13 March 2022
If you’re a writer who loves baseball, you’re in good company. And you’re in Heaven as the MLB lockout ends and baseball gets the green light for 2022. By the end of this week, Spring Training will be underway, the hot dog vendors will suit up, and summer will begin.
Writers have a long history with America’s Pastime. Journalists and sports writers wax lyrical for the game they love, likening it to life itself. At-bats and innings unfold, might-be homers don’t quite make it over the fence, and close plays at the plate score crucial runs. Writers sense the links to life’s larger opportunities, near-misses, and strokes of luck. Novelists, past and present, embrace the sport, using its predictable rhythms as a stage for baseball heroes and villains to act out the full range of human drama.
Google ‘best books for baseball fans’ and you’ll find endless lists. A mix of fiction, memoir, and biography, many of these titles are largely agreed on: The Natural by Bernard Malamud, Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Ball Four by Jim Bouton makes many Top Ten lists, along with The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. To these, I might add Crazy ’08 by Cait Murphy and The Big Bam by Leigh Montville. But there are so many more. Click for full lists from Goodreads, The Sporting News, and MLB.com.
Did you know…
Walt Whitman was a baseball reporter. Though his stint only lasted for a few weeks in the summer of 1858, he enjoyed the game throughout his life. His most famous work, Leaves of Grass, recommends baseball to get “better air in our lungs” and once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game.”
P.G. Wodehouse, most famous for his witty novels and Broadway lyrics, was a Mets fan. His novels feature casts of comedic British aristocrats and their foibles, but the author emigrated to New York City in 1955 where he became enamored of baseball and rooted for the newly formed Mets.
Jack Kerouac loved to watch spring training games in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he lived during the last years of his life. Another Mets fan, he spent two months alone in the Cascade Mountains in the summer of 1963. Upon returning to civilization, he bought a copy of The Sporting News and a bottle of wine for an evening spent catching up on baseball.
Shirley Jackson was an avid baseball fan. Shirley joked about using witchcraft to undermine the Yankees in the 1949 bid for the championship and once promised her editor that her manuscript would be ready “before the World Series.”
Stephen King cheers for the Boston red Sox. One of the bestselling authors of all time, King has written short stories and novellas with baseball at their heart. Often seen in attendance at BoSox games, he was quoted recently saying, “Baseball is important to me. I like watching it. I like talking about it. But the best thing about it was a connection with my younger son, Owen.”
Playing ball in Heaven
Every baseball game is a story emerging in real time. It plays out in a green amphitheater before the crowd sunning itself on bleachers, cold drinks in hand. Cheers rise again and again through the highs and lows, the tension and release, inhale, exhale. Wins and losses mount up, as in life. A baseball season could be anyone’s coming-of-age story. Baseball moves fans who have never written to express themselves in tender words.
When I was a toddler, my dad invented verses for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” about me. He conjured our first games together, the sound of them, the pencils and scorecards, the frosty chocolate malts. He never wrote it down, though he sang it to me hundreds of times. The last time was on his wedding day, accompanied by the wedding band at the reception. He was an old man who’d had too many glasses of champagne, a charming groom, affectionate for his daughter. At that moment, I loved him more than anyone in the world. Thank you, baseball.
And thank you, MLB management and players for getting on with it in 2022. My dad passed away some years ago, but his words are with me and I hear him every 7th-inning stretch when the crowd rises to sing off-key in praise of the boys of summer.
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Goodreads, Best Baseball Novels of All Time
The Sporting News, Best Baseball Books of All Time
MLB.com, Best Baseball Books of All Time
Cut 4 by MLB.com, Great American Poet Walt Whitman was Once a Baseball Beat Reporter by Matt Monahan, 31 May 2019
Twins Time, P. G. Wodehouse: novelist, lyricist, and Mets fan, 28 October 2019
MLB.com, Kerouac’s lifelong love of baseball by Dan Cichalski, 11 March 2022
Bookstr.com, 8 Fascinatingly Spooky Things About Shirley Jackson by Alex Nolo, 30 October 2018
masslive.com, Stephen King, John Grisham miss baseball during coronavirus shutdown, ‘I’m missing a big part of my life.’ by Matt Vautour, 30 April 2020