A good man, a good game, a great book.

Book cover

Winter is the season of my discontent.

Oh, I know they are still playing football.

There’s even a Super Bowl this weekend.

Or so it’s rumored.

And I know that big men with long arms and fast hands are still in the midst of a wild, barnstorming, hully gully basketball season.

Basketball hasn’t even reached the good games yet.

But I haven’t found a reason to watch. I haven’t found a reason in a long time.

My heart lies in a baseball field somewhere.

Anywhere.

Big league.

Little league.

It doesn’t matter.

I’m much the way my son was his senior year of high school. It was a Saturday morning, the date, which seemed like a long time coming, when the UIL allowed teams to begin practicing.

Practice started at four o’clock. He left the house at ten.

“Why so early?” I asked.

“I just want to go, lay down between home plate and the pitcher’s mound and smell the grass,” he said.

I understood. I had known for a long time what it was like to smell the freshly cut grass of a baseball field.

When I was growing up in East Texas, I would lay there at night in the dark and – through the static of KMOX radio in St. Louis – listen to Harry Carey, Jack Buck, and Joe Garigiola broadcast the St. Louis Cardinal baseball games.

I didn’t miss a game.

I didn’t miss a pitch.

We didn’t know each other. But up on a farm in the Ozarks just outside of Harrison, Arkansas, another young man about my age, John Nickols, was lying in the dark listening to Cardinal baseball.

He just didn’t have as much static, but we were connected by the two things we loved most.

A team.

And a game.

Through the magic of the airwaves, and with the blessing of Busch Bavarian Beer, we listened to Harry, Jack, and Joe tell the tales of Stan Musial, Red Schoendients, Kenny Boyer, Rip Repulski,, Enos “Country” Slaughter, Harvey Haddix, Lindy McDaniel, and Vinegar Bend Mizell.

And Del Rice, of coure.

Always there was Del Rice, then Bill Sarni, then Hall Smith.

They were catchers. I was always partial to catchers.

For John and I both, the distance between life and death was nine innings. And life began every night again until winter, of course.

Winter was the season of my discontent.

After a precarious journey, I wound up back in Texas again, and I have switched my allegiance to the Texas Rangers.

John Nickols took a wayward road to Texas, but he still lives and breathes Cardinal baseball.

Former FBI agent John Nickols, right, talks with Steve Tidwell, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response, Service Branch on the campus of Howard Payne University.
Former FBI agent John Nickols, right, talks with Steve Tidwell, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, Service Branch, on the campus of Howard Payne University. He would have rather been watching Cardinal baseball.

Loyalty runs deep in his soul.

I have known John Nickols for a long time. He is a good man who does things his way.

He was an FBI agent. And then they tried to move him to Los Angeles.

He walked away from the agency, found his way to small town America, and became a basketball coach, a really good basketball coach.

Give him a bunch of boys.

Tall or short.

Slow or fast.

It didn’t matter.

And John Nickols would turn them into winners, the kind that wins state championships.

He’s now an assistant professor of history and political science at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.

But his heart remains embedded in a baseball field.

That’s why it was no surprise when John Nickols wrote his first novel: The Last Three Outs. It’s about baseball.

What else could it be about?

His publisher points out:

The Last Three Outs is the story of Danny Hill, a one-time bright pitching prospect whose career appears doomed by a shoulder injury. An act of kindness – a visit to an elderly gentleman in a nursing home – begins one of the great comeback stories in baseball history. Along the way, Danny finds and almost loses the love of his life. He even encounters the mafia. It’s good baseball, seasoned with love, with a dash of crime. And it is intentionally Christian.

It is the kind of book that only a man like John Nickols could write.

He’s strong in his Christian beliefs.

He understands athletes.

He has coached them.

He has motivated them.

He has lived with them through pain and heartache, rejection and disappointment, trials and tribulations and triumphs. He has raised their trophies. He has dried their tears.  He is the father that so many of them never had.

The wins come.

So do the losses.

But he taught his players what’s important in life: character and values and love and a deep respect for each other as teammates and as human beings. This is what happens when the lights go out and the game is over, and the scoreboard is back to zero – zero.

Those are the guidelines that have molded John Nickols into the good man he became. They’re all in the book. They’re all in The Last Three Outs.

If you love baseball, if you love your fellow man, if you love life, if you love each other, this is the one book you should read during our season of discontent.

For 226 pages, baseball lives again the way it should live all year long.

Please click the book cover image and read more about The Last Three Outs.

 

 

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