Spring is in full swing, and with it has come the return of baseball. We just reached the halfway point in our youth baseball season, and the major leaguers have celebrated opening day, reconnected with the fans, and found their stride. (Unless we’re talking about the Angels – ouch!)
So, it comes as no surprise that my attention has been drawn to a couple of outstanding baseball-themed books: “Brothers at Bat” by Audrey Vernick, and “Imperfect: An Improbable Life” by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown.
“Brothers at Bat” is my recent book fair find. In a case of truth being more fantastic than fiction, this is the story of – wait for it – an ALL BROTHER baseball team. It’s true, not only did the Acerra family of New Jersey have enough boys to field a team, they had three more to warm the bench, and four girls to boot, bringing the sibling count to an even 16!
The Acerra boys – Anthony, Joe, Paul, Alfred, Charlie, Jimmy, Bobby, Billy, Freddie, Eddie, Bubbie, and Louie, grew up playing ball just like all the other kids in the neighborhood.
Louie Acerra said, “Every spring, you would take your glove out, go in the yard and play.” Neighbors couldn’t recall a time when there weren’t Acerra boys outside tossing around a ball. In fact, the high school baseball team had an Acerra on it for 22 years in a row!
In 1938, the brothers ranged in age from 7 to 32, and the oldest nine decided to take their baseball skills and start a semi-pro team. With their father along as coach, they travelled around New Jersey and the surrounding states to any place they could find a good game.
One might think that the simple fact that there were so many Acerras would be the most remarkable part of the story, but it isn’t. What made the Acerras truly remarkable wasn’t the quantity of players on the team, but the quality of their relationship.
They were a family both on and off the field. The brothers supported one another through challenges, and helped each other to grow as players, even if that meant giving up some of their own playing time.
With their only hiatus coming during WWII, when six of the brothers served their country, the Acerras played their last game in 1952, making history as the longest playing all-brother baseball team ever, (a record for which there probably wasn’t a lot of competition) and have since been honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Showcasing another inspiring baseball story is “Imperfect: An Improbable Life” by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown.
Abbott was born without a right hand, but stilled dreamed of being a great athlete. He was raised to see his situation as an opportunity rather than a handicap, and against all odds became an ace pitcher.
By the age of 21, he had pitched for the University of Michigan, won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics, and without ever spending a day in the minor leagues, broke into the then-California Angels’ starting line-up.
In 1991, he finished third in the voting for the Cy Young Award, and in 1993, as a Yankee, he pitched one of the most remarkable no-hitters in MLB history.
Things didn’t stay so rosy, however, and Jim suffered through many difficult losses, being traded and released from several teams.
In this new autobiography, Abbott addresses his insecurities about having grown up as the “different” one, and brings us along as he recounts his experiences as one of baseball’s elite. He also shares how it feels to have become an inspiration to so many – it’s his story in his words.
While we anxiously wait for our hometown heroes to get out of their slump, we can enjoy the best of what baseball should be in the pages of these two books.