Baseball books for the offseason

Eli: The Phenom's Story and The Tao of the Backup Catcher: Playing Baseball for the Love of the Game Eli: The Phenom’s Story and The Tao of the Backup Catcher: Playing Baseball for the Love of the Game

Eli: The Phenom’s Story

With a baseball nerd’s attention to detail, Mark Zim­merman spins a “what if?” story: What might happen if an Amish man played Major League Baseball? If that sounds wildly improbable, it is. But Zimmerman achieves as much plausibility as possible — and dreams up a scenario that baseball fans will appreciate for its meticulous recreation of a bygone era.

Eli: The Phenom’s Story (BLTL) is billed as “a historical novel of the 1946 baseball season.” And Zimmerman indeed places the young Amish slugger Eli Weaver squarely within the historical record. He carefully inserts Eli’s exploits into games that actually happened and invents statistics for him that, as the author says, don’t “destroy the space-time continuum.”

Discovered by a Cleveland Indians scout playing ball in a Holmes County cornfield, Eli fulfills team owner Bill Veeck’s desire for a home-state hero to boost ticket sales.

Zimmerman effectively portrays the conflict between Amish culture and Eli’s decision to accept employment in an industry that produces worldly entertainment. Granted permission for a unique Rumspringa, Eli wins over the skeptics, and it isn’t long before battery-powered radios proliferate in Holmes County barns as newly minted Amish baseball fans bend the Ordnung to follow Indians games. With World War II only a year in the past, Eli endures the taunts of crowds in rival cities after he tells a newspaper reporter that his faith compelled him to do alternative service as a conscientious objector.

Soaking up the exuberant preaching and singing at Shiloh Baptist Church in Cleveland, he gains appreciation for a different expression of Christian faith than the one he grew up with. In the end, his decision about whether to return for a second profes­sional season hinges on questions of faith, family and his girlfriend back home.

The Tao of the Backup Catcher: Playing Baseball for the Love of the Game

Erik Kratz’s baseball career wasn’t as improbable as Eli Weaver’s fictional one, but it was unusual. Kratz played 19 professional seasons (2002-2020) with 14 organizations, appearing in 335 major-league games after a nine-year minor-league journey. Despite modest statistics, Kratz proved his value as the quintessential backup catcher. Sportswriter Tim Brown sees in Kratz (who gets second billing as co-author) the ideal of the unheralded but indispensable teammate.

In The Tao of the Backup Catcher: Playing Baseball for the Love of the Game (Twelve), Brown draws life lessons from the selfless ethic of the benchwarmer, using Kratz’s story as the prime example. The concept of tao — living in harmony with the universe, as defined by the Chinese philosophy of Taoism — is hardly mentioned beyond the title. Instead, the religious angle that surfaces is Kratz’s Mennonite identity and Christian faith. He grew up in Telford, Pa., and graduated from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Eastern Mennonite University, where he met his future wife, Sarah.

Brown presents the stories of journeymen ballplayers as models of persistence and of knowing the greater purpose beyond the daily grind. “In the search for the game’s soul, perhaps it is wiser to first find the souls of the men who play the game,” Brown writes. Every team needs good souls, and Kratz offers an example for life beyond sports.

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. He lives in Newton, Kan., attends First Mennonite Church of Newton and is Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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