Author Jonathan Lethem’s beloved New York Mets couldn’t help but find their way, in however brief a mention, into his acclaimed novels Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn and now the upcoming Dissident Gardens. A few years back, the Brooklyn-born Lethem, today a creative writing professor at Pomona, went so far as to co-author the “very eccentric” Believeniks!: 2005: The Year We Wrote a Book About the Mets, for which he and Christopher Sorrentino, writing under pseudonyms, watched every game of the season and immersed themselves in Mets minutiae. “It was really a book,” Lethem says, “about the disproportion of attention that fandom represents.”
When it comes to the writing of books, baseball has long benefitted from a disproportion of attention. Visit just about any American bookstore, and you’ll find tomes about the old ball game invariably make up the largest share of the sports books section, and baseball is at the center of a surprising number of novels as well. Within this vast field, Sagehen writers of late have been holding down more than their share of the shelf space.
Among our scribes, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Ballard ’95 is master of the mass market. His well-reviewed One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach and a Magical Baseball Season is the story of a quirky teacher leading a team from tiny Macon, Ill. to the state championships. As Booklist puts it: “Ballard writes very well and avoids the usual pitfalls of the ‘inspirational’ story, the cloying platitudes and rah-rah nonsense. These kids were simply good ballplayers coached by a guy with an open mind, a lot of common sense and a zest for fun.”
Just released in paperback, One Shot is slated to become a movie from the same company that did the hit Jackie Robinson film, 42.
Ballard, one-time sports editor of the Claremont Collage, credits Pomona as a “great incubator” for his writing. “Lynn Sweet, the English-teacher-turned- coach in the book, was a huge believer in
questioning the status quo, seeing the bigger picture and relating to students as human beings,” says Ballard. “That’s a lot of what I loved about Pomona, especially coming from a place like UCSB [Ballard had transferred] where I used to register for classes by telephone.”
And then there’s the relative rookie, Kyle Beachy ’01. His well-received 2009 debut novel, The Slide, is set in the summer after college when 22- year-old Potter Mays moves back into his parents’ St. Louis home and “even his passion for baseball fails to halt his slide into the morass,” as Booklist notes. The sport’s key role in The Slide is not surprising for a writer who grew up as a devout Cardinals fan, but Beachy says his next novel will not get quite so involved with the game he loves.
“I’m watching this season from a nice distance, currently, and I’d like to keep it [there],” says Beachy, now living in Chicago, where he teaches English and creative writing at Roosevelt University. “Writing about baseball for me means having to look really hard and then probably not enjoying it in the way I am now.”