Were I not a regular listener of the podcast of the Tony Kornheiser Radio Show, I would not be aware of Washington Post baseball writer Barry Svrluga, a regular guest on the show, nor would I be aware of his new book, "The Grind", released earlier this week and that would be too bad, because it is a book well worth reading for every baseball fan. I read it in two days.
Svrluga follows the Washington Nationals throughout "the grind" of the 2014 baseball season, by covering certain members of the Nationals and certain people within and around the organization who are all involved in what goes into and around a baseball season: The Veteran, The Wife, The Scout,
The Starter, The Twenty-sixth Man, The Glue (this is two people: the traveling secretary and the clubhouse manager), The Reliever, and The General Manager. And if you are thinking, "I don't want to read a book about the Washington Nationals" consider this passage from Svrluga's introduction:
"This book, it would seem, is about the Washington Nationals. But the characters in it and those around them will invariably agree: It could be about any of the thirty major league teams. In baseball, these themes are universal."
Ever wonder about the life of a baseball wife with two young children and a third one on the way goes through? Chelsey Desmond, wife of infielder Ian Desmond will let you know.
When does "the season" start for a ball player? For Ryan Zimmerman, it starts before the Christmas holidays.
Ever wonder what a starting pitcher does between starts? For Doug Fister, preparation for the next start actually begins before he leaves the clubhouse after his current start.
How about traveling and moving equipment on road trips? in 2014, the Nats' travel schedule included 33 flights, 2 train trips, and 5 bus charters. From the book: "The last of the Nationals' 12 road trips (in 2014) would go through 3 cities and involve 1 train ride, 3 flights, 46 bus rides, 78 passengers, 25 equipment trunks, 6 sets of golf clubs, 70 equipment bags, 1 massage table, 125 pieces of luggage, including 2 guitars. What could go wrong?" As Ryan Zimmerman said of the clubhouse/travel staff: "He's got to deal with twenty-five prima donnas that get paid a lot of money that want everything that they want, and he's got to make them all happy. That can't be easy."
And when does "next season" become "this season" for the General Manager? For Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, it began on the plane ride back to Washington after the Nats were eliminated from the playoffs by the Giants.
No, I am not going to feel sorry for ball players making millions of dollars while putting up with "the grind", but I do have a new level of respect for them - and for every one within an organization - after reading this book.
And if you are still thinking that this book is only about the Nationals, consider this post-season quote from Zimmerman when he contemplates the future:
"After this year, the landscape can change. If a couple of guys are gone, the goal would be the same again, but the situation would be different. It's almost a lot more emotional for the fans than for us. If it was up to me, I'd keep everyone and pay everyone and have the same team for ten years, but we understand that that's just not how it works. You can't keep everyone."
As a Pirates fan this season when the long term futures of fixtures like Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez have been topics of discussion, that quote hits home.
Really good book.