I was more than a little excited when my copy of Dirk Hayhurst’s The Bullpen Gospels arrived last Wednesday. When I anticipate a good read (and particularly when the book is fresh off the presses) I like to “acquaint” myself with it before I begin. I’ll turn it over in my hands several times and read everything of both covers. I’ll fan the pages to summon a light breeze to my face. I’ll smell it. I know it’s weird, but these are my anticipatory rituals. I had very much looked forward to devouring The Bullpen Gospels and, although it was not entirely what I expected, it did not disappoint. Mr. Hayhurst has written a book that is raw and unflinchingly honest. It is all at once heart wrenching and laugh-out-loud funny. This is hardly just another book about baseball. I could write reams about it, but will try to keep myself in check.
The number one reason I wish people (and I mean masses of people) would read this book is for the oft-forgotten truth it exposes; the truth that, under the uniform, ballplayers are regular people. They are not immune from the fears, doubts, and inner struggles that the rest of us deal with. The threads of a baseball uniform contain no mystical powers which protect its wearer from the stinging troubles of life. A ballplayer’s brain is not equipped with special technology to shield him from anxiety and pain. If you are a broken person (and those are the very words Mr. Hayhurst used to describe himself) nothing contained in those supposedly sacred threads is going to make you whole.
How these things ever came to be a point of contention is baffling. I suppose you can chalk it up to shoddy journalism. But I think it is very important to realize that pro athletes are neither angels nor demons. They are neither so good nor so bad as they are constantly made out to be by fans and media. It is nice to know that from here on, should I encounter anyone still ignorant of these truths, I’ve got a great book to slap them upside the head with.
I’m going to say something now, and when I do, I want you to pretend that I am looking you straight in the eyes: If you consider yourself a serious baseball fan, you need to read this book. If you do not consider yourself a serious baseball fan… well, you might want to read it anyway. Mr. Hayhurst does a ridiculously good job of illustrating the day to day rhythm of minor league life. The stifling confinement of a long bus trip… the unique horror of lousy lodgings… the, um, “creativity” of a relief corps with time on their hands (conning children- I hadn’t heard that one before) … the various host family stereotypes. Every detail is captured to perfection as far as I’m concerned.
The big ideas are communicated just as flawlessly as the little ones. Everything from chapter 44 on is pure gold. This is when all those little snippety thoughts and concepts, which had been floating around uncertainly throughout the previous pages, unite to create a truly beautiful and indissoluble message. I’m not going to spoil the whole thing, but the ideas Mr. Hayhurst communicates are ones that reach far beyond the confines of the baseball diamond. They are relevant to all of us, regardless of who we are or what we do. It dawned on me in these later chapters that this wasn’t just a pretty good book about baseball- it was a pretty great book about life.
To quote George MacDonald, “The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is – not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself.” Not a whole lot of books affect me in that way (which may as well be a reflection on me as on what I read) but The Bullpen Gospels did, and that is what made it a memorable and meaningful reading experience. I cherish very fond hopes that this book will change the way a lot of people look at the game. I can’t wait to see what Dirk Hayhurst has in store for us next.
This book is Zilla-approved.
It warrants pointing out that, being a book about minor league ballplayers, this book contains the sort of “colorful” language and anecdotes that would make a sailor blush. Mr. Hayhurst makes no attempt to conceal that fact that, well… boys are icky. The goings-on in buses and locker rooms are often funny, but rarely PG. Basically what I’m saying is, keep this one away from the kiddies.
P.S. For the record, I only cried 4 times in the reading of the work.
P.S.S. In the course of writing the above review, I realized that if you split the word “thinking” in two, you get “thin king.”
P.S.S.S. Please do not be deterred by my bubbly, disjointed analysis and read this book anyway! You can read better reviews here.