Blue Jays' reliever Dirk Hayhurst, currently on the major-league baseball club's 60-day disabled list, has long been renowned for writing honestly, with wit and some life wisdom as demonstrated in a highly acclaimed personal blog. He kept readers up to date with his personal progress as a struggling minor-leaguer, through one of the game's most respected publications, Baseball America. he blog was a hit. As of March 30, Hayhurst can now add the title of baseball author to his list of off-field credits.
The Bullpen Gospels is a novel about life in the minor-leagues a loose diary kept during a physical and emotional roller-coaster ride through the 2007 season as a struggling veteran Padres' minor-leaguer.
For those that wonder why baseball players take it so hard when they are sent out to the minor leagues at the end of spring training and why the major-leagues are the ultimate Holy Grail of professional baseball, this mixed-emotion saga is well worth the read. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll spend $17.95 Cdn.
The book is well worth the read for both the hardcore and casual fans. For the seamhead fans it can be a revelation the true descriptions of monotonous life in the minor-league bullpen and the sophomoric frat pranks that 20-something pitchers who should be taking better care of themselves can invent to fill the time between outings in a mixed-bag of Class A and Double-A stadiums with fans that come to games because they're looking to hook up or are as bored on a hot summer night as are the players.
For the casual fans who might not find the often sexually-oriented conversations and "stupid human tricks" that amusing (a taste like appreciating The Three Stooges) there is a cover-to-cover subplot of human redemption involving Hayhurst and his emotionally-volatile family life back in Canton, Ohio. It runs as a thread throughout the book and often has you caring and despairing for Dirk's own future and his mental well-being. That is where he is most honest and where the book is most touching.
But when it comes to life on the road with his minor-league team, there is less true grit. He has combined some stories and some personalities and has sometimes used different names to protect some of the players from repercussions at home. Sure there are some real names, but those are usually peripheral characters whose behaviour is not in question, like Padres third baseman Chase Headley, or others that Dirk admires, like his Double-A manager Randy Ready. In fact, other than his own evolution as a man, there is little in the way of character development to make you care about anyone else in the book.
I talked to Dirk about it in Dunedin as a criticism of what he had done. The combining of characters and the lack of development, never going back for an update. This is no Ball Four by Jim Bouton. In baseball's most infamous tell-all book, Bouton was all but gone from the game when he wrote about taboo stuff like Mickey Mantle's alcoholism and his Yankee teammates school boy behaviour. He pulled no punches in naming names, but it may have been easier since he was already on his way out.
Hayhurst had a good answer to this criticism. He said that one-dimensional character of teammates is a reflection of the way it is in the minor leagues. You don't form close friendships because you are all competing for the same carrot on the same stick. In fact, the book supports that view. Hayhurst is promoted from A to AA and does not even say goodbye to any Lake Elsinore teammates as he sweeps his belongings into a bag and heads for the next level, the next bullpen, the next strangers to friends soon to be strangers. Dirk said that in the short time he was in the majors with the Padres and Jays in 2008-09, it was easier to relax and form relationships because everyone had reached their ultimate goal.
There are some disconcerting scenes played out within his family situation that make for a surprising and uncomfortable read at times. As a professional ballplayer he is not anywhere near the hero in his hometown that one would imagine or even a hero in his home. There is a putdown by a homeless man in a shelter that is especially compelling. It almost seemed like writing the book became therapy for Hayhurst, with a father slowed to a life-crawl by a workplace accident, a brother that could not cope with his own life or even his sibling's and a mother who had found a place of patient numbness from the reality. But never does Hayhurst hide from the truth of his own emotional frailty and that may be what in the end separates this from other first-person sports books.
The Bullpen Gospels is available in bookstores now and the author is planning a tour that will likely include downtown Toronto sometime in April.
It's worth the read.