Dirk Hayhurst’s The Bullpen Gospels, which was released this spring, is that type of book.
Claire has to read a memoir for school this summer. I’ve thought about recommending this book…and then I remember the foul language, the sophomoric pranks, and the detailed descriptions of every body part – male and female – known to man. But seriously, she could do a lot worse than The Bullpen Gospels.
Hayhurst is a relief pitcher who has played in the Padres and Blue Jays organizations. On its face, The Bullpen Gospels is his recounting of the 2007 minor league season, where he played in Single-A and Double-AA ball. You will laugh your ass off at the antics of ballplayers working to get to The Show. (Sorry, it is hard to get the language of minor league players out of your mind after reading The Bullpen Gospels.) Riding home on the train last evening, I laughed out loud twice reading things that can’t be repeated in a family oriented blog.
But this book is about much more than baseball, long bus rides, and fleabag hotels. Hayhurst is a sensitive soul willing to identify his vulnerabilities. He’s also a terrific writer (reminding me of the scene from Bull Durham where Crash Davis is described as someone who “once read a book without pictures.”) As he recounts his improvement over the past year to his minor league pitching coach, Hayhurst finds the words to describe his success both inside and outside baseball.
‘What do you think is the biggest difference from this last year to this?’ he (pitching coach Abby) asked…
I took a moment to reflect. I thought about how my mental approach changed and how I might explain it in a way that didn’t seem as if I had developed a marijuana problem or had wanted Abby to join a cult or, at the very least, convince him I needed a therapist.
‘Well,’ I began, ‘I won’t say I just don’t care about what happens out there, because I do. I want to win when I take the mound. However, I don’t care about what I can’t control once I’m out there. I mean, the way I figure it is, I’m going to go out there and give everything I’ve got. I’m going to go right after guys. It’s all or nothing. I guess this year I’m fine with the nothing part. I’m not afraid of failing.’…
‘Let me ask you something,’ Abby said. ‘Why would you ever go out there with any other mind-set?’ In his matter-of-fact country accent, he made it sound as if the things I just spoke were blatantly obvious facts everyone in the game already knew….’I mean, shit, what were you thinking all those other years?’
‘Look,’ I said, ‘it’s different for everyone I suppose, but I put so much stock in what it meant to be a baseball player, I became afraid to fail at it. I’d be out of a job and out of an identity. I thought I’d lose everything without it.’…
Abby mulled over my words for a moment, then sat up from his chair. ‘You know baseball isn’t a hiding place, don’t ya?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, this is a profession, not an existence. You can’t hide from it, no matter how well you’re doing. I’ve coached a lot of guys, and some of them have all the success in the world but no means to enjoy it. When they’re done, they ain’t got nothing even when they have everything.’
I stared at him, waiting for more information, but it did not come….’Well, whatever yer thinking about now, keep thinking it. Keep doing what you are a doing. Yer havin’ a great season so far, and there ain’t no reason you can’t keep having it.’
The Bullpen Gospels received great reviews, including favorable comparisons to Ball Four and Catcher in the Rye, and comments that it is “one of the best baseball books ever written,” and “the best sports book written in the last ten years.” Bob Mitchell wrote one of the more insightful reviews when he said,
Yes, Virginia, there is a big-league ballplayer who can write a memoir all by himself that is not a whistle-blowing, naming-of-names diatribe, but rather an intelligent, articulate, profound, brutally honest, self-effacing, funny, touching book about the painful but rewarding relationship between baseball and life. Dirk Hayhurst’s The Bullpen Gospels is a from-the-heart, refreshingly stereotype-busting account of a year in his minor league pitching career that reveals him not as a number on a uniform or a bunch of stats or a grinning face on a baseball card, but a vulnerable, humble, flesh-and-blood real person with real feelings. Gospels is a funny bone-tickling, tear duct-stimulating, feel-good story that will leave die-hard baseball fans—and die-hard human beings, for that matter—well, feeling good.
Pick up a copy of The Bullpen Gospels for your summer reading list. But don’t be surprised if you find it more than a light summer read.
More to come…