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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 thrown in, tells the story of a young boy, Ray, as he grows up in the 1950s and transforms from a holy terror of a child to a great baseball player, and most importantly, it’s a story of fathers and sons coming together to play a baseball game like no other. These fathers, most of them World War II veterans, believed that the sons, who had never lost a game, had it easy because of them, and now was the 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 just always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which led to his paranoia—perhaps justified—that his parents, grandparents, and teachers were all out to get him. But in the end, he set the house on fire, burned his grandfather’s piano, tore up the seats of the new car, created abstract art from a kindergarten friend, and had to make a deal with the school principal to keep him quiet. locked in the choir – his singing was so bad. Ray’s grandfather threatens to get revenge on him for destroying the player piano, but it’s Ray’s father who carries it out in a way that will keep the reader squirming between giggles, of course.
Then Ray’s life takes an unexpected turn when he enters fifth grade and meets Mrs. Harrison, a gym teacher so old she must have been teaching since Old Testament times. Perhaps her old age has made Mrs. Harrison wise, because she is the first person to see Ray’s potential. She makes him a teacher’s aide, and over time, they form a baseball team outside of the classroom. Before long, Ray is part of an unstoppable youth baseball team, and by the time he and his classmates turn sixteen, they are playing in the Detroit baseball league against men’s teams. The other teams find them laughable and no one wants to play them at first, but the laugh doesn’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 a final game on a Sunday afternoon in 1965. Ray and his teammates are surprised, but up for the challenge. After all, their fathers are all on the wrong side of forty. But they have underestimated these men, most of whom are World War II vets and play baseball like they want to win another war.
The book’s title, “A Day for Heroes,” refers to that great game between fathers and sons—World War II vets and the next generation. The final showdown is hilarious, touching, will have readers cheering, 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 on both teams is fully realized. For example, Deacon, the aptly named second baseman on Ray’s team, is described as having “a slow steady gait, almost biblical in nature, while surrounded by an air of poise and composure. He had the confidence of a spiritualist. . When he appeared in the game, it was like entering a resurrection tent to fulfill hopes and dreams.” And then there’s Jack, whose parents are German immigrants. Jack grows so big that his muscles are everywhere until his teammates are convinced that he is the result of a secret laboratory experiment in Germany during the war. Jack is such an incredible ball player that “the other team left the field, demanding to see a birth certificate and another ID that proved Jack was human. Jack never spoke during these inquiries; we had another player who represented him. We knew his accent would ignite 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. With every step he took, there was hesitation. We didn’t think he could play baseball, but Mr. Grant showed up to play because he didn’t know what restrictions we were talking about.”
“For nearly two years, he had faced death every night on patrols around the Japanese-held islands. So Mr. Danson returned home with nerves of steel and eyes so cold and sharp they could carve a turkey with them … it was scary to have someone with that background. And if he says we still have things to learn, who’s to argue with him?”
The Dane, despite some jokes, is respectful of these people, asking in the prelude chapter before the big game:
“Where do you find heroes? You find them within innocent people who unsuspectingly put themselves in dangerous or desperate situations. They react in ways that show how identity and personal significance become secondary to another cause or goal. Their acts of courage and bravery can be spontaneous or last for years”.
For me to describe the great game between these fathers and sons would be to take all the fun out of the reader, and my descriptions could not do justice to the humor of the book, the comic incidents and the general 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 tearful paragraph and end it with a comic relief sentence like few authors can. After burning down houses, destroying car interiors and becoming a baseball player, he may have finally found his calling by writing this poignant tale of two generations at war on the baseball diamond. This book is intended for a trip home.
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