BY SEAN CLARK
[This entertaining baseball memoir is a C4 Great Read.]
Author: Dirk Hayhurst
2010, Citadel Press
Filed Under: Memoir, Nonfiction.
Dirk Hayhurst was a pro baseball player. A long reliever in the San Diego Padres’ farm system, he was mostly a career minor leaguer. This memoir is an honest and quite fun look at a life that is often not fun. Hayhurst is slightly eccentric, a not-that-jocky dork (just google “Garfoose”). For much of the book, he is more an observer than a participant, which would feel weird if we didn’t know he was a teetotaling, twenty-something virgin during the majority of this story–not at all the type of guy you imagine in a farm league locker room.
Although the book opens with a minor league postseason series and a few key games and plays punctuate the book, the majority of the memoir occurs off the field–sitting in the bullpen, in a team hotel, or aboard a cross-country bus. Near the beginning of the book, we see Hayhurst in the off-season after a bad year in a AA league, living on his curmudgeonly grandmother’s floor and working at a local batting cage in order to afford time to work on his slider. Throughout the Gospels we learn more about Hayhurst’s unenviable home and family. His father is disabled and emotionally unresponsive; his brother is an abusive drunk; his mother is a frazzled victim caught in the middle. Mostly estranged from them, Hayhurst struggles though the minor leagues with middling success and a craving for his familial approval seemingly his only motivator to keep trying.
It’s hard not to sympathize with Hayhurst, perhaps all the more so because he’s often an outsider. I can’t help but wonder what his fellow players and managers think of him in the wake of being mentioned in his book. He writes about them candidly–and is less than flattering–but is also deferential and affectionate. Still, he’s a likable narrator and writes with a playful and self-deprecating tone. While reflecting on a period when he considered quitting the game and ending his career, Hayhurst touches on some deep stuff. This memoir is a soul-search conducted from the corners of musky locker rooms.
Luckily, the stuff that goes on in those is damn entertaining. Bullpen Gospels is full of colorful characters and their antics. There are jokes and pranks perpetuated by guys with names like Slap-nuts and Blade. There are a few congresses of Kangaroo Court that are particularly humorous, and plenty of oversexed locker room banter to keep readers laughing. Recognizable baseball personalities such as Trevor Hoffman, Chase Headley, and Kevin Towers make appearances as well.
The hijinks and jokes are fun to read and all, but at its heart, this is a genuinely strong memoir. Hayhurst paces his narrative nicely, striking a fine balance between anecdote, reflection, and introspection. As Dirk begins to pitch better and turn his career around (the majority of the book occurs in a season that began for him in A ball and ended with a AA championship), his chances at a big league call-up improve. It is then the deeper themes become more readily recognizable. Hayhurst learns, then relates, that even when baseball consumes a player’s (or fan’s) life, baseball is not life. Nor is living merely for the approval of others. Only when he started doing things for himself did he really break out of his shell.
Fun, honest, and engaging, The Bullpen Gospels is one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read, and very much a Great Read.
Similar Reads: The Extra 2% (Keri), Into the Silent Land (Broks)