Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recapturing the Beauty of Baseball – A Mini-Review of “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella

The game of baseball placed a lien on my heart when I was very young. Anyone who has been reading the pages of The White Rhino Report for any length of time will not be surprised to learn this fact. Family legend insists that at the age of 2, I could recite quite accurately the entire Boston Red Sox line-up. Yet it is not just the Red Sox I love, it is the game of baseball – its pace, its angles, its colors and smells and sounds, its history, its legends, its heroes and its goats. I love the subtle movements of the fielders between pitches. I love the arcane tactics and many possibilities that may unfold whenever the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. I love the poetry and literature and films that the game has inspired down through the generations.

These have been difficult days and months and years for lovers of the pure game of baseball. The steroid era has tainted the game in countless ways, and has spoiled the fun for many of us. The recent revelations (illegally leaked to the press) that David Ortiz – my beloved Big Papi – had tested positive for a banned substance in 2003 saddened and disappointed me. The Red Sox six-game slide – going 0-for-Tampa-and-the-Bronx – swept through me like a chill east wind.

So, it was very timely last week when my sister, Diane, handed me a copy of W.P. Kinsella’s classic baseball novel, “Shoeless Joe.” The novel was the inspiration for one of my favorite films of all time: “Field of Dreams.” The novel and the film that it spawned are, in a word, magical. Reading Kinsella took me back in time along with his homespun characters to a simpler era of baseball and American life. The book and the film have injected into American dialogue phrases that are wonderfully and instantly recognizable as having been whispered by the disembodied voice in the sky:

“If you build it, he will come.”

“Go the distance.”

“Ease his pain.”

Re-reading this simple, elegiac and phantasmagorical story scrubbed my sullied baseball soul clean again. I am renewed and ready for the pennant race. Maybe there is a little bit of Shoeless Joe and his grace in Jacoby Ellsbury. Go Sox!

I now plan to read some of the other baseball-themed writings that Kinsella has produced over the years - "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy," "The Thrill of the Grass," et al.



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