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Uncovering the Soul of Baseball

I am excited we are reading  The Soul of Baseball—A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski as a feature book in our 2Book Topeka community read. The book chronicles the year Posnanski spent with traveling with Buck O’Neil. The book is much more than a sports book.

Buck O'Neil

There is an old saying about sports, “sports build a person’s character.” I agree with that statement, but want to take a step further and say that sports not only builds a person’s character, it also reveals one’s character. As Posnanski writes about his travels withO’Neil, each page is another lesson in a life well lived.

Yes, this is a book about sports from O’Neil's life as a baseball player, manager, coach and scout. While those are the things in his life that first brought him fame and notoriety, there is so much more to his life. The stories in the book speak of the importance being a good father, social injustice, the love a man had for his wife, jazz and growing old.

O’Neil lived a full life, but he could have died a forgotten man, his life barely a footnote, except to the most ardent baseball fan. Instead O’Neil is brought to life by the author. Each story has a life lesson in it.

When speaking of his own father O’Neil recounted a lesson of letting go of bitterness and living the best life we can. “Drain all the bitterness from your heart,” he said. “My father was a good man. He paid his taxes. He lived a good life. But he couldn’t vote. He was not bitter though.”

We are reminded of the importance of friendship and always being on time.

And a quote that always brings a smile to my face: “Do a little showboating every now and again in your life. Remember, it was the so-so ballplayers that came up with the word ‘Showboating.’ They were jealous. If you have something to show, go ahead and showboat a little bit.”

It would have been a tragedy if the world had not learned about O’Neil. Posnanski was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about the book. One question asked of him, was how is the world a better place by knowing the whole story of Buck O’Neil?

“There are dozens of ways that Buck impacted the world with his story, but I suppose the thing that always goes to the top was his complete lack of bitterness," Posnanski said.“Here was a man who was denied basic opportunities all his life because of the color of his skin. He was denied the chance to go to his local high school. He was denied the chance to try and become a major league ballplayer. He was denied the chance to become a major league manager, when he was among the most qualified people in the world to do so. He had doors slammed in his face again and again and yet –he utterly refused (and it was a purposeful refusal) to let that alter his positive view of the world and of people. His optimism shined through every single thing he did, every story he told. I Imagine countless people in the world became a little more hopeful themselves just by coming across Buck.”

That answer is but a snippet of the remarkable man who comes alive in the book. If you have interest in reading about a man who touched many lives, I can’t encourage you enough to pick up a copy of The Soul of Baseball and join others in reading this book.

Hear Posnanski talk more about the book and his work, answer questions, and sign books at the library on Sun, Feb 17, 2-3:30pm in Marvin Auditorium. Check out all the 2Book Topeka events including a presentation by author and co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Phil Dixon on March 12.

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