â€œThere goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this gameâ€ â€“ thatâ€™s what the protagonist of Bernard Malamudâ€™s The Natural wanted people to say when he walked down the street.Â And they would have.Â He was a baseball prodigy, a natural â€“ â€˜The Natural.â€™ Even before joining The Show, he struck out Walter â€˜The Wammerâ€™ Whambold â€“ who Malamud modeled on Babe â€˜The Great Bambinoâ€™ Ruth â€“ with three pitches.Â But then, because of those three pitches, a Bird in black, who was obsessed with killing the best there ever was in the game, changes her plans of shooting â€˜The Wammerâ€™ and instead shoots â€˜The Natural.â€™Â In Hobbs own words, â€œMy life didnâ€™t turn out the way I expected.â€ But his life expectations were off base from the start, so it took him over a decade to recover from the gunshot wound and finally get to The Show and on base.
I believe oneâ€™s birthplace influences â€“ even dictates â€“ oneâ€™s life: the passions, talents, and history inherent to the place you arrive after leaving your Mamaâ€™s womb will carry over into your life.Â If youâ€™re born in New Orleans, youâ€™ll have a passion for jazz, a talent for partying, and a history of corruption.Â If youâ€™re born in a small Texas town, youâ€™ll have a passion for fat, a talent for firearms, and a history of ignorance.Â And if youâ€™re born wherever Roy Hobbs was born, youâ€™ll have a passion for women, a talent for baseball, and a history of failure.
In baseball you canâ€™t get a run if you donâ€™t know where home is.Â You canâ€™t steal second base if you never made it to first base.Â You have to accept your birthplace and the passions, talents, and history inherent to it. . . and to you.Â Roy Hobbs â€“ probably because he emerged from his Mamaâ€™s womb into a failing farm â€“ was born to fail, and he should have expected to.Â It doesnâ€™t matter if in the film adaptation of The Natural he hit a homerun, breaking the stadium lights, in his last-at-bat. . . because in the novel Malamud has him striking-out â€“ one, two, three â€“ in his last-at-bat.Â Thatâ€™s the truth.
Another truth is that I was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where the smell of vibrant green grass tickles your nose, the shadow of Mount Greylock engulfs all, and the financial irresponsibility of the local government empties your wallet.Â A recently discovered document from 1791 has revealed that it was on the vibrant green grass of Pittsfield, not Cooperstown, that the passionate game of baseball was invented. The talented Herman Melville was from Pittsfield and the distant hump of Mount Greylock inspired him to write Moby Dick.Â And the financial irresponsibility of the local government has historically bankrupted the city of Pittsfield.Â So, because Pittsfield is my birthplace, I have a passion for baseball, a talent for reading, and a history of bankruptcy.
My history of bankruptcy means I canâ€™t afford the MLB channel â€“ or even a television â€“ so I fulfill my passion for baseball by practicing my talent for reading. . . reading baseball literature.Â And I always start the season off with The Natural, because Malamudâ€™s masterpiece reveals the very essence of what makes baseball, literature, and especially baseball literature so great: itâ€™s good against evil, light against dark, pitcher against batter, writer against editor, the corseted angle on your right shoulder against the dick throbbing devil on your left.Â The Natural is the perfect morality play.Â Roy Hobbs, for fucks sakes, uses a bat called â€˜Wonderboyâ€™ carved from a tree struck down by a thunderbolt.
And like all morality plays, The Natural, through the words of Malamud and the actions of Hobbs, teaches you about life, especially American life, which isnâ€™t life at all.Â Itâ€™s just a game like baseball that consists of a bat and a ball and a glove, a twenty-five man roster, three outs and three strikes, four bases and four balls. . . but also magic.Â I witnessed some of its magic when the Diamondbacks did the impossible and brought down Mariano Rivera in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series just as the weather did the impossible and brought down hail on that hot desert night.Â Others witnessed the magic when Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter in 1970 while tripping on acid.Â More witnessed the magic when Babe â€˜The Great Bambinoâ€™ Ruth pointed his bat into the stands of Wrigley Field back in the 1932 World Series before launching the ball there.Â And we all witnessed the magic in 2005 when Congress called the sportâ€™s biggest stars to court because they were too damn big for the sport, and we then got to watch a show with more twists, turns, and bad acting than televisionâ€™s most popular dramatic series.
Itâ€™s this magic of baseball that attracts so many great writers to the sport, but itâ€™s the game itself that inspires them to write so many great books about it.Â Besides the competitive aspect â€“ the long chess-match of a battle between two teams until the final inning â€“ baseball also involves heroes, beer, villains, gossip, drugs, sons, cheating, beer, curses, fathers, despair, laughter, beer, brawls, tears, sunshine, hope, beer, torture, ecstasy, and then more beer.Â The baseball writer, Nicholas Dawidoff said it best: â€œthe wonderful, irresistible game of baseball, so enduring in its rules and rhythms, so varied in its lore and lexicon, has everything a writer could ask for, most especially the opportunity for vivid characters to involve themselves in a highly dramatic activity.â€Â And many of the baseball books these authors produce, including Malamudâ€™s The Natural, evoke that same magic that attracts them to the sport in the first place.
And through magical baseball books, this game of life that weâ€™re all forced to play can be explained.Â It can be explained just like August Wilson in his play, Fences, has the protagonist, Troy, explain to his wife why he cheated on her: â€œ. . . you born with two strikes on you before you come to the plate. You got to guard it closely. . . always looking for the curve-ball on the inside corner. You can’t afford to let none get past you. You can’t afford a call strike. If you going down. . . you going down swinging. Everything lined up against you. What you gonna do. . . I fooled them, Rose. I bunted. When I found you and Cory and a halfway decent job. . .Â I was safe. . . Then when I saw that gal. . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried. . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second.â€
Metaphorically, baseball is life.Â They are two different games, but in the end they are the same.Â Roger Angell, of The New Yorker, said it best: â€œ. . . what is happening on the field seems to speak to something deeper within us; we stop cheering and look on in uneasy silence, for the man out there is no longer just another great athlete, an idealized hero. But only a man â€“ only ourself.â€