Away Game


An exploration of the often-fraught relationship between fathers and sons is at the heart of Bob Levin’s baseball-themed novel Away Game.

It’s the story of Hank Bauman who, through the magic of an old baseball board game, is transported from the present to 1955, to Game 7 of the Yankees-Dodgers World Series where his father rooted on his beloved Dodgers – before his accidental death later that day, when Hank was two years old. Or so the story goes. The reality turns out to be very different, and Hank sets off through the 1960s to track down his runaway father, who’s threatened for real this time.

Set largely in Middle America in the mid-1960s – as racial tensions and the Vietnam War are starting to unsettle the country – Away Game is about blacks and whites, past and present, love and longing, about the curious bonds of family despite decades of separation – about baseball as common ground.

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ISBN: 978-1-77257-126-4 (PB)

The author can be contacted at [email protected]

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Additional information

Weight .465 kg
Dimensions 25.4 × 19.5 × 1.9 cm

3 reviews for Away Game

  1. Tiffany Yemen

    A single tear joined my son as my company when I finished reading Away Game by Bob Levin. Looking to the left to catch my 5-year-old in a carefree moment, I blinked the drop onto page 214, thanked the book for having prompted it, and focused on my fortune in being a father.

    Mel Bauman, however, never shared my enthusiasm, at least not in the first life Levin has created for him. Mel apparently perishes in a Manhattan fire just after Game Seven of the 1955 World Series triumph by the Brooklyn Dodgers over the New York Yankees, but Hank, his abandoned son, 2 years old at the time of the series, and in his 70s when the story starts, covets closure. So – via the spinner and pegs from a ’57-issued All-Star Baseball game – he transports himself first to the fateful day, then to Ohio nine years later (yes, later) to see what bond he and his father could have forged and what else might have been.

    Baseball, father-son considerations, and time travel have come together before, as in Field of Dreams and Frequency. But Levin – a Toronto writer with Philadelphia roots that come through most vividly (and perhaps painfully) with Hank’s recollection of the Phillies’ 1964 collapse – adds a fine literary treatment of the themes and infuses the story with admirable looks at race relations.

    Hank finds his father, now going by the name Jimmy Barnes, managing a baseball team in Ohio. Among Mel/Jimmy’s challenges is the place of African American ballplayers at a time of racial strife and social upheaval. Hank has his own problems, too, including the declining health of his mother, the sting of his wife’s death, and the distance between him and his own son, Luke. Deep examinations of regret, resilience, and reconciliation propel the plot.

    “Did you ever think you might have been better off without me?” father asks son.

    “I’ve thought about it,” son replies, adding: “Might even be some truth to it” – and ending with, “But I still wish you’d stayed.”

    In sharing a year with his father, “the most infuriating man I’ve ever known,” Hank learns not only of the strained marriage that drove that father to leave but also of his internal turmoil and external bravado – almost insane bravado, given the forces against Jimmy. (His racial tolerance earns him enemies; he also harbors a secret about another character’s transgressions.)

    Jimmy’s angst leads Hank, hoping to save his father from his “second” death and salvage a relationship with his own son, to bring Luke into the odyssey.

    Three generations of Bauman men are thus endearingly brought together. We are reminded of the simplicity we covet and the barriers, many self-built, against it. Both harsh and harmonious exchanges among the three ensue, with baseball as binding agent.

    Hank and supporting cast often speak of Jimmy as deliberate and calculating, especially in his attempt to outwit the local toughs, and one could say the same of Levin. Strong character development, a judicious balance between exposition and conversation, and a methodical pace prove rewarding, with Hank’s extensive time in Ohio a well-crafted what-might-have-been lover’s dream come true. Away Game is likely to leave readers eager for the boys of summer to return – and hopeful that the effects of loved ones on their lives will never fade. – Joseph Myers, Philadelphia Inquirer

  2. Tiffany Yemen

    I took in my first game at Olympic Stadium 10 years after the storied Montreal Expos played their last inning there. It was March, 2014, and the Toronto Blue Jays scheduled two spring training games against the New York Mets at the Big O, sweeping the short series in front of an astonishing two-day crowd of about 96,000.

    That drunken, celebratory weekend was heavy with the kind of reverent nostalgia that baseball can bring. The decaying stadium, surrounded by dirty piles of late winter snow, was more than made up for by the electric energy that filled the building from field to roof. The shoddiness of the sound system became irrelevant when drowned out by the enthusiastic cheers of former Expos and current Jays fans. In fact, in that sea of red, white and blue old-school jerseys and caps, I’d never seen so many grown men shed genuine tears in a single location.

    Baseball has this uncanny ability to transport us back through time and unearth our most basic human feelings. We remember our lives through its poignant wins and painful losses; the phrase “remember when” is repeatedly thrown around in conversations about its grandeur. Often referred to as a child’s game, baseball keeps us young, allowing us to focus with great intensity on something that we know, at its core, is relatively meaningless. Though having a good cry over “just a game” may seem mockable, it’s also a truly beautiful and rare thing – in a world so harsh, cynical and jaded, a world where it can be difficult to be honest about our emotions, it’s wonderful that we can be so childlike and feel so much, if only for a handful of hours at a time.

    Though on its face, the idea of time travel may seem like a strange, even absurd subject for a baseball novel, it’s actually a perfect metaphor when you think about how a single game can pull us so deftly into the past. Rooted in the same rampant nostalgia I felt that day at Olympic Stadium, Bob Levin’s Away Game centres on protagonist Hank Bauman, who discovers an ability to transport himself to the past via an old baseball-themed board game he stumbles upon in his mother’s attic. Though Hank’s first journey back through time puts him in the stands at Game 7 of the 1955 Yankees-Dodgers World Series (our protagonist seems mostly unfazed), this trick he’s discovered gives him a more vital purpose than merely reliving thrilling past matchups.

    Through his visits to the past, Hank ends up reconnecting with the dad he long believed died tragically in a fire, and he finds himself compelled to alter his estranged father’s fate. While he does so, he grapples with his own personal demons – a strained relationship with his son and the unprocessed grief over the loss of his beloved wife to cancer. With the narrative revolving around the Rattlers, a minor-league team in the small town of Colton Creek, Ohio, Away Game paints a portrait of another time period in rich detail, and mines our inexplicable love for this thing so meaningless: “What’s to sell? You throw a ball, someone tries to hit it. You wait half a minute and do it again. You either like that or you don’t.”

    In the tradition of so many baseball narratives, this is a novel about personal relationships more than it is about anything that happens on the field. It’s about fathers and sons, husbands and wives and the camaraderie that happens between fans of the game. But it’s also a story that doesn’t shy away from issues of racism and sexism in the mid-20th century, using its compelling narrative arc to reveal the game’s ongoing and very necessary role in historical social progress.

    With a book that seems to overwhelmingly be about taking stock of the past, it’s hard to resist viewing it through the lens of the author’s own life. Levin, who is a features editor at The Globe and Mail, has written openly about his four-decade experience with cancer, and the influence it has had on his life. Currently facing the disease for the fourth time, he’s “trying to rise above the fear and fatigue and rally to the ordeal ahead. Rallying is its own reward, no matter the outcome.” Knowing that, it’s hard not to come to this book without notions of hope, mortality, legacy, and endurance – both in life, and in the memories of others.

    It’s no surprise that great baseball literature is rarely really about the game itself. It’s about how we relate to each other through what plays out on the field, and how we use those highs and lows to better understand our humanity and ourselves. It gives us a safe haven to work through our emotions, and genuinely express both our elation and our defeat. With its otherworldly twist, Away Game adds to the long tradition of making it safe for us to cry at the ballpark, and further unpacks the long asked, yet ever-unanswerable question of why we love this game so very much. – Stacey May Fowles, The Globe and Mail

  3. Tiffany Yemen

    Any longtime baseball fan knows that, on some level, suffering is part of fandom’s great delight. That’s counterintuitive, maybe, but true: some of the joy in relishing a no-hitter, a triple play or an inside-the-park home run comes in the rarity of these moments. A team may field the most talented lineup, but a win isn’t guaranteed, because the game, like life, is often chaotic and cruel.

    Bob Levin’s Away Game understands baseball’s great pull. The novel follows 60-year-old Hank Bauman, who is recently widowed and retired. Cleaning out his mother’s attic, he finds an old baseball-themed board game, which happens to have magical powers. It transports him, “like a combination lock clicking open,” from that attic in Philadelphia to Yankee Stadium on the day the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series in 1955.

    While Bauman is a lifelong Phillies fan, that day is significant: his father, Mel, was in the stands and died in a fire a few hours later. Bauman trails him into the city, only to discover that his fate was something else entirely.

    What follows is Bauman’s adventure as he shifts back and forth from past to present, trying to get to know his father and prevent a future crime. He’s also mourning the loss of his wife and dealing with a fraught relationship with his son. Baseball, in the book, is a link to the past, but it also helps characters relate to one another. “You learn early on, things rarely work out exactly the way you want,” Bauman’s father tells him, explaining why, when the miraculous happens—like his team winning the World Series—there’s more reason to celebrate.

    Levin, a veteran journalist (and former Maclean’s editor), has a knack for pacing. The narrative never sags, and Away Game is an entertaining read. Where it fails, occasionally, is in its depiction of characters’ reaction to the magic Bauman has discovered. Nobody he shares his secret with seems as astonished or disturbed as they ought to be.

    Bauman’s baseball-obsessed father, too, is a little exasperating. He was once a promising pitcher before a wartime injury ended his prospects, and while he’s occasionally sympathetic, he seems incomplete, and mostly unknowable—though maybe that’s the point. Even with the benefit of time travel, there are some people you can’t really know, and some things you can’t change. – Naoko Asano, Maclean’s

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