A trip to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park was a regular rhythm of life when we lived in Durham, but I’ve never been able to follow a major league team. Given my proximity to Kansas City, most years in early April I convince myself to be a Royals fan. I know it’s a terrible choice of team and I know I will drop my 15-minutes of fan-dom soon enough, but I try–for a day or so anyway.
The pace of play doesn’t do much for me on t.v. and the voluminous stat sheets are overwhelming, like drinking from a fire hose. Baseball games are a social event. A trip to the ball park means enjoying the game, a crisp evening, a cold beverage, hopefully a funnel cake, and conversation with friends.
So, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to pick up The Art of Fielding. But, I’m glad I finally did. Harbach writes the on-and-off field relationship of Henry Skrimshander and Mike Schwartz–stadiums, baseball philosophy, arguments, and all–into a compelling narrative that pulled me in.
I won’t venture too much into the plot for the sake of spoilers, but Harbach does just as well by the rest of his characters. He brings to life the small private liberal arts school of Westish College, home of the Harpooners, an homage to Moby Dick and its author Herman Melville who once graced Westish’s campus. Confession, I haven’t read Moby Dick, though I have a feeling Harbach makes a number of references to Melville that I sailed right past.
I enjoyed this novel because the story was real, not in a boring straight forward way (like Ulysses perhaps, though I haven’t read it either, so be kind in the comments), but in a complex way. The major players in the story are human in the fullest sense. They wrestle with their own dreams and aspirations pitted against their shortcomings and proclivity for settling for less than they hope. Aspects of their struggles, with self and others, echo my own in a way few other novels have, for me at least.
So, pick up The Art of Fielding, come for the funnel cake and stay for the game; before long you’ll be wishing the season never ended.