The baseball is curiously often forgotten when people discuss, watch, and play baseball. It is the third wheel between the pitcher and the batter, or the pitcher and the catcher. Only a select few people actually focus on the ball. The norm is to focus on what players are able to do with the ball by throwing, hitting, and catching the ball. Correcting this is part of what The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches by Zack Hample seeks to address. Regardless if you are a lifelong baseball fanatic or a casual fan, this book is written with all baseball fans in mind. It does not become as nerdy as Bill James‘ Historical Baseball Abstract, nor is it as basic as Gail Gibbons‘ My Baseball Book. Hample finds the happy median between being too dense for the casual fan and too simple for the die hard fan.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history and the oddities of the baseball. Breaking down how the balls are made and how they have changed over time provides a glimpse into the history of the sport. It allowed me to connect different players and events together that I knew about previously, but not how they were related. I also learned new information and tidbits, which is always exciting. The book goes into what happened to some famous and some infamous baseballs, such as Barry Bonds‘ home run balls and the Steve Bartman ball. The short, but wonderful lives of normal game used baseballs are also explored. How a simple baseball, one which nearly every fan in attendance at a game can afford to purchase, can turn a grown man into a 5 year old boy when it goes into the stands and lands near him. While reading the book about how and where balls end up with fans, I was continually reminded of watching Atlanta Braves games on television growing up and the late, great Skip Carey informing the audience that a fan from Peachtree City had come away with the foul ball. Had the fan from Peachtree City known where to align themselves or was it pure luck that they caught the foul ball?
The pure entertainment of the book begins with Hample‘s description of how to secure your own baseball. From being at the game when the gates open for batting practice to understanding the psychology of getting a player to toss you a ball, there seems to be no limit on how a person can catch a Major League baseball. I will admit that much of what Hample says to do I would never do, not because I think it is wrong or that it is beneath me, but because I go to games to watch the game. Shifting in the bleachers or in the outfield based upon your study of the pitcher and hitter could be fun during batting practice, but during a game I think it could become tiresome. I do not mean to say that this approach to catching a baseball is wrong, it is just not how I prefer to enjoy my day at the ball park.
Hample’s writing does not give off a “this is how you have to do it” feel, rather he is simply sharing his experience with other want to be ball hawks. He seems to understand that most people will not do what he does to catch a baseball and he is perfectly fine with that. This is part of the appeal of this book. Every reader can takeaway something different and use it to either improve their odds of catching a baseball at a game or simply learning more about the history of the baseball and the sport. Baseball means different things to different people. It can be a summer afternoon or evening in the stands with a hot dog, or playing in the street until you can no longer see the ball, or simply watching or listening to a game nearly every night with family. There is no correct way to watch a baseball game, just as there is no correct batting stance. Each person has a unique view of baseball, and The Baseball is an excellent example of how one person views the game and his sharing everything he has learned about the sport and how he enjoys it.