The following is the prologue of A Diamond for Her, my new novel releasing March 23. This is written from the perspective of the story’s narrator, Dr. Charles “Shoeshine” Henry. The novel is available for preorder in Kindle format from Amazon and in paperback through any local or online bookstore including Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, Walmart, Amazon, Books-a-Million and many more. Or ask for it at your local independent bookstore! Enjoy and thanks.
Prologue: A Doctor’s Note
How’s a sane person to understand this game of baseball? The fantastical underpinnings of which are haphazardly stitched together with a dash of lore and a pinch of childish chutzpah. The game is ruled by mechanics, not time, and when the mechanism of the cosmic baseball world clicks into place, the preposterous becomes the stuff of legends, the improbable becomes the mundane, and the ridiculous becomes the inevitable. Oh, what a smidgen of faith will accomplish!
I hope to illustrate the phantasmal nature of the national pastime by recounting the stories of my all-time favorite baseball team—the Winasook Iron Horses, the stalwart franchise of the Allegheny Independent League from 1921 to 1954, when Jasper Eltrane fired the final Iron Horse pitch in Rochelle Stadium.
These stories are not meant to be clever or manipulative, only simple illustrations of the wonder of baseball and the awe of life. If, perhaps, they are more feeling than science—and I pray this will be the case—accept them as they are, for I have not encountered anything in this life that can stir the passions of unsubstantiated, illegitimate logic more than baseball.
I myself am not a baseball player. I’m a semi-retired medical doctor, a lover of stories, and a fan of the greatest game ever invented. I’ve heard it said (or maybe I said it) that if the Greek gods played a modern sport, it most definitely would have been baseball. A team sport that emphasizes individual achievement. A round ball and a round bat played on a diamond with a starting point and ending point of home. Bases used to demonstrate increments of achievement for both players and wannabe young boys exploring the virtues of the opposite sex. A pace of play that encourages conversation, poetry, grand schemes, miracles, and mythology. A history interwoven around a people and their triumphs and failures.
There is much that could be said about the grand scale of baseball, from the towering steel stadiums which changed the landscapes of a hundred American cities, to the scandals that rocked people’s faith in the franchise, to a young determined man named Jackie Robinson, who defied the wrong side of history with the courage to force others to acknowledge his humanity; to the beloved Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente, who gave his life to the humanitarian cause. There’s much that could be spoken about baseball from the macro view of the major leagues, but my purpose is different.
I want to simply tell the stories, remarkable in their own right, of one independent franchise that epitomized what it means to be American — and human. Some of the stories I witnessed myself, from my many appearances at Rochelle Stadium over the years. Others were told to me. The most intimate details of the Iron Horses’ entire historical record came from an extraordinary interview with owner Raymond Blythe as he was on his death bed in October of 1971.
I had told Raymond Blythe many times over the years that I had wanted to document the history of the Iron Horses. I had always put it off for a variety of reasons, chiefly my medical practice. But that all changed one day when I was summoned to the hospital during his waning hours. He wanted to tell me his stories, most of which I did not know. While I can attest to the veracity of everything in this book, he told me some things I hesitated to believe. But his insistence and his mortality forced me to include them here as well—the mythology—the insane ramblings of a man who could sell his mother her own apple pie recipe. And yet, in the years that have passed since the bedside encounter, I have given more credence to his stories, and even in some regards consider them part of the historical record. And why not? Baseball didn’t merely form from a boyish imagination or, God forbid, that ghastly rounders game hailed by the British. The poetic lore of Mighty Casey, the prodigious swing of the Sultan of Swat, or the stocky soft hands of the Flying Dutchman cannot be explained by the acknowledged arrangement between two teams to follow a set of rules regarding a ball and bat. Such mundane explanations could never adequately describe what I witnessed that day in 1949 when Archibald Showalter fouled off ninety-five pitches. Nor does it explain what Raymond Blythe found in Iowa on a trip in 1954.
There is a beauty and a poetry and, yes, a mythology which goes much deeper into the universe which necessitates this game. While today’s millionaire players may alienate a generation of fans by their grandiose egos and self-promotion, they cannot degrade a game which has defined our nation. We have become a better people for what we have learned between the lines of the diamond: reward for hard work, compassionate cooperation, fierce independence, and faith in the mystical realms of the unseen.
Finally, a brief note about the storytelling itself. I sometimes recount these stories from my own point of view, but do indulge me from time to time as I try to develop my own literary skills by distancing myself from my foreknowledge of an event in order to tell a proper story in third-person narration. I feel rather sneaky attempting this, but baseball is rife with such messiness—the ghastly DH experiment its greatest example—so perhaps it will work.
All the best,
Charles “Shoeshine” Henry, M.D.