Written in the style of an autobiography, this novel follows a young fictitious baseball player from childhood to the major leagues. The story is told by another “baseball legend”, Gabe “Fireball” Nelson who retires after winning a Cy Young Award, hoping to fade into oblivion. He succeeds until he meets a young widow, Sarah, and her eight-year-old son, Tyler. Tyler is reticent until Gabe offers to teach him to play ball. Thus begins a lifelong friendship between them that eventually launches Gabe back into the limelight.
Gabe coaches Tyler from Little League through his college years. More importantly, he becomes a father figure and role model for the young man. Gabe’s lessons extend beyond sports, touching on everything from dating to the spiritual life. Gabe’s advice is grounded in traditional values, and Tyler takes to them quite well. In fact, the ease with which he learns life’s lessons and grows in virtues seems unrealistic, while Gabe’s delivery is, at times, somewhat preachy.
It is difficult to know exactly what the author’s intended audience is. The story focuses on Tyler and recounts in detail many of his games. At the same time, Tatum clearly has a message for fathers who are overly zealous in their coaching styles. He delineates twenty-two “Rules to Live By” to which his characters refer often in a rather forced way. In one chapter Tyler is bullied and Gabe intervenes, clearly trampling on the school principal’s jurisdiction. In the end, the principal succeeds in punishing the culprits, but only after threatening bodily harm, a move that no principal would likely take. On Green Diamonds has some solid themes of hard work, loyalty and integrity, but the book may not be able to engage readers without a strong interest in baseball.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.