It is 1914. A young boy takes in a baseball game with his father and sees a tall, lanky Babe Ruth hit his first home run as a professional.
The ball sails through the sky and drops into the bay just beyond the fence. Thus begins an epic tale of hopes, dreams and fantasy that the boy takes with him on the journey of life. He shares it with no one as he toils through triumph and tragedy, and not until he finally confides in his own grandson some two generations later is his struggle vindicated. Gift of the Bambino is a novel about a young boy and his grandfather, and how the two are bound by baseball and the spirit of Babe Ruth. The novel received rave reviews across North America with reviews in The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Sun and many others.
I had absolutely no idea how enjoyable a journey it would be meandering through the pages of this touching yarn of a boy and his grandfather, their mutual love of baseball and, in particular, the game’s greatest Ruth, a.k.a. The Bambino.
It could be the sports version of the Da Vinci Code.
IT’S UNLIKELY that first-time novelist Jerry Amernic, a public- relations consultant living in Toronto, would be flattered to hear it, but “Gift of the Bambino” will make the perfect gift for a young baseball fan. Of course I mean that as a compliment. While Mr. Amernic’s prose won’t be mistaken for Ring Lardner’s — or even Mike Lupica’s — the story he tells about a young boy’s bond with his colorful grandfather is touching without being maudlin. Putting a new spin on the shopworn Curse of the Bambino myth, Mr. Amernic alternates between the near present and the early 20th century, when Lazo, the narrator’s grandfather, witnessed the first and last home run hit by his hero, Babe Ruth. The sight of Ruth’s blast into a lake near Toronto inspires Lazo to pursue a baseball career, a quest that doesn’t amount to all that much, just 10 years as an also-ran minor leaguer whose fatal flaw was the inability to hit a low-inside fastball. One of Mr. Amernic’s key themes is bound to rub some adults the wrong way, but it is one that teenagers may respond to. The narrator’s parents, affluent professionals who have little time for him, denigrate the elderly Lazo as a man who wasted his life chasing dreams instead of settling for a steady career. The adoring youth is captivated by his grandfather’s idealism, love of nature and tales of living in New York during the 1920s, punctuated with chance encounters with the Babe. Inevitably the boy learns, as Lazo ages, that time is a precious gift and ought not be frittered away on collecting material goods and achieving social status. Considering baseball’s enduring popularity, “Gift of the Bambino” has the makings of a family-oriented Hollywood movie, a cross between “The Natural” and “Field of Dreams.” The main obstacle, of course, would be finding an actor to portray Babe Ruth more ably than William Bendix or John Goodman. Actually, that probably wouldn’t be so hard.
Amernic generates a sepia-tinted Field of Dreams nostalgia. The truly moving scenes show the special bond between Lazo and Stephen – in the loving counsel of old age, the awakening of a young mind, and a friendship that spans generations. W. P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joes, which was made into the film Field of Dreams Like all good baseball novels, Gift of the Bambino is a love story that is peripherally about baseball. Babe Ruth’s first home-run ball is the axis on which this tale of triumph and adversity turns. It is at times both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.