Baseball may be my least favorite sport to watch on television ("may be" if you count golf as a sport). It's a whole lotta nothin' before you get to the good stuff. That said, the good stuff is almost always great. But the whole lotta nothin' keeps me away.
Watching it in the park is better. I can distract myself with the sounds and smells and company of friends. And it's a chance to get outside. If the weather's right, a day or evening at the ballpark can be near perfect.
But what I really love about baseball is the story of baseball. I love Bull Durham and Eight Men Out and even Major League and Field of Dreams. I love the film The Natural as much as I love the book. I loved David Maraniss' amazing biography Clemente and much of what I love about one of my favorite works of fiction, The Brothers K (see sidebar) is that it is a book about baseball. And I am loving The Boys of Summer.
This is Roger Kahn writing about his experiences following, getting to know, and reporting on the mid-20th century Brooklyn Dodgers; the team of Robinson, Snyder, Hodges, and Reese. Each one of these guys is a true character, the way my grandpa means it when he calls someone a character. The kind of character that we think of when we think of baseball; larger than life, battered by experience, dreamy and downtrodden at once. These guys are all too human and yet almost gods.
Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer may be the best book on sports ever written. It is certainly the best that I have ever read. Don't believe me? Just read the opening sentence: "At a point in life when one is through with boyhood, but has not yet discovered how to be a man, it was my fortune to travel with the most marvelously appealing of teams."
The tone of the book is sentimental and bittersweet, much like the sport itself. But its bitter isn't maudlin and its sweet is never shallow, both plumb the depths of humanity and it is that which keeps drawing me in. Kahn paints the picture and he puts you in that place. I pick up this book and it is Brooklyn 1955. I am there. And I don't care if I never get back.