The Brothers K, by David James Duncan

The Brothers K is a novel published in 1992, and it tells the story of the Chance family, who live in Camas, Washington. The Chance family consists of father Hugh, mother Laura, brothers Irwin, Everett, Peter and Kincaid, and twin sisters Beatrice and Winifred. The story begins in the early 1950s and follows the family on their adventures and misadventures into the mid-1970s, driven by passions for baseball and for religion.

The title of the book, The Brothers K, is derived from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic, The Brothers Karamazov. Similar to Dostoevsky’s novel, Duncan’s tale revolves primarily around the four Chance brothers and their experiences growing up. The ‘K’ also serves as a reference to baseball, in which a ‘K’ symbolizes a strikeout.

Hugh Chance, the father, is a former minor league baseball pitcher. His career came to an abrupt end when a mill accident destroyed the thumb of his pitching hand. Papa Chance, as he is affectionately known, now works full time at the pulp mill in order to support his family.

Laura Chance, the mother, is a homemaker and is an extremely devout Seventh Day Adventist. Hugh’s devotion to baseball and Laura’s devotion to her religion frequently leads to arguments and disagreements in the Chance home, which, unsurprisingly, has an impact on the children.

Hugh finds himself able to return to baseball following a unique surgery that replaces his damaged thumb with his big toe. He begins a coaching/backup pitcher career that allows him to return to the game, though of course this also means a lot of time on the road. Laura begins a cleaning business in order to help out the family’s economic situation. The four sons grow up close and have many conversations both about baseball and about religion. As they become older, the differences between the four boys start to become more pronounced, but their devotion to one another remains firm.

Everett, the oldest son, is outspoken and brash, but he is also bighearted and a natural-born leader. Everett turns away from the church and goes on to speak out against the Vietnam War during his college years. He eventually burns his draft card and flees to Canada to avoid arrest.

The second oldest, Peter, has a world of natural athletic ability, but to the surprise of everyone, turns away from sports in order to pursue a life of spirituality. To the disappointment of his mother, however, Peter chooses to immerse himself in eastern religions. He attends college at Harvard and then earns a scholarship to go to India.

The third son, Irwin, is the most religiously devout of the boys. His life, and the lives of everyone in the Chance family, are radically impacted when Irwin’s girlfriend, Linda, becomes pregnant, and Irwin is drafted and sent to Vietnam shortly thereafter.

Kincaid is the youngest of the Chance boys and acts as narrator throughout the novel. He is probably the most neutral figure in the family, neither devoutly religious nor particularly gifted athletically, which makes him an ideal commentator on the family’s experiences. In spite of this (or maybe because of it), the reader learns less about Kincaid than about any of the other members of the Chance family.

I am going to keep this summary deliberately sparse, because there really is no good way to encapsulate the scope and complexity of this novel in a blog post. At 716 pages, and with all the different themes and conflicts taking place throughout, any competent English student could easily write 3 or 4 drastically different term papers on this novel, and that still wouldn’t scratch the surface of this book. There is a lot there, but it is well worth the journey.

When I reached the end of the novel, my first reaction was, “Damn, that’s a good book.” I can honestly say this is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I have read many. Don’t let the page count nor the multifaceted nature of the story deter you — this book is rated highly on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and probably any other book-related website where you can find it, and for good reason. This book made me angry at times and sad at times, but it also had me literally laughing out loud at times. I strongly recommend it.


This day in baseball: First Sunday game in D.C.

The first Sunday baseball game ever played in the nation’s capital took place on May 19, 1918, five days after Congress voted in favor of lifting the ban in Washington, D.C. The Washington Senators defeated the Cleveland Indians, 1-0, in twelve innings in front of 15,352 fans at Griffith Stadium.

Griffith Stadium between 1909 and 1932 (Library of Congress)


A Field of Dreams prequel series

This is some interesting news, particularly if you are a fan of the movie, Field of Dreams. A prequel series is in the works, slated to stream through Peacock in 2023. Information about the series is pretty limited at this point, as the news about it is still pretty new.

The upcoming show will film primarily in Iowa, just like the 1989 movie did, though not on the original movie’s baseball diamond in Dyersville. So far, there is no announcement about the cast, or even if Kevin Costner will be involved in the new series in any way. However, it does look like the show is seeking out production assistants:

It is said that the story in the show itself will be the back story of what happened before Ray Kinsella decided to plow up his cornfield and put a baseball diamond there. What that means, exactly, I haven’t been able to find any additional details on. But this does look like something worth keeping an eye out for as information becomes more available.


Quote of the day

Chicks who dig home runs aren’t the ones who appeal to me. I think there’s sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I’d rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out.

~Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki - espn

espn.com


This day in baseball: The first American League shutout

On May 15, 1901, Washington Senators pitcher Watty Lee threw the first shutout in American League history, blanking the Boston Americans, 4-0. Lee, a 21-year-old southpaw, would finish the season with a 16-16 record and would be responsible for two of the eight shutouts to occur in the AL’s opening season.

The game’s complete box score can be found here.

Watty Lee with Newark Indians in 1911

Watty Lee with Newark Indians, 1911 (Library of Congress)


“Rain Delay: Toledo Mud Hens, July 8, 1994,” by Martin Espada

This poem by Martin Espada was published in his 1996 book of poetry titled Imagine the Angels of Bread, and Espada worked as groundskeeper for the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens for a time. This piece paints such a vivid picture of rural America; it’s certainly the kind of scene I would expect to find in a movie set in a small town.

*

Despite the rumors of rain,
the crowd spreads across the grandstand,
a hand-sewn quilt, red and yellow shirts,
blue caps. The ballgame is the county fair
in a season of drought, the carnival
in a town of boarded factories,
so they sing the anthem as if ready
for the next foreign war.
Billboards in the outfield
sell lumber, crayons, newspapers,
oldies radio, three kinds of beer.

The ballplayers waiting for the pitch:
the catcher coiled beneath the umpire’s alert leaning;
the infielders stalking with poised hands;
then the pitcher, a weathervane spinning in the wind;
clear echo of the wood, a ground ball,
throw, applause. The first baseman
shouts advice in Spanish to the pitcher,
and the pitcher nods.

The grandstand celebrates
with the team mascot
prancing pantomime in a duck suit,
a lightning bug called Louie
cheerleading for the electric company.
Men in Caterpillar tractor hats
rise from seats to yell at Louie
about their electric bills.

Ballpark lit in the iron-clouded storm,
a ghost dirigible floating overhead
and a hundred moons misting the grey air.
A train howls in the cornfields.
When the water strikes down,
white uniforms retreat from the diamond,
but in the stands
farm boys with dripping hair
holler their hosannas to the rain.


Baseball rituals and superstitions on Friday the 13th

A lot of people get anxious on Friday the 13th, in the same way they get anxious around black cats or freak out about a broken mirror. There’s even a name to describe this apprehension of the date: paraskevidekatriaphobia (but don’t ask me to pronounce that).

Anyone who’s ever watched Major League knows that baseball players can be particularly superstitious. And while most ballplayers likely are not offering tributes to a Voodoo shrine, major league players do find more subtle ways to try to draw good fortune to their performance.

Major League (1989)

Some of the most common rituals include kissing religious necklaces, making the sign of the cross, pointing towards the sky after a home run, eating a particular meal before a game, or even not grooming (or, perhaps, grooming a particular way) on game day. When a team is behind, the rally cap has become a popular way among players and fans both to try to help their team rally to victory.

During a winning streak, some players will refuse to wash their hats, helmets, or uniforms — and some fans will do the same. Some players will abstain from sex on game day, or, in the spirit of Bull Durham, during a winning streak. If a particular bat or glove is deemed “lucky,” it will become a popular item among the players of a team.

And, of course, if a no-hitter or a perfect game is in progress, nobody should ever, ever talk about it.

Wade Boggs was known as a particularly superstitious player, even nicknamed the “Chicken Man,” due to his routine of eating copious amounts of chicken every day. According to Boggs:

It started in ’77. I had a Minor League budget and a growing family to feed. Chicken was cheap and I really felt better eating lighter food rather than a lot of heavy meat and gravy. Then I noticed my batting average going up. Ever since I’ve been a `chicketarian.’

Sporting News

In addition, Boggs would write the Hebrew symbol for life, “Chai,” in the batter’s box before every at-bat, and he also made sure to take 117 ground balls (some places report the number was 150) during every practice. Something about Boggs’s routine definitely worked for him, considering his five batting titles, 12 All-Star Games, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Other famous players with superstitious rituals included Joe DiMaggio, who would always run from the outfield and touch second base before going into the dugout. Pitcher Tim Wakefield would eat a pound of spaghetti before any game he started, and Justin Verlander is said to eat tacos before every start. Mark McGwire used to wear the same cup from his high school playing days — at least, until it was stolen.

There’s not much information specific to Friday the 13th superstitions among baseball players, but no doubt, they exist. When the upcoming date was brought up with Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Thursday, May 12th, 2016, Mackanin responded, “I wish you didn’t tell me that.”


Quote of the day

I’ve never changed my stance. I came out of my mothers womb hitting like this.

~Julio Franco

Julio Franco - Harry How-Getty Images

Julio Franco (Harry How/Getty Images)


This day in baseball: Abe Ribicoff seeks to establish National Baseball Day

On May 11, 1950, Connecticut Senator Abe Ribicoff introduced a bill to Congress to designate June 26th “National Baseball Day,” in honor of the birthday of Major General Abner Doubleday. Doubleday, of course, was at one time credited with inventing the game of Baseball. Sadly, the bill was never approved by Congress.

National Baseball Day - Twitter


Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of the early twentieth century. He was a multi-sport athlete who particularly shined in track and field, though he also had professional careers in both baseball and football.

The details surrounding the birth of Jim Thorpe aren’t entirely clear. It is generally accepted that James Francis Thorpe was born May 22 or 28, 1887, with no birth certificate found to confirm an exact date. He was born in Indian Territory near present-day Prague, Oklahoma to Hiram Thorpe, who was of Sac and Fox descent, and Charlotte Vieux, who was of Potawatomi descent. Jim Thorpe had a twin brother, Charlie, who died of pneumonia when the pair was nine years old.

Both of Thorpe’s parents were Roman Catholic, and in the Catholic Church, he was baptized Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe. Growing up, Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox, and his native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translates as “Bright Path.” Six year after his brother Charlie’s death, Thorpe’s mother also passed away, and his father would follow when Jim was just sixteen years old.

Thorpe was sent to many boarding schools and academies throughout his youth, including Sac and Fox Indian Agency School near Tecumseh, Oklahoma, Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Jim Thorpe hated his experiences in these institutions, which were set up to teach racial integration, banning students from speaking their native languages and imposing the dress of the average white American. Thorpe’s academic performance was less than stellar, but he showed tremendous promise as an athlete.

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs c 1915-1920 - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs, c. 1915-1920 (Wikipedia)

While attending Carlisle, Thorpe competed not only in track and field, but also in football, baseball, lacrosse, and even ballroom dancing. It was here that Thorpe’s athletic abilities started to garner nationwide attention, especially on the football field, where he earned All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912. However, it was in track and field that Thorpe would really leave his mark.

In 1912, Thorpe represented the United States in the Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden. He dominated in both the pentathlon and the decathlon, winning gold medals in both events. He remains the only athlete in history to accomplish this feat. What makes this accomplishment even more incredible is that Thorpe competed wearing mismatched shoes. Ahead of competition, Thorpe’s own shoes were stolen. The culprit behind the theft was never identified, but it goes to show how rampantly racism continued to persist against indigenous peoples. With no other options, Thorpe found two old, different shoes in a dumpster, one of which was larger than the other. He wore an extra sock on one foot to help the larger shoe fit better.

Jim_Thorpe,_1912_Summer_Olympics - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Summer Olympics (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately for Jim Thorpe, in 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympics. Thorpe had played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay. College players, in fact, regularly spent summers playing professionally in order to earn some money, but most used aliases, which Thorpe, unfortunately, did not do. When reports of Thorpe’s past activities were leaked by the press in early 1913, the Amateur Athletic Union decided to withdraw Thorpe’s amateur status retroactively. Later that year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously decided to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals, and awards, and declare him a professional.

In 1913, Thorpe signed to play professional baseball with the New York Giants. Thorpe played sporadically with the team for three seasons as an outfielder. After playing in the minor leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1916, he returned to the Giants in 1917 and was sold to the Cincinnati Reds early in the season. Late in that same season, he was sold back to the Giants. Once again, Thorpe played sporadically for the Giants in 1918 before being traded to the Boston Braves in May 1919.

In his major league career, Thorpe amassed 91 runs scored and 82 RBIs. Thorpe struggled against the curveball, however, and batted just .252 over his six-year big league career. In his final season, however, Thorpe did manage to attain an impressive .327 average for the season. He would continue to play minor league baseball until 1922.

Jim_Thorpe_Giants

Thorpe as a member of the New York Giants (The Sporting News)

In 1915, Jim Thorpe signed a deal to play football with the Canton Bulldogs for $250 per game under general manager Jack Cusack.  Thorpe would play and coach the Canton Bulldogs during his time with the team and was considered one of the best players in the sport at the time. The Bulldogs would claim an unofficial three world championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. When the National Football League (NFL) was officially formed in 1920, Thorpe was selected to be the league’s first president. Thorpe retired from professional football at age 41, having played 52 NFL games for six teams from 1920 to 1928.

Thorpe married three times throughout his life and had a total of eight children.  After his athletic career came to an end, Thorpe struggled to provide for his family. He found it difficult to work a non-sports-related job and never held a job for an extended period of time.  On March 28, 1953, Jim Thorpe died of heart failure.

Over the years, supporters of Thorpe attempted to have his Olympic titles reinstated. On January 18, 1983, almost 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee officially reinstated Thorpe’s medals from the 1912 Games at a ceremony attended by two of his children.

In addition, Jim Thorpe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He was a Charter Enshrinee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. In 1950, he was named AP’s Most Outstanding Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century, America’s Greatest Football Player of the half-century, and the national press selected him the most outstanding athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. Thorpe was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975, and from 1996-2001, he was continuously awarded ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Century award.