A few days ago, a coworker came across the happy news that she shares a birthday with Seymour Hersh. We all agreed that was very cool -- if you've gotta share a birthday with someone, Hersh is a good, respectable choice. It prompted me to look mine up -- something that, honest to god, I don't think I'd ever done. The results are a mixed bag -- the honorable (author Neal Stephenson, composer Franz Schubert, writer Zane Grey), the suspect (Rudy Giuliani's kid, a Jesus Jones member, Justin Timberlake), and the unknown (Finnish hockey player Pavi Sald).
Sticking out are three baseball players: Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, and Nolan Ryan. I knew about Jackie, not about the other two. That's a pretty awesome baseball triumvirate -- I'm sure there's someone somewhere who keeps track of such things, but I'm going to go ahead and declare January 31st "Awesome Baseball Day" because it's hard to imagine that any other day produced three players that can outshine those guys.
Obviously the stars are in the right position at the end of January, so it raises the question: why am I not currently winding down a Hall of Fame baseball career? Could it be that right now I should be, say, DHing for the Toronto Blue Jays and closing in on my 650th home run, instead of drinking a beer and shirtlessly blogging? Did I err somewhere along the way, causing my life to veer off course?
I was a crappy athlete as a child, and while there were some sports where I showed occasional promise (football, hockey), baseball wasn't one of them. Poor reflexes, poor coordination, slow foot speed, and a mortal terror of getting hit by the ball don't combine to form a baseball prodigy. But there was one period in my life when I took steps -- ridiculous steps! -- to change that.
When I was 16, as I've written many times before, I was rather adrift in life. Depressed, miserable, didn't want to do anything except read horror novels. About this time -- in the period when I moved from Colorado to Arizona -- my dormant baseball love came roaring back, and I started spending every minute (that I wasn't reading horror novels) doing something to do with baseball. Watching it. Reading about it. Trying to come up with new statistics. I even read "The Hidden Game of Baseball."
In this time, fueled by aimlessness and about 67 adolescent readings of "Ball Four," I decided: I would become a knuckleball pitcher. It held a lot of appeal for me. Charlie Hough was a knuckleballer, and he didn't seem to be your standard baseball player. It didn't seem to require arm strength (in retrospect, it still required more than I had). It was quirky. And it would solve pesky questions of what I was going to do with my life.
I started practicing the knuckler -- with a tennis ball, just to add to the tragicomedy and the futility. I never mastered it. I don't know if it's even aerodynamically possible with a tennis ball. Eventually, like so many other things, I gave it up (and eventually sort of got my life together without it). And that's why you're reading this instead of watching TV and thinking "that 35-year-old knuckleballer -- he is dignified and sexually attractive at the same time."
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Books! Oh, yes, I do read books when I'm not plotting to become a 36-year-old baseball rookie.
#25 -- "Three Letters From the Andes" by Patrick Leigh Fermor
As we've established, I love anything by ol' Pat, but I wonder if there was some period in British literature where he had a Stephen King-like draw and the publisher was just rushing out anything he wrote. This is beautifully written, but, um, a bit scant. It's just what it says -- three letters he wrote to his wife while on a trip in the Peruvian Andes. Very descriptive and joyful, occasionally dragged down because since they're letters, they describe things like hotel room arrangements. I'd qualify this as "for the serious fan only" -- seriously, read just about all his other books first.
#26 -- "Chain of Command" by Seymour Hersh
Oh my, see what I just did? Brought it all back home. I've long been an admirer of Hersh's investigative writing but this is the first time I've read one of his books. It's brilliant, covering the U.S. intelligence failures, infighting, and abuses since 2001. It's exhaustively researched, well-sourced, well-written. Hersh isn't given to displays of outrage and that gives a book like this more power and more gravitas. A+.