Reading List

The Pitchers and Catchers Report

The best books, articles, and Web sites to read about the start of baseball season.

This is the second installment of “Reading List,” in which Slate writers discuss the books, articles, and Web sites they are reading about the subject that interests them most. The weekly column appears in both Slate and the Washington Post’s Outlook section.

There’s red-white-and-blue bunting in the stands, the smell of cotton candy is hanging in the air, and the scalpers want $400 for four together. Yes, it’s time once again for baseball’s Opening Day, that glorious time of year when every backup infielder is a potential All-Star. Get ready for the season with this short syllabus, a baseball primer that’s guaranteed to leave you jonesing for beer, hot dogs, and box scores.

ESPN might only cover the teams in Boston and New York, but in March, even Kansas Citians can have delusions of grandeur. Drink in the optimism of a new season at Rany on the Royals, where long-suffering fan Rany Jazayerli lays out the top 23 reasons he’s excited to be a Royals backer. Read Jazayerli’s hyperdetailed, deeply personal tributes to Kauffman Stadium, closer Joakim Soria, and announcer Denny Matthews, and you’ll have found a 24th reason to embrace the Royals: an expert blogger who chronicles the team’s ups and (mostly) downs.

Curt Schilling’s blog, 38 Pitches, offers an insider’s take on life in the big leagues. The Red Sox starter (who’ll miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury) loves the sound of his own keyboard, but there are rare insights here if you’re willing to wade through the plugs for his video-game company. Not only does Schilling break news—like his scoop last March that Jonathan Papelbon would be Boston’s closer—the pitcher also posts revealing self-critiques, like a recounting of a June 2007 game in which Brad Hawpe deposited a first-pitch change-up into the seats: “I was sure I was making the right pitch to the right hitter in the right spot. Obviously I was wrong.”

One of Schilling’s former teammates with the Philadelphia Phillies, Lenny “Nails” Dykstra, is the subject of a riotously entertaining profile in the March 24 issue of The New Yorker. The tobacco-chewing, headfirst-sliding Dykstra has, improbably, made a mint as a day trader and car-wash mogul. When he’s not sucking down cheeseburgers and repeating the word bro, the ex-outfielder is busy putting together the Players Club, a new monthly publication that will educate professional athletes on money matters. “This will be the world’s best magazine,” Dykstra tells writer Ben McGrath.

It wasn’t long ago that ballplayers didn’t have millions to invest. In The Last Real Season (out in May), one-time Texas Rangers beat reporter Mike Shropshire chronicles baseball’s 1975 campaign, the last season before full-scale free agency came into effect. Shropshire’s no romantic, though: The Last Real Season is the sportswriter’s Ball Four, a hilarious, profane diary of a year spent dodging punches from booze-infused Rangers manager Billy Martin and trying to wring copy out of a dead-end team. (My favorite excerpt from the author’s 1975 clippings: “[Rangers first baseman Jim] Fregosi is old enough to be somebody’s grandfather, although, to the best of his knowledge, he’s not.”)

If you have only 15 minutes to spare, settle in with the stranger-than-fiction story of Tony Gwynn Jr. and Trevor Hoffman. As ESPN the Magazine’s Tom Friend explains, Gwynn, the son of Padres legend Tony Gwynn, grew up idolizing and palling around with Hoffman, his father’s longtime teammate. In the final weekend of the 2007 season, the Padres called on Hoffman to get one final out to secure a spot in the playoffs. The man at the plate: the younger Gwynn, now a reserve outfielder with the Milwaukee Brewers. Even if you know what happens next, there’s enough drama here to make your skin tingle. It’s a welcome springtime reminder of the heartbreaks and triumphs that make baseball the world’s greatest game.