If you like baseball, then you have to read Dirk Hayhurst's The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran (2010). It is not airy bow-tie George Will baseball, but nitty gritty Jim Bouton stuff. I have rarely laughed out loud as much as I did reading this book. Yet for all the raunchy parts (shared nudity and farting are important elements of a baseball career) Hayhurst thinks very deeply and intelligently about what it means to be a baseball player, and what it's worth.
Hayhurst (who, sadly enough, will miss this season with an injury) was in the minors when he decided to write a book about the 2007 season. Eventually he made his way to the Padres (and later to the Blue Jays) but the book focuses on the details of spring training, A ball, and Double A. Importantly, the point of the book is not just gross details, but how players find meaning in the game--how they socialize, connect with their own families, connect with communities, and even figure themselves out. Hayhurst is a reliever and therefore spends a lot of time doing mostly nothing in the bullpen. The pitchers get constantly heckled and pestered for baseballs, which they can't hand out, but every so often they get a situation like a boy with cancer who gets the time of his life by sitting in the bullpen for two innings. Hayhurst chronicles the heckling (and counter-heckling) in a hilarious way, then shifts gears to think about how just being in the uniform can make a child's eyes light up.
Toward the end, Hayhurst spends time talking to Trevor Hoffman about baseball, and says the following:
Well, baseball is a lot of things, but it's not everything. It can't make your brother sober. It can't make your family stop fighting. It can't make peace or win wars or cure cancer. It makes or breaks a lot of people, like many jobs where the folks who do it find their identity. I don't know if it should be as valuable as it is, or maybe baseball is valuable, and we players just don't use it the right way. I guess that's what I want to figure out in this book (p. 336).
Well said. And you also learn that players must wear a cup at all times or get fined, because otherwise, like Hayhurst, they may get nailed with a line drive and end up with a baseball seam mark on their testicles. This book really has it all.
Update: Thanks to Dirk for linking to this review via Twitter and saying that he does now wears a cup all the time. Now everyone should go read the book.