Jerry B. Jenkins,
The Youngest Hero
(Time Warner, 2002)

I am not much of a baseball aficionado. I played T-ball as a kid. Since then, other than constantly hearing about the Braves when I lived in Atlanta and the Rangers on occasion now that I am in Dallas, I have not paid much attention to the sport. It should, therefore, be no surprise that I started to listen to The Youngest Hero by Jerry B. Jenkins with some trepidation. I had been expecting a war story when I first heard the title of this audiobook!

Six hours of story-time later, I think I can safely say that my worries were unfounded. The Youngest Hero is a mostly G-rated story that is told in such a fashion that it can easily be enjoyed by listeners young and old, experienced with baseball or not. For those of you expecting a sordid tale of drugs, running afoul of police and big money so your favorite sports hero can live the big life, you will be sorely disappointed. Oh, there is big money. But it doesn't show up until the second half of the last tape and has little bearing on the tale as a whole.

The Youngest Hero is actually a story about two individuals. Miriam Woodell is a single mother from rural Mississippi. Her ex-husband was an abusive jock who would have actually had a career in the major league if it wasn't for his alcohol problem. Determined to start life over and give her son, Elgin, a better chance than he would have otherwise, she moves with him to Chicago. Despite a poor paying job and questionable living conditions, Miriam sacrifices above and beyond in order to provide the best she can for her son.

Elgin caught the baseball bug from his father. His father might have been a drunk, but he coached Elgin enough to instill in him an almost unreal fervor to play the game. Starting with stickball on the streets, and ultimately practicing with an old pitching machine, Elgin hones his mostly self-taught skills to a level far beyond his years. Recognized as a prodigy, Elgin still has to prove he has the heart and spirit of a great ball player as he progresses from little league, high school ball and ultimately to the majors.

Colorado resident Jenkins has written several sports biographies as well as novels. In the case of this audiobook, Jerry has penned a novel that has the power to hook you as you wonder what will happen to Miriam and Elgin. Naturally, you can guess early on that Elgin will become a superstar. But will he fall along the way? What hurdles will he have to overcome? Will Miriam ever live life for herself? Being so focused on her only son, can she find time for another relationship? After her previous experience with Elgin's father, will she even want to?

I think something that makes this audio experience a little more unique than others is that there are two readers. Laurie O'Brien tells the story from the point of view of Miriam while Jack Sondericker speaks from the point of view of Elgin. They both voice all the same characters throughout the story. They simply speak from their character's specific point of view. Laurie has been involved with the acting scene for 25 years and might perhaps best be known from appearances on NYPD Blue, ER, Chicago Hope and as the voice of baby Miss Piggy on the Muppet Babies cartoon. Jack has read for more than 60 books and also has experience in voice-overs for commercials.

The Youngest Hero is very sugary, almost worthy of a Disney movie. (There are a few questionable scenes for young listeners.) The story lacks the realism we probably all expect with professional sports and perhaps life in general -- but that doesn't take anything away from the tale. If stories could not focus on the more positive, gloss over the negative and paint a surreal view of the world, it might be a dismal life indeed. Jenkins, with the help of O'Brien and Sondericker, has done an admirable job transporting the listeners to a happier world. Whether you like baseball or not, you will more than likely get some enjoyment from The Youngest Hero.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002

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