The Art of Fielding

Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is a new novel that I first heard about this morning and had to purchase a copy of today. I heard about this book first on Slate. They had a review of it, which had a link to Amazon. Amazon’s page previewed the book’s first chapter, which describes the meeting of the books two main characters. By the end of that chapter, I was hooked and knew that I must own this book. I ultimately purchased it from Barnes and Nobles, at list, such was my haste. I got the only copy. It is pictured above, in Anne’s hands.

The first chapter describes the meeting of Henry Skrimshander, with the internal dialogue by Mike Schwartz. They meet in a weekend tournament, on a hot and dusty ball diamond, in Peoria, IL. Schwartz the winning team’s catcher first dismisses and then ridicules Skrimshander, as he strikes out. Schwartz is the large, athletic and gifted team captain for Westish College’s baseball team. Skrimshander is a scrawny high school kid, from South Dakota, who is playing his last game before graduation. After the game, Skrimshander still takes up his glove again and resumes his position as shortstop. The coach commences to hit a bucket of balls at him. No matter how hard the ball is hit or where it is placed, Henry almost effortlessly, scoops up the ball, pivots to first and fires the ball, always at sternum height, into the first baseman’s glove. The routine perfection of Henry’s performance reminds Schwartz of something from poetry class, Expressionless, expresses God. The first baseman then drops the ball into a second bucket. Once all the balls are moved, bucket-to-bucket, the trio trots off the field, leaving Schwartz transfixed. Mr. Harbach ends his first chapter with these sentences, “All his life Schwartz had yearned to possess some single transcendent talent, some unique brilliance that the world would consent to call genius. Now that he’d seen that kind of talent up close, he couldn’t let it walk away.”

26. The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.

Harbach’s book takes its title from the fictional book within a book of Aparicio Rodriguez, an also fictional former Saint Louis Cardinal. Harbach’s book is spiked with Zen like aphorisms from this book, like the one above that Henry uses to guide his game and his life. Aparicio Rodriguez is probably based upon Luis Aparicio, an American League shortstop. Henry’s childhood glove is signed by Aparicio Rodriguez. He calls it Zero for zero errors. All the while he was growing up; his mother would ask him when he came home from a game, “Henry, how many errors did you make?” He would always proudly answer, “Zero!” 

I could wax on about Henry’s perfection on the ball field, but Harbach would have written a boring story if that was always to be the case. His book has many other characters beyond the two that I have described. Not the least is also fictional Westish College, a small liberal arts college. Nestled on Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shoreline, it lies in the corner of the sweet spot that is the mitt made by the map of Wisconsin. I could wax on some more, but I have a book to read, a book that was last seen in the hands of a known biblioklept. Anne’s lawyer points out that the photo was clearly entrapment.

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