Books for Opening Day and Tournament Time
Today marks the beginning of one season and the end of another, at least in the world of sports. Baseball is off to a chilly start (the threat of snow has postponed the Chicago White Sox opener against the Kansas City Royals and more delays seem likely) but inclement weather won’t stop the NCAA from crowning a basketball champion tonight, when Michigan State takes on Obama-favored North Carolina in Detroit. In honor of this momentous day, the Press brings you a brief Opening Day/”One Shining Moment” reading list, suitable for quick browsing between TV time-outs and the seventh inning stretch.
For those of you out there who are more comfortable at the lectern than on the pitching mound, Edward Amenta’s coming-of-middle-age story will have you rooting for the underdog. For this short, wild-haired, bespectacled professor, playing softball in New York’s Central Park is one last chance to heal the nagging wounds of Little League trauma before the rust of decline and the relentless responsibilities of fatherhood set in. As rookie manager of the Performing Arts Softball League’s doormat Sharkeys, he reverses softball’s usual brawn-over-brains formula. He coaxes his skeptical teammates to follow his sabermetric and sociological approach, based equally on Bill James and Max Weber, which in the heady days of early success he dubs “Eddy Ball.” But Amenta soon learns that his teammates’ attachments to favorite positions and time-honored (if ineffective) strategies are hard to break—especially when the team begins losing. Professor Baseball is packed with colorful personalities, dramatic games, and the bustle of New York life, and captures with humor and wit the yearly emergence of packs of beer-bellied men with gloves and aluminum bats, putting their middle-aged bodies to the test on the softball diamond. For more, check out an excerpt from the book or Amenta’s essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Legendary baseball franchise owner and promoter Bill Veeck is best remembered today for his publicity stunts—which included sending a midget to bat in a St. Louis Browns game and orchestrating the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. But luckily, we have the man in his own words to relive his unmatched contribution to the game. The classic autobiography, written with the talented sportswriter Ed Linn, Veeck—As In Wreck is an uproarious book packed with information about the history of baseball and tales of players and owners, including some of the most entertaining stories in all of sports literature. Read the first chapter (on the career of that aforementioned baseball-playing dwarf) here.
And finally, for those basketball fans, Scott N. Brooks takes us to inner-city Philadelphia to watch two promising young men, Jermaine and Ray, as they navigate their high school years and experience breakthroughs and frustrations on the court and at home. We witness them negotiating the pitfalls of forging a career and a path out of poverty, we see their triumphs and setbacks, and we hear from the network of people invested in their fates. Black Men Can’t Shoot has all the hallmarks of a classic sports book, with a climactic championship game and a suspenseful ending as we wait to find out if Jermaine and Ray will be recruited. Brooks’s moving coming-of-age story counters the belief that basketball only exploits kids and lures them into following empty dreams—and shows us that by playing ball, some of these young black men have already begun their education even before they get to college.
Whatever your sport, we’re sure you’ll enjoy these books. Now pass the nachos!