When St. Louis-born author Rose Blume published her novel Speedbumps to Love, which has a strong baseball subtext, she joined a long list of Jewish authors who have embraced the sport as a major component of their work.
There is something about the national pasttime of baseball that captures the imagination of some of the best Jewish writers, both nationally and locally. Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, which was made into a memorable film starring Robert Redford, effectively evoked the magic of the game long before the era of steroids and human growth hormones. Philip Roth writes movingly in his ribald novel Portnoy’s Complaint, about the baseball games of his youth in New Jersey. In Patrimony, Roth’s non-fiction memoir of his father’s final illness, he wrote about the fact that his late father had kept a baseball glove next to his tefillin in his locker at the local JCC.
Locally, Burton and Benita Boxerman last year published Volume I of Jews and Baseball, a detailed history of Jewish owners, managers and players; Volume II, now a work in progress, will include the careers of local Jewish Major League players, including Art Shamsky and Ken Holtzman. St. Louis native Al Spector, now living in Cincinnati, last year published Never Too Old to Play the Game: A Lifelong Relationship With the Game We Love.
Now along comes St. Louis-born writer Rose Blume with Speedbumps to Love (PublishAmerica Press, Baltimore, paper), which sports a heart-shaped baseball on its cover artwork. Blume, like her protagonist Sam Halloway, resides in Chicago. Her character is described as “content with her life: she has a wonderful job, terrific friends and Princess, a greyhound. She’s certainly not looking for love…until Justin Marks comes storming through her classroom door (she is a third-grade school teacher).”
Justin is called a “famous baseball player,” who is staying with his nephews and niece, “who are determined to see their favorite uncle and their favorite teacher find true love.” But the characters find out that “the road to love is filled with potholes, wrong turns and bumps.” The novel, which would be a good scenario for a romantic comedy film, carries the reader along the journey of Sam and Justin to “find their way to each other,” helped along by “good friends, scheming children and Princess” as the couple strives to learn “important lessons in love.”
We learn that Sam is a popular and well-liked teacher, and that kids in her Chicago neighborhood loved her dog’s “long nose and enjoyed watching her run in Sam’s backyard.” Sam is also available to neighborhood kids for help on their homework or to serve as a mentor or shoulder to cry on.
Sam is also a loyal St. Louis Cardinals fan in the city of the team’s arch-rival Chicago Cubs. She rushes home to watch the Cardinals games on TV, which “are rarely shown in Chicago.” She also adds, “It wasn’t easy being a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Chicago, since the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry is so heated.” That fact is frequently mentioned by popular St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan, who remains loyal to his hometown Chicago Cubs even after all these years in the Cardinals Nation.
One of the neighbor kids, Matt, a second grader, says, “My dad says it’s a good thing you’re so fantastic otherwise he wouldn’t let us talk to you. He’s a huge Cubs fan and can’t believe you’re a Cardinals fan.” As luck and well-written novels would have it, Sam’s eventual romantic interest will turn out to be none other than a new shortstop for the Cubs, whom she “meets cute” while watching a Cards-Cubs game and yelling at the screen of her TV when she does not like an umpire’s call. She watched the extra-innings game late despite her concern that she would be too tired to effectively teach. “A tired teacher is a crabby teacher. On the other hand, she couldn’t leave with the game so close.”
“Two hours and five innings later, Sam went to bed happy. It had taken thirteen innings, but thanks to the Cubs’ new shortstop, the Cardinals had won the game. Justin Marks had let a routine grounder bounce into the outfield, scoring the winning run for the Cardinals. If Sam hadn’t been such an avid Cards fan, she would have felt some sympathy for the new shortstop; his first game in a Cubs uniform and he blows it. Not an auspicious beginning. On the other hand, this victory put the Cardinals firmly into first place. A nice place to be in May with so much of the season yet to play.”
Not long after “meeting” Justin Marks through her TV screen, Sam meets him face to face when she is confronted by an angry uncle whose niece Julie is upset over a bad grade Sam had given her. “Who do you think you are, giving my niece a zero on her math homework and putting her on a bench for recess?” Justin shouts at Sam in their first face-to-face meeting. Sam immediately labels him a “giant,” and only after he calms down and apologizes after learning Sam’s version of the story does she come to realize to whom she has been talking. “As he was walking out the door, Sam realized why he looked so familiar. ‘Justin Marks, the new Cubs shortstop!’, Sam exclaimed.
Justin jokingly replies that he hoped after his poor rookie game that “no one around here would notice. It wasn’t my finest hour,” to which Sam responds, “I thought you were fantastic,” something she admitted “a little impishly.” Almost immediately, Justin notices the words “GO CARDINALS!!!” on Sam’s screen saver. “Wait a minute, you’re a Cardinals fan!” After walking out the door, Justin thinks, “Well, that went well. Gee, it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that I stormed into her room yelling and screaming, only to walk out with my tail between my legs.” Adds the author Blume’s voice, “He couldn’t help it; he looked into her blue eyes and couldn’t think straight.”
Thus Rose Blume sets up the situation to be played out very effectively in this romantic comedy: girl meets boy, and feels some sympathy for him even though he is wearing the “enemy” Cubs uniform. Boy meets girl, and feels he makes a fool of himself by yelling at her and failing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Yet he feels that he “couldn’t help it” after one look “into her blue eyes,” clouding his ability to “think straight.”
Blume tells the story of Sam and Justin and their awkward and rutted road to romance with verve and style in Speedbumps to Love. During this basball season, in which the Cards and Cubs have renewed their traditional rivalry in earnest, this novel would make an excellent read — on the beach, or between innings at the bleachers or in front of the TV. Blume’s book is engrossing, entertaining and ultimately quite satisfying, and the reader enjoys hitching a ride along with Sam and Justin on their road to romance, despite their “serious” disagreement on which baseball team is better.