Thursday, March 4, 2010

More on The Bullpen Gospels - The Book Review Saga Continues

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of posts, in which we stretch out our review of Jays reliever Dirk Hayhurst's narrative non-fiction tome, The Bullpen Gospels until its release date. (Available at a fine bookseller near you on March 30. Pre-order this fine book - kitty not included - at Amazon.ca, or whichever Amazon store you like. Or another online bookseller. Or an independent bookseller, supposing that they may carry it. Which they won't, because they're usually too cool to stock sports books. Pricks.)

We haven't played baseball in a competitive, organized setting in more than 20 years. In fact, aside from a lost summer as an obnoxious softball guy and a few years of chasing tail around ultimate frisbee fields, our sporting life has generally been limited to the role of an observer. And yet, there was a lot in Dirk Hayhurst's The Bullpen Gospels to which we could relate.

Sure, Gospels is a baseball book, and most of us will be drawn to it as such. We'll dig in to uncover what happens behind the scenes, and in the clubhouse. (Which, so far as we can tell, involves a lot of video games and naked tomfoolery.) But what really draws the reader into Hayhurst's account of his whirlwind 2007 season through three levels of minor league ball is the author's honesty about himself. There are many athletes who would gloss over anything resembling weakness, or frame their own emergence as a player in the rote, glorified clich├ęs that are plentiful in the sports world: That they triumphed over adversity by being so goddamned gifted and awesome, and that God shone his special light down upon them so that they might offer their great gift to all. (The sort of story we saw repeated throughout the Olympics.)

But Hayhurst's story is so much more complex - and ultimately, rewarding - than that. While there are aspects of his life that seem anything but ordinary (Grandma and her firearms, for instance), the underlying story of Bullpen Gospels is really about two very universal things: Hayhurst's struggles with self-doubt, and his difficult transition from an extended adolescence into manhood.

The period covered in the book starts as Hayhurst is about to turn 26. It's a point in the life of many young men where, if they're at all sentient (and in spite of his out-there Garfoose tweets, Hayhurst does seem to be that), he starts to get a little more serious about who he is and what his place in the world might be. For Hayhurst, this transition and the uncertainty that goes with it are magnified by his chosen profession: If he's not about to make it, or to take a step forward, then he has to find another path.

The struggle, which is implied but never entirely stated outright, is that given the undeniable draw of a life as a professional athlete, how could anyone ever let that dream go? Especially after they've already made it past the point where so many others drop off? And yet, faced with a fourth consecutive season in High-A ball, Hayhurst spells out vividly the thought processes - both rational and irrationally emotional - that played into his decision to stick with the game. (Given his spot on the Jays' roster, we're probably not giving much away there.)

While it would seem that someone as clever and young and bright as Hayhurst would have no problem integrating himself back into civilian life, the real surprise of the book is how much the game has served as an escape. Without going to far into his motivations and background, suffice to say that Hayhurst did not have the comfortable fall back alternatives that one might expect.

(It's a narrative that, if we're being honest about how we understand race and sports, we might have expected if Hayhurst were African-American. It was an uncomfortable thought for us that we've so internalized the idea of "playing to get out of the poverty/strife" that we had a hard time rationalizing the same narrative about a blue-eyed blondish player. But that's our problem to resolve.)

Following Hayhurst's progress through that crucial 2007 season is a rich experience, and is truly the strongest element of The Bullpen Gospels. Certainly, there is lots of fun to be had as well (what with the "SpiderMan-ings" and the unwanted animal visitors in the bullpen), but the heart of this book is walking alongside Dirk as he conquers his internal demons, and subsequently seeing his life and career take a crucial turn for the better.

We sports fans and amateur analysts often reduce those positive changes in a player's career path rather glibly ("he flipped a switch", "he made an adjustment", "the player's development"). But beneath the player (and the counting stats and the rate metrics) is a human, who has to understand their weaknesses and evolve themselves beyond them. That whole idea of transcendence is, as Steve Earle once said, a painful thing. The reader of The Bullpen Gospels is privileged to share that moment with a player who has the self-awareness to understand the process, and the humility to work through it.

You'll find yourself rooting for him all the more by the book's end. (Speaking of which: Get well soon, Dirk.)

In our next episode: We'll focus on the monkeyshines. There are scooters, dramatic cases of the scoots, pressed hams and pleas for nudity made from moving vehicles. Good times.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

As someone who got a lttle annoyed at all the garfoose's silly Twitter updates, I hadn't planned on reading hayhurst's book. Your reviews, however, have opened up my eyes to what appears to be a more substantial side of the man. It sounds like a good read! I shall order my copy tonight b

Anonymous said...

I might order this book, but I doubt it. If he wants to be wealthy one day, he better hope he does better as a writer than he is likely to do as a pitcher. I don't mean to be an asshole, but it's not looking good for his pitching career right now.

Ty said...

You know, the words 'I don't mean to be an asshole' aren't really of any substance if they're immediately followed by something assholey.

Ty said...

I'll definitely be picking up the book. I haven't read a single negative review, and effusive praise like this coming from people whose tastes I generally respect are just further motivation to get it. BTW, Dirk's going to be signing books at Chapters on opening day in case anyone wasn't aware.

Lloyd said...

An independent (note the spelling) bookstore may not stock the book, but I'd attribut that more to issues of square footage than aesthetic principles. Ask them to order a book, any book, and they'll probably do it gladly.

Tao of Stieb said...

I'm sorry, what's and "attribut"?

(That'll learn you to correct me spellin'!)

Point taken on ordering from your local business, though. If you have a bookseller that you like, and you want to support them and your neighbourhood, then given them your business.

Tao of Stieb said...

Funny, how when you're calling out people for spelling mistakes, you can't help but make one yourself.

JB said...

Anyone have the details for the autograph signing?

Anonymous said...

So, "it's not looking good for his pitching career" said about a 29 yo career minor leaguer on the 60 day DL makes a person an asshole?

What about when I say Barry Bonds broke records while taking steroids? Or Sarah Palin would not make a good president? All assholey?

brainiac said...

I think what makes it "assholey" wasn't necessarily the validity f what you said but that you felt it was necessary to actually say something negative and unknowable at that juncture. You could have of course added that he was going to die someday too but held back to not appear too "assholey" I suppose..

Darren Priest said...

Dirk Hayhurst seems an unlikely sacred cow.

Tao of Stieb said...

I don't know precisely what the tone of the comment was as it was being typed out, but it seemed kinda assholey to me.

I guess I feel a bit defensive when speaking about Dirk because I think it was pretty brave of him to open up his life in the book. It's not at all a cynical move on his part to capitalize on his career...it's an incredibly earnest and honest thing.

Like Stephen Brunt said in his Olympic piece: Cynicism is easy. If anonymous wants to be cynical about this book, then that's his thing. I suppose.

Darren Priest said...

Yeah, cynicism is very easy, just ask Jeff Blair.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

You were pretty cynical about Vernon Wells and his comments last week, no?

Darren Priest said...

Yeah, but Vernon made like 18 million last year and Dirk only made 400K. He's practically one of us -- give or take a few hundred thousand.

Tao of Stieb said...

That wasn't cynical at all. I was expressing genuine surprise that Wells had only just begun to recognize that he had a leadership role to play.

It wasn't that I was cynical at his statements...It's just that I thought that they were a day late and a dollar short.

Sorry if that sucks the fun out of your little hypocrisy gambit, BFF.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

You criticized the guy because you perceived that he "never stepped forward and claimed a leadership role" in the past (whatever that is supposed to mean).

Of course, this was ignoring the fact that you've never actually seen how the guy conducts himself with the other players on the team, nor the fact that being the longest tenured player/employee at a job can seriously put things into perspective for anybody.

You also proceeded to knock him for having a website centered around his charity, and insinuated that he doesn't care enough about baseball.

Basically, you didn't give him much in the way of the benefit of the doubt because he's Vernon Wells, a guy who has become the designated doormat for Jays fans. And yeah, that's all rather cynical. But don't let me keep you from being a fun-sucking hypocite, Tao.

Stedron said...

Dude, none of these Jays blogs are really scooping anyone. We all visit the ones we do based on the host's style. If you don't like the way Tao does it, why exactly are you here? Unless it's just to be an annoying little prick, in which case, par for the course.

Please start your own blog so you can see just how much no one gives a shit about your opinions.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

I read many Jays blogs, and comment when I think it is appropriate. Sometimes my comments are negative (as Stoeten and Tao can attest) and sometimes they are positive. I don't have it out for any one individual, here, Stedron, like you do.

We should really plan our steroid-infused boxing match at some point. I was in Columbus last summer, we missed the chance.

Stedron said...

Saying I "have it out for you" is definitely giving yourself too much credit. I mostly find you ignorable, but when I see you whining on one site about an author's style, and then see you turn around and start posting on said site....well it just gets the eyes rolling.

I was in St. Louis 3 weeks ago. Is that not in your neck of the woods? I would be absolutely giddy if we set something up. I'll even spring for the ring rental.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

It's not his style that I'm criticizing in this instance, just the blog post itself.

As for you, it just seems like you are always right there whenever I post any kind of criticism of anybody (which isn't that often, really). You make me out to be worse than I actually am.

What were the terms of that proposed fight again? Was I the one that was supposed to get on the roids or was that you? And more importantly, which one of us gets to play the role of "Epic Beard Man?"

Darren Priest said...

Well, if either of you are ever in Nova Scotia, you're welcome to drop by...for a drink or three. I'll leave the Uwe Boll-style score settling to others.

Tao was cynical about Vernon and he's too in love with Dirk to recognize nobody writes a memoir just to be brave and earnest. Don't be silly.

So, Tao, when do we get together to settle our hash with some wrestling in our underwear?

Darren Priest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hey - just because some guy said cynicism's easy, we're going to start getting all holier than thou? Let's give it a rest. This is the 2010 blue jays we're talking about here. It's gonna be a long season if we can't indulge in a little cynicism!

Anonymous said...

I loved your blog. Thank you.