@review ANITA PADDOCK
The Art of Fielding
By Chad Harbach
Little, Brown and Company
All great athletes look upon their sport as an art. They see the beauty of a baseball caught before it goes over the fence, a tennis ball hit deep into the left hand corner, or a golf ball softly spun around the cup and dropped in.
This beautifully written novel, The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, is about Henry Skrimshander, a shortstop who receives a scholarship to play on a small liberal arts college baseball team in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Henry is small with a concaved chest and arms the size of most girls. But he can play shortstop like nobody’s business, fielding any ball that comes anywhere near him and firing it with accuracy to a waiting glove on any base. He calls his glove, Zero, because he makes no mistakes.
Mike Schwartz, the team’s captain and catcher, who is plagued with bad knees, a sore back, and aching shoulders, sees Henry’s potential and becomes his best friend and mentor. Mike is a monster of an athlete and motivator who grew up in the rough part of Chicago. He practices fielding with Henry, trains him in the weight room, feeds him energy drinks, and has him up at five every morning to run the stadium steps. To the detriment of his own aspirations, he banks it all on Henry.
Henry’s roommate is Owen, who also plays baseball but without the burning desire of an artist. Owen secretly has an affair with the president of the college. The president’s daughter returns home from a failed marriage, and falls for the team captain, Mike.
By the time Henry’s junior year rolls around, baseball scouts are checking him out, and it looks like his dream of playing with the St. Louis Cardinals might come through. But Henry’s errant throw at ninety miles an hour hits Owen in the face while he’s sitting in the dugout. This causes Henry to doubt himself, and he soon finds himself playing with no confidence, and for the first time committing errors.
This is not just a fantastic baseball book. It is a fascinating story about yearning for love and that other basic need we all have: to be good at something.