‘The Art of Fielding,’ by Chad Harbach

Violetta Armour

It’s March! That means Cactus League spring training for thousands of local fans who are lucky enough to live in Arizona with 10 stadiums offering daily games. I thought this would be a good month to bring your attention to a good baseball tale. If this is a sport you love, you’ll enjoy this story, but you don’t need to know first base from a knuckle-ball pitch to appreciate it. As one New York Times critic acclaims, “It’s about the human condition—life and love and, yes … baseball … when a disastrous error on the field sends five lives into a tailspin.”

Set at Westish College, a small fictional liberal arts school on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan, we meet baseball star Henry Skrimshander (mostly called Skrimmer), a scrawny but magically gifted shortstop who, in his entire high school baseball career, has made zero errors. He has also committed to memory the philosophy in his personal bible, a fictional baseball handbook entitled The Art of Fielding.

That knowledge, combined with his dogged determination and a rare innate talent, causes Skrimmer to be a prized shortstop the major league scouts are clamoring over. As he strives to break records, the tension mounts and creates a page-turner as compelling as bases loaded in the bottom of a ninth inning tie game.

There are four other major characters in this line-up: Owen, Skrimmer’s gay roommate; Mike who discovers Skrimmer one summer while playing Legion baseball and recruits him; Guert Affenlight, the college president; and Pella, the president’s daughter who returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

The lives of these five people become intertwined, and their fates are upended as the season counts down to the final climatic game, as they are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process, they help one another find their true paths.

First published in 2011, it was named one of that year’s best books by The New York Times, NPR, and many other reputable book reviewers. In 2017 it was optioned for film rights with IMG films.

Whether your love is baseball and/or books, you might like this one. Play ball and read on!

Reviewer Violetta Armour has published five novels, which she will be signing at Cottonwood’s Art at the Lakes craft fair on Saturday, March 4 (rain date March 11).