Wild Pitch (review)
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Reviewed by
Mike Lupica. Wild Pitch. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002. 352 pp. Cloth, $24.95.

Most readers of NINE know Mike Lupica as the tough-talking, some might say mouthy, little guy on ESPN's Sunday morning program The Sports Reporters. New Yorkers will know him as the same from his columns in the Daily News. Fewer will know him as the author of the basketball and football novels Full Court Press and Bump and Run. With Wild Pitch Lupica adds a baseball novel to his resume. This is not a novel that will rival Malamud's The Natural or Asinof's Man in Spikes for a place among the best, but it will offer fans of the game and the genre an entertaining read. Lupica's years of experience on the sports beat, coupled with his trademark sarcasm, result in a realistic and funny book that readers can enjoy on the beach in summer or around the hot stove in winter. [End Page 144]

Wild Pitch is the redemption tale of forty-year-old "Showtime" Charlie Stoddard, once a star pitcher with the brash Met teams of the 1980s who tore up his shoulder in the 1988 NLCS. As the novel opens Charlie has been out of baseball for five years after having bounced around with several clubs, Major and Minor, following the injury. A well-known has-been, he migrates from card show to card show to pick up extra money, spends his time drinking more than he should, trades on his name to talk second-rate groupies into bed, and suffers his estrangement from his ex-wife and twenty-year-old son. While Charlie is lost both his wife and son bask in public adulation, she as a "babe Martha Stewart" lifestyle maven, and he as the rookie ace of the Boston Red Sox staff.

The redemption plot is initiated when Charlie meets Chang, a Chinese fitness guru, with whom he undergoes mysterious and painful treatments on his bad shoulder. These work so well that he realizes he may be able to have one more shot in the bigs. Though a comeback after five years may seem far-fetched, the novel references Dave Steib's one-year return (after the same amount of time) in 1998, when he appeared in 19 games and picked up 1 win. Readers need only to think of Jose Rio for a second example. In addition, the novel makes the comeback plausible by clearly explaining Chang's methods and showing Charlie's progress as gradual. Along with the physical rehabilitation that eventually leads to a late-season signing by the Red Sox, Charlie undergoes several personal changes. To say exactly how all this unfolds would be to give away the novel. Suffice it to say there are enough ups and downs to keep the reader turning the pages as Charlie comes to terms with his personal and pitching demons to recover his lost familial relationships.

Primarily, Charlie's transformation requires that he reconcile with his son. Though both are pitchers and eventually teammates united in the Sox's effort to hold off the charging Yankees, the boy, Tom, harbors a ballpark full of resentment toward his father, even using his mother's maiden name, MacKenzie, as his own. Tom-or T-Mac, as teammates and fans call him-cannot excuse the years of neglect while Charlie was wrapped up in his career as "Showtime," and he also knows of his father's drunken escapades with groupies and lap dancers at the expense of his mother. At the same time, the young man himself shows signs of replaying his father's life, and part of Charlie's attempt to save himself is bound up with his wish to save his son from repeating his mistakes. Thus Lupica invokes the classic father-son theme often common in baseball novels.

Charlie's desire to atone for his sins and recover the affections of his wife also figures largely in his redemption, adding a romantic subplot to the mix. With the father-son drama and the romance added to the comeback plot, [End Page 145] some might find the...