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One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season Hardcover – May 15, 2012
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"One Shot at Forever is tender, fun, bittersweet, with a great narrative that just motors. It also features the funkiest coach not just in the history of baseball but the history of sport--an unforgettable character in a beautiful and unforgettable book."
--Buzz Bissinger, author of Father's Day and Friday Night Lights
"One Shot at Forever is powerful, inspirational and--in an era where sports are too often marred by scandal--as pure and true as a warm spring breeze. This isn't merely a book about baseball. It's a book about heart."
--Jeff Pearlman, New York Times bestselling author of The Bad Guys Won
"Once upon a time, stories like One Shot at Forever were called fairy tales. It is a charming work and so well told by Chris Ballard that it gives sportswriting a good name."
--Frank Deford, author of Over Time: My Life As A Sportswriter
"[A] nonfiction gem about an underdog team that made good. This is the kind of baseball book that has long arms: YA readers, avid baseball fans, sports readers, and narrative nonfiction readers who like to be firmly set in a particular time and place should all find it joyful."
"Chris Ballard brings a big heart and a winning style to tell a memorable story of small-town Illinois. The boys of Macon renew our understanding of why baseball matters--and sometimes, why it matters too much."
--Cait Murphy, author of Crazy '08
"One Shot at Forever is tender, fun, bittersweet, with a great narrative that just motors. It also features the funkiest coach not just in the history of baseball but the history of sport-an unforgettable character in a beautiful and unforgettable book."―Buzz Bissinger, author of Father's Day and Friday Night Lights
"There's a reason Chris Ballard has emerged as one of America's top sports writers. One Shot at Forever is powerful, inspirational and-in an era where sports are too often marred by scandal-as pure and true as a warm spring breeze. This isn't merely a book about baseball. It's a book about heart."―Jeff Pearlman, New York Times bestselling author of Boys Will Be Boys and The Bad Guys Won
"This book is so well told by Chris Ballard that it gives sportswriting a good name."―Frank Deford, author of Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter
"Chris Ballard brings a big heart and a winning style to tell a memorable story of small-town Illinois. The boys of Macon renew our understanding of why baseball matters--and sometimes, why it matters too much."―Cait Murphy, author of Crazy '08
"[A] nonfiction gem about an underdog team that made good. This is the kind of baseball book that has long arms: YA readers, avid baseball fans, sports readers, and narrative nonfiction readers who like to be firmly set in a particular time and place should all find it joyful."―Library Journal
"Chris Ballard finds the heart in the heartland, in this inspirational tale of a small-school ball club that reaches for glory."―Edward Achorn, author of Fifty-nine in '84
"This story has obvious parallels to the classic basketball film Hoosiers and in Ballard's capable hands evokes similar themes of inspiration, camaraderie and the pressure of the once-in-a-lifetime moments associated with prep athletics . Ballard effortlessly captures the conflict between Eisenhower era beliefs and the changing cultural landscape in Vietnam-era America . [He] holds the story of the team together with his conversational prose and boosts the story's poignancy with a touching conclusion that demonstrates the importance of high school sports and hometown heroes."―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Chris Ballard is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, where he specializes in narrative longform stories. He has also written for the New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his work has twice been anthologized in the Best American Sports Writing series. Ballard is the author of four books: "Hoops Nation", "The Butterfly Hunter", "The Art of a Beautiful Game" and the forthcoming "One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, An Unlikely Coach and a Magical Baseball Season".
Ballard joined SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in September 2000. He has covered the NBA and MLB, written nearly 20 cover stories, penned the back page "Point After" column and written features on everything from pigeon racing to Jake Plummer's post-football life to the Vancouver riots. He is one of five 2012 finalists for a National Magazine Award in profile writing, is a past recipient of a National Headliner Award and was the 2011 winner of The Joanie Award for a story about Cal Berkeley coxswain Jill Costello, who died of lung cancer after her senior year. His 2010 story titled "Magical Season of the Macon Ironmen," which was included in the "Notables" section of the Best American Sports Writing anthology, provided the inspiration for his latest book.
Before joining SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Ballard was an intern at the Courier-Post in Camden, NJ. He has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Ballard has appeared on The Charlie Rose Show, ABC News with Dick Schaap, and Outside the Lines, and speaks regularly to groups of journalism students. A native Californian, Ballard graduated from Pomona College, where he played basketball and was on the track and field team. He lives in Berkeley with his wife Alexandra and two daughters, Callie and Eliza.
To read a collection of Ballard's best feature stories, go to: byliner.com/chris-ballard
Top customer reviews
The last part of the book is, to me at least, the most moving where former students come up to him and say what an influence his classroom teaching had on their life. In 2010 team members and their coach had a reunion in which they traded past experiences of the 1971 season and what their life has become now. Two members have since passed away and others have experienced good or bad things happen to them. Regarding the importance placed on winning in any sport coach Sweet stated to a reporter, "Games were invented to accommodate leisure time. Now they've become a semi-religion. God, they make you a hero and all you're doing is playing baseball."
I thank my former player for alerting me to this book. Anyone who has taught and coached baseball would do well to read this book. It includes eight pages of photographs.
1. I can relate to being the small town underdog. In 1970-71, the Illinois state baseball championship was one big playoff. There were no class divisions (1A, 2A, etc). So, big schools from the Chicago area played against the small schools from rural Illinois. The book chronicles the unlikely winning season of the Macon Ironmen and their magical run in the state championship playoffs. Macon is a tiny town with a tiny school. Although they had some success in the season immediately prior to the time covered in the book, they were coming off several losing seasons. No one considered the Ironmen a serious threat.
I attended a small high school, and although it was not as small as Macon, we were seen as the country kids from the small school. Like the kids from Macon, it gave us a wee bit of a chip on our shoulders, but also a deep bond. We felt a sense of commitment to each other. It was something I missed later when I went to college. I felt a serious sense of nostalgia reading One Shot at Forever.
2. The colorful (and real) characters. The Macon Ironmen and their coach were not your typical high school baseball team. Their coach was an unlikely hero. He had just started teaching English at Macon High School. Macon was a conservative town. Lynn Sweet, English teacher and soon to be baseball coach, was anything but conservative. He held liberal ideals, frequented the local bars, had long hair and a Fu Manchu mustache, and lived a nomadic existence. He eschewed the English curriculum for his own unorthodox teaching methods. In short, the towns people considered him a hippie. Not all of them approved. But he won over their kids. They loved him. Their English grades improved and they became more engaged in class.
These methods carried over into baseball. For example, practices were optional. Some of the team members grew their hair out, wore peace signs on their hats, and they began listening to the sound track from Jesus Christ Superstar on a boom box during warm up at games. This is the kind of teacher I would have loved as a kid.
The players and their parents are also interesting, complex people. There are the unlikely heroes, the star athletes, the small and scrappy players. But they are not just stereotypes. We learn about their lives, what drives them, their relationships, and how they lived and grew during those two remarkable seasons.
3. The excellent sports writing. Let’s face it, with a nonfiction book such as this, the outcome is known. Even the cover of the book says “the magical season”. So I went into the book knowing the Ironmen experienced a remarkable winning season. But there were still twists that I didn’t see coming (yay!) and the storytelling of the games had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t stop reading. In fact, I stayed on the elliptical machine an extra 15 minutes to finish a certain section.
I definitely recommend this book, even if you are not a baseball fan. I even recommend it even if you don’t like sports. It’s about a lot more than sports or baseball. It’s about a group of people who come together, form a bond, inspire each other, and triumph against overwhelming odds. How can you not love that?
At the highest level, the story runs much like Hoosiers, with a small-town Illinois baseball team going on an unlikely run against larger schools. But the real power of the book comes from the interplay of a small town stuck in the 1950s, an outsider coach straight out of the hippie-ville 1960s, a bunch of kids coming of age in the early 1970s, and the memories still seared in their minds as adults today.
Those memories are the real payoff of what's already an engaging story. The narrative is engaging on its own, but the way the games of their youth still stick in the psyche of many of the players, who now are in their 50s and 60s, goes right to what we cherish about high school sports -- whether we played them, coached them, or just cheered on our hometown heroes.