Before he was born, Tommy Murray said, his family determined he would grow up to be a great baseball player.
Unfortunately, the Storm Lake, Iowa, native had neither the speed nor the strength needed on the field.
"I also developed this morbid fear of getting beaned by a baseball," Murray remembered with a laugh. "That probably didn't help my game."
Luckily, the now-retired Minneapolis Public School District special education resource teacher was able to write about "America's pastime" in the novel, "Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball."
Published by the Edina, Minnesota-based Beaver's Pond Press, Murray's book is available at Sioux City's Barnes & Noble bookseller as well as at online book retailers like Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Murray set "Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball" in a fictional Kossuth County town of Cottage Park, home of the Holy Trinity Catholic High School baseball team.
"Cottage Park is actually a stand-in for Bancroft, Iowa, and the Holy Trinity team is based on the town's St. John's Johnnies high school baseball team," the Shoreview, Minnesota, resident said. "For many years, Bancroft was known as a town that was home to a church, two bars and a baseball field. The only things that were open 24 hours a day was the church and field, which explained what priorities were important in Bancroft."
In "Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball," Murray follows the Holy Trinity team as it seeks an elusive state baseball title. While the high school-aged athletes battle it out on the field, the team's "seasoned" leaders, Coach Al Murphy, 74, Father John Ryan, 79, and Assistant Coach Edwin Gerald "Egg" Gallivan, 84, provide behind-the-scenes color commentary.
You set your novel during a single baseball season in 1974 but your inspiration came much earlier, right?
"It did. I was named after my Uncle Tommy, who became a baseball hero after he pitched and won the first Catholic school state championship in Iowa during the 1943 Fall Baseball Tournament. After graduating from high school, Tommy went off to war and was killed in the Philippines less than a year later. So, Tommy became both a baseball hero and a hero of World War II."
In other words, your Uncle Tommy left big shoes to fill.
"That's right and my dad (John Murray) was convinced I'd fill those shoes, at least on the baseball field. My dad was a baseball high school coach who lived for the game. Men of my dad's generation connected over sports. That's how they bonded with their sons. My dad and uncle connected with my grandpa Art through their love of baseball. That was also supposed to be the case with me and my dad."
But you weren't good at baseball.
"Guess it's true that those who can't play baseball, write about it. And I've been thinking, writing and editing this story for more than 40 years. I'd start the book, become discouraged, and shove it to the back of the closet."
Why was it so important to tell this particular story?
"It was a story line that was whispered to me my entire life by some friendly but persistent holy ghosts. By telling the story of baseball in a small town like Bancroft, Iowa, I'm keeping the memory of my Uncle Tommy and Grandpa Art alive. When my dad was struggling with dementia, he couldn't remember my mom's name nor the names of six out of their 10 children. But he never forgot Bancroft baseball. Even though he passed away before the publication of this book, my dad's spirit and love of the game will live on in its pages."