Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 4, 2019, 8:29 p.m.
So many words are insufficient. I’ve never liked to say that I “covered” something, such as, oh, stock car racing for 20 years. Sometimes I say it or tweet it, but I try not to write it. I’ve never liked the notion that I “pull” for the Red Sox. “Root” is no good, either, but I use it because I like it better than “pull.” I’ve also never enjoying being a “fan,” which is short for “fanatic.”
So I read The Celebrant, by Eric Rolfe Greenberg, and also because (a.) it is about baseball, (b.) I am working on a novel about baseball, (c.) it is baseball season, and (d.) to date, the Boston Red Sox have not provided ample entertainment regarding the game.
I’d prefer to be a celebrant to being a fan because mainly I am in denial.
The Celebrant is not particularly relevant to the novel I am writing because mine is set in the present and Greenberg’s in the early years of the 20th, not the 21st, century. The story is written through the eyes of the celebrant, a frustrated ballplayer himself. The celebrated is Christy Mathewson, the greatest pitcher of his time and a hero for all times.
It’s considered by some to be one of the 100 greatest sports books in history. It is. Past reviews – The Celebrant was published in 1984 – are mostly raves like this one, but those who pan it either think the baseball or the narrator’s family intrigues are boring. Almost all, probably based on whether they are sports fanatics or not, love one or the other. Its greatness is actually rooted in both.
The historical novel is by necessity a blend of fact and fiction. Dozens of baseball greats – Mathewson, John McGraw, Smokey Joe Wood, Hal Chase, Connie Mack, Ross Youngs, Wilbert Robinson, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, etc. – file in and out. So, too, are the famous events – Merkle’s Boner, the Black Sox Scandal, Mathewson’s two no-hitters – described in vivid detail.
The celebrant is Jackie Kapp, who meets Mathewson while traveling with his brother Eli. Kapp is the designer of the family jewelry business, and the ring he designs to honor the no-hitter he saw leads indirectly to Eli’s rise and fall and directly to the rise of Collegiate Jewelers. The fictitious family is as interesting as New York Giants, viewed at times from Coogan’s Bluff above the Polo Grounds.
Mathewson’s life is almost a Christlike allegory. He is a virtuous but doomed man. Until relatively late in the story, Jackie is blissfully unaware that he means as much to Mathewson as “Matty” means to him.
Yet the story is richly believable in a slightly romantic sort of way. Family business tumult corresponds with the tragic life of the hero.
I was captivated.
Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.
My eighth novel is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.