It seems a bit simplistic to me, though, to suggest that The Steroid Era comprises a stain on the game’s history. It is, to be sure, a reminder that in a collision of faith and capitalism, capitalism almost inevitably triumphs. But labelling it an aberration feels uncomfortably close to laying all the blame at the feet of players, when the truth is that the history of baseball is characterized by efforts to streamline the flow of money toward those in control; rest assured that, during the period in question, all concerned were reaping the windfall of increased gates and greater viewership. Baseball had succeeded in re-entering the zeitgeist just a few short years after the labor stoppage which had alienated a huge number of its paying customers, and it did so thanks to the record number of balls leaving big league yards all over America. Tellingly, even though everybody seemed quite aware of the manner in which performance-enhancing substances were changing the game, nobody seemed terrifically interested in doing anything about it.
— “Dispatch #6: The gray area,” for Sinkhole magazine
In American Pastoral, Philip Roth identified a strain of dark anxiety he deemed the “indigenous American berserk,” and the contemporary home run seems to speak to that anxiety, expressing aspects of America’s gobbling ambition, its voraciousness, the muscly sense that to grind a ball into dust is a better and more exclamatory statement than a thing done lightly or delicately.
— “Dispatch #5: American Berserk,” for Sinkhole magazine
What made the prospect of him continuing to play so alluring an idea for me was not simply the pure aesthetic joy of watching him toil in a fashion so idiosyncratic and stylistically anomalous that it seemed he was playing a different game altogether, but that his familiar presence put me in touch with the person I was a long time ago, a time and a person from which and from whom I am otherwise exceptionally distant.
— “Dispatch #4: Gradually, and then all of a sudden,” for Sinkhole magazine
Who tells the future Hall of Famer that his time is up? Is it up to the future Hall of Famer to know it himself? That’s what leads, of course, to potentially uncomfortable situations like this one. But maybe there isn’t another way. Maybe that fire which made a player like Ichiro as good as he for so long was is the same heat which prevents such individuals from giving up the fight until they’re forced to do so.
— “Dispatch #3: The sense of an ending,” for Sinkhole magazine
Prior to Ichiro in 2001, only pitchers had made the Pacific jump, which certainly contributed to the doubts confronting Ichiro that first spring. It also didn’t help that he had, and has, a body type more common among jockeys than sluggers. What became apparent, though, as that first summer warmed and then broke into its full floral display, was that Ichiro had a body and a set of skills perfectly suited to a style of play most certainly foreign to the homer-happy American game circa the turn of this century. In exploiting said game’s ample seams and pores, he found great – historic, in fact – success.
— “Dispatch #2: The weight of expectation,” for Sinkhole magazine
What makes Ichiro such a compelling ballplayer and figure, then and now… is precisely what makes watching the Spring Koshien so entrancing. It’s baseball, unquestionably, but baseball after a direct collision of the familiar and the foreign. Baseball as filtered through a completely unique set of traditions.
— “Dispatch #1: A handful of dirt,” the first installment of a season-long column about Ichiro, baseball, and culture, for Sinkhole magazine
New story collection, Lands and Forests, coming in April, 2019, from Invisible.
Maybe you had some variety of wild place – your own Hawkins, Indiana, the wild places bordering your neighborhood which encouraged those wild places within you, before you came to any awareness about energy policy, or rendition, or black sites; before you understood that the worst of the world’s problems came not from without human agency, but from deep within it. I certainly did. The joy of Stranger Things springs in great measure from its ability to reconnect us with those places. It’s a meditation on power – the loss of it, the restoration of it – which never for a moment feels didactic or in any way concerned with message, but rather like a parable from within the temporal borders of our own lives. The precarity of modern life has led to a sense of unease and fragility. In Hawkins, Indiana, as in the places of our youth, before the age of smartphones, help could be very far away indeed, but we got by, in some cases with some help from benevolent authority figures, like Chief Hopper, but more often with the help of the freaks and outsiders we called our peers. The ability to navigate danger depended not on how reliable your 4G signal was, but how reliable your friends.
— “The familiarity of Stranger Things,” on the late-Cold War malaise woven into the show’s DNA, for sinkhole‘s essay roundup of 2017’s significant pop cultural moments and things
He started in: “There’s a guy. Good guy. Or average guy, anyway, like any of us. Flawed. Known his share of personal pain. Maybe he’s been predeceased by a child or a wife or a lover or a sibling. This guy – we’ll call him Randolph – walks into a bar.”
“Oh, this one,” said Marian.
— “A Good One,” a new story in The Feathertale Review‘s Winter 2018 issue
The Utility of Boredom – Book Trailer from PRIMITIVE REPLICA on Vimeo.
From Primitive Replica, here’s the trailer for the baseball book. They approached me shortly after Utility was published and said they wanted to turn it into a short film/trailer. I watched a few of their videos and then said yes without reservation. It was wonderful to work with Sean and Henry, and I couldn’t be happier with the results (except for the part where they captured that flat-footed swing of mine, which clearly demonstrates that when it comes to the ballplayer-vs-writer question, I chose the right path). Follow the link to watch the rest of their stuff, and if you’re a creative enterprise in need of a video of some sort (in and around Toronto), consider contracting their services. They’re smart, professional, and collectively they have a great eye.
As for the trailer, I’d be grateful if you’d share it if/as you see fit.
(And yes, that is a 1951 Minneapolis Millers jersey I’m wearing in the batting cage, with Willie Mays’ number on the back. That’s from Ebbets Field Flannels.)