Baseball as religion

Friday, April 27, 2018
Tommy Murray, author of "Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball," is pictured with his father, John Murray, who would soon be taken by dementia before he had a chance to read his son's book. John Murray was a baseball coach for many years and Tommy Murray's novel is dedicated to him and his memory.
Photo submitted

Author Tommy Murray to present at the Spencer library

Author Tommy Murray started the journey of writing his novel, "Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball," as a high school junior in 1973. The process has taken the retired school teacher through his family, school and community history bringing him back to where he started.

Murray will be signing copies and presenting a program on his book at the Spencer Public Library at 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 1.

"At what point is this preoccupation with the past unhealthy?" Murray asked. "It is good to get a glimpse of the past, but what happens to a guy who actually tries to go back into the past? My wife and I have struggled with that question. It is important to go back. It is not just promoting and selling novels. There is something about going home."

Spencer Public Library adult program coordinator Robin Munson said when she announced Murray's coming appearance at the library, she received positive feedback from patrons who had already read the novel and excitement from others.

"It doesn't feel like spring right now, but it is spring and that means baseball," Munson said. "I think there are a lot of patrons who can relate to baseball and the small town. Many of us have children or have personally participated in baseball so it is something close to home."

Murray said his hometown Storm Lake is where his heart is, but Bancroft, the home of his dad's family and inspiration for the fictional town of Cottage Park, is where his soul is.

Murray will be returning for the 70th anniversary of the opening of Bancroft Memorial Baseball Park Saturday, June 2. Murray's grandfather, Art Murray, donated some of the land and helped finance the building of the park.

The park is dedicated to all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country. Tommy Murray's uncle, who he is named after, was one of those soldiers. The fallen soldier was a member of the 1943 St. John's baseball team that was the first team from a Catholic school to win a state championship in any sport in Iowa.

"I maintain that St. John's Church in Bancroft is one of the most beautiful churches anywhere," Tommy Murray said. "I am a devout Catholic. You walk out the back door (of the church) and you are almost in the Memorial Park. There is a strong relationship between baseball and religion in Bancroft. I have actually seen where the seven sacraments, which are important to Catholics, have been practiced during a game. In my little town, kids receive baseballs when they are baptized. There is a real integration of the Catholic church and baseball in my story."

Tommy Murray used his real-life experiences as a teacher who worked with troubled youth in Minneapolis to help illustrate the journey from various correctional facilities to the baseball field of his main character 14-year-old T.J.

"Baseball is a wonderful sport to have as a vehicle because there is an inner game that corresponds with another game of majestic ballet," Tommy Murray said. "I wish I could have played it. I was always afraid of the ball. My dad and uncle were baseball players. To my dad's dismay and broken heart, I quit playing baseball my sophomore year of high school."

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