MLB: Major League Books

Last year there was little joy in Mudville; the Dodgers didn't make the playoffs, and the Angels finished near the bottom of their division.  But no matter, a new season has started and once again baseball fans across the Southland have high hopes.  My love of baseball is almost as great as my love of reading.  Put them together and you've got an unbeatable combination.  Nothing beats a good baseball novel. Don’t believe me?  Try one of these.

Shoeless Joe by W.P Kinsella is a magical book. “If you build it, he will come” intones a mysterious voice that compels Ray Kinsella to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop.  Instinctively Ray knows that he is giving defamed baseball legend Joe Jackson a chance of redemption (he was accused of throwing the 1919 World Series). I like this book because baseball is used to illustrate the importance of dreams, hopes, family and love.  The writing is great, you can almost smell the freshly cut grass, and hear the corn stalks rustling in the Iowa wind.  The movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner was based on the book Shoeless Joe.

The Art of Fielding is a recent debut novel by Chad Harbach.  At Westich College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander is destined for the big leagues until an errant throw changes everything, and the lives of five people are upended.  This is a heartwarming book with memorable characters. I like how it pokes fun at the sport of baseball, and small-town academia.  The Art of Fielding is a big book (500+ pages), but a fast read; tension builds as the season progresses towards the final climatic game.

Even if you don’t like baseball, there is still much to enjoy in Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris, a novel about the friendship and lives of a group of men as they each learn that a teammate is dying of cancer.  Originally published in 1956, this book portrays a simpler time when baseball was all about the love of the game, and wasn't yet muddled by million-dollar salaries, big egos, and contract disputes.

Need some more Mudville joy?  Here’s a link where you can read (or re-read) Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer.  You might also enjoy listening to Garrison Keillor’s clever revision of this classic baseball poem. 

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