The cracks of bats and the thumps of balls hitting gloves have signaled the start of another baseball season. After recently listening to The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach I find myself thinking about those sounds in a slightly different way because of experiencing a vivid portrayal of the consequences of the pressure to succeed on the field.
I was skeptical at first about enjoying a book about baseball. But I discovered myself truly drawn into this story about Henry Skrimshander and the people he encounters at Westish college. Henry is a fielding phenom who is discovered by Mike Schwartz and recruited to go to Westish and play on their baseball team. Upon his arrival he discovers he is rooming with a the gay and serene “buddha” Owen and that he is pretty much supposed to fend for himself until football season is over. Henry is not very social, but once Mike starts training him and baseball season starts the interplay between his teammates, the Westish college president and his daughter Pella, and a few others on campus create a complex series of events that lead to several personal tragedies, even as the team continues to triumph on the field. One of the major themes is the pressure to succeed that is amped up by the desire of everyone on the team to win a championship for the first time in the history of Westish college. This pressure is felt the hardest by Henry, who’s streak of error free games attracts the attention of professional scouts from all over the country.
This book is so much more than baseball and athletics. It’s hard to describe the dynamics and just what made it so compelling to me. I just got caught up in the characters lives and kept wondering how they were going to make things work as they faced their public and private demons. I highly recommend it for people who enjoy books with interesting characters and a bit of “soap opera” type drama that goes deeper than a soap opera ever does.