"What gets me upset with the newer players is their lack of intensity.
They tend to go through the motions a little bit.
They don't understand that you've got to practice the way you play."
The year was 1955 and it was springtime in Birmingham, Michigan, a great time and place to be alive if you were 11 years old as we were.
Each morning I read my favorite sportswriter Joe Falls as he reported on developments for the Tigers' spring training in Florida. I was wistful, dreamy and lazy.
That would soon change.
Because that was the year I met another 11-year-old who would become my lifelong friend and who would immediately change my life for the better. He was tall and wiry and he had red hair and freckles and looked like he walked right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
This person would later become the author, playwright, advertising creative director, world traveler, horse racing aficionado, country folk singer Terrence N. Hill, but back then he was just Terry.
Before I met him I had been a young baseball fan in a rather relaxed, distant way. I read the sports pages and listened to games on the radio. In my cocoon of passivity. But Terry is not a passive person. Neither does he enjoy passivity in others. (Try vacationing with him. You'll need to take a vacation after the vacation to recover.)
Terry engages life full-out. So it wasn't long before he had me following baseball at deeper levels than most boys ever do. And he also convinced me to try out for Little League and play the game, too.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A true friend is someone who will make us do what we can."
That was Terry.
About a year after befriending him I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom with baseball cards neatly aligned next to a stenographer's notebook as I rolled dice to see what the next player would do at bat. I'd then record the result on the pad, and after awhile there were huge stacks of pads piled high with statistics. Terry and I had invented a game, a precursor to today's fantasy leagues, we simply called "Leagues."
Like baseball-addicted mad scientists we'd play, sometimes ten hours straight, long into the night, and then rush to each other's houses the next day to report the results. We owned and memorized every baseball card of every player in major league baseball and our knowledge of the sport's trivia would make Bill James (later to become baseball's greatest statistician) look woefully uninformed.
To speed up our calculating of batting averages we taught ourselves to use an abacus. We later replaced that with a slide rule, marvelous for quickly calculating averages and ERAs.
And out in the yard we also played. Hours on end! We cut golf balls open to get at the hard, bouncy little ball in the middle and then used that ball to throw off various walls and garage doors. We also played catch, and fungo, and soon were playing on the same team, the Wildcats, in Little League. Terry was our shortstop and I played third base. We were champions. Terry was the sparkplug.
We were so into baseball that the real world had become a mere alternative universe. We did follow real sports, but they were never quite as exciting as the leagues we ourselves created and wrote about.
Back then, living outside Detroit, it was safe for two boys to take a bus to Briggs Stadium downtown to watch our Tiger heroes, Ray Boone (who led the league in runs batted in in 1955), Al Kaline who was the league's best hitter (.340) and Harvey Kuenn who captained the team and led the league in doubles. Our Tigers scored more runs than any team in the American League although the Yankees, (with Mickey Mantle and his unbeatable rat pack), ran away with the pennant.
That was a long time ago, though, no? And, so, here we are 54 years later. What's changed? Almost nothing! So we wrote this book about baseball.
This was a year Dickens would have liked because Terry and I followed the best of teams and the worst of teams. Terry, who has long been a New Yorker, got to follow his Yankees all the way to the World Championship. (Sorry for spoiling the ending.)
I, myself, followed my own hometown Arizona Diamondbacks.
Dysfunction in uniform.
As a part of this book's research we decided to spend a week together in New York, going to games and visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Terry also spent a weekend in Phoenix to see my team play. The wonderful thing about that was that we had as much fun this time around as we used to have when we both lived on Buckingham Road in 1955, just a few houses apart from each other.
There is no real rhyme or reason to this book. No attempt to chronicle a season comprehensively. It's really about two fans having fun following baseball and writing to each other about it.
Terry did a better job telling the story of the Yankees season, and I'm glad he did, because everybody loves a winner. (Damn Yankees!) I, on the other hand, felt I had an obligation to the readers not to make them depressed ... so I tried to write as little about the Diamondbacks as I could.
This is our fourth book together. We started on a whim. We were initially trying to get into the Guinness World Records book as the first people to ever read Moby Dick all the way through. We decided to make our correspondence about that reading experience into a book, and to our surprise a lot of people really enjoyed it, and are still buying copies today.
So we fantasized that we were now pressured to write more books together. Terry had been mailing me his favorite obituaries for decades so we hit upon Two Guys Read the Obituaries as a fun sequel. To our fresh surprise, people bought that one, too. Not in Harry Potter numbers, but enough books were sold to forge ahead with our third book, Two Guys Read Jane Austen.
That one sold more copies than the first two combined! Other authors were now becoming envious. It is said that at one publishing convention a long line of writers paraded outside the convention hall carrying signs that said: "Break up the Two Guys!"
But we would not stop writing.
So then we became lit up by the work of Jane Austen, and the challenge of writing about her. One of Jane's books that we wrote about was Mansfield Park, the dust jacket of which describes Jane's mission as an author. It says it was her mission to "...express her faith in a social order that combats chaos through civil grace, decency and wit."
That's baseball's mission, too. In these chaotic times, there is always baseball. It is just a game. But it can restore us to sanity.
We talk in this book a lot about the great baseball player Ichiro. Yes he goes by one name and this book explains why. Although there's another explanation, too. He is as masterful at his art as other one-name people like Picasso or Sting or Elvis are at theirs.
So I'm going to finish this by telling you something Ichiro said once. And I hope I can get this in because sometimes Terry likes to edit my writing out when I go too far in the direction of my passion for personal growth and the psychology of achievement.
Once, upon first facing Red Sox pitcher and countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ichiro said, "I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger."
Boy do I ever love that quote. The fire in my soul. The zeal of a challenger. I love his quote almost as much as I love baseball itself. And I have Terry to thank for that.
So onward into this season. I hope you feel our love of baseball in TWO GUYS READ THE BOX SCORES.
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