Playing with the Enemy
A Baseball Prodigy, World War II, and the Long Journey Home
Gary W. Moore
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Baseball is America’s pastime, but for Gene Moore, it was his heart and soul. A country boy with a gift for the game, Gene’s skill with a bat and ball would land him a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, carry him safely through his service in World War II, and then tragically change the course of his life forever. Playing with the Enemy, written by Gene’s son Gary W. Moore is the story of how baseball cost Gene his dreams—and then helped him rediscover the best in himself.
Researching and reliving the story that Gene shared a mere twenty-four hours before he died, Moore creates a tender portrait of pre-World War II rural America, where the hopes of one small Illinois town are pinned on the baseball prospects of a local boy. Gene is a sweet-tempered teenager with a head full of baseball trivia and a natural ability to lead; everyone agrees that with his talent and charm, he’s got a bright future in the major league. Moore’s writing lets Gene’s natural charisma shine through without forcing sentiment, and soon the reader is swept up in the excitement over the young phenom.
When World War II breaks out, Gene leaves his hometown of Sesser behind to join the U. S. Navy, where he is assigned to their baseball team, playing exhibition games against the army to boost the morale of the men on the front lines. Depicting this little-known aspect of wartime life, Moore then follows Gene from North Africa to New Orleans where he and his teammates are enlisted to guard the captured crew of a German U-boat. Frustrated by no longer having the opportunity to play the sport he loves and sympathetic to the miseries of the confined Germans, Gene begins to teach the prisoners baseball. Initially, only Gene is able to transcend wartime hostilities to see the humanity within the enemy soldiers. Eventually, his enthusiasm proves infectious, and soon the small-town hero has won over his fellow sailors and their captives alike. Though Gene is a young man who always gave his all, his commitment to playing with the enemy soon costs him more than he ever could have expected.
Moore writes with a historian’s attention to detail, a novelist’s sense of prose, and a son’s loving affection. Gene’s talent for baseball marked him for greatness, but it was his love of the game that proved he had a great heart. He gave everything to his enemies as well as his teammates, and in time both return to his life to help him rediscover his capacity to accept, forgive, and love again. Moore has not only done his father’s long-kept secret story justice, he has brought it to life, providing inspiration to readers for years to come. A lesson in sacrifice, generosity, and the resilience of the human spirit, Playing with the Enemy is a story whose message still resonates today.
Gary W. Moore is the president of Covenant Air and Water, as well as a business trainer and motivational speaker. His success as an entrepreneur and executive has been featured in numerous magazines, including Entrepreneur, Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, and Southwest Airlines’s Spirit Magazine. He and his wife Arlene currently reside in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
As both writer and son, did you experience any personal conflicts when writing? How did you react to the task of confronting the more challenging and disappointing aspects of your father’s story? Was it difficult to examine Gene’s life as a man beyond how you knew him as a father?
Not really. I think the fact that my dad has been gone since 1983 gave me the distance I needed to look at his life with fresh eyes and an open mind. If I had attempted writing this story right after his death, I think it would have been very difficult. The sadness of how he viewed the loss of his career and failure as a ballplayer was difficult for me to face. As the story moved from innocence to devastation, I felt my emotions paralleling his.
There weren’t many primary sources available to you when you began this project. How did you track down people and information in order to write the book? Was there a turning point in your research and/or writing where you really felt that the story came together?
The research for this book came primarily from oral histories gathered from people my father knew and with whom he shared his life. There is the small morsel of history here and there, but most of the accounts come from my father’s friends, family, and teammates. Unfortunately, many have passed on, but those I was able to find and speak with gave me volumes of information. The real turning point was in feeling free to tell the story. My dad did not talk about his life in baseball and war. I felt that if he did not want the story told, I did not have the right to tell it. But in the months before her death, I shared my concerns with my mom. She said, “Just because your dad did not like to talk about himself does not mean that he did not love it when others did. I think you should write his book.” At that moment I felt free to write Playing with the Enemy.
Did you have any concerns in deciding to re-create conversations between Gene and his friends and teammates?
Because I was telling a story and not writing a history book, I felt it important to bring the story to life in a way that allows the reader to experience the events, while getting to know my dad on a very personal level. This is a book about a person no one has ever heard of and a man who did not realize his dream and make it to the major leagues. I felt that inviting the reader into his life as a participant rather than an onlooker would bring more people to the story. If personal letters and calls from readers is any indication of success in this regard, I am happy with the decision to re-create conversations.
When writing, how did you work to successfully combine historical authenticity, narrative quality, and emotional resonance?
The emotional resonance was easy. I portrayed my dad exactly as I see him in my mind and feel him in my heart. The historical authenticity came from basic research of the history of the times and from the help of two great authors and historians. Ted Savas offered great World War II insight, in particular his knowledge of the U-505, while John Skipper held my feet to the fire with his historical baseball knowledge. Their support and input made Playing with the Enemy a better book.
This book is about your father and his love of baseball, but as the narrator, you are a constant, although subtle, presence throughout the story. What made you decide to publish your father’s story? How did this story affect your feelings toward him? Why do you believe it was so important to him not to tell you for all those years?
First of all, I felt my dad’s story had value and I did not want him to be lost with the passage of time. I felt it important to record the events of his life. I also believe that a look inside of his journey can give us all insight into how to handle life’s disappointments and turn around how to reap the benefits of a life well lived. I always loved my dad but reliving his life through the recording of his life made me respect and admire him in ways I did not expect. Baseball broke his heart and I think that he tried to bury the pain in the past by trying to pretend it did not happen.
What lessons did you learn from your father’s life story?
Talk to my children. I find that it is not as easy as I thought. Before writing Playing with the Enemy, I really felt that my kids knew me in a way that I did not know my dad. Since publication, I have realized that my kids feel differently and want to know more about me. I am making a sincere effort to bring them into my life as I lived it before they were born.
What is the main lesson or idea that you hope readers will take from your book?
Our journey while on this earth is more important than our destination. We all have hopes and dreams. Most of us have goals we try to obtain, although we usually find the reward for our efforts is not as great as we imagined. The real benefits from our efforts are the lessons we learn along the way. We are shaped by the journey, not the reward.
What effect has the book had on Gene’s hometown of Sesser, Illinois? Do you return often? How has the town changed since Gene’s days?
The beauty of Sesser, Illinois, is that it has not really changed much. Through my eyes, Sesser is one of the most fascinating places on earth. I love the atmosphere and love the people. The success of the book has impacted Sesser. Sesser is a small town off the beaten path. People are traveling to Sesser to see my father’s hometown and try to experience the story on a more physical level.
Will you continue to publish books, or was this project unique because of its emotional ties for you? What would you like to tackle next?
I have three writing projects currently in various stages. David Ranes, director of the movie version of Playing with the Enemy, has asked me to write a book about Dee Harper, a World War II fighter pilot who has a fascinating life of love and war. The book is titled Brimstone and David will begin filming the movie sometime in late 2009. The book should be out six months or so in advance of the motion picture. I also have a book about the last forty-eight hours of George Washington’s life. I am tentatively calling it Death of Our Father: The Last Days of Washington. I am also working on a story that is an offshoot of Playing with the Enemy, the story of the baseball scout Frank Boudreau.
What skills or experience from your work as an entrepreneur and motivational speaker did you bring to the writing of this book?
Discipline. If you want to be a writer, you have to write! I love sitting with my laptop and crafting a story, so it is not difficult for me to get motivated. But there is a discipline needed to keep you focused and moving forward.
Your mother Judy is a significant character in your father’s life, but in the book she remains more or less out of the spotlight. Was this choice yours or hers? What were the reasons for it?
My mother’s story is also interesting and compelling, but she was not involved in my dad’s life until he was already out of baseball, so I made the decision to focus solely on my dad and to introduce my mom in the end. But make no mistake; my mother was an amazing woman with a fascinating story. It is interesting to note that there is not a major female character in the majority of the book.
Your book is in the process of becoming a film. Can you share any details of the progress of the project so far?
Yes, it is. It is an incredible blessing for our entire family. I feel incredibly fortunate. The Academy Award–winning producer of Schindler’s List, Gerald Molen, director/screenwriter David Ranes, and my son, Gene’s grandson, Toby Moore, are the driving forces behind this movie project. David and Toby cowrote the script and Toby is starring in the production, playing his true-life grandfather. There is an all-star cast soon to be announced, so this is truly a major motion picture. Filming begins in spring 2009 and I could not be more excited.
What is it like to first turn memories into words on a page, and then see those words transformed into images on a screen?
It is surreal. In writing this book, my dad came to life once again, but in my mind. For over a year, I talked to him, laughed with him, and cried with him. Hardest of all was having to let him die again. For me the grieving process began all over again, even though over twenty years had passed. As we prepare to begin filming, I am struck by the fact that even though I know this is happening, my mind has not yet accepted it. The thought that crosses my mind most is, “What would my dad think of this?”
I have received hundreds of letters and phone calls from readers of Playing with the Enemy. There are two main themes that they express. They tell me that Playing with the Enemy has helped them reconcile the loss of their dreams with disappointments of failure. It seems that my dad’s story is a lesson in healing. I also hear that this book has caused readers to reconnect with their parents and family and explore their lives.
- Gene is unique in his ability to show compassion for his enemies during wartime. What does it take for someone to put aside political and national loyalties? In what situation would you be able to do the same thing? What would you sacrifice for a stranger?
- When you were younger, did you have a sport, talent, or skill that meant as much to you as baseball meant to Gene? Is this still a part of your life? Why?
- Years after their first meeting, Heinrich shows Gene all that he has to be grateful for in his life, even without baseball; in a sense, Gene is revived by the love of and for his wife and children. What does this say about the redemptive power of love? Have you ever experienced this kind of transformation?
- Why do you think Gene chose not to tell Gary about his baseball experience for so many years? Do you agree with his decision? Do you think there are any other reasons he didn’t mention that would or should have kept him from sharing this story with his children?
- Moore is honest in his depiction of his father’s means of dealing—or, more accurately, not dealing—with his heartbreak over baseball. What was your reaction to Gene’s behavior? Do you believe it was appropriate to his loss?
- Have you ever experienced a great disappointment like Gene’s? In what ways would you be a different person if you hadn’t had that experience? Do you believe your life would be better or worse?
- Aside from Gene, who was your favorite character? Why? At what moment in the book did you recognize this?
- The book will be turned into a film in the near future, but if you were the director, who would you cast in the roles of Gene, Heinrich, Ward, Frank, and Ray? Explain your choices.
- Gene decides to teach the Germans baseball in part because he simply misses playing, but what are some of his other motives? What are the Germans’ reasons for cooperating?
- In what ways were Frank Boudreau and Pop Moore important father figures in Gene’s life? What did he learn from each man?
- Discuss the importance of preserving family history. What stories would you want to make sure were passed down to your children or grandchildren? What information do you wish you had gathered from your own parents?