It has been my experience with groups like this that the more rules you institute, the more people are going to be turned off and turned away, even if just subconsciously.

So to start, I’m going to talk a little bit about the book. Some of my favorite passages. My thoughts on a few stories. Maybe try to interpret a few anecdotes. Then, in the comments, you guys can feel free to respond to what I have written. But more importantly, we’d like to hear what you guys felt about the book. What you liked. What you didn’t like. Any questions you have. And maybe what you would like to see in Dirk Hayhurst’s next book which he is currently working on and will almost certainly include his time with the Rays.

Finally…in the future, when we pick new books for the Club, we will present you guys with two or three options and we can vote. But for the next meeting, I think it only makes sense to discuss “The Extra 2%” by Jonah Keri, which just came out this week. You can order it, or download an e-copy at Amazon if your local bookstore is out.

The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran by Dirk Hayhurst

First of all, for those that haven’t read this book or haven’t finished, I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed this. My only complaint is that I hadn’t read it sooner.

In an overall sense, I loved the structure. There was just enough baseball to remind that it was a baseball book. There was just enough of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans to give us a glimpse without feeling like we were intruding. And there was the right amount of Dirk’s personal life to remind us that athletes are human and often have the same problems that many of us face.

This book really is about “what baseball isn’t.”

On writing about teammates

This is one of the more interesting aspects of the book. It is interesting how he changes the names of some guys, but not others. In many cases, the names are almost too over-the-top, possible to emphasize that they are fake.

But at the same time, I was fascinated by the scene with Matt Bush, who until yesterday, was a teammate of Hayhurst’s in spring training. While the scene was not the most embarrassing incident in the world, it was a bit humbling. And I can’t help but wonder if Hayhurst had a tiny axe to grind with Bush and that was why his name wasn’t changed. Knowing the stories we have read about Bush from his days in the Padres organization, and how Hayhurst seems to emphasize Bush’s problems with “anger,” it wouldn’t surprise me if veterans like Hayhurst felt he need some humble pie.

But this also gets me wondering about Hayhurst and his relationship with the Rays. We as fans love having Hayhurst around. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of the players are a bit nervous. No matter how innocent Hayhurst’s intentions, sometimes things can get written or said that somebody didn’t want to be consumed by the public. Apparently Hayhurst has already met with the team about the book. But I wonder if some are still going to be skeptical. And more importantly, if Hayhurst makes the opening day roster, will this cause tension in the clubhouse.

On struggling

Hayhurst clearly struggle with his mechanics and his abilities. But more importantly, he struggle with confidence. I kept wanting to reach into the book, grab Hayhurst by the shoulders and shake the sh*t out of him.

It is one of the “special” things about baseball. Great athletes often grow up being worshiped like gods. And their skills are often so dominant that they might even feel like gods. But baseball, unlike the other major sports, will tries hard to break them down before they are on the big stage.

The minor leagues can do a lot of things, but I can’t help but wonder if the most important thing is to humble. Even the biggest stars that dominated the minors, must still feel a bit humbled knowing even they will have to spend two or three years riding crappy buses and sleeping in cheap hotels for six months.

On Trevor Hoffman

Hoffman is the one player that Hayhurst says he worshiped. But what I really hated about this story — and I may be reading too much into this — is how Hayhurst gives the impression that he was just one of those kids that never really liked baseball. And as somebody that loves the sport as much as I do, this always drives me nuts.

I would give my left testicle to have what Hayhurst has. And yet, it seemingly just falls into his lap.

Now that is certainly too simplistic and overly emotional on my part. I’d like to think Dirk worked really hard and has grown to love the sport.

But it also just seems to show that some people were just meant for certain things. And the rest of us weren’t.

On bowel movements

Hayhurst is obsessed with bowl movements. How many different stories in this book seemed to spin around inside a toilet bowl?

On picking numbers

I loved the section on why players pick their numbers and what Dirk calls “come out songs.” For whatever reason, these stories always fascinate me.

One of my favorite stories of acquiring a number was a story John Kruk told. When he first got to the Cubs, he wore no. 28. Mitch Williams showed up the next year and wanted no. 28. So he bargained with Kruk and ended up paying him 2 cases of beer. Then Kruk hears that Ricky Henderson paid another player $25 thousand for a number when he joined the Blue Jays.

Kruk called it a “sad story,” noting that two years later, Williams switched to no. 99, some guy in Toronto got $25 thousand and his beer was gone.

Dirk’s epiphany

Maybe the most important point in the book — and in Dirk’s career — was when he was demoted back to single-A. Before the season, he was doing meet-and-greet hosted by the team’s radio voice.

Mentally, Hayhurst is clearly at his low point. Just when he is about to seemingly give up on his career, he imagines a scene in which he is facing the “baseball reaper.” After two strikes, all the fans disappeared. And now Hayhurst was all alone. It was up to Dirk to face the “reaper” and defeat him or be defeated.

And after Dirk strikes out the “reaper,” the batter pulls back his hood, and in a very Star Warsian moment, it turns out he was the “baseball reaper.” At that moment, Hayhurst finally realized that the only thing holding him back was himself and his lack of confidence.

On baseball gods

Is there a more religious sport than baseball? And by that, I don’t mean that baseball caters to religious people. But rather, baseball itself is like its own religion. And a part of me wonders if that plays a part in the struggles between “statheads” and “traditionalists.” If we believe in things like the “baseball gods” and use superstitions to battle the unexplainable, we (as baseball fans in general) may not want to know that there is actually a little man behind the curtain.

On obnoxious fans

Dealing with fans in the bullpen is recurring theme in the book, which only seems logical for a book by a relief pitcher. But there is one particular story, the run-in with three redneck fans. I wonder if this scene was fictionalized story that takes bits from many different similar incidents. And I wonder if this is a way for Dirk to take a moment, stick up for his fellow pitchers and yell out loud about the things that all relievers deal with in the bullpen.

On failing in front of the team’s GM

Baseball is a game of failure. Players know this. Most fans realize this. But sometimes a player only gets one chance to succeed. And even though “failure” is always a possibility, this scene did a nice job of explaining just how crushing those lost moments can be.

On his relationship with his brother

As good as this book is. And as funny as it is. And as insightful as it is. The book doesn’t hit its emotional peak until the scene where his brother is on the phone and is asking Dirk for forgiveness.

This was tough in the sense that we only get glimpses and hints at how bad of a drunk his brother was and how damaging it was to the family. So when Dirk goes off on his brother, I found myself a bit angry at Dirk wanting him to chill out and stop being such a baby.

And maybe that was the point. Maybe Dirk is using that moment to let us know how self-centered he had been and how he needed to get over himself.

On minor league playoffs

Minor leaguers really do take the playoffs seriously.

On kids chasing water streams

This seemingly simple anecdote about kids chasing streams in a fountain appears to be Dirk’s view of playing baseball: “catching the water was never the idea, experiencing it was.” The kids are a a metaphor for baseball players. But what is the water? Championships? Making it to the big leagues?

 
 

11 Comments

  1. Charles says:

    I kinda wasn’t expecting the book to hit home as much as it did. Not that my life is anything close to his, but the whole first half of the book reads like a “this is all I have” existence that I think more than a few of us have dealt with in our own lives. Baseball isn’t just this cool thing he gets to do for a living, it’s really all he has. Lose that and it’s back to factory jobs and life with a family that has clearly taken the souls away from its other members and left them as shells.

    The fact that he made it through the crossroads of giving up or not really speaks to the kind of mental and emotional strength the guy must have. There were times in the first part of the book where I was cheering for him to quit and go back to college on the Padres’ dime just for his own well being. Can you imagine what life is like for some of the guys that flame out, quit because they have to and not out of choice? Guys without anything else to fall back on? There’s probably a world full of anonymous tragedies kicked off by talented athletes whose talents weren’t enough to keep them from getting ground up by the machine.

    My favorite phrase in the book is when he refers to Trevor Hoffman’s “throne of saves”. I don’t know why, but that image made me laugh out loud while reading this on the bus ride home from work.

    • KG says:

      I was thinking the same thing (except for wanting him to quit :). I also wonder how many guys quit baseball just because they struggled and didn’t have the necessary mental strength or the “radio guy” moment. Heck, I’d venture to guess that more players have missed because they just weren’t able to handle the failures than guys that failed because of injuries.

  2. Charles says:

    Another thing I thought while reading this was would I be enjoying it as much if it was written by someone unlikeable? Obviously, Hayhurst is a character, something of a nerd, his wife is not the stereotypical sports wife glamour queen but is something of an amazing everyday-type person who does important work – in other words, he’s relatable and easy to see as a person. If this book was written by Elijah Dukes, for example, and knowing what you know about his outside of baseball life, could you feel anywhere near the same level of sympathy for the ordeals in the book? Part of what makes this an effective story is that the hard-working nice guy underdog buddy type makes a great protagonist. The ridiculous societal train wreck only makes for a great protagonist in a Chuck Palahniuk novel where you’re rooting for bad things to keep happening.

  3. Justin says:

    I bought this book a few weeks before Hayhurst was traded to the Rays. One of my close friends was dating one of the coaches daughters off and on and he told me about the book. When I found out that he ad been picked up by the Rays, my motivation to read increased dramatically.

    Hayhurst has a gift for voice and pacing. Throughout the book I was stunned by his ability to uniquely tell stories, much like Cork mentioned in his post. I was sucked in by the first few chapters, especially about hitting the kid with a pitch; but the major curve ball came a few chapters in when he began to unfold his homelife. Through the book the way he integrated the difficulty of his family with the baudiness of the locker room was brilliant.

    I did find some of the stories more memorable. I have retold the story of the relievers and the ballboy a dozen times; it has become my go to barstool story. I also loved the story of being beaten for getting A’s on science test; again, I have used this story often.

    I think the value of this book is how much you seem to get to know Dirk through the pages. I have been a Rays fan since they expanded to town, but I have never identified to a single player the way I have with Dirk and that is completely because of the book. I find myself tweeting back to Dirk as much as I do my friends; quite frankly it’s awkward on my part. Sorry, Dirk.

    The book also did a good job balancing the lessons he had learned with the humor he naturally has. I read an interview where he mentioned Donald Miller as an author he had read, and there is a certain similarity in their style that I really enjoy.

    I do wonder what it will look like as he writes further and is less able to disguise the identity of his teammates. Someone wrote a few weeks ago about the ability to go back and look at box scores to identify players names with their pseudonyms.

    • KG says:

      I was thinking as I read the book that it would probably be easy to figure out who most of the guys really are. Part of me wanted to know if any if these guys made it to the big leagues yet. But I never did. I guess Dirk didn’t want me to know the real names, and I would honor that.

      But yeah, if he is in the big leagues this season or tells stories of spring training, it will be even easier to put two and two together.

    • Hans says:

      I have the sort of same feeling. For the first time I can identify with a player and get the feeling that I really can root for someone I ‘know’. I check his site daily, read his tweets, check the game reports and really hope he does well and make the opening roster, or at least get a change to play for the Rays.

      The book is great, enjoyed reading it. The inside is unique and something great the read. But I could have done with less foolery, but that’s what I would do. But I’m not a writer, just a fan.
      The coolest prank kind of story is when they ask passing women to flash them, made me laugh real hard.

  4. Jim says:

    I agree with your assessment about the children and the water, but I thought the water was just everything else. The water was anything you could attain as a baseball player was not as important as the journey. And to take it a step further, I thought he was trying to teach us all a little life lesson. that the same principle could apply to anybody’s life, not just a baseball player.

  5. Marc says:

    The Bullpen Gospels was one of those books easy to read for me. If I’m interested I’ll get it done quick. Really quick. I often read books that don’t interest me too much and it will take me a couple of weeks. I literally spend 3 days on this one. Usually I’m not the kind of person that laughs out loud at things, but there were several moments where I did while reading

    I specifically enjoy the parts that involve them being on some sort of bus trip. A couple of goofy minor leaguers, on a bus with nothing much to do? Yeah that’s going to produce quite a bit of humor. I honestly couldn’t tell you which part I laughed at the most. When Hayhurt was in the bathroom and walked right into one of his teammates butts? They called it the Spiderman I believed because of the way he positioned himself.

    Or maybe it was the scene with the towel. The idea of holding a towel out of a bus, demanding for girls to flash them is hysterical already. But when the “ugly” chick did it and Hayhurst was blamed brings it to another level.

    I think what makes it special to me is that this book really reminds me a bit of what I do personally. When reading biographies of any kind there is simply no connection. Or even when reading a thriller, it’s interesting but simply not the same as having a personal touch to a book. And I really think Hayhurst hit it on the dot with this one.

    I already can’t wait for the 2nd one, and hopefully it will feature a bunch of Garfoose! I already read “The Extra 2%’ so count me in on that too!

  6. Chris says:

    Nice chat. I enjoyed as book well. Obviously a bit of cut-and-pasting from his blog, which seems to be getting more usual. Like Cork’s comments. And I found book much more humorous and well-written than Chris Coste’s similar “The Thirty-three Year Old Rookie.”

    For the future, consider dipping into the anthology that Nicholas Davidoff did for the Library of America, “Baseball”. Amazon: http://amzn.to/fWvJVJ.

    And Larry Tye’s terrific bit of research in “Sachel: The Life and Times of and American Legend”. Amazon: http://amzn.to/g23Bks.

  7. Justin says:

    I’m a bit surprised that no one mentioned chapter 44. I enjoyed this chapter as it illustrates just how significant of an impact the players can have on kids, in this case a child that gas a terminal ilness. It also relates to an earlier chapter where Dirk tried to give away a ball to a kid in a wheelchair. Dirk makes the comment several times in the book about how annoying some of these requests can be, and I can understand his perspective, but when he describes the interaction he had with the kid in chapter 44, it shows the human side of the game and his compassion he had along with his teammates.

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