Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Baseball, Civil Rights Reintegrated in Safe at Home

  • Shawn McEvoy Faith Editor
  • 2008 14 Aug
Baseball, Civil Rights Reintegrated in <i>Safe at Home</i>

Author:  Richard Doster
Title:  Safe at Home
Publisher:  David C. Cook

“Four events have molded the world to its current [1954] form,” writes the main character of Richard Doster’s debut novel. And those are:

  • Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit
  • Moses leading the Israelites to freedom
  • The founding of the United States on the proposition that all men are created equal, and
  • April 10, 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier

So begins the latest slice of Baseball-Freedom Pie to be served at the Americana Diner, and it’s a tasty one, even if it sticks in the throat a bit. Set in the 1950s in a southern town coming to grips with civil rights—as well as air conditioning, television, and the resulting beginning-of-the-end of southern hospitality and close-knittedness—the book is educational for some, a reminder for others.

Jack Hall is the local sportswriter in the small town of Whitney. Percy Jackson is the young pitcher/third baseman for South City high school. Percy is a phenom; whispers of fantastic play from the other side of the tracks have reached Jack’s ears. White reporters don’t visit South City, so his unannounced arrival there to watch the team play one spring afternoon is treated and written with elements of both hope and mistrust, setting the stage not only for the rest of this novel, but for the modern issues it wants us to consider.

“One way or another, everything’s about politics. And if it isn’t now … it will be real soon,” says another character as a way of waking up the reader to the fact that our ideals and idylls only get us so far before they collide with others. The special feelings baseball and the South evoke, and the traditional lilt Doster puts in the words, create a sunny place where we want to stay, but that place itself can’t last. Change is coming, somehow.

Journalist Hall is one of the first to see the light and accept the changes, even if he finds some very close relationships strained. Percy, to our ears and minds in 2008, sounds like just the fit to help the sagging attendance of the beloved local (all-white) minor league team, but things are never as easy as they seem. Even something as simple as a dinner visit is tinged with uneasiness, a scene Doster is reported to have based loosely upon personal experience as a youth, hardly believing the event happened within his lifetime.

But the reader never completely loses comfort, partly because of Doster’s soothing style, partly because we know we’ve come so far, and that baseball has been a big (if not the biggest) catalyst. Speaking of catalysts, Safe at Home has already spawned discussion of racial issues, the role of sports in society, and the responsibilities of Christians, and those elements would only seem to loom larger in the coming sequel, upon which Doster is already working, where Jack Hall meets, among others, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

Lifelong baseball fans will have a hard time believing that Doster, the editor of byFaith magazine, wasn’t always one of us. He credits the former broadcast team of the Atlanta Braves for bringing the game to life for him as an adult. The game we love is presented here with respect if not reverence. The story, meanwhile, deftly compares and contrasts (mostly compares) black/white familial relationships, especially those of father-son and husband-wife, and what holds them together.

“It’s hard to have faith in chance,” muses Jack. The author says that's because his protagonist knows that “there’s always more to a situation than meets the eye.” So it is with this book, all at once comfort food, history lesson, social retrospective, sports novel, and personal challenge.