13 January 2011

Dirk Hayhurst, The Bullpen Gospels. New York: Citadel Press, 2010.

Dirk Hayhurst is a Major League pitcher--because, like the President, once one attains the title 'Major Leaguer', it sticks no matter what may follow. Hayhurst was drafted out of Kent State University by the San Diego Padres, and this book is his memoir of one season in the Padres' minor league development system.

This is not, however, a book about baseball; as Hayhurst notes, "for all the great things baseball is, there are some things it is absolutely not. And that is what this story is all about." That may be counter-intuitive, since Hayhurst writes about learning to play the game and about some of the games he played, but the story really isn't about becomeing a ballplayer. Honus Wagner, Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, said "There ain't much to being a ballplayer, if you're a ballplayer"; Hayhurst, who can throw a ball near ninety miles an hour, is already a ballplayer when the story opens. But he is also a recent college graduate, single, living on an air mattress at his grandmother's house and doubting his prospects. This story isn't about becoming a ballplayer; it is about becoming a man.

Every story needs a setting, though, and the trials of a minor-league season provide Hayhurst innumerable opprotunities for fun. While names have been changed and some characters are composites, everything is based on real incidents, allowing reader entry into a heavily-guarded world many have wished to experience. It isn't an expose or game-by-game recap, but Hayhurst does share some locker-room discussions (if terrorists put a gun to your head, which team-mate(s) would you sleep with?), bus-trip high-jinks (Midnight Express might not be a good entertainment choice), and the general anxiety of young men who have never really felt failure but now struggle against great odds. It is very enjoyable, a quick and engaging read appropriate for any post-adolecent audience (it IS full of locker-room language), and an especially good choice for high-school boys.

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