by Rick Wilber

University of Tampa Press



Where Garagiola Waits

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Del Wilber 8 299 720 67 174 35 7 19 115 44 96 .242 .287 .389

Rick Wilber grew up around baseball since his father, Del Wilber, was a catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals (1946-1949), the Philadelphia Phillies (1951-1952), and the Boston Red Sox (1952-1954).  According to the introduction to Where Garagiola Waits, a collection of baseball-related stories and essays, Rick Wilber turned his back on baseball for several years before he was once more lured by the crack of the bat to join a league in Florida, where he travelled each spring as a child to watch his father battle his way onto another team.

Where Garagiola Waits is comprised of seven stories, four essays and two poems.  Baseball is only one of the themes which links all of the works.   Reading these stories and essays, baseball is demonstrated to be Wilber's "comfort food."  It reminds him of the safety of his childhood and provides a tie to his father.  In this way, baseball holds a symbolism which is similar to that found in the works of W.P. Kinsella (notably Shoeless Joe, but also several short stories and other novels) and, while sentimental, it is not a maudlin sentimentality.  It is a sentimentality in which Wilber seems intent to find the center of his being.

Although not the title piece, the centerpiece of the collection is Wilber's collaboration with Ben Bova, "The Babe, the Iron Horse and Mr. McGillicuddy," which pits two all-star teams of baseball's greatest at their prime against each other in a story which is an odd blend of Kinsella's Shoeless Joe and the musical Damn Yankees.  The protagonist, an aging Babe Ruth, finds himself watching a twentieth-century all-star team and refuses to join in the game, seeing himself as washed-up and out of shape.  Eventually, he learns why the game is being played and must make a decision about the proper way to play baseball.

Most of the stories depict baseball as a means of reclaiming lost dreams, such as in the title story, "Where Garagiola Waits."  In this tale, in order to humor his ailing wife, Harry completes a trip to Spring Training he began nearly fifty years earlier.  When he finally arrives in Florida, he discovers his old hopes and dreams are as alive to him as they were decades before. 

Baseball serves as a means of reclaiming relationships in "Stephen to Cora to Joe" and "Run Down West," both of which feature men who have left baseball behind and are trying to rediscover it later in life, while, at the same time, they are coming to terms with friendships and relationships.

In any collection which focuses on stories built around a single topic, there is always the chance that the stories will be repetitive and lose any individuality which they had when they were previously published.  Fortunately, Wilber manages to avoid this pitfall and his stories manage to retain their own identities.  The inclusion of the essays provides a slight autobiographical touch which reinforces the autobiographical elements which appear in Wilber's fiction and makes the collection more meaningful.

Run Down West Straight Changes
Hey, Nineteen Connecting
One More Step The Babe, the Iron Horse and Mr. McGillicuddy
Stephen to Cora to Joe Sixty Feet and Sinking
Bridging Where Garagiola Waits
Spring Training Days Homer

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