Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wherefore art thou, Baseball?

It was by accident that I came upon a discovery which is one of those that kind of changes your outlook on life. I say kind of because there is no way for me to prove the discovery to be factual, yet the circumstances that surround it are so overwhelming in my untrained mind that they have to be explored.

That cornfield in Iowa had never left my mind, but it had become fuzzy like the ghostly opponents in Shoeless Joe. I'd read the book years ago but can't remember whether it was in college or the Army or some lesser defined time in my life. A feathery snow began to fall, lasting for several hours at a temperature just below freezing, enough to cause a few mishaps on the road but not enough to stock up on cans of condensed milk or to contemplate mortality. The first snow had come so late in the winter, about that time when you first realize the days are getting lighter and when restlessness for baseball embeds itself in your soul, and like an alcoholic who is drinking mouthwash because it's the only alcohol available, you watch baseball movies and read baseball books and anxiously rock back and forth in your chair as you stare at the fledgling schedules and decide what games you're going to attend during the season. I went to the library that wintry day, walked there while other cars were sliding off the roads, and I looked for something to read to combat the gray boredom I was feeling, when there it was on a shelf under the "Classics" label next to Kerouac and Kipling, a crumbling, well-creased paperback screaming baseball at me. I had George Orwell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez in my hand, but as soon as I saw the title "Shoeless Joe," I ripped it from the shelf and nearly skipped to the checkout.

I remembered it had been a good book when as a ghost in time I had read it, but I hadn't remembered how well-written it was. Or maybe I hadn't been mature enough to recognize good writing (as it wasn't until I was halfway through college when my soul suddenly renewed a childhood interest in writing.) I read the thing in two days, all 224 pages of it, sucked it down in my hunger for the game, for its passions, its nostalgia, its sensual pleasures of joy and respite, and I marveled at how well it sunk into my conscience, pulling up all sorts of memories and feelings and sensations. As I was imagining Ray Kinsella and his perfect family and his perfect farm, the idea of Holden Caulfield suddenly popped into my head, like maybe Ray on his farm was Holden all grown up.

Ok, the words above are Casey O'Hagan's, the main character in my story In the Big Inning. I've decided since it wasn't going where I wanted it to change it to first person, at least for the second half of the book. I'll see how the rewrite goes. I need to develop the characters much more, reduce the amount of dialogue, and write more narrative on the actual baseball games and gambling. Anyway, the words above are also true, because I did find Shoeless Joe and check it out last weekend. I wrote this on Monday, and it is my response to JD's post at Red Reporter, where he says, "This is the point in the winter when I really start missing baseball..." Me, too, JD, me too.

More from Casey:
It was Ray Kinsella's talk of religion that hooked me on the idea, the same talk that Holden spouts off, the same talk, in fact, that all of Salinger's characters are known for, and Salinger himself has practiced a billion different religions. And you know the cabin that Holden talks about, the one where he wants to raise a family someday, away from the rest of the world? That's the farm. That's the cornfield in Iowa. Ray didn't like the city life, didn't like selling insurance and the whole 9-5 boredom of urban living.

But it makes sense since the man who really wrote that book is J.D. Salinger! Seriously, have you ever read W.P. Kinsella's baseball stories? While the stories themselves are good, the writing is average, especially when compared to Salinger. In addition, the language patterns show Shoeless Joe to be closer to Salinger's writing than Kinsella's, even down to the use of commas. And it is true that the name "Richard Kinsella" appears in The Catcher in the Rye, which is Ray's twin brother's name in Shoeless Joe. The more I study this, the more I am convinced that Salinger had some sort of deal with Bill Kinsella so Salinger wouldn't have to be in the spotlight when the book was published.
And how do we know Salinger is a baseball fan? Well, it is called The CATCHER in the Rye, isn't it? (Wink, wink.)

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