Take Me Out of the Ballgame

Between its sloppy errors and screwball plot twists, Slider by Patrick Robinson is an awful baseball novel.

Summer is once again upon us, and, for me, that means much of my time is spent thinking about baseball. I’ve crammed my bedroom full of baseball collectibles and keepsakes, amassed during my 15-year love affair with our national pastime. I’m also proud of my bookshelf, which features works by some of the best baseball writers ever — authors like Roger Kahn, Jim Bouton, Bill James, and Buster Olney. I had never read a baseball book I didn’t like.

That is, until last July. That’s when I discovered Patrick Robinson‘s Slider, the most ludicrous and amateur novel I’ve ever read.

The book’s initial premise is harmless enough. Jack Faber is a talented, college-age amateur pitcher from Lousiana. He lives in the Bayou with his widower father Ben, a poor sugar farmer. Most of the book details young Jack’s back-to-back championship seasons of the Seapuit Seawolves of the Cape Marlin League, a fictitious summer baseball league for collegiate athletes. Jack is the team’s star, although he goes through a crisis of confidence that hinders his performance for much of the second season.

Intrigued? Then you’re in for a rude shock. Robinson quickly settles into a rut of describing game after game in excruciating play-by-play format. Here’s an excerpt, from page 84:

Scott took his stance, staring down at the pitcher. The ball came in at 92 mph, belt-high, tailing away. Scott swung at it, caught it low, and fouled it back.

Now imagine hundreds more pages filled with sentences like those. Even for a diehard baseball fan like me, it gets old. I mean, really, who cares what the radar gun reading on the pitch was?

Even worse, Robinson’s play-by-play descriptions are riddled with errors. In nearly every game, he loses track of the score, mixes up the batting order, and so forth. If Robinson is aiming for an audience of hardcore baseball devotees, he really ought to keep the most basic details straight.

It is not until page 177 that Robinson finally arrives at something resembling conflict. Following his first taste of Cape Marlin League success, Jack has returned to his college team. He now has a new coach: Bruno Riazzi, a borderline psychotic who is embittered by an all-too-brief taste of the major leagues and resents Jack’s talent and bright prospects. The hard-spitting, hard-cursing, hard-fighting Riazzi is so hell-bent on making an example out of his best player that he destroys Jack’s confidence in a matter of weeks and then doesn’t think twice about kicking him off the team for pitching poorly.

Among all of Slider‘s many problems, the most glaring is its improbability. There’s no other way to describe the plot twist in which natural gas is discovered on Jack’s father’s farm, turning Papa Ben into an instant multimillionaire. Though at this point Jack could probably afford to buy his old college and have Coach Bruno fired, drawn, and quartered, our hero instead accepts an invitation to return to the Seawolves, where the coaching staff is shocked to hear about his sudden decline in skill (apparently they all live in secluded shacks in the woods during the off-season). Naturally, almost everyone from the previous year’s championship team is back for an encore, and they steamroll to their second championship.

There is a side plot about Jack’s father buying a beach house and a boat in Seapuit and finding love in the unlikeliest of places, but I’ll spare you the crushing boredom of Nouveau Riche Farmer Makes Good.

So that wraps everything up in a neat little package, right? Hold on, why are there 80 pages left?

It seems Patrick Robinson decided he really needed to pound home a moral. Through the wonders of plot contrivance, the Seawolves find themselves taking on the fictitious Brooklyn Bombers, a major league team that is chock full of selfish, overpaid, underachieving mercenaries who have forgotten that baseball is a game. The story ends with a breathless account of the exhibition game, which is broadcast live on national television and takes place in the Bombers’ state-of-the-art stadium. I would tell you who wins, but I have great hope that you can figure it out for yourselves.

Only one question remains: If these Seawolves players were so damned good, why did they waste so much time fooling around with inferior amateur competition instead of cashing out in the big leagues? Oh, right — the love of the game. How inspiring.

You might wonder what kept me trudging through all 400-plus pages of this dreck. I suppose there was my morbid curiosity for the next ridiculous plot twist, my smug sense of superiority, and even my fleeting hope that things would get better. Above all, I guess I just hate to give up on a book once I’ve started reading it. But the best reason I can think of to read Slider is to use it as a cautionary example. If you want to be a writer, Patrick Robinson has given you a wonderful guide on what not to do.

But in the interest of fairness, I’ll let Mr. Robinson have the final word (from page 403):

Bruno Riazzi lasted one more year at St. Charles College before finally, in a drunken rage, attacking and injuring two of his pitchers with a baseball bat. He was committed to an institution for the criminally insane.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Article © 2007 by Kevin Brotzman