In the late 1940s, the minor league Milwaukee Brewers are foundering yet again and manager Arthur Murphy is desperate. When he sees seventeen-year old Mickey Tussler throwing apples into a barrel, he knows he has found the next pitching phenom. But not everyone is so hopeful. Mickey’s autism—a disorder still not truly understood even today—has alienated the boy from the world, and he is berated by other players and fans. Mickey faces immense trials in the harsh and competitive world of baseball while coping with the challenges inherent to his disorder. An honest and knowledgeable book about overcoming adversity, and the basis for the television movie A Mile in His Shoes, Mickey’s powerful story shows that with support and determination anyone can be triumphant, even when the odds are stacked against him.
Mickey’s first pitch was a dart that whistled by both the batter and the catcher, soaring about two feet above the intended target and coming to rest up against the backstop.
“Like a goddamned frog in a frying pan,” Matheson cried. “Has the kid even pitched to a live batter yet?”
Murph cringed in the dugout, his hopes collapsing as the runner from third scampered home with the tying run. Boxcar retrieved the ball and walked it back out to Mickey. “Relax kid, okay? Relax.
Nice and easy. Just play catch. Warm-ups, remember? Just like that. Okay?”
“‘Couched in his kennel, like a log, with paws of silver sleeps the dog,’ ” Mickey recited.
Boxcar’s eyes narrowed. Mickey was withdrawing fast. His mind wandered to his mom and the farm and to the black, triangular spot just behind Oscar’s right ear.
“Mickey? You okay?”
The boy was miles away.
“Come on now, Mickey. Take the ball.”
Mickey was unresponsive. Boxcar looked into the dugout, in Murph’s direction, but the manager’s face was expressionless. Then the frustrated catcher raised his eyebrows and held up both palms to the sky. But Murph did nothing. Said nothing. He just stood there, shoulder propped awkwardly against the dugout wall, thinking about all the times his life had forked, and how each path he’d chosen had led to this sort of silent desperation.
“Murph!” Boxcar shouted from behind his mask. “What’s up?” The catcher stood on the mound, hands resting impatiently on his hips, waiting for a suggestion, some encouragement, or just a word or two on which he could hang his frustration. “Hey,” he continued to shout. “What are we doing here?”
Murph saw Boxcar, perplexed, and the image became, all at once, mesmerizing and impenetrable. The longer he looked, the more unreal it became until he felt a sense of panic, as if he needed to shake himself out of some alien transfixion.
“Just, eh—just keep talking to him, Box,” he yelled back, swallowing hard. “Keep talking to him.” Boxcar shook his head and frowned. He nourished a constant stream of encouraging thoughts in his head, ever mindful of the grave situation, but whenever he said any of them out loud, it just seemed forced and ineffectual. “Come on, Mickey,” he implored again, this time placing the ball firmly in Mickey’s glove. “Just throw the ball. You can do it. You are the best out here.”
A slight buzz came from the stands, as if a hornets’ nest had been disturbed, yet most of the people suspended any further action and ultimately fell still and silent, wetting their lips while studying the erratic behavior unfolding on the pitcher’s mound.
After a lot of posturing and moving of dirt with restless spikes on the mound, the umpire broke up the exchange. “Let’s go, fellas. Let’s play ball.”
Boxcar returned to the plate. Mickey moved some more dirt around in front of the rubber, then reluctantly placed his feet across the white stripe. He brought his hands together at his waist, rolled his arms, reared back, and fired. The pop of the catcher’s glove resonated throughout the stands, followed by a collective gasp and then the umpire’s call…….
It’s 1949 and eighteen-year-old pitching phenom Mickey Tussler is back with the rejuvenated minor league Brewers in the sequel to The Legend of Mickey Tussler (the basis for the television movie A Mile in His Shoes). Despite Mickey’s proclamation that he will never play baseball again after last season’s violent conclusion, his manager—and now surrogate father—Arthur Murphy cajoles the emotionally fragile, socially awkward boy with autism into giving it another shot. Mickey reluctantly returns to the field and must once again cope with the violence and hatred around him. When a young African American player joins the team, the entire team is subjected to racial threats and episodes of violence, one of which Mickey witnesses firsthand. Struggling to understand such ugliness and hatred, and fearful of reprisal should he tell anyone about what he has seen, the boy’s performance on the field suffers. Mickey now must deal with a side of human nature he scarcely comprehends.
Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years. His debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA’s silver medal for outstanding fiction. His follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a movie adaptation of the touching story “A Mile in His Shoes” starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder. Frank continues to produce quality work, including Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story and the just released thriller, NOBODY HAS TO KNOW, which received an endorsement from #1 New York Times bestselling author Nelson DeMille. Frank is presently at work on a third installment of his Mickey Tussler series and his next thriller. He lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony.