Author: John Grisham 

Title: Calico Joe

Publisher: Doubleday  

Once upon a time before John Grisham was a successful author, and even before he went to Ole Miss for his law degree, John dreamed of being a professional baseball player. After nearly 25 legal thrillers he has turned his attention back to the nostalgia of his youth and has written a story that fuses baseball and life, together with death and forgiveness.

Set in the summer of 1973, Grisham weaves a story about a baseball phenom from Calico Rock, Arkansas named Joe Castle who played first base for the Chicago Cubs franchise. He gets called up to the majors after a couple of injuries on the Cubs' roster make room for him and his bat. In the 38 games he played that summer he broke several rookie records and set the hearts of baseball fans on fire.

One of those fans is young Paul Tracy, a little league pitcher himself and the son of New York Mets pitcher William Tracy. Paul kept a scrapbook of all of ‘Calico' Joe's accomplishments and counted down to the day when the Cubs would come to town to play the Mets with his father on the mound. What happened on that fateful day would forever change baseball and the lives of both families.

But Grisham hasn't just written a baseball story. He does a masterful job of narrating the book from the older Paul Tracy when he learns that his father, whom he has been separated from since that summer of 1973 is dying of cancer. Now thirty years later Paul decides to go on a journey to reconcile the past and the present and these two broken baseball players.

The tension in Calico Joe is different from other Grisham novels. He tips his cap to reveal both the tragedy and the reconciliation yet he doesn't give the story away. The depth of feeling in the book comes from reading the details of the suffering and the surrounding drama, as well as the triumphant ending. It is worth letting the scenes play out even when you know where they are going.

There is a code is baseball that all players know by heart but have never seen written down in a rule book. For instance, a batter knows not to show up the pitcher when he hits a home run by celebrating as he circles the bases. If his rejoicing is too exuberant he knows he can plan on getting a fastball at the inside of the plate the next time he is up to bat, or possibly be hit with a pitch. In this story William Tracy is a baseball player who not only lives by the code, but like a religious zealot he makes the code even bigger than the game he is trying to protect.

What his son Paul demonstrates is that there is also a code in life - and even though it may not be written down, it is still part of humanity's protocol that we should take the opportunity to reconcile the brokenness in our lives with others, especially before we die.

In the end Grisham's Calico Joe is a morality tale, one that could lead to great discussions, especially between sports loving fathers and their sons, or with anyone who desires to reconcile with broken relationships in their lives. 

*This Review First Published 5/7/2012