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5th Inning Reviewed on Simmons Fields

Off-Season Pastimes: The 5th Inning
SimmonsField.com

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." (Rogers Hornsby)

Still 148 days until the 2010 season begins. What can the avid college baseball fan do in the off-season to stave off the dreaded baseball-deprivation blues?

Read a Baseball Book: The 5th Inning, by E. Ethelbert Miller

If you're one of those people who groans every time someone says "Life is like Baseball", you will not want to read this book. In fact, you probably should stop reading this book review. While I sometimes doubt if life really is like baseball, I faithfully hold the truth to be self-evident that Baseball is like Life. E. Ethelbert Miller apparently agrees:
I fell in love with baseball and lost my virginity to a glove. Gloves with names like Bobby Shantz and Elroy Face. How ironic to always be given a relief pitcher's glove.
Miller talks about his love of baseball in his youth, but in the heart of the order of this memoir he connects the experience of a man turning 50 to the 5th inning of a baseball game.

This book is a riff on middle age, marriage, fatherhood and failure. In baseball the fifth inning can represent a complete game. The structure of this book consists of balls and strikes.
. . .
When a person becomes 50 or approaches the years that follow, his story is
almost over.
Over and over, as he talks about his life, his loves, his failures, he weaves baseball in and out of the narrative.

These short chapters are the equivalent to balls and strikes. If I write too many of them you know I'm having trouble trying to find the plate. That's how one's life can begin (or end). Several years of college and you still don't know what to do. Thirty years working in the same place and you wonder - why?
Quotes like that one remind me of my own thoughts on how we as fans - who so often expect perfection out of our heroes - would benefit by remembering that life and baseball are alike. We follow Mizzou Baseball alums who keep battling on and on through the years of ups and downs in the minor leagues, and we scratch our heads and wonder why they don't see the futility of it all. The answer is that they do see the futility, but are still struggling to write the next chapter in their lives, just as we all so often continue to repeat the same routines day after day, season after season. Before we can begin to think about walking away from it all, before we veer off from the familiar rhythms that have defined our lives, we have to reconcile the totally inexplicable fact that we have devoted so many innings, so many games, so many seasons to something that will probably not carry us to the ninth inning, let alone lead to the glory we imagined when we were young.

As a man in my early 50's, Miller's memoir spoke to me like it might not to a young guy in his twenties. While most of his specific experiences were very unlike mine (Miller is an African American, a self-described "literary activist and poet"), his words forced me to look at my own life in the middle innings, as the writing of it apparently did for him.

Is this how the memoir pokes the writer in his side? A catcher throws a ball back to the pitcher - a bit harder - just to get his attention. He wants the pitcher to concentrate. I need to breathe and write more . . .

We could all stand to live a little more intentionally and stop coasting by on our talent or on our past success. I recommend this short book (167 pages of 3-up-and-3-down quick chapters) for anyone who suspects they need to get their head back in the game.

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