Author Grisham Loves His Baseball

Article excerpt

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

cloudless day.

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

school.

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

dads do."

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. …