Monthly Archives: June 2008

The 33-Year-Old Rookie — by Chris Coste

The 33-Year-Old Rookie by Chris Coste

This was a real love-hate book for me, so I’m taking a slightly different approach to the review this time:

What I like about The 33-Year-Old Rookie

-Through telling his story, Coste provides a great reminder that life isn’t easy – and for some it’s harder than others despite having talent, ability and drive. We all need a kick in the pants sometimes that we have to stay focused on the goal, work harder than we currently are, and keep faith in our abilities and that Good Lord willing, things will work themselves out.

-It’s an easy book to read – and by the third chapter I didn’t want to put it down. Coste takes you down his road to the majors with a good mix of speed – 11 years is a lot to chronicle – while stopping to explain what he feels are key points in his career.

-Coste makes it pretty easy to relate to his struggles. While most of us won’t know what it’s like to be a pro ballplayers, it’s easy to substitute your own experience for his, particularly when it comes to gaining trust from your superiors, teammates and others around you.

What I didn’t like about The 33-Year-Old Rookie

-Coste really plays up his own ability and talks a lot about how great he is. I get it – it’s a memoir, and not playing up the highlights doesn’t really make for a great story. But I’m not one to brag about myself, and I don’t like listening to or reading people who brag about themselves. Coste is talented – no secret. But it just wears on me to read someone talking about getting game winning hit after hit, or coming off the bench to pitch or catch in a key situation, and so on. It’s just not my thing.

-On a related note, the whole “everyone says I’m really good and should be playing” thing gets fatiguing.

-Coste doesn’t really turn his story into advice on how to overcome adversity or battle through situations. Having just read and enjoyed Yogi Berra’s new book, I was hoping that Coste would have at least been able to summarize what he’s learned into something I could have taken with me, but no such luck. Maybe he’ll write a book when he retires from playing that will have that in it.

Coste’s is a interesting story and The 33-Year-Old Rookie is a worthwhile summer read. If you’re reading this in Philadelphia, or at least a city in the National League, you might have a little more interest in this since you have a better chance to see Coste play than those in the American League. But regardless, it’s a nice book for the summer that you can get through without too much trouble and come out feeling better about things than when you started.

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The Crowd Sounds Happy – A Story of Love, Madness and Baseball — by Nicholas Dawidoff

The Crowd Sounds Happy by Nicholas Dawidoff

For some people, baseball becomes an important thread that holds things together in their lives. It fills a void, helps make sense of the world, and provides something to be close to.

For acclaimed author Nicholas Dawidoff, baseball became his refuge during adolescence, filling the gaps between divorced parents, a mentally ill father, and the trials of moving from childhood into adult life.

Davidoff tells his own story in The Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness and Baseball.

Using a child’s outlook on the mysteries of the world and the language of a highly educated adult and scholar, Davidoff writes a remarkable book – not exclusively about baseball, but about life, and the role that baseball played in his, and how the Boston Red Sox became the men in his life that he looked up to via the radio broadcasts that filled his bedroom.

As you get into the book you might question why it’s listed as a baseball book — I certainly did. It takes a few chapters to really get into why it gets categorized as such, and in retrospect I probably would have been much more open and receptive to the early chapters if I had viewed it more as a coming-of-age novel.

What I kept having to remind myself as I read it was that this book is not fiction — it is the true (or at least as best as memory can recall) story of Dawidoff’s childhood.

The reader is able to relate to many things that Dawidoff writes about almost instantly – while childhoods can differ in the specifics, the broader challenges of finding yourself while learning about your family and environment is a universal theme. Each of us has gone through it in one way or another — which is what makes the book so appealing.

If you grew up in or around baseball and it became something that got you through childhood, you’ll definitely appreciate The Crowd Sounds Happy. The quality of the writing and the intimacy that Dawidoff affords the listener are both the core and the icing to this wonderful work.

But I will warn you – don’t start reading the book thinking it’s a baseball story. Get into it as a coming-of-age novel and you’ll be delighted with the baseball portions, as opposed to doing it the other way around, like I did.

The Crowd Sounds Happy is a tremendous coming of age memoir that thanks to exquisite writing and engaging candor and detail, will fill a tremendous place in your mind and in your heart.

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You Can Observe A Lot by Watching – by Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra - You Can Observe A Lot By Watching

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big fan of Yogi Berra – both the ballplayer and the person, which is why I was excited to read his new book, You Can Observe A Lot by Watching.

In this book, Berra draws on his 19 seasons in the Majors to focus on what it means to be a team player – which is something he should know quite a bit about. As a player, Berra made it to 14 World Series and won 10 of them, including five in a row with the 1949-1953 Yankees. He bridged some tremendous ballclubs, from the days of Joe DiMaggio to the Mantle and Maris years. Yogi saw the best, played with the best, and worked himself into being the best.

Which is what this book focuses on – albeit not in the typical self-help or business book fashion. Yogi is quick to dismiss the book as something that would fall into either of those two categories. He readily admits that’s not his area of expertise.

What he does know though is teamwork – and what goes into taking a group of individuals and getting them to work together for a common goal.

When you think about the talent level that Yogi Berra played with, it’s almost hard to fathom. Throw in the tremendous amount of success that his teams had, and it becomes even more impressive. Look around and see how many great players there are in sports today – and how many of them don’t have a championship on their resume.

Yogi takes his wealth of experience and translates it into terms that almost anyone could apply to their daily lives. Whether it’s a simple reminder of understanding your role within an organization, or taking the high road and owning up to a mistake, the 15 chapters each contain a nugget that can be taken from the baseball world to the business world.

By readily admitting what this book is and isn’t, Berra sets a light hearted tone from the get go, even though the book is talking about what could be considered a pretty serious subject. Go to your local bookstore and see how many books are written on teamwork, and you’ll see that there’s a lot of energy and money being put towards trying to improve this area.

There’s plenty of baseball in there as well – a nice recap of Don Larsen’s perfect game, a good amount on how Yogi got to the majors and plenty of Yankee stories.

You Can Observe A Lot by Watching is a good pickup that I think you’ll enjoy both from a baseball perspective and from what it can add to your life. It’s a great book to read, sit on for a little while, and then flip back and read the blurbs that begin each chapter. They do a great job distilling the message, and give you something easy to take with you and implement into your life.

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Baseball’s Greatest Hit – by Andy Strasberg, Bob Thompson and Tim Wiles

Baseball's Greatest Hit

It’s the third most sung tune in America – performed every single day of the year in one place or another. But you know it best as the song that’s sung after the 39th out is recorded – the song that proclaims where we want to go, even though we sing it when we’re already there – Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

It’s a song that is so intertwined in the current game that it’s easy to think there’s a simple story behind how it got to be so big.

And that is anything but the truth – and that is where the new book Baseball’s Greatest Hit by Andy Strasberg, Bob Thompson and Tim Wiles comes in.

Baseball’s Greatest Hit does a wonderful job explaining how the song came to be, chronicling it’s suspect origins, the battle to stand out from the over 1,000 other baseball songs that have come out, and even a movement to create a new baseball song – organized by none other than Major League Baseball. It all makes for quite an interesting journey for this song that has become a staple of Americana.

Not only is it a wonderful explanation of the history of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but it’s also a wonderful resource about the correlation between music and baseball. The rhythm of music and the rhythm of baseball go hand in hand – and the roster of songs that is included in the book is clear proof of that, even if you haven’t heard of most of them.

At times, the short chapters in the book make it feel a bit disjointed — as my one critique of the book would be not taking the reader on enough of a structured storyline of how the song came to such prominence. While it’s not a critical fault, it’s something that I wish could be revisited.

But that’s not to fault the authors. Tim Wiles works for the Baseball Hall of Fame, overseeing all the artifacts that the museum has ownership. Bob Thompson is the founder of the Baseball Music Project, which you may have seen in your town, and Andy Strasberg has worked for the San Diego Padres and is a well respected marketing executive around baseball.

They know what they are talking about and have a wealth of information to draw from. They do a great job dissecting the story of the song and presenting in bite size pieces that will ultimately give you a tremendous appreciation for and wealth of knowledge about this staple song of baseball.

As much as Take Me Out to the Ballgame is a fixture of baseball – so should Baseball’s Greatest Hit be a fixture on your bookshelf. Throw in a bonus CD with several different versions of the song being performed – and you’ve got a winner.

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