Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 27 Apr 10 18:36
This week we welcome Emma Span to Inkwell.vue to discuss her new book, "90% of the Game is Half Mental: And Other Tales From the Edge of Baseball Fandom." Emma Span has written about baseball for the Village Voice, Slate, the New York Press, and a variety of popular blogs; yet when she appeared on Jeopardy! in the fall of 2009, she missed an easy question about Mickey Mantle (claiming that "the buzzer timing was really tricky"). She graduated from Yale University in 2003 and now lives in Brooklyn. "90% of the Game Is Half Mental: And Other Tales From the Edge of Baseball Fandom" is her first book. Interviewing Emma is Steve Bjerklie <stevebj>: Steve Bjerklie's earliest memory in life is of a bright, fogless afternoon at the old Seals Stadium in San Francisco -- a rookie named Willie McCovey hit one deep to right, over the head of Roberto Clemente and then over the billboard-festooned fence while the giant Hamm's beer glass beyond the outfield grandstand filled and overflowed with golden neon. That was in 1959. Years later, when faced with the sad truth that he wouldn't ever be able to hit a professional curveball, Steve pitched himself into journalism. He's been a staff writer, editor and freelancer for dozens of publications dating back to 1980; presently he is a New England correspondent for The Economist and is also communications coordinator at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Hanover, NH. He's been on The Well since 1996.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 28 Apr 10 05:11
Welcome to the WELL, Emma -- let's play ball! I suppose we need to get at least one matter addressed right away. I'm posting from northern New Hampshire, the rural heart of Red Sox Nation. You are posting, I believe, from Brooklyn, which is perilously close to the Bronx -- from, then, very, very near the center of hell from the Red Sox point of view. How on earth do you stand it? More important, you are close to the same age my daughter Sarah is, so we come from different generations of baseball fans. As it happens, Sarah is a great lover of baseball too, and I'm anxious to pass along your book to her. I think she will connect directly with a great many of your sharp observations. Emma, in an early chapter you describe how baseball came into your life through your father. That's an experience shared by perhaps a majority of baseball fans, including me (and Sarah, for that matter), and it's a profound one, I think. But beyond the tie to your dad, what else about the game attracted you when you were young?
Kathy (kathbran) Wed 28 Apr 10 16:46
I remember my mother taking my brother and me to Sacramento Solon games when I was little. When I was older, my father followed the SF Giants, and we used to listen to the games on the radio. I still enjoy baseball on the radio.
Emma Span (emmakspan) Wed 28 Apr 10 23:26
Hi Steve, and everybody! I'm so glad to hear you think your daughter might enjoy the book. And yes, I live in Brooklyn, a relatively convenient subway ride from the Yankee Death Star. When I first started paying attention to baseball, it was mostly individual players that got me interested - the personalities (or, more accurately, my perception of the personalities). First it was Bernie Williams, soon after he first came up, around 1992 and 1993. I was 10 or 11, and I loved him because he had huge thick glasses and seemed deeply shy, like me at that age. (Though unlike me, he would go on to become a multimillionaire superstar). I was rooting for him personally more than the Yankees as a whole. And later, it was Paul O'Neill, who gets a decent amount of ink in the book. He was incredibly intense, and mostly hated by opposing teams and fans - including you, Steve, I'd imagine? - but I loved how much he clearly cared. You wanted him to do well for his own sanity, if nothing else. Finally, this is a bit of a cliche by now, but my first time at the old Yankee Stadium really blew me away. People always go on about how green the grass is, how blue the sky, how loud the fans, etc - but man, that one's a cliche for a reason. That was 1995 (with Andy Pettitte pitching, another of my favorites), and after that I was sold for life. Thanks for having me, I've heard so many good things about the Well, and I'm looking forward to the discussion!
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 29 Apr 10 00:31
I think a lot of kids are first attracted to personalities in the game, as you were. Now that you're older and wiser and know a thing or two about mega-million salaries and steroid scandals and sleazeball owners, etc. etc., is it still the personalities that attract you most to baseball? Or is it something else?
Paula Span (pspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 07:38
And of course, you'll want to comment at length on how instrumental your MOTHER (ahem) was in, well, okay, not in immersing you in baseball. But in giving you a deep love of literature and encouragement to write! Because of reading all those books when you were little and reading all those stories about anthropomorphic cats! And taking you to...okay, I'll stop now. For a while. Welcome to the WELL.
Gail (gail) Thu 29 Apr 10 08:18
Ooooh... we can talk about multi-generational writing families at some point too! Welcome, Emma. Giants fan here. I like Steve's question because I ask myself the same thing -- what does baseball offer each spring?
Paris in PDX (paris) Thu 29 Apr 10 09:44
So good to see you here, Emma! I've read about 20 pages of your book, and am loving it.
Maribeth Solomon (solomonchik) Thu 29 Apr 10 10:37
Looking forward to pre-reading and then letting live-in baseball aficionados read your book emma, nice to see you here!
Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Thu 29 Apr 10 14:03
I'll be here with questions from both me and my husband, the baseball geek!
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Thu 29 Apr 10 14:39
Hi, Emma, loved your book.
Marge Wright (margew) Thu 29 Apr 10 16:00
I haven't read it yet, but it's neat to see you here on the Well, Emma! Like Kathy I saw the Solons when I was a kid. More recently the late great Sonoma County Crushers were the team.
Gail (gail) Thu 29 Apr 10 17:52
So sad to see the demise of the Crushers! I guess real estate values in wine country did in their ballpark eventually. That was one amusing unaffiliated minor league team. The San Jose Giants don't sound as cool, as a team name, but their fine funky old ballpark is a must-do weekend destination for Bay Area folks.
Sam Delson (samiam) Thu 29 Apr 10 19:47
Emma, I love Jeff Pearlman's blurb for your book, but what did he mean when he wrote "Were this book a mustache, it would be Don Mattingly'scirca 1988"?
Emma Span (emmakspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 20:26
<scribbled by julieswn Thu 29 Apr 10 21:30>
Emma Span (emmakspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 20:32
Oops, sorry for the re-post of last night's response! I guess I'm still getting the hang of the Well... (my mom will now make fun of me, since she's usually the one with technical difficulties). Steve, to answer your next question - the personalities are still fairly fascinating to me, but probably a little less so now that I've seen firsthand how manufactured they often are. That was the opening for me when I was young, but now it's really just the game itself - the details of pitching and hitting, seeing great athletes do their thing, the daily drama of watching people struggle to succeed at the top of their field, and the few hours of escapism a game can offer. Also, more and more, it's the sociologically fascinating interaction between a team and its fans (and media). Never a dull moment... Thanks to everyone who's reading!
Emma Span (emmakspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 20:37
Also, Sam - Jeff Pearlman meant (I think) that if it were a mustache, it would be a high-quality and distinctive mustache. Maybe not Keith Hernandez 80s-great or Goose Gossage iconic, but still a classic. (At least, that's how I chose to interpret it, and it's by far my favorite blurb).
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 30 Apr 10 01:42
At an earlier era of Yankees baseball I had a reaction similar to your take on Bernie Williamns. I had just gotten involved with a Yankees fan and had been hearing all this stuff about Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirs the drink, Mr. October, etc., and my impression was negative. But then the Yankees fan had a game on TV (this all being in SF) and I saw that Jackson wears glasses. That changed everything. (Though if Jackson was deeply shy, he fooled me.) Do you have any comment on the amazing play the other day in the Iona-Fordham game...?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 30 Apr 10 05:01
While you're mulling that great play, Emma, as I read your terrific book I wondered if you've had much experience going to major-league games in cities other than New York. (You went to games in Taiwan, of course; there's a chapter about that.) The reason I ask is because after I relocated from the San Francisco Bay Area three years ago for northern New England, the difference in fandom I found in New Hampshire was remarkable to me. There are lots of great baseball fans in the Bay Area and some of them are quite passionate, but in New England being a fan of the Red Sox is part of a person's identity, like having my Norwegian ancestry reveleaed by my last name. It's more than a religion; it's in the DNA. I also noticed the same thing about the Boston Bruins, the hockey team. New Englanders love the Celtics and the Patriots, too, but part of their very being is with the Red Sox and Bruins. Loving the Red Sox just *is*. The same is true in New York and in Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit. (Perhaps Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, too; I'm less familiar with fan support in those cities.) Out West, the fan passion for baseball teams is... different. Not worse, not better, just not as... deep, I guess is the word. San Francisco without the Giants or Oakland without the A's is possible; Boston without the Red Sox and New York without the Yankees is not. Or so it has seemed to me. I wonder if you've noticed anything similar, since you're so attuned to passion for baseball.
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Fri 30 Apr 10 09:07
hi Emma, i absolutely loved your book. let me start out by saying that as a life-long Philadelphian who started going to games at the tender age of like 4 or something (with my grandfather, whose passion he managed to transfer to me by being drawn to his radio, and painting the picture for me each Sunday afternoon, usually while we were fishing somewhere), your passion feels so familiar to me that even I, the any-team-from-NY-hater, was drawn in. I'm going to hand it over to my oldest son, who has inherited my passion, and who remains my favorite person to go to games with. I suspect he always will be. more later when i'm not at work ;)
Paris in PDX (paris) Fri 30 Apr 10 10:13
I've been a baseball fan since the summer of 1964. I was living in Philadelphia at the time, and attended something like 25 home games at Connie Mack Stadium (where, as I used to say, you always sat behind a post, no matter where you sat). I was lucky enough to see some amazing players including Willie Mays, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax. I still remember watching Jim Bunning (who has morphed into a right-wingnut) pitch a perfect game against the Mets on TV. Moved to Boston and rooted for the Red Sox (against the Yankees, of course) and then to San Francisco, where I rooted for the Giants. The closest major league team to us now is the Seattle Mariners, and I can't seem to muster the energy to care much about them, so I'm adrift without a baseball team to support these days! Emma, I just read another fifty pages of your book and it keeps getting better and better.
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Sat 1 May 10 09:25
and how much do I hate Jim Bunning now??? what a nutjob he is. but i remember that game too. I spent my formative games at Connie Mack as well. still remember how _green_ it was. and yeah, the posts. last night after that pathetic display by my team i wasn't much in the mood to discuss baseball. so Emma, 9/30/07 the date which Mets fans want to forget, was one of those baseball days I want to remember forever. my 50th birthday. #50 on the mound, which I took as a good omen. my beloved Phils win the division, after getting hot at the right time. yeah, we blew it in the first round but that day. man. so great. and i was there with my son, and we'll talk about it forever. when i got to your chapter on 2007 of course i knew what was coming. too bad you didn't do that last year, you still wouldn't have any Mets love but unfortunately (at our expense) there was plenty for the Yankees. i still marvel over the fact that your style captivated me so well that i was reading about NY baseball...
Emma Span (emmakspan) Sat 1 May 10 11:47
Steve, I've actually gotten to surprisingly few stadiums outside of New York - a bunch in Florida, for spring training, and Milwaukee and Camden Yards, but I've never even been to Fenway or Philadelphia! It's something I hope to correct soon... it's a longtime dream of mine to drive cross country and hit all 30 ballparks. But I've read enough, and talked to enough other fans from all over, to realize that the intensity in New York really is different here (and in Boston, and maybe a few other places). It's a positive as well as a negative... enthusiastic, involved fans are great, but the accompanying scrutiny and occasional hysteria can be too much sometimes.
Paris in PDX (paris) Sat 1 May 10 12:13
Fenway Park is a must-see, for sure. When I first moved to Boston, we could walk to Fenway, and often decided to get tickets at the last minute when it looked like they might be available. We stopped doing that when we were seated in the bleachers and some guys were snorting coke from a mirror in the row in front of us. From that point on, we bought in advance and opted for more expensive seats.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sun 2 May 10 07:32
>>> It's a positive as well as a negative... enthusiastic, involved fans are great, but the accompanying scrutiny and occasional hysteria can be too much sometimes. <<< A smart point, Emma, and I fully agree. Still, the first I went to games in New York and Boston, years ago, I was struck by the extraordinary baseball knowledge of the fans around me. Since then I've had the same experience in Detroit and I know it would be the same in St. Louis. (Chicago? No, because going to a Cubs game has become an "event," so the stands are crowded with folks who who are there because it's the thing to do.) Emma, you write entertainingly, as well as a little sadly at points, about your brief career as a sports writer for the Village Voice. I very much enjoyed how you described the reality of being a woman in the locker room and how you often protected yourself with your notebook. I also like your description of the bizarre waiting game writers must play with athletes in the locker room, and the sometimes strange protocols that are in effect. Something you didn't write about in the book, however, is what it was like to cover hockey, basketball and football, which I gather you have no great passion for, for the Voice. Tell us about that experience.
Emma Span (emmakspan) Sun 2 May 10 11:16
Thanks, Steve! Yes, that was something I wish I'd gotten to write more about, actually, but I thought it interrupted the flow too much. I had kind of a whirlwind tour through the other New York City sports the winter of '06-'07 - I wrote about the Knicks, Rangers, Jets, Giants, and even the short-lived NY indoor lacrosse team, the New York Titans. The Knicks would have been fun, since I'm a basketball fan, but it was the lowest ebb of the Isiah Thomas era and everyone around the team was tense and miserable. (And of course the issue of where to put your eyes is even more pressing when you are surrounded by people who are 7 feet tall, if you see what I'm saying). The Rangers were refreshing because they were actually happy to have reporters around - they wished they had more media coverage - and players tended to be friendly, either because they weren't as sick of answering questions or because they're mostly European, Canadian, or Midwestern. Football was the worst. It was a combination of factors - it's the sport I know least about, so I didn't really know what to ask anyone and was afraid of looking ignorant; that part was my fault. But the players were also a bit more hostile. The Giants and Jets locker rooms were the only places where I felt outright unwelcome, though a lot of that was more a vibe than anything concrete I could complain about. With what we're finding out about the long term effects of concussions on NFL players, I can hardly make myself watch games anymore. It feels way too bloodthirsty.
Members: Enter the conference to participate