As I doubt many of you are aware, except those privileged few who knew me in my formative teen years (I had really awesome hair), I was for a time the player manager of my high school’s baseball team. I’d like to say that this was because of some great love of the game, but it was really motivated by a) my desire to leave class early b) my desire to flirt with baseball players and c) my desperate need to convince the coach—who was also my physics teacher—that despite all grade-related evidence to the contrary, I actually did have a vague understanding of things like “force” and “gravity.” (Or, is gravity a type of force? I seriously almost failed physics, guys.)
Anyway, in spite of my ulterior motives, over the course of my managership I acquired two things: 1) the Richard Montgomery High School Baseball sweatshirt that I now honor daily by wearing it to watch TV, and 2) a solid appreciation for the sport (which is fortunate, since I ultimately moved to a city with a borderline maniacal love of it.)
To the unaccustomed eye, baseball is, let’s be honest, slow, and full of the kind of nuance that sports like hockey and basketball eschew. It’s a game that seems equally focused on the team and the individual—how do concepts like sacrifice and error exist in the same game?—and, perhaps most importantly, it involves men wearing hilarious pants. But there’s something elegant in baseball that you don’t really get out of watching 300-pound dudes run directly into each other. Baseball’s got mad panache.
I also love professional baseball because it’s splendidly American, and not just in the pastime sort of way. The salaries are exorbitant, the beers are overpriced, and literally everything in the game—from the first home run to the seventh-inning stretch—is sponsored to within an inch of its life. It’s kind of amazing to sit in the stands of a modern ballpark: The same old teams wearing the same old uniforms playing the same old game, only now surrounded by noise-o-meters, jumbotrons and $10 hot dogs. It’s like baseball is simultaneously American and ‘Merican.
Anyway, given all of the above, it should come as little surprise to you all that I truly enjoyed The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach’s debut novel about, duh, baseball. Kind of. The Art of Fielding is about baseball like Lord of the Flies is about islands, or Animal Farm is about animals. Which isn’t to say that the sport is an allegory—though it may very well be; I’m as good with allegories as I am with physics—just that baseball is the backdrop to an ensemble cast of characters with a wealth of non-baseball-related problems.