Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The wisdom of Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" -- without pounding that Budweiser.

Photo credit

Ostensibly, this post is about baseball and beer, although I will not be approaching it from the angle of "craft at the ballpark," because I simply cannot muster the interest necessary to dissect the inept beer presentation of the Louisville Bats for a 21st consecutive year.

For all I know, it may have gotten better this year; if so, I'm sure it is an accident.

Rather, as I've reminded readers so often in the past, one does not live on IBUs alone. There must be cross-disciplinary associations, sometimes providing reinforcement, and often suggesting new perspectives.

Or, you can have a Bud Light.

Like the writer Seth Magalaner, I also read Ball Four around the year 1970, when I was 10 years old. It may have been 1971, because my copy was a paperback, generally released only after the publisher had profited sufficiently from the opening hardbound release.

It made a deep and abiding impression. In this review of sorts from 2009, Magalaner hits me right where I'm living these days.

Ball Four endures on strength of its characters, by Seth Magalaner (Hardball Cooperative)

I first read Ball Four in 1970, the year of its publication, when I was 10. In the years since, I have kept a copy fairly constantly on my bedside table; every few months I’ll usually pick it up and read some passages at random, the way a man of faith might refresh himself with a periodic dip into scripture. OK, I will not go so far as to suggest that Ball Four is a sacred text. But unlike virtually any other sports book I can name, it compels and rewards re-reading. Why?

Why? I'll be 55 on Monday, I'm running for mayor of New Albany, and in terms of my consciousness as it pertains to thirty-odd years in the beer trade ... well, I'm "fending off professional mortality, and re-defining (myself) in relation to (my) vocation and avocation."

For me, it’s because Bouton’s baseball diary stands in the classic line of great coming-of-age books, or perhaps more accurately, coming-of-consciousness books. He’s an archetypal comic hero, negotiating experience with a mixture of exhilaration and anxiety, and an acute, intuitive sense of both what he possesses and what he is missing. What makes this so poignant—and so resonant for readers of all ages—is that he’s outgrowing baseball’s acquiescent, adolescent mindset, fending off professional mortality, and re-defining himself in relation to his vocation and avocation, all at the same time. He’s Huck Finn, Yossarian, and Frank Bascombe stuffed into a single uniform. (With a dollop of Stephen Dedalus for good measure, as he struggles to master the sublime and ridiculous art of the knuckleball in the sweaty smithy of the bullpen. It’s easy to imagine a tonsured, Bud-soaked Joe Schultz grabbing his crotch and saying “Well, forge this.”).

Very eloquent.

Actually, I'm feeling stronger every day. Let's see where this goes.

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