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Bang for The Bucs

A new book hits home

PHILIP BEARD IS a Pittsburgh native and a recovering lawyer unable to resist the compulsion to commit prose. Beard, 53, has the audacity to hang his third novel, Swing, on a Korean War veteran who is missing limbs but is full of sublime surprises, "a half man who gets to live a whole life." The book begins with this indelible character coming to the aid of an 11-year-old boy unmoored by the loss of his father.

Their unlikely friendship is formed during—and made possible by—the 1971 Pirates' long-shot march to a seven-game World Series triumph over the Orioles. Beard uses baseball to bond his characters and fix us in the cultural and historical firmament, resulting in a tight, poignant coming-of-age novel. Swing is richly rewarding even if you can't tick off all four Orioles 20-game winners from that season; even if you didn't remember that the MVP of that Fall Classic was the magnificent Roberto Clemente, who would be dead 14 months later.

Beard's evocations of those Bucs are as artful, and as much of a pleasure, as his sure handle on relationships: between spouses, between siblings and between friends, including one between a boy and a flawed hero. It will stay with you long after you put this book down.