“Makes You Want to Talk about Baseball:” A Conversation on Andrew Forbes’s The Utility of Boredom (Invisible Publishing, 2016)

by Myra Bloom, E Martin Nolan, and Joseph Thomas

Myra Bloom has published on Canadian/Québécois literature in The Puritan, GUTS, The Rusty Toque, as well as in a number of academic journals. Find her on Twitter or on the web ... ... E Martin Nolan writes poetry and non-fiction. He’s Interviews Editor at The Puritan. His work has appeared in Lemonhound, Arc, and The Rusty Toque among other places ... ... Joseph Thomas is a writer out of Toronto, ON. He is a recent graduate The University of Toronto’s creative writing program. He regularly performs ritual sacrifices in the hopes that someone will want to buy his first novel and to keep Bryce Harper out of Yankee pinstripes.

Introduction by E Martin Nolan

The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays can be looked at in at least two ways: as a baseball book, or as a personal memoir. Splitting the book into these two perspectives is admittedly artificial because they are so intimately intertwined in the book. But while Utility makes it hard to pry matters of life from the game that illuminates them, examining the book from those two perspectives can shed light on the way it depicts their connection, and what that says about baseball, and life.

It’s tough to describe The Utility of Boredom. It’s an intriguing little book, as specific as it is open-ended. It welcomes the reader warmly into a deeply personal perspective, yet its philosophical scope is wide. In order to get a sense of that scope, I’ve asked Joseph Thomas and Myra Bloom to each briefly respond to the book from one of the perspectives described above. Thomas will respond to Utility as a baseball book. Bloom will respond to it as a memoir. Afterward, I will join them and we will expand the conversation.


A Unique Type of Obsession By Joseph Thomas

Baseball is boring.

It revolves, in the words of journalist Joe Posnanski, around anticlimax. The average game could indeed be described as a series of anticlimaxes: squashed rallies and pop-ups, double plays and ground outs, squandered opportunities and stranded baserunners. Every player will fail far more often than they succeed, even the very best. In Barry Bonds’s greatest season, the most dangerous hitter in baseball history registered a hit just a little over a third of the time. Most of the time spent watching a baseball game is spent watching nothing. Baseball is boring.

Until it isn’t.

This is something Andrew Forbes’s The Utility of Boredom innately understands. “I don’t see a problem hanging the word ‘boredom’ around baseball’s neck,” he writes in the title essay. “Boredom is fertile. Boredom is potential. Boredom is the basic element of all baseball’s drama.” If his essays have a unifying thesis, it’s just that. He telescopes in on the mundane: a quiet night at the ballpark; the grind of minor league life; that time Marco Scutaro hit a foul ball at him. These prosaic moments, however, serve mainly as a jumping-off point toward the dramatic and electrifying. In Forbes’s hands, baseball seems anything but boring. It’s visceral, life-giving, brimming with potential and hope and beauty, and as reliable as the sunrise.

That might seem contradictory, but I’m not sure. It might be better to describe baseball as a game of antithesis, rather than anticlimax. Excitement cannot exist without boredom. Forbes suggests a kind of Hegelian dialectic between boredom and excitement, a powerful co-dependency that allows excitement to bloom upon the fertile field of boredom.

The Utility of Boredom continually brings to mind Ken Burns’ seminal documentary series, Baseball–for better and for worse. In Burns’s famous opening monologue, baseball is described as a game of contradictions: slow, yet it demands lightning fast reflexes; rigidly governed, yet it allows and encourages cheating (stolen bases and signs, the always amusing ‘hidden ball’ trick); both a pastoral ideal and, of economic necessity, an urban organism. It’s a demanding game (both on and off the field) that revels in its own complexity, yet a lazy day at the ballpark has been an American tradition for more than 100 years. Forbes seems to get this, too, and part of the joy of Utility is that he’s open to the idea that he might just not understand why so many seemingly contradictory aspects of the game work so well together.

Forbes suggests a kind of Hegelian dialectic between boredom and excitement, a powerful co-dependency that allows excitement to bloom upon the fertile field of boredom.

So where do these essays fit onto the cozily-packed shelves of baseball literature? If nothing else, the book acts as an elegant rebuke to the accusation that Canadians started following baseball in the fall of 2015. Utility does not treat the game with the depth of other baseball books, but it is a uniquely Canadian take on America’s pastime. Indeed, he opens “162,” the final essay: “Game number 162, for most teams and most fans, marks the end of the season”–a distinctly Blue Jays-ian pessimism. He devotes the long, entertaining essay, “Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Makes Sense,” to the explosive, unexpected success of the Toronto Blue Jays’s 2015 season, from the barn-burning Tulowitzki/Price trades right to the Bat Flip™.

Though he isn’t just concerned with the recent headlines. He writes about Kelly Gruber being famously robbed of a triple play in the ’92 World Series and the inglorious end of Ricky Romero’s promising career. Watching Rajai Davis at first and Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons sitting on his hands, he ruminates on the notion of the “green light”–when a player who is allowed to steal a base whenever he deems fit–which he calls a “bestowal of trust.” Even driving through US back roads, hunting for some pastoral authenticity, Forbes carries a distinct Canadian-ness along with him.

From dead-ball era history to more recent legends, from the minutia of minor league systems to his analysis of Spring Training–“baseball devised by Tom Stoppard”–this Canadian proves immensely knowledgeable. More than that, he’s passionate–like with a capital-P. He unabashedly adores the game, “a clearer, truer expression of ourselves.” He closes the title essay: “I thought: Hear the game! Summer is possible! Baseball!” and he’s totally free of irony.

There’s something indefinable about baseball, something that just clicks with fans on a nearly spiritual level; and, indeed, to Forbes the game is sacrosanct. He writes that ballplayers “serve a spiritual purpose, as vessels of hope and dreaming. They’re messengers, these ballplayers, the embodiment of cyclical change. When they break camp and come north, they’ll bring summer with them.” Forbes is not alone in his passion. In Michael Lewis’s essential Moneyball–a chronicle of ex-Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane’s reinvention of baseball analytics–he writes:

The sheer quantity of brain power that hurled itself voluntarily and quixotically into the search for new baseball knowledge was either exhilarating or depressing, depending on how you felt about baseball. The same intellectual resources might have cured the common cold, or put a man on Pluto.

Forbes’s is the unique type of obsession that baseball breeds.

And sometimes, regrettably and like Ken Burns in Baseball, he’s prone to overstatement and grandiose metaphor. The appropriately-titled, “The Grandstand,” describes an evening at a minor league ballpark in the second person, present tense: “What you really want to do is cast your arms wide and embrace the game in front of you … You want to gather it all in your arms and claim it and never let anyone spoil it. You want to protect it as it has protected you.” While verging on cloying, this kind of sentimentality is bred into baseball fans. We’re prone to discuss the game as though it were some scrap of a great cosmic truth, some evidence of perfection.

In addition to capturing that shared experience, Utility offers a truly personal experience of one man’s deep, genuine love of the sport. His sometimes saccharine tone can be forgiven because the collection is as much about baseball as it is about his own life and relationship to it. A lot of baseball literature gets bogged down in numbers and abstract statistics. Writers often forget what the game feels like. Forbes doesn’t. Perhaps what makes his book successful is that he approaches it with the same measured composure as a player does the game. Boredom and excitement coexist elegantly in The Utility of Boredom, just as they do upon the baseball field. In Forbes’ estimation, it’s an antithetical but necessary relationship. And, in baseball, he locates their ideal synthesis.


Struggling to Get By

By Myra Bloom

In “Sanctuary,” the first essay in The Utility of Boredom, Andrew Forbes describes a synagogue that has been converted into a store selling baseball memorabilia: “This seems entirely appropriate to me,” he quips; “though I understand how it might offend the Orthodox.” The image sets the tone for a collection that worships the traditions and rituals of baseball in the language of religious devotion. Forbes is not the first person to blur these two domains: sociologists and philosophers have written at length about how sports fulfill a need for transcendence that is lacking in a (post-?)postmodern, secular age. What is unique about Forbes’s collection, however, is how it blends these universal claims with the author’s own, very personal reflections on the significance of the sport to him. While diehards will relish the book’s deep dive into history, stats, and other arcana, The Utility of Boredom is not just a “baseball” book; it’s also a poignant memoir about the ways in which Forbes has been shaped by the sport he loves.

It suddenly strikes me as paradoxical that we should pursue the two simultaneously—that we should want to escape at precisely the moment we feel most at home.

In spite of the many years I logged as the (Jewish) president of the University of King’s College Chapel Choir (surely another sign of the times), I never really thought too deeply about the word “sanctuary.” I realize now that it has two very distinct, and in some ways incongruous, definitions: on the one hand, it refers to a place of worship, where we go to transcend the mundane. It also denotes a space or state of safe-shelter. It suddenly strikes me as paradoxical that we should pursue the two simultaneously—that we should want to escape at precisely the moment we feel most at home. According to Forbes, though, we need that feeling of safety to be able to “organize our efforts to reach something higher.” The baseball stadium is his safe space, with its sights and smells as predictable as the rules of the game. In “The Ballparks of America,” he lovingly describes the cozy familiarity of the innumerable fields he has visited over the years, as well as the sense of fraternity they foster [Footnote 1]. There’s something quaint, and campy, about this slow sport played on “the impossible green of coddled grass,” under the “endless blue of an afternoon sky.”

There’s also something admittedly boring about it [Footnote 2]. Every so often, the baseball fan gets to witness “some transcendent moment of greatness,” but most of the time s/he’s just sitting around, shelling peanuts and waiting for things to happen.  As the title of the collection suggests, though, boredom has its uses, chief among which is to correct the obsessive multitasking and frenetic pace of life in the digital age. There’s a poem in Stephen Heighton’s The Waking Comes Late called “Wheat Town Beer-Leaguer, Good Snapshot, No Backhand” in which the speaker dreams of fleeing “the fakery/and fuckery of culture” for a simpler life “in some wind-burned wheat town, raising cheerfully unsupervised kids.” Forbes is after the same kind of escape as he drives around small-town America looking for “somewhere removed from life as you so precisely know it.” He spends as much, if not more, time describing the homely pleasures of these small-town diamonds as he does recounting baseball’s more memorable episodes.

In fact, it’s from these quiet, unremarkable moments that Forbes draws his most important life lessons. “I’m in the habit of looking to baseball for meaning” he tells us; “It’s likely a faulty approach to life but I’d venture it’s not the worst.” From the dogged persistence of the pitcher, he is inspired to question his own self-imposed limits. An umpire’s bad call allows him to practise the art of equanimity in an unjust world. The fizzling of a favoured prospect becomes a lesson in human frailty and the fallibility of his heroes. These examples, culled from the many hours Forbes has spent in the large and small baseball diamonds of North America, become object lessons for the reader, who is invoked through the periodic use of second-person narration: “Take comfort in where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. Bear up in the knowledge that it will all happen again tomorrow, in other towns you’ll never know, in innumerable other places to get lost.”  While the second person is primarily an autobiographical conceit, its porousness creates referential ambiguity: Forbes is talking to his own past self, but he’s also transferring his hard-won wisdom to the reader. Perhaps he’s also got his young daughter in mind as a future recipient of these teachings. This outward-facing, hortative dimension of The Utility of Boredom distinguishes it from a memoir proper, insofar as its goal is partially didactic.

… while there is a collective dimension to this growing body of baseball literature, both Forbes and Fowles write from a deeply personal place …

Forbes’s book is also clearly a product of Toronto’s baseball renaissance. Bautista’s Bat Flip™ and the playoff run it came to symbolize appears to have ushered in a new wave of writers intent on describing what Stacey May Fowles calls “this mundane thing that I adore.” Yet, while there is a collective dimension to this growing body of baseball literature, both Forbes and Fowles write from a deeply personal place: the latter’s heartbreaking account of the therapeutic role baseball has played in her fight against depression and PTSD uses a lot of the same religious imagery that peppers The Utility of Baseball (see Footnote 1). It also ultimately distils a very similar lesson from this slow, incremental sport of modest gains and perpetual setbacks: that most of life isn’t spent transcending, but just struggling to get by.

Footnotes:

[1] Note of irritation: Forbes really does seem to think it a fraternity, in the literal etymological sense of the word, at least in this essay. He writes, “In the Ballparks of America you cannot imagine the courage required to be a woman in the presence of so many men with beer in their hands and in their heads.” This irks me for two reasons. First, in spite of the fact that the second-person in this essay primarily represents the writer himself, I still think it in some ways invokes a male reader, an assumption I find alienating for obvious reasons. Second, I find the rhetoric here a little overblown. Sure, drunk guys can be irksome, but I’ve been to countless Jays games and have generally found them a relatively family-friendly affair. In fact, Stacey May Fowles recently published a poignant piece in Canadian Notes and Queries about how her fervent Jays fandom has helped her through the darkest periods of her life, including major struggles with mental illness. “Baseball became ‘my thing,’” she writes, “and its stadiums my church, a place to pray in hopelessness, the source of a solace I couldn’t find elsewhere. I never feel more human, or more sane, than I do inside a ballpark.” That Fowles worships at the same altar as Forbes suggests that the gender politics of the stadium are perhaps slightly more nuanced than he claims; while I appreciate the nod to the patriarchy (one of a few in the collection, actually), I resent the heavy-handedness here.

[2] On a related note, Stephen Marche recently published an essay in The Guardian extolling the virtues of boredom in an essay entitled “Welcome to the new Toronto: the most fascinatingly boring city in the world.” His argument was that Toronto’s slow and steady approach has, among other things, allowed it to weather the economic storms of the past decade. Logically, it would thus follow that Jays games are the most productively boring sporting events available.


Discussion: “Baseball!” Or, Dispatches from the BoreDome

Boredome_baseball

Fig. 1 The Rogers Centre, AKA BoreDome, roof boringly, and majestically, open on July 4th, 2016. Photo by E Martin Nolan

EMN: Let’s start with boredom. Forbes contrasts “hockey’s flair” to Baseball’s “troughs of inaction studded with brief explosions of motion.” But then, isn’t it impossible to appreciate baseball unless you dig the ‘boring’ parts and appreciate the minutiae?

JT: Yes, I think it’s difficult. Baseball is a tough sell to non-fans. It has a certain language or rhythm you need to learn or at least become familiar with before you can appreciate it. Of all the major American sports, it’d probably be the most difficult to understand, given its languid pace and complex, sometimes flat-out weird, scoring and statistical systems. But that isn’t to say it’s inaccessible. Far from it. It feels–especially after a crazy year like 2015–that most people only really need to get a brief glimpse of the potential baseball has for excitement and drama to realize how fertile the boredom truly is. The fact that explosions of excitement can happen at any time charges the moments in-between them. The boredom, then, becomes exciting.

One of the things that draws people to the ballpark is that they can participate in a massive social gathering in a relaxed way.

MB: I also think we should unpack what we mean by the word “boredom”: it seems to me we’re using it as a kind of antonym for “excitement.” I’m seldom actually bored at baseball games, but I’m also usually only halfway paying attention to the action. I would venture that only a minority of people go to baseball games with a scorecard in hand. Baseball is such an accessible sport because it’s low-intensity and low-key. One of the things that draws people to the ballpark is that they can participate in a massive social gathering in a relaxed way. I think that’s why Forbes, a diehard baseball fan, spends a lot of his book discussing things like the conversations he has with other fans or the smells of the grandstands. At one point he says that he’s always had “a minor league heart” so obsessed is he with baseball’s mundane pleasures.

JT: I really appreciated his focus on the minor leagues. His conversation with Ted Lilly in the parking lot is just heartbreaking. And the essay, “Defunct,” where he’s waiting on a package of hats from minor league teams that don’t exist anymore. He imbues those discussions with such real-life melancholy. You’re right to point that out. I think he sees more of himself in the minor leaguers than in his big league heroes.

EMN: You both suggest an ambiguous nature of the boredom/excitement dichotomy. Boredom, as Myra points out, serves as contrast to the overexcitement of the modern world, and Forbes appreciates that. And at the same time, the boredom Forbes is gesturing toward is sometimes just boredom that anticipates excitement, and so even when the excitement doesn’t come, its possibility adds tension. The pitch made that prevents the rally is boring—excitement was denied—but excitement was possible.

JT: And the pitch itself can be exciting! A perfectly executed curveball, under the right circumstances, can be as exciting as a dinger

EMN: True. The context of the play matters. But also the manner in which you watch the game. The game allows for different levels of engagement. In any case, Forbes captures baseball’s underlying tranquility.

On that note, let’s look at the game in a broader sense. As a separate space. Sports and religion are often conflated. Forbes very purposely starts the book with “Sanctuary.” Is it going too far to say that Forbes makes an argument for baseball as religion?

… he’s legitimately reaching for a vocabulary that can adequately encompass his transcendent feelings.

MB: It’s definitely a strong rhetorical trope in the book. As you say, and as I wrote above, the collection opens with a synagogue that’s been converted into a memorabilia store. It’s tempting to read the image in terms of society’s movement into a secular age, not to mention an increasingly individualistic digital age, where the only places we can look for collective meaning are gatherings like sports games. Consider Forbes’s description of the “devotion” of the group of small-town baseball attendees who “gather to play ball all over the place, in towns and parks like this.” It sounds like he’s describing some kind of pagan rite. On the one hand, I do think he’s advancing a kind of sociological thesis about the role sporting events occupy in the lives of modern humans. On the other, I think he’s legitimately reaching for a vocabulary that can adequately encompass his transcendent feelings. Sometimes he finds it in the Judaeo-Christian imaginary; elsewhere he’s mining more esoteric traditions: pitchers are “alchemists,” he has a “covert belief in magic.” Stacey May Fowles talks about experiencing the same difficulty in her CNQ essay “It’s Enough That We’re Here:” she goes as far as to say that it was easier for her to detail traumatic experiences like her rape and struggles with mental health than it has been for her to describe her love of baseball.

JT: Yeah, Fowles too identifies her love of the game as religious. She writes:

I imagine it’s a similar relationship people have with religion, this idea that there is always something predictable, a doctrine to turn to, when it feels like there is nothing left … And at the risk of hyperbole, the result of tomorrow’s match-up gives you a reason to go on.

She also calls the ballpark her “church” and refers to herself as an “unlikely pilgrim” in her yearly trips down to Spring Training in Florida. There’s an undeniable religious quality to baseball fandom. Just rewatch Field of Dreams. (James Earl Jones, opining: “They’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters … the one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.”)

EMN: Forbes is undecided on baseball-as-religion. He presents baseball as a “place of solace,” and “unshakable” but also as faulty and non-transcendent (at least as far as it “won’t stave off death”). So can we say he’s identifying a secular sacred place he can neither accept nor deny?

JT: And Fowles refers to her own surprise at being an acolyte of something “meaningless.” I think these contradictions maybe stem from the fact that these are secular, rational people who have located in baseball the closest thing they’ve ever felt to religious love. And, being rationalists, they have some trouble putting that love into words. The strength of their love for baseball creates a kind of cognitive dissonance in both of them.

… these are secular, rational people who have located in baseball the closest thing they’ve ever felt to religious love.

MB: Our contemporary ‘temples’ are often the places that make us feel most at home; in my case, it’s the library or the yoga studio, both places I go to simultaneously get outside of myself and, paradoxically, feel more fully myself. When Fowles talks about sneaking out of work to catch a particularly exciting game, I think she’s after that same thing.

EMN: I wonder about time. Forbes talks about a stolen base as creating a space where “the world is hung up there … nothing exists.” And Fowles talks about the uncertain time of baseball being similar to uncertain recovery time.

But if we accept that baseball is an “other space,” a place of escape, safety, transcendence, then we should look at the less desirable worldly aspects that leak in. A big one is misogyny. Forbes refers to this as “the messier things men may tend to do off the diamond.” Myra, you take issue with the use of “you” as a kind of fraternity signalling, and Fowles brings up the lack of a “template for loving baseball when you’re a girl or a woman.”  Forbes makes a concerted effort to address this issue. Are there limits to his attempt to address that though?

MB: I actually think the issue is that, in his attempt to denounce sexism in sports fandom, the pendulum swings too far in the other direction and he ends up alienating a female readership. At times he appears to represent women as a kind of “dark continent,” as Freud so (in)famously put it, especially when he writes that men “cannot imagine the courage required to be a woman in the presence of so many men with beer in their hands and in their heads.” Not only does this quotation essentialize and generalize women’s experience, it moreover creates a division between men—the normal fanbase—and women, the “other.” I would actually prefer that Forbes made more of an attempt really to engage with the question of gender in sports fandom, rather than tokenistically throwing in this line and letting it stand unexplored.

I’m more sympathetic to Fowles’s formulation of the issue as a lack of a “template” for female fandom. Her assertion about the safeness of the stadium, particularly in the context of her discussion of her sexual assault and subsequent PTSD, clearly runs directly counter to Forbes’s heavy-handed characterization of the grandstand as an ocean of drunk, leering men. However, Fowles makes an interesting point: that even though she doesn’t feel unsafe per se, she nevertheless doesn’t feel wholly natural inhabiting the role of female fan. To my mind, the question of why not is a much more interesting overture into the issue of gender politics in fandom communities.

I would actually prefer that Forbes made more of an attempt really to engage with the question of gender in sports fandom, rather than tokenistically throwing in this line and letting it stand unexplored.

EMN: And when Forbes talks about taking his daughter to a game, he has no idea if she will become a fan, and doesn’t have a clear picture how that would work. I wonder if he’s not aware of the need for the different template that Fowles feels is missing. He has his own experience, but is not sure if she can take it up, for instance, because she might find “the gender politics of the thing troubling.”

JT: It’s a tough question for any high-level sport. I don’t think they try to actively disclude women from fandom–I can’t imagine any athlete not being pleased to have Stacey May Fowles as a fan–but, purely due to the biological makeup of the players, the fans are going to be predominantly male. I appreciated Forbes’s efforts to address this, but it sometimes feels shoehorned-in a bit inelegantly.

MB: I agree. Forbes naively hopes, a few times throughout the collection, that his daughter will have a similar love of the game as he does. At the same time, I wonder whether he envisions a woman reader when he uses the rhetorical second-person; to my mind, his elision of the second and first person codes the reader as an extension of the author himself, and therefore, as male. I wish he thought a little more deeply about what his daughter’s fandom will actually look like in practice.

EMN: I wonder if he’s trying to imagine his daughter’s fandom, and this is the best he can do. Maybe he’s talking as a father, worrying first, being protective, but not quite able to see it from his daughter’s perspective. That doesn’t solve the lack of template issue.

The second person address. You both bring it up in your pieces and/or the discussion above. Is it always referring to the same person, or group of people? How is it operating here?

JT: Sometimes I feel as though it’s an effort to place the reader in his point-of-view, to make you understand where he’s coming from. But other times it feels insistent, like he’s telling you what you feel, particularly in the essay “Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Makes Sense,” in which he describes “your” feelings towards Toronto:

It’s a place you’ve experienced so intimately and over such a long period of time that you can’t unravel it all and see it as a city… a disorganized mash of memories and faces and fears, bands you’ve seen, friends you’ve too often failed to call, games you’ve attended, couches on which you’ve crashed.

Then he goes on to say that we, as Canadians, code the city as Canadian, and “if this is the case then it must be humble and unimpressive.” Here he is trying to wrap up his personal experience with a universal, Canadian perspective, and therein lies my problem with the use of the second person. It comes at a right angle to the book as memoir. I understand that this is memoir, his story, his perspective. But the abrupt appearance of the second-person guides the reader a bit too bluntly. It causes narrative discord with the autobiographical aspects.

EMN: It’s also often romantic. “You’re here for baseball–because baseball is love and you’d follow it anywhere.” This is an example of the “passion with a capital P” mentioned in Joe’s review above. It’s like he has to distance his “I” from it’s unapologetic love for the game, like it’s awkward for him to claim this as his own. This is in line with Fowles’s claim that “it’s so much easier to dash off a disgruntled diatribe than it is to explain, in a compelling way, feelings of intense admiration.”

Turning to the Torontonian, and Canadian, angle on The Utility of Boredom–when I moved to Toronto, all its teams were bad. Then the Jays got good again, and the city seemed to reveal itself as a previously dormant baseball city come to life. Forbes devotes a lot of time to the Jays’s 2015 season, as does Fowles. Forbes says he felt “unqualified joy” and that “collectively we loved something from Toronto.” Do you think the Jays had a civic effect on Toronto, did they change the way the city felt? Especially given the idea that Toronto is somehow without a strong identity, despite its multiplicity, or as Forbes says, has a “lack of focus.”

MB: I definitely think that sports in general have a galvanizing effect in terms of community spirit. I remember when Canada won against the USA in the gold medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and essentially the entire population of Toronto emptied out into Yonge Street. I think one of the reasons our reaction was so intense is that Toronto so seldom has cause to celebrate sports victories. The Jays’s World Series run awoke the same dormant sense of civic sportive pride and has definitely ushered in a baseball renaissance. It’s also big business: merch shops are popping up everywhere (there’s one in the airport!) and 500s-level tickets are now going for over $30 (gone are the days of the $10 ticket). Given that the Raps are also having such a moment, it seems like Toronto’s fortunes are maybe turning around and giving us a common cause.

people with very different levels of investment in baseball can all find something relatable and thought-provoking in its pages.

JT: I think so, for sure. I had a weird experience last season because it was my first full year living here. I’ve been a lifelong baseball fan and I knew that, even though the Blue Jays had been mediocre for a long time, I’d love being in a city–any city, really–with a pro baseball team. I didn’t expect that. I don’t think anyone did. It was the kind of run that might have been worthy of a movie, had they won it all. I’m sure it changed the vibe of the city, but it’s nevertheless the only experience I’ve had living here. I just hope it’s given Toronto a taste for Major League Blood. All of Canada, actually. I want another team in Montreal or Vancouver.

I like that you say that Toronto “revealed itself” as a baseball city. That’s a good way of saying it. It really did feel like a sleeping giant had been awoken. There was naturally a lot of criticism of “bandwagon fans,” but, as Forbes points out, “nobody who suggests there’s a right way to invest in a team is worth listening to.” The funny thing is that most people my age got into baseball because we were kids back in ’92-’93 (and ’94, before that damned strike). Our first introduction to baseball was a seriously fantastic team. There’s more of a history of success here than in many American cities. I know for a fact it motivated many us as far away as Victoria, BC, where I grew up, to join little league. In many ways I think 2015 made us feel the way we felt when we were kids again. There was almost a prelapsarian quality to it. (Oh no, now who’s using religious language …)

EMN: There’s so much we don’t have space to get to here. We could have dug into the mythological aspects of the game, as in the essay “Madison Bumgarner and the Beautiful Lie.” Or Forbes’s very individual relationship to the game, and how that personal phenomenon might bear on the “massive social gathering,” to quote Myra above, aspect of the game. We barely touched on the corporate/capitalist aspects of a game people are claiming has sacredness. We could go into the many, many life lessons Forbes draws, and how these offer a more practical vision of the game than the sacred angle. Even in what we’ve covered, we could go much deeper.

Is there something about the form of the book that makes it so conducive to discussion?

MB: This book lends itself well to discussion because it’s such a contradictory little volume. It’s ostensibly a collection of “baseball essays,” but in actual fact it’s more a collage of vignettes that range in length, tone, and even point of view. It’s about a secular activity but explored in the language of the sacred. It couches statistics in heartwarming accounts of the sights and smells of America’s quaintest small-town diamonds. As our discussion proves, people with very different levels of investment in baseball can all find something relatable and thought-provoking in its pages.

JT: Well, I feel like I can write endlessly about baseball, so that might be part of it! Much of that effect probably comes from Forbes’s style. He tackles all kinds of aspects of the game and the society around the game, tells all kinds of stories, draws all kinds of analogies. And more importantly he does it in an accessible and conversational way. It’s infectious. His writing and his passion makes me want to sit down over a beer and have a conversation with him. But I think a lot of the richness comes from the game itself. There’s a maddening depth to it. You can learn what seems like everything there is to know about it, but someone, somewhere will have dug deeper. Baseball fans are constantly finding new ways to look at the game and new ways to experience it–new ways to love it. And Forbes is certainly no exception. He makes you want to talk about baseball.

 

MYRA BLOOMJ.Thomas.author

EMN Author Photo


Myra Bloom has published on Canadian/Québécois literature in The Puritan, GUTS, The Rusty Toque, as well as in a number of academic journals. Find her on Twitter or on the web ... ... E Martin Nolan writes poetry and non-fiction. He’s Interviews Editor at The Puritan. His work has appeared in Lemonhound, Arc, and The Rusty Toque among other places ... ... Joseph Thomas is a writer out of Toronto, ON. He is a recent graduate The University of Toronto’s creative writing program. He regularly performs ritual sacrifices in the hopes that someone will want to buy his first novel and to keep Bryce Harper out of Yankee pinstripes.

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