One of my earliest memories is of my dad inviting me to watch “an exciting show about Pirates and Giants.” I eagerly climbed up on the sofa next to him. . .to watch a baseball game. The soundtrack of my childhood held the crack of bats, baseball chatter and the satisfying smack of a caught ball in a glove. I never played myself, but watched my brothers play a million games, many of them coached by Dad.
I bought a copy of Mark Holtzen’s book, A Ticket to the Pennant (Sasquatch Books), for my dad for Father’s Day. It evoked warm memories for him and new stories for me — including one about the time there were no seats to be had so he and other fans got to stand in right field! Even if you are not a baseball fan, I promise you will also warm to Mark Holtzen’s slice of Seattle history.
By Mark Holtzen
Writers are gatherers. We collect names, settings and characters like hoarders. This troublesome habit is a curse, but it’s a fun curse. For example, I recently caught myself studying freeway exit signs to shuffle the words for potential character names. Some guy named “Winlock Toledo” may end up in a story someday. My wife is patient after years of jotting notes while I’m driving. “Ooh, write that she had twelve raisins in her pocket and that she says ‘Egads.’” This junk drawer of the mind can be overwhelming.
Years ago, I was intrigued by an old baseball stadium sign that sits neglected in my neighborhood. “Historic Site of Sick’s Stadium,” it reads. It’s beat up, needs paint and has a couple stickers slapped onto it, but whenever I looked at it I would hear the thrum of a baseball game four blocks from our home.
Through persistence, a lot of work and endless patience, the impression of that old sign has now morphed into a children’s picture book.
The book, A Ticket to the Pennant, is a story about baseball, but it’s also a story about community and the neighborhood I love: the family-owned, long-time businesses; the rich history of various ethnic groups; and a nod to the kind neighbors I’ve come to know. I also tried to honor a baseball team, The Seattle Rainiers, beloved by a region for decades.
How beloved I had no idea.
One thing we’re told is that once a book goes out into the world, it doesn’t belong to the author anymore – it belongs to the reader. Since the publication of A Ticket to the Pennant, I’ve witnessed that first hand. I collected the facts and shaped the story, but now that it’s out in the world, it’s creating stories of its own. As the author, I rarely get to see those interactions. But through meet ups and a few thoughtful e-mails, I’ve been lucky enough to hear about of some of them.
One woman wrote that she gave the book to her brother. The story helped them rekindle fond memories of attending Sicks Stadium with their father, now gone. Another man told me that as a kid, his shady uncle—sporting a fedora and a chomped-on cigar—used to talk “business” with “business associates” at Rainiers games. He’s convinced his beloved uncle was making dark deals in dark corners – the kids playing nearby merely as an excuse.
A father brought his two young children to one reading, one of who lives and breathes baseball. They were reading the book nightly for bedtime as it gave them a more literary way to enjoy a baseball game. The father was grateful that the story existed to mark a lost era in a city that he loves.
These shared interactions have been gifts to me. I love hearing that the hours of work to get to a final draft has led to the book connecting with and effecting other people.
There were more. A delivery truck driver mentioned climbing a tree on Cheapskate Hill where people could watch for free. He and his buddies would climb the tree, the police would drive by and shoo them down, then they would climb right back up again. Grandparents have read it to their grandchildren. Grown children have bought if for their parents (including the gracious, talented hostess of this blog); nieces to aunts; etc.
When people crack the cover of a book, the tale intermingles with their lives. If the author has crafted it well and there is a connection, the story can drum up memories and potent emotions. The author collects bits of humanity and truth to inform the story. The story goes out into the world. Author to reader. Reader to listener. On and on.
I’m grateful to be a part of it.
MARK HOLTZEN has been known to groove to his diverse collection of music, cook and garden with moderate skill and make weird faces at his students. Currently on a teaching hiatus after years in an elementary classroom–he writes essays, middle grade novels and is working to create more regional history for kids. His debut picture book with Sasquatch Books, A TICKET TO THE PENNANT, came out in 2016. Find him at his website (www.markholtzen.com), Twitter or Facebook.