For a number of years now, I’ve been writing essays for Opening Day where I relate baseball to life. I had the most recent one go up at The Hardball Times yesterday. I love writing these, and this one is my favorite, so you should read it. Here it is.
I announced it on this site a while ago, but today it’s finally here. The Hardball Times is publishing the first installment of my novel, When the Sparrow Sings, and I am very excited to hear what everyone thinks about it.
You can find the first installment here.
You’ll also notice some changes on this site as I focus in on the book, which will be my dominant project for the next year.
But don’t worry about that. Go read the first chapter of my book!
Baseball season just ended and the Reds were destroyed in the playoffs for the third time in four years and then the manager was fired. In other words, it has been freaking busy. I love baseball, I do, but this year was the most stress baseball has ever laid on me. For one, it was the first season during which I had a regular column for which I was actually getting paid. That was pretty cool, but it was also every week, no matter what. Speaking of which, I wrote my last column of the season in metered verse. It was fun, and you can find it here if you want.
Also, I’ve been given the chance to write for a new internet magazine. It is called The Louisville Lip. The first issue will be in November, and I’ll have an article in it. It’s nice because it gives me the chance to write on a larger platform about things other than baseball. I’m not sure how often I’ll contribute or how often I they want me to contribute, but I’m happy for the opportunity.
I haven’t written about my fiction writing for a bit. It’s amazing how the school year grinds creative endeavors to a halt. I’m giving Lonely Human Atoms another read through, and then I’m going to start sending it out again. Reading back over it is good for me. I like it. it makes me believe in myself again. Anyway, I have a couple of other projects going as well and I’m hoping to get one of them finished during the offseason.
So, I guess this is all the long way of saying that I’ve been writing, but it hasn’t been here very often. I’ve been keeping this blog for a long time now. I started the first version of it five years ago last month, and my favorite part is that I’ve never felt like I had to write about one particular topic. Everywhere else I write, it’s very focused on one thing or another, but here I write what I want. Sometimes that’s about my job, sometimes it’s my family, sometimes it’s stupid crap that I find interesting.
The blog isn’t going anywhere, but as someone who really seeks to have his writing read, I have to take opportunities where I can find them, and sometimes that means it will be a few weeks between posts here, especially if my kids don’t do anything noteworthy.
But I’m here. I’m around. James wants to be just like his sister. Simone is excited for Halloween and in not too long, she’ll get to write to Santa, which she’s been waiting to do since roughly December 26th last year. Cate is just coming back to a bit of blogging after a hiatus. She’s also starting a weaving business. I recently decided to take the dust jackets from all my hardback books, and now they’re so pretty I’ve become obsessed with all manner of fancy hardback books that I can’t really afford. It’s fun to dream, though. Even if the dreams are small.
Baseball, for the people who read this site, is not a casual affair. It isn’t a dalliance. It’s love. And every team, or at least every core group of players, is a new relationship.
For a long time, we had the kinds of relationships that are doomed from the start. Sure, there were nice moments, but you knew it wasn’t going to work. There was too much wrong. You weren’t compatible. This was a decade in the life of a Reds fan.
But lately, things have started to change. You go into spring thinking, “Hey, this might be it. This might be the one.” Maybe there are a few missteps at the beginning. You overreact a little bit when they’re a few minutes late to dinner. But it’s pretty clear that this is serious, so you keep at it. Months go by and you learn about each others imperfections and they aren’t deal-breakers. This really seems like a good thing.
And then something happens. You find out something they didn’t want you to know. Or you have a massive fight and it’s not about something trivial. You’ve invested a lot and you find yourself alone for dinner and it hurts.
And part of you wants to pick up the phone and say, “Screw this, I’m done.” Part of you doesn’t want to give them a second chance. But there’s another part of you who remembers how nice the last six months were. How much promise there was. That can’t all be a mirage can it? And so you have to decide. Do you pack it in and move on or do you go another round?
This hurt. The way the Reds lost this series is especially painful. It hurts more than it would have if they hadn’t started so well. This wound is going to take a little bit to heal. But I know what I’m going to do.
I’m going to take a couple of days off. I’m not going to read about baseball or think about baseball or tweet about baseball or write about baseball. I’m going to finish a book. I’m maybe going to work on a short story. I’m going to watch a movie with my wife and visit the forestry near by to watch the leaves change.
And then, in a few days, I’m going to come back and I’m going to start thinking about next year. I’m going to acknowledge that I love the core of this team like I haven’t loved a team since I was kid.
No, they aren’t perfect. No one’s perfect. But they’re close enough. I can forgive this heartbreak.
(Note: This is cross-posted on Redleg Nation.)
I write fiction. I want, desperately, for people to publish said fiction. The fiction I have primarily written for the last five years is a novel called Lonely Human Atoms.
I am terrible at self-promotion. I do not like sending things out. This means that LHA has spent a lot of time on my hard drive and not much time out in the world. Not long ago, I decided to change that. This meant I was going to do a couple of things.
It means I have been sending it to agents and small publishers. Some have rejected it and some I haven’t heard from. That, I am aware, is how it goes.
It also means that I decided to start saying yes to everything even vaguely writing related. Counting this blog, I now write for four websites. Starting today, I will likely have a regular column at The Hardball Times. I am also an editor there. Twice a week, I post at a book blog called Elephants for Bookends that Cate and I run together. I also post frequently, but irregularly at Redleg Nation, which is, as might seem obvious, a Cincinnati Reds-focused blog.
All of this is by way of explaining why posts here have been of the once-a-week-on-Thursdays variety for a while and why that is probably going to keep being the case. This blog is where I write about things that don’t fit elsewhere. It’s unfocused. That’s intentional.
But this blog, and all the other writing I do on the internet, has one underlying purpose – to help me with my fiction writing. Sometimes, that means keep my chops up when I don’t have the time I need to dedicate to good story writing. Sometimes it means getting my name out there as much as I can.
I like everything I do, but it’s gotten to be a lot, and so I’ve decided to stop saying yes to everything because in order to say yes to something else, I’d have to let something I’m doing now go. So now, I’m still saying yes, but only if the circumstances are right.
I feel like this post feels braggy. I don’t mean it to. Mostly, I just needed to write one of these “what I’ve been up to posts” because I’m at least a little overwhelmed right not and needed to vent about it. I do want to promise something, though.
Soon, I am going to publish a story here. I haven’t done this in a long time because if I publish a story here, I can’t send it to any magazines to publish. I feel like it’s time, though. I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction lately. I got the idea a while ago to write a story cycle where the subject of one story is the narrator of the next with the idea being that eventually, it would loop around so that where you began and ended was arbitrary. I’m almost finished and intend to enter the collection in a contest next month, if I can actually get finished in time. Fortunately, stories can be previously published. So yeah, look for one of those sometime soon-ish.
I don’t know what this post really was. Mostly, it’s a mess, I think. I’m kind of a mess at the moment, too. I’m just trying to be a forward-moving mess.
Recently, and perhaps unsurprisingly, my daughter has taken a liking to baseball. She has been seen running round the house yelling, “I love baseball,” swinging a small pestle that she pretends is a bat and wearing one of my old baseball caps (much too big for her) while opining, “I want a real baseball hat.”
Now, we love baseball around the Linden house. As you know, I’ve been a Reds fan forever and Cate was going to Orioles games before she could talk. It’s pretty entrenched in our family culture, but thinking about Simone’s love for it recently made me really sad.
You see, a huge part of my love for baseball when I was a child was tied up in the misguided notion that I might someday play baseball. Specifically third base for the Reds. And I realized when I was playing with her outside the other day that this isn’t much of a dream for her. It’s unlikely that a woman will ever play major league baseball.
Certainly, I am being at least a little ridiculous. Cate loves baseball, and though we haven’t discussed it, I doubt seriously that she ever had dreams about being a major league player. Or maybe she did, one of the wonderful things about being a child is having dreams which are utterly unconstrained by reality. Certainly, a person can love something without wanting to do it on a professional level, but that’s not really what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about realizing that my daughter can’t do anything she wants. She’s so bright and sweet and full of energy. I wasn’t ready for her to be limited yet. She doesn’t know she’s limited, but I do and it hurts like hell and I think if they ever brought back the women’s professional league, I would buy season tickets.
In baseball, there is a concept in advanced statistics known as VORP or Value Over Replacement Player. It is used to describe how good a player is relative to another player who could be had, more or less, for free. How this is measured isn’t as important as the concept.
You see, for a very long time, the numbers in baseball have gotten less gaudy. Oh sure, someone will have a ridiculous season every now and then, but in general, the best players have a much lower VORP now than they did in the 60s or the 30s or the 20s. There’s a pretty basic reason behind this – the bottom level players are much better now than they were 80 or 100 years ago. The population sending players to the majors is much larger than it was then.
That doesn’t mean great players from the past weren’t great. It just means they look better than they were because the competition wasn’t as stiff. Babe Ruth would probably still be a wonderful player if he played today, but he might not be BABE RUTH, if you get my point.
This has been a lengthy introduction about baseball, but this isn’t really about baseball. Instead, I wanted to introduce the concept to you. Now, I want to you participate in a mental exercise I am borrowing from Virginia Woolf.
Imagine Shakespeare’s siblings. He had seven, but three died very young. Imagine they had lived. Now imagine he had more. Hundreds even. And imagine that many of them were just as talented as he was. They, too, were slaving away, writing great plays and poems. But their brother published first and became famous and so maybe they publish a little thing here or there, but in general, the public isn’t interested because they already have one Shakespeare and don’t need another.
Obviously, the numbers vary over the course of his lifetime, but a good estimate for the population of England when Shakespeare was alive is 4 million people. The literacy rate for men was about 30% (I can’t find the exact rate for women, but it was significantly lower). So, of the two million men kicking around England with Shakespeare, there were 600,000 who could at least write their names. If you like, we can guess at a 20% literacy rate for women and call it an even million literate people. Shakespeare was one in a million! Neat! And that seems right, doesn’t it?
There are more than 60 million people in the modern UK.
There are more than 300 million people in the modern US.
There are more than 30 million people in Canada.
There are more than 20 million people in Australia
Those are the four largest nations in the world where English is the primary language. 410 million people. If Shakespeare was one in a million, there should be about 410 of him running around right now.
Add to that this piece of information: Last year, there were over one million books published. That’s more books than there were people to write them in Shakespearean England.
There is a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s memoir, The Sky Is Not theLimit that he takes from an 5000-year-old Assyrian tablet. It says:
“The earth is degenerating these days. Bribery and corruption abound. Children no longer mind their parents… and it is evident that the end of the world is approaching fast.”
The implication, obviously, is that people have always been romanticizing the past. Things today are never as good as they once were. Shakespeare. Dickens. Wharton. Austen. Steinbeck. Hemingway. These are the Great Writers and we will never see others like them.
This is almost certainly wrong. It’s wrong for the same reasons it’s wrong to assume that Babe Ruth was better than any of today’s players. Sheer numbers argue that there must be many more great writers today than there were then. The difference, mostly, is that the 50th best writer now is much closer to the best writer than the 50th best writer was two hundred years ago. That is, artists today suffer by comparison, just as baseball players do.
I don’t think that’s all of it, though. Humanity also tends to give extra credit to originators. Roger Ebert recently had a post about his list of the best films ever. They are almost all old, but many of them are also innovative. Innovation requires two things. Creativity, obviously, but also opportunity. You can’t discover something that’s already been found. Even if you figure something out on your own, it doesn’t count if someone else has done it.
Of course, discovery and innovation become increasingly difficult as time passes and as population increases. This is why there is an entire literary movement (post-modernism) built around the discovery that you can tell a story without thinking about the reader. There simply aren’t that many places left to go.
All of this means that today’s artists have a very low Value Over Replacement Artist (VORA). I recently started Lauren Groff’s new book. I didn’t care for it. I found the language overwrought and pretentious. I put it down. I had really been looking forward to the new book because I had really enjoyed her first two, but I didn’t think twice about moving on to something else. Why? There are wonderful books in uncountable numbers that I haven’t read. Why waste time on one I’m not enjoying when I can simply move on? This kind of thinking makes it difficult to anoint new “greats.” We have so many choices that we pick nits instead of trying to recognize someone as a great artist who is, at times, less great.
But there are bigger consequences because we do, eventually, choose those who represent our generation. Time is a wonderful filter. The larger consequences come because a society only needs so many books, so many musicians, so many athletes, and so many artists.
I want to return to one of the numbers I mentioned earlier. There were over a million books published last year. Do you really believe there aren’t a lifetime of classics there? Cate is the most avid reader I know. She routinely blows past a hundred books a year, but over the course of her life how many books can she read? Six thousand? Seven? Maybe eight? That’s less than one percent of all the books published in one year.
Humans, many of us at least, are inherently creative people. We interact with the world through creative expression. Often, this is its own reward, but it’s hard to create as much as you’d like when you have to worry about other things like paying the bills. And the bigger your society is, the more truly wonderful artists go through life utterly ignored and unappreciated. This is a tragedy.
It’s one of the reasons I occasionally pluck a book off the shelf at random when I’m in the bookstore or the library. But how many manuscripts are out there that never get published? Harper Lee walked into a publishing house and handed them her book. You can’t do that today. Publishing almost always requires getting and agent. Getting an agent almost always requires being published. It’s a vicious cycle.
And no one is to blame. Because there is a torrent. Manuscripts, I know, come in by the hundreds, but only so many can be published. We live in a big world and the bigger the world gets, the less the artist matters because there is always another one behind the next door who is just as good as the person they are replacing.
On a yearly basis, baseball fans are obsessed with winning the World Series. Or with getting back to the playoffs as a stepping stone to winning the World Series. Or with having a winning season so that in a year or two they can maybe go back to the playoffs and then maybe win the World Series. These are the things our day to day conversations, as fans, revolve around.
But that is not why we are fans. Not those of us who really love the game. There are thirty teams. You can expect, on average, to see your team win the World Series once every 30 years (every 29 years if you take the Cubs out of the equation). Yet the Cubs, in this instance, are illustrative. They have fans everywhere. Aggravating fans to be sure, but fans. Why? The Cubs are a good story.
In May of 2009, my wife and I went to Cincinnati for a couple of games. Our first child would be born soon and it was our last trip as a childless couple. The Reds had scuffled to start the year, but lately they’d been coming on. They handled St. Louis easily the first day we were there, a very satisfying 8-3 win. But that’s not the game I really remember. I remember the next day. I remember the game they lost.
It was a back and forth game and tense all the way through – the Reds and Cardinals already didn’t like each other. The Cards scored one in the first, the Reds tied it in the second. The Cards scored three more in the third, the Reds scored two and then tied it with another run in the fourth. They never led, though, and by the bottom of the ninth, they were down 7-5. Hairston went long to make it 7-6 and then, a few batters later, with two outs, no less. The Reds sent Micah Owings – a pitcher – to pinch hit. I can still remember it. I can still see it. There was a full count and Owings got a hold of one and the crowd held it’s breath. It was hit hard and deep, but you couldn’t tell if it had enough. It just snuck over the wall in left-center. The game was tied. At that moment, it felt certain. The Reds would win the game. They would take first soon and go on to the playoffs. This was a good team.
It didn’t happen that way. The Reds lost in 10. A few days later, they did touch first place for a day, but that was all they would see of it that year. Owings’ homer was, in many ways, the high point of a lost season. And I remember it. I remember because I was there, but also because it is a good story.
This year, a big part of the story is going to be whether or not the Reds can make the playoffs and maybe even win the World Series. That’s going to be a fun story to watch and be a part of, but there’s another story as well.
Joey Votto is going to be a Red for the rest of his career. This is the story we have been handed and it has the potential to be a good story. Think about Albert Pujols. He left St. Louis and went to Anaheim and his story is changed. The world will not remember him as fondly as if he had remained a Cardinal. In Anaheim, he will decline, and they will probably not be tolerant because they did not get the early years and so are not as willing to forgive the vast outlay of money.
I don’t know what will happen with Joey Votto. He will probably be a great player for a few years, then a good player, then an average player. It won’t be surprising if he’s a liability for a year or two at the end of that deal. He might get hurt, like Griffey, and everything could turn bad, and that would not be an especially nice story to experience.
But it might go well. The Reds might win a World Series or two. In 17 or 18 years, my family might be making a pilgrimage to Cooperstown so our kids can see the player they grew up watching go into the hall of fame. My daughter will probably be in college then, my son just graduating from high school. They have a chance now to feel about Votto the way some of us feel about Larkin. That kind of pure affection is something you only get in childhood and when you think back on it, it transcends the other stuff. Because you can’t win every year. But, if you stick around, and pay attention and get a little lucky, you can end up with a good story.
Happy baseball season, everybody.
Over the last year, I have gone from being a non-presence in the online baseball community to playing a moderately prominent role. I write a lot at a Reds-focused blog and I edit for a national baseball site (and write every so often). Since I started becoming more active in that community, I’ve formed online relationships with some really cool people.
And some of them are really conservative.
They are so conservative that if we met each other under any other circumstances, we would probably hate each other. Harsh words would quite possibly fly. But on the baseball sites, we get along well. I think this is a very important thing.
So many people get worked up about the supposed echo chamber of the internet, but that only exists if your interests are very narrow. In many ways, the internet encourages community and community is a good thing because it forces us to consider the impact of our words on people. It forces us to frame our arguments differently. It forces us to realize that though we might disagree on everything else, we can be friends when we’re talking about the glory of watching Barry Larkin turn the double play.
And then there’s my job. I can’t bring my politics to my job. If I taught math, that would be one thing, but teaching English, things come up. Kids want to know what you think. Parents might not. It’s a tough situation. It’s hard, at times, to hold myself back, but if I didn’t, I’d turn some kids off. I’d lose them and then they wouldn’t learn the most valuable things I’m trying to teach them – how to think and how to question authority.
I try to be Atticus Finch and live the same in town (and on the internet) as I am at home, but sometimes, that feels impossible. Some of that is decorum and some of it is the nature of my job, but I am glad, in a way, to have these different versions of myself. If I didn’t hold myself back in some arenas and let myself go in others, I would miss out on some pretty cool experiences and some interesting people and that would be a shame.
It’s been a while since I linked one of my baseball articles here, but I’m pretty happy of the writing I did in this post on Barry Larkin and the Hall of Fame over at Redleg Nation.