Last Saturday I was sitting at Trav’s dining room table, eating scrambled eggs and bacon, and talking about — something. Something that was in all likelihood not related to baseball at all. Definitely not this book. Something that prompted me to say, “Hold on, I need to see who’s on the Astros’ top ten prospects,” turn to my iPad, and then instruct Trav on how George Springer was an anomaly, because he came out of a snowbird school, and Carlos Correa was a true shortstop who they expected to stick there in the majors. He also loves me despite this.
This is how my brain works.
So basically Caryn Rose’s newest novel, A Whole New Ballgame, about a woman who gets her heart broken by a musician and then accidentally takes up baseball as a hobby, is exactly my jam. It’s a smart story about falling in love with baseball, and in the hands of a writer less able to convey the joy of baseball, it would probably fall flat, but in Rose’s, it makes me want to quit my job and drive around watching baseball (even more than usual). It’s full of romantic improbabilities that are upfront about their improbability, which mimics the magic of baseball and that moment when your team just wins. (As a lifelong Orioles fan, I am still trying to remember all those moments.)
Rose’s story is not unfamiliar — boy breaks girl’s heart, girl meet a better boy — but the way she tells it is. The thing that surprised me is that her message isn’t baseball will save your life (or rock and roll will save your life, or anything like that), but rather, the thesis of Rose’s story is that living your life will save your life. Here, baseball is the metaphor for Laurie’s decision to live her life, and move towards her future, instead of betting on the “safe thing” or the “sure thing”. The so-called “bad guys” — ex-boyfriend Kirk, sleazy-charming love interest and musician Ryan — are encased in amber throughout the piece, unable and unwilling to change, destined to be rolled over by tar and their own stagnancy.
So if baseball will save your life isn’t the thesis, how is this a baseball book? Because baseball is so at the heart of it; Rose is by profession a music writer, but she wrote at metsgrrl.com — one of the first professional female baseball bloggers — for many years, and Laurie’s path into baseball fandom is written with a true hand and one that never gets preachy, or too pedantic in explaining baseball to the readers as Laurie learns it. The novel is peppered with Red Sox trivia — Laurie lives in Boston at the start of the book — but as much genuine love for baseball as there is devotion to a single team. Laurie’s path crosses, early on, with Peter and Eric, lifelong friends visiting every MLB park in a single summer, and that’s the story that I won’t spoil for you. But as I said, the improbabilities don’t feel improbable, and the exposition doesn’t feel expository; these characters felt like friends, and several times I wished I was the one sitting in the fourth seat with Laurie, Peter and Eric in Kansas City or, even, the hallowed seats on the Green Monster.
A Whole Other Ballgame isn’t a new classic, and if it was, I’m not the person to determine that. But it is a smart novel about how you move on from losing the things you love, to finding new things you love, and maybe the old things, too. It’s a novel about love, loss, and the fact that no matter what happened last year, pitchers and catchers report in February every year. There’s always next year.
You can find every outlet to buy Caryn Rose’s A Whole New Ballgame here. There’s a release party in Brooklyn at WORD on March 12. The only thing this book was missing is that I never got to find out Peter and Eric’s opinions on my beloved Camden Yards.
(Up top is a photo from a February Carolina baseball game, in 2011. I think I got a sunburn. This year, the Heels are starting in Charleston, SC, instead of the Thrill, because snow. Fuck snow. I was ready for college baseball.)