Tuesday, May 20, 2014

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived by Matt Tavares

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived by Matt Tavares

Rating: 5 stars

Ben read the title and retorted: "Wait.  I thought Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter who ever lived!"

Ah, another chance to enhance his life with a little life lesson: the difference between fact and opinion.  And Matt Tavares, in his afterward, explains his bias: His father loved Ted Williams, and grew up following Williams' every move.  How fitting, then, that Tavares wrote an homage to Williams.  Or was it an homage to his father?  Let's face it: both.

And it's a very positive, very respectful homage indeed, full of life lessons for Ben and other kids like the one above.  I admit not to know a whole lot about Ted Williams.  I've not read the recent book The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr.  But I've read enough reviews of it and listened to enough of my grandfather's stories to know that he's not exactly my first choice for one of Ben's heroes.  While he was a sensational hitter and his batting average remains to be beaten, he was a brutal, mean man outside of baseball.

The book, of course, says nothing of that.  And that's okay. His life has good lessons for Ben and other boys and girls in this generation.

There Goes Ted Williams speaks of Ted Williams' commitment to baseball--his insistence at being excellent at it.  He practiced and swung and practiced and swung hours a day because he wanted to be the best.  And--whaddya know--he achieved his goal.  He really did become the best.  But his baseball career was interrupted by war: In May 1942, Williams walked away from the spotlight to become a pilot in the navy's V-5 training program.

Williams begins another commitment: this one to his country--and he focuses all of his energy on being excellent at it.  After he finishes his training and is awaiting his orders for combat duty, Japan surrenders.  He can go back to baseball.

And so he does.  In a terrific way, he picks up the bat right where he left it.

Yet his career is interrupted again, this time by the Korean War.  The navy needs pilots, and the navy needs him.  After 39 successful missions, after one emergency landing (which serves as the climax of the book in a gripping way), he goes home.

And Ted Williams picks up the bat once more.

For kids today (am I old enough to start a sentence like that?!), I think there are many good lessons in this great book.  I like how the book teaches how success takes time and effort: it involves a whole lot of practice, a whole lot of putting-in-the-time to achieve a goal.  I like how the book shows how Williams threw himself into his time as a pilot just as much as he threw himself into baseball.  I love how it illustrates his commitment to something even bigger than baseball: his country.

Ted Williams was, just as we all are, terribly and wonderfully human.  Bravo to Matt Tavares for selecting a lot of the good and presenting it so well, in both words and pictures.

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