Russell Hill is back, following las year's extraordinary The Lord God Bird, and with a big surprise. His astounding The Dog Sox proves that the gifted author is as funny as he is poetic—and that he loves baseball. Normally I don’t drool over books about sports teams, but the Dog Sox, a hapless ball team made up of misfits, had me slavering. As unexpected as it is wondrous, The Dog Sox is a delight.
Set in the farming country of Central California, the Sox are such losers that Ray, their owner, runs the hot dog concession to finance them. The tide turns when pitcher Billy Collins (named after America’s former Poet Laureate, quoted in the book) joins the team. Billy has a freak pitch no one can hit, but it only lasts for four innings before his arm wears out. Even worse, Billy is afflicted by a drunken, abusive father who can’t be trusted not to stagger onto the field during a game. To solve the interruption situation, Dutch, the team’s elderly coach/manager, takes the problem to his synagogue, where two just-as-elderly scholars of the Torah try to figure out a way of getting rid of the father—permanently—while remaining in God’s good graces. The old rascals’ religious hairsplitting is hilarious: “So he should go to a bar and maybe he should have one too many and maybe he should get hit by a car or fall down some stairs, God forbid.”
As with the best of novels, each character surprises us in his or her own way. Ray is realistic about his ball team, but still dreams of glory. His lover, Ava, is a baseball-loving broad with a ribald mouth. In the end, this story about a team of oddballs struggling through the season is about something other than baseball. It’s about dreams, and the unlikely, though not impossible, chance of them coming true. If you’re having a bad time, if your car needs a new transmission and your mortgage is upside down, READ THIS BOOK. It’ll give you the laughs—and the hope—you need to keep on keeping on. As Ray points out in one stirring scene, one day you just might make it to the top of the 9th with a 10-run lead.