I was first drawn to The Art of Fielding because I thought it was a baseball book. I think it's safe to say that most of us who like to read "baseball books" like to read them for the action of the game, the drama of the game, or maybe for some insights regarding the strategy of the pitcher, the preparation or the psychology of the batter, or maybe the chemistry of the team - heroic, outlandish, brotherly, dysfunctional, spiteful, or whatever. Or, perhaps we are drawn by the old "baseball as life" metaphors, the poetry of the game, the images of the emerald diamonds, the Elysian fields, or any of the other endless baseball clichés. But I'm pretty sure that few, if any, baseball book readers pick up a baseball book looking for a made-for-TV mini-series about relationships. This, however, is what we get from our author, Chad Harbach.
And the relationships that evolve not only take over the subject matter, which some of us assumed was baseball, but they do so in uncomfortable and unbelievable ways. The President of the insular little preppy college, the gay out-fielding but mostly bench-warming roommate, the daughter of the President of the college, the catcher and captain of the team, Mike Schwartz (the only likable and believable character in the book), and, of course, Henry, the ultimate, but ultimately choking, star shortstop, are swirled into an incestuous soap opera of coincidences in one chapter after another of "what happens next?" endings that there is barely time to call "time-out". And, in fact, the only option is to give up or to give in.
I actually gave in. I just went with it, because I wanted, of all things, to find out "what happened next". Of course, I felt totally manipulated in the process but I went willingly. Somehow, and I'm not sure how, I was entertained, but in the way millions are entertained after a long day at work by surfing cable TV and stopping for inexplicably long periods of time at things like "Here Comes Honey, Boo Boo", or "Ex-Wives of Rock". But not entertained enough to celebrate when it was finally over. No champagne in this locker room. Just a lukewarm shower and the thrill of reaching toward the bedside table to finally grab a new book.