As the offseason slowly advances, we at DRB still need our baseball fix, so we will be periodically posting reviews of several baseball books that we read over the winter months and think you might enjoy.
I’ve always been jealous of casual baseball fans — those people who can pop in emotionally when the home town team is in contention and then slip back into indifference when the team has an off year. For me and for many baseball “lifers,” fandom is not a sweater that you can just take off or put on as the weather changes.
Baseball lifers are likely to find much in Stacey May Fowles’ Baseball Life Advice that makes them nod in agreement. Fowles is a Toronto-based writer and Blue Jays fan who writes passionately and often eloquently about the baseball, baseball players, and how it feels to be a baseball fan. She began an email newsletter several years ago in which she reflected on her sport, her team, and the broader life lessons that could be found in the game. This book is, for the most part, a collection of these essays.
Fowles is upfront about her personal demons — anxiety and depression — and how immersing herself in the ups and downs of baseball fandom became a form of therapy. She notes that her voice is an unusual one in the world of baseball media. When we think of baseball tales, women are seldom the tellers. “There is no real template for loving baseball when you’re a girl or a woman, so you have to fumble around a bit to make it your own,” she writes. She also addresses her topic from a very personal perspective — the main focus is how baseball makes her feel. This is not the typical position we associate with sports journalism.
She is at her best when riffing on the appeal of individual players. Rays fans will be bemused to find a chapter on the joys of loving Dioner Navarro, who was somewhat inexplicably the favorite of her non-baseball-fan husband.
She also has a chapter, written early in the offseason of 2015, reflecting on David Price’s time as a Blue Jay and wondering where he would land as a free agent. Given Price’s rocky relationship with Boston fans and media, it’s interesting to read about how fully he was embraced by Blue Jays fans for his half-season of “rental” innings. Fowles writes “David Price ended up bringing so much more to the Blue Jays than high-quality pitching… He was indisputably affable, charming, and kind-hearted, with a winning smile and an adorable French bulldog named Astro.” I chuckled when she speculated about him signing with Toronto on a “home town discount” because he “loves the city and its fans enough to make a high price tag moot.” Stacey May, we in the Tampa Bay area are David Price’s hometown peeps, having had him among us for nearly six seasons, and we could have told you there are no discounts at the Price store.
She has chapters on Blue Jays favorites like Marcus Stroman, Adam Lind, and Josh Donaldson, who she has nicknamed “our charming dirtbag boyfriend,” (and Donaldson apparently knows this and has said “I’m OK with it”.) In other chapters she considers players who have been accused of domestic abuse or tested positive for PEDs, and shares thoughts about how fans might react to these players after they have served their suspensions. Her reflections on Jose Fernandez’s career and untimely death are quite moving.
As a woman who has watched baseball since falling in love with the 1969 New York Mets, I can appreciate some of her perspectives as a sister fan. I too have perfected that tight smile/grimace to get me through a good “mansplain” about the ground rule double. And like Fowles I have a pretty good idea of when to go and where to sit if I want to avoid harassment when attending a game alone. She critiques reporting that assumes male fans attend games with “assumed knowledge and interest,” while any woman who happens to be found at a ball park has been dragged there reluctantly and will spend most of the game shopping for bedazzled pink team gear.
The book’s strong points are many. Fowles is a first-rate writer, and readers will get drawn in by her lucid, compelling prose no matter what topic she covers. She is, she notes, a “narrative baseball fan,” making her writing especially appealing to fans who want a good story told very much from a fan’s viewpoint. If you are baseball “lifer” than you will have many flashes of recognition when she describes the rhythms of a baseball fan’s season
I did find, however, that the book’s essay collection format has limitations. Some of the themes become a bit repetitive, so that I was completely enthralled for the first half of the book but less so in the second half. The short essay form is also not always the best for addressing themes like domestic abuse or mental illness, which may require a deeper dive. For Rays fans contemplating buying her book, I would note that Fowles writes from the viewpoint of a Blue Jays fans rather than a more removed observer of baseball. This isn’t a criticism — she’s upfront about it and I assume her most avid readers are other Blue Jays fans — but more a caveat for prospective readers. Also, if you are craving talk of projections, launch angles, bunting vs. dingers or times through the order, this is probably not the book for you.
I often read commentary from fans who decry baseball’s growing focus on SABR analysis and miss the “human element” of the game. Such fans should very much appreciate this book which is pretty much statistics-free. It’s a very personal rumination on being a fan and what that means; on both the silly and the serious issues that emerge as grown men play a game; on the players who inexplicably worm their way into our hearts; on the moments of vicarious joy and despair that grab us with a force that embarrasses us to acknowledge. If you would enjoy sharing a few hours with a fan who gets your passion, and can express it more beautifully than you ever could, then this is your book.
Baseball Life Advice can be purchased on Amazon and all major online retailers.