A solitary figure in a maroon hat and wind breaker, khaki shorts
and tennis shoes, walks from the Bishop Kenny baseball practice
field toward a huge oak tree about 300 yards away. He sits by
himself on a bench overlooking the St. Johns River on a
It's not what you'd expect from a man who has entertained
millions of readers with tales of lawyers running for their
lives and adolescent witnesses being stalked by the mob.
Here, there are no charcoal suits and power ties. John Grisham
walks back to the field and snaps pictures of his baseball team
like a tourist at Disney World.
"This is my game," Grisham says as he looks out onto the
perfectly manicured field. "When I was a kid, this is the game I
played. My childhood was spent in ballparks on long, hot summer
nights. We were either playing or watching. Small towns,
everyone was there. This is just my game."
Grisham, a self-proclaimed baseball purist, brought a youth
team he coaches to Jacksonville from his home in
Charlottesville, Va. He started the team three years ago from a
local K-12 school of 800 students that did not have a baseball
program. His first year as coach, his team went 0-5, and they
"prayed for rain every time they had a game." Last year his team
went 9-1 against middle school teams. Grisham calls this year's
squad a "light junior varsity," composed of a few ninth- and
10th-graders. Most of the kids hon his team are in middle
Grisham has coached his son Ty, 14, since he was 6.
"I wanted to play the game seriously, but I didn't have the
talent," he said. "So then my son came along, but I never pushed
him to play. I guess he started to really want to play when he
was about 6 or 7. I went to Mississippi State for my
undergraduate, and he grew up down the left-field line. It's
more fun for me now than when I was a kid. I'm living
vicariously through my son, but that's what dads do. That's what
Grisham is nuts about baseball. While speaking about his
career, books and lifestyle, he talks in monotone with flawless
and fluid conversation. But when baseball becomes the topic, his
voice and tone transform with an almost-childlike quality.
"It's very simple," said Grisham under his breath as he looks
away. He is somewhere else. "When I was 5 years old, I would go
to my grandparents' house. They were cotton farmers in rural
Arkansas, and times were hard. It was 1960 and television was
out of the question, but we had an old radio. We'd sit on the
porch every night in front of my mother and grandmother and
shell peas and butter beans. I'd sit there with my father and
grandfather listening to the [St. Lois] Cardinals with Stan `The
Man' Musial. And my father and grandfather were white with
passion as Cardinal fans. And so that's the game I played."
But Grisham will agree that times have changed.
"You know it's still a great game, but they're doing everything
to screw it up. …