Parker Westfall is one of those guys. Expecting a call from a major-league organization, the 31-year-old, power-hitting first baseman instead is contacted by the owner of the Fort Collins Miners, an independent minor-league team in Colorado.
He had hit 31 homers the previous year in the Carolina League, but his dreams of being signed by a major-league organization are fading fast.
Westfall is the major character in Brian Kaufman’s fast-paced novel, The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song (Black Rose Writing; paperback; $17.95; 187 pages). Westfall shares the spotlight in this brisk narrative with several distinct characters.
Hard-boiled Grady O’Connor, is a manager who believes in “Grady Ball”— a throwback to the deadball era where pitching was prized and scrapping for runs was done the old-fashioned way. O’Connor is constantly miserable and cantankerous and spreads his pettiness among his players. If negativity won baseball games, O’Connor would have a plaque in Cooperstown.
Team owner Christopher Randall fancies himself as a Colorado version of Mike Veeck, the minor-league maverick who once advertised a “Vasectomy Night” in 1997 for the Charleston RiverDogs. Thankfully, it was snipped in the bud, so to speak, and canceled when the idea was criticized by the local Catholic Church. Whereas Veeck’s father, Bill Veeck, once sent a 3-foot-7 man named Eddie Gaedel to bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951, Randall has an equally off-the-wall idea — he signs Courtney Morgan, a 20-year-old knuckleball pitcher out of college, to boost attendance.
“I want you to smooth the way for her,” Randall tells Westfall.
“This is like that Costner movie,” Westfall says.
That is not what the owner has in mind. “She needs allies, not mentors,” he retorts.
Westfall tries to do that during the season, but his attempts are awkward, and Morgan resents his tone and approach.
And no, the relationship between Westfall and Morgan will not degenerate into a schmaltzy love story. Kaufman wisely keeps their interaction brittle and wary.
On his website, Kaufman said the novel was inspired in part by Joe Bauman, an obscure minor-leaguer who went home run crazy in 1954 when he hit 72 in 138 games with the Roswell Rockets in the Class C Longhorn League.
Westfall is the same type of hitter, who at times is also a liability in the field. He will set a league record for home runs in his season of discontent, but he will be forever stamped as a minor-leaguer. However, Westfall does find a way to connect to the community, signing a bucket of baseballs before a game as delighted fans jostle to get one. Then he gets Morgan to do the same, with an even bigger reaction.
When a national tragedy strikes, Westfall suggests to Randall that instead of canceling that night’s baseball game, allowing fans to attend free of charge would provide some relief.
The language in this novel is earthy and at times profane, reflecting the true cadence in a locker room. The addition of Morgan gives her teammates chances to drop leering, sexual comments, but she is equal to the task. Westfall rescues her during a night when drunkenness nearly turned promiscuous, and he also managed to break up two barroom fights instigated by a teammate.
His leadership rankles O’Connor, who is irritated when Westfall organizes pregame practices without the coaching staff.
Without giving the ending away, it is safe to say that it has an interesting twist, particularly for Westfall. The sad song is actually a happy ending for all concerned.
Kaufman describes himself as a curriculum editor for an online junior college who lives with his wife and dog in the Colorado mountains. In another universe, he writes, he is a pro wrestler, radio show talk host, and a heavy metal guitarist.
He adds a little bit of both universes into his book. While the novel comes in under 200 pages, Kaufman manages to create some distinct characters that readers will either love, hate, tolerate or sympathize with. It works well in The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song. Kaufman is in tune with his audience, particularly with baseball lovers, and his prose should strike a positive chord with readers.