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Random House
"Calico Joe," by John Grisham, is a story about baseball, fathers, sons, redemption and forgiveness.

"CALICO JOE," by John Grisham, Random House, $24.95, 198 pages (f)

For baseball fans, "Calico Joe," John Grisham's new novel, is a no-brainer.

Grisham is known for his legal thrillers, but he occasionally ventures into other arenas. This time the story takes place in a baseball stadium because Grisham is a life-long fan.

The book revolves around three characters. In 1973, 11-year-old Paul Tracey loves baseball but despises his father, Warren, a mediocre pitcher for the New York Mets and a wife-beating drunk.

Then there's Joe Castle, the boy wonder of Major League Baseball. Fresh up from the minors, Castle is hitting the ball all over the place, shattering records and winning games for the Chicago Cubs.

The story is mostly told by Paul, 30 years later. He recounts the circumstances surrounding a tragic game between the Cubs and Mets in the summer of 1973. While watching from the stands, Paul witnesses his father throw a beanball at Castle's head, essentially ending both careers and forever changing all three lives.

The plot is sad but compelling.

Thirty years after the beanball, Warren Tracey is dying of cancer. Before his estranged father dies, Paul wants to see him face the reality of what he did three decades earlier, and finally, for once in his life, admit his mistake and apologize to Castle.

"Calico Joe" isn't the greatest baseball story ever told, but the elements of forgiveness and redemption are moving and drive the reader to keep turning pages. The storyline is one with which many fathers and sons, as well as adults and young readers, can all connect.

To put it in baseball terms, "Calico Joe" is not a bottom-of-the-ninth, two outs, game-winning hit in the postseason, it's more like the home team coming back to win after trailing by several runs in the fifth inning on a warm summer evening. It's not the most dramatic performance in sports history, but it's still heartwarming and powerful.

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