Wednesday, May 31, 2006

BOOK: Foul Ball by Jim Bouton

Foul Ball, my life and hard times trying to save an old ballpark
by Jim Bouton
Bulldog Publishing, Massachusettes, 2003

Recently I was having dinner with my neighbors from down the hall. Gradually, the conversation swung over to my obsession to visiting ballparks. I talked of how I would slide into whatever town just in time to catch the game, survey the bars and restaurants around the facility, party and talk with the locals, enjoy the experience of their stadium, wait until the parking lot cleared, and then leave. A "gonzo" surgical strike, if you will.

They asked if I would write of the history of these stadiums. "God, no!" I scoffed. "Most of these new cathedrals were built with taxpayer money and usually against the people's will. It's the big money that's usually behind the call for new stadiums. It's really quite ugly when you think about it. I love the ambiance and the people, but if you think how this neo shrine came about, it makes you sick." One of the neighbors sighed with whimsy, "I voted no for Safeco Field and the no's won. They still built it." Another chimed in, "With our money."

I thought about that brief interlude while I was reading Jim Bouton's Foul Ball, my life and hard times trying to save an old ballpark. Bouton is of course the former major league pitcher who wrote the famous (or infamous) book, Ball Four, his diary of the 1969 baseball season which took readers into the unexposed (until then) side of baseball.

In Foul Ball, Bouton and two other investors want to preserve an aging ballpark in Pittsfield, Massachusettes and bring an independent minor league team to the field for 2002. Bouton writes in diary form as the year 2001 unwinds. The ballpark in question, Wahconah Park, is labeled as dicrepit and falling apart. There is a team playing in the park for the 2001 season but they are moving to a new stadium in Troy, New York. The local newspaper in Pittsfield is calling for a new stadium to be built so they can keep up with the changing times (yes, even in the minor leagues). The city's main businesses, Berkshire Bank and General Electric, are strongly on the new stadium bandwagon. But Bouton sees history and charm in old Wahconah and goes about being the alternative if the new stadium doesn't pass with voters.

What ensues is an all out war between city government, big business, the media, grassroots organizations, and guys just trying to run a baseball team. Bouton is very honest and straightforward about all the quirks, hypocrisies, testiness, and controversies that occur (including his own). Information, disinformation, who has money, who doesn't have money, editorials and letters to the editor, and dirty little secrets involving GE and the local river all come up. The levels to which people in power would go is the one prevalent theme throughout the book. It is a fun, fast, and disturbing read. All of this for a minor league field!

by Paul Shipp - 488 words



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