Summertime and the reading is easy. It’s that time when I can read the books I never find time to get to during the school year. I can range far and wide, from Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, to a re-reading of The Great Gatsby, to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, to Russell Banks’s Affliction, to Jane Leavy’s biography of Sandy Koufax. I read the way I did when I was a boy—indiscriminately—snatching off the library shelves whatever book happens to catch my eye.
Combining the books of summer with the boys of summer, I just finished New York Times columnist, Dan Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game. This is the story of a minor-league baseball game between the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple-A team of the Boston Red Sox, and the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A team of the Baltimore Orioles, that began on the Saturday before Easter in 1981, and was finally suspended early Sunday morning with the score tied 2-2 after 32 innings played. The game was continued from that point two months later, requiring only eighteen minutes for a Pawtucket victory in the bottom of the 33rd inning. Winner of the 2012 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting, this is a book about much, much more than baseball. A book about the nature of timelessness, about loyalty, passion, community, and the pursuit of a dream. I dare say there are even some lessons for writers contained therein.
Imagine the eighteen fans who stayed through all 32 innings that April night and morning in spite of cold temperatures and frigid winds, imagine the players (some of them like Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr., bound for greatness; others like Dave Koz, who come June will drive in the winning run for Pawtucket, but will be unable to make that final climb from Triple A to the big leagues) relying on their baseball instincts to prolong a game that has turned into an absurdity that begs to have an end. Players who want to get out of the cold, who want to sleep. Hitters who don’t want to be 0 for 13. Pitchers who don’t want to be the one to give up the game-winning hit. A catcher who has worked 22 innings. Men who keep doing what they’ve trained themselves to do: to pitch, to hit, to catch, to run, to throw. Imagine how time seems to disappear, how the stillness settles over the nearly empty park so the sounds of the bat against the ball, the grunt of a pitcher as he gets a little extra oomph behind his fastball, the whop of a cleat on the first-base bag, the smack of ball against the leather of a mitt, are clearly heard. Imagine that this will go on forever, baseball reduced to its purest elements, much the way it is on the sandlot when you’re a kid and you keep playing no matter the score, and sometimes after the score has been forgotten. Baseball played for the love of playing.
Imagine all of this and then think about writing. Think of all the hours spent alone in your writing room, writing poems, stories, essays, memoirs, novels, plays, screenplays, or whatever your genre of preference might be. If you’re like me, you’ve got a number of manuscripts that will never be published, things you had to write in order to write the ones that do finally appear in print. You’ve spent countless hours doing what you love to do, which is to move words about on a blank page. And, if you’re like me, there will be countless times when you’ll doubt the worth of what you’re doing. What does it matter if this piece gets written? Trust me, it matters. Ask those men who played those thirty-three innings. Even if that game didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the larger scheme of things, it meant something to those who played it, all of them with dreams of making it to the big leagues. They could have walked away as the night turned into morning. Imagine a baseball diamond with no players. But they couldn’t walk away. The game wouldn’t let them. Their passion wouldn’t let them. Their talents wouldn’t let them.
Again, if you’re like me, you’re prone to whining when the work isn’t going well. You get all out of sorts. You wail out of fear of rejection. You say, “If only. . . .” You look for targets upon which you can cast blame. You long for more time, more calm, more inspiration, more something.
I think about those men who played those thirty-three innings, and I tell myself, “Suck it up, Cupcake, and get in the game. Do what you love with thanksgiving. Celebrate the hours. There’s writing to be done.”