by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & Is This a Great Game, or What?
by Tim Kurkjian & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n his new book Is This a Great Game, or What? ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian shares stories and anecdotes culled from 25 years as a baseball writer, much of them as a beat reporter following the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers. It's an entertaining read for casual baseball fans, though it offers little that's new or surprising for serious fans. Kurkjian, like his ESPN colleague Jayson Stark, is particularly fond of baseball trivia, and we get plenty of that in these 255 pages. At times, the book feels like the literary version of a Henny Youngman comedy act, a series of one-liners that sometimes feel superficial.
The real value of the book comes late. In one of his last chapters ("Just Grab That Bat As Tight As You Can, Son"), Kurkjian complains that adults are taking all the fun out of the game. "I am worried that kids are getting too much coaching," he writes. Even though young people by the thousands are playing ball, "I see them playing an organized game, with a coach screaming and instructing on every play.... What I don't see is a pickup game with ten or twelve kids, not enough for a full game, but enough for the games that we played every day as kids." Kurkjian longs for the days when kids would go to the vacant lot and play baseball all day simply because they loved to play.
Kurkjian preaches safety: "Let's not throw batting practice too hard to the seven-year-old who has never swung a bat before....The baseball is as hard as a rock. Many of the infields are all dirt, concrete hard, and covered with stones and pebbles....The aluminum bats are weapons. And yet I've seen coaches admonish a seven-year-old for not getting in front of a bullet ground ball that he has no chance of catching."
There's the real value of this book. Stories about players are nice, but how to pass on the game that we adults love -- that's the most important message.