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.
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.
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?