Thursday, October 4, 2018

Baseball Reads that are a Home Run!

The only love that rivals my love of reading is that of baseball, specifically the Kansas City Royals. This year, the boys in blue aren't in the postseason. Although, I'm admittedly still feeling the feels and riding the wave of joy that was our 2014 and 2015 success. However, without a team to follow in October, I have more time to . . . well, read, obviously. 

In case you're in a similar situation and/or you'd rather read baseball than watch/listen, and/or if you just can't enough baseball, and/or you want to theme your October reads to complement cheering your team, I wanted to share some amazing reads around the game.

For me, baseball has such beauty in its details. I know, I know, that might not be your jam, and the intricacies are precisely why you just can't get with the pace of play. However, there is also incredible beauty in the emotion of the game, in the dedication of fans, and in the moments and memories of it all. These books, above all else, capture that.

So here's my starting line-up (#seewhatIdidthere) of nine baseball books you should check out:

The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger is an absolutely beautiful read that will make you feel all the feels. Case and point, I just reread the ending, and I teared up. This is the friendship that forms between a boy and a baseball player. Joey struggles to fit in and find his place, and Charlie is the all-star third basemen for the New York Giants. The whole story is told through letters, news articles, school assignments, and other miscellaneous correspondence. For such a unique medium, this book invokes some kind of emotion - both ups and down. Baseball or otherwise, this is one of my favorite books of all-time.

The Silence, The Series & The Season of Sungwoo by Chris Kamler is another book that also gets me right in the feels. This book chronicles the Royals' 2014 run. If you're not familiar with life as a Royals fan, it's been rough. After the Royals 1985 World Series win, they didn't make the playoffs again until 2014. As a fan who's been on the roller coaster, this book was everything. It was all the moments I wanted to remember with the city and fans I love so much. An added gem of this season is the story of Sungwoo Lee. If you're not familiar, read this and/or watch this 30 for 30 short. Anyway, now that you've met Sungwoo, find this book. It's a wonderful retelling of what 2014 meant to a team and its fans from someone who was in the heart of it all. Clearly 2015 had a better ending for us, but the ride of 2014 will also always have a special place in our hearts.

The Night The World Turned Royal Blue by Jason Sivewright is a kid's book focused on the 2014 Royals, specifically the AL Wild Card game. Y'all, this is the game of all games. It is the most truly unbelievable game I've ever seen. Against all odds, we won. Everything about this game put the wild in wild card, and this beautifully illustrated children's book rhymes its way through the happenings. This is yet another read that causes me to get a little weepy.

The Art of Scouting: Seven Decades Chasing Hopes and Dreams in Major League Baseball by Art Stewart with Sam Mellinger explores another dimension of the game. Art Stewart has been a scout for the Kansas City Royals since the first days in 1969. These are his reflections on how he's found some of our team's best. He walks through how he's made choices, and it's fascinating stuff. The world of scouting is a lot of educated guesses on player potential, and it's interesting to see how Art has done this for so long. This one is also the story of Art as a human. He speaks with such heart on not only his love of the game, but his life. He's a true gem to have in our organization, and I loved learning more about him through this one.

So, that wraps the Royals part of the line-up. . . for now.

The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship by David Halberstam centers on the relationships of the game. The story begins in 2001 as Ted Williams in in failing health. Dominic DiMaggio (yes, he's Joe's brother) and Johnny Pesky are in their way to see their friend. The fourth of the quartet, Bobby Doerr, is unable to join them on this trip as he supports his wife who is in failing health, but he is still a central part of the story. The book focuses on the amazing Red Sox teams these men were on together and their 60+ year friendship that endured long after their playing days were through. David Halberstam (who tragically died in a car wreck in 2007 while researching a book) is one of the best sportswriters of all-time, and he is masterful at telling these stories. Yes, this is a story about one of the best that played the game (Ted Williams), but more than that, it's about the lifelong friends he found through the game.

Bottom Of The 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball's Longest Game by Dan Barry is the true story of a minor league game that once went 33 innings! This is a trek back through that game in 1981 between the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings, but it dives so much deeper than the game highlights. The author dives into the stories of the players (which includes two guys you may have heard of - Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr), as well as the fans that were in attendance. Minor league baseball is a fascinating place full of men who are grinding each day to make it to the big show, and this is such a thorough and beautiful examination of a night in this world that was truly once in a lifetime. 

The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America by Joe Posnanski is outstanding. Buck O'Neil was an incredible human - the best of the very best. He was a manager in the Negro Leagues, primarily for the Kansas City Monarchs and is an icon of the city. This book focuses on a cross-country road trip he took with Joe Posnanski (my all-time favorite sports writer) to reflect on where the game has been and where it is now. The combination of Buck's beautiful perspective and Joe's masterful writing make this book perfection. There will never be another one like Buck, and this is an incredible tribute to him and his love of the game.

The Arm: Inside the Billion Dollar Industry Of The Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan is a fascinating microhistory around a pitcher's essential tool - his arm. Pitchers are far from invincible, and that has a lot to do with one ligament. In this book, Passan sets out to look at the limits of this arm. He examines it in a variety of ways, including looking at young athletes in the game, through an exploration of all angles of the Tommy John surgery, and through the way the game is played worldwide. This book is incredibly detailed, and that is what makes it worth the read. He finds the flaws in the system in the quest to be the best with tools that have limits. The issues with the arm are clear throughout this one, but the mystery of how to fix this tiny ligament remains unclear.

Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, and the Things I'm Not Allowed to Say on TV by Joe Buck is batting ninth in this order, and it's a book I would have never thought would have made the cut. I listened to this as an audiobook (read by Joe Buck) to and from St. Louis. This was fitting given he got his start there, and his dad is the legendary announcer Jack Buck. Prior to reading this, I didn't really appreciate Joe Buck. In fact, I'd tell you he kind of got on my nerves. After this, I'm such a fan. I laughed as I listened to this, and y'all, I straight up ugly cried at parts, too. This is Joe's honest look at his sports broadcasting career. He talks about his relationship with his dad and how he followed in his footsteps, as well as just his life in general. Joe has a storytelling that is authentic, and I think the unexpected love of this one is what has made it all the more endearing to me. You may not be convinced that you can change your own attitudes toward Joe Buck, but I'd encourage you to give this one a shot to see what happens.

Oh, and some "bullpen reads" to add to your list because I obviously have more than nine baseball books to share:

  • Blue Whistler by Mickey Cobb - This is a recap of George Brett's infamous pine tar game from all angles from what pine tar is to what exactly happened from someone who was there.
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis - Before it was a movie with Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, it was a book. This is a fascinating read on how Billy Beane and the Oakland A's sought to do baseball differently.
  • Pedro by Pedro Martinez - From a childhood in the Domnican Republic to one of the greatest of all-time, Pedro reflects on life. This is a window into what the experience of a Latin baseball player is truly and authentically like.
  • Ted Williams by Leigh Montville - I consider Teddy Ballgame to be the greatest of all-time (seriously, I wrote a paper on it), and this is a brilliant read on him. 
  • The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime by Jason Turbow and Michael Duda - In addition to the written rules, baseball has a number of unwritten ones. This book looks at the "Why?" of these rules and shares moments when they've been enacted.
Have other baseball reads I should put in my on deck circle? (Y'all, I could do these baseball analogies for days!) Please share!