Eric Nusbaum’s first book is as fantastic in execution as it is powerful, seamlessly weaving very human stories together in an odyssey that feels timeless in its principles. If you read ONE “baseball” book this year, make this the one.
On April 10th, 1962, in a place known as Chavez Ravine, the house that O’Malley built opened its doors and hosted about 56,000 people. The common purpose was to see their beloved Dodgers play the Cincinnati Reds. For many Angelenos, this was the validation they had been looking for. When they parked their cars on Dodger Stadium’s massive tiered lots, and walked across the hand-picked gravel to get to the brand new turnstiles and gaze upon the dark green expanse of the field, they were citizens of a Major League city.
Eric Nusbaum has told the story of what all those fans were stepping over that day to get to that monument to baseball. The book begins about 60 years before that day, in the late 1800s, at a copper mine in Mexico. There we are introduced to Abrana Aréchiga, who I would consider to be the main character of the story. The reader is taken on a journey through her life, traveling to the neighborhood of Palo Verde just outside of Los Angeles. That’s where she and her family made their home, and that’s where the real story begins. It’s a story of hope, racism, politics, and above all, community.
The last facet is truly what defines the book. The reader can’t help but feel as though they are on a guided tour of the communities the book describes, and feel the tugs of conflict when those communities are under assault from forces beyond their control. You feel the frustration of Fred Wilkinson; you feel the anger of Lola Vargas. The trials and tribulations of the people in the book can be morphed into so many facets of our own lives, and the way that Nusbaum portrays the characters that make up the journey makes them even more relatable: their flaws, their secrets, and their truths.
From a practical standpoint, the most impressive feature about Stealing Home is how each character’s story unfolds throughout the book. The use of short chapters was a brilliant move, allowing Nusbaum to cast a wide net of characters, tell their stories, and give a clear space for the reader to see how they fit. As a reader who doesn’t always have large swaths of time to actually sit down and read, I especially appreciated this format, since it made picking up and putting down the book frequently much easier and saved me the frustration of forgetting every detail leading to wherever I may have left off.
Stealing Home may be a book about Los Angeles, but its underlying messages know no geographic or linear boundaries. After 60+ years, so many of the story’s core tenets feel especially relevant in today’s world. During the course of these pages, the reader is confronted with systemic racism, wealth disparity, corruption in politics, and how we identify with our communities. It is a fascinating examination on what it means to live in America, even today.
In summary, Stealing Home is an eye opening, page turning tour de force that will satisfy anyone, regardless of your interest in baseball or relationship to Los Angeles. This would be top of my list of must-reads this year, baseball or not.
BONUS: Here’s Eric on episode 25 of the Romantic About Baseball Podcast talking about the book in Mid-March!
Disclaimer: Eric and I are both members of the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, have done interviews together, and he is someone I would consider a friend. I purchased a copy of the book directly from him, without any implication of a review. The opinions are entirely my own and I did not inform him that I would write a review of any kind.