An Interview with Sports Memoir & Baseball Author Steven M. Reilly

Today's guest at The Writer's Life is Steven M. Reilly, author of the sports memoir, THE FAT LADY NEVER SINGS: HOW A HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM FOUND REDEMPTION ON THE BASEBALL DIAMOND.

Since 1976, Steve Reilly has coached baseball in Connecticut's Lower Naugatuck Valley. He has coached Babe Ruth, Senior Babe Ruth and American Legion teams and has spent the last 20 years assisting high school coaches. He assisted at Derby High School from 1986-1995, assisted Emmett O'Brien Regional Vocational Technical School in 1996 and will be coaching in his 11th season at Seymour High School in the Spring of 2007. He continues to coach a summer Senior Babe Ruth team and fall league team in Derby.A practicing Attorney since 1980, with an office in Oxford, Connecticut (http://www.getlawhelp.com/), Reilly and his wife, Suzanne, live in Seymour, Connecticut.You can visit his website at http://www.thefatladyneversings.com/.

Welcome to The Writer’s Life, Steven. I am so happy that I get to be your first stop on your virtual book tour. Can we start off by having you tell everyone what your book is about?

Thank you very much for inviting me.

The book is about redemption sought by three high school baseball players, their team, their coaches and the City they live in. In 1991, high school football was everything in Derby which is the smallest city in Connecticut. The team had a streak of twenty-eight straight years without having a losing season. The streak ended on Thanksgiving Day, 1991. Three seniors including the quarterback also played on the school’s baseball team. One of the seniors was the Mayor’s son and almost all of the other players on the baseball team played football. The head coach of the baseball team was also an assistant football coach who was also battling his own difficulty.

After blowing the streak, the football players, especially the three seniors, were labeled losers forever in the City. Their last chance at redemption was playing on the baseball team. Two of the Seniors were pitchers. The smallest school in the league, Derby battles for and makes the state tournament and ultimately, as the late North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano would say, “survives and advances” to a state championship game.

But the game turns into a nightmare after an early lead disintegrates. We end up down by two runs with two outs in the last inning. With two runners in scoring position, the quarterback comes to the plate and ultimately gets a base hit to tie the game and send it into extras. The excitement builds as each extra inning results in Derby scoring and their adversary tying the game. Complicating matters, a pitching limitation rule forces one of the senior pitchers to return to the mound several innings after being removed. In the eleventh inning(the fourth extra inning) another Derby senior fouls off seven pitches in a row with a three-balls two-strikes two-out count until he ultimately drives in the winning runs. In the bottom of the last inning, Derby’s senior pitcher hangs on despite barely being able to pitch.

Can you tell us all about your background – family, where you’re from and all that good stuff?

I grew up in Derby, Connecticut(the smallest town in Connecticut talked about in the
book) and now live in nearby Seymour, Connecticut. I am one of three brothers. My older brother, Bob, is a Nephrologist who now lives in Irving, Texas. Bob has written two medical texts, one of which he dedicated to, among other people, Steve Colbert. My younger brother, Fred, was an attorney who practiced with me. Fred unfortunately passed away from cancer approximately eleven years ago.
I am very fortunate to have very supportive parents, Robert (who is an avid Yale football fan) and Nancy (who has every Louis L’Amour book in print except one), and a wonderful wife, Sue, who is the Executive Director of a local YMCA. We’ve been married to now for almost thirty years.

What do you do for a living besides writing?

I am attorney with a general practice in a small town named Oxford, not far from
Derby. I’ve been doing that for twenty-six years.

How did you become a sports fan?

I suppose it started for me as it did for a lot of kids in my generation. My parents bought wiffeball bats and balls and my brothers and I and neighborhood kids played in small backyards. After the balls cracked, we taped them with masking or duct tape until we could save up enough money to buy new ones. I collected baseball and football cards, connected doubles to my bicycle with clothes pins. I wish I still had some of those cards.

I watched a lot of games on television and wrote the baseball players letters and actually got responses from many of them. As I got older, I played hardball in the spring and football in the fall and winter (no matter what the weather) with neighborhood friends in a nearby open field. We’d play until it got dark or until a feisty old woman who rented a house adjacent to the field called the cops on us and then we would have to find somewhere else to play. In the spring, if we got kicked out of the nearby lot, we might go to a nearby Catholic School parking lot and play fast pitch rubberball; a strike zone was marked on the wall with chalk.

Did you play baseball as a kid and were you any good?

I knew very few kids who didn’t play baseball. I usually played against older kids which I think helped me when I got to high school. I’d like to think I was pretty good. I ended up captain of the high school team my senior year and was voted an “All Valley” selection when the season ended. I also played for a couple of seasons for a Division II college.

What’s your favorite team?

Back when I was a kid it was the Detroit Tigers. In 1968 when they beat the Cardinals in the World Series I listened to the games at school with a cheap portable radio that had an ear plug. Back then, most of the games were played in the daytime.

Now I’d have to say I’m mostly a Yankee fan but also route for the Mets, probably because I sometimes meet some of their players and coaches at baseball coaches clinics in Connecticut and New York.

What’s your fondest baseball memory?

I have a lot of fond memories as I have been coaching baseball for over thirty years. But if
I had to pick one, I’d have to say it’s jumping on the pile on the field in Middletown, Connecticut when the high school team I coached (Derby High) won a state championship, the saga of which is the subject of my book. You can actually see the crazy scene in the film clip on the book’s website. I’m the guy wearing glasses about to pass out from the emotion of the victory wearing number seventeen.

Do you have a favorite player? Least favorite?

Not really. My favorite players are usually throw-back kind of players no matter what team
they played or play for. When I was a kid it was Al Kaline and Mickey Lolich of the Tigers and guys like Carlton Fisk who believed there was only one way to play the game.

More recently, I’d have to say guys like Paul O’Neal, Thurman Munson, Cal Ripken, Jr., Nolan Ryan, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Tony Gwynn and basically any player who comes to play every game and respects it.

As for my least favorite player, I don’t have any specific player who crosses my mind, but I would say its any player who doesn’t run out a ground ball or a pop up or thinks he’s bigger than the game itself.

How many games do you watch in a given season?

If you count high school, Senior Babe Ruth and American Legion games as well as pro games, its over a hundred a year. I do quite a bit of scouting of high school teams even when I am not coaching and also am a baseball analyst for an internet radio station www.SportingNewsCT.com during the American Legion season and its post season tournament.

Of the two sports you love – baseball and football – what’s your favorite and why?

Its easily baseball as I have been coaching it now on various levels for over thirty years.

Are you planning on writing more sports books?

I am working on a screen play based upon the book. I want to accomplish that before I return to writing another baseball book. I certainly have enough stories to tell from all my years coaching to fashion another book from. Heck, there are some weekends I coach which contain enough zaniness to draft a new book from.

Thank you for coming to The Writer’s Life, Steven. Any final words?

The book comes with an enjoyment guarantee. If you purchase the book and for any reason
you are not thoroughly entertained by it, let me know and I’ll be happy to buy it back from you.

More information about the book can be found on the book’s website:
www.TheFatLadyNeverSings.com. Visitors can read the first three chapters of the book and also find reviews of the book, listen to podcast interviews as well as see current photographs of some of the remarkable players and coaches I had the good fortune to be associated with.
Thank you for coming, Steven! If you would like a chance to win a copy of THE FAT LADY NEVER SINGS, leave a comment below. All winners will be announced at http://www.virtualbooktoursforauthors.blogspot.com/ on Oct. 31.
Good luck!
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