|Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Florida -- Spring Training Home to the Washington Nationals|
One of the things about posting articles for over one and a half years on SleuthSayers is that my annual habits begin to reveal themselves. Nowhere is this more evident than during the winter months. As I have written before, my wife and I, as we approached retirement, most looked forward to escaping the east coast during the months of January and February. We are blessed with the fact that our elder adult son lives with us and his slightly younger brother lives close by, so there is no problem each winter with leaving the cats and the house behind along with the weather.
This year, like last year, we escaped for ten days in the Caribbean in January, and were under sail on the Island Windjammer ship Sagitta when my birthday rolled around. Then we were back in the District of Columbia or two weeks before leaving for the Gulf Shores of Alabama, where we encamped for 5 weeks in a condo overlooking the beach and the Gulf. We have spent most of a short twelve days back in the D.C, survived a final winter snow false alarm, and are now poised, once again, on the brink of our final winter trip – to watch the Washington Nationals in Spring Training in Viera, Florida.
|Our Smart Car exits the Autotrain (to general laughter)|
As great as the prior winter escapes were, in many ways this one is my favorite. Instead of driving our larger “road car” south, as we did when we travelled to and from the Gulf Shore, on this trip we drive our convertible two-seater Smart car the 20 miles to Lorton, Virginia, and then board the Autotrain for an overnight trip to Sanford, Florida, about 50 miles from the cottage we rent across the street from the beach at Cocoa Beach, Florida. We will be there for one week, then catch a few days in Orlando re-acquainting ourselves with “the Mouse,” and head back to D.C. at the end of March, hoping to have finessed our way through winter once again.
|Our rental cottage at Cocoa Beach|
All of this is background to explain how our household, and much of Washington, has embraced the return of baseball to the Nation’s capitol. As Laura Ingalls Wilder observed, joy is always best when it follows sorrow. Our thirst was quenched following a very long drought.
Last year in an analogous post I recounted some recommended readings that embrace the national pastime and that are great preparation, read in early spring, for what is to come with the boys of summer. This year I thought I would add at least two more gems to the list, each by well-known authors who also apparently can’t get baseball out of their minds this time of year.
First up, Stephen King. King is a long-time victim of baseball fever. His 2004 non-fiction volume Faithful is based on his correspondence with fellow novelist and co-author Stewart O’Nan, both rabid Red Sox fans, throughout the course of the 2004 season and ending with Boston’s trip to the world series. King has also penned two short works inspired by baseball, 2010’s Blockade Billy, about a mythical 1957 catcher who, for reasons best told by King, has been erased completely from baseball history, and 2012’s A Face in the Crowd, also co-written with O’Nan, a long short story recounting what happens to a baseball fan who begins to see long-departed acquaintances from his past seated around him at the ballpark. But while each of these works can serve to establish King’s baseball credentials, to my mind his finest baseball-related work is the 1999 novel The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, the story of a girl lost in the woods who is counseled, in her imagination, by Gordon, the real-life Boston closer from the 1990s, and is ultimately inspired to “close” the novel as Gordon would have a game. A great read for spring.
Batting second, John Grisham. Long before attending law school Grisham dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals and to this day he is a big supporter of little league teams in Mississippi and Virginia. His non-legal 2001 quasi-autobiographical novel A Painted House features a narration punctuated by family gatherings around the radio to listen to Harry Caray’s play-by-play of St. Louis Cardinal games. (Yep, that’s where Caray was, paired with Jack Buck, prior to his Chicago days.) Even though baseball is only a supporting character in A Painted House, the novel is a fine spring read. But Grisham truly excels with his 2012 novel Calico Joe, inspired by the real-life story of Ray Chapman, the only ball player ever killed by a pitch. For a National’s fan like myself the novel proved prescient soon after it was released when, in the summer of 2012 rookie Bryce Harper, the team’s boy wonder, and the closest thing we have to Calico Joe, was beaned on purpose by Philly pitcher Cole Hamel for no reason except that Harper was new, young, eager and poised for greatness. Like the pitcher antagonist in Calico Joe, Hamels self-servingly defended his action as nothing more than a lesson in “old school” baseball. Former Phillies pitcher Curt Shilling (and, one would suspect, Grisham, as well) had a better word for it – “stupid.” That lesson is learned in Calico Joe – another great read as we await opening day.
Time to pack. I am off to Florida. Play ball!
(Next week acclaimed mystery writer Terence Faherty joins SleuthSayers, alternating Tuesdays with me. Terry’s accomplishments – including authorship of both the Owen Keane and Scott Elliot series of mysteries and numerous awards—leave my own scant efforts in a pale cloud of literary dust. But at least we have this: Terry and I both love a good pastiche, as anyone who has read Terry's recent short story A Scandal in Bohemia (EQMM, February 2013) knows full well. And this we also share: an understanding that the rules of constrained writing, once mastered, can also be bent. This extends not just to plot, such as in Terry's re-imagined telling of Conan Doyle’s Bohemian Scandal, but to writing styles as well. I noted in my last blog Churchill’s admonition that ending a sentence in a preposition was something “up with which he would not put.” And here is Holmes dismissing the sanctity of the rule in Terry’s Bohemian pastiche:
The wording of your note is out of character with a true free spirit. “A matter up with which he can no longer put,” indeed. Only someone sitting on a particularly rigid stick would go to such lengths to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.”I am certain we are all looking forward to welcoming Terry to the SleuthSayers ranks!)