DM Regional Sports Card Show
West Des Moines Hilton Garden Inn, 10 a.m., Sunday, May 14, Free
Timothy Grover’s lifelong love for baseball, and its legendary slugger Babe Ruth, inspired his new book about the Great Bambino’s life, Barnstorming Babe: A Slugger’s Bumpy Trek Across Small-Town America.
Grover’s fascination with all things baseball began when he was a young boy growing up in Iowa during the 1960s, listening to Minnesota Twins’ games on WHO radio. Soon he was collecting as many baseball cards as he could. His passion for the sport was shared by his brother, uncle and grandfather. Baseball was able to tie generations of his family together, Grover says.
Collecting baseball cards eventually led to collecting books on baseball history, and one in particular fired his imagination. Bill Jenkinson’s book, The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs. contains an exhaustive catalog of every home run in Babe Ruth’s 22 seasons at bat, from 1914 to 1935. It also describes a 1922 barnstorming tour Ruth headlined. That off-season series of exhibition games kicked off in Perry, Iowa.
That fact surprised Grover and helped lead him to write Barnstorming Babe.
“I had no idea Babe had ever been to Iowa,” he explained, during a release party for his book at Confluence Brewing Company in Des Moines. “The more intrigued and the more I learned about the 1922 tour, the more I was kind of drawn into that, because half of the places that they went to were under 10,000 people and I was like, ‘Why is he in Perry instead of Des Moines, or in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, instead of the Twin Cities?’”
That 1922 tour lasted three weeks with Ruth and his fellow barnstorming professionals playing a total of 18 games.
“I think that people who read [Barnstorming Babe], they’re going to learn a lot about baseball history, and the times that people were living in the 1920s,” Grover said.
It was on Friday, Oct. 13, 1922, that folks in Perry got to watch the country’s most famous baseball player in action. The interurban railway discounted round-trip tickets to the town that day. Farmers took the day off. Parents wrote notes to get their kids out of school early. Stores closed so workers could attend.
While both teams in the exhibition match were made up mostly of major leaguers, local talent filled any gaps in the rosters. Joe Eddleman of the Des Moines Boosters was the starting pitcher for Perry.
Grover’s book provides a full retelling of the three-week swing Ruth and his fellow Yankee, Robert “Long Bob” Meusel. It includes both the good — like fundraising for the several times players experienced racism during the tour, including one game neighboring a church that had been vandalized with a burning cross by the Ku Klux Klan — and instances where white leagues refused to schedule games against teams with Black players.
Barnstorming Babe is Grover’s first book. It took him around three years to complete. Compared to his prior experience as a freelance writer and poet, this project was even more intense. Grover had a soft-launch release party at Confluence Brewing Company on Feb. 22, which attracted more supporters than he expected.
“It was a crappy, rainy night in Des Moines. It was icy and snow to the north, and I know I had some other people that were planning to come but didn’t because the weather,” Grover said. “[But] I felt like a rock star, so humbled, it was just so cool. It was amazing experience!”
Grover sold around 50 copies of the book that night, despite the poor weather, and a portion of the proceeds went to Special Olympics.
“I’m very fortunate that BookPress Publishing liked it and took it on. [I] didn’t know if they would like this one or not, but turns out that the owner, or one of the guys in the press, has an autographed Babe Ruth baseball in his home office,” Grover laughed.
Barnstorming Babe: A Slugger’s Bumpy Trek Across Small-Town America was released on March 10.