No one just becomes a professional baseball player. Life is full of struggles and hardships in the journey to become one of the privileged few at the major league level.
In "Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times into Home Runs," Billy Staples and Rich Herschlag profile a variety of different ballplayers, including current Twin Justin Morneau and former Twin Mudcat Grant.
The book's tagline on the back cover explains the book's concept, "Before they became household names, they were children with a dream."
The inspiration of the book derives from Staples' work as a teacher. Staples originally pursued acting, appearing in such movies as "Hairspray" and "Gremlins 2." Eventually he moved into a national sales position.
"Before the Glory" can be found online at Amazon.com, Walmart.com and at local bookstores. The Idea Network
However acting and sales left Staples unfulfilled.
"I started to realize every move I made, like getting a job or buying a car - everything was about me," Staples said. "Teaching on the other hand is not about me. I get to set an example."
Staples would land up teaching in the inner city. He needed a way to reach his students.
Through autographs of baseball greats, given out for good behavior and hard work, he was able to connect with his class.
"The students just wanted the picture, the autograph," Staples said. "There's so much more to a ballplayer than that."
The reward system began to include his students sending off written questions to players in order for his class to better know the person behind the ballplayer. The questions led to meet and greets.
"We can get one player at a time and reach several kids, but how can we reach thousands of kids?" Staples said. "There's the power of print."
Staples realized he needed someone to help him write the book. By chance, Staples met Herschlag, an author, in an over-30 baseball league.
After over a year mulling the idea, they decided to collaborate and began traveling across the country to interview different players.
One of the themes the authors searched for is the struggle of yesterday's youth.
Herschlag explains, "You read about the kids that grew up in the 1920s, 30s or even 60s and see how they played with the hand they are dealt. You can see how much better your hand is today."
"How can someone complain compared to the experiences these players had?" said Staples. "Baseball is used as a vehicle in this book to show how kids can overcome adversity."
"Before the Glory" is broken into 20 chapters, each chapter profiling a different player.
The first part of each chapter is called "Before," a first-person narrative of different episodes in each player's childhood. The second part of the chapter, "The Glory," is a third-person account of the player's career accomplishments.
"The old saying is 'The boy is the father to the man,'" Herschlag said. "'The Glory' adds depth to each player. It creates a parallel to their childhood."
Inside the book are a multitude of fascinating stories.
Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski, who became the first player ever to win the World Series by hitting a homer, grew up so poor that he would wait for the Ohio River's floodwaters to recede to collect tennis balls.
Mazeroski used these tennis balls to play baseball.
"It sure beat batting practice with gravel," Mazeroski recalled in his chapter.
Other stories include Red Sox hitting legend Wade Boggs having difficulties succeeding as a youth knuckleball pitcher or Mets third baseman David Wright overcoming early speech impediment problems to deliver his high school commencement address.
Twins fans will be especially interested in the profiles of Morneau and Grant. Morneau grew up dealing with his parents' divorce. Grant had to deal with racism in segregated Florida.
Through each chapter, the reader gains an admiration for the "never say die" attitude exhibited by each player.
It's a lesson that any child or any child at heart can learn from.
In part two of the "Before the Glory" book review, Trevor Williams talks to Mudcat Grant about growing up, life in segregated America and playing for the Twins.
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