Let's push this focus of Matt's a bit farther by raising a couple of questions. We invite any passers-by to offer insight because, for me, these are still open questions.
First, why do American novelists write about baseball?
The list of America's best novelists who have chosen baseball at one time or another in distinguished careers is impressive. Hemingway, of course. Malamud. Coover. Roth. Pulitzer Prize winner (The Killer Angels), Michael Shaara. Jerome Charyn. Heywood Broun. I'm sure I've left someone out.
These were not baseball writers, or, particularly, sports writers. And the decision to build an entire novel around a single vehicle is no small decision. So, why?
Which brings us to the second question. Many, if not all, of these novels turn on the deterioration of a man's body. Why? Why do these great novelists see baseball as the perfect way to focus on either the natural deterioration of the human body or the tragic destruction of the human body?
You may have to be at my end of the curve to see this. I play ball once a week with sixty year olds and once a week with fifty year olds. One of our fellows was complaining recently as we changed shoes on the tailgate at midnight after a double-header that he lost a bunch of players from his 65-and-over tournament team; they had decided to move up to 70-plus.
You read that right. That's an age bracket in tournament ball for players seventy years old and older.
I can tell you that playing ball at sixty-one does two things for you. It gives you an occasional glimpse of what it was like to be fourteen. But it also provides long slo-mo moments when you realize what sixty-one is, lest you forget. The point is this: Playing baseball is like watching the sun set when it is close to the horizon. When the sun is high in the sky, you have no marker and you rarely notice the sun move. But when it sits just above the horizon, it is as if you can watch it fall to earth.
I've puzzled why writers so often use baseball to tell the story of the body. I'd love to hear what others see in this. Why is Bruce Pearson's story so moving to us?