Baseball is Life; Life is Baseball

By Brenda Buchanan

Baseball is reassuring.

It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.

Pulitzer prize-winning poet Sharon Olds said that, and she’s right. Especially in this crazy political summer that we all know is going to get waaaaay crazier, it gives me deep comfort to turn on NESN and watch my Red Sox at the end of a long sox logo

It helps that they’re winning, with Big Papi hitting the cover off the ball in his final season and a cluster of bright young stars who not long ago ran the bases and swung for the fences at Hadlock Field in Portland. But win or lose, the Sox are my team, and have been since they almost won the World Series in 1967, when I was eight years old.

Last Sunday we made our first foray of the year to Fenway Park . It was a gray-sky day, a sharp contrast to my usual Red Sox weather karma, but we were under the grandstand behind first base, so the occasional showers didn’t matter a whit.

The view from our seats, June 5

The view from our seats, June 5

As you can see, a post blocked my view of home plate, obstructed view seats being the price we pay to watch our team play in a one-of-a-kind of a ballpark built more than a century ago. But I did have a perfect view of the pitcher, who, with the exception of Big Papi, usually is the most entertaining player on the field.

In his essay collection Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion, the great Roger Angell illustrated this truth with this sublime description of Red Sox Hall of Famer Luis Tiant, who also attended Sunday’s game:

El Tiante, in his heyday

El Tiante, in his heyday

Tiant, noted for odd pitching mannerisms, is also a famous mound dawdler. Stands on hill like sunstruck archeologist at Knossos. Regards ruins. Studies sun. Studies landscape. Looks at artifact in hand. Wonders: Keep this potsherd or throw it away? Does Smithsonian want it? Hmm. Prepares to throw it away. Pauses. Sudd. discovers writing on object. Hmm. Possible Linear B inscript.? Sighs. Decides. Throws. Wipes face. Repeats whole thing. Innings & hours creep by. Spectators clap, yawn, droop, expire.

These days a clock is supposed to keep pitchers from such antics, but the game still unfolds at a leisurely pace. Sunday’s game featured the anomaly of every hit by both teams from the first inning through the eighth being a home run, every single one of them over the Green Monster.

How often does that happen?

Going into the bottom of the ninth the Sox were down 5-1.  Then Hit!  Hit! Hit! Hit!  All of a sudden it was 5-4 and there were two guys on base and two out and (sigh) a rookie pinch hitter struck out. Final score 5-4, Toronto.

What does my devotion to the Red Sox have to do with crime writing? Did you not just read my account of the game?  It was a tutorial in suspense and a primer on human emotion. As the late Joe Garagiola, former player and play-by-play announcer, once said:

[The game of baseball is] drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast.

Former baseball commissioner and one-time president of Yale University Bart Giamatti, who knows his way around literature of the English Renaissance, made a similar observation:

Baseball is the most nourishing game outside of literature. They both are re-tellings of human experience.

The front page from the Boston Globe for the Sox three World Series championship wins--2004, 2007 and 2013. A thrill every time.

The front pages from the Boston Globe for the three World Series championship wins in 2004 (such a rush) 2007 (we did it again!) and 2013 (really?)

For those of you who may not be baseball fans, consider the words of fellow crime writer Harlan Coben. Instead of comparing baseball to writing, he compared writing to baseball:

I like to see the difference between good and evil as kind of like the foul line at a baseball game. It’s very thin, it’s made of something very flimsy like lime, and if you cross it, it really starts to blur where fair becomes foul and foul becomes fair.

Isn’t that what we do every day? Place some of our characters on the right side of the line, others on the left, and the most intriguing of them with one foot on either side?

I started this post with a poet’s words so I’ll end it with this trenchant observation by former Maine poet laureate Baron Wormser who said of the greatest game:

It’s the keenness of conflict that appeals.

True of baseball. True of crime writing.

Do you see parallels between baseball and other aspects of your life?  Who’s your team?

Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, which includes Quick Pivot, Cover Story and Truth Beat, all featuring an old school newspaper reporter with modern media savvy who covers the Maine crime beat. You can find her at online at




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30 Responses to Baseball is Life; Life is Baseball

  1. Gram says:

    Everyone says baseball is too slow. What’s wrong with that? Baseball is my game too!

  2. C.T. Collier says:

    Wonderful post, warmed my heart! Go Sox!! 🙂

  3. Wonderful…and I, too, was 8 years old in 1967, the year I first fell in love with the Red Sox. All I wanted for Christmas after that magical season was a Sox cap and a baseball bat, and I have a photo of me, showing off both.

    • I can still name the entire starting lineup for the Impossible Dream team. We had the commemorative record album also, with the song about Carl Yaztremski (the Mookie Betts of his day).

      • One of my daughters was born on Opening Day of the 1985 season, right after I finished watching the game at the hospital. She has literally been a Sox fan since birth, and at age two her best party trick was chirping out the last name of each player when we provided the first name.

      • That is such a great story! I can imagine a little girl’s voice in the call and response: Dwight – Evans! Wade – Boggs!

  4. Sennebec says:

    Great post! I have many great memories of the Red Sox and listen to them whenever they’re on the radio. Right now I’m anticipating the amateur draft so I can start following the next JBJ or Mookie right from the start.

    • I enjoy listening to games on the radio as well. That’s one of my defining memories of childhood. I love Joe Castiglione’s voice, and the new guy, Tim Neverett is easy on the ears (unlike Dave O’Brien, IMHO).

  5. Well said, Brenda! For those readers who enjoy history, mystery and baseball I’d heartily recommend exploring the Mickey Rawlings series of mysteries by Troy Soos, beginning with “Murder at Fenway Park” and most recently “The Tomb That Ruth Built”. Mickey is a veteran “utility” player in the era after WWI who plays at most of the existing ball parks of the time and meets most of the famous players, managers and owners of the day as he solves intriguing mysteries while living a romantic, though itinerant, life with his silent movie stunt woman bride. One of my all time favorite series (next to Kathy/Kaitlyn’s, of course!).

  6. Barb Ross says:

    I became a Red Sox fan by marriage. My mother had been an ardent Dodgers fan who gave up the game when the Dodgers moved to LA and my grandmother threw out her baseball cards when she went off to college. (Somewhere on the earth, the atoms that made up my mother are still annoyed at the atoms that made up my grandmother about this.)

    So I grew relatively baseball-free, until I moved to Boston. I had only the vaguest notion about baseball, and assumed it was played once a week, like football. Once I got over that shock, I got into the spirit of it. Listening to the Sox on the radio in the evening at our lakeside cottage is one of my happiest summer memories, and a visit to Fenway Park, well, what could be more special?

    • You didn’t even have to tell me Bill Carito is a Sox fan. I knew the moment I met the man. Something in his eyes.

      I love the notion that the atoms that made up your mom are still irritated at the atoms that made up your grandmother for that horrible act.

      As for listening to a game on the radio, it is a perfect way to spend a summer evening. Being forced to imagine the close plays and shoestring catches makes the game all the sweeter, I think.

  7. Dick Cass says:

    Sweet . . speaking as the boy who once forged Carl Yastrzemski’s name on a foul ball and tried to sell it out on Landsdowne Street. The thing I love most about baseball is possibility: every pitch respins the wheel to a different set of possibilities.

    Thanks, Brenda!

  8. David Plimpton says:

    Thank you, Brenda, for the inspiration and path to escape craziness.

    I can’t say I’m much of a Red Sox fan, though my children and grandchildren are fanatics. I became a Cubs fan after my father transported me from the corn fields of Green Valley, Illinois to a 1950 Wrigley Field game, an almost religious experience, watching Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Bums (Dodgers) beat the Cubs 1-0.

    Which is one reason I thoroughly enjoyed Don DeLillo’s 1997 novel, “Underworld”, opening with the 1951 game where Bobby Thomson’s home run, known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, wins the National League pennant for the NY Giants. If you haven’t read it, the story follows the years-later possession of the baseball from one person to the next, with variuos plot lines. In real life the ball has supposedly never been found.

    • I love baseball books, David, and will add this to my (ever longer) list.

      You must have read Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights in August. I know it’s told through LaRussa’s POV, but your Cubbbies are an enormous part of the drama.

  9. Skye says:

    Wonderful analogy. I happen to feel the same and find myself watching the MLB every night , or at least when the Phillies are playing. There is something soothing and so American and redolent of my childhood and past when life was far more easier and less convoluted.

    • That really captures it, Skye. BTW, my sister in law is a Phillies fan and we speak often, so I am quite up-to-date on their season as well. Good pitching, need some bats, eh?

      • Skye says:

        The Phillies are having a grand season: Many new players, and a new coach, so they are all learning as they play. Yes, Hernandez and another young guy are doing GREAT pitching. The Phils need to work on their outfield a little, but all in all, it’s a great start. BTW, the Red Sox are doing well, but watching them play, I am enthralled by their theatricals.

      • Me, too!

  10. Amber Foxx says:

    Great post. Thanks, from a fellow Sox fan.

  11. dragons3 says:

    I love baseball! I grew up about 100 miles from Cincinnati, and some of my earliest memories are attending baseball games at Crosley field. I’m still a die hard Reds fan, although they’re abysmal this year. Alison Gordon wrote a series of baseball centered mysteries featuring a female sports reporter, in, I think, Toronto (it’s been a long time since I read the books).

  12. Janice Asher says:

    The world of baseball is lucky to have crime writer Brenda Buchanan as such an eloquent fan!

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