Safe At Home: A Season In The Valley is a just-released book, written by Mr. Austin Gisriel, about the 2009 New Market Rebels team. Before I go any further I feel it only fair to warn you that (A. Nothing makes me more sentimental and gushy than my little hometown baseball team, and (B. I am therefore unreservedly biased in all such regards. I will try not to get all oozy-schmoozy, but I can guarantee nothing.
Needless to say, I have never read a book so closely connected with my own life. I was already familiar with every character and knew all the places like the back of my hand. I could go back and relive every related event (or at least the games) not only through the author’s narrative, but through my own memories of the experience. A lot of times I will read a book and imagine myself as a character witnessing everything from the background. In this book, I actually was there witnessing everything from the background. All of this made for a seriously cool read for me, personally. I wish everyone could experience something like it.
Having spent many summers taking in Rebels games from the same spot, next to the home dugout (see photo at bottom of page), I’ve overheard many hysterical conversations and one-liners (I only wish I could remember half of them.) Of course, there are also innumerable conversations and one-liners that mere fans are never privy to. Nothing was more entertaining than when such anecdotes came up in the book.
There are a million little anecdotes I could comment on, but here’s just one that stuck out to me (and the rest of my family.) It’s from the game Mr. Gisriel passed in the bullpen. The pitchers were trying to decide who they all resembled and agreed that Steve Thiele looked like some actor from the film The Patriot. Boy! These boys must not know their major league players enough. From the second I saw him I was blown away by Mr. Thiele’s resemblance to Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly and my family readily agreed. How could you not?
All jokes aside, the heart of this work really lies in the team/fan community. That community is the heart of the Rebels as a whole, so this is fitting. I could wax poetic on the topic for many paragraphs, but this passage from the book captures it so much more effectively than I ever could. The scene is the ninth inning of a decisive first-round play-off game in Luray against the hated Wranglers…
I look around and I have the strangest sensation that I am at a family reunion. We are not related by blood or marriage. We are not even related by New Market Rebels baseball, although that is surely what brought us together, but it is not what unites us now. We are not only there for the players who sport “New Market” across their jerseys, we are there for each other. We are a community, centered not around a single town, but around a single purpose: to be a part of and contribute to something greater than ourselves. It might only be a little baseball team in Virginia, but it is ours, and from it has sprung a sense of belonging and a host of friendships.
Misery loves company, of course, and should we lose this game, there is no one else with whom we would rather commiserate. Conversely, joy is magnified in a multitude, and should we win, this is nearly the perfect multitude. So, here we sit, in the rain, together, rooting for this extension of our family out there on the field. We have agonized with them over every error and every strikeout, and we have celebrated with them over every home run hit and every double play that has been turned. And now, we rise to cheer wildly for Brian Burgess, who has come on for the save.
Something hit me forcibly when I was reading this book. I realized that every component of a good season in New Market (and 2009 was a good one) is based on giving. We had a group of team-oriented ballplayers. They played unselfishly, always giving- in a sense- to one another and, in turn, giving to us as fans. Then you have the fans themselves, but so much more than just fans! It’s a community of dedicated volunteers who do nothing but give, both to the team and to each other. Without this group, Rebels baseball as we know it would not exist. It’s a truly beautiful system. Everybody gives and nobody takes, yet everybody receives. One line from Safe At Home states, “On a lot of teams and in a lot of towns, it’s all about me. On the Rebels and in New Market, it’s all about we.” If only everything in the world would function like this…
I am so pleased and so thankful to have this piece of my life forever preserved in the form of this lovely book. I know I am not alone in expressing the warmest of appreciations to Mr. Gisriel for writing it. For anyone interested in purchasing Safe At Home and receiving a little taste of the sweetest baseball that ever existed, just go to this page on the Rebels website.