Friday, May 11, 2012

Henry, you are talented. I exhort you!

Baseball is a really great game. Or maybe it isn't. Maybe it's Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding that's great; I don't know. I was led to believe that Chad Harbach's debut novel would lead me to JD Salinger, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, or even Ambrose "Bitter" Bierce-levels of man-adoration. I unfortunately ended up with perhaps not even Cormac McCarthy or Philip Roth-levels of likeage.

It did have its moments of brilliance. The accounts of actual baseball games, single at-bats, even practice sessions, made me long to run stadiums, do one more pull-up, and own a glove I really like, fill a 5-gallon bucket with balls, go out to the field with my buddy Rutman, pull out first base, put in a broom stick, and practice taking grounders at shortstop (despite my having played second), trying to nail the stick with my throws.

I remember the lead of an ESPN.com article last year saying during some crazy last-day-of-the-season something or other that baseball is great because nothing ever happens, until it does, and then it's amazing. Chad Harbach's way of expressing that is to have the witty gay ballplayer say this:
"There's so much standing around." Owen said when Henry asked him what he liked about the game. "And pockets in the uniforms."
And I loved another exchange:
When he arrived in the locker room, Schwartzy and Owen were discussing the Middle East. Henry was late; the discussion had already entered its terminal stage.
"Isreal."
"Palestine."
"Isreal."
"Palestine."
"Israel!" Schwartz roared. He slammed the heel of his hand into the steel of his locker.
Owen shook his head and whispered, with no less conviction, "Palestine."
 So at times the book was brilliant, but at other times it felt really minor. People slept together, or didn't, broke up, or didn't, died, or didn't, but it all felt relatively inconsequential. "They're young, they'll get over it." I thought, and didn't feel very invested. Have I just completely forgotten what it was like to be in college, or was it the writing that failed to draw me in and tie me to the characters as much as I'd hoped?

And then there'd be a bunch of amazing baseball, and I'd love it again.

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