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Two things would arrive in Heidi Jacobs’s mailbox every January: the Veseys Seeds spring bulb catalogue and the Detroit Tigers season-ticket application. “Both reminded me that the grey-dark days of winter were finite, and, while I could see no outward signs, spring, sunshine and green were on their way,” she writes in the book 100 Miles of Baseball.
She’s talking about renewal. And while we’re discussing the rites of spring, the annual influx of baseball books is one of the better literary traditions around.
This year’s crop, to extend the metaphor, is of the bumper kind. Given the unusual backdrop – 2020 was a weird, shortened and unsatisfying season played in fan-free ballparks – perhaps authors and publishers have rewarded us with an inspired lineup of baseball titles this year.
Heidi Jacobs wrote 100 Miles of Baseball: Fifty Games, One Summer (Biblioasis, 384 pages) with her husband Dale Jacobs. Canadians based in Windsor, Ont., they soulfully documented a 2018 road trip to the obscurest of “play ball” destinations, all within a limited radius: A Can-Am Senior League game at Windsor’s Cullen Field; a series involving the Saginaw Sugar Beets and the Lake Erie Monarchs; and a university tournament in just-above-freezing temperatures at the Police Athletic League field in Detroit, to name three stops.
The married authors complement each other – he’s the play-by-play guy; she, the colour commentator. The postscript is dedicated to the connections of baseball fans together in the stands, something sadly absent last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic:
“Above all, baseball, with its springtime opening, is about new beginnings, about possibility, about hope. Perhaps that’s what we miss and need the most right now.”
Seeds for thought.
SEVEN MORE BASEBALL BOOKS FOR SPRING READING
The Only Way is the Steady Way: Essays on Baseball, Ichiro, and How We Watch the Game, by Andrew Forbes (Invisible Publishing, 160 pages). This essay collection is a rainy-day read of a memoir from a Canadian writer and baseball traditionalist who comprehends the game at an elite observational level, yet writes about it accessibly. He believes watching or listening to a ball game will help soothe the anxieties brought on by the coronavirus. The same could be said for his relaxing, lucid essays.
Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Greatest Living Negro League Baseball Players, by Cam Perron, with Nick Chiles (Gallery Books, 272 pages). How did Cam Perron get the late Hank Aaron to write the forward to his book? He just asked him – just as he did with dozens of former Negro American League players from the South, who were all too willing to share their stories with an inquisitive, empathetic white teenager from Boston.
Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke, by Andrew Maraniss (Philomel Books 320 pages). Glenn Burke had a lifetime batting average of .237. He is credited with co-inventing the “high five.” He was the first openly gay MLB player. He died of AIDS-related causes in 1995. Some of these things are more important than the others. Andrew Maraniss’s book helps young readers figure out priorities.
The Captain and Me: On and Off the Field with Thurman Munson, by Ron Blomberg, with Dan Epstein (Triumph Books, 304 pages). From Blomberg, baseball’s first designated hitter, with help from Epstein, the author of 2012′s Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, comes a buddy book on two New York Yankees not named Ruth, Gehrig or Derek Jeter.
The Short Life of Hughie McLoon: A True Story of Baseball, Magic and Murder, by Allen Abel (Sutherland House, 220 pages). “Hughie McLoon walked out of the speakeasy at a quarter to two in the morning with a hoodlum on each arm.” When a book title needs to tell people it’s a true story, it’s because the contents are almost too far-fetched to believe. Such is the case with a wild and well-researched tale about a hunchbacked human mascot from the early 20th century, enthusiastically told by a former Globe and Mail sports columnist.
Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball, by Dan Taylor, (Rowman & Littlefield, 400 pages). There was baseball in Los Angeles before the Brooklyn Dodgers moved there after the 1957 season and there was innovative promotion in the game that predated the shenanigans of Bill Veeck. A colourful and important chapter of baseball history is charismatically told, involving the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars. Owned by the Brown Derby restaurateur Bob Cobb, the club was supported by the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart and Bing Crosby, the crooner who handed out souvenirs on bat day.
Tokyo Junkie: 60 Years of Bright Lights and Back Alleys … and Baseball, by Robert Whiting (Stone Bridge Press, 384 pages). The author of Tokyo Underworlds says his new book is part Alice in Wonderland, part Bright Lights, Big City and part Forrest Gump. But why wait for the movie to come out? A love letter to Tokyo is about the city’s fascinating 60-year transformation … and baseball.