Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why baseball? Let's read John R. Tunis. Roy Tucker and Razzle Nugent await

More rain!

I've got a game tonight. I hate rain outs. Feel like I did when I was a kid and had my nose pressed up against the window all afternoon. I was, I hate to admit, the one kid who showed up even though the field was under water, on the off chance 1) It didn't rain at Heathwood Park, 2) The field drained amazingly well during the day, or 3) The parents decided to use gasoline to burn the field off.

OK, I felt really silly back then. Today, they'd call it obsessive-compulsive and give me a drug. My father wondered why I couldn't be obsessive about cutting the grass or earning my own spending money. He thought my baseball obsession strange. He understood the game but wasn't much impressed by it. I remember the day he turned in his catcher's mitt. He had to admit -- and this was difficult for him -- that he couldn't catch my fastball anymore.

I didn't blame him then, and I don't blame him now. I had absolutely no idea where that thing was going. Once, in a game, I threw it over the backstop. I threw the next one for a strike. Our catcher came out to the mound and told me to never throw it again. He said he didn't see it.

Guess that's been a pretty good metaphor for my life. Pretty good heater; not much control.

Kind of wish this rain would stop.

One of the things I've tried to puzzle out in recent years is the same question my father had. What is it about baseball? The same question led me to read all these baseball novels. I've been plumbing them for the answer, or at least a few clues. What is it about baseball?

The same lifelong obsession with the stock market and I could hire a service to cut my overgrown lawn.

I interviewed a veterinarian once up in Detroit for a magazine story. Spent the day with him in his exemplary practice. I knew I would have a little time to kill before going to the airport to head home so I asked if he knew of any batting cages on the way. Not only did he know every batting cage for miles, the question opened up a whole new avenue of discussion. He was, he said, obsessed with fast pitch softball. Had been his entire life.

"What my clients don't know is that if they come in for emergency surgery late in the day, I usually have my ball uniform on under my scrubs," he said with an inside wink. "Soon as I'm done, I'm out the back door." He said he now plays on a team with his grown son, who nearly caught up with him on the base paths the week before. Might be time to move into 50-and-over, he said. I was already there.

Grown men -- way grown -- with baseball on the brain. What is it about baseball?

In search of the answer, I'd like to propose that we use the rest of July to read the first three baseball books I ever read -- the starting point for this lifelong literary quest. They're by John R. Tunis. World Series, The Kid from Tompkinsville, and Young Razzle, which, apparently, can be yours for a penny on Amazon.

You have my word this won't be a waste of time. Sign on if you are up to the challenge.


PP: Let me add that if you're of the female persuasion, and trying to understand men, this may be particularly instructive. It may be the best fifteen bucks you've ever spent.

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