A St. Thomas alumnus will read from his new novel, Father, Sons and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball, on Wednesday, July 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the O’Shaughnessy Room (Room 108) of the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.
The novel by Tommy Murray ’78 is about importance of baseball in the fictional town of Cottage Grove, Iowa. Holy Trinity High School is playing in the 1974 Iowa high school baseball tournament, which the team has never won, and its three elderly coaches are driven to become champions before they retire in their final season.
“Time often slows and frequently even stops in the small town of Cottage Grove,” the book jacket says. “In fact, time is best measured not by the hands of a clock but by the innings of a baseball game. Praying and playing baseball are two of the town’s primary activities. Actually, they are one and the same in a town where baseball is a religion.”
Murray is a native of Burlington, Iowa, and majored in sociology and secondary education at St. Thomas. He taught for 33 years in Minneapolis Public Schools, including his last 11 years at Henry High School, before retiring in 2014.
He has wanted to write the book since he was a senior at Notre Dame High School in Burlington in 1973. A three-sport athlete in football, basketball and baseball at Notre Dame High School, he remembers his role as a “scrub.” He missed a tackle that resulted in a touchdown, “and I was sentenced to life on the end of a very long bench.”
“From my solitary perch,” Murray says, “I had a lot of time to think about my coaches, all older men, and the fathers in the bleachers living vicariously through their sons on the field. Like many of those boys, I played for my hero, my father. And like many of those boys who battled for victory and glory … I wished that I had known my father better.”
Murray began to fill his head “with dreams of a story where the old men were coaching,” but the story that became the book centers on “another sport in which I was also a miserable failure – baseball. It’s true that those who can’t play baseball write about it. I’ve been thinking, writing and editing this story since 1973.”
Murray was the oldest of nine children. His father John, a 1950 St. Thomas alumnus, played third base for the Tommies. Four of the author’s siblings also are alumni – John ’83, Dan ’84, Peggy ’85 and Molly ’92 – and a sister, Mary Beth, went to St. Catherine. His wife, Mary Ann Curran, is a 1981 St.Thomas alumna. And a cousin, Art Cullen ’80, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times.
The book is wrapped in the cover of a favorite print of the author’s father – a portrait of Bancroft Memorial Baseball Park Field in Bancroft, Iowa – and is dedicated to his father’s brother Tommy, who died in World War II. The Bancroft field opened in 1948 on land donated in part by the author’s grandfather and is dedicated to Tommy Murray and all soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country.
“The novel,” Murray says, “is for those who love small towns, baseball and their own fathers.”