George Plimpton once famously wrote, “The smaller the ball used in the sport, the better the writing.” Golf writers love this, but baseball isn’t far behind. If you’re looking for a good baseball book to pass the time during this particularly slow and hot summer, I’ve got two to endorse: The Wax Pack by Brad Balukjian and The Cactus League by Emily Nemmns.
Balukjian’s book has one of the best devices I’ve ever come across in sportswriting: he opens a pack of Topps baseball cards from 1986, then sets off on a road trip to find every player contained in the pack. Nemens’ book is fiction, set in spring training, ostensibly about one All Star player’s struggles, but told through a series of convergent character stories. Different, yes, but both books capture much about what makes the game such a powerful metaphor for life: the passage of time, the pursuit of greatness, the acceptance of mundanity, relationships of all sorts, the convergence of the personal with the universal. Balukjian’s narrative is excellent, his moments of serendipity border on fantasy (but are all real); Nemens’ story is equally great, her characters wonderfully developed (even if they don’t appear for too long), her baseball world is achingly familiar (even though it’s not real). Both are certainly treats for the baseball folks, but I think they are both good enough to satisfy those of us who can’t bear the thought of sitting through 9 innings.
Both books should be pretty easy to track down, but maybe you’ll consider supporting an independent bookstore via Indiebound? Like the national pastime, these stores are part of us, and it would be great to help them navigate the economic downturn.