The hardest working man in the local writing business, Michael Rychlik, has published his first novel.
Which is good news for baseball fans - if not an object lesson for local writers Rychlik has long made feel like sloths.
The novel is Journeymen, a fictional story about a young newspaperman and two former real-life major league baseball players, set in Gainesville in 1948.
The book grew out of a magazine article Rychlik wrote about one of the players and later interviews with both men's teammates - which typifies his energy.
Rychlik has been an English and journalism teacher at Tallahassee's SAIL High School for 19 years - getting up at 5 a.m. to write before going to school. He's written a nonfiction book about teaching, numerous short stories for literary magazines and three unpublished novels. He spent three years as a music critic and features writer for the Tallahassee Democrat.
He is probably best known as the keyboardist/songwriter for a series of popular Tallahassee music groups: LaBamba, Flipside, Muffin Men and now Harvest Gypsies.
Rychlik, 56, is a longtime baseball fan who has melded that interest with his artistic talents before, penning such songs as "Don't Look Back," a tribute to Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige.
Journeymen is the story of the fictional Jersey Paige, a University of Florida grad trying to break into the sportswriter field while consigned to writing obituaries for the Gainesville Sun. Jersey is trying to escape the shadows of his father, a U.S. senator, and two older brothers who were killed in World War II. He is also trying to win the love of Katina, the beautiful, headstrong daughter of a domineering Greek father and restaurant owner who does not want her romancing American boys.
Jersey's life becomes entwined with Myril Hoag and Jake Powell, two hard-living major league baseball players, playing out the twilight of their careers with the Gainesville G-Men, a Class D minor league baseball team. The two real-life men starred for the New York Yankees and other teams in 1930s and early 1940s. But by 1948, both were descending through the minor leagues as "journeymen," which is baseball's term for much-traveled players of average or fading skills.
Rychlik deftly incorporates many historical details, from popular songs and cars of the era to the beginning of the missile program at Cape Canaveral to Powell's tragic real-life fate. He includes an incident about a Gainesville minor league player that involved Bill McGrotha, the late Tallahassee Democrat sports editor.
Though readers may find it hard to root for Jersey, who is self-pitying and ineffectual, Rychlik has spun a tight, well-paced story about ambition and disappointment. And he's soaked it with the mood of North Florida in the late-1940s.
It's a worthy first novel.