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 day.
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.
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:
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.
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 http://www.brendabuchananwrites.com