I don’t claim to know a thing about baseball, except the best game I ever attended was a Cubs v White Sox; I ate amazing food in my aunt’s company box seats at Wrigley Field. This lack of knowledge was all too evident when I picked up The Art of Fielding based solely on its typeface, and wondered what it was about. Something about the characters, aside from the baseball, really drew me in and had me convinced into making it my next read. And so it was.
Henry Skrimshander, Owen Dunne, and Mike Schwartz form part of the Westish Harpooners, a small school baseball team with little luck in winning. Henry is a bit of a shortstop prodigy and is recruited by the overly zealous Mike to help turn their losing streak around. Owen is a scholarship winner who shows less interest in the game as he does in the books he reads in the dugout. This unlikely trio does not only carry the plot of the Harpooners baseball team, but helps structure more intimate details of a young man’s place in academia and athletics.
The other two main characters come in the form of a father-daughter pair, the President of Westish College and his slightly estranged 23-year-old. In his college years, Guert Affenlight changed Westish forever with his discovery involving Herman Melville, and so he spent his life in the deepest of admiration to the man, the sea, and Moby Dick. His charm is countered by his daughter Pella, who has struggled throughout her life to find an anchor. Pella’s past is most prominently defined by her incomplete high school career that resulted in a monotonous marriage to a much older architect.
All of these characters’ lives drastically change in the same small window of time, as well as all entangle. Relationships are formed, strained, rekindled…baseball is idealized, emphasized and scrutinized. Throughout the book, I did feel the most important acts were never described in full–as if the author, Chad Harbach, was afraid being explicit or just wasn’t confident with his written execution. Nevertheless, the novel symbolized that point in one’s life in which one fights or gives up. Each character had a trial to overcome, whether it was one major action like boarding a plane (and never returning) or in the form of every single play of a baseball game. The Art of Fielding addresses the attainability of perfection and the unpredictability of living.
One of my favorite parts is the revelation of Pella’s early teenage tattoo, identical to her father’s. Guert’s uncertainty of Pella’s rebellion (coupled with the knowledge later revealed) made my heart ache, as it is the only substantial parent-child relationship in the novel. An endearing trend I also enjoyed was the ever-presence of beards Pella seemed to never escape. Overall, the Affenlights’ chapters were the most captivating for me to read; Guert’s story harkened back to decades I prefer, and Pella represented uncertainty in an otherwise male-dominated race toward lifelong purpose.
I surprised myself on reading a book about baseball, but I’m sure I can argue it wasn’t entirely. The Art of Fielding transforms itself into a reflective account on relying on yourself and your most inner truths to carry you from game-to-game and day-to-day, in hopes that in the end, we all will find relief for the weary mind and soul.i