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April 20, 2015

The Photo That Inspired it All --- Guest Post by GAME SEVEN author Paul Volponi


Books can be inspired by anything --- a snippet of a conversation overheard on the subway, a dream or a trip to a foreign country. For Paul Volponit was a photo --- specifically, a photo of a 1959 Buick floating into Key West, Florida.

Read below to learn the story of the photo and how it translated into his newest book, GAME SEVEN!

Some photographs are electrifying. Viewing one that particularly touches you can be like getting hit with a bolt of creative lightning, stirring feelings deep inside a writer’s heart and imagination. That’s how my latest young adult novel, GAME SEVEN, was inspired. I saw a photo of a green 1959 Buick floating into Key West, Florida. It had been transformed into a car/boat by Cuban refugees who were willing to risk their lives on a 90-mile journey to freedom on the open sea. The vision of the young men sitting on the car’s roof completely captivated me. I wanted to write the story of how they’d arrived at that moment, or at least my vision of how it happened.

I had long been moved by the flight of Cuban baseball players defecting to the US to play in our Major Leagues. A handful of them, such as Yasiel Puig (LA Dodgers), Yoenis Cespedes (Detroit Tigers) and Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), sign lucrative contracts and become big-leaguers. But all of them, all-stars or not, leave behind loved ones in less desirable circumstances. And those loved ones often pay the price for that defection, being mistreated by an angered and embarrassed Cuban government. GAME SEVEN is about someone who was left behind --- a son now grown up and escaping to the US to find his famous baseball-playing father.

Julio Ramirez Jr. was 10 years old when his father, Cuba’s great pitcher, defected while playing for the Cuban National team during an exhibition in the States. Now 16, Julio Jr. is considered Cuba’s best young shortstop. However, he’s been told by baseball officials there that he’ll never receive a chance to play at the highest level on Cuba’s National traveling team, The Nacionales, because of his father’s actions.

Was Julio’s Papi being a hero when he defected for freedom and baseball? Or was Papi being selfish, leaving Julio, his mother and younger sister in poverty, as he signed a multi-million dollar deal to pitch for the Miami Marlins?

Set against the backdrop of the World Series, as the Marlins take on the Yankees, Julio must consider the same decision as Papi when a chance arises for him, along with his uncle and cousin, to defect in the transformed Buick.

I interviewed many native Cubans and researched the details of ocean defections to make GAME SEVEN as realistic as possible. And I’m pleased to have this novel published at a time when the question of our relationship with Cuba is once again swirling in the winds of debate.       

Paul Volponi is a writer, teacher and journalist living in New York City. From 1992-1998, he taught incarcerated teens on Rikers Island to read and write. That experience formed the basis of his ALA Award-winning novels RIKERS HIGH and BLACK AND WHITE. From 1999-2005, Paul taught teens in drug treatment programs, inspiring his ALA Award-winning novel ROOFTOP. As a journalist, Paul covers the sport of Thoroughbred racing for the national publication The Blood-Horse.