Tag Archives: baseball

WATCHING BASEBALL SMARTER by Zack Hample

In the last few years, I have become increasingly obsessed with baseball. I love it, but I am definitely an amateur in terms of my understanding of the game. I’ve come to appreciate that baseball is played on many simultaneous levels. There’s the simple movement of the players through the bases, and the strikes and balls and outs. But there’s also strategy in the pitches, the communication between the catchers and pitcher, the simple act of rubbing dirt onto a ball before throwing it. There’s strategy around quick decisions, like where a second baseman steps on base when he has a runner sliding in. There’s a world of statistics to measure every aspect of a player’s performance. There are rule changes and weird stadiums and gestures and a whole vocabulary of baseball terms that you need to know to really understand the game.

Thanks to Zack Hample’s Watching Baseball Smarter, I have a much better appreciation for the game. His book is readable, entertaining, and full of information about baseball, from umpires and pitchers to fielders, hitting, stadiums and stats. I didn’t understand everything in the book (the anatomy of pitches seems to be outside my grasp), but I followed most of it, and retained quite a bit. I’ve been watching some 2016 pre-season games, and I already see a big difference in how I watch and what I notice.

A few caveats:

  • Watching Baseball Smarter is probably too basic for the “deeply serious geeks and semi-experts” the subhead suggests that it’s for. For someone like me, it was perfect. It reinforced what I already knew and introduced me to a lot that I didn’t.
  • It’s outdated. It was written in 2007 and could use an update.
  • There are a lot of baseball terms that Hample uses throughout the book but only defines in the glossary. This can be annoying, because you have to keep flipping back and forth to the glossary as you’re reading.
  • There is a lot of information here. Sometimes it can be a bit much to absorb.

I am glad to have read Watching Baseball Smarter and plan to keep it on hand to refer to as the season evolves. I recommend it for casual baseball fans like me who want to take their viewing to the next level. I’m going to give it to my 11 year-old daughter to read next, and I think she’ll enjoy it too. Maybe you have a fan in your life who would enjoy this resource as well?

THE GRIND by Barry Svrluga

If you don’t like baseball, stop reading right now.

The Grind, by Washington Post sports reporter Barry Svrluga, is a collection of long articles about the 162-game baseball season, told through the prism of the Washington Nationals. The book opens in winter 2014 with an article about The Veteran, a longtime baseball player getting ready to start spring training. It then moves to The Wife, a chapter about what it’s like to try to raise a family when you’re married to a baseball player who is on the road so much of the year. Other chapters are devoted to baseball scouts, starting pitchers, the players who go back and forth from the majors to the minors, the players who seem to hold the team together, the guys who are in charge of getting all the players and equipment where they need to be (and so much more), relief pitchers and general managers. The book roughly covers the chronology of one year in the life of the baseball team, from winter 2014 to winter 2015.

If you’re a baseball fan, The Grind is a great read, and if you’re a Washington Nationals fan, The Grind is a must-read.

I have always enjoyed going to baseball games, and I’ve been a Nats fan since they came to DC, but in recent years I have become pretty much obsessed with the game and the Nats. I can’t get enough of them. So I loved reading The Grind. I got a lot of behind-the-scenes information, which I have always craved, and I loved hearing the different perspectives of the people that make up the team, even beyond players. I also came away with a new appreciation for the drudgery of the season. Yes, the players make it look fun, and it’s certainly an enviable career in so many ways – most make a ton of money doing something fun. But there are a lot of challenges, and it’s hard to stay focused and in shape for that many days on end, especially if you’re losing.

I loved The Grind. If you’ve read this far, you probably will too. Svrluga’s writing flows nicely and his journalistic style is perfect for the subject.

Svrluga was at Politics & Prose for a Q&A a few weeks ago. I was planning to write up the Q&A here, but it’s very Nats-focused so it might not have a wide appeal to this audience. 🙂 Suffice it to say, it was a packed house and it went on well beyond the allotted hour. People have a lot to say about baseball!

THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach

I may have been the last person on the planet to read The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, but I finally did. The 500+ page book slowed me down quite a bit this month. Unlike most people who have read it, I liked it, but didn’t love it.

The Art of Fielding revolves around a baseball team at a fictional Wisconsin liberal arts college. The main characters are Henry Skrimshander, a baseball phenomenon from South Dakota who is headed to the majors (or is he?); Mike Schwartz, the team’s captain; Owen Dunne, Henry’s room- and teammate; Guert Affenlight, the college’s president; and Pella Affenlight, the president’s daughter. There is a fair amount of baseball in the book – which I liked – but not enough to turn off non-baseball fans.

Ultimately, The Art of Fielding is about relationships and how loyalty can be tested and proven over the course of challenges and setbacks. It is also about coming to terms with who you are, especially when you turn out to be someone different from who you thought. People bill it as a coming-of-age novel, but I didn’t really see it that way. College was more of a backdrop for the story than a meaningful setting that guided the plot, and one of the main characters is in his 60s. It’s really about a pivotal year in the lives of five people and how they were challenged and tried to figure out where and how they fit in.

People have been raving about The Art of Fielding ever since it came out. I don’t quite understand why. The writing is quite good, and Harbach is very clever with his turns of phrase. But overall I found the book pretty slow. I had no problem putting it down. I found some of the dialogue and details to be implausible, and I kept asking, “Don’t these characters interact with ANYONE other than the other four?”  I was moved by some of the characters’ predicaments, but I was also frustrated by how they chose to deal with their situations. It was an interesting story, but I think it fell flat. In the end, this book just didn’t do it for me the way it did it for others.

The reviews are so overwhelmingly positive for The Art of Fielding that I urge you not to rely on my opinion on this one. Give it a try, if you’re one of the few who hasn’t already.