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Monday, April 5, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal: Baseball in Literature

Happy Opening Day! For my international friends, as well as American readers who don't know a bunt from a base on balls, today marks the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season. For baseball geeks like me, it is the first real sign of spring, and bar none, one of the best days of the year. 

Sadly, though, merging two of my favorite things in the world — baseball and books — isn't that simple. While there are a ton of good baseball movies (Bull Durham, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Major League, to name a few), there seems to be a dearth of good baseball-related books. But I have come across a few. And I wanted to post about this today to find out if there are any I'm missing, so please get ready to comment below if you've encountered a good book centered on our national pastime.

Here are a few baseball-related novels I've enjoyed:
1) The Great American Novel, by Philip Roth — This hilarious satire, and one of Roth's lesser-known novels, chronicles the trials and tribulations of a homeless baseball team in 1943 called the Rupert Mundys. The team includes a drunken first baseman, a one-armed center fielder, a "little person" relief pitcher and a 14-year-old second baseman. Most of the meat of the novel is introducing each of the characters and giving their back stories, but there's plenty about the Mundys ignominious season, as well. This a must-read for any baseball fan!

2) Play for a Kingdom, by Thomas Dyja — This inventive Civil War novel features a Union company from Brooklyn who takes on a Confederate company from Alabama in a daily baseball game during a semi-stalemate at the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. Dyja (who most of you have probably never heard of) is a wonderful storyteller, creating fantastically vivid characters. As you'd expect, the story relates how baseball becomes a welcome distraction and a common denominator for these supposed enemies. But it never becomes cliche or cheesy. I loved this novel because it covered two of my favorite topics to read about: the Civil War and baseball.

3) The Brothers K, by David James Duncan — One of my favorite novels of all time, this story follows the Camas, Washington-based Chance family through the mid 20th century. Duncan uses baseball as a central theme and a metaphor for life as it constantly brings the family together. Father Chance played baseball at the University of Washington and was a blue chip prospect until he is drafted into the Korean War and hurts his shoulder. He spends much of the novel managing minor league players and trying to make a comeback. Additionally, the second-eldest son Peter is a naturally gifted ballplayer, but his politics intervene and he renounces baseball. If you haven't read this novel, or even heard of it, or even if you're not a baseball fan, please take my word that this will be one of the best books you'll ever read, too.

So what are your favorite baseball novels? Any recommendations I should start today, in honor of Opening Day?

5 comments:

  1. I'm not nearly the baseball fanatic that you are ;) but one of my favorite books is Summerland by Michael Chabon. Probably a little different, but totally a great read, even if it is a kid's book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16702.Summerland_A_Novel

    Also check out this goodreads page of all books shelved by members under "baseball" -- not all fiction, but there's few to check out: http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/baseball

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  2. I will definitely have to check out the last two books on the list. I don't have a baseball book, but I do share your love of the sport. Sadly my team will NEVER make it all the way (Rangers...sad, I know).

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  3. Ahh, Field of Dreams - I love that movie! I actually read an exceptional baseball book a while back, but the name of it isn't coming to me right now. I'll get back to you on that if I remember.
    And okay, I get it, I have to read something by Philip Roth to fill this apparently huge literary gap. I will, I will. . . :-P

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  4. @home - Thanks for the recommendations. That goodreads list is quite extensive! I love Chabon, but skipped Summerland because of the kid's book aspect - didn't know it was about baseball, though, so definitely worth a TBR add!

    @Leah - I'm a Cincinnati Reds fans, so I feel your pain.

    @brizmus - Read Roth! ;)

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  5. I guess my favorite current baseball novel is the one I wrote that was published in April by Bennett & Hastings: "Houdini Pie." It's a fact-based story about a 1930s Los Angeles city-sponsored dig for mythical Hopi treasure beneath the downtown streets (yes, it really happened). Its main character pitches for a (fictional)barnstorming ball club that plays the great (actual) local PCL teams of the day--lots of scenes at the original Wrigley field in L.A. (the first field with lights!), historical players, etc...also plot lines involving bootlegging and mysticism of the day...check it out at www.hoduinipie.com or www.paulmichel.com...

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