Talkin’ (re: Reading) Baseball

Ever since I heard of its release, I have wanted to read Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty.  In fact, there are tons of baseball books I want to read but I never make the time to do so.

The 2017 season will be different.

Since I was laid up for a week after knee surgery on May 23, I have torn through four books and am two-thirds of the way through a fifth.  I began with Molina, visited the animals at The Bronx Zoo, cringed at the Yips of a Phenom and rode the busses for a year with Baseball Gospels.  Currently I am avoiding bar fights with David Wells.

First I need to talk about Molina.

molinaTremendous.  Absolutely, positively tremendous.  A book where the heart of baseball, and how baseball was the heart of a lovely family, are beautifully intertwined.

Well written and difficult to put down, Molina’s book is a delightful, and at times emotional, story.  And although our pastime seemed like it was the center of it all, it wasn’t.  A love story, in fact, was.  It was one I felt I could relate to but on a significantly smaller scale.

Bengie, his Dad, his Mom, his brothers, his girls.  It’s a love story of a family in Puerto Rico.  It’s a love story on a workhorse of a baseball diamond, across the street from house he grew up in.  This is not a breakdown of game after game in his career.  In fact, one thing that impressed the heck out of me was the part about winning his first World Series.  Sure it was there, but it didn’t seem much more than a footnote.  Probably because as amazing an experience that was for him, his family was always #1 with him.  I loved that.  I loved that winning the WS was no more than three pages.  But dealing with significant lessons in life regarding his father?  So very many.  I will be forever happy Molina allowed us into his heart, the dugout and his life and equally as happy I finally took the time to read it.  I  hope every baseball fan I know, who appreciates the game and family, follows suit.

Lyle_editedI followed up with The Bronx Zoo and reminisced about my childhood Yankee teams that won the ’77 and ’78 World Series’.  So much fun.  I can see how this was a groundbreaking book in its time.  Plus, when you consider its author and Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle was a childhood favorite of mine and a bit of a local hero (Somerset Patriots), how could I not?

Next up, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by pitcher-turn-centerfielder Rick Ankeil.  I listened to this audiobook.  That may not have been the best approach but let me begin with the positives.  I was a fan of Ankeil when he came up and followed his first year closely (he was on my fantasy team).

ankeilWhen Game 1 of the playoffs against the Braves saw him throw five wild pitches in one inning, the baseball world witnessed something it does not normally see … especially from such a young kid with an expectedly amazing career on the mound.  The guy got the yips and in short, ended his pitching career.

But the reason I bought the book was not because of that day against the Braves.  It is because I have always been fascinated and in awe of Ankeil’s resilience to make it back to the Bigs.  It is an amazing story, one worth having a book written about it.  I am glad he is letting baseball fans like me know the depth of his difficulties with the yips, the monster, the thing and make it back to a successful baseball career.  But if I am being honest, the writing lacked some and although Rick has a cannon for an arm and a nice swing of the bat, that doesn’t translate to an enjoyable and/or engaging audio narration.  But damn, what a story.

haystackThen, I took a friend’s recommendation of Dirk Hayhurst’s books of life in the minors.  I picked up The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran and laughed from start to finish.  I tore through it.  It was, by far, the single funniest baseball book I have ever read.  Even funnier than Jay Johnstone’s Temporary Insanity … and that was damn funny!  Hayhurst has written three more books since then and I am sure I will read them too; I just have a few other books in front of it.

One of which is Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches, and Baseball by David Wells.

WellsTwo thirds of the way through it and I will tell you this.  Imagine yourself in a bar, throwing back mugs of beer and shots and sitting at a table with Wells.  He tells you one baseball story after another not giving a damn who is listening.  That is this book.  It has its fair share of mundane descriptions of some games, et al.  That said, it is hard to read a baseball book without it (although Molina did an exceptional job of that).

Next on the nightstand after Boomer?

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein and The 33-Year-Old Rookie: How I Finally Made it to the Big Leagues After Eleven Years in the Minors by Chris Coste

I do love this game. Can ya tell?

Arthur Pepper Stands on His Own

With his beloved Miriam 12 months removed from this life and on to the next, Arthur Pepper discovers a charm bracelet he has never seen before and thus his adventure begins.

I will admit as much as I enjoyed this book – and I did, very much – there were times I found it predictable,  I also found no harm or foul in that.  Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt and sometimes it has its place.  

I would, however, gently caution you with one thing…and this is NOT a spoiler.  When TheCuriousCharmsofArthurPepper-USAcover.jpgothers make comparisons to books like A Man Called Ove, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk or the heartbreakingly beautiful novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, it is my opinion that they shouldn’t.  I will tell you they have two things in common, which are.  (1) It is a story of someone in the autumn of their years and (2) our protagonist is a beautiful human being.

But they are different.  Ove is not Harold, nor are Lillian and Grandpa anything alike.  Same goes for Arthur.  They are all their own people, with their own set of circumstances, with their own sense of humor and troubles and family.  Outside the two similarities I noted, I think that’s about it.  

My point?  The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper stands on its own.  The book’s author is Phaedra Patrick and this is her debut novel.

A small confession on my part, I have found after reading this I seem to be drawn to books about those who are in the twilight of their years.  Books like the ones I mentioned above always seem to occupy that same spot in my heart, and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper was no exception.

The short story is this: A year after a man in his late 60s has buried his wife of 40 years he comes across a charm bracelet of hers he had never seen before.  One charm leads to the next in its own way, providing vague/eerie/cryptic clues to a life before Arthur and Miriam became Arthur and Miriam.

I loved Arthur immediately.  Then I found I loved  his spirit and break from the routine as I got to know him.   I warmed at his patience in listening to others regale him with stories of this woman he spent the better part of his life with; this woman he thought he knew. This woman, the love of his life, who lived a life he never knew.

That may have been my favorite part of the book, his emotional growth.  Watching him separate himself from whom he has always been.  He became inspired by the memory of his wife.  Even at times when he seemed hesitant in wanting to know her history, he pushed to learn it anyway.  I think that was hard for him.   When he made those decisions it was if his own personal feelings no longer mattered.   Knowing more of his beloved Miriam was what he wanted  There was love, deep love, that persuaded him to reach further, and dig deeper.  I admired that in him.  He might be a bit of a stronger man than I, if I am being truthful.

A Book Group Discussion question I found asked if I were bereaved after a long marriage would I devise strategies and routines just to get through the day?  I singled out this question because I wondered the same thing as I was reading the book.

The answer is an indisputable yes.  I have already spent nearly eight years with Stacy and I have never known happiness like this in my first 40 years of living.  Give me 40 years hence with this same woman, growing together in love, friendship and companionship at the same pace we have been going at, then yes, I would lock myself away in my house too.  Like Arthur, I too would behind curtains when someone knocks at the door.  

Arthur Pepper is a fine man.  The spirit and sense of adventure his Miriam lived with as a younger woman is akin to what I see Arthur doing today in his later years.  If he is blessed to get a few experiences of travelling and adventure of his own, then all the better.  At least this way, when called to meet his maker, Arthur and Miriam will have no shortage of new topics to discuss over tea.

Dear Me, Get Outta My Way. Love, Me

Writing about a self-help book is an awkward experience.  I am exposing my own weaknesses online, while it is also terribly subjective.

Nevertheless, I found Resisting Happiness to run both hot, and cold.  But since I only care about positives, that’s what my focus will be on.  Written by Matthew Kelly, Resisting Happiness made me stop, and truly think, of how I live my life.

First as a man who believes in God, and next as a Catholic who could use a little work at his practice of faith.

But it wasn’t until I became acutely aware how much I need to put more stock in myself, and less in the expectations of others, that this book had its biggest impact on me.  Basically, I need to become a better version of myself.

This Catholic-based self-help book was a recommendation from a friend of my fiancée and mine. In her text, she sent a picture of her copy with nearly 90+ sheets dog-eared.  The book is 186 pages, people.  She was diggin’ it.

I gave it a go and enjoyed it, too.  In the interest of brevity, I will bullet point my favorite thoughts.  Some triggered an internal “OMG, yes!” and, others serving as gentle reminders.

  1. Everyone I meet is fighting a hard battle.  Be kind to them.
  2. Be gentle with ourselves.  If we cannot forgive ourselves, we will struggle to forgive others.  When we are gentle and patient with ourselves, we develop awareness, and awareness breeds compassion.  Everyone needs a little compassion.
  3. Take note of the moments when I was challenged to grow.  Be mindful of the decisions I made which left me in need of healing (this one is harder than it looks to me).
  4. Thy will be done.  I would pretty much call this an absolute imperative if I want to be better at the Catholic thing.
  5. It only takes 10 minutes a day to pray.
  6. Our lives change when our habits change.
  7. Wherever we find excellence, we find continuous learning.
  8. How many Sundays do I have left?  With the average life expectancy of 78.74 years, I have 1,536 left.  Life is short.  Never waste a day – Sunday or any other.
  9. Any type of inner slavery limits our ability to love ourselves, to love our God, and to love others.
  10. Delay gratification.   All of life’s regrets come from not having the discipline to overcome resistance and delay gratification in order to build a bigger future.

Additionally, I was influenced by the things people wished they had done when they learned they were dying.  He gives us 24, but there were only five that hit me hardest.

  • I wish I had paid less attention to other people’s expectations
  • I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying about things that never happened
  • I wish I had cared less about what other people thought
  • I wish I had realized earlier that happiness is a choice
  • I wish I had taken better care of myself

Don’t get the wrong idea here.  I am not about to light an incense candle and dive impetuously into the glory and beauty of life and make a hundred changes.  What it does mean, however, is that as a man in his 40’s I can now have a deeper appreciation of those regrets.  It means that I have learned, once again, that I need to be patient with myself.  Lord knows, I need to not be as hard on myself as I am.  Possibly kinder?  Maybe more aware?  Then who knows what the future will hold.  Maybe this wonderfully blessed life of mine can become even better over time …

… provided I get out of my own way, and no longer resist my own happiness.

The Winter in Anna: Dark. Painful. Beautifully Written.

To be drawn into a well-written story is the very reason I read books.  To read fiction and believe it as nonfiction.

The Winter in Anna was one of those well written stories.

I will tell you, I shudder to think of the dark places author Reed Karaim had to go in order write this book.  Yikes.

You see, on page one in paragraph one Anna commits suicide in a manner I would have never imagined.  I literally needed to step away from the book before turning to page two.  Yes, the shock of the act was part of it, but what was most dominant was the sorrow that washed over me.

Her death was horrible.

Why choose that way?

My God, how painful!

Then 256 pages later, there was closure, and understanding.

*                      *                      *

TheWinterinAnnaImageAnna.  This beautiful and unspeakably pained woman.  How my heart hurt for her and yet how many times I admired her, all at the same time.

Karaim wastes no time in showing us Anna is a woman of many scars – physical and emotional.   As dark as this may sound, his ability to take that pain and show its evolutionary process over the years was something I really enjoyed about his writing.

She struggled from her teenage years until she decided to die, but her role as mother, and the responsibility of giving her children the life they deserved was a relentless pursuit of hers. At least, that is my opinion.  I’m sure one can make an argument to the contrary, but all in all she adored, and did all she could, for those kids of hers.

Our narrator is Eric. He tells us of Anna’s suicide, shortly after he learns about it himself.  For the next 250+ pages, he recalls his time in getting to know her, or rather, as much as she would permit him to know.  When she would close the emotional door on him, he told us more of himself.

I have to tell you, when we see Eric as a 20/21-year-old kid, he isn’t very likable.  Not at all.  Furthermore, I don’t think he realizes it.  Today, it is a mature Eric that tells us this story and I found him very easy to like.  He grew into a good man.  I have a sneaking suspicion that was the author’s intent.

When the time came to close the book, and the story had been told, I wanted to know them both.

I wanted to visit Anna’s final resting place.  To sit with her, pray she found peace, and trace the outline of her headstone (similar to that day she and Eric visited the cemetery).

On the other hand, the testosterone driven part of me wanted to save her.  To locate the nearest phone booth, change into my cape and fly into that woeful motel room.  I would swoop in and whisk her away.  Fly her off to paradise … or Bismarck, ND … either/or… just somewhere else, with the hope she will find reason to live for another day, week, month, year …

But the main problem with the latter is this: “Who am I to interfere with someone’s decision on life or death?”

No one.  Besides, I can’t fly.  Therefore, it’s moot, and I remain on the outside looking in.

I do not want this to sound like I am giving her suicide a shrug of the shoulders and call her a victim, though.  The decisions Anna made in her life were her own.  She is responsible for her life.  But I will also tell you there were a number of circumstances that were not her doing that had a serious impact on her well being.  I think it is how we react to tragedy – and all of life’s events – that serves as the chisel, which carves the sculpture of who we are to become over the years.

You can argue she should have been a better mother, but I would contend she did put the kids first.  There were times that may have been a significant challenge but she took responsibility for herself as a mother.

My fiancé is reading this now and so far her reaction is markedly different from mine.  Only halfway through, it has not gripped her yet.  This is equal parts surprising and interesting to me because we are usually on the same page when it comes to books.  We like and dislike the same ones.  But every now and again one comes along, and we differ.  I very much look forward to her finishing. I want to see if her opinion changes.  I want to talk at length about the book I enjoyed so much.

I reckon that is the telltale sign of a good book, don’t you?  The kind that stays with you days after you have finished it?  The kind you cannot wait to talk to others about ad nauseam.

I’d say so about The Winter in Anna.

This is the second book by Reed Karaim.

Words I learned while reading:  As I have said in a previous blog, one of my favorite parts of reading is constantly learning words I have either (a) never heard before (b) words I have heard and possess only a vague understanding of and (c) words I thought I knew but discovered I didn’t.  Here is the contribution that I received from Reed Karaim’s The Winter in Anna.

Furtive – attempting to avoid notice or attention, typically because of guilt or a belief that discovery would lead to trouble; secretive.  Prow – the forward most part of a ship’s bow that cuts through the water.  Desiccated – lacking interest, passion, or energy AND dehydrated or powdered.  Profligacy [prof-li-guh-see] – a noun meaning reckless extravagance or wastefulness in the use of resources.  Archipelago* [ahr-kuh-pel-uh-goh] a large group or chain of islands or any large body of water with many islands.   Chasm* – an adjective that is a profound difference between people, viewpoints, feelings, etc.  It can also mean a sundering breach in relations, as a divergence of opinions, beliefs, etc., between persons or groups.  Obsidian – a hard, dark, glass-like volcanic rock formed by the rapid solidification of lava without crystallization.  Somnolent – sleepy, drowsy.  Torpor – a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. Torpor enables animals to survive periods of reduced food availability.  Photogravure /fōdəɡrəˈvyo͝or/ – an image produced from a photographic negative transferred to a metal plate and etched in from which ink reproductions are made.  Staccato – with each sound or note sharply detached or separated from the others.  Scimitar /ˈsimədər,ˈsiməˌtär/ a short sword with a curved blade that broadens toward the point, used originally in Eastern countries.  Crenellation – a pattern along the top of a parapet (fortified wall), most often in the form of multiple, regular, rectangular spaces in the top of the wall, through which arrows or other weaponry may be shot, especially as used in medieval European architecture.  Phantasmagorical [fan-taz-muh-gawr-ik, -gor-] (sometimes phantasmagorical) having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination.  Sere dry; withered.

Come to Think of it, I Walked *Ten* Miles in Her Shoes …

Lillian Boxfish goes for a walk through New York City, New Years Eve, 1984.

That’s it.

Years ago I read and loved the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry so when I first heard of this book my line of thinking was, well, maybe this might fall into that category of storytelling.

All in all it seems to me a pretty simple idea.

But, it’s not simple.  It is far from simple.  It is moving and it is fun and it is sweet and it is heartbreaking and it is witty and above all – like our protagonist – it is very very smart.

This is a beautiful, multilayered journey that covers two miles and 84 (85 if we are being honest) years of the life of an extraordinary woman who – for the most part – lived a full and marvelous life.

lillianboxfishbookcoverHer name is Lillian Boxfish and in the 1930’s she was the highest paid ad-writing female in America.  She met someone, fell in love, got married, and got pregnant.  Conventional thinking of the times would have you believe that is the proper order of life.  It was expected.  What was also expected was a woman leaving her job to become a mother regardless of successes, status and/or income.  Sure, she continued to write poetry, advertising copy, greeting cards, four line limericks leaving the fifth to be decided by readers and a magazine’s editor.  But in the 1930’s and 40’s a woman’s place was in the home raising her children.

Lillian was so much more than “just a mother,” and I use the word “just” with consternation as there is likely no greater role on this earth than that of a loving parent.

But Lillian was so much more than a stay at home Mom.  Hell, she was so much more than most.

My God, she was beautiful and to this day I still have no true idea of what she looks like.  Author Kathleen Rooney may have described her appearance early on but for one reason or another, it escapes me.  It is not important anyway, because all I see when I close my eyes and think of Lillian Boxfish is a brilliant, sharp witted, curious, open minded, willing and at times, a troubled soul with whom I would love to have a glass of wine with….or a bottle.

She, like all amazingly beautiful people, has a multitude of flaws.  I will not give anything away, of course, but suffice it to say there was a period in her life when she came face-to-face with a bleak moment.  As much of an impact as that time was, and how it continued to construct the person she was to become years after, she never lost that way about her.  By that, I mean there was this way where she would give you reasons to never forget her.

She was – she is – memorable.

We found this to be true in several instances.  Along this two-mile walk we meet bohemians and store clerks, chauffeurs and artists, parents-to-be and a Vietnam vet security guard; a welcoming family at dinner and a scene with three criminal’s that may be the book’s funniest moment.

Oh, I assure you, Lillian Boxfish’s walk in New York City may seem simple from the outset, and book summary, but it is far from it … unless you want to say it is simply lovely.  Then you would be within your rights to use an alternate form of the word.  From the time you first crack the binding open, to the moment you close the book, press it against your chest, breathe in deep, wrap your arms around it, you will find yourself so very pleases you have met, and spent this New Year’s Eve with, the remarkable – the oh so very memorable – Lillian Boxfish.

So I say buy this book.  Support this author.  This is the very reason why we read books and Lillian is someone you will want to get to know.

She is, simply, lovely.

Words I learned while reading:    One of my favorite parts of reading is constantly learning words I have either (a) never heard before (b) words I have heard and possess only a vague understanding of their meaning based on the context in which they’ve been written and (c) the most frustrating of the lot – the words I know I know the meaning of until I actually look them up to ensure I am correct only to learn I misunderstood it’s true meaning.  That last lot have an * beside them.   Here is the contribution that I received from Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

Contralto – the lowest female singing voice   –   Vanitas – a still-life painting of a 17th-century Dutch genre containing symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability   –   Insouciance * (inˈso͞osēəns,) – casual lack of concern; indifference.    –   Stentorian – (of a person’s voice) loud and powerful.    –   Enjambments – (in verse) the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, couplet, or stanza.   –   Housmanian – reference to an English classical scholar and poet.    –   Unfraught – not burdened.    –   Egalitarian – relating to or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.    –   Petulant* – (of a person or their manner) childishly sulky or bad-tempered.    –   Joie de vivre (ˌZHwä də ˈvēvrə/)* – exuberant enjoyment of life.   –   Oleaginous (ˌōlēˈajənəs)- rich in, covered with, or producing oil; oily or greasy AND exaggeratedly and distastefully complimentary; obsequious.  “Candidates made the usual oleaginous speeches in the debate.”    –   Poniard (ˈpänyərd/) – a small, slim dagger.    –   Endemic* – (of a disease or condition) regularly found among particular people or in a certain area. “Areas where malaria is endemic.”    –   Flanerie (ˌflän(ə)ˈrē/) – aimless idle behavior.