Praying for Base Hits: An American Boyhood follows a young man's bittersweet experiences from youth to adulthood. Bruce Clayton gives readers more than a chronicle of his growing-up years in Kansas City, Missouri; this narrative taps the commonalities of the fifties and conveys the innocence, simplicity, and naïveté of the era.
Shifting from impish boyhood escapades to persistent family tensions and back again, Praying for Base Hits elicits a wide range of emotions. Clayton tells of raucously boyish adventures siphoning "free" orange concentrate from Old Man Pierce's drugstore counter, hiding in a neighborhood grape arbor to glimpse a bathing beauty, skipping school to play Indian ball and penny-ante poker, and whiling away quiet afternoons discussing baseball stats with his neighborhood idol, Mr. Jim.
Praying for Base Hits also speaks of graver issues. Clayton remembers his cold, taciturn father grumbling behind his newspaper about the stupidity of baseball and his son's inadequacies. The man's ruthless honesty creates a wall between him and the rest of the family. The tension between Clayton's agnostic father and his pious mother is heightened by frequent trips to the narrow community church Clayton is obliged to attend.
From his vivid memories, Clayton gathers a quirky cast of characters: Minnie, his zealously religious maternal grandmother, who refers to Kansas City as Sodom and Gomorrah; Buck, his paternal grandfather, a cold but handsome devil who commits suicide before Clayton's birth; Old Man Pierce, the callous, greedy pharmacist who cringes at the sight of Clayton and the rest of the "drugstore cowboys"; and Ed, the cabbie, who reads and quotes Spinoza while hanging out at the Home Plate, an all-night eatery and favorite haunt of Clayton's.
The final chapters of the memoir find Clayton trading his dashed childhood hopes of becoming a New York Yankee for the mysteries of the adult world. Skillfully alternating between the voices of youth and adulthood, Clayton reflects on his boyhood fully aware that he can never return. Praying for Base Hits offers readers of all ages an engaging story of the innocent pranks and aspirations of childhood and the wistful adult reminiscences of a simpler bygone time.
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Informal and well written, many of Clayton's anecdotes are entertaining, but a book without a unifying center needs compelling material to hold a reader's interest, and Clayton's experiences are at once too familiar and too particular to be engaging.| Read Full Review of Praying for Base Hits: An Ame...