Enter William Blakely, the blockading wunderkind catcher whose nickname provides the title. Today he has, it seems, disappeared from the baseball record books, along with all but the faintest memories of his team, the New Jersey Titans. Yes, Stephen King would have us believe not just that cars can rage and wreak havoc (“Hello, Christine”), but also that the ever-humble Garden State once fielded a Major League Baseball team. In Newark, no less.
If Newark’s baseball glories are to be believed, a credible narrator is a must, much like a reliable play-by-play man in the broadcast booth. Meet George “Granny” Grantham, the third-base coach of the Titans, who looks back on these dark events from the vantage point of 50 years later.
He’s a curmudgeon, bored and irritated with the old folks’ home he lives (suffers) in. Grantham speaks directly to his real-life creator throughout the book, adding a “Mr. King” here and there for point of emphasis.
For the most part, King pulls this off without lapsing into too many baseball clichés. “Sure, I’ll tell you about Billy Blakely,” Grantham begins. “Awful story, of course, but those are the ones that last longest.”
Blockade Billy gets his shot at the big time after emerging from a minor league field of dreams in Iowa. This being Stephen King, that field of dreams devolves into a field of screams. How it gets there is a clever piece of storytelling that rises to the occasion with the precision of a four-seam fastball.
Just before the Titans break camp at spring training, their catcher, Johnny Goodkind, gets drunk and runs over a woman in the road. When the cops pull Goodkind from the car, he smells like a brewery and struggles to get to his feet, as Grantham tells it.