Roger AngellThe New Yorker
1 World Trade Center
New York, New York
I enjoy exhibitions of grace. Whether on the field of play or on the printed page I love to see grace in action.
Reading your book This Old Man reminded me of the grace of your writing. The stories flow easily. They are interesting. They are unhurried.
It has been some years since I read your work. I have next to me in a bookcase four of your collections of essays on baseball. My recent reading has focused on crime fiction, especially for my blog, but there was no specific reason I drifted away from your writing. It has been good to return to reading your essays.
I have long admired your writing about sport, especially baseball, while carrying out your work as an editor of fiction at The New Yorker.
My life includes writing about sports while spending most of my time in other work. I have written a sports column for the local weekly paper, The Melfort Journal, for 38 years while practising law full time. I no longer write weekly columns but have continued to cover the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
In reading your stories about baseball in This Old Man it is clear to me that you like to have conversations with ball players, managers and coaches. I equally prefer to talk with athletes rather than just asking a couple of questions and moving on to the next person. I am finding it more difficult to have conversations. Players have come to expect no more than a leading question or two from a reporter. Most are startled by the concept of talking with a reporter.
Your essays, such as your recounting of a conversation with Earl Weaver, in which he profanely expressed disinterest in coaching high school or university baseball after being a major league baseball manager illustrates the unexpected joys that come from taking time to chat.
Occasionally I have had the chance to cover a major league game. In 1991 I was in Minneapolis and had a chance to visit with Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish, then an adviser on pitching to the Milwaukee Brewers. We were sitting in the dugout while he talked pitching. He told story after story. Suddenly I saw Rick Dempsey strapping on his catching gear and smiling at us. I expect Cal would have sat there in the dugout talking to me for the whole game if I could have stayed.
While I recognize a sports writer need not love sports I am glad that you love baseball. Most of my columns have been about football as the Riders are Saskatchewan’s professional team but it is baseball that I have loved all my life. My family has been playing baseball in Saskatchewan for almost 100 years.
Until I was an adult it was never baseball. I played hardball as a boy. I still like using hardball better than baseball to describe the game.
It is the grace in baseball that draws me to the game rather than the overpowering fastball or the homerun. Watching a pitcher changing speeds, locations and pitches is an artistry I look forward to every summer. Fielders smoothly handling ground balls never lose its allure. I admire the easy swings of the best hitters.
As I approach 64 I still play some baseball in Saskatchewan’s Twilite Provincial Tournaments. Many of the players are now a generation younger than me as you can be a Twiliter upon reaching 35. While grace now eludes me on the field guile can still get me, the slowest pitcher in the province, through some innings on the mound.
(Finished in my next post.)