Stealing Bases & Writing Crime


Baseball and crime writing? Trust me, I’m not coming out of left field with this blog post.

Spring training has started and as a Red Sox fan I’m pretty excited about my team’s prospects. The Sox have a new manager and some great players. The new season is like starting to write a new book. It’s a time of optimism and fresh ideas. “Batter up” I think to myself every time I sit down to write.

As a writer of crime and thriller novels, I can’t help but see the parallels between a good crime novel and a baseball game. Can the phrases “stealing a base” and ‘stealing signs” merely be coincidences? How about Curt Schilling’s bloody sock in the  2004 Series? Or Dwight Evans memorable catch in the 1975 World Series, stealing a home run off Joe Morgan and winning game six? Love it when a new pitcher “comes out of the pen.” There’s even a “three strikes” law that puts criminals away for life. And let’s not forget that the dreaded Yankees wear pinstripes (Boooooo!).

Writing a novel is a lot like a baseball game in many respects. Both have set parameters. My novels tend to run between 100 and 120 thousand words. A baseball game is nine innings and has no set time, although there’s extra innings if the game is tied in the ninth. In both, it’s crucial to get off to a good start. In both, it’s important to keep the pressure on in the middle, whether that be a compelling subplot or putting in a competent middle reliever or pinch runner. Then you have to finish strong. In baseball that means clutch hitting and solid defense combined with a shutdown closer. The crime novelist, as well, needs to round all the bases and write a killer ending that provides closure for the reader. Sometimes the ballgame goes into extra innings, just as sometimes the author needs to add more scenes to adequately wrap everything up for the reader’s benefit.

The goal for us writers when we start a novel is to “hit it out of the park.” Is it any wonder why baseball and literature are so tightly entwined? Or why the Red Sox are so near and to many writers hearts? Robert Parker’s Spenser was a big Red Sox fan. Authors past and present loved the Sox including Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Updike and Steven King. In fact, King wrote a novel called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It’s about a girl who gets lost in the woods and survives by thinking about her favorite Red Sox pitcher.

Fenway Park is an iconic landmark and shown in many Hollywood dramas. I even used it as a setting in one of my earlier horror novels, when I was writing in that genre. My favorite scene in the movie The Town, based on Chuck Hogan’s crime novel, Prince of Thieves, takes place in Fenway Park. Ben Affleck’s character and his gang pull off the heist of a lifetime when they sneak into Fenway Park dressed as Boston cops, and manage to make their way into the cash room, stealing millions.

A new year for the Red Sox brings with it much optimism and hope for a winning season. Just as the Sox hope to have a great year—and crush the dreaded Yankees—so are all of us crime writers. As the Sox open the season in April, I too will step up to the plate with my new thriller, THE NEIGHBOR (coming April 24). Hope you can check it out and let me know if I hit out of the park with this one. Here’s the link to check it out.

Now Play Ball!

About joesouza

I am a writer of crime novels
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6 Responses to Stealing Bases & Writing Crime

  1. Michael Tobin says:

    … given recent scandals encompassing the sports world, one would have plenty of material for a killer book – gone are the days of America’s favorite past time, free of drama – we now spend more time seeing who abused who, who injected themselves with what, who deflated this or cheated with that… the current wide world of sports has “crime“ written all over it – start writing, this subject has foul written all over it and is sure to be a home run book!

  2. joesouza says:

    Very true, Michael. Thanks for your input!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m a loooong time Sox fan. This year, I’m going to take the first third of the season with a grain of salt…Last couple years still sting.

  4. David Plimpton says:

    Good analogies, parallels and “plays” on words. Best of luck with “The Neighbor.” I look forward to checking it out when it launches.

    My favorite sports in the respect you discuss are basketball and horse racing. Nothing against baseball, which is definitely an excellent thinking man’s game, if you have the time, but I’m speaking of the crime novel pacing aspect.

    I actually compared baseball to horse racing in this respect in a published story I wrote about my mother, “Lessons from a Horseplayer”, starting out with the perspective of a 15 year old kid dragged (but not kicking and screaming) to the races at Belmont with his mother:

    “The place had more excitement going on than the few major league baseball parks I’d visited, where fans dozed off while the pitcher sampled the catcher’s entire repertoire of signals before acquiescing to uncork an offering to the twitching batter. I remembered very few exciting plays, while at the track, clerks waved around twenty-dollar bills every half hour; all you had to do to snag one was slap down two bucks to win on a 10-1 shot and have some luck.
    Belmont’s many-pronged sensory overload engulfed me: a purposeful mob’s press and roar, green, blue, yellow, red, purple, orange, brown, black and white jockey outfits, magnificent horses thundering down the stretch, an electric buzz as post time approached, alluring and poised females, and the sniff of hotdogs, cigars, beer and perfume.”

    • joesouza says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, David. I suppose it depends on the type of crime novel. Some mysteries are slow and deliberate, creating a smoldering mood leading up to the final act. Others are pop-bang barn burners more akin to football, hockey or basketball. I love baseball so I guess I was having fun with it. My father loves horse racing but I could never get into it. Too long between races.To each his own.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

  5. ambfoxx says:

    This Red Sox fan and writer enjoyed every word. It occurred to me that baseball has a sort of protagonist/antagonist structure, pitcher vs. batter, as well as team vs. team competition.

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