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Detailed Book Review
By Michael Rychlik
ISBN: 978-1-929763-28-3
Price: $17.95
Shipping: $4.00
A comic but poignant novel, Journeymen is based on the postwar days of minor league baseball when it was commonplace for former major leaguers to play out their careers in lowly Class D leagues. Among them, Jake Powell and Myril Hoag a pair of ex-World Champion Yankees languished with the Gainesville G-Men in 1948, as they clung to their cherished game and rollicking lifestyles. Using these journeymen and their hardscrabble lives as a historical backdrop, author Michael Rychlik has penned a heartfelt love story about an aspiring sportswriter named Jersey Paige who is trying to overcome his father's political legacy by pursuing a byline, a feisty Greek girl, and personal freedom.

Michael Rychlik teaches high school English in Tallahassee, Florida.

Journeymen is also available as an ebook on Amazon.com for the Kindle.

Book Review Details:
Reviewed Appeared In: Appalachee Review
Reviewed By: Michael Trammell
Text Of Review: Michael Rychlik in his debut novel uncovers the overlooked but fascinating world of minor league baseball in Florida during the 1940s. Popular small-town teams with fading veterans and ambitious rookies kept America's game rolling through a rural and sparsely populated state. In Journeymen, the waning fortunes of former Babe Ruth teammate Myril Hoag are chronicled day by day, inning by inning, by greenhorn Gainesville Sun journalist Jersey Paige. Jersey's tour covering the minor league baseball circuit helps the young man to understand the complex lives of the players he writes about and to delve into the center of his own heartaches. The book's opening chapter sets the tone, as young Jersey badgers Hoag for a story about the Babe. Jersey and Hoag roll into a bar for drinks and a pool match, and with each passing moment the old baseball hero, now a manager for Gainesville's minor league club, drops his guard. Soon Hoag unwinds a story about how Ruth had been too drunk to play at Yankee Stadium. Hoag had subbed for the legend and had knocked six consecutive base hits, a record. The crowd didn't notice. However, when the Babe pinch hit late in the game and smacked a double, the crowd went wild. This sense of melancholy, this bitterness from being both overlooked and forgotten, pervades the narrative and adds to the story's sense of longing.

Myril Hoag, now past his prime, longs for more than coaching Class D -- the lowest rung of professional baseball; the man actually sees himself making a comeback as a pitcher in the majors: "'I played thirteen years in the major leagues, and now I'm working my way back.' He flexed his right arm and knotted his bicep. 'And this old soup bone's my meal ticket.'" Hoag is just one of several characters in the novel who holds onto unrealistic hopes too tightly.

Jersey Paige, the novel's central protagonist, also has unrealistic hopes. He's interested in the server who works at Presto, the local Greek diner. The only problem is that Katina Papadakis's interest has flagged. Additionally, her father Demetrios, the diner's owner, is definitely not happy with an "amerikanikos" boy pining for his little girl. He wants Katina to be like her reliable and malleable mother; but Katina has ambitions of her own, including becoming a professor.

The love story between Jersey and Katina again reinforces the theme of longing that courses throughout the book. Jersey always has the Greek girl on the forefront of his mind, distracting him from his sports beat for the newspaper, filling him with melancholy.

Another important melancholic figure is Jake Powell, another washed-up big-leaguer hacking his way through the minors. Powell, an alcoholic and a malcontent, contrasts sharply with Hoag, his former teammate with the Yankees. Powell has no illusions about where he's headed. He shuffles through life wolfing down as many drinks as possible. Hoag's long-shot hopes of a major league comeback, though delusional, seem noble compared to Powell's mercenary approach to life.

Despite the book's plaintive themes, the pages are filled with humor. Cantankerous, funny ballplayers and fans pack each of the small stadiums described in the novel. Quirky pitchers bring the most grins. Young hurler Smoky Thomas has a particularly odd warm-up ritual on the mound: "He was glancing down at the baseball primer still open on the ground, as he reared back for his next pitch. At that juncture Smoky inadvertently knocked off his cap, so he froze in mid-windup--his fine, rust colored hair hung down his face. He stuck out his lower lip and tried blowing the bangs out of his eyes while he teetered on one foot and eased down to retrieve his cap."

Michael Rychlik's humor and humanity ring true throughout his novel, and because of these attributes this narrative will resonate not just with baseball fans but with any reader who appreciates a story with heart.

Date Reviewed: 08/07/2007
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