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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: Nine
Reviewed By: Eric B. Salo
Text Of Review:

Journeymen, a novel of historical fiction, is set in post–World War II Florida and centers on aspiring sportswriter Jersey Paige, who, by creating and defining his own life, attempts to escape the looming shadow of his influential father, a U.S. senator. Fresh out of college, young Jersey apprentices for the local newspaper, the Gainesville Sun; but instead of writing sports, he is relegated to proofreading the society page with the self-important and glamorous “Busy” Bee Beasley, with comic results. When the Sun editors assign Jersey a feature on Myril Hoag, a one-time Yankee well beyond his prime, Jersey discovers quite a different Hoag than expected: drunk, bitter, depressed, and desperate for one last chance at the majors—and with it the pension denied ballplayers before the war. This is Jersey’s first introduction into the tragicomic world of a journeyman.

The forty-year-old Hoag, player-manager for the Class D Gainesville G-Men, begrudged management’s decision to recruit fellow journeyman Jake Powell, three year’s removed from the majors, because of a slanderous racial comment. The two former teammates sustained a mutual hatred— each perhaps afraid of seeing too much of himself in the other.

Both players experienced their own brief moments of baseball glory, memories not entirely escapable. Hoag placed thirty-first in the 1939 MVP voting, striking out in a single pinch-hit at bat in the All-Star Game that same year. Powell and Hoag each won three World Series, batting .435 and .320, respectively, in their postseason careers. They were teammates on the Yankees’ 1937 and 1938 championship teams before Powell was traded the next year to the Senators for Ben Chapman.

Meanwhile, Jersey and Powell form a special bond, if only because Powell freeloads off the more fortunate senator’s son. In many ways, the novel is a coming-of-age story for the innocent Jersey, as he is exposed to the journeymen but then becomes his own journeyman, weathered by a mess of ordeals and mishaps. The once-naïve rookie becomes his own grizzled veteran, far away from the pampered world offered to him by his politician father. Throughout the novel, Jersey pursues his ex-girlfriend Katina, a Greek waitress who chooses to ignore the love-struck reporter. Jersey laments his estranged lover and her suspected fling with another man, and he repeatedly attempts to win her back, with unsuccessful and absurd results. Jersey’s desire for Katina often conflicts with his attempts to secure an exclusive interview with one of the journeymen ballplayers, and his constant failure on both fronts makes him aloof to the world in an isolated Emersonian way, but also in a nihilistic, embittered, Holden Caulfield way.

Jersey is, indeed, an Emersonian. He studied literature and journalism as an undergraduate, having acquired this literary passion from his mother, who attended college following her politically expedient separation from the senator. He is largely influenced by his mother, but she never appears in the novel; only her looming shadow of influence is seen. This is bothersome too because his father shows up but once. For having so profoundly affected Jersey’s life, his parents are fringe characters.

Journeymen is a historical novel that explores the omnipresent themes of baseball and life: the urgency of youth, the tragedy of death and aging, and failed second chances. At times, the book’s plot wanders. Readers may become frustrated with the series of happenstances (intentional or unintentional), and the novel’s disjointed plot is uncomfortable and restless. Despite its bleak themes, the book is not depressing like a Russian novel read by candlelight on a frigid winter’s night. It retains a levity that isn’t necessarily incongruous with Rychlik’s themes of love and loss, making Journeymen a fun read that respects the history of the game.

Date Reviewed: 2009
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