team has never lost a game. But then their fathers approach them to play one last game on a Sunday afternoon in 1965. Ray and his teammates are surprised, but ready for the challenge. After all, their fathers are all on the wrong side of forty. But they underestimated these men, most of whom are World War II vets and play baseball like they want to win another war.
The title of the book, “A Day for Heroes,” refers to that great match between fathers and sons – World War II veterans and the next generation. The final showdown is hilarious, heartwarming, will cheer readers, and has the same effect as a great feel-good movie. Every page of the book is filled with laughter, but beneath that laughter is a deep respect for the veterans who saved the world.
Danescu makes sure that every character in both teams is fully realized. For example, Deacon, the aptly named second baseman on Ray’s team, was described as having “a slow and steady gait, almost biblical in nature, while surrounded by an aura of poise and calmness. He had the self-assurance of a clergyman. When he appeared at a game, it was like to enter the tent of revival to fulfill hopes and dreams.” And then there’s Jack, whose parents are German immigrants. Jack grows so big that his muscles are popping out all over the place until his teammates are convinced that he is the result of some secret laboratory experiment in Germany during the war. Jack is such an amazing ball player that “the other team came off the field, demanding to see a birth certificate and other identification that proved Jack was human. Jack never spoke during these investigations; we had another player representing him. We knew his emphasis would encourage accusations of test tubes, German laboratories and artificial organs.”
As for the World War II fathers, here are descriptions of two of them:
“Mr. Grant brought home a noticeable limp from the war and was currently working as a foreman on an assembly line in Detroit. There was hesitation with every step he took. We didn’t think he could play baseball, but Mr. Grant showed up to play because he didn’t know what we are talking about limitations.”
“For nearly two years, he faced death nightly on patrols around the Japanese-held islands. So Mr. Danson came home with nerves of steel and eyes so cold and sharp he could have carved a turkey with them…it’s terrible to have someone with such experience. And if he said we still had things to learn, who would argue with him?”
Danescu, despite a bit of banter, is respectful of these people, asking in the opening chapter before the big game:
“Where do you find heroes? You find them in innocent unsuspecting people thrust into dangerous or desperate situations. They respond in ways that show personal identity and importance become secondary to some other cause or purpose. Their acts of courage and bravery may be spontaneous or sustained years.”
For me to describe the great game between these fathers and sons would be to rob the reader of all the fun, and my descriptions could not do justice to the humor of the book, the comic incidents and the overall toughness of these players. “A Day for Heroes” is a triumph in many ways – from nostalgia to heroism and from humor to deep emotion. Ryan Danescu can write a tear-jerking paragraph and end it with a comical throwback like few authors can. After burning down houses, trashing car interiors and becoming one hell of a baseball player, he may have finally found his calling in writing this heartwarming story of two generations at war on the baseball diamond. This book is destined for a home run.
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