Take Me Out to the Ball Game: A Baseball Reading List

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When I was a kid, the world appeared most vivid to me during the longest days of summer: grass sprouted greener than ever before, my grandparents’ neighborhood pool shimmered cerulean, wisps of white-feathered clouds trailed across the sky. I can’t quite put my finger on what steeped those moments so much in the sensory — whether it was because I was younger and could give myself over more easily to sound and color, or if it was because I was only a visitor. Every June, I would travel with my family from Indonesia, where I lived, to the United States. Far from my normal routine, summer memories from the sleepy towns of extended family left distinct impressions.

In North Carolina, my grandparents took me and my brother to minor league baseball games. I don’t ever remember which team won or anything remarkable happening, but I hold a particular fondness for the solid thwack of a bat against ball, ice-cold drinks sweating in the heat, sepia-toned sand, the low rumble of an announcer’s voice, sunflower seed shells discarded on concrete, and pinstripes. Something about going to the games felt quintessentially American to me. Perhaps it was because we usually visited around the fourth of July, so some nights fireworks would light the sky. Or maybe it was the scene that reminded me of where I was: a baseball diamond dotted with American flags for a sport called the national pastime, my hand held to my chest during the anthem, brands like Minute Maid and Dippin’ Dots within grasp. Still now, when I go to baseball games, nostalgia pulls me back so that I’m somehow 10 again, perched at the edge of my plastic seat, hair sweaty against my neck, waiting for someone to call the kids out for a run around the bases.

My perspective is largely rooted in these personal memories, which hasn’t always allowed me to see the full texture of the sport. The following essays complicate my relationship to baseball in productive ways by revealing gender disparities, different culture’s approaches to the game, hidden histories, parallels to the craft of writing, and moments of trauma on and away from the field.

1. The Hidden Queer History Behind “A League of Their Own” (Britni de la Cretaz, May 5, 2018, Narratively)

With many men deployed in World War II, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (A.A.G.P.B.L.) was formed, in which women were told to, “‘Play like a man, look like a lady.’” Britni de la Cretaz, by sifting through obituaries and interviewing players, uncovers a fascinating hidden history within the league.

She understands today that talking about being a gay athlete is a double-edged sword, in a way. There’s the stereotype that women athletes are all lesbians, which is both inaccurate and unfair. And yet, there’s also the truth that there are many athletes who are also lesbians.

2. The 9 Minutes That Almost Changed America (Kate Nocera and Lissandra Villa, May 14, 2018, Buzzfeed News)

While practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game, an annual bipartisan event that takes place every summer between Republicans and Democrats, a man “fired 62 7.62 x 39mm rounds through a lawfully purchased Century International Arms SKS-style semiautomatic assault rifle” at members of the Republican team. Kate Nocera and Lissandra Villa, in this harrowing piece, reflect on the act of terrorism and how close the event came to changing modern politics and life as we know it.

 

It occurred to a few of them then that maybe the dugout wasn’t really that safe after all. And if you go to the field, you can see bullet holes through the top of the dugout, sheds, and metal poles on the fence.

 

3. This is why baseball is so white (Alvin Chang, October 24, 2017, Vox)

In this powerful collection of personal memory and demographic information related to baseball from the 1980’s to 2016, Alvin Chang writes that even though baseball teams have slowly become more diverse, the culture surrounding baseball has not.

 

But only looking at who’s on the field misses something very important: Baseball is still very white. The people who are in power are almost all white — and the cultural forces behind baseball are too.

4. He Was the Best We’d Ever Seen: On Baseball, Greatness, and Writing (Seth Sawyers, Lit Hub)

High school baseball up in the Appalachians is a rough red sleeve wiped against the nostrils four dozen times. It’s a Dan’s Mountain wind whistling your batting helmet’s ear hole. It’s a dozen scattered parents, wrapped in four, five layers, large cups of Sheetz coffee long gone cold on the warped bleachers etched: Sentinels Rule Campers Suck.

 

In this personal essay, Seth Sawyers reflects on playing baseball against Walker Chapman, a baseball legend in his hometown, and what it means to seek greatness in both writing and sport.

5. The Art of Letting Go (Mina Kimes, writer, with illustrator Mickey Duzyj, October 4, 2016, ESPN The Magazine)

As Major League Baseball struggles to overcome its staid image and lure younger fans — according to Nielsen, most of the sport’s TV viewers are over 50 — the simple bat flip has come to symbolize the culture war being waged within its ranks.

While bat-flipping is seen as disrespectful during baseball games in the U.S., it’s a celebrated part of baseball in Korea. Why? After finding no satisfying answer from American and Korean sports writers and historians, writer Mina Kimes, accompanied by illustrator Mickey Duzyj, traveled to Korea to learn more about why bat flipping is an integral part of the game.

6. How to make the Team USA women’s baseball team (Natalie Weiner, August 22, 2018, SB Nation)

While women in Japan, Australia, and Canada are encouraged to play baseball, the same does not happen in the U.S.

 

In the U.S., not only are there are no reliable opportunities for women to play professional baseball, but the sport is still considered taboo for women — even though they’ve been playing it for over a century.

Natalie Weiner explores the various factors — sexist societal expectations, lack of financial incentive, an uninformed public, funding from universities that prompts women to switch from playing baseball to softball — that make it difficult for women baseball players to commit to their craft.

Related Read: The Old Ball Game: 100 Years After Amanda Clement, Baseball Still Can’t Recruit Female Umpires (Britni de la Cretaz, February 12, 2018, Bitch Magazine)

7. Home Field Disadvantage (Kelsey McKinney, November 2018, Longreads)

Because of lack of general support for women’s baseball, the U.S. team only had the chance to train together for five days before the 10-day 2018 Women’s Baseball World Cup — and even at the World Cup, there was barely an audience for their games. Each player on the U.S. team, remarkably talented, had overcome a lifetime of disparaging attitudes toward their participation in the sport, as Kelsey McKinney makes clear through her research and wide range of personal interviews in this piece.

 

According to a survey of high school athletics conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, almost half a million boys play baseball at the high school level. In the 2017–2018 school year, only 1,762 girls played baseball.

 

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Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and neurological illness. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @jacquelinealnes.