Baseball in Lyrical Form

For as long as I can remember I have been a reader. I suppose, since I own a bookstore, this fact isn’t terribly surprising. My love of reading, however, predates the opening of the bookstore by my parents. My favorites presents at Christmas of birthdays when I was young were the books I always received – easily identifiable in their wrappings and always saved to open last.

My reading tastes are eclectic. While I read more novels than anything else, I also enjoy history, economics, math, sports and poetry.

In recent weeks, I was reminded of one of the great joys I find when I am reading: discovering something unexpected. Allow me to explain.

During my pre-teen and teen years my reading concentrated into two main areas – fantasy novels and almost anything on sports. And it was during this time that I discovered that the very best sports writing focused on baseball. The subject of baseball not only offered the best prose, it also attracted some of the very best sports writers this country had to offer.

In my early years I devoured baseball books by Roger Angell, Roger Kahn, Somerset Maugham, and Lawrence Ritter. More recently, George Will, Jerome Holtzman, and John Thorn have delighted me with their stories and their writing.

You will note, that the baseball authors I mention are all males. At the risk of sounding sexist, in all my reading I have never read a woman writing about baseball.

So now we come to my unexpected discovery. I was reading a novel call Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr (published by Akashic Books and copyright 2011 by Nine Revoyr) that centers on a nine-year-old girl, Michelle, who comes to live with her grandparents in Deerhorn, Wisconsin in the early 1970s. “Mike,” as her grandfather calls her, doesn’t fit well into the all white community because her mother is Japanese. And so the book is about being an outsider and about a community coming to terms with change.

Revoyr’s story, characters, and prose are a delight throughout the novel. But the surprise I referred to earlier came along about a third of the way into the book, when Mike’s grandfather, a former minor league and club baseball player, takes her to a baseball field just outside of town. Here is how Revoyr describes that afternoon:

“There was something about stepping onto a ball field that always gave me a thrill, as if some energy source, some element in the grass, entered my feet and moved up through my body and set off an extra charge in my heart. I knew my grandfather felt it, too. He was grinning as we unloaded the gear and carried it to a spot along the first base line. And seeing his worn Brewers cap and the muscles that still lined his arms, I could imagine him at eighteen or nineteen years old, driving out to the country with a duffel bag and glove, just looking for the next field, the next game.”

And then there is this lyrical section, just a few pages later, as Mike’s grandfather throws her batting practice:

“But when I did connect, when the ball hit the center of the barrel of the bat and flew into the field, I felt a sense of joy and freedom as powerful and true as anything I’ve ever experienced. If you have never felt the resistance and connection of a bat hitting a baseball; if you have never heard the crack of the bat split an autumn afternoon; if you have not watched that ball sail through the open air and settle into the fresh cut grass, you have missed one of life’s purest feelings of achievement. Hitting a ball is like catching a piece of sky and sending it back up to itself. It’s like creating your own crack of thunder. And stopping a ball – especially a grounder you have to reach for, or a line drive that should have flown past your glove – is like catching a bolt of lightning.”

The beauty of these descriptions is among the best I have read about baseball and remind me of why I love reading and why I love baseball. My only regret – and it is a selfish one – is that, as a writer, I did not write these lines.