Sons of Chester - Book Review

Sons of Chester

Author: Craig Ohlau & Kevin L. Gingrich
Narrated by: Keith Barbaria
Genre: Non Fiction - Biography
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Date Published: January 3, 2019
ISBN-10: 1684332141
ISBN-13: 978-1684332144

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Book Review of :  Sons of Chester


The Sons of Chester with its subtitle “A Tale of Small Town Boys, Baseball, and Very Big Dreams" is a passport back to childhood for anyone who ever slugged it out in some dusty sandlot or pasture converted into a baseball field.  The authors are Craig Ohlau and Kevin L. Gingrich; Craig Ohlau is not only one of the main characters in the story but also a life-long baseball fanatic. He played baseball through college at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and became a Member of SIUE's career 100-hit club.  This book is extraordinarily well written not only about baseball but the people of the iconic town of Chester, Illinois, the birthplace of Popeye the Sailorman. The book’s high point is where the boys from the town of Popeye’s birth battle the boys from Metropolis, Illinois – the hometown of Superman.  This is proof that truth is stranger than fiction.  The author tells of his love of baseball with nostalgic tie-ins to the story of life in his hometown. The authors do a perfect job of capturing the emotion and realism of small-town baseball heroes.  The book is a great tribute to the town of Chester, Illinois.

The Sons of Chester creates a panorama of small-town baseball and its players, fans, and the culture that surrounds it. The writers’ baseball experience is evident as he talks baseball and introduces us to the boys. “Jason, the oldest, was the most like his dad. His eyes glowed with good humor but could flash a hint of meanness when necessary, especially if his little brothers challenged him. And they always challenged him”. The author stated that “Bobber as an athlete was as much dependent on his relationship with his dad as on his genes”. The father-son relationship is intrinsic to the story.

Bits of history are introduced to flesh out the story of young boys devoted to baseball. The boys don goggles with the “savvy and care of a Sopwith Camel pilot,” a reference to the First World War single-seat biplane fighter aircraft. Their mock fireworks battles recall “Gettysburg, Battle of the Bulge, even Vietnam.” Small town heroes, the cartoon creators of Popeye and Superman, influence the young baseball players to dream big.

Readers, who play baseball, will delight in the play-by-play accounts of championship games that read as if yelled over the tinny loudspeaker by a sportscaster. I was intrigued by the authors’ visualization of time and place.  This warmhearted memoir reminds readers how those experiences in the classroom and on the playing field are often our lives most memorable and exciting years. By the time we left that era, our identities have been shaped by our role within our school experiences. It is a time we can't easily revisit except through stories like this one. You can only touch that time through memories, discussions with friends, papers, photographs, music, and nostalgic books that bring you back to the excitement of being a teen.  The Sons of Chester provides those elements, including some great photographs from their games and victories.

An interesting observation in the book talks about the mandatory ACT exam, a four-hour standardized test, the team must take the morning of an important game. “The ACT is an inscrutable obstacle devised by evil men that tests the college-bound innocent on the R’s of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic – then throws in Science as a cruel joke - in the hopes of securing the student’s failure and preventing him from ever playing college sports. In other words, it’s a fair test.”   The Sons of Chester makes good reading for young readers as well to emphasize the importance of respecting our line of work, whether it be baseball or anything else. It is a book that illustrates how baseball is king in small rural towns – a staple that instills pride, the desire to succeed, and how to work with others.  

Descriptive writing is visual as the reader “sees” a big barreled truck back up into the driveway. The boys watch “with mouths half open” as “a sludge of muddy grey ice cream began to poop out the auger. By the end of the day, they had a backyard miracle: a 20’ x 15’ concrete slab, with a ten-foot basket” ball goal.

Collaborative writing is difficult, but these two authors seamlessly entertain and inform the reader. This niche market book will appeal to baseball aficionados and will be enjoyed by other readers for its general feel-good story.  As a YA, young adult, book it will be an important addition to the library for reluctant readers who are athletes or wannabees. It is reminiscent of the movie Field of Dreams with emphasis on dreaming big, planning and working to obtain a goal.

Reviewed by: Carol W

About Craig Ohlau & Kevin L. Gingrich

Craig Ohlau "Bobber" was born and raised in Chester, Illinois, the setting for the book. In 1995, he and his longtime group of friends won the Khoury League National Championship, and Craig went on to star in baseball at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and earn tryouts with several Major League teams. Today, Craig is a writer, coach, teacher and, most importantly, husband and father. Award-winning writer and scholar (Fulbright nominee) Kevin L. Gingrich, PhD, is the author of numerous publications, ranging from children's stories, feature articles, and columns to scholarly articles, including the pending publication of his dissertation, Parechesis in the Undisputed Pauline. Kevin played Division I sports himself and, like his co-author, suffered the agony of near-miss dreams in Illinois high school state championship play.



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