When Rodney Mason, an ex-con drug dealer from Newark’s rough South Ward, was shot and paralyzed, he vowed to turn his life around. A former high-school pitching ace with a 93 mph fastball, Mason decided to form a Little League team to help boys avoid the street life that had claimed his youth and mobility. Predictably, the players struggle—they endure poverty, unstable family lives with few positive male role models, failing schools, and dangerous neighborhoods—but through the fists and tears, lopsided losses and rare victories, this bunch of misfits becomes a team, and in doing so gives the community something to root for. With in-depth reporting, fascinating characters, and vivid prose, Jonathan Schuppe’s book is a penetrating, true-to-life portrait of what’s at stake for kids growing up poor in America’s inner cities, as well as a portrait of Newark itself, a struggling city that has recently known great hope as well as failure.
Jonathan Schuppe is an award-winning journalist who has shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey's resignation. He won the coveted J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Prize for A Chance to Win. He lives with his wife and daughter in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Every day, he parked himself at the far end of the slate-gray platform outside his apartment building, midnight-blue Yankees cap pulled low over his eyes, arms folded across his chest, tensed jaws masked by a thick, black beard. He glared out at Elizabeth Avenue, numb to the block’s clatter and thrum. Young men with hard stares swigged beer outside a bodega, radio growling angry rap.