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PA Book Club: The Bullpen Gospels

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Most sports books labor under the same burdensome motif: the subject is the greatest example there has ever been.

The Mick is the most tragic tragic-hero, while the Boss is the most contradictory contradiction; or this season or that season most embodies the soul of baseball. It's easy to understand why writers take this tack- why else would we bother to read the book?

So when a book comes along that is relatively hyperbole free, I find it refreshing.

Dirk Hayhurst's Bullpen Gospels is a player's story of struggling through the minor leagues. Early on Dirk defuses most of the Hollywood narratives- he's not playing baseball to fulfill any Mantle-esque debt to his father, or to lift his family out of poverty like Strawberry, or to meet some sort of baseball destiny. Hayhurst doesn't even write of himself as an accomplished athlete- I laughed over his disastrous Spring Training Pitcher Fielding Practice.

It's humor and humanity that makes Hayhurst a compelling narrator. His depression and paranoia are, at times, sparklingly and painfully clear. But the worries are obstacles that can never really be overcome; it's the chapters between the meltdowns on the mound that kept me reading. I love the inside seat at Kangaroo Court, and I laughed at Lars' joke about the octopus. And maybe I'm sentimental, but the scenes of the bullpen scooping up the 3-year old and letting him be the center of their world for an inning or two, and of Hayhurst giving his shoes to the homeless man in Ohio were the most moving scenes in the book. That's when Hayhurst stopped being a kid with a splendid but not spectacular right arm, and started being human.

And in the end, if Bullpen Gospels falls into the Field of Dreams trap- that every baseball story is ultimately about a father and a son- it falls with a smile. Hardly a classic, yet well worth reading, I though it was a fascinating look at life in the minor leagues.

(Yes, that's Hayhurst in the picture. 39.1IP in 2008 and 2009; I don't know if qualifies as more than a cup of coffee, but the Show is the Show).