Little League And Big Guilt: “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face”

Tom Perrotta‘s “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” is surely one of the best short stories about baseball, specifically Little League, ever written.

Twelve-year-old Lori Chang is an ace pitcher for the Town Pizza Ravens. Happy Chang, Lori’s quiet, sullen Chinese-American father, always attends her games, including one the Ravens play against rival team the Wildcats. The coach for the Wildcats, disagreeable Carl, orders his pitcher son to hurl a dangerous pitch to Lori when she is batting, and after Lori is hurt by the pitch, Happy runs out to the field and pummels Carl until the police arrest him. Unexpectedly, Happy’s behavior leaves a smile on his face.

The story deals not only with baseball but also foul aggression. We learn that Jack, an umpire for the game as well as the tale’s narrator, envies Lori’s father after the attack on Carl. This is because of the smile—Happy’s smile over his just-deserts violence. From Jack, however, just-deserts violence does not come. The disappointed father of a probably homosexual son, Jack once hit the boy and broke his nose in an accelerating conflict, thereby driving Jack’s wife to file for divorce.

At the baseball diamond, Jack does something (which I shan’t reveal) meant to show his ex-wife and children that he possesses “the courage to admit that he’d failed.” Unforgiven, Jack is a man ever “trying to explain.” Perrotta points out he is unhappy. Not like Happy Chang when he was wearing that smile.

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