Playing With the Enemy is a true story about Gary Moore's father, Warren Eugene "Gene" Moore. Gene was a boy from small-town Illinois who had an amazing talent for baseball. He was an incredible catcher, could hit the ball out of the park, and he was a born leader. As one of the youngest on his baseball team at The Lumberyard, he encouraged and motivated his older teammates to work together.
Gene didn't go unnoticed. The Brooklyn Dodgers stood up and took notice before Gene was old enough to play in their professional league. They signed him and put him in a farm team where he could hone his skills until he was old enough to be moved up. However, World War II came along and threw a wrench in THOSE plans.
This book is the story of Gene's experiences in baseball, in war, and beyond. He kept these experiences a secret from his children until the day before his unexpected death. Gary retells the story of his father's life as his father told it to him. Probably his very last gift to Gary.
Jim Morris writes the Forward to this book and he says, "Playing With the Enemy is a book about many things on many levels, but to me, it is a heartwarming story about what we do with second changes." While I agree with this, for me the book was also about the power of a love. In this case it was a love for baseball. This love has the power to bond, the power to overcome, and the power to scar.
When you connect with a book, the results are so amazing. You come away feeling changed. I had a personal connection with this book on a number of levels. The first level being my own father. He played and loved baseball. I don't think he was quite the caliber Gene Moore was, but he was being scouted by the major leagues when he was drafted for Vietnam; he also went on to play softball during his time in the Air Force.
The other level on which I connected with this book was even closer to me, personally. As a high school student one of my greatest loves was working as the team statistician. And while I still enjoy statting a good game, the love came from the team element - being a part of that - few outside the team comprehend the power. The team becomes very much like a family; no matter how far apart you are from the members of that family, a bond will always exist. And when any part of that is lost, a part of yourself is lost as well. Gary Moore illustrates that exceptionally well in this book.
Playing With the Enemy is about a LOVE of baseball. And I'm not talking about what you see in the Major Leagues. Unfortunately I think the love is lost there - players/coaches/owners/managers are too in love with themselves and with money to remember the love they had for the game. This is about a true, unadulterated love of the institution of baseball. As Gene says,
"...and that's what I love about baseball. When you step onto that field, the size of the man is determined by his heart, not his height."
When that love is present, the members of the team DO come together and form a family bond. As with any family, there's often a member that functions like the glue...keeping all the pieces together when times turn rough. Gene was that glue for his teams. I admired that quality above all else in him. Every team needs a Gene Moore. What's more, Sesser, Illinois, needed Gene Moore. Gene was growing up at the tail end of the Depression. Sesser was a very poor town and they had very little, but Gene was able to motivate and inspire them as well as his teammates.
Playing with the Enemy is a non-fiction work written like a fiction work. I often found myself thinking, "Wow! I don't think a professional fiction writer could have come up with the likes of this man's story." Isn't it amazing how sometimes life can create irony and suspense better than our own imaginations?
Gene Moore touched the lives of many. And his inspiration continues to be passed along to others through this book. He has inspired me!