Originally created 08/15/04

Tale of baseball and New England life, a gentle story



The jerk who inherited the Boston Red Sox from his father has sold off all the team's stars and plans to move the franchise to Hollywood after the end of a dreadful season. But the team's manager, The Legendary Spence, somehow has his collection of has-beens and retreads on the brink of winning the pennant.

All Spence needs to pull off a miracle is one more pitcher, for which the jerk has approved the ridiculously small salary of $30,000.

Enter Ethan Allen, a 17-year-old unknown with a decent fast ball and a knee-buckling changeup.

We arrive at this pivotal moment about three-quarters of the way through "Waiting for Teddy Williams" oughton Mifflin, 280 pages, $24), Howard Frank Mosher's new novel about baseball, coming of age and dreaming out loud.

This whimsical, gentle story is an instant classic, a gem that deserves an honored place on every bookshelf right next to W.P. Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe."

Young Ethan hails from mythical Kingdom Come, Vt., the unofficial capital of Red Sox Nation, where the town common is a baseball diamond and those who don't play all show up to watch. Here, boys dream of growing up to play for the Red Sox, but most of them end up working lathes at the Green Mountain Rebel baseball factory, where the scores from distant Boston are faithfully posted on a wall that looks just like Fenway Park's Green Monster.

On summer days, you can walk through town and never miss a word of the play-by-play as The Voice of the Red Sox murmurs from radios on the porch of the Commoner Hotel, from the office of the Kingdom County Monitor, and from every farmer's pickup truck. Kingdom Comers measure their days by milestones in the life of their tragic team: Carlton Fisk waving his home run fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the ball bounding through Bill Buckner's legs to cost the team the championship in 1986.

Mosher introduces us to Ethan here, when he is an 8-year-old boy who longs for two things - to find out who his father is and to play baseball for The Nation. As the story unfolds, Ethan chases both dreams.

Every character Mosher creates is quirky and memorable.

There's Gypsy Lee, Ethan's eccentric mom, who writes nutty country songs and "entertains" the local gentlemen. ("'You pitched a wonderful game yesterday, honey boy,' Gypsy Lee said the next morning at breakfast, removing her blond Hillary Clinton wig. The chairman of the Kingdom County Democratic Party had just left, and he liked to see Hillary do a striptease while giving a spirited talk on universal health care.")

There's Gypsy Lee's cranky, acid-tongued mother, Gran, who ridicules Ethan's baseball skills and claims that the shock of Bucky Dent's famous home run, which destroyed the Red Sox season in 1978, is what put her in a wheelchair.

There's Curse of the Bambino, a macaw who rides on the shoulder of The Legendary Spence, torments him by squawking "New York Yankees No. 1" at inopportune moments, and occasionally spouts bits of unmacaw-like wisdom.

There's the Allen family's wicked neighbor, Devil Dan, who shoots ospreys off their nests, dumps trash in the river and threatens to bulldoze the Allen's barn.

There's the drifter with the legendary name Teddy Williams, who mysteriously appears out of the mist every summer to teach young Ethan the finer points of baseball.

And there is Ethan himself, a fatherless, home-schooled, lonely child who shares his dreams with a statue of his legendary ancestor, Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen, and does not find it remarkable that the statue talks back.

Mosher, the author of eight other novels, has justly been compared to Mark Twain. But his humor is gentler, his vision of America sweeter. "Waiting for Teddy Williams" is a truly funny, wise book that is destined to be read and reread for generations.